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Title: Bijou
Author: Gyp
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 "Bijou" ***

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



            BIJOU

              BY
             GYP


         _TRANSLATED_
              BY
         ALYS HALLARD.


            LONDON
        HUTCHINSON & CO.
    34 PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.
             1897



BIJOU.



I.


MADAME DE BRACIEUX was working for her poor people. She poked her
thick, light, tortoise-shell crochet-needle into the ball of coarse
wool, and putting that down on her lap, lifted her head and looked
across at her great-nephew, Jean de Blaye.

"Jean," she said, "what are you gazing at that is so interesting? You
stand there with your nose flattened against the window-pane, just
exactly as you did when you were a little boy, and were so
insufferable."

Jean de Blaye lifted his head abruptly. He had been leaning his
forehead against the glass of the bay-window.

"I?" he answered, hesitating slightly. "Oh, nothing, aunt--nothing at
all!"

"Nothing at all? Oh, well, I must say that you seem to be looking at
nothing at all with a great deal of attention."

"Do not believe him, grandmamma!" said Madame de Rueille in her
beautiful, grave, expressive voice; "he is hoping all the time to see
a cab appear round the bend of the avenue."

"Is he expecting someone?" asked the marchioness.

"Oh, no!" explained M. de Rueille, laughing; "but a cab, even a
Pont-sur-Loire cab, would remind him of Paris. Bertrade is teasing
him."

"I don't care all that much about being reminded of Paris," muttered
Jean, without stirring.

Madame de Rueille gazed at him in astonishment. "One would almost
think he was in earnest!" she remarked.

"In earnest, but absent-minded!" said the marchioness, and then,
turning towards a young abbé, who was playing loto with the de Rueille
children, she asked:

"Monsieur, will you tell us whether there is anything interesting
taking place on the terrace?"

The abbé, who was seated with his back to the bay-window, looked
behind him over his shoulder, and replied promptly:

"I do not see anything in the slightest degree interesting, madame."

"Nothing whatever," affirmed Jean, leaving the window, and taking his
seat on a divan.

One of the de Rueille children, forgetting his loto cards, and leaving
the abbé to call out the numbers over and over again with untiring
patience, suddenly perched himself up on a chair, and, by his
grimaces, appeared to be making signals to someone through the window.

"Marcel dear, at whom are you making those horrible grimaces?" asked
the grandmother, puzzled.

"At Bijou," replied the child; "she is out there gathering flowers."

"Has she been there long?" asked the marchioness.

It was the abbé who answered this time.

"About, ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, madame."

"And you consider that Bijou is not interesting to look at?" exclaimed
the old lady, laughing. "You are difficult to please, monsieur!"

Abbé Courteil, who had not been long in the family, and who was
incredibly shy, blushed from the neck-band of his cassock to the roots
of his fair hair, and stammered out in dismay:

"But, madame, when you asked if anything interesting were taking place
on the terrace, I thought you meant--something--something
extraordinary, and I never thought that the presence of Mademoiselle
Bij--I mean, of Mademoiselle Denyse--as she always gathers her flowers
there at this time every day--I never thought that you would consider
that as--"

The sentence ended in an unintelligible way, whilst the abbé, very
much confused, continued shaking the numbers about in the bag.

"That poor abbé," said Bertrade de Rueille, very quietly, "you do
frighten him, grandmamma."

"Nonsense! nothing of the kind! I do not frighten him; you exaggerate,
my dear."

And then, after a moment's reflection, Madame de Bracieux continued:

"The man must be blind then."

"What man?"

"Why, your abbé! Good heavens, what stupid answers he makes."

"But, grandmamma--"

"No! you will never make me believe that a man could watch Bijou at
work amongst the flowers, and not consider her '_interesting to look
at_!'--no, never!"

"A man, yes; but then the abbé is not exactly a man."

"Ah! what is he then, if you please?"

"Well, a priest is not--"

"Not exactly like other men in certain respects! no, at least I hope
not; but priests have eyes, I suppose, and you will grant that, if
they have not eyes like those of other men, they have eyes such as a
woman has, at any rate. Will you allow your abbé to have eyes like a
woman?"

"Why, yes, grandmamma, I will allow him to have any kind of eyes he
likes."

"That's a good thing. Well, then, any woman looking at Bijou would
perceive that she is charming. Why should an abbé not perceive that
too?"

"You do not like our poor abbé."

"Oh, well, you know my opinion. I consider that priests were made for
the churches and not for our houses. Apart from that, I like your abbé
as well as I do any of them. I like him--negatively; I respect him."

Bertrade laughed, and said in her gentle voice:

"It scarcely seems like it; you are very rough on him always."

"I am rough on him, just as I am rough on all of you."

"Yes, but then we are accustomed to it, whilst he--"

"Oh, very well, I won't be rough on him again. I will take care; but
you have no idea how tiresome it will be to me. I do like to be able
to speak my mind. It was a strange notion of yours, to have an abbé
for your children."

"It was Paul; he particularly wished the children to be educated by a
priest, at any rate, to begin with. He is very religious."

"Well, but so am I--I am very religious, and that is just why I would
never have a priest as tutor. Yes, don't you see, if he should be an
intelligent man, why, just for the sake of one or two, or even several
children--but anyhow only a small number, you make use of his
intelligence, which his calling had destined for the direction of his
flock, and you prevent him from teaching, comforting, and forgiving
the sins of poor creatures, who, as a rule, are much more interesting
than we are. If, on the other hand, the priest should be an imbecile,
why, he just devotes himself conscientiously to distorting the mind of
the little human being entrusted to him, and in both cases you are
responsible, either for the harm you do, or the good you prevent being
done---Ah! here's Bijou, let me look at her; I shall enjoy that more
than talking about your abbé," and the marchioness pointed to her
grand-daughter, who was just entering the room, and who looked like a
walking basket of flowers.

Denyse de Courtaix, nicknamed Bijou, was an exquisite little creature,
refined-looking, graceful, and slender, and yet all over dimples. She
had large violet eyes, limpid, and full of expression, a straight
nose, turning up almost imperceptibly at the end, a very small mouth,
with very red lips going up merrily at the corners, and showing some
small, milky-white teeth. Her soft, silky hair was of that light
auburn shade so rarely seen nowadays. Her tiny ears were shaded with
pink, like mother-of-pearl, and this same pinky shade was to be seen
not only on her cheeks, but on her forehead, her neck, and her hands.
It shone all over her skin with a rosy gleam. Her eyebrows alone,
which crossed her smooth, intelligent forehead with a very fine, and
almost unbroken dark line, indicated the fact that this frail and
pretty little creature had a will of her own.

Bijou, who looked about fifteen or sixteen years of age, had attained
her majority just a week ago, but from her perfect and dainty little
person there seemed to emanate a breath of child-like candour and
innocence. Her charm, however, which was most subtle and penetrating,
was distinctly that of a woman, and it was this contrast which made
Bijou so fascinating and so unlike other girls. Such as she was, she
infatuated men, delighted women, and was adored by all.

As soon as she entered the room, all rosy-looking in her pink dress of
cloudy muslin, with a sort of flat basket filled with roses, fastened
round her neck with pink ribbon, everyone surrounded her, glad to
welcome the gaiety which seemed to enter with her, for until her
arrival the large room had felt somewhat bare and empty.

Paul de Rueille, who was playing billiards with his brother-in-law,
Henry de Bracieux, came to ask for a rose from her basket, whilst
Henry, who had followed him, took one without asking.

The de Rueille children, leaving the abbé, who continued calling out
the loto numbers in a monotonous tone, went sliding across to the
young girl, and hung about her. Their mother called them back.

"Leave Bijou alone, children; you worry her!"

"Robert! Marcel! come here," said the abbé, getting up.

"Oh, no," protested Bijou, "let them alone; I like to have them!"

She took the basket from her neck, and was just about to put it down
on the billiard-table, when she suddenly stopped.

"Oh, no! I must have mercy on the game."

"Isn't she nice? she thinks of everything," murmured Henry de
Bracieux, quite touched.

"Come and kiss me, Bijou," said the marchioness.

Denyse had just put her basket down on a divan. She took from it a
full-blown rose, and went quickly across to her grandmother, whom she
kissed over and over again in a fondling way as a child.

"There," she said, presenting her rose, "it is the most beautiful one
of all!" Her voice was rather high-pitched, rather "a head-voice"
perhaps, but it sounded so young and clear, and then, too, she spoke
so distinctly, and with such an admirable pronunciation.

"You have not seen Pierrot, then?" asked the marchioness.

"Pierrot?" said Bijou, as though she were trying to recall something
to her memory. "Why, yes, I have seen him; he was with me a minute or
two helping me to gather the flowers, and then he went away to his
father, who was shooting rabbits in the wood."

"I might have thought as much; that boy does not do a thing."

"But, grandmamma, he is here for his holidays."

"His holidays if you like; but, all the same, if a tutor has been
engaged for him, it is surely so that he may work."

"But he must take some rest now and again, poor Pierrot--and his tutor
too."

"They do nothing else, though. Well, as long as my brother knows it,
and as long as it suits him--"

"It suits him to-day, anyhow, for he told them to join him in the
wood."

"He told _them_?" repeated the old lady; and then she continued slily,
"and so the tutor has been gathering roses, too?"

"Yes," replied Denyse, with her beautiful, frank smile, and not
noticing her grandmother's mocking intonation, "he has been gathering
roses, too."

"He probably enjoyed that more than shooting rabbits," said the
marchioness, glancing at a tall young man who was just entering the
room, "for if he went to join your uncle in the wood, he did not stay
long with him anyhow!"

"Why--no!"--said Bijou in astonishment, and then leaving her
grandmother, she advanced to meet the young man.

"Did you not find uncle, Monsieur Giraud?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, mademoiselle," he replied, turning very red. "Yes,
certainly, we found M. de Jonzac; but--I--I was obliged to come in--as
I have some of Pierre's exercises to correct." And then, doubtlessly
wanting to explain how it was that he had come into that room, he
added, slightly confused: "I just came in here to see whether I had
left my books about--I thought--but--I do not see them here--"

He had not taken his eyes off Bijou, and was going away again when the
marchioness, looking at him indulgently, and with an amused expression
in her eyes, called him back.

"Will you not stay and have a smoke here, Monsieur Giraud? Is there
such a hurry as all that for the correction of those exercises?"

"Oh, no, madame!" answered the tutor eagerly, retracing his steps,
"there is no hurry at all."

The old lady leaned forward towards Madame de Rueille, who was
silently working at a handsome piece of tapestry, and said to her with
a smile: "He is not like the abbé--this young man!"

Bertrade lifted her pretty head and answered gravely:

"No!"

"You look as though you pitied him?"

"I do, with all my heart."

"And why, pray?"

"Because the poor fellow, after coming to us as gay as a lark a
fortnight ago, and winning all our hearts, will go away from here sad
and unhappy, his heart heavy with grief or anger."

"Oh, you always see the black side of things; he thinks Bijou is
sweet, he admires her and likes to be with her; but that is all!"

"You know very well, grandmamma, that Bijou is perfectly adorable, and
so attractive that everyone is fascinated by her."

The marchioness pointed to her great-nephew, Jean de Blaye, who, ever
since he had left the window, did not appear to be taking any notice
of what was going on around him.

"Everyone?" she said, almost angrily; "no, not everyone. Look at Jean,
he is as blind as the abbé!"

Jean de Blaye was sitting motionless in a large arm-chair; there was
an impassive expression on his face, and a far-away look in his eyes.
He appeared to be in a reverie, and the younger lady glanced across at
him, as she answered:

"I am afraid that he is only acting blind!"

"Oh, nonsense!" said Madame de Bracieux delighted, "do you think that
Bijou could possibly interest Jean enough, for instance, to keep him,
even for a time, from his actresses, his horses, his theatres, and the
stupid life he generally leads?--You really think so?"

"I do think so!"

"And how long have you thought this?"

"Oh, only just now. When he told us with such conviction that '_he did
not care all that much about being reminded of Paris_,' I felt that he
was speaking the truth. I began to wonder then what could have made
him forget Paris. I wondered and wondered--and I found out."

"Bijou?"

"Exactly."

"So much the better if that really should be so. For my part, I do not
think it looks like it. He takes no notice of her."

"When we are watching him--no."

"He seems low-spirited and absent-minded."

"He would be for less cause than this. Jean never does things in a
half-and-half way. If he were in love, I mean seriously, he would be
desperately in love; and if he were to be desperately in love with
Bijou, or if he were to discover that he was falling in love with her,
it certainly would not be a thing for him to rejoice over. He
cannot--no matter how much he might wish it--he cannot marry Bijou.
It is not only that he is her cousin, but he is not rich enough."

"He has about twenty thousand pounds. Bijou has eight thousand, to
which I shall add another four thousand, that makes twelve
thousand--total between them thirty-two thousand."

"Well, and can you imagine Bijou with an income of about nine hundred
pounds a year?"

"No. I know that _she_ would consider it enough. She makes her own
dresses; everyone says they do that, but, in this case, it is a fact.
Then she is very industrious and clever; she understands housekeeping
wonderfully well, and for the last four years has managed everything
both here and in Paris; but I could not possibly reconcile myself to
the idea of seeing her enduring the hardships of a limited income--and
it would be limited. Good heavens! though, I hope she will not go and
fall in love with Jean."

"Oh, I do not think she will."

"You see, he is charming, the wretch; and it appears he is a great
favourite?"

"Yes, certainly; but then Bijou is made so much of. She is surrounded
and adored by everyone, so that she has not much time to fall in love
herself!"

"And then, too, she is such a child!" said the marchioness, glancing
at her grand-daughter with infinite tenderness.

Bijou was standing near the billiard-table watching the game, and
laughing as she teased the players.

At a little distance from her, the young professor was also standing
motionless, watching her with a rapturous expression in his eyes.

Suddenly Jean de Blaye rose abruptly, looking annoyed, and moved away
in the direction of the door that led to the flight of steps going
down to the garden.

"Wait a minute!" called out Denyse, "wait, and let me give you a
flower!"

She went to the basket, and taking out a yellow rose scarcely opened,
she crossed over to her cousin, and put it in his button-hole.

"There!" she said, stepping back and looking satisfied, "you are very
fine like that!" And then turning towards the tutor, she said in the
most winning way, and with perfect ease: "Monsieur Giraud, will you
have a rosebud too?"

The young man took the flower, and, almost trembling with confusion,
tried in vain to fasten it in his coat.

"Ah! you can't do it!" said the young girl, taking it gently from
him. "Let me put it in for you, will you?"

He was so tall that, in order to reach his button-hole, she was
obliged to stand on tip-toes. She slipped the flower through slowly,
and with the greatest care, and when she had finished she gave a
little tap to the shiny revers of the old coat, which were all out of
shape and faded.

"There, that's right!" she said, smiling pleasantly; "like that, it is
perfectly lovely!"

The marchioness, her eyes shining with affection, was looking at her.

"What do you think of her? isn't she sweet?" the old lady said to
Bertrade, who seemed to be admiring Bijou also.

Madame de Rueille looked at the young tutor, who was standing still in
the middle of the room.

"Poor fellow!" she said.

"What, still! Well, decidedly, Monsieur Giraud appears to interest you
very much!"

"Very much indeed! I am sorry for people who are sensitive and
unhappy; for, you see, I am one of the merry ones myself!"

"Oh!--I don't know about that. You said just now that Jean was acting
blind; well, I should say you were acting merry. You are merry, for
instance, when anyone is looking at you."

The young wife did not answer, she only pointed towards Bijou.

"She is one of the genuinely merry ones, at any rate, is she not,
grandmamma?"

Bijou had just given the children some flowers, and was now speaking
to the Abbé Courteil.

"And you too, monsieur, I want to decorate you with my flowers! There,
now, just tell me if that rose is not beautiful? Ah, if you want a
lovely rose, that certainly is one."

She was holding out to him an enormous rose, which was full blown, and
looked like a regular cabbage.

The abbé had risen from his seat without loosing the bag containing
the loto numbers. He looked scared, and stammered out as he stepped
back:

"Mademoiselle, it is indeed a superb flower; but--but I should not
know where to put it. The button-holes of my cassock are so small, the
stalk would never go through. I am very much obliged, mademoiselle, I
really am. I--but there is no place to put it--it is--"

"Oh, but there is room for it in your girdle," she answered, laughing.
"There, monsieur, look there--it is as though it had been made for
it!"

Standing at some little distance away, she pushed the long stalk of
the flower between the abbé's girdle and cassock.

He thanked her as he bowed awkwardly.

"I am much obliged, mademoiselle, it is very kind of you; I am quite
touched--quite touched."

At every movement the rose swung about in the loose girdle. It moved
backwards and forwards in the most comical way, with ridiculous little
jerks, showing up to advantage against the cassock which was all
twisted like a screw round the abbé's thin body.

"Now, I am going to arrange my vases," remarked Bijou, when she had
adorned everyone with flowers.

"Where?" asked M. de Rueille.

"Why, in the dining-room, in the drawing-room, in the hall, here,
everywhere."

"We will come and help you!" exclaimed several voices.

"Oh, no!--instead of helping me you would just hinder me."

She picked up her basket and went away, looking very merry and fresh.
Her muslin dress fluttered round her, as pink and pretty as she
herself was. As soon as she had disappeared, it seemed as though a
veil of melancholy had suddenly spread itself over the large room. No
one spoke, and there was not a sound to be heard except the knocking
together of the billiard-balls, and the rattling of the numbers, which
the abbé kept shaking all the time, bringing into this game, as into
everything else, the methodical precision which was habitual to him.

"Grandmamma," said Henry de Bracieux at length, "you ought not to
allow Bijou to give us the slip like this, especially at Bracieux. In
Paris it is not so bad, but here, when she leaves us we are done for;
she is the ray of sunshine that lights up the whole house."

The marchioness shrugged her shoulders.

"You talk nonsense; you forget that very soon Bijou will _give us the
slip_, as you so elegantly put it, in a more decisive way."

"What do you mean? She is not going to be married?"

"Well, I hope so."

"You have someone in view?" asked M. de Rueille, not very well
pleased.

"No, not at all; but, you see, the said someone may present himself
one day or another--not here, of course, there is no one round here
who would be suitable for Bijou; but it is very probable that this
winter in Paris--"

Henry de Bracieux, a fine-looking young man of twenty-five years of
age, with a strong resemblance to his sister Bertrade, was listening
to the words of the marchioness. His eyebrows were knitted, and there
was a serious expression on his face. He missed a very easy cannon,
and his brother-in-law was astonished.

"Oh, hang it!" he exclaimed; "it is too warm to play billiards. I am
going out to have a nap in the hammock."

His sister watched him as he left the room, and then turning towards
the marchioness, she whispered:

"He, too!"

The old lady replied, with a touch of ill-humour:

"Bijou cannot marry all the family, anyhow. Ah! here she is, we must
not talk about it."

Just at that moment the graceful figure of the young girl appeared in
the doorway leading to the stone steps.

"How many people will there be to dinner on Thursday, grandmamma?" she
asked, without entering the room.

"Why, I have not counted. There are the La Balues--"

"That makes four."

"The Juzencourts--"

"Six."

"Young Bernès--"

"Seven."

"Madame de Nézel--"

"Eight."

"That's all."

"And we are ten to start with, that makes eighteen. We can do with
twenty; will you invite the Dubuissons, grandmamma? I should so like
to have Jeanne."

"I am perfectly willing. I will write to them."

"It isn't worth while. I shall have to go to Pont-sur-Loire to get
things in, and I can invite them."

"My poor dear child! you are going to the town through this heat?"

"We _must_ see about the things for this dinner. To-day is
Tuesday--and then I want to speak to Mère Rafut, and see if she can
come to work. I have no dresses to put on, and there will be the
races, and some dances."

"Oh!" said the marchioness, evidently annoyed, "you are going to have
that frightful old woman again."

"Why, grandmamma, she's a very nice, straightforward sort of woman,
and then she works so well."

"That may be; but her appearance is terribly against her."

"Yes, grandmamma, that is so, she is not beautiful--Mère Rafut is old
and poor, and old age and poverty do not improve the appearance; but
it is so convenient for me to have her; and she is so happy to come
here, and be well-paid, and well-fed, and well-treated, after being
accustomed to her actresses, who either pay her badly or not at all."

By this time Bijou was standing just behind Madame de Bracieux's
arm-chair. She added in a coaxing way, as she threw her pretty pink
arms around the old lady's neck:

"It is quite a charity, grandmamma; and a charity not only to Mère
Rafut, but to me."

"Have her then," answered the marchioness, "have your frightful old
woman--let her come as much as you like!"

"Well, then, good-bye for the present."

"How are you going?--in the victoria?"

"No, in the trap; I shall be quicker if I take the trap--I can go
there in twenty-five minutes.

"And _you_ are going to drive?"

"Why, yes, grandmamma."

"And with the sun so hot? You'll have a stroke."

"Shall I drive you, Bijou?" proposed M. de Rueille. "I want to get
some tobacco, and some powder, and two fishing-rods to replace those
that Pierrot broke. I shall be glad to go to town."

"And I shall be delighted for you to drive me."

"When shall we start?"

"At once, please."

Just as they were going out of the room, the marchioness called out to
them:

"Beware of accidents. Don't go too quickly downhill."

"You can be quite easy, grandmamma, I never lose my head."



II.


IN the evening as they were driving through Pont-sur-Loire on their
way back to Bracieux, M. de Rueille said to Denyse:

"There is no mistake about it, Bijou, my dear with you there is no
chance of passing by unnoticed. Oh, dear, no!"

She glanced at the foot-passengers, who were turning round to look at
her with intense curiosity, and answered:

"It's my pink dress that--"

"No, it is not your dress, it is you yourself."

Her large violet eyes grew larger with astonishment as she asked:

"I, myself? But why?"

"Oh, Bijou, my dear, it is not at all nice of you to act like that
with your poor old cousin."

"You think I am acting?" she exclaimed, looking more and more
astounded.

"Well, it appears like it to me; it is impossible for you not to know
how pretty you are. In the first place, you have eyes, and then you
are told often enough for--"

"I am told?--by whom?"

"By everyone. Why, even I, although I am nearly your uncle and a
settled-down respectable sort of man."

"'Nearly my uncle.' No--considering that Bertrade is my first cousin;
and, as to the rest--" She stopped abruptly, and then finished with a
laugh. "You flatter yourself!"

"Alas, no! I shall soon be forty-two."

She looked at him in surprise.

"Oh, well! you don't look it."

"Thank you! There now! Do you see how all the natives are gazing at
you? I can assure you, Bijou, that when I come to do any shopping
alone, they do not watch me so eagerly."

"I tell you it is this pink dress that astonishes them."

"But why should they be astonished? They are accustomed to that,
because you often come to Pont-sur-Loire, and you always wear pink."

Ever since she had left off her mourning for her parents, who had died
four years ago, Denyse had adopted pink as her only colour for all her
dresses. The reason was, she said, because her grandmother preferred
seeing her dressed thus. Anyhow, this pink, a very pale, soft shade,
like that of the petals of a rose just as it begins to fall, suited
her to perfection, as it was almost exactly the same delicate colour
as her skin.

She always wore it, and when the weather was cold or gloomy she would
put on a long, gathered cloak, which covered her entirely, and on
taking this dark wrap off, she would come out, looking as fresh and
sweet as a flower, and seem to brighten up everything around her.

Her dresses were always of batiste, muslin, or some soft woollen
material, comparatively inexpensive. The greatest luxury to which she
treated herself now and again was a _taffetas_ or surah silk. And
then, nothing could be more simple than the way these dresses were
made--always the same little gathered blouses and straight skirts, and
never any trimming whatever, except, perhaps, in the winter, a narrow
edging of fur.

"Yes, that's quite true," she said thoughtfully, "I am always in pink.
You don't like that?"

"Not like it? I--good heavens!--why, I think it is perfectly charming!
I tell you, Bijou, that if I were not an old man, I should make love
to you all the time!"

"You are not an old man!"

"Very many thanks! If, however, you do not look upon me as quite an
old man--which, by the bye, is certainly debatable--I am at any rate a
married man."

"Yes, that's true, and so much the better for you, for there is
nothing more stupid and tiresome than men who are always making love."

"Well, then, you must know a terrible number of people who are stupid
and tiresome."

"Why?"

"Because everyone makes love to you--more or less!"

"Not at all! Why, just think! I was brought up in the most isolated
way, like a veritable savage. When papa and mamma were living, they
were always ill, and I was shut up with them, and never saw anyone. It
is scarcely four years since I came to live with grandmamma, where I
do see people."

"Oh, yes; plenty of them, and no mistake!"

"You speak as though that annoyed you?"

She glanced sideways at Rueille, her eyes shining beneath her drooping
eyelids, whilst he replied, with a touch of irritation in his voice in
spite of himself:

"Annoyed me, but why should it? Are your affairs any business of mine;
have I any voice in the matter of anything that concerns you?"

"Which means that if you had a voice in the matter--?"

"Ah, there would certainly be many changes, and many reforms that I
should make."

"For instance?"

"Well, I should not allow you, if I were in your grandmamma's place,
to be quite as affable and as ready to welcome everyone; I should want
to keep you rather more for myself, and prevent your letting strangers
have so much of you."

"Yes," she said, with a pensive expression, "perhaps you are right."

"And all the more so because we shall have you to ourselves for so
short a time now."

The large candid eyes, with their sweet expression, were fixed on Paul
de Rueille as he continued:

"You will be marrying soon? You will be leaving us?"

Bijou laughed. "How you arrange things. There is no question, as far
as I know, of my marriage."

"There is nothing definite--no; at least, I do not think so. But,
practically, it is the one subject in question, and grandmamma thinks
of nothing else."

"Oh, well, I am not like her then, for I scarcely ever give it a
thought." And then she added, turning grave all at once: "Besides, my
marriage is very problematical."

"Problematical?"

"Why, yes,--in the first place, I should want the man who marries me
to love me."

"Oh, well, you can be easy on that score; you will have no difficulty
about that."

Her fresh young voice took an almost solemn tone as she continued:

"And then I should want to love him, too."

"Oh, so you will. One always does love one's husband--to begin with,"
said Rueille carelessly; and then he stopped short, thinking that the
words "to begin with" were unnecessary.

Bijou had not understood, however, nor even heard, for she asked:

"What did you say?"

"I said that he will be very happy."

"Who will be happy?"

"The man you love!"

"I hope so. I shall do all I can for that!"

M. de Rueille seemed to be annoyed and irritated. He said, in a
disagreeable way, as though he wanted to discourage Denyse in her
dreams of the future:

"Yes, but supposing you do not happen to meet with him?"

"Well, then, I shall die an old maid, that's all! But I do not see why
I should not meet with him. I do not ask for anything impossible,
after all!"

In a mocking tone, and a trifle aggressive, he, asked:

"Would it be very indiscreet to ask you what you expect?"

"Oh, not indiscreet in the slightest degree, for I can only answer
just as I have already answered, I should simply want _to love him_! I
do not care at all about money; I neither understand money nor worship
it!" She turned towards her cousin, and said, in conclusion, as she
looked up into his face: "Now, I'll tell you, I would agree to a
marriage like Bertrade's."

"With another husband," he stammered out.

Very simply and naturally, and without the slightest embarrassment,
she said, laughing:

"Oh, dear no! No, I think the husband is quite nice."

M. de Rueille did not answer. He could not help feeling some emotion,
in spite of himself, at this idea that Bijou might have cared for him.
It seemed to him that the evening air was delicious, and never had the
setting sun, which was sinking slowly like a ball of flame into the
Loire, appeared more brilliant to him. The little gig was so narrow,
that, with every oscillation, his elbow touched the young girl's arm,
whilst her soft fair hair, escaping from her large straw hat, kept
brushing against his cheek, which began to burn.

Bijou noticed his absent-mindedness.

"It seems to me," she said, laughing, "that you are not listening much
to the description of my ideal."

"Oh, yes!"

"Oh, no!--by the bye, have we done all the errands?"

She took out of her pocket a long list, which she began to read:

"_Ice. Cakes. Fruit. Fish. The Dubuissons. Speak to the butcher. Pink
gauze. Mère Rafut. Hat. Pierrot's books. Henry's cartridges (16)._"

"What's that?" asked M. de Rueille, who was looking at the list.
"Henry has commissioned you to get his cartridges instead of telling
me to get them?"

"Yes; the time before last when he asked you, you forgot them; and
last time you brought him number twelve cartridges, and his are number
sixteen; therefore, he preferred--"

"Ah! I can understand that; but they do take advantage of you--and
the children too have taken advantage. '_Balloon for Marcel, pencils
for Robert_;' Fred is the only one who has not given you any
commissions. You need not despair though, he is only three years old;
he will begin next year."

"He did not give me any commissions, but I have brought him a picture
book--'Puss in Boots.' He adores cats, so that will amuse him."

"How delicious you are!"

"Delicious! Is that saying enough? Could you not find something rather
more eulogistic? Let us see--try now!"

She was still glancing down the list; and Paul de Rueille pointed with
the handle of his whip to a line written in pencil:

"What's that?--'_Tell grandmamma about La Norinière!_'"

"Why, I met the Juzencourts, and they said I was to be sure to tell
grandmamma that 'The Norinière' is to be inhabited."

"Ah, Clagny has sold it?"

"No; he is coming back to it. It appears that he is coming every
summer."

"Ah, so much the better. Grandmamma will be very glad of that."

"Yes, she likes him very much. I do not know him, this M. de Clagny,
but I have often heard about him."

"Don't you remember seeing him a long time ago?"

"Why, no!"

"Well, he was your godfather, anyhow!"

"You are dreaming! Uncle Alexis is my godfather."

"Your Uncle Jonzac is the godfather of Denyse, but it was M. de Clagny
who was the godfather of Bijou. Yes, he said once, speaking of you
when you were very little, _the Bijou_--and the name suited you so
well that you have had it ever since."

"Don't you think it is rather ridiculous to call me Bijou now that I
am old?"

"You look as though you were fourteen, and you always will look like
that, I promise you."

"Isn't it rather risky to promise me that?"

She laughed as she glanced at him, and he, too, looked at her as
though he could not take his eyes away from the pretty, fresh young
face turned towards him. He was paying no attention to the road, which
was in a very bad state, until suddenly the right wheel went into a
rut, and the gig gave a jerk, which sent Denyse on to him. She clung
to his arm with all her might, and they remained an instant like this
until they were able to regain their balance. The wheel, then, in some
way or another, got clear of the deep rut in which it had been caught,
and the horse went on again at a quick pace as before.

"That's right!" said Bijou, laughing heartily. "I certainly thought we
should be upset."

"It was as near a shave as possible," he answered gravely.

She loosened the grasp of her small fingers, which had been pressed
tightly on her cousin's shoulder.

"Is it really over?" she asked. "You are not going to begin again, I
hope?"

M. de Rueille did not answer. He was looking at her with an
absent-minded, troubled expression in his eyes.

"Yes; but, instead of looking at me, do look before you," she went on.
"We shall get into another rut directly, you'll see."

"Oh, no! oh, no!" he murmured, as though he were in some dream.

"I'm sure we shall be late for dinner," said Bijou; "and you know
grandmamma does not altogether like that."

Rueille touched the pony's back with the whip, and the animal,
springing forward, jerked the little carriage violently, and then
started off at a mad pace.

This time Bijou looked stupefied.

"What's that for?" she asked. "Whatever is the matter with you to-day?
Just now you almost upset us, and now you touch Colonel with the whip,
and you ought not to let him even guess that you have one; you have
made him take fright," and then, seeing that the horse was calming
down, she added, "or nearly so; you are not yourself at all."

"No," he answered mechanically, "I am not myself."

At the pony's first plunge Denyse had taken M. de Rueille's arm again.
It was not that she was in the least afraid, but she was perched on a
seat which was too high for her, so that she could not keep her
balance, and, consequently, she tried to hold on to something firm.
Without loosing the arm on to which she was hanging, she leant towards
her cousin, and asked, with evident interest:

"Not yourself? What is the matter? Are you ill?"

"Ill? No! at least, not exactly."

"What do you mean by _not exactly_? Oh, but you must not be ill. We
have to work at our play this evening, and if you do not set about
it, all of you, and in earnest, why, it will never be finished for
the race-ball."

"I don't care a hang about the play, and--I--if I were you--"

He stopped abruptly, evidently embarrassed.

"Well?" asked Bijou, "what is it? You were going to say something."

"Yes," he stammered out, scarcely knowing how to put what he wanted to
say. "I was going to remark that the design Jean has made for
your--for Hebe's dress--"

"Well?"

"Well, it isn't the thing at all; there is too little of it."

"Too little of it? Nonsense!"

"It isn't nonsense. I say it is not the thing for a woman, and
especially a young girl like you, to appear like that."

Bijou looked at Paul de Rueille with a bewildered expression on her
face, and then burst out laughing.

"Oh, you are queer; you look exactly like a jealous husband."

"Jealous!" he stammered out, vexed and ill at ease. "It isn't for me
to be jealous, but I--"

"No, certainly, but all the same, without being jealous, you men do
not like a woman to look pretty, or to be nice, or amusing, for
anyone else's benefit than just your own."

"Well, admitting that that is so, it is quite natural."

"Ah! you think so? Oh, well, a woman, on the contrary, is always glad
when the men she likes are admired; she is delighted when other people
like them too."

"Nonsense! You do not know anything about it, my dear Bijou. You are
most deliciously inexperienced in such things fortunately."

"Why _fortunately_?" she asked, opening her soft, innocent eyes wide
in astonishment.

"Because--"

He stopped short, and Bijou insisted, pinching his arm.

"Well, go on--do go on."

"No, it would be too complicated," he answered, evidently ill at ease,
and trying to shake off the grasp of the strong little hand.

"Too complicated!" repeated Bijou, turning red. "I detest being put
off like that. Why will you not explain what you were thinking?"

"Explain what I was thinking," he said, in a sort of fright. "Oh, no!"

"No? Well, it is not nice of you."

They went on for a minute or two without speaking, Bijou calm and
smiling, and her companion with a serious, uneasy look on his face.

Just as the gig was entering the avenue, Bijou turned towards M. de
Rueille, and touching him, this time very gently, with her little
hand, she said in a penetrating voice, which, in his agitated state of
mind, was the last straw:

"As it vexes you so much I won't wear that costume. We will get Jean
to design another for me."

He seized the hand that was resting on his arm and pressed it to his
lips with an almost brutal tenderness.

Bijou did not appear to like this passionate display of feeling. She
drew her hand away quietly, but there was a strange gleam in her eyes
as she said:

"Take care of the gate, it is a sharp turn remember, and you are not
in luck to-day."

She then began to collect her parcels calmly, and until they arrived
at the door of the _château_ she was silent and thoughtful. The first
dinner-bell was just ringing, and Bijou ran upstairs to her room, and
ten minutes later entered the drawing-room, arrayed in a dainty dress
of rose-leaf coloured chiffon, with a large bunch of roses on the
shoulder.

"Why! you don't mean to say that you are here already!" exclaimed
Madame de Rueille admiringly. "I will wager anything that that slow
coach of a Paul is not ready."

"Did you do all the commissions?" asked the marchioness.

"Yes, grandmamma, and I have a special one for you. The Juzencourts
wished me to tell you that M. de Clagny is coming back to live at The
Norinière, and that he will come every year."

"Oh!" exclaimed Madame de Bracieux, looking very delighted, "I am glad
to hear that. I never expected to see him come back here."

"Why?" asked Bijou.

"Well, because when he was here he had a great grief, just at an age
when painful impressions can never be effaced."

"At what age is that?" asked Jean de Blaye, with a touch of sarcasm in
his voice.

"Forty-eight. And when you are that age, you will not be as fond of
ridiculing everything as you are now, my dear boy; and it won't be so
long before you get there as you think either."

"So much the better," he answered, smiling; "that must be the ideal
age--the age when one's heart is at rest."

"In some cases it is at rest before that age," said the marchioness
slily, looking at her nephew.

Jean shrugged his shoulders.

"Yes, but it wakes up again, or, at least, it might wake up; one is
not quite easy about it; but at forty-eight ..."

"Ah! that's your opinion. Well, it is twelve years ago now since my
old friend Clagny was forty-eight. He must therefore be sixty at
present, and I would wager anything that his heart has never been at
rest--never. You understand me?" And then in a lower tone, so that
Bijou, who was just talking to Bertrade, should not hear, she added:
"Neither his heart nor he himself."

Jean laughed.

"Oh, well! he's a curiosity this friend of yours. Why does he not go
about in a show? He would get some money."

"He has no need of money."

"He is rich, then?"

"Atrociously rich!"

"Well, but what's he got?"

"Sixteen thousand a year. Don't you consider that a fair amount?"

"Yes," he answered, without any sign of enthusiasm, "yes, of course,
that's very fair--for anyone who has not got it dishonestly." And
then, after a pause, he asked: "What was this great trouble that he
had?"

"Oh, I'll tell you about it when Bijou is not here."

The young girl, however, could scarcely have heard what they were
saying. She was joking with Pierrot, who had just come into the room.
She wanted to part his hair again, and Pierrot, a tall youth of
seventeen, strong-looking, but overgrown, with long feet and hands,
and a forehead covered with extraordinary bumps, was trying to make
himself short, so that the young girl might reach up to his bushy,
colourless hair. He was bending his head, and looking straight before
him, with a far-away expression in his eyes, evidently enjoying having
his hair stroked by the skilful little hands.

Madame de Bracieux, seeing that Bijou was at a safe distance, ventured
in a low voice to tell her nephew the details about the love-affair,
which had in a way changed the whole life of her friend, M. de Clagny.

Suddenly Denyse came across to the marchioness.

"Grandmamma--I forgot--the Dubuissons cannot come to dinner on
Thursday, but M. Dubuisson will bring Jeanne on Friday, and leave her
with us for a week."

"Well, then, we shall only be eighteen to dinner."

"No, we shall be twenty all the same; because I saw the Tourvilles,
and I gave them an invitation from you; I thought that--"

"You did quite right."

"Oh!" exclaimed Bertrade, "the Tourvilles and the Juzencourts at the
same time! We shall be sure, then, of hearing their stories of William
the Conqueror and Charles the Bold!"

"Oh, well!" exclaimed Bijou, laughing, "it will be much better like
that, we shall have it altogether, once for all, at any rate."

Just as dinner was announced, M. de Rueille entered the room. He had
an absent-minded look, and his eyes shone strangely. He took his seat
silently at table, and did not talk during the meal.



III.


BIJOU, assisted by Pierrot, was handing the coffee round, when
suddenly she darted off in pursuit of Paul de Rueille, who had just
come out of the drawing-room, and was descending the steps which led
on to the terrace.

"Stop, stop! Where are you going?" she called out.

"Oh, only for a stroll," he answered, without looking round, "to get a
breath of air, if that is possible with this heat."

Bijou had already caught him up.

"Oh, no, what about the play?--You must come and work."

"My head aches."

"Work will take it away! You really must come, we have only three
days."

"But I am not indispensable; you can do without me," said Rueille
irritably.

"Oh, but you always do the writing."

"From dictation; it is not necessary to be very clever for that."

"Yes it is; and then, too, we are used to you."

She was on the step above him, and, bending forward, she put her arms
round his neck, and said in a coaxing tone:

"Paul, dear, come now, just to please me, you would be so nice, so
very nice!"

M. de Rueille, turning abruptly, unclasped the soft arms, which
encircled his neck and rested against his face.

"All right, all right!" he said, in a hoarse voice, "I'll come!"

The young girl stepped back, and in the evening-light he could see her
large astonished eyes shining as she gazed at him.

"How cross you are!" she said timidly. "What's the matter with you?"
He did not answer, and she asked again: "Won't you tell me?"

"No, no," he said curtly, and then he re-mounted the steps and went
into the drawing-room.

Bijou followed him, and whispered to Bertrade:

"I don't know what is the matter with your husband, but he is very
bad-tempered."

Madame de Rueille glanced at Paul. He looked rather fagged and
nervous, and was trying to appear at his ease, as he talked and
laughed noisily with the tutor, who, on the contrary, was silent and
reserved.

"Yes, certainly something is the matter with him," said Bertrade,
rather uneasy at seeing her husband so strange. "I do not know at all
what it is, though," she added.

"Only imagine," Bijou proceeded to explain to the whole room, "Paul
wanted to go for a stroll instead of coming to work. Yes, and it was
not very easy to get him here, I can assure you."

With a resigned look, M. de Rueille took his seat at a side table with
a marble top. He then took up the manuscript, and, turning to the page
which was commenced, dipped a long, quill pen into the ink.

"When you are ready?"--he said calmly.

"Well, but first of all, where are we?" asked M. de Jonzac.

"Scene three of the second act."

"Still?" exclaimed Bijou, astonished.

"Alas, yes."

"My dear children, you will never have it finished," remarked the
marchioness.

"Oh, yes, grandmamma, we shall," said Bijou merrily; "you will see how
we are going to work now. Come now, we are at the third scene of the
second act,--it is where the poet is defending himself after the
accusations--rather spiteful ones, too--which Venus has brought
against him."

"Well, and what then?" asked M. de Rueille after a pause.

"Well," said Bijou, "in my opinion, we want a little couplet there;
what do you think, Jean?"

Jean de Blaye, with an absorbed look on his face, was lounging in a
deep arm-chair, his head thrown back on the cushions. He appeared to
be in a reverie, and had not even heard the question.

"Are you asleep?" asked Bijou.

"Did you speak to me?" he asked, turning towards her.

"Why, yes, I did have the honour of speaking to you. I asked you
whether a couplet would not be the right thing there--a couplet that
would go to some well-known air?"

"Yes," he replied, in an absent sort of way, "that would do very
well."

"All right, compose it then."

Jean gave a start; he was quite roused now.

"I am to compose it,--why should I be the one to do it?"

"Because you always do them."

"Well, that's a nice reason," protested Jean. "I should say that is
precisely why it is someone else's turn. You have only to set the
others to work--Henry, or Uncle Alexis, or M. Giraud, or even
Pierrot."

"Why do you say _even_?" asked Pierrot, annoyed. "I should do them
quite as well as you."

"Well, do them then! for my part, I have had enough of it."

"Jean," said Bijou, in a pleading tone, "don't leave us in the lurch,
please."

She was going across to him, her pretty head bent forward, and a most
comically beseeching little pout on her lips, when M. de Rueille rose
abruptly from his seat, and stopped her on the way:

"Oh, he will do your couplets right enough; he likes doing them; sit
down, Bijou."

The young girl stood still in the middle of the room, surprised at
this extraordinary proceeding.

"But why don't _you_ sit down?" she exclaimed. "What have you come
away from your table for?"

"Ah! I have no right to leave the table without your permission?"

"Jean!" began Bijou again, "come now, Jean!"

Once again M. de Rueille interposed.

"Why don't you kneel down to him at once?" he said, in a sharp tone.

"Goodness! I don't mind doing that even if he will only be
persuaded."

She was darting across to her cousin, but Rueille caught her arm, and
said angrily:

"What nonsense! it is perfectly ridiculous!"

Bijou looked at him in amazement, and stammered out:

"It is you who are ridiculous!"

"Oh, yes, of course," he answered, speaking harshly, "it is I who
ought to go and sit down, and I am the one who is ridiculous; in fact,
I am everything I ought not to be, and I always do everything I ought
not to do."

"Whatever is the matter, children?" asked Madame de Bracieux.

M. de Jonzac explained, as he emptied his pipe by tapping it gently
against a piece of furniture.

"Heaven have mercy upon us! It is nothing less than Paul quarrelling
with Bijou!"

"With Bijou?" exclaimed the old lady, in perfect amazement.

"Paul quarrelling with Bijou!" repeated Madame de Rueille, putting
down the newspaper she had been reading, "impossible!"

"Yes, really!" affirmed the abbé, quite horrified. "M. de Rueille is
vexed with Mademoiselle Denyse!"

"Come here, Bijou!" called out the marchioness, and the young girl
tripped across the room to her grandmamma, and knelt down on the
cushions at her feet.

"You ought not to let Bijou go on in that way with you!" said M. de
Rueille, going up to Jean, and speaking in a low voice.

"Go on in what way? are you dreaming?"

"I am not dreaming at all. Denyse is twenty years old, you know!"

"Twenty-one," corrected the young man.

"All the more reason--she really ought to behave more carefully!"

"Poor child, she behaves perfectly!" and then looking at his cousin,
he added: "I really don't know what's up with you?"

"Oh, I'm in the wrong," murmured M. de Rueille, slightly embarrassed.
"Of course, I'm quite in the wrong!"

"Absolutely so!" said Blaye drily, getting up from his arm-chair.

On seeing him move towards the door, Bijou left the marchioness, and
rushed across to him:

"Oh, no! you are not going away! Grandmamma, tell him that he is not
to leave us like this!"

"Come now, Jean," said the marchioness, half joking and half scolding,
"don't plague them so!"

The young man sat down again in despair.

"And this is the country!" he exclaimed, "this is rest and holiday! I
have to work like a nigger, writing plays--plays with couplets--and
then go to bed regularly at two in the morning, and this is what is
called being in clover!"

Pierrot had listened to this outburst with apparent solemnity.

"Continue, old man," he said jeeringly, "you interest me!"

Bijou laughed, and Jean, looking annoyed, turned towards Pierrot, and
said sarcastically, "You are very witty, my dear boy!"

"Children, you are perfectly insufferable!" exclaimed Madame de
Bracieux, raising her voice. She was looking at them in surprise,
wondering what wind had suddenly risen to bring about this storm. She
could not account for all these disagreeable little speeches, and the
hostile attitude they had taken up, and which was quite a new thing to
the old lady. Once again she called Bijou to her. The young girl was
standing looking round at everyone with a questioning expression in
her soft eyes.

"Do you know what's the matter with them?" asked the marchioness.

"I have no idea, grandmamma," she answered innocently, the wondering
look still on her face.

"Don't you see how cross they are?" continued the marchioness.

"Yes, I can see that they are cross, but I do not know what it's all
about; if it is on account of the play, why, we won't have it! I don't
want to worry everyone with it, just because I like it; but I _do_
like it immensely."

Just at this moment M. de Rueille called out:

"Well, are we going to work at this, yes or no? I have had enough of
sitting waiting here like an imbecile."

"Where are we?" asked Jean, in a way which meant, "As there's no
getting out of it, let us start at once."

"We've told you where we are--" answered Rueille, "we've told you
twice."

Bijou interposed, explaining in a conciliatory tone:

"It is where the poet has to answer Venus."

"Ah, yes! exactly, I remember! She has accused him of all sorts of
things, and you want him to defend himself--"

"In a couplet."

"Yes, I understand--where are you going though?"

Bijou was just crossing the room.

"I am going across to sit by M. Giraud; he won't worry me like all of
you."

The tutor blushed, and moved slightly to make room for her on the
divan on which he was seated. Denyse glided on, and took her place at
his side.

"We are listening," she said.

Jean was twisting a pencil and a piece of paper about in his fingers.

"What did Venus answer?" he asked.

M. de Rueille, with an absent-minded expression on his face, was
watching a moth fluttering round the lamp near him.

"What did Venus answer?" called out several voices together, as loudly
as possible.

M. de Rueille looked aghast, and, stopping his ears, read aloud from
the manuscript:

"'_You know I do not believe a word of it._'"

"Strike that out," said Jean, "and put: '_I do not believe it at all,
you know._' And now the poet answers:

      "'_L'âme d'un symboliste,
      Madame, est un coffret mélancolique d'améthyste
      A serrure de diamant.
      Il suffit de savoir l'ouvrir et la comprendre
      Et le trésor éclos illumine la chambre
      Et sourit la tristesse aux lèvres des amants._'"

"Is that at all amusing?" asked M. de Rueille.

"Well, hang it all!" exclaimed Jean irritably, "I do not say that it
is precisely a _chef-d'oeuvre_! Bijou asked for a couplet--I have
given her a couplet to the best of my ability, but I don't wish to
hinder you from giving us a better one."

"To what air will that go?" asked Bijou.

"Ah, yes, that's true, we want an air for it. What is there?"

"You might put '_Air. J'en guette un petit de mon âge_,'" suggested
Rueille.

"Does that go to it?"

"What do you mean by 'does it go to it?'"

"Why, that air."

"I don't know. I don't even know what the air is."

"Then why do you suggest that we should take it?"

"Oh! because I often see things to that air: '_J'en guette un petit de
mon âge._' I just remembered seeing it, and there are lots of couplets
that are put to it."

"But the poet's lines are longer than that," remarked Bijou,
"especially the second one. No--one could never sing them to that
air--nor to any other."

"Ah, yes!--I did not think of that."

"Fortunately, Bijou thinks of everything," put in Pierrot, with pride.

"We'll find an air for it presently," said Jean. "Let's go on; do
let's go on, or we never shall finish it. Who's on the stage at
present?"

And then, as M. de Rueille was biting the end of his pen and watching
Bijou, so that he did not appear to have heard, Blaye exclaimed:

"Paul, are you there? or have you gone out for a time?"

"I am there."

"Oh, very well! then will you have the kindness to tell me which of
the characters are at present on the scene?"

"Wait a minute! I'll just look."

"What?" exclaimed Bijou, "do you mean to say you have to look before
you can tell us?"

"Well, you do not imagine, I presume, that I know by heart all the
insane things that each of you has been pleased to dictate to me."

"I know them all anyhow," and then, turning towards Jean de Blaye, she
answered his question. "We have on the scene at present, Venus, the
Poet, Thomas Vireloque, and the Opportunist, and we said yesterday
that after the introduction of the Poet to Venus, we would let Madame
de Staël come in."

"Very well, we will let her enter at once."

"Have you found anyone for Madame de Staël?" asked Rueille; "up to the
present no one has wanted to act her part."

"No," said Bijou; "just now I asked Madame de Juzencourt again, but
she refuses energetically; and if Bertrade refuses too--"

"Bertrade refuses absolutely," replied the young wife, very gently.

"It isn't nice of you."

"Is Madame de Staël indispensable?" asked Uncle Jonzac.

"Quite indispensable," answered Bijou, emphatically. "We must
absolutely find some way of--" And then suddenly breaking off, as a
new idea struck her, she exclaimed gaily: "Why, Henry can take
it--Madame de Staël's _rôle_; he has scarcely any moustache."

"I?" cried Bracieux. "_I_ act Madame de Staël?"

"She was rather masculine; it will do very well."

"But, good heavens!--I am not going to appear before people I know
arrayed in a low-necked dress, a turban, and all padded up--why, it
would be frightful!"

"Not at all! Oh, come now--you don't want pressing, I hope?"

"And you are not going to spoil the whole thing by being disobliging
over it," added Pierrot, with a virtuous air.

"Disobliging?" exclaimed Henry, turning towards him; "it is very
evident that you are not in my place. By the bye, though, you might
very well be in my place;" and then seeing that Pierrot looked
horror-stricken, he continued: "Why shouldn't you take it instead of
me--you have less moustache even than I have!"

"Yes, but I am too scraggy," declared Pierrot cunningly. "Madame de
Staël was rather a stout-looking woman."

"Scraggy? you, the athlete!"

Jean de Blaye knocked the floor with a billiard-cue for silence.

"We will think about who is to act Madame de Staël when we have found
out what she has to say--Well, then, she enters--Are you not going to
write, Paul?"

"What do you want me to write?"

"Well, just write: '_Madame de Staël enters by_--' Yes, but that's
the point--by which door does she enter?"

"I have put '_from the back of stage._' Whenever you don't tell me how
they come in, I always put '_from the back of stage._'"

"All right! Then we will leave '_from the back of the stage._'"


     "_Madame de Staël (to Thomas Vireloque)_: 'I am Madame de
     Staël.'

     _Thomas Vireloque_: 'Beg pardon?'

     _Madame de Staël_: 'I am Madame de Staël.'

     _Venus_: 'What have you to tell us?'

     _The Opportunist_: 'It is very curious--I took you for a
     Turk.'

     _The Poet_: 'And I--'"


"Wait a minute!" said M. de Rueille, "I've made a mistake."

"How could you?"

"How could I? The same way we generally do make mistakes, of course--I
wasn't thinking."

"That's about it," said Bijou. "I don't know what's the matter with
you, but you certainly are absent-minded this evening."

Without answering, Rueille drew his quill-pen across the paper,
bearing on heavily, so that the pen gave a plaintive screech.

"What are you doing now?" asked Jean.

"I am crossing it out."

"What are you crossing out?"

"Well, I had written the same sentences over four times each."

Bijou and Blaye got up to examine M. de Rueille's work, and the young
girl read out:


     "_Madame de Staël_: 'I am Madame de Staël.'

     _Thomas Vireloque_: 'Beg pardon?'

     _Madame de Staël_; 'I am Madame de Staël.'

     _Thomas Vireloque_: 'Beg pardon?'

     _Madame de Staël_; 'I am Madame de Staël.'"


"Oh, yes," said Bijou, "you must cross that out!"

"No, leave it as it is, on the contrary," protested Jean, laughing;
"they'll think that Mæterlinck collaborated with us--it will be
capital."

"Supposing we were to retire," proposed M. de Jonzac. "Paul is
half-asleep, that's why he wrote the same thing over three times
without noticing it. Abbé Courteil is fast asleep, and, as for me, I
am dying to follow his example."

"Oh," said Bijou, "it is scarcely one o'clock."

"Well, but it seems to me that in the country--What do you say about
the matter, Monsieur Giraud?"

"Oh, as for me, monsieur, I could sit up all night without feeling
sleepy," replied the young tutor, without taking his eyes off Bijou.

"My dear children," said the marchioness, getting up, "your uncle is
quite right, you must go to bed. Bijou, will you see that the books
you had out of the library are put back?"

"Yes grandmamma, I will put them back myself."

When the others had gone upstairs, M. de Rueille asked:

"Shall I help you, Bijou? two will do it more quickly--"

"No, you don't know anything about the library; you would mix them all
up. I must have someone who knows where the books go." And then
turning towards the tutor, who was just going out of the room, she
said to him, in the most charming way, as though to excuse the liberty
she was taking: "Monsieur Giraud, would _you_ help me to put the books
up?"

The young man stopped short, too delighted even for words. As he
remained standing there, she pointed to the open door leading into the
hall and said gently:

"Will you shut the door, please? And then, if you will take Molière, I
will bring Aristophanes, and we will come back for the others--yes,
that's it."

As she tripped along with the books, she chattered away, not as though
she were addressing her companion, but rather as though she were going
on with her thoughts aloud.

"What was Jean looking for in Aristophanes when he only wanted to make
Thomas Vireloque and Madame de Staël talk?" And then breaking off
abruptly, she asked:

"Do you think it will be interesting--our play?"

"Oh, yes, mademoiselle."

"Why do you never help us? you ought to work at it, too."

"Oh, I am not very well up in that sort of thing, mademoiselle;
politics and society talk are like sealed books to me, and I do not
exactly see either--"

"And then, probably, you would rather be just a spectator?"

"Unfortunately, mademoiselle, to my great regret, I shall not even be
that."

"What?" she exclaimed, in amazement, "you will not see our play?"

"No, mademoiselle."

"But, why?"

"Oh!" he replied, dreadfully embarrassed, "for a very ridiculous
reason."

"But what is it?"

"Mademoiselle--I--"

"Do please tell me why?" she said, and as she leaned forward towards
him, looking so graceful and charming, the perfume from her hair
plunged the young man into a sort of enervating torpor.

"Why will you not tell me?" she said at length, almost sadly; "don't
you look upon me a little as your friend?"

"Oh, mademoiselle," he stammered out, "I--I cannot appear at this
soiree because--you will see how prosaic my reason is--the fact is, I
have not a dress-coat."

"But you have plenty of time to send for your dress-coat; besides, you
will want it for Thursday, there is a dinner on Thursday."

Giraud blushed crimson.

"But, mademoiselle, I cannot send for it either for Thursday or for
later on, because I--I haven't one."

"Not at all?"

"Not at all!"

"Oh, you are joking?"

"No, I am not joking, mademoiselle! I do not possess a dress-coat."
And then he added with a smile which was quite pathetic: "And there
are plenty of poor wretches like I am who are in the same
predicament!"

"Oh!" said Bijou, taking the tutor's hand with an abrupt movement, "do
forgive me--how horrid and thoughtless I am! You will detest me, shall
you not?"

She pressed his hand slowly in a way which sent a thrill through him.

"Detest you?" he stammered out, almost beside himself with joy. "I
adore you!--I simply adore you!"

Bijou gazed at him in a startled way, but there was a tender
expression in her eyes, which were dimmed with tears. Her voice was
quite changed when she spoke again:

"Go away now!" she said, "and do not say that again; you must never,
never say it again!"

When he reached the door he turned round, and saw that Bijou had
thrown herself down on the divan, and was sobbing, with her face
buried in the cushions. He wanted to go back to her, but he did not
dare, and, without saying another word, he left the room.



IV.


BIJOU, who, as a rule, was to be seen every morning trotting about,
either in the house or the park, did not appear until after the first
luncheon-bell.

Pierrot, who had been quite uneasy, rushed across to meet her, and
assailed her with questions before she had had time to say
good-morning to the marchioness and to her Uncle Alexis.

He wanted to know why he had not seen her as usual in the dairy, where
she always went every morning to inspect the cheeses. Why had she not
been there, as she had not been out riding?

"How do you know that I have not been out riding?" asked Bijou.

"Because Patatras was in the stable," replied Pierrot. "I went to
see."

"Oh, then you keep a watch on me?" she said, laughing.

"That is not keeping a watch on you," answered Pierrot, turning red;
"and then, too, it isn't only me! we were both of us--M. Giraud--"

"What grammar--good heavens--what grammar!" exclaimed M. de Jonzac, in
despair.

"What's it matter? If there was anyone here, I'd take care to put the
style on; but when there's only us!" And then turning to Bijou, he
continued: "It's quite true, you know! M. Giraud was just as much
surprised as I. He kept on saying all the time: 'We always see
mademoiselle every day hurrying about everywhere, she must be ill!'
And then I'd say, 'Oh, no! it can't be that! the Bijou is never ill!'
You see, Monsieur Giraud, I was quite right--"

"No, you were wrong! I was not exactly ill, but tired, out of sorts. I
am only just up."

She walked across to the tutor, who was leaning so heavily against the
window-frame that it seemed as though he wanted to hollow out a niche
for himself with his back.

"I want to thank you, Monsieur Giraud," said Bijou, holding out her
hand to him, "for being so kind as to think about me."

Very pale, and visibly embarrassed, the young man scarcely dared touch
the soft little hand lying so confidingly in his; he looked very
delighted, though, at being treated with such cordiality, as it was
more than he had ever expected again.

"Mademoiselle," he stammered out, seized with a vague desire either
to run away or else to give way to his emotion, "please do not believe
that I should have taken the liberty of making all those remarks."

"Oh, well, it would not have mattered; there is plenty of liberty
allowed with _the Bijou_, as Pierrot would say." And then suddenly
looking very thoughtful and absorbed, she asked: "Have they been
working at the play this morning?"

"Working?" exclaimed Pierrot, with an air of surprise; "working
without you there? Oh, by jingo, no: it's quite enough to peg away at
it when you are with us, without going at it while you are away. Oh,
no! it would be too bad--that would! We had a dose of it last
night--the precious play--and I, more particularly, because I am
obliged to work at other things."

Bijou laughed heartily. "Are you not afraid of tiring yourself with
working so hard as all that?"

"If he continues at the rate he is going," said M. de Jonzac, "he will
never take his degree, will he, Monsieur Giraud?"

"I am afraid not, monsieur, I am very much afraid not," replied the
tutor gently. "Pierrot is very intelligent, but so thoughtless, and so
absent-minded always, especially since our arrival here!"

"Oh! not any more than you are, at any rate, Monsieur Giraud,"
retorted Pierrot. "It's quite true! I don't know what's the matter
with you, but your thoughts are always wool-gathering, and you don't
go in for books as you did before. Why, even _maths_ you don't seem so
mad on--you don't do anything now except look after me, and go off
writing poetry."

"You write poetry, Monsieur Giraud?" asked Madame de Rueille, entering
the room, followed by Jean and Henry.

"Oh, madame," stuttered the poor fellow, not knowing where to put
himself nor what to say, "I write some sort, but it is--not exactly
poetry."

"You write charming poetry!" said Jean, and then, as the young tutor
looked at him in astonishment, he continued: "Yes, you write very good
poetry--and then you lose it; little Marcel has just picked up these
verses and brought them to me."

He smiled as he held out to Giraud a folded paper, the writing on
which was invisible.

"Let me see them!" said Bijou, holding out her hand.

"Oh, mademoiselle!" cried the tutor, stepping forward, terrified,
"please do not insist!" And then in order to explain his own
agitation, he added: "They are wretched verses; please let me put
them out of sight. I will show you some others which are more worth
looking at."

Bijou's hand was still held out, and she stood there waiting, looking
very frank and innocent.

"Oh, please, Jean, let me see these all the same; that need not
prevent M. Giraud writing some more that we can see, too."

"I cannot show you a letter," replied Jean, handing the paper to the
distracted tutor, "and this is a kind of letter, and belongs to the
person who wrote it."

"Thank you," stammered out Giraud, thoroughly abashed, "I am much
obliged, monsieur." And he at once put the troublesome scrap of paper
into his pocket out of sight.

"Pierrot!" called out the marchioness, "give me 'La Bruyère'--you know
where it is?"

"What's that?" asked the youth, winking.

"'La Bruyère'?"

"You see," remarked M. de Jonzac, looking at his son with an
expression of despair on his face, "he does not even know who 'La
Bruyère' is!"

Pierrot protested energetically. "Yes, I do know who he is, and the
proof is, I can tell you--it's a blue-back."

"A what?" asked the marchioness.

"A blue-back, aunt."

"Explain to your aunt," interposed M. Giraud, "that you have a most
objectionable mania for speaking of books by the colour of the binding
rather than by their title."

"By George!" exclaimed M. de Jonzac, annoyed, "he never by any chance
opens one. He is an absolute ignoramus; just to think that he will
soon be seventeen!"

"Poor Pierrot," said Bijou compassionately, "he is not as ignorant as
all that!" And then, as her uncle did not answer, she added: "And
then, too, he is ever so nice, and he is so strong and well."

"Oh, as to that," said M. de Jonzac, "his health is perfect, and that
just makes him all the more insufferable, but not any more intelligent
though. Everyone complains about the overtaxing of the intellectual
faculties; they say that it is the ruin of children; and so, by way of
improvement, they go in now for overtaxing them physically, which is a
more certain ruin still."

"Ah, uncle is waging war now," put in Bertrade; "but I am of his
opinion, too, for I do not like to think that some day my children
will add to the number of the young ruffians we see around us."

"But," objected Henry de Bracieux, "many of them--and some quite
young, too--are very intellectual; I know some."

"I, too, know some," said Jean de Blaye; "but, to my way of thinking,
they are not precisely intellectual, they are--"

Just at this moment a bell was rung in the hall.

"We must go to luncheon, children," said the marchioness, rising,
"Jean will finish his little definition for us at table."

"Oh, I am not particularly keen about it, aunt," said Jean, laughing.

"I am, though; I am no longer 'in the know' of things, as you say, and
I don't object to be instructed about certain matters on which I am
absolutely ignorant."

On taking her seat at table, the marchioness, addressing Jean,
continued:

"You were saying that the young men who were not precisely the
intellectual ones were--"

"Oh, I am not good at explanations," he replied.

"That does not matter; go on, anyhow."

"Well, those who are not really intellectual are of the sickly kind;
they act that sort of thing to begin with, and then they end by
getting like it in reality; they are intolerably affected,
effeminate, crazy, and everything else beside. They set up for being
original, and not like anyone else."

"Well, and what do you call them?"

"I don't exactly know; they are of the complex kind. There's young La
Balue, for instance, he's a perfect example for you of this class; you
might study him."

"That's an idea that has never entered my head; but, in the young
generation of to-day, there are others beside these complex ones."

"Yes, they are the athletes."

"Specimen, Pierrot!"--remarked Henry de Bracieux.

The marchioness turned towards her grandson.

"Don't be personal," she said. "Continue your little speech, Jean."

"I would rather eat my egg in peace, aunt!"

"We had got as far as the athletes--"

"Well, then, if the complex young men of to-day are a trifle
sickening, the athletes are the greatest nuisances under the sun.
Boxing, football, bicycles, matches, and records--all that, they
consider of the most tremendous and vital importance, not only in
their conversation, but, what is more regrettable still, in their
lives. In their opinion, a man of worth is the one who can give the
hardest blows, or who is endowed with the greatest strength or
vigour; all their admiration is bestowed on one single being in the
world--_the Champion_, with a capital C."

"And what is there between the complex young man and the athletes?"

"Nothing; or, at least, some exceptions so rare that they are there
simply to confirm the rule. Of course, I am only talking now of the
young generation, of the latest--Pierrot's, in fact."

"Do leave poor Pierrot in peace!" said Bijou; "you all find fault with
him."

"Because it is not too late yet for him to put his young self to
rights, and if he were to be let alone, he would soon degenerate in
the most deplorable manner."

"Jean is right," agreed M. de Jonzac; "he can very well afford to give
advice to Pierrot, and even to the others, for he is himself highly
intellectual and very good at sports."

Madame de Bracieux looked at her nephew with a benevolent expression
in her eyes:

"Your uncle is right, my dear boy, you are the greatest success of the
family," she said, and then seeing that Bijou appeared to be examining
her cousin curiously, she added: "I am only speaking of the men, of
course."

Pierrot leaned over towards Denyse, who was seated next him, and
said, in an undertone with deep gratitude, "It's awfully good of you
to stick up for me always, and I can't tell you how fond I am of
you--more than any of the others."

She answered with a smile; and in an almost maternal way, said:

"That's very wrong! You ought to be much fonder of uncle, and of
grandmamma, too, than you are of me."

"Oh, well, to begin with, there's no rule for that, and then, too, I
didn't mean that at all. I meant that I am fonder of you than all the
others are; and, you know, there's some of them very fond of you;
there's Paul, for instance, Paul de Rueille--I'm sure he likes you
better than he does Bertrade, or his children, better than
anyone--even God!"

"Do be quiet!" said Bijou, alarmed, and looking round to see if anyone
had heard.

"Don't be in a fright! They are all busy worrying each other; they are
not troubling about us. It's quite true what I said, you know; and
then Jean, too, and Henry, and Monsieur Giraud! There's scarcely
anyone, except Abbé Courteil, who does not follow you about to every
corner you go; and then--"

"You are talking rubbish! how can you imagine--"

"I don't imagine it--I see it!--and I see it, because it annoys me!"

Just at this moment M. de Jonzac's voice was heard.

"Oh, no!" he was saying, "I am convinced that he has no idea that
Renan ever existed. He does not know a thing--not a single thing."

"Oh, yes," put in the tutor, in his usual gentle and conciliatory way,
"as regards Renan, I am sure that he knows. Only three or four days
ago I had occasion to quote him as the author of the 'Origin of
Language.'"

"Well, I would wager that he does not even remember his
name--Pierrot!" called out M. de Jonzac.

The poor lad, entirely absorbed in his conversation with Bijou, had no
idea that he was being discussed. On hearing his name called, he
turned his head towards his father, vaguely uneasy.

"Pierrot," asked M. de Jonzac, "who was Renan?"

"Ah! that's it, is it," said Pierrot to Bijou, "now they're beginning
the examination again. Renan--who in the world was he now?"

"You do not know who Renan was, do you?" asked M. de Jonzac blandly.

"No, father, I don't," replied the boy.

"What?" exclaimed Giraud, surprised; "why, only the other day we were
talking about him."

"About him?" repeated Pierrot, quite astounded, "do you mean to say
that I was talking about the man?"

"Why, yes--come now; try to remember--I mentioned one of his works."

Bijou, who had just before only been listening with one ear to what
Pierrot had been telling her, so that with the other she could keep up
with the general conversation, remembered the title that had been
quoted. She was looking at her plate, apparently taken up with the
strawberries, which she was rolling about in the sugar. "The 'Origin
of Language,'" she whispered very quietly.

"Come now, have a good try," repeated the tutor. "I mentioned one of
M. Renan's books to you--which one?"

"'The Language of Flowers,'" answered Pierrot resolutely.

"That's right!" exclaimed Bertrade, delighted: "we can always reckon
on something lively from Pierrot."

M. de Jonzac, in spite of his inclination to laugh, put on a rigid
expression. "I do not see anything amusing in it."

"_You_ don't laugh, at any rate," said Pierrot, turning to Bijou and
blushing furiously. "It is awfully good of you," he added.

After dinner, he drew her out on to the stone steps, and said, in a
beseeching tone:

"Let me come out with you to take the green stuff to Patatras."

"But I must go and pour out the coffee first."

"Oh, just for once; Bertrade can pour it out right enough. Come, now,
I don't want to go into the drawing-room; they'd begin asking me
something else."

Denyse started off with him, taking from a shed the basket in which
was prepared for her every day the bunch of clover she always took to
her horse. She then went on in the direction of the stable, followed
by Pierrot.

"You are awfully nice, Bijou, and so pretty, if you only knew it," he
kept repeating, making his rough voice almost gentle.

As they crossed the path which led to the stable, they saw M. de
Rueille and Jean de Blaye advancing towards them, deep in
conversation.

"Look!" said Pierrot, "as you weren't in the drawing-room our two
cousins made themselves scarce there."

Denyse was going forward to meet them, but he stopped her abruptly.

"No, please don't, they'd stick to us all the time, and I shouldn't
have you to myself at all. It's such a piece of luck for me to be with
you for a minute without Monsieur Giraud; he's always at my heels,
especially when I'm anywhere near you."

Bijou was looking attentively at the two men, who were coming towards
her, but who were so deeply absorbed that they had not seen her, and
between her somewhat heavy eyelids appeared that little gleam which
gave at times a singular intensity of expression to her usually
soft-looking eyes.

"Very well," she answered, entering the stable, "let us take Patatras
his clover without them."

M. de Rueille was walking along with his eyes fixed on the gravel of
the garden-path. He looked up on hearing the door open. Jean de Blaye
pointed to the stable.

"Look here," he said, "_that's_ the cause of all the trouble and worry
that I can detect in every single word you say; and it's the cause,
too, of the sort of petty spite that you have against me."

"Indeed!" replied Rueille, putting on a joking air; "and what is
_that_ pray?"

"Why, Bijou, of course. Oh, you need not try to deny it. Do you think
I have not followed up, hour by hour, all that has been passing in
your mind?"

"It must have been interesting."

"Don't humbug; you are scarcely inclined for that sort of thing just
now. I saw very well just when you began to admire Bijou, quite
unconsciously, more than one does admire, as a rule, a little cousin
one is fond of. It was the evening of the _Grand Prix_ at Uncle
Alexis' when she sang--why don't you speak?"

"I am listening to you--go on."

"When we were all here together at Bracieux, never absent from each
other, and you had spent every minute of the long day in Bijou's
society, your--let us call it--your admiration increased, of course,
and ever since yesterday, ever since your expedition to
Pont-sur-Loire, it has been at the acute stage. Am I right?"

"Well, yes: you are right."

"I am not surprised; but will you explain one thing--one thing which
_does_ surprise me?"

"What is it?"

"Why do you appear to have a special grudge against me? Why against me
rather than against your brother-in-law, or young La Balue, or
Pierrot's tutor, or even Pierrot himself?"

"Well, Henry is nearly Bijou's own age; he was brought up with her,
and she looks upon him as a brother exactly. Young La Balue is a
regular caricature; the tutor, a poor wretch who does not count; and
Pierrot, a lad; whilst you--"

"Whilst I?"

"Well, as to you, why, you are the sort that women like, and you know
that very well; and I can see and feel, and, in short, I know, it is
you whom Bijou will care for."

"Me? nonsense! she does not deign to pay the very slightest attention
to me. I am nothing in her eyes except the man who is breaking in a
horse for her, who takes her out boating, or who composes couplets for
her play."

"In short, you exist more than the others do, anyhow."

"But why? It's your fancy to look upon young La Balue as a caricature;
but everyone is not of your opinion. As to Giraud--well, he is a very
good sort."

"Yes, but he is Giraud."

"Well, what of that? what difference does that make?"

"A good deal; that is, it would be nothing with certain women, but it
is everything with others,--and Bijou is one of these others."

"Oh--what do you know about it?"

"I have studied her for some time without appearing to."

"You are studying her, but you do not know her."

"Perhaps not!"

"If I were in her place I know which one I should choose amongst so
many lovers."

"Ah! they sing that in _Les Noces de Jeannette_."

"Oh! you won't stop me like that! Amongst so many lovers, if I had to
choose, it would certainly be Giraud that I should prefer."

"An older woman might admire Giraud, because he is handsome--but not a
young girl! You see a young girl's one idea is marriage----"

"Then, you have no grudge against Giraud, because, according to you,
he is not marriageable, consequently, not to be feared."

"Precisely!"

"Very well, then, and what about me, my dear fellow? Do you think I am
marriageable, then? Can you imagine me with my wretched fifteen
hundred a year endeavouring to make Bijou happy? Yes, can you just
imagine it now?--a house at a hundred a year or so--petroleum lamps,
coke fires, etc.--that _would_ be delicious."

"And yet you are in love with her?"

"Excuse me, I did not say that I was in love with Bijou. I don't
really know; all I can say is, that she has taken my fancy
tremendously, and that, as I simply cannot marry her, I am wretchedly
unhappy."

"And you don't think she cares for you?"

"Not the least bit in the world! She has never tried even to deceive
me on that point. 'Good-morning! Good-night! What a fine day it
is.'--that's the sort of palpitating dialogue which goes on every day
between us. You see, therefore, that you have no reason to have a
spite against me?"

"I beg your pardon, Jean, my dear fellow, but I firmly believed that
you were the great favourite."

M. de Rueille broke off suddenly, and appeared to be straining his
ears.

"Ah!" he said, "there she is!"

Bijou was just coming out of the stable, followed, of course, by
Pierrot.

She tripped daintily across towards the two men, examining them in her
calm, smiling way.

"Whatever's the matter with you both?" she asked; "you look--I don't
know how!"



V.


BIJOU was in the dining-room, arranging the flowers on the table for
dinner, whilst in the butler's pantry the servants were polishing up
the large silver dishes until they shone brilliantly.

"Get into your coat!" said the butler to the footman; "there's a
carriage coming slowly up the avenue. Oh, you've got plenty of time,
it isn't here yet."

"Whose carriage is it?" said the footman, looking through the window.

"I don't know it; it's a fine-looking turn-out, anyhow. It might very
well be the owner of The Norinière."

"My goodness! it's a clinking turn-out."

"Oh, he can afford it."

"He's got some money, then?"

"Why, yes, an awful lot; he's got about sixteen thousand a year."

"Do you know him, then?"

"My wife was kitchen-maid at his place before I married her--a good
master he is, always pleasant, and not at all near--you'd better
start now if you want to get to the steps before he's there."

A minute before, Bijou, finding that she was short of flowers, had run
out into the garden, and, springing across the path, had pushed her
way into the middle of a rose-bed, and was now cutting away
mercilessly. She was so absorbed that she did not hear the carriage,
which was coming up the drive, and which went round the lawn, and
pulled up in front of the stone steps. When at last she did happen to
look up, she saw, a few steps away from her, a tall gentleman standing
gazing at her with a most rapturous expression.

The fact was that Bijou, in her cotton dress, with wide pink stripes,
and her little apron trimmed with Valenciennes, was really very pretty
to look at, foraging about amongst the flowers.

When she discovered that she was being gazed at in this way, her
tea-rose complexion took a deeper tint, and she looked confused and
embarrassed, as she stood there facing the gentleman, who was still
contemplating her without saying a word.

He was a man of between fifty-five and sixty, tall, slender,
distinguished-looking, and elegant, and with a very young-looking
figure for his years. His face, which was intelligent and refined,
had also an almost youthful expression about it, just tinged with a
shade of melancholy. As Bijou remained where she was, and appeared to
be hesitating and not quite at her ease, the visitor approached, and,
raising his hat, said in a very gentle voice:

"Excuse me, mademoiselle, but are you not Denyse de Courtaix?"

Bijou, with her frank, honest expression, looked straight into the
eyes fixed so curiously upon her, and answered, smiling:

"Yes, and you?--you are Monsieur de Clagny, are you not?"

"How did you know?"

Denyse sprang out of the rose-bed on to the garden-path, and then,
without answering the question in a direct way, she said, with the
most trusting, happy look in her eyes:

"Oh! how glad grandmamma will be to see you, and Uncle Alexis, too;
ever since they heard that you were coming back to live here, they
have talked of nothing else. Let's go at once to find grandmamma."

She started off, leading the way, looking most graceful and supple, as
she passed through the large rooms with that gliding movement which
was one of her greatest charms.

The marchioness was not in the room where she was usually to be found.
Bijou rang the bell, and requested the servant to find Madame de
Bracieux. She then took a seat opposite M. de Clagny, and examined him
attentively.

"Paul de Rueille was quite right after all," she said, "when he told
me that I had seen you long ago--I recognise you." She gazed with her
bright eyes more fixedly into the count's, and repeated pensively: "I
certainly do recognise you."

"Well, I confess, in all sincerity," said M. de Clagny, "that if I had
met you anywhere else than at Bracieux, I should not have recognised
_you_--you are so much bigger, you know, and then, so much more
beautiful that, with the exception of the lovely violet eyes, which
have not changed, there is nothing remaining of the little baby-girl
of years ago."

"The name which you gave me still remains."

"The name? what name?" he asked, in surprise.

"Bijou! don't you remember? it seems that it was you who used to call
me that."

"Yes, that's true! you seemed to me such a fragile little thing, so
adorable and so rare--a bijou in fact, an exquisite little bijou. And
so they have continued to call you by that name--it suits you, too,
wonderfully well."

"I don't think so! I am afraid it is rather ridiculous to be still
_Bijou_ at the age of twenty-one, for, you know, I am twenty-one now."

"Is it possible?"

"Very possible! in four years from now I shall be quite an old maid!"

The count looked at Bijou with an admiration which he did not attempt
to dissimulate, as he answered emphatically:

"_You_ an old maid? oh, never in the world, never!"

Madame de Bracieux was just entering the room.

"How glad I am to see you!" she said, looking delighted, and holding
out her hands to her visitor.

As Denyse was moving towards the door, the marchioness called her
back.

"I see Bijou has introduced herself," she said to Clagny, who had not
yet got over his admiration, "What do you think of my grand-daughter?"
And then, without giving him time to answer, she went on quickly:
"It's just the same _Bijou_ you used to admire years ago, just the
same! the genuine _Bijou_, there's no _sham_ about it, as my grandsons
would say."

"Mademoiselle Denyse is charming."

"Denyse (and, by the way, you will oblige me by not calling her
mademoiselle) is a dear, good girl, obedient and devoted. Her gaiety
has brightened up my old house, which was gloomy enough before her
arrival."

"How is it that I have never seen Mademoiselle Denyse----"

"Mademoiselle again!"

"That I have never seen Bijou in Paris? I come so regularly on your
day."

"Yes, but you always come very early, at an hour when she is never
there, and then for the last sixteen years you have never dined with
us."

"I never dine out anywhere, you know; but you have never spoken of
Bijou, never told me anything about her."

"Because you have never asked me about her."

"I had forgotten about her, to tell the truth, the tiny, baby-child
that I saw so little of, and yet just now, when I saw a delicious girl
emerging from a rose-bed, I hadn't the slightest hesitation, had I,
mademoiselle?" and then correcting himself, he added, laughing: "had
I, Bijou?"

"Yes, that's true! M. de Clagny asked me at once if I were not Denyse
de Courtaix----and I, too, knew at once who he was; I had heard so
much about him that I seemed to know him in my imagination, and, it's
very odd--" She broke off suddenly, and then after gazing thoughtfully
at the count, she added: "I knew him in my imagination just as he is
in reality."

"A very old man," said Clagny, with a kind of sad playfulness.

"No!" replied Bijou, evidently sincere, "a very handsome man!" And
then abruptly breaking off, she said: "And Uncle Alexis has not
appeared yet; they have rung the bell with all their might in vain,
for he doesn't come; I'll go and find him!"

She was hurrying away when the marchioness called her back:

"Stop a minute!--have another place laid at table. You will dine with
us, Clagny?"

"Yes, if you have no one here."

"Oh, but I have; I am just expecting some friends of yours."

"And I am a regular bear, for I do not even dine with my friends; and
then, too, in this get-up--"

"Your get-up is all right, and, besides, there is time to send to The
Norinière for your coat if you particularly care to have it."

"I do care to, if I stay."

Bijou approached, and said, in a coaxing way:

"You will stay--and do you know what would be very, very nice of you?
well, it would be to stay just as you are, without your dress-coat."

"Why do you insist, Bijou, if it annoys him to stay without dressing?"
asked the marchioness.

"Because, grandmamma, if M. de Clagny were to dine without his
dress-coat, M. Giraud could, too; and otherwise he will have to dine
all by himself in his room."

"What are you talking about, child?"

"Why, it's very simple. M. Giraud has no dress-coat; he hasn't one at
all. I got to know it by chance; he told Baptiste just now that he was
not very well, and that he should not leave his room this evening, and
so, if M. de Clagny would stay just as he is, don't you see, he could,
too--M. Giraud, I mean."

"What a good little Bijou you are!" said the marchioness, quite
touched; "you think of everyone; you do nothing but find ways of
giving pleasure to all."

Denyse was not listening to this. She was waiting for the count to
give his consent.

"Would it be a great, great pleasure to you," he asked at length, "if
this Monsieur Giraud could dine at table?"

"Yes."

"Then it shall be as you wish. Tell me, though, now, who is this
gentleman with whom I am not acquainted, and for whose sake I am
consenting to appear as a most ill-bred man?"

"He is Pierrot's coach."

"Ah! and what's this Pierrot?"

"The son of Alexis," said Madame de Bracieux laughing.

"Then the god to whom I am to be sacrificed is M. Giraud, tutor to
Pierrot de Jonzac, and he is honoured by the patronage of Mademoiselle
Denyse. Thank you, I like to know how things are."

"But," protested Denyse, turning very red, "I do not patronise M.
Giraud at all. I----"

"Oh, do not attempt to defend yourself. I know what kind of a role a
poor tutor without a dress-coat must play in the life of a beautiful
young lady like you; it is just a role of no account; he represents as
exactly as possible _a gentleman of no importance_ in a play."

"You have no idea," said the marchioness, when Denyse had gone away,
"how good that child is. This young man in whom she is interested, and
who, by the bye, is really charming, is always treated by her exactly
on the same footing as the most influential and the most
distinguished men she meets. Oh, she is a pearl, is Bijou; you will
see!"

"I shall see it perhaps too clearly."

"How do you mean--too clearly?"

"I am very susceptible, you know. I have a foolish old heart, which
sounds an alarm at the slightest danger, and which afterwards I cannot
silence again."

"But Bijou is my grand-daughter, my poor old friend."

"Well, what difference does that make?"

"Why, just this--that she might be yours."

"I know all that well enough. Good heavens!--that is what you might
call reasoning; and hearts that remain young either reason very little
or very badly."

"And so?"

"Oh," said M. de Clagny, making an effort to laugh, "I was joking, of
course."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bijou had crossed the court-yard. The heat was very great, and the
peacocks, perched on the trunk of a tree that had been felled, looked
stupid and ridiculous, whilst the dogs, lying on their sides, with
their legs stretched out, were panting under the sun's rays, but were
too lazy to look for any shade.

No one was out of doors at that torrid hour, except Pierrot, who,
arrayed in a white linen suit, with a wide straw hat on his head, was
strolling about under the chestnut trees, which formed a V shaped
avenue.

Denyse ran up the steps, and entered the schoolroom like a gust of
wind. On the threshold, however, she stopped short, and seemed
confused. M. Giraud, who had been seated at the table, had risen
hastily on seeing her appear.

"Oh! I beg your pardon," she stammered out, "I wanted to speak to
Pierrot. I thought he was here, and that you had gone for your walk."

Very much embarrassed, the young tutor could scarcely find any words
with which to reply.

"No, mademoiselle, no! I am here you see. It is just the contrary, for
Pierrot has gone out, but, if you like, if I could tell him
what--for--you have something to say to him probably?"

He lost his head completely as he looked at her standing there. She
was so pretty with her complexion, still pink and white, in spite of
the terrible heat, and her large eyes, with their changing expression,
were fixed on him with such a gentle look.

"Yes, certainly," she said, slightly embarrassed too, "I wanted to
speak to Pierrot; although it is about something that concerns
you--it would be better----"

"Something which concerns me?" interrupted Giraud, looking uneasy;
"but I do not know really--I wonder what----"

The thought flashed across him that she was perhaps going to say that,
after what had taken place the night before last, he could not remain
any longer at Bracieux. He was in despair, for not only would he have
to leave Bijou, but he would probably get no employment for the next
two months, just as he had thought to have a little peace and comfort.

The young girl was looking at him, and smiling kindly.

"You see, it is very difficult to say it to--to the person concerned,"
she answered at length.

"Well, but--Pierrot."

"Oh! Pierrot is not a very clever diplomatist, I grant, but he would
have known better than I do how to go about things in order to
announce to you----"

"To announce to me?"

"The fact that you are going to dine with us this evening. A headache,
you know, is a very good excuse for women, but only for women."

"But, mademoiselle, without taking into account the annoyance it
would be to me (and it would annoy me very much) not to be dressed as
the others are, it would not be polite towards your guests."

"Yes, you are perhaps right; it would not be the thing, perhaps, if
you were the only one who was not in evening dress; but there will be
M. de Clagny just as he is now, to pay a call; so you understand."

"Mademoiselle, I caught sight of M. de Clagny just now when he
arrived. He is an old gentleman, and as such can take liberties about
certain matters which I, particularly in my position, could not."

"As to you, you are just going to obey grandmamma like a good little
boy, for it was grandmamma who sent me, you know."

"Ah!" murmured the young man, disappointed, "it was your grandmamma? I
was hoping it was you, who--but you are still vexed with me, of
course?"

"Vexed with you?" she asked, surprised; "what for?"

"Well--because--oh, you know--the other evening--when, in spite of
myself, I----"

Bijou's merry face clouded over as she said very seriously:

"I thought that would never be brought up again. I wish you to forget
what you said to me." She stood still a moment, with a pensive look on
her beautiful face, and then she added, in a muffled voice: "And,
above all, I wish to forget it myself."

Her eyelids were lowered, and her eyelashes were beating quickly
against her pink cheeks throwing a strange shadow over her brilliant
complexion.

Giraud went up to her, anxious and excited, and in a stammering voice
he asked:

"Is it true what you have just said? Do you still remember that moment
of madness? Can you think of it without anger?"

"Yes," she answered, gazing full at him with her beautiful blue eyes,
"I think of it without anger," and then, in such a low voice that he
could scarcely hear it, she murmured, "and I _do_ think of it all the
time!" Then, with a sudden change of expression, she began again
hurriedly: "It is you who must forget now; you must forget at
once--what I ought never to have said to you! Please forget it! Do as
I ask you, for my sake!"

"Forget? How do you think that I can forget? You know well enough that
it is absolutely impossible!"

"You must, though!" she persisted. "Yes, you must say to yourself
that you--that we have had a dream--a very bright, happy dream,--one
of those sort from which one wakes up happy, and, at the same time,
troubled; a dream in which one has a vision of beautiful things, which
disappear, and which we cannot possibly define. Have you never had
such dreams? One cannot, no matter how much one tries, remember all
about them; and yet--one likes them."

Her voice, with its caressing intonation, completely unnerved the
young man. He had taken his seat again mechanically at the table, and,
without replying, he looked up at Bijou, his eyes full of tears.

She came nearer, and said in a beseeching tone:

"Ah! please don't, if you only knew how wretched it makes me--" and
then she added abruptly: "and if it is any consolation to you--you can
say to yourself that you are not the only one to suffer--for I do,
too."

"Is it really, really true?" he asked, bewildered with his happiness.

Denyse did not answer. She had just noticed on the table a letter,
which Giraud had been finishing when she entered the room.

"I was writing to my brother," he said, following the direction of her
eyes, "and instead of telling him about my pupil, and my occupations,
and, in short, about such things as, in my position of life, I ought
to confine myself to, I have only told him about you."

"I was looking at your name," she answered, pointing with her rosy
finger to the signature; "Fred--it is a name I am fond of; I gave it
to my little godchild, the youngest of Bertrade's children." She
seemed to be looking far away through the open window as she repeated
very gently: "Fred!" And then passing her little hand over her
forehead, and walking towards the door, she said abruptly: "And this
dinner--and my flowers for the table,--why, the _menus_ are not
written yet, and it is five o'clock!" And then, as the poor fellow
looked stupefied and did not attempt to move, she went on: "It's
settled about this evening, is it not? I shall have your place laid?"

He answered, in a vague, bewildered way, coming gradually to himself
again:

"Amongst all the others in dress-coats, I shall cut the most
ridiculous figure."

"Oh, no,--nothing of the kind! Besides, they will not all be in
dress-coats. First of all, there is M. de Clagny in a frock-coat; and
then M. de Bernès, who is afraid of meeting his General, and so is
always arrayed in his uniform: then the abbé in his cassock," and
with a laugh she concluded: "That makes three of them who will not be
in dress-coats!"

       *       *       *       *       *

As she was leaving the schoolroom, she ran against Henry de Bracieux,
who was coming towards her in the corridor.

"Well, I never!" he exclaimed, in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"And you?"

"I? Why, I was going back to my room."

"And I was coming away from Pierrot's."

"Pierrot is in the garden."

"I did not know, and I had something to say to him."

"To him?" asked the young man suspiciously, and almost aggressively,
"or to M. Giraud?"

Without appearing to notice her cousin's singular attitude towards
her, she answered, in a docile way:

"To him, so that he might repeat it to M. Giraud, but as he was not
there----"

"It is to Giraud that you have----"

"Given grandmamma's message. Yes," and then, with an innocent
expression in her eyes, she asked: "Why does it interest you so much
to know whether I gave this message to the one rather than to the
other?"

He replied, in a joking tone, but with some embarrassment:

"Because I am inquisitive, probably; and the proof that I am
inquisitive is that I should like to know what this message was."

"Grandmamma commissioned me to tell M. Giraud, who has no
dress-coat----"

"No dress-coat--Giraud?"

"No."

"Not a dress-coat at all?"

"There, you say just what I did. No, not a dress-coat of any
description! He had sent word that he would not dine with us; and
then, as M. de Clagny is staying to dinner, and he is in a frock-coat,
I was going to tell Pierrot, so that he could let M. Giraud know. Do
you understand now?"

"Yes," replied Henry, "quite well--but Jean is very _chic_ and never
goes about without a change of dress-coats; he has, at least, three
here; he would certainly lend him one--they are exactly the same
figure."

"That would be nice!"

"Oh, he would be glad to do it! Giraud is a very nice fellow; we
should all like him, if----"

He stopped short, and Bijou asked:

"If what?"

"Oh, nothing! I'll go and see about this business--at old Clagny's
time of life it doesn't matter whether one is got up all right or not;
but for Giraud, it's another thing. I am sure he would feel it very
much if he thought he looked ridiculous, especially----"

"Especially?"

"Especially before you!"

Bijou shrugged her shoulders, and ran away down the long corridor.



VI.


ALTHOUGH Bijou had superintended the laying of the cloth, and had
herself attended to the flowers, the service, and the _menus_, she was
ready for dinner before anyone else.

Carrying in her arms an enormous bunch of roses, she entered the
drawing-room just as the marchioness had gone upstairs to dress.

She was so much taken up with arranging her flowers on a side-table
that she did not see M. de Clagny, who was watching her attentively as
she came and went, with the pretty, graceful movements of a bird as it
flies backwards and forwards before finally perching itself.

At length, however, he spoke, and the sound of his voice made Denyse
start.

"It's very certain that it came direct from Paris--that pretty dress,"
he said.

"Oh!" exclaimed Bijou, scared, "you nearly frightened me." And then,
going up to the count, and daintily patting her light, gauzy dress,
she continued: "That pretty dress did not come from Paris; it was made
at Bracieux, near Pont-sur-Loire."

Thoroughly astonished, the count asked:

"Oh, no! by whom, then?"

"By Denyse, here present, and by an old sewing-woman, who is a dresser
at the theatre."

He had risen, and was now walking round the young girl in almost timid
admiration. She was so pretty, emerging from the pinky-looking cloud,
which seemed to scarcely touch her dainty little figure, and out of
which peeped her shoulders, tinted, too, with that singular pinky
gleam which made her delicate skin look so velvety and soft.

M. de Clagny could not help thinking that Bijou was not only beautiful
to look at, but fascinating in the extreme, with her tempting mouth,
and her innocent, frank eyes. The charm of her person was rendered all
the more complex by this same child-like expression.

Whilst he was examining her curiously, Bijou was saying to herself
that "this old friend of grandmamma's" was much younger-looking than
she had imagined him to be. He certainly did make a good appearance,
tall and slender, with his hair quite white on his temples, whilst his
fair moustache had scarcely a touch of grey. His brown eyes had a
gentle expression, and his mouth, sometimes mocking, and at times even
almost cruel, showed, when he smiled, the sharp, white teeth, which
lighted up his whole face in a singular way.

The silence was getting embarrassing, until Bijou at last broke it:

"Grandmamma has not come down then yet? I expected to find her here."

"She went away to dress just as you came in."

"She will never be ready."

M. de Clagny looked at his watch.

"But dinner is to be at eight--she has plenty of time; it is not
half-past seven."

"Oh!" exclaimed Bijou regretfully. "If only I had known, I should not
have hurried so much. I was so afraid of being late."

"I'm the one to be glad that you hurried so much. I shall have you to
talk to for a minute"--

"For a good half-hour at least," she said, laughing; "no one is ever
in advance here--oh, never, not even the guests any more than the
people of the house."

"Ah, about the guests, tell me with whom I am going to dine. Your
grandmamma said, 'You will dine with some friends of yours.' Now, as
to friends, I cannot have many here now, considering that for the
last twelve years I have not been in this part of the world. There
have probably been many changes since then."

"Not so many as all that; let's see, now! you will dine with the
Tourvilles."

"The Tourvilles? they are not dead yet?"

"Those with whom you are going to dine are living. They had some
parents who are dead."

"Ah! that's it, is it! then young Tourville is married?"

"Yes, two years ago!"

"He was a disagreeable fellow! Has he made a good marriage?"

"That depends! he married a young lady on the Stock Exchange."

"What do you mean? a young lady on the Stock Exchange?"

"Yes, her father is something there, I believe; he is very, very
rich."

"Is it Chaillot, the banker?"

"Perhaps so, I never asked about them--they have restored Tourville,
it is superb now; and they are always entertaining."

"Is Madame de Tourville pretty?"

"You will see her; she is very pleasant, and they say she is very
intelligent; for my part, I have not discovered that." And then, as
M. de Clagny smiled, she added quickly: "Because I only know her very
slightly."

"Well, and after the Tourvilles, who next?"

"M. de Bernès."

"Young Hubert, the dragoon?"

"He himself."

"He is the son of good friends of mine; a downright nice fellow, don't
you think so?"

"Don't I think what?"

"That Hubert de Bernès is nice?"

"Oh! I know him so slightly; he has always seemed to me--how shall I
express it?--insipid, yes, insipid."

"Because you intimidate him, probably? I can quite understand that,
too!"

"I intimidate _you_, perhaps?" she said, laughing.

"Very much so!" he answered, very seriously.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, in astonishment, "how is that possible?"

"It is very possible, and it is true! There's nothing astonishing
about it then, that if you intimidate an old man like me, you should
intimidate poor little Hubert."

"Little Hubert? he is six feet!"

"Yes, and he is twenty-six years old, but to me he is always little
Hubert. Well, anyhow, admit at least that he is handsome?"

"I don't know!"

"Are you going to tell me that you have not looked at him?"

"I have looked at him; but as regards M. de Bernès I am a very bad
judge."

"Why so?"

"Because I detest young men!"

"At the age of twenty-six they are not so young as all that!"

"That may be so! but, all the same, at that age they do not exist as
far as I am concerned."

"Well, well! and at what age do they begin to exist as far as you are
concerned?"

She laughed.

"Very late in life!" she said, and then suddenly changing her tone,
she continued: "I am glad you know M. de Bernès, because, at any rate,
you will not be bored to death now this evening."

"Ah! it appears, then, that I am not to count on the other guests for
entertainment?"

"Oh, no! the others--well, first of all there are the La Balues."

"Good heavens, they are alarming! Why, their children must be
beginning to grow up?"

"They have even finished growing up! Louis is twenty-three, and Gisèle
twenty-two."

"What are they like?"

"The one sets up for being _blasé_---he is never either hungry,
thirsty, or sleepy; he does not care for anything; everything bores
him. And it is not true, you know! he never misses a dance, and his
sister says that he gets up in the night to eat on the sly. Then, too,
he writes ridiculous poetry, paints pictures as absurd as his poetry,
and goes in for music--such music!"

"And the daughter?"

"She is as masculine as her brother is effeminate; she goes shooting
and hunting, and her dream is to go in for deer-stalking, and to marry
an officer."

"She is probably thinking of Hubert?"

"What Hubert?"

"Young Bernès!"

"Ah! But I don't fancy so! At all events, he is not thinking about
her--"

"Because he is too much taken up with you, like all the others; is not
that so?"

"Not at all!"

M. de Clagny shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, nonsense!" he said, "I can see it all quite plainly."

"There are only three guests left now for me to introduce to you,"
continued Bijou, evidently wishing to change the subject of the
conversation. "There are the Juzencourts--people who are very much
up-to-date, and who have bought 'The Pines'--and one of their friends
who is staying for a month with them, a delightful young widow, the
Viscountess de Nézel."

"What!" exclaimed the count, with an abrupt movement; "Madame de
Nézel--Jean de Blaye is here then?"

Denyse opened her beautiful, bright eyes wide, as she replied in
astonishment:

"Yes, Jean is here; but what has that to do with----?"

"Oh, nothing at all! nothing at all!" said M. de Clagny hastily, and
then after a moment's silence, he asked: "Is Madame de Nézel as pretty
as ever?"

"She is very pretty."

"As pretty as you?"

Bijou smiled. "Why do you make fun of me? I know very well that I am
not pretty," she said.

"It's my turn now, my dear little Bijou, to ask why you make fun of an
old friend who admires you as much as it is possible to admire anyone,
and who, alas! is not the only one."

"Why do you say alas?"

"Well, because when one admires or loves, one would like to be the
only one to admire or love; one's affection makes one selfish and
jealous."

"And after--let me see--how long--three hours--yes, after three hours'
acquaintance, you already have some affection for me?" asked Bijou,
looking quite joyful.

"Yes, a great deal!" answered M. de Clagny very seriously.

"So much the better, because, you see, I too, I like you very much!"
And, as though she were just talking to herself, she added: "I had
imagined you very different, I expected to see you not at all like you
are."

"Younger?" he asked sadly.

"Oh, no, just the opposite; they had always spoken of you as a friend
of grandpapa's, and grandmamma always said, 'my old friend Clagny,' so
that you can understand when I saw you, I was quite surprised."

"But why?"

"Because you looked to me to be--I don't know exactly--about
forty-five perhaps?--well, say like Paul de Rueille; and then, you are
very handsome, and, for my part, I like people who are handsome."

"Your cousin De Blaye is handsome!"

"Jean?" she said, as though she were turning it over in her mind, "is
he as handsome as all that? He does not strike me in that way, you
see. When people are always together they end by not noticing each
other!"

"I am quite sure that he notices you!"

"Oh, no! people don't notice me as much as you think! They care for me
because I was left alone in the world at the age of seventeen; and
then, when grandmamma took possession of me, like some poor little
stray dog, and carried me off to her home, why, they all felt
interested in me, and made me very welcome, and I was their Bijou whom
they all tried to bring up and to spoil, whose faults are always
looked over, and who always has her own way."

"And Bijou is quite right; that's the only good thing there is in
life--having one's own way, when one can."

"One always can," she said, speaking as though she were not aware that
she was saying anything, and then suddenly advancing towards the
bay-window, she exclaimed: "Ah! there, now! the Tourvilles! and
grandmamma is not down stairs again yet!"

Bijou went forward to greet the new-comers--a lady dressed very
handsomely, followed by a common-looking sort of man, with very stiff
manners, who, on the whole, was decidedly snobbish.

Bijou introduced them, "Count de Clagny, Count de Tourville," and
then, as the marchioness entered the room, looking very handsome still
in her cloudy lace draperies, the young girl turned to M. de Clagny
again.

"Well," she said, "and what do you think of the Tourvilles?"

"I don't admire them. But how much Henry de Bracieux has improved in
appearance; he is not as good-looking as his cousin yet; but that may
come, perhaps."

"As good-looking as which cousin?"

"As Blaye."

"Again. Oh, well! you will insist on this beauty of Jean's."

"Well, beauty is perhaps not just the word; but he is charming; if you
will allow me to say that?"

"I will allow it."

"By the bye, do tell me who that very nice-looking young man is whom I
met just now at the end of the avenue?"

"I do not know, unless it were Pierrot's tutor; but he is not so very
nice-looking----"

"Look, there he is," said M. de Clagny, indicating M. Giraud.

"Ah!" exclaimed Bijou, in astonishment; "yes, that is he!"

She was amazed both at the count's admiration, and at the
transformation which Jean's dress-coat had made.

Arrayed in this garment of a perfect cut, and which fitted him
wonderfully well, the young tutor looked quite at his ease.

"Well," said Henry, coming up to Denyse, "wasn't my idea a bright one?
Do you see the difference?"--and then, as she did not answer quickly
enough for his liking, he added: "I'll bet anything you don't see it;
women never can see those things when it's a question of men."

The guests were all arriving. First the La Balues, imperturbable,
absurd in the extreme, but so blissfully happy, so full of admiration,
and so perfectly satisfied with themselves that one would have been
sorry to have undeceived them. Then came Hubert de Bernès, arrayed, as
Bijou had prophesied, in his uniform, and looking all round the
drawing-room carefully afraid of meeting what he was in the habit of
calling '_any big pots_.' The Juzencourts arrived last of all, bringing
with them Madame de Nézel, a very pretty and exquisitely-dressed woman.
She was extremely refined-looking and supple, with that suppleness
peculiar to Creoles; she had a jessamine-like complexion, and heavy,
silky hair of jet black.

Bijou, who was looking at her with an expression of curiosity, as
though she had never seen her before, remarked to M. de Clagny:

"Madame de Nézel is really very pretty--isn't she?"

He replied, in an absent sort of way, devouring Bijou all the time
with his eyes:

"There is no mistaking that she comes of good family, and then, too,
she's very womanly, and would respond----"

The young girl knitted her eyebrows as though she were making an
effort to understand.

"And would what?"

"Oh, nothing," answered the count, annoyed with himself. "I don't know
what I was going to say."

"Bijou!" called out the marchioness suddenly, "Madame de Juzencourt
wants to see the children; go and fetch them. You will allow them to
come down, Bertrade? and you, too, monsieur?" she added, turning to
the abbé.

M. de Clagny looked vexed at being separated from Denyse. It seemed to
him already as though he could not do without her.

She soon came back, followed by Marcel and Robert, leading by the hand
a superb baby-child of four years old, who was smiling amiably and
confidingly as he trotted along.

"This is my godson," she said, introducing him with evident pride.
"Isn't he a pet, and so beautiful and good. He's a love!"

"Bijou is so good to that child," said Madame de Rueille, "she is
always looking after him and is teaching him now to read."

"So early!" exclaimed M. de Clagny, in a reproachful tone, "is he
being taught to read already?"

"Bijou teaches him plenty of other things, too, don't you, Bijou?"
asked the marchioness; "you are teaching him Bible history, are you
not? Two days ago he told me about Moses, and he knew it all very
well."

"Oh!" exclaimed the count jeeringly, "I should like to hear that. Poor
unfortunate little mite!"

In a graceful, winsome way, Bijou knelt down by the child. On hearing
"his story" mentioned, the poor little fellow looked at her
beseechingly.

"Now, Fred, tell it," she said.

Docile, but with a discontented expression on his face, the little
fellow looked up at his god-mother.

"Tell about Moses, you know it very well."

"Well then," began Fred resolutely, "they put him in a 'ittle basket,
'ittle Moses, and they put the basket on the Nile----"

He stopped abruptly, his face bathed in perspiration.

"And then, what happened?" asked Bijou.

"Don't know," replied the little fellow briefly; "don't know any
more--don't know, I tell you. Say it yourself--what happened."

"Nonsense! come now, have you made up your mind not to answer?"

The child replied coaxingly:

"P'ease don't make me say it!"

Denyse insisted, however.

"Oh, yes! now something happened when Moses was going down the Nile.
What was it--what happened?"

He thought for a minute, his face puckered up, his eyes shut, and
then, just when everyone had given up hoping for anything more, he
cried out, delighted at having remembered:

"Puss in boots came! and called out: 'Help! help! it's the Marquis of
Carabas--he's drowning.'"

"There, you see," said Bertrade, laughing, "this is what comes of
teaching him so many fine things at the same time."

M. de Rueille added:

"Yes, a day or two ago Denyse gave him a stunning 'Puss in Boots' that
we brought with us from Pont-sur-Loire, and this has evidently done
Moses a great deal of harm."

Bijou turned towards her cousin, and exclaimed in astonishment:

"Denyse! how long have you taken to calling me Denyse?"

"Oh, I don't know," answered Rueille, "sometimes I do."

"Why, you never do! I thought you were vexed," and then, bending
towards her godchild, and taking him up in her arms, she said,
laughing: "My poor little Fred, we have not had much success this
time, have we?"

Giraud, who was standing just behind her, gazed at her admiringly. She
clasped the child, who was smiling at her, closer still, and murmured
in a caressing tone:

"Fred! my dear Fred! I do so love you, if you only knew."

On hearing his own name pronounced so tenderly, the young tutor had
started involuntarily, and he had had the greatest difficulty in
keeping himself from advancing towards Denyse. He had turned so pale,
too, and such a strange, drawn look had come over his face, that
Pierrot, who, as a rule, was not endowed with much power of
observation except in matters relating to Bijou, noticed it, and
asked:

"What's the matter with you, Monsieur Giraud? you look so queer! are
you ill?"

Denyse turned round abruptly, and asked with interest:

"You are not well, Monsieur Giraud?"

"I? oh, yes! perfectly well, thank you, mademoiselle. I don't know
what made Pierrot fancy that."

"Oh, well!" said the youth, with conviction, "look at yourself; you
look awfully queer! Besides, for the last three or four days you have
not been yourself; you must have something the matter that you don't
know of."

"I assure you," stuttered the poor fellow, in a perfect torture, "I
assure you that there is nothing the matter with me."

M. de Clagny had approached them. He was looking enviously at little
Fred nestling against Bijou's pretty shoulder.

"Your godson is perfectly superb!" he said.

"Yes, isn't he? and he adores me!"

Dinner was announced just at this moment, and Bijou gave the child,
who was getting sleepy, to the English nurse who had come for him.

With a disagreeable expression on his face, young La Balue, who was
standing just by Denyse, offered her the sharp angle of his arm. With
some difficulty she managed to slip her hand through, and, with a
resigned look on her face, went in with him to dinner.

At table M. Giraud was at the other side of her, and half wild with
delight at finding himself placed next her, he felt that he was more
shy and awkward than ever. His timidity, which had hitherto been
extreme, seemed to increase. He dared not say a word, and he was in
despair, because he felt that he was making himself ridiculous.

He was not only in love with Denyse for her beauty, her grace, and her
wonderful charm, but he venerated her for her goodness, which seemed
to him to be infinite.

When he had been an usher in a certain college, he had one day
murmured some foolish words of affection to the daughter of the
headmaster, and he remembered still with awe the contemptuous anger
with which the young lady had reproached him for having, in his
position, dared to lift his eyes to her.

He had now frankly and bluntly told this beautiful, wealthy, and
nobly-born girl that he adored her, and, in reply, she had spoken to
him sweetly and affectionately, discouraging him, but taking care not
to wound him.

He began now to pity himself and his own fate, firmly believing that
his life, having been crossed by this hopeless love, would be wretched
for ever-more.

How could he expect that, having once known and loved a woman like
Mademoiselle de Courtaix, he would ever be able to love any woman whom
he would be in a position to marry.

And the poor young man, who, only three short weeks before, used to
dream at times of a little home presided over by a young wife, who
should be sweet and modest, though, perhaps, not remarkable in any
way, saw himself now condemned for life to a bachelor's dreary rooms,
where, in the end, he would die, surrounded by photographs of Bijou,
which he would get with great difficulty from Pierrot.

At the beginning of dinner Denyse did not talk much. She looked round
in an absent sort of way at the whole table, noticing all those
little nothings which are so amusing to persons capable of seeing
them.

Madame de Bracieux had M. de la Balue to her right, but she was
neglecting him for the sake of her old friend, Clagny, who was on her
other side, and to whom she never ceased talking.

M. de Jonzac, who was opposite his sister, between Madame de la Balue
and Madame de Tourville, only appeared to be enjoying himself in a
moderate degree. Madame de Nézel also looked rather sad, and talked in
a half-hearted way to her neighbours, Henry de Bracieux and M. de
Rueille. She glanced often in the direction of Jean de Blaye, who was
seated at the other end of the table, between Madame de Juzencourt and
Mademoiselle de la Balue. Jean did not seem to be taking any notice of
Madame de Nézel, and several times Bijou saw that his eyes were fixed
on her. She found this embarrassing; so turning towards young Balue,
started an animated conversation with him, and thereupon Jean, with a
somewhat troubled expression in his eyes, watched her all the time.



VII.


AFTER dinner the heat in the drawing-room was over-powering, and
Madame de Bracieux said to her guests:

"Those of you who are not afraid of the evening air could go out on to
the terrace or into the garden."

Gisèle de la Balue, a big, tall girl, built on the model of the
statues round the Place de la Concorde, and who liked to affect free
and easy tom-boyish manners, started off out-doors, running along
heavily and calling out:

"Whoever cares for me will follow me!"

Hubert de Bernès followed her out of politeness.

Rueille, Henry de Bracieux, Pierrot, and M. Giraud turned with one
accord toward Denyse.

"Are you coming, Bijou?" asked Pierrot.

She saw Jean de Blaye talking to Madame de Nézel, who was just going
out with him, and she answered:

"I will come to you directly. I am going to see if the children are in
bed just now."

"Mademoiselle," proposed the abbé, "I can spare you the trouble."

"Oh, no; thank you very much, monsieur, but you know I never feel
quite happy if I have not kissed Fred."

She went out by the door opposite the terrace.

"Your grand-daughter is decidedly the most charming girl I have ever
come across," remarked M. de Clagny to the marchioness, and then he
added sadly; "It is when an old man meets women like that, that he
regrets his age."

"I must say," answered Madame de Bracieux, laughing, "that even if you
were young, you would not be just the husband I dream of for Bijou."

"And why not, if you please?"

"Well, because you are, or at least you were, rather--how shall I put
it?--rather large-hearted."

"Large-hearted! good heavens, yes, I was! but that was the fault of
those who did not know how to keep my affection. I assure you, though,
that with a wife like Bijou, I should never have been what you call
_large-hearted_."

"Oh, as to that," said Madame de Bracieux incredulously, "one never
knows."

On leaving the drawing-room, Bijou crossed the hall, and instead of
going up the wide staircase which led to the children's rooms, she
lifted the old green tapestry curtain which covered the door of the
butler's pantry. Just as she was going to open this door she turned
back into the hall to get a long, dark cloak, which was hanging there.
It was a Berck fisherwoman's cloak, which she always put on when it
rained. She wrapped herself up in it hastily, and then went into the
pantry, where it was now quite dark. From the kitchen she could hear
the loud voices of the servants, who were at dinner. Denyse went
across to the open window, got up on to a chair, and then gathering
her skirts closely round her, stepped out on to the window-sill, and
jumped lightly down into the garden.

Once there, she hesitated an instant. The terrace seemed to stand out
distinctly, lighted up by the drawing-room windows. In the chestnut
avenue she could distinguish in the shade the red gleam of cigars.

Suddenly she pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head, and
evidently making up her mind, started off quickly along the dark
pathway which led to the other avenue.

During this time her faithful admirers were waiting on the terrace for
her to come and join them as she had promised, and the ponderous
Gisèle was endeavouring vainly to organise a game at hide-and-seek.
The men seemed to have no energy; Madame de Tourville was afraid of
spoiling her dress; and Madame de Juzencourt was strolling about with
Jean de Blaye and Madame de Nézel. Presently, however, she went back
to the others alone, and Mademoiselle de la Balue wanted to persuade
her to have a game, but she refused emphatically. She certainly was
not going to run about, she said, considering that she was too warm
already with only walking; she had just had to leave Thérèse de Nézel
and Jean de Blaye, for she could not walk another step.

Left to themselves, Jean and Madame de Nézel continued strolling
along, she in a natural, unaffected way, going on with the
conversation they had commenced, and he absent-minded and ill-at-case.

"Why do you not reproach me?" he said at last, abruptly, not able to
contain himself any longer; "why do you not say all the bad things you
think about me?"

"Because I have nothing to reproach you for," she answered, very
gently; "and I do not think any bad things about you."

"Well, then, you do not care about me any longer."

"I do not care about you any longer?" she said, and there was an
accent of such intense grief in her voice that he was quite overcome
by it.

He knew so well how deeply she loved him, that he dreaded the thought
of the awful suffering she would have to endure if he were to be quite
straightforward with her now, and so, out of affection for her, he
endeavoured to conceal from her the real truth.

"Yes," he began, improvising with difficulty an excuse of which he had
not thought until that moment, "you must have fancied that I was not
thinking of you, for you have been here at The Pines a fortnight, and
I have not sent you a line. The fact is, it is very difficult to
arrange to meet here at Pont-sur-Loire; everyone knows me here, and,
you see, for your sake, I scarcely liked to ask you to meet me in the
town."

She did not make any reply, and he could not understand her silence.

"Why do you not answer me?" he asked at length.

"Why? well, because you are telling me now exactly the opposite to
what you said when you asked me to accept the Juzencourts'
invitation."

"What did I say?" he asked, slightly embarrassed.

"You said that at Pont-sur-Loire it would be so easy to meet. You
said that between the hours of luncheon and dinner there were two
trains up and two down from The Pines to Pont-sur-Loire, and that I
could get away so easily, as the Juzencourts never went out except to
pay calls at the various country-houses in the neighbourhood, or to
follow the paper chases. On my arrival here I found that all these
details were perfectly exact."

"Yes, but it really is not so easy as I had imagined."

"Ah, Jean! instead of trying to deceive me in this way, it would be
much better to tell me the truth."

"And the truth, according to you, is that I no longer care for you?"

"Yes, that is a part of the truth."

"And," he asked, somewhat uneasily, "the rest?"--

"Is, that you are in love with Mademoiselle de Courtaix. Ah, do not
deny it! it is so evident!" And then, after a moment's silence, she
added: "And so natural!"

"Do you forgive me?"

"I have nothing to forgive. I have never demanded anything from you,
and you have never, never promised me anything. When I first began to
care for you, I was not a widow; you must therefore have judged me
severely, as a man nearly always does judge the woman who is weak
enough to care for him when she ought not to."

"I swear to you--"

"No, do not swear anything; you had all the more reason to judge me in
that way, because I did not think it my duty to tell you what my life
had been like until then. You doubtless believed that my husband was
kind and affectionate, and that I endured no remorse, when I allowed
myself to love you--"

"I did not think about it at all, I simply adored you," he said. And
then hesitating, and with evident anxiety, he continued: "And now you
will never care for me any more?"

"What!" she exclaimed, perfectly amazed at the unconscious selfishness
of the man, "you wish me to go on caring for you?"

"You ask if I wish it? why, what would become of me without you? you
who are my very life!" And then, as she moved back a step or two in
sheer bewilderment, he went on: "Well, but whatever have you been
imagining?--that I am going to marry Bijou, perhaps?"

"Why, yes."

He was about to explain to her why he could not marry his cousin, but
it occurred to him that the very prosaic reason for the impossibility
of such a match, would make his return to Madame de Nézel, of whom he
was really very fond, appear as a slight to her.

"It has only been a passing fancy that I have had for Bijou," he said.
"How could I help it? it is simply impossible to be always with her
and to escape being intoxicated by her beauty, and by her unconscious
and innocent coquetry. For the last fortnight I have been a fool--I am
still, in fact; but on seeing you again I knew at once that it is you
only whom I love, and belong to--heart and soul."

As he said this, he drew Madame de Nézel's pale face against his
shoulder, and, bending down, pressed his lips to hers, and then, as
the young widow nestled closer still in his arms, he said, with
passionate tenderness:

"How do you think that I could ever care for that child--with whom I
am always so reserved--in the way I care for you?" He could feel her
slender form trembling in his embrace, and, drawing her closer still,
he murmured: "Forgive me, darling, you are always so good, and if I
have sinned, it has only been in thought."

"You know I love you," she answered. "But we must go back to the house
at once; they will think our walk is lasting a long time."

Madame de Juzencourt, who was seated on the terrace, called out as
soon as she caught sight of them:

"Well, have you been walking all this time?"

And at the same moment M. de Rueille called out to Bijou, who had just
appeared at one of the windows:

"So that's the way you come out to us! It's very kind of you."

"I could not come before," she answered, stepping out, and then
approaching her cousin, she added, in a low voice: "I had to see to
the tea and the ices, etc., etc.; you must not be vexed with me."

"Vexed with you!" exclaimed Pierrot warmly. "Could anyone be vexed
with _you_, now?"

Bijou did not answer. She was watching Hubert de Bernès in an
absent-minded way, as he stood talking to Bertrade, and she was
wondering how it was that he was so cool in his manner towards
herself. He was polite, certainly, and even pleasant, but _only_
polite and pleasant, and she was not accustomed to such moderation. M.
de Clagny appeared presently at one of the windows and called out:

"Mademoiselle Bijou, your grandmamma wants you."

Denyse ran into the house, her silk skirts rustling as she went. She
did not even stay to answer young La Balue, who, pointing to Henry de
Bracieux as he stood with the light showing up his profile, had just
remarked:

"What a handsome man Henry is."

"Bijou," said the marchioness, "I want you to sing something for us."

"Oh! grandmamma, please"--she began, in a beseeching tone, and looking
annoyed.

"M. de Clagny wants to hear you," said Madame de Bracieux, insisting.

"Oh, very well, then, I will, certainly," replied Bijou pleasantly,
without taking into account that her way of consenting was not very
flattering for the rest of her grandmother's guests.

She went to the piano, and, taking up a guitar, put the pink ribbon
which was attached to it round her neck, and then came back and took
up her position in the midst of the semi-circle formed by the
arm-chairs.

"I am going to accompany myself with the guitar," she said; "it is
simpler." And then turning to M. de Clagny, she asked: "What do you
want me to sing? Do you like the old-fashioned songs?" and without
waiting for a reply, she began the ballad of the "Petit Soldat":

    "Je me suis engagé
    Pour l'amour d'une blonde."

She had a good ear and a pretty voice, which she used skilfully, and
it was with plaintive sweetness that she sang the touching story of
the young soldier who "veut qu'on mette son coeur dans une serviette
blanche."

The drawing-room soon filled when Bijou began to sing, and the various
expressions on the different faces were most amusing to see.

Jean was listening in a nervous, excited way, pulling his fair
moustache irritably through his fingers.

M. de Rueille, affected in spite of himself by the doleful air, and
annoyed that all these people should be admiring Bijou, was pacing up
and down at the other end of the drawing-room, pretending not to be
listening to the music.

Pierrot, with his mouth open, was all attention. Young La Balue, with
his elbow resting on a side-table in an awkward and ridiculous pose,
kept his colourless eyes fixed on the young girl in a gaze which he
tried to make magnetic, and with such bold persistency that Henry de
Bracieux felt the most extraordinary desire to walk up to him and box
his ears. Even Abbé Courteil was carried away by the plaintive
ballad; he was deeply moved, and sat there with his eyes stretched
wide open, breathing heavily. Hubert de Bernès only was listening with
polite attention, but comparative indifference. As to the ladies, all,
except, perhaps, Gisèle de la Balue, admired Bijou sincerely.

Madame de Nézel was listening with a mournful expression in her eyes,
and a kind-hearted smile, whilst as for M. de Clagny, it was as though
all the sensitiveness and affection of his nature had gone out towards
this pretty, fragile-looking, young creature. His eyes, beaming with
tenderness, seemed to take in at the same time, the beautiful face,
the little rosy fingers as they touched the strings of the guitar, and
the slender, supple figure.

When Bijou had come to the end of her song, she went up to him,
without paying any attention to the compliments that were being
showered on her, and, in a pretty, coaxing way, she asked:

"It did not bore you too much, I hope?"

M. de Clagny could not answer for a moment. He felt choked with
emotion.

"I shall often ask you for that song again," he said at last. "Yes, I
shall come often, and you will sing me the 'Petit Soldat,' won't you?"

He had a great desire to hear Bijou sing for him--for him alone; he
did not want to share her voice and her charm with all these people
whom he now detested.

"You shall come as often as you please," she answered, looking
delighted, "and I will sing you everything you like," and then gliding
away she went across to Jean de Blaye, who was standing alone at the
other end of the drawing-room. "It annoys you when I sing, doesn't
it?" she asked him.

"Why, no!" he answered, surprised at the question, and surprised that
Bijou should trouble about him. "Why should you think so?"

"Because I saw you just now--you were pulling your moustache in the
most furious way, and you looked bored to death. Yes, you certainly
did look bored!"

"It was just your own imagination."

"Oh, no! it was not just my imagination. When I care about anyone I am
always very clear-sighted! so, you see, it is quite the contrary. Why
are you frowning now?"

"I am not frowning."

"Oh, yes, you were, and it looks as though what I said just now had
vexed you, too."

"What did you just say?"

"That I am very clear-sighted. And you are vexed, because you are
afraid that I shall see that something is the matter."

"Something the matter?" he asked uneasily. "What is it?"

"What is it? Ah! I don't know! But most certainly something is the
matter with you--you are not at all like yourself ever since--why,
ever since we have been at Bracieux."

"Really?" he said, putting on a joking tone. "I am different, am
I--and the most extraordinary thing is, that I did not know myself
about this difference."

Bijou shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"Don't try to take me in like that, Jean, my dear; I know you too
well, you see. You are different, I tell you! You have gradually got
very abrupt, restless, and absent-minded. Listen, now,--would you like
me to tell you what it is?"

Seated at some distance away from them, Madame de Nézel was watching
them, with an expression of melancholy resignation.

Bijou glanced across at her, and the young girl's violet eyes gleamed
between her long, thick lashes, as she said:

"You are in love with someone who does not return your love."

Jean de Blaye coloured up furiously.

"You don't know what you are talking about," he answered.

"Well, then, why have you gone so red? Oh, how proud you are. You are
vexed because I have found this out." And then, after a short silence,
she began again: "Have you told her?"

"Have I told what? and whom? My dear Bijou, how foolish you are."

"Have you told Mad--" She stopped abruptly, and then, with her face
turned towards Madame de Nézel, she continued: "The person with whom
you are in love, have you told her that you love her?"

"No!" he murmured, in a stifled sort of voice.

"You are afraid to? but why? I constantly hear grandmamma, Bertrade,
Paul, and Uncle Alexis, saying over and over again that you are the
kind of man women like; _she_ would be sure to like you, too, and she
would marry you, I am certain." She leaned towards him, nearly
touching his ear as she whispered to him, and not caring what effect
her familiarity might have. "Listen, now, if you like I will tell her
for you, and I am quite sure what her answer will be."

Jean rose abruptly, and seizing Bijou's hand, he asked excitedly:

"What are you saying?"

"I am just saying that she _will_ love you, if she does not already."

"But of whom are you speaking--of whom?" he stammered out, aghast.

She answered him in a hesitating way, with a frank look on her pretty
face, but she spoke in such a low voice that he could scarcely catch
her first words.

"I am speaking of----"

"Bijou!" called out Pierrot, separating them unceremoniously,
"grandmamma says you are forgetting about the tea." And then, looking
at their faces, he went on: "Well, I never! you are both as red as
cherries; there's no mistake about it, it's baking hot in here."

Denyse hurried away, and Pierrot continued:

"We thought over there that you were quarrelling."

"Ah! you thought that, did you?" answered Jean, by way of saying
something.

"Yes, especially grandmamma; that's why she sent me to tell Bijou
about the tea. I say, Bijou isn't worried about anything, is she?"

"Well, now, what kind of worry do you fancy she could have, my dear
fellow?" And then, with a smile, he added: "Who do you imagine would
undertake to cause her any worry? It seems to me that anyone who did
venture to would have a bad time of it in this house."

"She's so sweet, and so nice always," answered the boy, with great
warmth. "As for me, why, I just adore her; and Paul does, too, and so
does Henry, and M. Giraud, and Bertrade's kids, and the abbé, and
everyone, in fact; even little La Balue is gone on her, and he's never
gone on anyone. Yes, he was telling her I don't know what up in a
corner of the room after dinner, and then, when she was singing--did
you ever see such eyes as he was making at her?--oh, no! if you had
only just seen him----"

"Do shut up!" exclaimed Jean irritably, "you wear everyone out, if you
only knew it, my dear Pierrot."

When Bijou came back to the drawing-room, Henry de Bracieux waylaid
her.

"I say," he began, in a cross-grained tone, "what was La Balue telling
you just now that appeared to be so interesting?"

"Where?"

"Here, after dinner."

"Here?" repeated Bijou, apparently trying to recall something to her
memory, "after dinner? Ah, I remember; why, he was talking about
you!'

"About me?"

"Yes, about you! He thinks you are very handsome, but he also thinks
that you do not know how to make the most of your good looks."

"Have you finished making game of me?"

"I assure you that I am not making game of you--not the least bit in
the world. He even advised me to tell you that instead of your
frightful stand-up collars--these are his words, you know, and not
mine--you ought to wear--what did he call them now?--oh, Van Dyck
collars, which would not cover your neck up, for it appears that your
throat is superb, and your head so well set on your shoulders; and
then you have lovely teeth! I only wish you could hear him sing the
praises of your personal appearance."

"Of my personal appearance! Mine?"

"Why, yes; you thought, perhaps, that he was talking to me of mine?
Not at all! He informed me, too, that he was going to tell you all
that in poetry; not the Van Dyck collars, but the rest."

"That young man is an idiot!"

"Oh, dear me, he is very harmless."

"You are so good-hearted always, you never dig into anyone. Ah,
attention! they are packing up, the La Balue crew!" And Henry, in a
low voice, and apparently delighted, finished up with a "Hip! hip!
hurrah!"

M. de la Balue, who was just coming out of the hall with a heap of
cloaks, looked at him in astonishment, while at the doorway a little
family quarrel took place. The good man wanted to make his wife and
daughter wrap their heads up in some very ordinary-looking knitted
shawls, so that they should not get a chill. He was obliged, however,
to give in at last.

Bijou, on saying good-bye to Madame de Nézel, held out her little
hand, and looked straight into her eyes with such an expression of
innocent curiosity that the young widow turned away, quite confused by
the persistency of the young girl's gaze. It seemed to her as though
this child had discovered the secret of her life, and the bare idea of
this caused her intense misery.

Bijou's charm, however, was so great, and her power of attraction so
strong, that Madame de Nézel, at the bottom of her heart, felt nothing
but affection for the lovely little creature who had so unconsciously
stolen her happiness from her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Denyse gaily, when she went back into the
drawing-room, where only M. de Clagny and the family now remained, "it
is half-past twelve, you know; they all seemed like fixtures, and I
thought they were never going to leave us!"

"The La Balue family are not very handsome," remarked the abbé.

"Oh, they are not so bad," protested the young girl; "it is only a
question of getting used to them, that's all!"

"Young Balue is horrible!" said Madame de Bracieux. "And then, too,
there is something snaky about him. When you shake hands with him, it
is like touching an eel."

"And the daughter, too!" put in Pierrot. "Ugh, she has such little
pig's eyes! and Louis, too, has little eyes!"

"They are very nice, though, all the same," said Bijou, in a
conciliatory tone.

"And they come of very good family," added Madame de Bracieux; "they
are descended from La Balue, from the Cardinal, the real--"

"Oh, well," put in Bijou gently, "it would, perhaps, be better for
Gisèle not to have descended from the iron cage, but to have larger
eyes; however, as it cannot be helped--"

M. de Clagny laughed, as he turned round to look about for his hat,
which he had put down somewhere in the room.

"One needs to have a certain amount of assurance," he said, "in making
one's exit from here, for one feels how one will be pulled to pieces."

"You need not be afraid," said Bijou, "we shall not pull you to
pieces, although you could stand it very well. I promise you, though,
that you shall not be pulled to pieces. Will you take my word for it?"

"Yes, I will take your word," answered the count, as he took the
little hands, which were held out to him, and pressed them
affectionately in his.



VIII.


"ARE you going for a ride, Bijou?" called out Pierrot, leaning out of
the window.

Denyse, who was just crossing the courtyard, pointed to her
riding-habit.

"Well, you can be sure that in this heat I should not entertain myself
by walking about in a cloth dress if I were not going to ride."

"Where are you going?"

"Why?"

"So that we can come and meet you--we two--M. Giraud and I,--at eleven
o'clock!"

Just behind Pierrot the tutor's head was to be seen.

"I am going to The Borderettes to take a message to Lavenue," answered
Bijou; and then, seeing Giraud, she said pleasantly: "Good morning. I
shall see you again, then, soon?"

Patatras was waiting in the shade. The old coachman, who always
accompanied Bijou, helped her into her saddle, and then, mounting in
his turn, prepared to follow her. When Pierrot saw this, he called out
again:

"How is it that none of the cousins are riding with you?"

"I did not tell them that I was going out."

"Ah!" he exclaimed regretfully, "if I were only free, wouldn't I come
with you!"

She turned round in her saddle, with an easy movement which showed
that she was not laced in at all, and answered Pierrot, with a merry
laugh:

"I should not have told you though, either!"

As soon as Bijou had passed through the gateway, she put Patatras to a
gallop, for the flies were teasing him dreadfully.

She went along through the hot air, meeting the sun, the burning rays
of which fell full on her pretty face without making it red. She did
not slacken her pace until she arrived at the narrow lane leading to
The Borderettes. It was almost perpendicular, and covered with loose
stones, and at the bottom of the little valley, which was very green,
in spite of the dry season, the farm, with its white walls and red
roof, looked like a perfectly new toy-house. When she was at the
bottom of the hill, Bijou pulled out of her pocket a little
looking-glass, and then arranged her veil and the loose curly locks of
hair, which had blown over her ears and the back of her neck. She then
gathered from the hedge a spray of mulberry blossom, which she
fastened in the bodice of her habit, arranged the little handkerchief,
trimmed with Valenciennes, daintily in her side-pocket, and then,
after another short gallop, pulled up at the entrance to the farm.

A rough voice called out: "Are you there, master?" and then a young
farm labourer came out of the house, saying: "Master ain't heard me
call; I'll go and find him."

A minute or two later, a tall young man, of some thirty-five years of
age, appeared. He was a true type of the Norman peasant, somewhat
meagre-looking, with fair hair, and a slight stoop. He looked very
warm and was out of breath. His face was so red that it seemed to be
turning purple.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, trying to get his breath again, "it's you,
Mad'moiselle Denyse, it's you, is it?"

"Yes, Monsieur Lavenue," she answered, smiling, "it is."

"Won't you get down?" he asked, holding out his hand to help her.

"No, thanks! I have only come to bring you a message from grandmamma.
It is about the Confirmation dinner next Monday; but you know all
about that, as you are the mayor?"

"Yes, I know about it!"

"Well, grandmamma would like to have some very nice peaches for
Monday, and some very nice pears; in fact, all kinds of nice things,
such as grow in your orchard."

"They shall bring you them, Mad'moiselle Denyse! You can be quite easy
about that. I'll see they are well chosen." And then, as the young
girl turned her horse round, he said, as he watched her, almost dazed
with admiration: "Are you going to start back already, mad'moiselle?
Won't you stop and have some refreshment--a bowl of milk now? I know
you like a drop o' good milk!" And then, in a persuasive tone, he
added, as he took hold of Patatras' bridle, "That 'ud give the horse a
rest, too; he's very warm after the run."

Farmer Lavenue's way of talking always amused Bijou. It had been more
than ten years now since the sturdy Norman had emigrated to Touraine,
and yet he had not lost his strong Norman accent in the slightest
degree.

It was Madame de Bracieux, who, thoroughly dissatisfied with the
Touraine farmers, had taken up this man. Charlemagne Lavenue had never
fraternised with the regular inhabitants of the place. He was looked
up to and admired by the simple-minded and unskilful villagers, who
saw him making money in the very place where others had been ruined.
He had, by "sending for people from his part of the world," gradually
transformed The Borderettes into a small Normandy, and he had so much
influence now in the place that he, an interloper, had been elected
mayor of Bracieux, to the exclusion of the former notables of the
place.

As Denyse did not reply, he lifted her down from her horse, saying as
he did so: "You will, mad'moiselle, won't you?" And then, after giving
the reins to the old groom, he led the way to the door of the farm,
and stood aside for Bijou to enter.

"How nice it is here, Monsieur Lavenue," she exclaimed, in a pleasant
way. "Have I ever seen this room before? No, I don't think I have!"

"Yes, you've seen it, mad'moiselle, only, you know, it's been fresh
white-washed, and, you see, that makes it different-like."

"When you are married, now," she said, smiling, "it will be very nice,
indeed."

Farmer Lavenue, who was looking at Bijou with hungry eyes, held his
head up erect, and then, shaking it slowly, he answered, with some
hesitation:

"I can't decide to give the farm a mistress, because I don't come
across one as suits me." And after a moment's silence, he added:
"That is to say, amongst them as I could have."

"Why, how's that? any of the girls from Bracieux, or Combes, or from
the villages round The Borderettes, would marry you, Monsieur Lavenue,
and there are some very pretty girls among them."

"I can't see as they are," he answered, blushing, and twisting about
in his fingers the huge, broad-brimmed hat which he always wore the
whole year round.

"You are difficult to please, then; do you mean that you don't think
Catherine Lebour pretty?"

"No, Mad'moiselle Denyse."

"Nor Josephine Lacaille?"

"No, Mad'moiselle Denyse."

"And Louise Pature?"

"No, mad'moiselle."

Bijou laughed merrily. "Oh, well, do you mean to say that you don't
admire any woman?"

"Yes, I do--there's _one_--"

"Who is it?" she asked, looking full at the peasant, with her frank,
innocent expression.

Lavenue turned redder still, and stooped down with an awkward movement
to pick up his hat, which had fallen to the ground.

"I can't say," he stuttered out; "she isn't for such as me."

Bijou did not hear his reply. With her pretty figure slightly bent,
and her head thrown back, she was slowly drinking a second cup of
milk, whilst the farmer, who had recovered himself, stood still, with
his eyes wide open, gazing at this fragile-looking young creature in
timid, half-fearful admiration.

When Bijou had finished her milk, she looked at him critically, with a
smile on her lips.

"My goodness! how warm it is to-day," he said, wiping with the back of
his hand the great drops of perspiration, which stood out on his
forehead.

"Thank you, so much, Monsieur Lavenue," said Denyse, getting up; "your
milk is delicious."

"Oh! but you aren't surely going to start off again already?" he said,
with a downcast look.

"Already! why, I have been here at least a quarter of an hour."

"Oh, well! it's been precious quick to me that quarter of an hour!" he
stammered; and then, in a lower voice, he added: "Thank you, very
much, Mad'moiselle Denyse, for the honour as you've done me. I sha'n't
forget it, that's certain!"

On getting up, Bijou had let the flowers, which she was wearing in her
bodice, fall to the ground.

As she turned towards the door, to see whether the horses were there,
the peasant, with a stealthy movement, stretched his long, sinewy body
out along the floor, and, snatching up the flowers, hid them away
under his blouse.

The groom was about to descend from his horse in order to help Denyse
to mount; but she made a sign to stop him.

"Monsieur Lavenue will help me on to my horse," she said; "he is very
strong."

She put her foot out in order to place it in the farmer's hand; but,
without any warning, he put his hands round her waist, and then,
steadying her a second against himself, he lifted her straight into
the saddle.

"Oh, well!" she exclaimed, in amazement, "I said you were strong, but
however could you hold me at arm's length like that, and put me on to
my horse, which is so tall?" and then, as he did not speak, but just
stood there, looking down and breathing heavily, she added: "There,
you see, I was too heavy! You are quite out of breath."

She started off before he had time to answer, calling out to him as
she rode away:

"Good morning, and thank you again, very much!"

Just as she was turning out of the farmyard, she looked round again at
the farmer, who was standing motionless, as though rooted to the
spot, with his arms hanging down at his sides.

"Don't forget grandmamma's peaches and pears, Monsieur Lavenue!" she
called out.

She then looked at her watch, and found that it was five minutes past
eleven. She had plenty of time to return home without hurrying, and
then, too, M. Giraud and Pierrot were to meet her, and they were never
free until eleven o'clock.

As she passed through a village, she gathered a spray of clematis from
the cemetery wall to replace the flowers which she had dropped, and
then, when she found herself quite alone, she took out her little
looking-glass again, and fluffed her hair up, as it was not curly
enough now that the heat had made it limp. At half-past eleven, as she
saw no signs of those whom she was expecting, she began to get
impatient, and put her horse to a gallop, for Patatras was getting
tired, and would keep stopping, and doing his utmost to browse the
leaves along the hedges.

Suddenly a serious, almost melancholy, expression came over the girl's
pretty, happy-looking face. She was just crossing a meadow, which was
skirted by a wood.

"Hallo, Bijou! that's how you cut us, is it?" exclaimed a voice.

She stopped short, looking surprised, and turned back a few steps.

Pierrot and M. Giraud, who had been lying down in the shade, rose from
the ground, leaving the long grass marked with their impress.

"Why, you are here already!" she said; "I did not expect to meet you
so far away from home; at what time did you start, then?"

"A little before the hour," answered Pierrot; and then he added slily,
winking at his tutor: "M'sieu' Giraud was a brick; he let me off a bit
earlier--without me begging much, either--and now, if we want to be at
Bracieux at twelve o'clock, we shall have to put our best feet first!"

They were walking along by the side of Bijou.

"Have you recovered from yesterday evening?" she asked, addressing M.
Giraud.

"Recovered?" said the young tutor. "How _recovered_?"

"Because you could not have enjoyed yourself very much! M. de
Tourville and M. de Juzencourt blocked you up, one after the other, in
a corner, to explain to you: the one that Charles de Tourville
embarked with William the Conqueror in 1066; and the other, that a
Juzencourt fought against Charles the Bold in 1477 under the walls of
Nancy. Am I not right?"

"Quite right! and M. de Juzencourt added that there was only blue
blood in his family. I did not quite understand why he should tell me
that."

"In order to prove to you that, traced clearly only since 1477, but
without the slightest _mésalliance_, the Juzencourts are more
respectable than the Tourvilles."

"Oh, indeed!"

"Yes, M. de Tourville married a young lady who was all very well, but
her name was Chaillot, and her father is on the Stock Exchange; you
see, therefore, that, as regards the Tourvilles, the family is older
than the Juzencourt family, but it is not so pure. You managed to put
such a good face on as you listened to all that. Oh, dear! I could
have laughed if you had not looked so wretched."

"It wasn't just the nuisance of having to listen to the Tourville and
Juzencourt yarns that made him look like that," observed Pierrot. "For
some time past he is always like that, even with me, and I can promise
you that I don't overpower him with yarns, either about Charles the
Bold or William the Conqueror."

"I am quite convinced on that score!" said Bijou, laughing.

"Dear me! it isn't that there'd be any difficulty about it,"
protested Pierrot. "I _could_ very well if I wanted to, but--confound
it!"

"Confound it! again?" said the young tutor, annoyed, and looking
reproachfully at his pupil. "You know that M. de Jonzac objects to
your speaking in that way. He particularly wishes you to be more
careful, and more correct, in your choice of words."

"Oh, well! if he were to talk to my friends, he'd hear a few things,
and he'd soon get used to it, too. It's always like that; just a
matter of getting used to things."

"I cannot imagine that very well, though," said Bijou; "Uncle Alexis
letting himself get used to the style of conversation of your
friends."

She drew up whilst she was speaking, and pointed to something in the
wood.

"Oh! look at that beautiful mountain ash, isn't it red? How pretty
those bunches are!"

"Do you want some of those berries?" proposed Pierrot.

"Yes, I should like some, they are so beautiful."

The youth entered the coppice, and they heard the branches snapping as
he broke them in order to make himself a passage, and presently the
top of the red tree shook and swayed, now bending down, and now
springing up again, as Pierrot shook it roughly.

Bijou, with her head bent, and a far-away look in her eyes, seemed to
be in a dream, quite oblivious of what was going on around her. She
started on hearing Pierrot's voice as he called out to her to know
whether he was to gather a large bunch.

"There is nothing worrying you, is there, mademoiselle?" asked
Monsieur Giraud timidly, as he stroked Patatras gently.

"Oh, no! Why?"

"Because you do not seem quite like yourself; you look rather sad."

"Sad?" she said, forcing a smile. "I look sad?"

"Yes. Just now, when you passed by without seeing us, you looked sad,
very sad, and now again--"

"Just now--that's quite possible. Yes, I did not feel quite gay; but,
now, why, I have no reason to be otherwise--quite the contrary. I feel
so happy here, in this velvety-looking field, and with this beautiful
sunshine that I love so much!" And then she added, as though in a
dream, and not taking any notice of the young man: "Yes, I am so
happy, I should like to stay like this for ever and ever."

She pressed her rosy lips to the spray of clematis with which she had
been playing the last minute or two, and then put it back into her
bodice, not seeing the hand which Giraud was holding out beseechingly
towards the poor flowers, which were already withering.

Pierrot came out of the thicket at this moment, carrying an immense
bunch of mountain ash berries. Bijou was smiling again by this time.

"You are ever so kind, Pierrot dear," she said, after thanking him,
"and all the more so as you will have the bother of carrying that for
another mile yet."

"Oh! if it would give you any pleasure, you know, I'd do things that
were a lot more bother than that!"

"You are good, Pierrot."

"It isn't because I'm good;" he said, and then coming nearer, so that
he touched the horse, he added very softly: "It's because I'm so fond
of you."

Bijou did not answer, and in another minute Pierrot began again:

"How well you sang last night. Didn't she, M'sieu' Giraud?"

"Wonderfully well," said the tutor. "And what a lovely voice! so
fresh, and so pure. I can understand something now which I did not
understand yesterday."

"What may that be?"

"The infinite power of the voice! Yes, before hearing you I did not
know what I know at present. You will sing again, will you not,
mademoiselle? Fancy, I have been here three weeks, and I had never had
the happiness of--"

"I will give you _that happiness_ as much as ever you like."

She was joking again now, for the little dreamy creature of a minute
before was Bijou once more.

As they approached the château, she put her hand up to shade her eyes.

"Why, what's going on?" she said; "the hall-door steps look black with
people."

"Hang it!" exclaimed Pierrot crossly. "They are all out there watching
for you! There's Paul, and there's Henry, and the abbé, and Uncle
Alexis, and Bertrade. Look, though! Who's that? You are right--there
are some other folks too. Ah! it's old Dubuisson, and Jeanne, and then
there's a fellow I don't know; a fellow all in black. Oh, well! he
must be a shivery sort to come to the country dressed in black, in
such heat as this."

"Perhaps it's M. Spiegel, Jeanne's _fiancé_. They were to bring him."

"Yes, that must be it! I say, he doesn't look a very lively sort, your
Jeanne's _fiancé_. She isn't though either--"

Bijou was looking round to see what had become of Giraud, who had
suddenly become so silent. He was following the young girl,
worshipping her as he walked along as though she were some idol.

Just at this moment, whilst Pierrot was very much taken up with
looking in the direction of the château, the little bunch of clematis
dropped from Bijou's dress, and fell at the tutor's feet. He picked it
up quickly, and slipped it into his pocket-book, after kissing it,
with a kind of passionate devotion, whilst behind him, the old groom,
silent and correct as usual, laughed to himself.



IX.


M. DUBUISSON, whom the students called "Old Dubuisson," was the
principal of the college.

He had brought his daughter to Bracieux, where she was to spend a week
with Bijou, and Jeanne's _fiancé_, a young professor, newly appointed
at the Pont-sur-Loire College, had accompanied them.

"How warm you must be, my dear Bijou," called out the marchioness,
appearing at one of the windows.

"Oh, no, grandmamma," answered Denyse, taking M. de Rueille's hand in
order to descend from her horse. "M. Giraud and Pierrot must be
warm--I am all right."

She kissed Jeanne heartily, spoke to M. Dubuisson, and then looked in
a hesitating way towards the young professor, who was contemplating
her in surprise.

"Bijou, this is Monsieur Spiegel," said Mademoiselle Dubuisson.

With a graceful, pretty movement, which was very taking, Bijou held
out her little hand to the young man.

"We are friends at once," she said; and then, as she moved away with
Jeanne, she whispered: "He is charming, you know, quite charming!"

M. Spiegel perhaps overheard this kindly criticism, or else it was
just by accident that he happened to turn very red at that moment.

"Go and change your dress quickly, Bijou!" commanded the marchioness.

"But, grandmamma, I am not warm, really and truly."

"Come here! Let me see!"

In a docile way, Bijou went up to Madame de Bracieux.

"Well, grandmamma?" she said, when the marchioness had satisfied
herself by putting her finger between the young girl's neck and her
collar, "wasn't I right?"

"Yes, it's quite true," said Madame de Bracieux unwillingly, "she is
not warm at all; it is incomprehensible! Well, stay as you are then,
if you like." She made her grand-daughter turn round just in front of
her, and then remarked, in a satisfied tone, "You look very well like
that. Those little white, piqué jackets are very becoming."

"They suit Bijou," said Bertrade, "because, with her complexion,
everything suits her; but these little English jackets are very
unbecoming to most women."

Abbé Courteil looked at the black skirt, the white jacket, and then at
Bijou herself.

"At all events, the black and white together is perfectly charming.
Mademoiselle Denyse looks like a big swallow."

"Well, well!" exclaimed the marchioness, with a benevolent expression
in her eyes, "that's very pretty, now, that comparison!"

Though she herself was the topic of conversation, Bijou was paying no
attention to what was being said, but was talking in a pleasant way to
M. Spiegel, a little apart from the others.

He was a serious, placid, young man, with a somewhat rigid expression.
His eyes, however, had a merry twinkle, which relieved the severity of
his mouth, and the austerity of his deportment.

He was rather tall, and slightly made, and was dressed in dark clothes
of a good cut. Altogether M. Spiegel might have passed for a young
clergyman. Fascinated and almost bewildered by Bijou's charm and
wonderful beauty, he was gazing at her with a look of surprise and
admiration in his eyes, whilst the young girl, for her part, kept
stealing a glance at him, for she was quite astonished to find that
Jeanne's _fiancé_ was so satisfactory-looking.

Luncheon seemed to be very long. The marchioness's guests were all
engaged in studying each other, some of them absent-minded and silent,
and the others talkative, but singularly preoccupied also.

Madame de Bracieux was witnessing, without understanding in the least
what it all meant, the change of attitude, or, in fact, the
transformation which had commenced a few days ago. She could scarcely
recognise her little troop with whom she had hitherto been able to do
just as she liked.

M. Spiegel and Bijou, who were placed next to each other at the table,
were the only ones who talked with the animation of those who have
something to say, and who are not talking for the mere sake of
talking.

Several times Jeanne Dubuisson, seated on the right of M. Spiegel,
turned towards him with a little flash in her usually soft blue eyes.
She was thinking, sorrowfully, that her _fiancé_ certainly seemed to
prefer looking at Bijou to looking at her, and a feeling of sadness
came over her at the idea that she had never seen his eyes resting on
her with as much expression in them as there was now when he gazed at
Bijou.

Jeanne, who was nineteen, looked much older than Denyse, although she
was a little like her. Her hair, which was fair like Bijou's, was less
glossy, and not so auburn, although it was thicker; her eyes were of a
less uncommon blue; her teeth were as white, but not so regular; her
complexion was less brilliant, and her head not so well set on her
shoulders.

Bijou, who was very short, wore very high heels in order to look
taller, whilst Jeanne, who was tall enough, always wore flat-heeled
boots.

The one fairly dazzled everyone by her wonderful beauty, whilst the
other would pass by almost unnoticed, her chief claim to prettiness
being a certain charm of expression, which betokened an unselfish
disposition and a kind heart.

After luncheon, Bijou carried Jeanne off with her to the park which
surrounded the château. She had scarcely seen her friend since her
engagement.

"Why," asked Bijou, "did you tell me so calmly that M. Spiegel was
rather good-looking?"

"Well, because I think he is," answered Mademoiselle Dubuisson. "Do
you mean to say that you--"

"Oh, come now, don't act; you know perfectly well that he is more than
_rather_ good-looking."

"But--"

"Yes, don't you see, from the description you gave me, I expected to
see a nice young man with a goody sort of look about him--rather a
bore, in fact--and then, instead, you bring us a most delightful man.
You ought to have prepared us; you ought not to give people such
shocks--" And then, not giving Jeanne time to reply, she continued:
"Where did you meet him?"

"This spring, at Easter, when we went to Bordeaux to stay with my
aunt."

"And it was settled at once."

"No, but I liked him from the first."

"Yes, you are one of the affectionate kind."

"And I soon saw that he, too, liked very much to be with me."

"And then?"

"Well, then, we came away, and I felt wretched, of course. I thought I
was mistaken, and that he did not care about me at all."

"You did not tell me anything about all that."

"No; in the first place I imagined that it was all over, and then I
should not have liked to talk about it to anyone, not even to you; it
seems to me that, about such matters--well, when one is in love, one
should only talk about it to one's own self; that is the only way to
be quite understood."

"Oh, then, you fancy that I do not understand anything about love?"

"About love such as I understand it? no! you are too pretty, you see,
and then you are too much fêted and adored by everyone to be able, as
I have done, to satisfy and content yourself with an immense affection
for one person only."

Bijou sighed, as she said regretfully:

"It must be so happy, though, to love anyone like that."

"Well, it would be easy enough for you; your cousin M. de Blaye adores
you. Oh, it is no use denying it--it is so perfectly evident; I saw it
instantly."

"You are dreaming--" said Bijou, looking astounded.

"Oh, dear, no! he is in love with you, madly in love with you, and he
seems to me to be a man worthy of your love."

"Instead of talking nonsense, finish telling me the story of your
engagement. We had got as far as where you left Bordeaux, thinking
that all was over. What next?"

"Well, next, a fortnight ago, the professorship of philosophy was
vacant, and papa was surprised to hear that M. Spiegel had been
appointed to it. 'It is a come-down,' he said to me, 'for
Pont-sur-Loire is not as good as Bordeaux'; but not at all--it was no
come-down."

"It was he himself, then, who had asked for the change?"

"Exactly! and last Monday, he and his mother arrived at our house to
ask papa's consent."

"What's his mother like?"

"Very nice, and good-looking still; but she seems rather severe, a
little bit hard."

"Don't take any notice of that; Protestants always appear like that."

"How do you know that she is a Protestant?"

"Because I suppose that she is of the same religion as her son."

"But who told you that M. Spiegel is a Protestant?"

"No one. I discovered that all alone; it did not take me long
either--"

"But how can you know--"

"I do not know anything, and yet you see I do know all the same; it's
a very good thing to be able to marry a Protestant; they are less
frivolous, more serious, and more constant."

"Yes, perhaps so; but his mother, as I told you looks very severe,
very; and she is going to live with us."

"Oh, well, so much the better. It is a safe-guard, don't you know, to
have a mother with you who is somewhat austere. In the first place,
she will inspire everyone with respect for you."

"I don't think I need anyone to inspire people with respect for me,
and, anyhow, it seems to me that if I did, why, my husband would be--"

"Not at all! oh, no! parents are quite different, and I was brought up
to worship my parents, and to believe that their presence brings not
only respect but happiness into the home."

"Oh, yes, I think that, too, as regards papa; but Madame Spiegel is a
stranger to me, as it were, and I do feel that I owe her a little
grudge for coming to intrude on the privacy of our home-life, which
would have seemed so much happier alone."

"You must say to yourself that she is the mother of your husband, that
he loves her, and that you ought to love her for his sake."

"You are quite right. How I wish I were like you, Bijou dear! you are
so much better than I am."

"I am an angel, am I not? that's settled."

"You are joking; but it is quite, quite true."

"Tell me, won't it make you miserable to be away from your _fiancé_
all this week, which you are going to spend with me?"

"No; besides he will come with papa to see me if your grandmamma will
allow him to, and then he is going to Paris for a few days."

"And here I am walking you about, like the thoughtless creature that I
am, forgetting that the unhappy young man is sure to be wretched
without you. Let us go in; shall we?"

"Yes, I am quite willing."

A bright gleam suddenly came into Bijou's eyes, shaded as they were by
their long lashes, and then, putting on an indifferent air, she said
to her friend:

"Tell me what little incident could possibly have given you the
extraordinary idea that Jean de Blaye cares for me?"

"The way he looked at you all through luncheon, and then, too, his
annoyance when we were all out on the steps this morning watching for
you, and he saw you coming with young Jonzac and his tutor."

"You have too much imagination."

"No; I am sure that he is in love with you--and very much so!--and
what about you?"

"What about me?"

"You--you don't care for him?"

"No, not in the way you mean, at least. He is my cousin; I like him
just as one does like a nice cousin, whom one knows too well to care
for in any other way."

"It's a pity."

"Why?"

"Because it seems to me that you would be happy with him."

Bijou shook her head.

"I don't think so; I must have a husband more steady than Jean."

"More steady? but he must be thirty-four or thirty-five--M. de Blaye."

"What does that matter? he is not steady, you know--not by any means."

"Ah! I did not know."

"Then, too, I should want my husband to only care for me."

"Well, pretty and fascinating as you are, you can make your mind easy
about that."

Bijou stopped suddenly in the middle of the garden-walk.

"Is not that a carriage coming up the drive?" she asked, pointing to
the avenue.

"Yes, certainly it is."

"What sort of a carriage? I cannot see anything, I am so
short-sighted."

"A phaeton with two horses, and a gentleman I don't know is driving."

"Ah, yes, that's it!" And then, as Jeanne looked at her inquiringly,
she added: "It is M. de Clagny--a friend of grandmamma's--the owner
of The Norinière."

"Ah! the man who is so rich!"

"So rich? Do you think he is so rich? I have not heard a word about
that!"

"Oh, yes; he is immensely wealthy--and all his fortune is in land."

Bijou was not listening to this. She had just gathered a daisy, which
was growing amongst the grass, bending its little timid head over the
garden pathway, and she was now pulling it to pieces in an
absent-minded way.

"Well?" asked Jeanne, smiling; "how does he love you?"

Bijou lifted her pretty head in surprise.

"Whom do you mean?"

"The one about whom you were questioning that daisy?"

"I don't know! I was not questioning it about anyone in particular."

"And what did it answer you?"

"Passionately."

"Oh, well, it was answering about everybody." And Jeanne added, as she
mounted the little flight of stone steps just behind her friend: "It's
quite true; everybody loves you; and you deserve to be loved--there!"

When the two girls entered the room where everyone was assembled,
their arrival seemed to have the effect of bringing some animation
into the faces of all the people.

"At last, and not before it was time!" murmured Henry de Bracieux, in
a way which caused his grandmother to glance at him, whilst M. de
Clagny stepped quickly forward to meet Bijou.

"That's right," she said pleasantly; "how good of you to come again so
soon to see us!"

"Too good! You'll have too much of me before long!"

"Never!" she answered, smiling merrily; and then taking Jeanne's hand,
she introduced her. "Jeanne Dubuisson--my best friend--whom I shall
lose now, because she is going to be married!"

"But why do you say that, Bijou?" exclaimed the young girl
reproachfully. "You know very well that, married or not married, I
shall always be your friend."

"Yes--everyone says that; but it isn't the same thing! When one is
married one does not belong to one's parents or friends any more, one
belongs to one's husband--and to him alone."

"How delightful such delusions are!" murmured M. de Clagny.

Bijou turned towards him abruptly.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"Oh, it was just nonsense!"

"No; I quite understand that you were laughing at me. Yes, I
understand perfectly well; it's no good shaking your head, I know all
the same that you were making fun of me, because I said that when one
is married one belongs only to one's husband! Well, that may be very
ridiculous, but it is my idea, and I believe it is M. Spiegel's, too?"

The young man smiled and nodded without answering.

"Has anyone introduced M. Spiegel?" continued Bijou, still addressing
the count. "No? well, then, I will repair such negligence. Monsieur
Spiegel, Jeanne's _fiancé_, who does not dare to support me, and
declare that I am right, because he is not in the majority here; there
is no one here who is married but himself--that is to say, nearly
married."

"Oh, indeed, and what about Paul?" asked the marchioness, laughing.

"Paul! Oh, yes, that's true; I was not thinking of him! Anyhow, the
unmarried persons are in the majority--Henry, Pierrot, Monsieur
Courteil, M. Giraud, Jean--well, what's the matter with Jean? he does
look queer!"

Jean de Blaye was seated in an arm-chair, with his eyes half-closed
and his head resting on his hand, looking very drowsy.

"I have a headache!" he answered; and then, as Bijou persisted, and
wanted to know what had given him a headache, he exclaimed gruffly:
"Well, what do you want me to say? It's a headache; how can I tell
what's given it me? It comes itself how it likes--that's all I know!"

Bijou had gone behind the arm-chair in which her cousin was lounging.

"You must have a very, very bad headache to look as you do," she said,
not at all discouraged by his abrupt manner, and noticing his pale
face, his drawn features, and his eyes, with dark circles round them,
"and for you to own, too, that there is anything the matter with you;
because you always set up for being so strong and well. Poor Jean, I
do wish you could get rid of it."

She bent forward, and pressing her lips gently on the young man's
weary eyelids, remained like that a few seconds.

Jean de Blaye turned pale, and then very red, and rose hastily from
his chair.

"You startled me," he said, in an embarrassed way, not knowing where
to look, "how stupid I am; but I did not see you were so near, so you
quite surprised me."

M. de Clagny had risen, too, in an excited way on seeing Bijou kiss
her cousin. It occurred to him though, at once, how very ridiculous
his jealousy would appear, and he sat down again, saying in a jesting
tone:

"Well, if that remedy does not take effect, de Blaye's case is
incurable."

M. de Rueille looked enviously at Jean, who was just going out of the
drawing-room, and then, turning to Bijou, he remarked, in a hoarse
voice:

"When I have a headache, and, unfortunately, that is very often, you
are not so compassionate."

M. Giraud remained petrified in the little low chair in which he had
taken his seat. His eyes were fixed on the ground, and his lips
pressed closely together; he looked as though he had seen nothing.

As for Pierrot, he exclaimed candidly:

"What a lucky beggar that Jean is!"

"Undoubtedly, undoubtedly," replied Abbé Courteil, with conviction;
"but, all the same, he certainly has a very bad headache--Monsieur de
Blaye. I know what it is to have a headache."

The marchioness bent forward to whisper to Bertrade, whilst looking
all the time at Bijou.

"Isn't she sweet, that child, and so good-hearted, and, above all, so
natural. Did you see how innocently she kissed that simpleton of a
Jean, and how it startled him?"

"Oh! as to startling him! he was rather upset by it, poor fellow, and
he wanted to explain away the fact that he was upset by it; that is
about all."

"Do you think so? with him, one never knows."

"You did not notice that he went off at once, without even saying
good-bye to M. Dubuisson and M. Spiegel, who are just going away."

The marchioness turned towards the two men in question, who were just
coming across to take leave.

"As we are keeping your Jeanne," she said, "I hope you will often come
to see her."

"Are you quite sure that you don't mind staying at Bracieux?" Bijou
asked her friend; "I shall not be angry with you, you know, for
preferring your _fiancé_ to me."

"Spiegel is obliged to go to Paris for a few days," said M. Dubuisson;
"on his return I shall come with him to fetch Jeanne back."

       *       *       *       *       *

On leaving the drawing-room, a few minutes before, Jean de Blaye had
felt thoroughly wretched. Bijou's innocent kiss, given so openly
before everyone, had, as a matter of fact, thoroughly upset him
rousing again the love which he felt for the young girl, and which he
had hoped would remain dormant, since Madame de Nézel was ready to
console him with her affection.

Only the evening before he had said to the young widow: "How can I
love that child as I love you?" and when he had uttered these words,
he had, for the time being, felt his old love for Madame de Nézel
returning, and it had seemed to him that Bijou could never inspire the
same passion as he had felt for this woman. And now, after hoping that
he had conquered his love for the young girl, her kiss had completely
undone him, and left him helpless to struggle against himself any
longer.

He felt now that from henceforth he ought not to continue to claim
Madame de Nézel's affection, since he could no longer return it; and
as he thought of all that this affection had been to him in the past,
he suffered intensely. For the last four years this woman had loved
him with a devotion that had known no bounds, and, whilst Madame de
Bracieux, M. de Jonzac, the Rueilles, and, indeed, all his family, had
imagined that he was living a very gay life, he had been spending his
time peacefully and happily in the society of Madame de Nézel.

They had understood each other perfectly, and no one had suspected
anything of the sympathy which had thus drawn them together, so that
Jean had always been criticised for those actions of his which were
known to the world, and he had been perfectly satisfied that things
should be thus. Now, however, all would be changed. He would have to
give up this peaceful happiness which had been so much to him.

And why should he, after all? Did he intend to tell Bijou of his love
for her? And even supposing that she did not reject his love, was he
in a position to marry this fragile and exquisite girl, who had
certainly been created for the most luxurious surroundings?

He had already thought it all over many times and had said to himself,
over and over again, that it would be absurdly foolish. Then, too,
Bijou would never love him well enough to accept him with his
extremely moderate income. As he had promised Madame de Nézel to meet
her the following day at Pont-sur-Loire, he wrote her a few lines in
order to excuse himself.

"She will not believe the pretext I have given her," he said to
himself, as he sealed the letter "but she will quite understand, and,
now, it is all over between us."

And then all at once a feeling of utter loneliness came over him, and
a vision of the life that would from henceforth be his rose before him
with strange distinctness. He shuddered in spite of himself, and then
he fell to going over again in his mind all his sorrows.

In the meantime, Bijou had shown Jeanne Dubuisson to the room she was
to occupy during her visit to the château.

"It is your imagination, I tell you; nothing but your imagination,"
she said to her friend. "He does like me, certainly, but just in the
way one cares for a cousin, or even a sister."

"No! It was quite enough to look at his face when he went out of the
drawing-room. He was quite upset, and I am sure he has not got over it
yet."

"Wouldn't you like me to go and ask him? But, there, it is seven
o'clock. We have only just time to dress. I will come back for you
when the first dinner-bell rings."

When Bijou came out of her bedroom, simply but charmingly dressed, as
usual, the long landing was dark and silent. The servants had drawn
the blinds, but had not yet lighted the lamps.

Jean, who was coming out of his room, could just distinguish, in the
darkness, a few yards away from him, a figure in a light dress. He
hurried up to it, and Bijou asked:

"Is that you, Jean?"

"Yes," he answered; "and I want a word with you."

"Something that won't take long? The first bell has gone."

"Something very short; but I should prefer no one else hearing."

"Shall we go into your room, then, or into mine?"

"Into yours, as we are so near it."

Bijou opened the door, and, when Blaye was inside, she said:

"Wait a minute. Don't move, or I shall knock against you. I will
light--"

"Oh, it isn't worth getting a light," he said, catching hold of her
arm to stop her. "I can say what I have to without that. Besides, it
won't take long. I want to tell you, Bijou, my dear, that what you
did, you know, just now--"

She appeared to be trying to remember.

"Just now? Whatever was it I did?"

"Well, in a very nice way--oh! in a very nice way, indeed, you
know--you kissed me, but you are too grown-up to do that now when
there are people there."

"And when there isn't anyone there?" she asked, laughing, "may I
then--tell me?"

Before he had time to reply, she had laid her hands on his shoulder,
and lifted her face towards his. He bent his head at the same moment,
and her lips touched his. Bijou gave a little half-timid murmur of
affection, which moved him deeply.

He made up his mind now to tell her of his love, and tried to draw her
to him; but the young girl pushed back the hands which were
endeavouring to hold her, and ran out of the room, and, by the rustle
of her dress along the wall, Jean knew that she was hurrying away.



X.


THE following day Mère Rafut arrived. Bijou had expected to have her
for a week, and was very much disappointed when the old woman told her
that she could only give her five days, as the theatre opened again on
the first of September, and she would have to be there at her post as
dresser.

Jeanne, therefore, proposed to help with the work, and Bijou accepted
her offer.

"That's a capital idea!" she said; "if we are both together we shall
not be dull! we can talk to each other without troubling about Mère
Rafut."

Accordingly, every day, whilst the marchioness and Madame de Rueille
were doing what Jean de Blaye called "a visiting tour," the two young
girls installed themselves in Bijou's boudoir, which was converted
into a sewing-room, and were soon busy with their cutting out and
sewing, whilst chattering together, too intent on their conversation
to pay much attention to the old sewing-woman.

"Are you going to the race-ball?" Bijou asked her friend.

"Yes," said Jeanne; "it seems that as I am now engaged it is not quite
the thing; but I am going all the same, as Franz wants to see me
arrayed in my ball-dress, and he wants to waltz with me, too; he
waltzes very well, you know."

"Ah! and yet he looks so austere? Tell me, don't you mind in the least
marrying a Protestant?"

"Not in the least! without being bigoted, I am a thorough Catholic,
and he is a devoted Protestant, but not bigoted either. We shall each
of us keep to our own religion, for we have no wish whatever to
change; but neither of us has any idea of trying to convert the
other."

Bijou did not speak, and Jeanne continued:

"I am not at all sorry that I am going to have a husband who is a
Protestant, and I will confess that, for certain things, I feel more
satisfied that it should be so. It's quite true, what you were saying
yesterday--Protestants have certain ideas about the family, and about
constancy; in fact, they have stricter principles about such things
than Catholics."

"Yes; tell me, though, what dress are you going to wear for the race
ball?"

"I don't know yet! I haven't one for it!"

"Why, how's that? what about the white one with the little bunches of
flowers all over it?"

"Papa does not think it is nice enough; the race ball is to be at the
Tourvilles, you know, this year; and it will all be very grand!"

"Oh, yes!"

"We do not know them at all; it will be the first time of our going to
Tourville, and if I were to be dressed anyhow, it would not be very
nice for your grandmamma, who got us invited; and so papa told me to
have a dress made, and he gave me two pounds."

"What are you going to have made?"

"I don't know at all; advise me, will you?"

For the last minute or two Bijou had seemed to be turning something
over in her mind.

"If you like," she said at last, "we might be dressed in the same way,
you and I; that would be awfully nice!"

"What is your dress?"

"My dress does not exist yet; it is a thing of the future! It will be
pink, of course--pink crêpe--quite simple--straight skirts, cut like a
ballet-dancer's skirts, so that there will be no hem to make them
heavy, three skirts, one over the other, all of the same length, of
course--three, that makes it cloudy-looking; more than that smothers
you up; and it will fall in large, round _godets_. Then there will be
a little gathered bodice, very simple; little puffed sleeves, with a
lot of ribbon bows and ends hanging, and then ribbon round the waist,
with two long bows and long ends--ribbon as wide as your hand, not any
wider.'

"It will be pretty."

"And it would suit you wonderfully well."

"But shouldn't you mind my being dressed like you?" asked Jeanne,
rather timidly.

"On the contrary, I should love it! Would you like us to make the
dress here? I would try it on, and like that we should be sure that it
was right."

"How sweet you are! Plenty of other girls in your place would only
trouble about themselves."

"Listen, supposing you wrote for the crêpe to be sent to-morrow." And
then she added laughing, "M. de Bernès asked me yesterday evening if I
had not any commissions for Pont-sur-Loire. I might have given him
that to do!"

"He would have been slightly embarrassed."

"Why? It is easy enough to buy pink crêpe with a pattern."

Mère Rafut, who had been busy sewing, without uttering a word, but
just pulling her needle through the work with a quick regular
movement, now lifted her face, all wrinkled like an old apple, and
remarked drily:

"And even without!"

"Without what?" asked Bijou.

"Without a pattern. Oh, no, it isn't he who'd be embarrassed! Why, he
always helps to choose Mademoiselle Lisette Renaud's dresses."

"Lisette Renaud, the singer?" asked Jeanne eagerly, whilst Denyse,
very much taken up with her work, did not appear to have heard.

"No, mademoiselle, the actress."

"Well, that's what I meant. Ah! and so M. de Bernès knows her?"

The old sewing-woman smiled.

"I should just think he does. He's known her more than a year and a
half."

"Ah!" said Jeanne, evidently interested, "she is so pretty, Lisette
Renaud! I saw her in _Mignon_ and in the _Dragons de Villars_ too."

"Oh, yes!" said Mère Rafut, "she is pretty, too, and as good as she is
pretty! If you only knew!"

"Good?" repeated Jeanne, "but--"

"Ah, yes! For sure, she isn't a young lady like you, mademoiselle! But
ever since she has known M. de Bernès, I can tell you, she won't look
at anyone else. And he's the same, as far as that goes, and that's
saying a good deal, for, nice-looking as he is, there's plenty of
ladies after him, ladies in the best society, too, in officers'
families; and they do say the Prefect's wife admires him! Oh, my, he
doesn't care a snap for them all, though! He's got no eyes for anyone
but Lisette; but you should see him when he's looking at her--it's
pretty sure that if he was an officer of high rank he'd marry her
straight off, and he'd be quite right, too--"

"Jeanne!" interrupted Bijou, "that's the first bell for luncheon." And
when they were out of the room she said, in a very gentle voice, with
just a shade of reproach: "Why do you let Mère Rafut tell you things
you ought not to listen to?"

"Oh, goodness!" cried Jeanne, blushing and looking confused, "her
story wasn't so very dreadful; and then, even if it had been, how do
you think I could help her telling it?"

"Oh! that's easy enough, the only thing to do is not to reply or pay
any attention; you would see that she would soon stop."

"Yes, you are right," and throwing her arms round Bijou, Jeanne kissed
her.

"You are always right," she said; "and I, although I look so serious,
am much more thoughtless than you, and much weaker-minded, too; I
never can resist listening if it is anything that interests me."

"And did that interest you?"

"Very much, indeed."

"Good heavens! what could you find interesting in it all?"

"Well, I don't exactly know; I was curious to hear about it, in the
first place, and then I always notice everything, and this little
story explained exactly something I had observed."

"When?"

"Why, during the last four or five months, ever since I have begun
going out a little."

"What had you observed?"

"I had observed that M. de Bernès never pays attention to any woman,
that he never even looks at anyone, that he scarcely takes the trouble
to be pleasant, even with the prettiest girls; and the proof of all
this is, that he has not tried to flirt with you even."

"Oh, not at all," answered Bijou, laughing; "but just because he has
not tried to flirt with me, you must not conclude that with others."

"No, Mère Rafut must be right, and, after all, I am not at all
surprised about it--this story, I mean; you have no idea how charming
she is, this Lisette Renaud. Something in your style; she is much
taller than you, though, and not so fair; but she has the most
wonderful eyes, and a lovely, graceful figure, almost as graceful as
yours; in short, I can quite understand that, when anyone does care
for her, they would care for her in earnest; then, added to all that,
she has a great deal of talent and a beautiful voice--a contralto. I
am sure you would like her."

"I don't think so."

"Why?"

"I don't like women who act comedy--those who act well, at least; it
denotes a kind of duplicity."

"Oh, I don't think so; it denotes a faculty of assimilation, a very
sensitive nature, but not duplicity."

"I can't help it, my dear, but I do not see things in the same light
as you; still, that does not prevent Mademoiselle--what is her name?"

"Lisette Renaud."

"Mademoiselle Lisette Renaud from being an exception, and she may be a
very charming creature; for my part, I only hope that is so for the
sake of M. de Bernès."

"You don't care much for him, do you?" asked Jeanne.

"What makes you think that?--he is quite indifferent to me, and I
always look upon him as being just like everyone else."

"Oh, no; that is not true--I see him pretty often at Pont-sur-Loire;
he is very intelligent, and very nice, and then, too, very
good-looking; don't you think so?"

"I assure you that I have never paid much attention to M. de Bernès
and his appearance," and then Bijou added, laughing: "The very first
time I see him, I will look at him with all my eyes, and I will
endeavour to discover his perfections to please M. de Clagny."

"You like him very much, don't you--M. de Clagny?"

"Oh, yes, indeed I do."

"I noticed that at once; ever since my arrival you have only talked of
him; and yesterday, when he came, you were delighted."

"Yes, he is so good, and so kind to me."

"But everyone is kind to you, everyone adores you."

"Everyone is much too good and too indulgent, as far as I am
concerned; I know that very well; but M. de Clagny is better still
than the others. I have only known him three days, and now I could not
do without him. Whenever I see him, I feel gay and happy at once; and
I wish he were always here. I'll tell you what--I should like to have
a father or an uncle like him. Doesn't he make the same kind of
impression on you?"

"Oh, as for me, you know, it would be impossible to imagine myself
with any other father than papa. Just as he is I adore him; perhaps to
other people he may seem nothing out of the common but you see he is
my father; all the same I like M. de Clagny, and he is very nice--he
must have been charming."

"I think he still is charming."

The two girls had reached the hall by this time, and Jeanne went to
the door.

"How very warm it is," she said, and then, shading her eyes with her
hand, she looked out into the avenue. "Why, there's a mail-coach!" she
exclaimed. "Whoever would be coming with a mail-coach?"

"M. de Clagny, of course," cried Bijou, rushing out on to the steps in
her delight; "he told grandmamma that if he possibly could he should
come and ask her to give him some luncheon."

"And he has managed to," remarked M. de Rueille drily, as he, too,
approached the hall door; "we've seen a great deal of him these last
three days; certainly, he is very devoted to us," he added
sarcastically.

The sight of the horses, which were just being pulled up in front of
the steps, somewhat appeased him, however.

"By Jove! what horses!" he exclaimed, in admiration, "and he knows how
to drive, too; there's no mistake about that, he's a born aristocrat."

       *       *       *       *       *

After luncheon, Pierrot declared that his foot hurt him just at the
end of each toe, and he did not know what it could be.

"I know, though," remarked Jean de Blaye; "his boots are too short."

"Too short!" exclaimed M. de Jonzac, "oh, no, that's impossible"--and
then, after a moment's reflection, he added in terror: "unless his
feet have got bigger still--"

"Which they probably have," said Jean, laughing; "anyhow, his toes are
turned up at the ends and curl back over each other, I am sure; you
have only to look at his feet, now, to tell. Look at the lumps in his
boots; they look like bags of nuts."

"I must get him some more boots to-day," said M. de Jonzac.

"The best thing, uncle, would be to send him to Pont-sur-Loire to be
measured; there's sure to be a decent bootmaker there."

"M. Courteil is going just now to take a letter to the bishop and get
an answer to it," remarked Madame de Bracieux; "he might take Pierrot
with him."

"Well, then," said Bijou, "they might take our omnibus, so that Jeanne
and I could go too; we have some errands to do."

"What are they?" asked the marchioness.

"Well, first, some crêpe--we want some crêpe for Jeanne; and then some
pencils and paints that I am short of; in fact, there are a lot of
things."

"Would you like me to take you all?" proposed M. de Clagny; "I have
some business with a lawyer at Pont-sur-Loire at three o'clock. You
could do all your errands, and then I would bring you back; it's on my
way to The Norinière."

"Oh, what fun!" exclaimed Bijou, delighted. "I have never been on a
mail-coach; you don't mind, grandmamma?"

Madame de Bracieux seemed rather undecided.

"Well, I don't know, Bijou dear; you see at Pont-sur-Loire you will be
noticed very much perched up there, and for two young girls I don't
know whether it is quite the thing--"

"Oh, grandmamma," protested Bijou, "not the thing! and with M. de
Clagny there!"

"Yes, with me," put in the count, with emphasis, his face suddenly
clouding over, "there is no danger; I am safe enough."

"Yes, certainly," replied Madame de Bracieux with evident sincerity;
"but at Pont-sur-Loire everyone is so fond of gossip and scandal."

"Oh, grandmamma," Bijou said, in a beseeching tone, "don't deprive us
of a treat, which you don't see any harm in whatever yourself, just
because of the Pont-sur-Loire people, about whom you do not care at
all."

"Yes, you are right. Go, then, children, as you want to, for, as you
say, there is no harm whatever in amusing yourselves in that way."

"Is there any room for me?" asked M. de Rueille.

"For you, and some more of you," answered M. de Clagny; "we are only
six at present."

The marchioness turned towards Bertrade.

"What do you say about going with them to look after the girls?"

Madame de Rueille glanced at her husband, who appeared to be studying
the floor attentively at that moment.

"Oh, Paul will look after them very well!"

"I must ask if you would mind not starting before three o'clock?" said
Bijou, advancing towards the window, "because there is M. Sylvestre
coming to give me my accompaniment lesson; he is just coming up the
avenue."

"The poor fellow!" exclaimed the marchioness, glancing out of the
window, "he is actually walking in spite of this terrible heat!"

"He always walks, grandmamma."

"Five miles; that is not so tremendous," remarked Henry de Bracieux.

"No, not for you--driving!" said Bijou.

"Well, but when we are out shooting, we do a lot more than that!"

"But you are enjoying yourself when you are out shooting; that's quite
different. I know very well that if I could, I should send M.
Sylvestre back always in the carriage."

"If you like, we can drive him back to-day," said M. de Clagny.

"I should just think I should like to! You are very good to offer me
that, because, you know, he is not very, very handsome--my
professor--and he will not be any ornament on your coach!"

"Do you think I care anything about that? I am not snobbish, Bijou;
not the least bit snobbish."

"But he isn't bad-looking, this fellow," said Jean de Blaye. "He has
very fine eyes; they are wonderfully limpid and soft."

"I never noticed that," answered Bijou, laughing; "but even if they
are, they could not be seen very well on the top of a coach. And he is
very queerly dressed; he wears clothes that are too small, and which
cling to him; and then long hair that is very lank; he looks rather
like a drowned rat."

A domestic appeared at this instant to announce that M. Sylvestre had
arrived.

"Have you told Josephine?" asked Madame Bracieux.

"Yes, Josephine is there, madame," replied the servant.

Jeanne Dubuisson rose, but Bijou stopped her.

"No, don't come with me," she said; "when I feel that there is anyone
listening, that is, anyone beside Josephine, I don't do any good." And
then, just as she was going out of the room, she turned round, and
added: "At three o'clock I shall appear with my hat--and M.
Sylvestre."

When Bijou entered her room, Josephine, the old housekeeper, who had
seen two generations of the Bracieux family grow up, was sewing near
the window, whilst, in the little room adjoining, the musician was
arranging the music-stand, and taking his violin out of the case.

On seeing the young girl, his blue eyes lighted up, and seemed to turn
pale against his red face. He was a young man of about twenty-eight
years of age, very thin, very awkward, and dressed wretchedly enough;
but there was something interesting about his face, an expression
that was congenial, and yet, at the same time, told of anxiety and of
trouble.

"How warm you are, Monsieur Sylvestre!" said Bijou, as she held out
her hand to him; "and they have not brought you anything to drink yet!
Josephine!" she called out, as she moved towards the door between the
two rooms, "will you tell them to bring--ah, yes, what are they to
bring? What will you take, Monsieur Sylvestre?--beer, lemonade, wine,
or what? I never remember!"

"Some lemonade, if you please; but you really are too good,
mademoiselle, to trouble about me."

"I forgot to buy the music you told me to get when I was at
Pont-sur-Loire," said Denyse, interrupting him. "You will scold me."

"Oh! mademoiselle!" he exclaimed, in a scared way, "_I_ scold you?"

"Yes, you! If you do not scold me you ought to. Now, let me see! What
are we going to play? Ah! I was forgetting! I am going to ask you if
you will begin by accompanying me at the piano; it is just a silly
little song I am learning."

"What song is it?"

"'Ay Chiquita'! it is quite grotesque, isn't it? But we have an old
friend who adores it, and he asked me to sing it for him."

"Oh! as to that!--'Ay Chiquita'--it isn't so grotesque; but it has
been worn out, that's all. Ah!" he added, looking at the music, "you
sing it in a higher key. I was wondering, too--"

"Yes, I sing it higher; that makes it more dreadful still. Oh, dear!
how I do wish I had a deep voice; they are so lovely--deep voices, but
there are none to be heard!"

"They are rare, certainly; but there are some, nevertheless."

"I have never heard one," said Bijou, shaking her head.

"Well, but you might hear one if you liked."

"Where?"

"Why, at the Pont-sur-Loire theatre. Yes, Mademoiselle Lisette Renaud,
a young actress, with a great deal of talent, and she is very pretty,
too, which is not a drawback, by any means."

"She has a beautiful voice?"

"Very beautiful! I hear her, on an average, three times a week,
without reckoning the rehearsals with the orchestra, and, I can assure
you, I have never had enough."

"Ah! Do you think she would sing at private houses?"

"Why, certainly! She does sing sometimes at Pont-sur-Loire."

"I will ask grandmamma to have her here. Where does she live?"

"Rue Rabelais. I do not remember the number, but she is very well
known."

After a short silence, the professor asked:

"Why should you not go to the theatre to hear her? That would interest
you much more."

"Grandmamma would never let me."

"I know, of course, that society people do not go to the
Pont-sur-Loire theatre--it is not considered the thing; but there are
circumstances,--for instance--in a fortnight from now there is to be a
performance for the benefit of disabled soldiers, organised by the
_Dames de France_; everyone will go to that."

"And they will play things that will be all right?"

"Oh! some comic opera or another, and varieties from other things; but
I am sure Lisette Renaud will be on the programme, and several times,
too. These are the best sort of things that we have at the theatre."

"You are not drinking anything, Monsieur Sylvestre," said Bijou,
approaching the tray which had been brought in, and pouring out the
lemonade for the young man.

The glass which she passed to him showed the effect of the contact of
her hand.

"Are you not still too warm to drink?" she asked. "This lemonade is
very cold."

He took the glass with a hand that trembled slightly, and stood there,
with his arm stretched out, looking at Bijou with passionate
admiration.

"Monsieur Sylvestre," she said, smiling, "a penny for your thoughts."

The young man's face, which was already red, flushed deeper still. He
drank his lemonade at a draught, and hurried to the piano.

"Let us begin, mademoiselle! shall we?" he said, and he played the
short symphony of the song in a hesitating way, as though his fingers
refused to act. This was so noticeable, that Denyse asked him:

"What is the matter with you? you are not in form to-day, at all."

"Oh, it's nothing, mademoiselle; I--it is so warm."

Being rather short-sighted, and never using a lorgnette, Bijou was
obliged to bend forward to read the words of the song, and sometimes,
in doing so, she touched the professor's hair or shoulder. This
served to increase his agitation, and at times he could scarcely see
what he was playing, whilst his fingers would slip off the notes.

"Really, you are not at all in form to-day," repeated Bijou,
surprised.

"I beg your pardon, mademoiselle, I--I don't know what is the matter
with me."

"Nor I either; I can't tell at all," she said, laughing.

He was getting up from the piano, but she begged him to sit down
again.

"No! if you don't mind," she said, "I should like to work up two or
three old songs."

She began at once to read at sight, bending over in order to see
better, whilst the poor young man, who was now pale, did his best to
follow her, in spite of the buzzing in his ears and the clamminess of
his fingers.

When the lesson was over, Bijou went to fetch her hat, and then came
back and put it on at the glass near the piano.

Instead of putting his violin into its case, M. Sylvestre stood
watching her as she lifted her arms, and drew her pretty figure up
with a graceful swaying movement.

"Be quick!" she said, "we are going to take you back to
Pont-sur-Loire, or rather M. de Clagny, one of our friends, is going
to take you on his coach." Denyse saw that he did not understand, so
she went on to explain: "It's a large carriage, and holds a good
number of people."

"Are you going, too?" he asked excitedly.

"I am going, too--yes, Monsieur Sylvestre."

He was just taking from his violin-case a little bunch of
forget-me-nots and wild roses, which were already drooping their poor
little heads. He held them out timidly to Bijou.

"As I came along, mademoiselle, I--I took the liberty of gathering
these flowers for you."

She took them, and after inhaling their perfume for a minute or two,
put them into her waistband.

"Thank you so much for having thought of me," she said.

He followed Bijou downstairs, step by step, happy in the present,
forgetting all about his poverty, and as he appeared, tripping along
behind the young girl, his violin-case in his hand, M. de Clagny
turned to Jean de Blaye, and remarked:

"You were right; he has a nice face."

The mail-coach had just appeared in front of the steps when the
marchioness called out:

"Bijou! I have a commission for you. Go to Pellerin the bookseller,
and ask him--stop--no--send Pierrot here."

"Pierrot," said Denyse, returning to the hall, "grandmamma wants you."

"I'll bet it's some errand to do," remarked the youth, making a
grimace, "and errands are not much in my line." And then, whilst Bijou
and the others were clambering up on to the coach, he went back to
Madame de Bracieux. "You wanted me, aunt?" he said.

"Yes. Will you go to Pellerin's? do you know which is Pellerin's?"

"The book shop."

"Yes. Ask him for a novel of Dumas' for me. It is called 'Le Bâtard de
Mauléon.' What are you looking at me for in that bewildered way?"

"Because I have never seen you reading novels, and--"

"You will not see me reading this one either; it is for the curé, I
have promised it him. He adores Dumas, and he does not know 'Le Bâtard
de Mauléon.' You will remember the title?"

"Yes, aunt."

"You are sure? You would not like me to write it for you?"

"'Tisn't worth while."

"You will forget it!"

"No danger."

He rushed off, looking down on the ground, and then, as he climbed on
to the coach, he trod on the feet of various people, nearly smashed M.
Sylvestre's violin-case, and excused himself by saying:

"Oh, by Jove! I've nearly done for the little coffin."



XI.


ALWAYS up first in the morning, Bijou was in the habit of going
downstairs towards seven o'clock, in order to attend to her
housekeeping duties.

She always paid a visit to the pantry, and to the dairy, and, with the
exception of Pierrot, who was sometimes wandering about the passages
with very sleepy-looking eyes, she never met anybody at this early
hour.

To her astonishment, therefore, on this particular morning she nearly
ran up against M. de Rueille, who was coming out of the library with a
book in his hand.

Of all the visitors at Bracieux he was the laziest, so that Bijou
laughed as she commented on his early rising.

"How's this?" she asked; "have you finished your slumbers already?"

"Or, rather, I have not commenced them!"

"Oh, nonsense!"

"No, and as I had finished all the literature I had upstairs, I came
down to get a book to finish my night with."

Bijou pointed to the sun, which was streaming in by the open window.

"Your night!"

"Oh, as far as I am concerned, you know, unless I am going out
shooting, or off by train somewhere, it is night up to ten o'clock, at
least!"

"And you are now going to bed again?"

"This very instant."

"But it is ridiculous."

"On the contrary, it is very wise, and all the more so, as, when one
is in a bad temper, the best thing to do is to keep one's self out of
the way."

"You are in a bad temper?"

"Yes."

"And why?"

Paul de Rueille hesitated slightly before answering.

"I don't know why."

"It's quite true," said Bijou, laughing, "that you were not very
amiable yesterday during our journey to Pont-sur-Loire."

"It was your fault!"

"My fault--mine?"

"Yours."

"And pray why?"

"I will tell you if you like."

"Yes, I should like; but not now, because I am keeping some one
waiting in the dairy."

"Who is waiting for you?" he asked anxiously.

"The dairy-maid," answered Bijou, without noticing his anxiety.

"Oh! go at once, then, if that is the case," said M. de Rueille
sarcastically. "I should not like the dairy-maid to be kept waiting on
my account."

"You should come and see the cheeses," proposed Denyse.

"That must certainly be very festive; no, really, are you not afraid
that I should find that too exciting, Bijou, my dear?"

"You would find it as exciting, anyhow, as going to bed, and reading
over again some old book that you must know by heart. Oh, you know it
by heart, I am sure! There is nothing in the library but the classics,
or a lot of old-fashioned things; ever since I have come no new books
are put in the library, either in the Paris house or here at Bracieux.
Grandmamma is so afraid that I should get hold of them; but she is
quite mistaken, for I should never open a book that I had been told
not to open--never!"

"Grandmamma is afraid of your doing what any other girl would do; you
are such an astonishing exception, Bijou!"

"Yes, I am an exception--an angel, anything you like; but either come
with me, or let me go, if you please! I don't like to keep people
waiting."

"Oh, well, I'll come with you if you like," said M. de Rueille,
putting his book down on a side-table.

He followed Bijou without speaking, as she trotted along in front of
him. She looked so sweet, going backwards and forwards amongst the
great pails of milk; her straw hat, covered with lace, tossed
carelessly on her fair hair; her morning dress, of pink batiste,
fastened up rather high with a safety-pin.

She inspected everything, gave her orders, and settled all kinds of
details, without troubling about her cousin any more than if he did
not exist; and then, when she had quite finished, she turned towards
him, smiling.

"Now, then," she said, "if you would like a stroll, I am at your
service." She turned into one of the garden paths that led to the
avenues, and then added, as she looked up at Paul, "I'm listening!"

"You are listening? What do you want me to say?"

"I thought you were going to tell me why you were so bad-tempered
yesterday; you said it was my fault."

"Well, it was; you were--" he began, in an embarrassed way; and then
he continued, in desperation, "the way you went on, it was not at all
like you generally are, nor like you ought to be!"

"Ah! what did I do then?"

"Well, in the first place, you insisted, in the most extraordinary
way, that Bernès should come on to the coach when we met him. Why did
you insist like that?"

"Well, it is natural enough when you meet anyone walking a mile away
from where you are driving yourself, that you should offer to pick him
up; it seems to me that it would be odd, on the contrary, not to offer
to pick him up!"

"Yes, agreed; but then it was M. de Clagny who should have offered a
seat in his own carriage."

"He never thought of it--"

"Or else he did not care to? And you obliged him to do it whether he
would or not?"

"Rubbish! he adores M. de Bernès. The other day he spent half an hour
singing his praises to me in every key."

"Ah! that is probably what made you so pleasant to him?"

"Was I so pleasant?"

"Certainly! As a rule you don't pay the slightest attention to him,
but yesterday you had no eyes for anyone but him."

"I did not notice that myself."

"Really? Well, you were the only one who did not, then! You went on to
such a degree that I wondered if it were not simply for the sake of
tormenting me that you were acting in that way!"

Bijou gazed straight at M. de Rueille with her beautiful, luminous
eyes.

"To torment you? and how could it torment you if I chose to be
agreeable to M. de Bernès?"

"How?" stuttered M. de Rueille, very much confused; "why, I have just
told you I am not--we are not accustomed to seeing you make a fuss
like that, especially of a young man! No, I assure you, I was amazed.
I am still, in fact."

"And I am ever so sorry to have vexed you," she said sweetly. "Yes, I
am really; you see, I had never noticed M. de Bernès particularly, and
I wanted to see whether all the nice things M. de Clagny had told me
about him were quite true, and so I was studying him. Will you forgive
me?"

M. de Rueille did not reply to this, as he had another grievance on
his mind.

"With Clagny, too, you have a way of carrying on, which is not at all
the thing. He is an old man; that's all well and good; but, you know,
he is not so ancient yet for you to be able to take such liberties
with him!"

"What do you call liberties?"

"Well, sometimes you appear to admire him, to be in ecstasies about
him; and then sometimes you coax and wheedle him in the most absurd
way, as you did yesterday."

"Yesterday! I coaxed and wheedled M. de Clagny? I?"

"You!"

"But about what?"

"When you would insist, in spite of everything, in driving through Rue
Rabelais; and I'll be hanged if I can see why you wanted to; it's
about as dirty a street as there is, without taking into account that
you might have caused us all to break our necks. Yes, certainly, it
was the most dangerous experiment--your fad! Young Bernès, who is one
of the most out-and-out daring fellows himself, tried to persuade you
out of wanting to go along that street!"

The strange little gleam, which sometimes lighted up Bijou's eyes,
came into them now.

"Yes, that's true!" she said, smiling. "He was wild to prevent our
going down the Rue Rabelais--M. de Bernès! It was as though he was
afraid of something!"

"He was afraid of coming to smash, by Jove, just as I was, and the
abbé, and even Pierrot. I cannot understand how old Clagny could have
let you have your fad out, for he was responsible for the little
Dubuisson girl, and for Pierrot, and you, without reckoning all of
us!"

"Have you finished blowing me up?"

"I am not blowing you up."

"Oh, well, that's cool. Let's make it up now, shall we?" and, standing
on tip-toes, Bijou held her pretty face up, saying, "Kiss me?"

He stepped back abruptly.

"Oh!" exclaimed Bijou, in surprise, and looking hurt, "you won't kiss
me?"

Paul de Rueille had been so taken aback, that he could scarcely find
any words.

"It isn't that I won't, but--well, not here like that, it is so
absurd! I cannot understand your not seeing how ridiculous it is."

Bijou shook her rough head, and the loose curls over her forehead
danced about.

"No, I do not see that it is at all ridiculous," and then, instead of
going any farther, she turned round, and they went back to the house
without another word.

On going up into his room, M. de Rueille found his wife reading a
letter.

"I have just heard from Dr. Brice," she said, handing him the letter.
"It seemed to me that Marcel had not been well just lately."

"Not well--Marcel? Why the child eats and drinks more than I do. He
sleeps like a top, too, and grows like a mushroom. Oh, that's good,
that is! And what disease has he discovered in the boy--our excellent
Brice?"

"No disease at all!"

"Oh, well, that's lucky!

"But he orders him to have sea-air."

"Sea-air for a lad who is in such downright good health that it
positively makes him unbearable, he is so riotous?"

"Read what he says."

"Let me see what he says," murmured M. de Rueille, putting on a look
of resignation, as he began to read the long letter, in which the
doctor advised sea-air as the best remedy for the child in his present
nervous state.

"And so he is in a nervous state?" said M. de Rueille jeeringly; "and
on account of this, which no one, by the bye, except you, has noticed,
we are to leave Bracieux, where the lad is flourishing in this
delightful fresh air--it is his native air, in fact--and we are to go
and take up our abode at some stupid seaside place? Oh, no! You really
do get hold of some ridiculous ideas sometimes."

He was still irritated after his discussion with Bijou, and the idea
of going away from her now caused him to speak in a harsh, dry way. He
tried to laugh, too, but his laugh sounded forced and hollow.

Bertrade looked at him as she said gently:

"I did not want to tell you the truth straight out; I hoped that you
would guess it. Do you not guess?"

"No, not at all," he answered, with a vague feeling of uneasiness.

"Well, then, you were right just now; not only Marcel, and his
brothers too, for that matter, are better at Bracieux than anywhere
else, but he has nothing the matter with him."

As M. de Rueille looked surprised, she continued, in a tranquil way:

"It is Marcel's father who is not quite himself, who needs a change of
air, and who will, I am sure, decide on having a change."

"Well, really," he stammered out, "I do not know what you mean."

"I mean that you must leave Bracieux for a time," she answered,
speaking very distinctly.

"Do you particularly wish me to tell you why?"

"I do."

"You are unwise to insist. You know that in a general way I never
interfere in anything that you choose to do, or leave undone."

"Yes, you have always been very sweet and very sensible about
everything," said M. de Rueille, "and I thoroughly appreciate--"

"Oh, there is no need to say anything about all that. I have always
left you quite free to act in every way as you preferred, and now, in
this matter, I do not bear you any ill-feeling whatever, and I should
never have spoken to you of it if I had not seen that you are going
too far. I have confidence in you, so that I know you will be on your
guard; but I know how fascinating Bijou is, and I can see perfectly
well that, next to poor young Giraud, you are the one who is the most
infatuated."

"Yes, you are quite right, I am infatuated; but, as you say yourself,
there is no danger whatever, and whether I go away, or whether I stay
here, it is all the same; that will make no difference whatever."

"Yes! if you stay you will certainly make yourself ridiculous, and
probably wretched, too. I am speaking to you now just as a friend
might. Let us go away; believe me, it would be better."

"Well, but when we came back again--for we should come back, shouldn't
we? in two months at the latest--things would, be exactly as they were
before."

"No, it would be quite different," she answered carelessly. "In two
months' time she will be married, or nearly so."

"Married!" exclaimed M. de Rueille, astounded. "Married! Jean is going
to marry her, then?"

"Why, no! Jean is not going to marry her. He's another one who would
do well to make himself scarce."

"Well, if it is not Jean, I do not see--it is not Henry, I presume?"

"No, not Henry either. He understands perfectly well that, with what
he has, he cannot marry Bijou."

"Well, who is it, then? Who is it?"

"Why, no one at all--that is, no one in particular."

"You spoke, on the contrary, as though you were affirming something
that was quite settled. You said: _In two months' time she will be
married, or nearly so_. What did you mean by that? Why don't you want
to tell me? You have been told not to? It is a secret?"

"No, it is merely a supposition, I assure you, that is all."

"And this supposition you will not tell me?"

"No."

After a short silence Madame de Rueille began again:

"I showed grandmamma the doctor's letter; she is very sorry about our
going away. She adores the children, and then, too, she likes to have
the house full at Bracieux."

"And she let herself be gulled with this story about Marcel's nervous
condition? I am surprised at that; she is so sharp!"

"If she was not _gulled_, as you call it, she allowed me to think that
she was. I shall see you again presently: I must get ready for
breakfast."

M. de Rueille went up to his wife, and asked, in a half-timid way:

"You are angry with me about it?"

"I? why should I be angry about what you cannot help? You are in the
same situation as Jean, M. Giraud, Henry, the accompaniment professor,
Pierrot, and others that we don't know of, not to speak of the abbé,
who, at present, is always to be found somewhere round about where
Bijou is."

"Oh!"

"It's perfectly true; the only thing is that, as far as he is
concerned, he is unconscious of it. Without understanding the why and
wherefore, he, too, is captivated by Bijou's charms just the same as
all the others who come near her. I am quite sure that he, too, will
be unhappy about going away from here; but he will not be able to
explain to himself even the cause of his unhappiness. Ah! there's the
bell; I shall never be ready; you had better go on down."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Pierrot," said the marchioness, after breakfast, when everyone had
assembled in the morning-room, "you did not give me my book
yesterday?"

Pierrot, who was talking to Bijou, turned round, somewhat taken aback.

"What book, aunt?"

"Dumas' novel for the curé."

"Ah, yes; I could not think what book you meant!"

"You forgot to do my errand?"

"Not at all! but Pellerin hadn't it."

"Oh, why--he always has everything one wants!"

"Well, he hadn't got that; and, what was better still, he didn't seem
to know the book at all!"

"Nonsense!"

"No, it's quite true! and he's an obstinate sort of beggar, too, he
would have it that it wasn't by the father--what's his name? ah! I've
forgotten already."

"Dumas!"

"Dumas! yes, that's it; and he kept on saying all the time, 'I know my
Dumas well enough, and that book was never written by him.' Well,
anyhow, he promised to try to get it, and to send it to you if it is
to be had."

M. de Rueille was sorting out the letters, which had arrived during
breakfast-time.

"Here's a letter from your bookseller, grandmamma," he said; "he
evidently has not been able to get it."

"Open it, Paul, will you?"

Rueille tore open the envelope, and, taking out the letter, read as
follows:

     "MADAM,--It is quite impossible to get the book which your
     nephew asked for. As we were anxious to execute your order,
     we sent to several of the principal booksellers, and even
     wired to Paris, but we were informed that there is not, and
     there never has been, a book entitled, 'Le Bâton de M.
     Molard.'"

"Le Bâton de M. Molard?" repeated the marchioness, not understanding
in the least. "What is he talking about?" and then, all at once, the
explanation of the mystery dawned upon her, and she exclaimed, in
consternation: "Ah, I see! 'Le Bâton de M. Molard' is 'Le Bâtard de
Mauléon,' translated by Pierrot into his own language. I was quite
right in wanting to write the title for him, but he would not hear of
it."

M. de Jonzac turned his eyes up towards the ceiling with a tragic
gesture of despair.

"He is incorrigible--absolutely hopeless," he said, half laughing and
half vexed.

"I can't help it, I am as I was made," said Pierrot, blushing
furiously and very much annoyed. "And then, too, I didn't know what I
was doing yesterday; we were almost upset going into Pont-sur-Loire."

"Almost upset?" exclaimed Madame de Bracieux, "upset! why, how?"

"Because Bijou had the insane idea of wanting to go down the Rue
Rabelais with the coach; and so M. de Clagny went--the old fool."

"Stop! that's enough!" interrupted the marchioness; "will you kindly
speak more respectfully when you have anything to say about my old
friend Clagny?"

"Well, all the same, your old friend hasn't got his head screwed on
very well, considering his age. He might have killed us; and, besides
that, I can tell you we did kick up a shindy in the Rue Rabelais. The
coach scraped against the curb-stones; all the kids were running along
nearly under the horses' heels; then the sound of the horn brought all
the women to the windows, and didn't they exclaim when they saw what
it was. That part wasn't so bad, either, for there were some jolly
pretty ones, I can tell you; weren't there, Paul?"

As M. de Rueille appeared to be preoccupied, and did not answer,
Pierrot turned to the abbé.

"Weren't there, M. Courteil?"

"I don't know," answered the abbé, with evident sincerity; "I was not
noticing."

Pierrot did not intend to give in.

"Oh, well, Bijou noticed them anyhow, for I can tell you she _did_
look at them, and with eyes as sharp as needles, too; they shone like
anything."

"I?" she exclaimed, her pretty face turning suddenly red. "It was your
fancy, Pierrot; I never saw anything. I was much too frightened."

"Frightened of what?" asked the marchioness.

"Why, of being upset, grandmamma. Pierrot is right about that; we were
nearly upset."

"He is right, too, in saying that it was an insane idea to want to go
with a carriage and four horses down a wretched little street like
that; however could you have had such an idea?"

Bijou glanced at Jeanne Dubuisson, who, with her eyes fixed on the
carpet, had turned very red, too, and was listening to the discussion
without taking any part in it.

"Oh, really, I don't know. I think it was M. de Clagny telling me that
his horses were so well in hand that he could make them turn round on
a plate. And so, as the Rue Rabelais is rather narrow and winding, I
said: 'I am sure you could not go along Rue Rabelais.'"

"No!" protested Pierrot, "it was not quite like that. You said, 'Let
us go down Rue Rabelais, I should like to see it.' And, then, as he
hesitated--for we may as well give him credit for having
hesitated--you stuck to it as hard as you could."

"But," put in M. de Jonzac, seeing that Denyse looked annoyed, "what
interest could your cousin possibly have in wanting to go down that
street?"

"That's what I wondered," said Pierrot, looking puzzled; and then,
suddenly taken with another idea, he added: "I can tell you there was
somebody who didn't like it, and that was M. de Bernès. I don't know
what took him, but he did pull a long face. Oh, my! I can tell you he
did look blue."

Henry de Bracieux laughed.

"I know why he was pulling such a long face, poor old Bernès; he was
afraid of being blown up--"

"Blown up?" asked Bijou, innocently opening her limpid eyes wide in
surprise, whilst Jeanne's face, usually so impassive, turned almost
purple. "Blown up? by whom?"

And then, as there was a dead silence, which became more and more
embarrassing, Bijou turned to her friend.

"Let's go out for a stroll in the garden, Jeanne, shall we?" she said.

"I'll come with you," remarked Pierrot promptly; but Bijou pushed him
gently back.

"No! we shall do very well by ourselves, thank you; you would worry
us."

As the two girls were descending the hall-door steps, Bijou said to
Jeanne, who was just behind her, and who had not quite recovered from
her embarrassment:

"I know why you looked so conscious just now; you were thinking of the
gossip about that actress--I've forgotten her name--whom M. de Bernès
knows. I had not thought of it at the time, and so it did not trouble
me. You see I was right when I told you that it was a mistake to
listen to Mère Rafut's tales."

"Yes, you always are right!" answered Jeanne pensively; "I said then
that you are always right!"

       *       *       *       *       *

After Bijou's departure, the men one after another left the
drawing-room.

"What's the matter, Bertrade?" asked the marchioness, as soon as she
found herself alone with Madame de Rueille. "Paul looked very queer
during breakfast!"

"Did you think so?" said the young wife, not wishing either to
acknowledge it or to tell an untruth about the matter.

"I did think so, and you looked queer too; and as I watched you both,
an idea dawned upon me."

"And what is this idea?"

"It is that my dear little Marcel is no more ill than I am, and that
the letter you showed me this morning is nothing but a pretext for
getting your husband away from here; is that so?"

Madame de Rueille was too straightforward to be able to deny the fact.

"It is so!"

"And so you are jealous, and jealous of Bijou?"

"Not jealous, oh, dear no! not in the least; but anxious."

"About Bijou?"

Madame de Rueille looked serious as she shook her pretty head.

"No, about Paul."

"You are not afraid of your husband going too far, I suppose?"

"No!"

"Well, what then?"

"I am anxious about his peace of mind, and then, too, I do not care
for him to make himself completely ridiculous."

"You must know, my dear Bertrade, that I have seen for some time past
that Paul was gone on Bijou, just as all the others are--for there is
no mistake about it, they all are; and the last few days I have
noticed that your abbé even has begun to lose his indifference; don't
you think so?"

"It is very possible!"

"Yes, and I am sure that he isn't going along quite so peacefully in
his worship of God as formerly?"

"And that does not displease you either, grandmamma, does it? Come,
now, own it!"

"Oh, well; as long as it is just a little beneficial upset for him, I
don't mind; but I should not like it to develop into anything
serious--you understand where I draw the line?"

"No, because I always pity all those who are suffering from such
little upsets--as you call them--even when they are mild, I think they
are calculated to make people suffer greatly."

"You always see a darker side of things than I do; at all events, I
think that the idea of carrying Paul off is a very excessive and
unwise kind of remedy. He keeps a strict guard over himself, and no
one suspects the true state of things except you--"

"And all the others!"

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"Well, even if it be so, that is of no importance, provided that Bijou
does not suspect it herself. Why do you not answer?"

"Because I am not of the same opinion as you, grandmamma, and you do
not like that as a rule, particularly when it is a question of Bijou."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said, nothing else."

"Then, according to you, Bijou has noticed it from--"

"From the very first day."

"And even if that should be so, she cannot help it! Besides, what
danger does she run?"

"None at all."

"Paul is honourable."

"Undoubtedly, and even if he were not, Bijou would have nothing to
fear for several reasons."

"What are they?"

"Well, in the first place--her own indifference. Paul makes about as
much impression on her, I believe, as a table."

"Next?"

"Next? Why, that's all!"

"You said 'several reasons,'--you have given me one; let us hear what
the others are."

"Oh, no!" said Madame de Rueille, "it was just my way of speaking."

"Nonsense! you are not clever at telling untruths, my dear Bertrade; I
am pretty sure I know what you thought!"

"I don't think you do."

"Well, you'll see! You were thinking that one of the reasons why Bijou
will never take any notice of Paul is--"

"Because he is married."

"Yes, of course; but you fancy, too, I am sure of it, that Bijou is
thinking of someone else? Ah, you see! you don't answer now! Yes, you
believe, as your husband does--he told me so two or three days
ago--that she is madly in love with young Giraud!"

"Oh, grandmamma, what an unlikely supposition! In the first place,
Bijou is not, and never will be, madly in love with anyone."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that when she marries, it will be in a reasonable, calm sort
of way, just as she does everything else."

"But when will it be?"

"When will it be? Well, I do not know exactly--soon, I think."

"Then you are saying that just at random? You are speaking of the
future in just a vague sort of way?"

"The future always is vague, grandmamma," answered Madame de Rueille,
smiling.



XII.


FOR a whole week there was scarcely anything else thought about but
the rehearsals of the little play, which was to be given the day after
the races.

The La Balues, the Juzencourts, and Madame de Nézel, came to Bracieux
nearly every day, and M. de Clagny also, for he was very much
interested in the rehearsals. He acted as prompter when Giraud, who
had undertaken this post, was occupied, and he appeared to be
delighted whenever he saw Bijou acting.

"Old Dubuisson" and M. Spiegel had been to dinner several times, and
Denyse, under the pretext of letting him be more with his _fiancée_,
had persuaded the young professor to take a minor rôle, in which he
was execrable. Perhaps Jeanne had noticed this, as the last few days
she seemed to be low-spirited, and she was not as even-tempered as
usual. Her father was astonished to see her frequently with tears in
her eyes, and for no apparent motive, so that at last he declared
that "she must be sickening for some illness or another."

The Rueilles had not left Bracieux. Bertrade felt that everyone was
against her, as it were, and had resigned herself to the inevitable;
she had quite given up the plan she had proposed, and was now letting
herself drift along, carried forward by the society whirl in which she
was living.

Young Bernès arrived one evening to invite the marchioness and her
guests to a paper-chase which was being organised by his regiment. He,
himself, was to be hare, and all kinds of obstacles were being put up;
there had never been so fine a paper-chase run in the forest.

Bijou at once persuaded her grandmother to allow her to follow on
horseback, M. de Rueille and Jean de Blaye both answering for it that
nothing should happen to her. She was, besides, very prudent, like
most people who are accustomed to riding, and who ride well, and she
always managed to avoid accidents, and not to run useless risks.

Madame de Bracieux kept Hubert to dinner, and in the evening, as she
watched Denyse talking to him, she said to Bertrade:

"It's very odd. It seems to me that Bijou is not at all the same now
with that young man. She used to just give him an indifferent sort of
bow, and then leave him alone, and now it seems almost as though she
were 'gone' on him, to use your elegant language. She has quite
changed her attitude towards him," continued the marchioness, puzzled.

"And he, too, has quite changed his attitude towards her," said Madame
de Rueille.

"Yes, hasn't he? The first few times he came to Bracieux, I was struck
with his coolness towards our sweet girl, whom everyone adores. He was
just simply polite to her, and that was all."

"At present, he is not very far gone, but there is considerable
progress; he is preparing to follow in the pathway which has been
beaten out by others."

"Just lately, when you were talking to me about Bijou getting married,
had you any idea in the background?" asked the marchioness, looking at
Madame de Rueille.

Bertrade repeated the question without replying to it.

"An idea in the background?"

"Yes. Were you, for instance, thinking that Bijou was in love with
this young Bernès?"

"I told you that same day, grandmamma, that it is my belief Bijou is
not in love, never has been in love, and never will be in love with
anyone."

"If you had said that, as you say it now, I should most certainly have
protested. It would be impossible, in my opinion, to be more
absolutely and completely mistaken than you are. Never to love
anyone?--Bijou!--when there never was anyone who needed to be loved
and petted as she does."

"She needs to be loved and petted--yes, I grant that; but she always
requires people to love and pet her, and she does not feel the need of
loving and petting others in her turn."

"In other words, she is selfish and cold-hearted?" questioned the
marchioness, her voice suddenly taking a harsh tone. "The fact is,
Bertrade, you have a grudge against Bijou, because of the charm there
is about her: you are angry with her, because no one can resist being
fascinated by her, and instead of blaming Paul, who is the real
culprit, you accuse the poor child in this cruel way."

"I do not accuse Bijou any more than I do Paul, grandmamma: and I
should be all the less likely to accuse them, because I do not think
that we are exactly free agents in such matters; yes, I know that you
will be scandalised at my saying such a thing--I can see that very
well. You think it is blasphemy, don't you? And yet, Heaven knows that
the thoughts which come to me sometimes on this subject make me much
more tolerant and indulgent towards others--"

M. de Clagny approached the two ladies just at this moment.

"What are you two plotting in this little corner?"

"Nothing," said Madame de Bracieux; "we were watching Bijou, who seems
to be taming your young friend Bernès."

"Taming him? Whatever do you mean by that?" asked the count, turning
round with a disturbed look on his face.

"Well, I mean just what everyone means when they make that remark! A
week ago, when the young man dined here with us, he was like an
icicle; well, I fancy that the thaw has set in."

"Oh!" exclaimed M. de Clagny, suddenly looking serene again; "I forgot
that he has a love affair, and is so far gone that he fully intends to
marry this lady-love; and, as you can imagine, his father is not
delighted about it, by any means." And then, in an absent-minded way,
he added, "I feel perfectly easy, as far as he is concerned!"

"Easy!" exclaimed Madame de Bracieux in astonishment "Why, easy! you
would not like Bijou to marry M. de Bernès, then? Why not?"

"Well--she is so young," he stammered out, in a confused sort of way.

"How do you mean, so young? She is quite old enough to marry; she will
be twenty-two in November, Bijou!"

"Well, then, Hubert is too young for her; he is only a lad!"

"I should certainly prefer seeing her married to a man rather more
settled down; but, if she should care for him, he is of good family,
and is wealthy, why should she not marry him as well as any other?"

"Do you really think that Bijou cares for him?" asked M. de Clagny
anxiously.

"I don't know anything about it at all," answered the marchioness,
laughing; "but anyhow, what can that matter to you? I can understand
that Jean or Henry should be disturbed in their minds--but you?" As he
did not reply, she went on: "It's a case of the dog in the manger: he
does not want the bone himself, but he does not want the others to
have it either. That is just your case, my poor friend, for, I
presume, you have no idea of marrying Bijou yourself?"

He answered in a joking way, but there was a troubled look on his
face.

"Oh, as to me, it is an idea that I should like very much; but she
would not; therefore it amounts to the same thing!"

Bijou came up to them just at that moment, gliding along with her
light step. She was followed by young Bernès, who looked vexed about
something.

"I cannot, really, mademoiselle," he was saying, "I assure you that I
cannot get away from my friends that day."

"Oh, yes, you can; mustn't he, grandmamma?" asked Denyse merrily,
"mustn't M. de Bernès come to dinner here on the day of the
paper-chase? He is to be the hare, and the start is to be from the
'Cinq-Tranchées'--it is only a mile from Bracieux at the farthest."

Madame de Bracieux was examining the young officer with interest, and
there was a kindly look in her eyes.

"Why, certainly," she said, "he must come here to dinner; we shall all
be so pleased."

"You are very kind, madame, to invite me, but I was explaining to
Mademoiselle de Courtaix that on that day, after the paper-chase,
which the regiment is getting up for the benefit of the residents, I
have promised faithfully to dine with several of my friends." And
glancing, in spite of himself, at Bijou, he added, "And I regret it
now, more than I can tell you!"

Turning round on her high heels, Denyse glided off again to the other
end of the long room, where she was greeted by Pierrot with
reproachful words.

"It was very mean of you to slope away from us like that, you know!"
exclaimed the boy.

M. de Jonzac, who was playing billiards with the abbé, was also
keeping one ear open to catch what was going on round him. He now
protested against the way in which Pierrot expressed himself, even
supposing that the reproach itself were just.

"Well, yes," answered his son, "it's quite true that I'm not
over-particular about what words I use, but that doesn't prevent what
I said being true; and the others said it too, just now; I wasn't the
only one."

"Mademoiselle," said Giraud, who was standing near the large
bay-window, looking out at the sky, "you said yesterday that you liked
shooting stars--I have never seen so many as there are to-night."

"Really?" replied Denyse, going to the window, and leaning her arms on
the ledge, side by side with the tutor, "are there as many as all
that? What's that to the left?" she asked, bending forward. "I can see
something white on the terrace."

"It is Mademoiselle Dubuisson, who is strolling about with her father
and M. Spiegel."

"Ah! supposing we went out to them--shall we?"

Giraud led the way at once, only too happy to go out for a stroll on
this beautiful starry night. When they were near the terrace, she
stopped suddenly.

"Perhaps we shall be _de trop_," she said; "they may be talking of
private affairs. Let us go to the chestnut avenue, and they'll come to
us if they want to."

She descended the marble steps, and they were soon in the dark avenue,
under the thick chestnut trees. The young man had followed her, his
heart beating with excitement, almost beside himself with joy. They
walked along for some little time without speaking, and then at last
Bijou looked up, trying to catch a glimpse of the sky between the
branches of the trees.

"We shall not see much of the shooting stars here," she said.

"Oh, yes," answered Giraud, who did not want to leave this shady walk,
where he had Bijou all to himself, "we can see them all the same.
Look, there's one, did you see it?"

"Not distinctly, and not long enough to be able to wish anything."

"To wish anything? but what?"

"Oh! anything. Why! do you mean to say you did not know that when you
see a shooting star you ought to wish something?"

"No, I did not know. And does your wish get fulfilled?"

"They say so."

"Well, then, mademoiselle, have you a wish quite ready this time, so
that you will not be taken unawares?"

"Yes, certainly, I have one; but it can never be realised."

"Ah! I dare not ask you what."

"I should like to be quite different from what I am," she replied,
very gently. "Yes, I should like to be a very pretty girl, in quite
humble circumstances, so that I need not be obliged to go into
society, and so that I could marry just whom I liked. I should like to
be, in fact, happy according to my own idea of things, without
troubling anything about social prejudices and conventionalities."

"Why should you wish that?" he asked, in a voice that trembled
slightly.

"So that I should have the right to love anyone who loved me. I mean,
openly; without having to keep it to myself." And then she added, in
a very low voice, "And without reproaching myself for it."

She was walking quite close to him, so close, that their shoulders
touched at every step.

Giraud was quite agitated with conflicting emotions.

"You say that--as if--as if--you did care for someone?" he stammered
out.

He knew that she had turned her face towards him, but she did not
speak.

Just at this moment a screech-owl, which was perched quite near them
amongst the thick, dark looking foliage of the trees, gave a sudden,
wailing, cry, which startled Bijou. She knocked against Giraud as she
jumped aside in her fright, and he instinctively put his arms round
her. Her soft, perfumed hair brushed against his lips, making him lose
his head completely. He forgot everything, and, utterly oblivious of
all that separated him from the young girl, he drew her closer to him
in a passionate embrace, and murmured tenderly:

"Denyse!"

She let him do as he liked, without offering any resistance, but when,
at last, he set her free, she said, in a tender, plaintive tone:

"Oh! how wrong it was of you to have done that, how wrong of you!" And
then she hid her face in her hands, and he could hear that she was
crying.

He tried to console her, but she would not allow him to stay.

"No, go away, please," she said: "they will be wondering where you
are. I shall come in directly, when I am myself again."

As he was starting off in the direction of the terrace, she called him
back.

"Not that way," she said. "Go round by the pool. Don't let them think
you have come from here."

"Let me stay another minute, just to ask you to forgive me. Let me
kiss those little hands that I love--"

"Please go! Please go!" she said, in a tone that sounded as though she
mistrusted herself.

Before turning into the walk that led round by the pool, Giraud
stopped a minute to get another glimpse of Denyse, who, in her light
dress, looked like a white spot against the dark background of the
trees. He could hear that she was still crying.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Is that you, Bijou?" asked Jean de Blaye, coming forward in the thick
darkness.

"Who is it?" asked the young girl, drawing herself up.

"It is I--Jean! Why, do you mean to say that you won't even do me the
honour of recognising my voice. What are you doing out here in this
pitch darkness?"

"I am taking a stroll."

"All alone?"

"I came out to join the Dubuissons, but I thought afterwards that it
was better not to disturb them, and so I came here all alone."

"It must be quite a change for you to be alone, isn't it? And what in
the world do you do when you are all by yourself?"

"I think."

"Oh! what a big word!"

"Well, I dream dreams, if you like that better?"

"Well I never! That's what I never should have thought you would do.
They are surely not in the least like ordinary dreams--yours?"

"Because--?"

"Because dreams are usually incoherent, strange and quite improbable."

"Well?"

"Well, your dreams must be admirably sensible and reasonable; they
must resemble you."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Well, for the pleasant things you are saying."

"Oh! they are not exactly pleasant things; they are true, though.
Besides, I have not come here just to say pleasant things to you, but
to talk to you seriously."

"Seriously?"

"Yes! I have undertaken a mission for some one else. I have promised
to speak to you to the best of my ability in the name of some one who
did not care to speak for himself."

"Who is this some one else?"

"Henry! He begged me to ask you whether you would authorise him to ask
grandmamma for your hand?"

"My hand! Henry?" she exclaimed, and her accent expressed her
bewilderment.

"Is that so very astonishing?"

"Why, yes!--it is as though he were my brother--Henry!"

"Well, but he is not your brother, nevertheless; therefore do not let
us trouble about him as a brother, but as a lover. What is your
answer?"

"My answer! why does Henry apply to me first? Instead of asking my
permission to speak to grandmamma, he ought to have asked grandmamma's
permission to speak to me."

"There; didn't I say that you were a most excellent little person,
always knowing the correct thing, and all the rest of it!"

"Is it wrong of me to be like that?"

"Oh, no! it is not wrong--on the contrary! only it is a trifle
embarrassing. Tell me, now that I have made this mistake in speaking
to you first, will you give me an answer? or must I set to work to put
matters right again, by applying now to grandmamma, who in her turn
will apply to you, etc., etc."

"No, I will give you my answer."

"Well, then, let me finish my rigmarole. Count Henry de Bracieux was
born on the 22nd of January, 1870. His entire fortune, until after the
death of his grandmother, consists of twenty-four thousand pounds,
which amount brings in--"

"Oh! you needn't trouble to tell me about money matters; in the first
place, they don't interest me, and then, as I do not wish to marry
Henry, it is useless to tell me all that!"

"Ah! you do not wish to marry him! Why?"

"For several reasons, the best of which is that I know him too well."

"It certainly is not very flattering, this reason of yours!"

"I mean what I said just now, that, living with Henry as I have done
for the last four years, I consider him as a brother."

"Then that applies to me, too; do you look upon me, too, as a
brother?" asked Jean de Blaye, trying to speak in an indifferent tone.

"You, oh, no! not at all; you are thirty-five at least!"

"No, thirty-three."

"Only that?--ah, well, it's all the same! you don't seem to me like a
brother!"

She was silent a moment, thinking, whilst he stood waiting, with a
sort of vague hope.

"You seem to me more like an uncle," she said at last.

"Oh!" remarked Jean, with an accent that betrayed his vexation, "that
is very nice."

"You are annoyed with me for saying that?" she asked, in her pretty,
coaxing way.

"Oh, not at all! I am delighted, on the contrary; it is very
satisfactory, for, with you, one knows exactly what to count on; and
then, if one has any delusions, well, they don't have to hang fire."

"You had delusions--what were they?"

"No, I hadn't one of any kind."

"Oh, yes, I can tell by your voice; you speak in a sharp, bitter,
irritated way. Tell me why you are so bad-tempered all in a minute?"
she asked, in a coaxing tone, leaning against him, and looking up into
his face.

He stepped back from her as he answered:

"When one is not very good to start with, and one has trouble, it
makes one go to the bad; it is inevitable!"

"And you have trouble?"

"Yes."

"Is it very bad?"

"Well, quite bad enough, thank you!"

"Poor Jean; things don't go as you want them to, then?"

"What do you mean? What are you talking about?"

"Why, about--oh, you know very well! I told you the other evening!"

"That again!" he said, getting more and more worked up; "how foolish
you are!"

"What, do you mean that you do not care for Madame de Nézel?"
exclaimed Bijou.

"Madame de Nézel is a charming woman," he stammered out, in an
embarrassed way. "She is an excellent friend whom I like very much,
very much indeed, but not in the way you imagine."

"Ah! so much the worse for you; she is a widow, and she is rich; she
would just have suited you. Well, then, you like someone else?"

"Yes."

"Someone you cannot marry?"

"Exactly."

"Why? isn't she rich enough?"

"Oh, no, it is not that; if she had not a farthing it would be all the
same to me; it is the other way round, I am not rich enough for her,
and then--she would not have me."

"You do not know; you ought to tell her that you love her."

"Do you think so?"

"Why, of course--try that, at any rate."

"Very well, then, Bijou, I love you with all my heart--but I know that
there is no hope, and, unfortunate wretch that I am, I dare not even
ask for any."

"You love _me_!" she exclaimed, in deep distress, and then, stopping
short, she repeated: "_you_--Jean?"

"Yes, and what about you? you detest me, do you not?"

"Oh, Jean, how can you say such things? You know very well that I love
you, though not in the way you want me to, or as I should like to be
able to, but very much, all the same; indeed I do."

She put her hand on his shoulder, obliging him to stand still, and
then passed her hand over his eyes.

"Oh, Jean," she exclaimed, in great grief, "tears, and all because of
me! Oh, please, don't--no, indeed you must not; do you hear me, Jean?"

He took the little hand, which was stroking his face, and kissed it
passionately. Then putting Bijou, who was clinging to him, gently
aside, he left her abruptly, and strode off alone.



XIII.


"THEN, you really mean that you are going?" asked Bijou sorrowfully,
as Jeanne Dubuisson folded her dresses into the tray of a long basket
trunk.

"Yes," answered the young girl, absorbed in what she was doing, and
without even looking up. "I have been here a long time; it would be
taking advantage to stay longer, you know."

"You know very well that it would be nothing of the kind; and it was
almost settled that you were to stay until Monday, and then, all at
once, you changed your mind. What is the matter?"

"Why, nothing at all. What do you imagine could be the matter?"

"If I knew, I should not ask you. Come, now! what can it be? you don't
seem to find things too dull?"

"Oh, Bijou, however could I find things dull?"

"Oh, well, you might; and yet, you see your _fiancé_ almost as much as
when you were at Pont-sur-Loire."

"Oh, no--"

"Oh, yes; let us reckon, shall we? M. Spiegel went to Paris for
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; Tuesday he came here to dinner with M.
Dubuisson; Wednesday he came alone; Thursday he managed to swallow the
confirmation luncheon, poor man; Friday he was here to dinner; and
every day we have been rehearsing our play either before or after
dinner, so that he has never been away from you."

"Yes, that's true," answered Jeanne reluctantly; "but if he has not
been away from me, he has scarcely troubled about me at all."

"How do you mean?"

"How? Oh! it is simple enough! He has only troubled about you; he has
talked to no one but you."

"To me?"

"Yes, to you--there! I may as well own it, Bijou; I am
jealous--frightfully jealous."

"Jealous of whom? Of me?" asked Denyse, with a startled look.

Mademoiselle Dubuisson nodded, and then she proceeded to explain,
whilst the tears rose to her eyes:

"You must forgive me for telling you this. I can see that I am causing
you pain, but it is better, is it not, to tell the truth, than to let
you suspect all kinds of wrong reasons? You are not angry with me?"

"No; not at all!" And then Bijou added sorrowfully: "It is you who
ought rather to be angry with me. But you are mistaken, I assure you!
M. Spiegel, who is very polite, has taken notice of me simply because
I am the grandchild of his hostess, and not for any other reason."

"He has taken notice of you for the same reason which makes everyone
take notice of you--just because you are adorable, and you know that
very well!"

"Oh, no! I--"

"It was quite certain that he would be fascinated by you, just as all
the others are, and I was very silly not to have foreseen what would
happen. I counted too much on his affection--I thought that he loved
me just as I love him--I was mistaken, that's all!"

"Then I shall not see anything more of you? You will avoid all
opportunities of meeting me?"

"No; we shall spend the whole of the day together at the paper-chase."

"As you will be driving, and I shall be riding, I shall not be much in
your way."

Bijou was silent for a minute, and then she began again in an anxious
tone:

"You don't think, at any rate, that it is my fault--what has
happened?"

"No," answered Jeanne; "I don't think anything, except that you are a
charming girl, and I am merely common-place. Bijou, dear, don't make
yourself wretched about it, please!"

"I should be so unhappy if I were not to see anything more of you!"

"But you will see me! The day after to-morrow I am coming back to
Bracieux for your play. I must, you know, considering that we are both
acting, M. Spiegel and I."

"Why do you say, 'M. Spiegel'? Why do you not say Franz like you
always do? Are you angry with him?"

"On Saturday," continued Jeanne, without answering Bijou's question,
"we shall see each other at the races, and then again at the
Tourvilles' dance; you see we shall scarcely be separated at all."

"All the same it won't be as though you were staying here," answered
Bijou, with a sorrowful look, "and, then, too, I know very well that
you are going away feeling different towards me."

Just at this moment the maid entered the room.

"Madame wishes to speak to mademoiselle in the drawing-room."

"In the drawing-room at this time of day!" exclaimed Bijou, in
surprise.

"M. de Clagny is there."

"Oh! very well! Say that I am coming at once."

"Will you go down with me?" asked Bijou, turning to Mademoiselle
Dubuisson.

"No, I want to finish packing my trunk, as it is to be sent to
Pont-sur-Loire after luncheon."

       *       *       *       *       *

A quarter of an hour later, Bijou returned in great glee.

"Ah! you don't know something. We are going to spend the evening
together to-day!"

"Where?"

"Guess!"

"Oh! I don't know. At the theatre?"

"Right! How did you guess that?"

"Because you said over and over again before M. de Clagny how much you
wanted to go to that performance organised by the _Dames de France_. I
suppose he has offered you a box?"

"Two boxes! yes, just imagine it; two beautiful big boxes, each one
for six persons! And so we have at once arranged with your father
that you are to come--M. Spiegel as well, of course--I forgot to tell
you that they are there--your father and M. Spiegel. M. de Clagny
brought them with him."

"But three of us will be too many for you," began Jeanne.

"When I have just told you that there are twelve places! Come,
now--Grandmamma and I, that makes two, and you three, that makes five;
there are seven places over, and no one wants to come."

"The Rueilles?"

"Paul, but not Bertrade; that makes six. Neither Jean nor Henry are
coming, nor Uncle Alexis either, and Pierrot has got into a scrape.
Then there is M. de Clagny, and I thought of offering a place to M.
Giraud, so that makes us eight altogether."

Mademoiselle Dubuisson did not speak, and Bijou went on:

"You do not care about spending this evening with us, or, rather, with
me, and so you are trying to find a pretext?"

"Oh, no, I am not trying to find anything: besides, since it is all
arranged with papa--"

"Yes, it is quite settled. I had invited M. de Bernès, too; but he
makes out that he cannot come, because he is going with his friends."

"Where did you see M. de Bernès?"

"In the drawing-room just a minute ago. Ah, of course you did not
know. He has come to bring the invitation for M. Giraud. Jean wrote to
him for it, because M. Giraud wanted to go to the paper-chase, and as
there are refreshments offered by the officers to their guests,
grandmamma is so scrupulous that she would not take him without an
invitation."

"Then M. de Bernès is staying to luncheon, too?"

"No, he has gone again; he is the hare, you know, and the
meeting-place is at the cross-roads at three o'clock; it is quite near
for us, but for those who come from Pont-sur-Loire, it's a good step."

"What time do we start?"

"At half-past two the carriages, and a quarter past two those who are
riding--Do you know--I feel inclined to dress before luncheon, so that
I should not have to think any more about it."

"You have half an hour."

"Well, you are ready. Come with me while I dress, will you?"

Jeanne followed Bijou in a docile way, as the latter hurried along
the corridors, singing as she went.

"You are always gay," remarked Jeanne, "but this morning it seems to
me that you are particularly joyful. What is it that makes you so?"

"Why, nothing! I am delighted about the paper-chase, and the theatre;
then, too, it is beautiful weather, the sky is so blue, the flowers so
fresh and beautiful, it seems to me delicious to be alive--but that's
all!"

"Oh, well, that's something at any rate."

"Sit down," said Bijou, pushing Mademoiselle Dubuisson into a cosy
arm-chair.

Jeanne sat down, and looked round at the pretty room. The walls were
hung with pale pink cretonne, with a design of large white poppies.
The ceiling, too, was pink, and the Louis Seize furniture was
lacquered pink. There were flowers everywhere, in strange-shaped glass
vases, and the air was laden with a delicious, penetrating perfume, a
mixture of chypre, iris, and a scent like new-mown hay.

Jeanne inhaled this perfume with delight.

"What do you put in your room to make it smell like this?" she asked.

"Does it smell of something? I do not smell anything--anyhow, I don't
use scent for it," answered Bijou, sniffing the air around her with
all her might.

"Oh! why, that's incredible!" exclaimed Jeanne astounded. "But do you
mean truly that you do not put anything at all to scent your room?"

"Absolutely nothing."

Denyse was moving about, getting everything she required before
changing her dress. She was not long in putting on her habit, and as
she stood before the long glass, putting a few finishing touches to
her toilette, Jeanne could not help admiring her.

"How well it fits you!" she said. "It looks as though it had been
moulded on you--it really is perfection! And then, too, you have such
a pretty figure!"

Denyse was just putting a pearl pin into her white cravat. The point
broke with a little sharp click.

"Oh!" exclaimed Jeanne, "what a pity!"

"It doesn't matter," answered Bijou, "for it was not up to much. If I
win my bet with M. de Bernès, I will let him give me a strong pin,"
and then, with a laugh, she added: "and not an expensive one, so that
it will not seem like a present."

"You have made a bet with M. de Bernès?"

"Yes."

"And you have to choose your present?"

"Yes. Is there any harm in it?"

"Harm? No! but it is odd."

"Well! you are like grandmamma. She was scandalised, grandmamma was."

"Well, it is odd, you know! And what have you been betting--you and M.
de Bernès?"

"I, that there would be, at least, one accident at the paper-chase;
and he, that there would not be one at all."

"Well, but that's very possible."

"Oh, no! it is not very possible! There always are accidents; it would
be the first paper-chase without one. Take notice that it is merely a
question of a fall--just a simple fall--the person falls down, and is
picked up again. I do not predict that anyone will be killed, you
understand?"

"Well, don't you go and have a fall, at any rate."

"Oh, as to me!" said Bijou, her eyes shining with merriment, "there is
no danger. Patatras has never been stronger on his legs. Pass me the
scissors, will you, please, they are just by the side of you?"

Jeanne watched her admiringly as she stood in front of the long
glass.

"There is not a single crease anywhere in your habit, and what a
pretty figure you have, really, Bijou."

       *       *       *       *       *

When, at a quarter past two, punctual, as usual, Bijou appeared on the
stone steps in front of the half-door, she found Henry de Bracieux
there, Jean de Blaye, and Pierrot. M. de Rueille had not yet come
downstairs.

The horses, which had been waiting a few minutes, were somewhat
restless, as the flies were worrying them. Patatras alone was
perfectly calm, nibbling at the hazel tree, and looking peaceably at
what was going on around him.

Presently Bertrade opened a window, and called out:

"Don't wait for Paul. He is only just beginning to dress. He will
catch you up."

"Would you like to start, Bijou?" proposed Jean.

"I feel almost inclined to let you start without me," she answered, in
an undecided way. "Your three horses are jumping about like mad
things; they will excite Patatras, who is quite peaceful now. Start
on, at any rate--I will join you out there. Nothing annoys me more
than to ride a horse that is pulling so that you can hardly hold him
in, and that is what I should have to put up with, for certain, if I
start with you."

"Then you are going to wait for Paul?" asked Henry, looking
bad-tempered.

Bijou pointed to the carriages, which were just coming out of the
stable-yard.

"No, I am going to escort grandmamma."

"Well, that is just what will rouse your horse up," said Jean de
Blaye.

"Oh, no! Don't you think I know my horse? Anyhow, all I ask you is to
start off, and not to trouble yourselves about me."

"You are charming, really," observed Pierrot, moving towards his pony,
and then turning towards the others, he added majestically, although,
in a vexed tone: "Let us leave her, then, as she does not want to go
with us."

"I think that's the only choice left us in the matter," answered Jean,
half vexed and half laughing, as he mounted his horse.

Just as they were all three disappearing round the bend of the drive,
M. de Clagny came out of the hall. He was looking to see whether his
mail-coach had been put in, and was astonished to find Bijou there.

"How nice you look in that red habit," he said, in his admiration.
"Generally, red makes anyone look pale, but you--why, it makes you
look rosier than ever, if that is possible."

When he heard that she was going to accompany the carriages as far as
the meeting-place he was perfectly happy.

The marchioness soon arrived, followed by all the others. She got into
the landau with the Dubuissons and M. Spiegel, whilst M. de Clagny
took on his coach Madame de Rueille, the children, Abbé Courteil, M.
de Jonzac, and M. Giraud. The latter was hypnotised to such a degree
by Bijou, who was waiting, ready mounted, for the others to start,
that he almost fell off the coach instead of sitting down.

The sun was shining brilliantly when they at last set out on their
journey. M. de Clagny was much more taken up with Bijou than with the
four horses he was driving. He watched her trotting in front of him,
near to the carriage in which the marchioness was driving.

It was the first time he had seen her on horseback, and she seemed to
him incomparably pretty and elegant. Whilst he was thus watching her
with singular attention, Madame de Bracieux called out to her from the
landau:

"What a horribly hot day it is, Bijou dear. I don't like to see you in
this blazing sunshine!"

Denyse turned round with a very rosy face.

"Nor do I either, grandmamma, I don't like to see myself in it at
all!" She was silent a moment and then she continued: "When we come
across Jean, Henry, and Pierrot, I shall desert you."

"Do you think we shall come across them?"

"Oh, yes, certainly! They are going along through the wood, almost the
same road that we are taking with the carriages. They are only some
twelve or fifteen yards away from us; I heard them a little while ago.
As soon as I see them I shall leave you!"

M. de Clagny called to Bijou in order to warn her about a hundred
things to avoid. In the coppice she was to beware of the branches;
that very morning he had been almost taken out of his saddle when
galloping in the wood. She was to take care, too, of the burrows--the
wood was full of them; and then she was not to jump all in a heap, as
it were; she must never do that, but always remember to lean forward
or hold back.

She listened to all this advice smilingly, and with a certain
affectionate deference.

"How good you are, Bijou!" he finished up with at last. "How is it you
do not tell your old friend who worries you so to go about his
business?"

Just at this moment a horseman crossed the road about two hundred
yards in front of the carriages, and entered the forest.

"Ah!" said the count, "there's Bernès throwing his paper! he's gone in
for the right way of doing things, that is, to go along the whole
route first in the opposite direction, dropping the paper, then
afterwards one has only to fly along, without troubling about
anything."

"What time is it?" asked Bijou.

"Twenty minutes to three," answered Bertrade, looking at her watch.
"We shall get to the meet much too soon."

M. de Clagny let his horses walk, and Bijou caught up with the landau
again, and began talking to Jeanne. Suddenly she bent her head as
though listening to something.

"Ah, there they are!" she exclaimed. "I can hear them!"

"Whom do you hear?" asked the marchioness.

"Why, the others; they are there, and I am going to them. Good-bye,
grandmamma." She crossed the ditch at the side of the road, and then
pulled up, and, throwing a kiss to Jeanne, called out: "Good-bye to
you, too."

But the landau was some distance on, and the coach was just passing.
Giraud, seated at the back with the children, was the only one who
was looking in Bijou's direction, and it was he who received the
farewell kiss she threw to her friend.

"Are you sure to find them?" asked the count, turning round on the
box-seat.

"Why, they are only a few steps away," she answered, pointing to the
wood. "I have just seen Henry."

Whereupon she disappeared in the thicket, and M. de Clagny looked
after her, with an anxious expression on his face.

As soon as she had found a path, Bijou set off at a gallop, going
straight ahead, listening eagerly, and looking out as far as she could
see in front of her through the gloom of the wood.

Quite suddenly she turned abruptly aside, and rode some little
distance into the brushwood, where she remained without moving, and
doing all she could to prevent Patatras from making the dead branches
crackle under his feet.

Along the path which she had just left came Henry de Bracieux, Jean de
Blaye, and Pierrot.

When they were almost level with the spot where Denyse was hiding,
they pulled up to wait for a horse that they heard galloping quite
near them.

"Whatever have you been doing?" asked Henry, as M. de Rueille appeared
in sight. "It is quite ten minutes ago since we saw you at the bottom
of the Belles-Feuilles road."

"Where is Bijou?" asked M. de Rueille anxiously, without replying to
Henry's question.

"She left us in the lurch, and started with the carriages," answered
Pierrot contemptuously.

"Ah!" exclaimed Rueille, in a disappointed tone. And then, turning to
his brother-in-law, he continued: "What have I been doing? well, I
stopped a minute or two to speak to Bernès, who was with his
lady-love; she had come in a cab to a quiet spot, where no one would
think of meeting her, just for the sake of seeing Bernès for two or
three minutes; they cannot go a day without seeing each other. She's a
very pretty girl."

"Yes," said Jean de Blaye, "and a sweet little thing too; and she's
been well brought up."

"I had never seen her so near before."

"Now that your horse has had a rest, Paul, we had better get on our
way, or we shall miss the start."

"Yes," answered M. de Rueille, setting off again; "but we have plenty
of time. Bernès is behind me, you know."

As soon as they had gone on some distance, Bijou came out of the
brushwood again. Her complexion was wonderfully brilliant, and eyes
shone with the deep blue flame which sometimes made their usually
gentle expression disconcerting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hubert de Bernès stayed a few minutes, after M. de Rueille had left
him, talking to Lisette Renaud.

"Well, then, it is settled?" asked the pretty actress. "In spite of
the dinner, you will come early to the theatre?"

"Yes."

"You will stay in my _loge_?"

"No! I must appear in the theatre."

"But you have a horror of _La Vivandière_,--which I can quite
understand--and yet you are going to see it again?"

When Bijou had invited Bernès to come into Madame de Bracieux's box,
he had refused, knowing that it would grieve Lisette to see him there.

Mademoiselle de Courtaix was very well known in Pont-sur-Loire, and
was greatly admired by society women and those who were not society
women. Her costumes were imitated, and her wonderful beauty envied,
for it was said that she was quite irresistible. The young lieutenant
was perfectly aware that he, too, had been fascinated by her charms
the last few days. His affection for Lisette had hitherto rendered him
proof against all such fascination. He was passionately fond of the
faithful and devoted young actress, who, for the last two years, had
loved him so truly, and who would never accept from him any presents
but flowers or trifling souvenirs, which were of no pecuniary value.

Lisette earned some thirty pounds a month at the Pont-sur-Loire
theatre, and she had declared that she would not receive from him any
presents whatever of any value. He had not dared to insist, as he had
feared to wound her feelings, or to cause an estrangement between
them. She was very beautiful, but he loved her more for her qualities
of mind and heart than for her beauty.

Since he had begun to pay attention to Bijou, whom, until now, he had
scarcely ever noticed, he had felt greatly disturbed. It was all in
vain that he had said to himself, over and over again, that Lisette,
with her large expressive eyes, her delicate complexion, her
dazzlingly white teeth, and her beautiful, elegant figure, was far
prettier than Mademoiselle de Courtaix. In spite of all this, Bijou's
violet eyes, her curly hair, and tempting lips, haunted him.

Lisette, although she had no idea that her happiness was in danger,
felt a sort of uneasiness take possession of her, and a vague sadness
come over her. She could not understand why Bernès should answer her
question in such a harsh way.

"I shall have to see _La Vivandière_ again because, in order to refuse
a seat that was offered me in a box, I was obliged to say that I had
promised to go with some of my brother-officers to the theatre."

"Who was it who offered you a place?"

"An old lady whom you do not know--Madame de Bracieux--you are much
wiser now, are you not?"

"Madame de Bracieux," she said, feeling sad, without knowing exactly
why she should feel so. "She is the grandmother of Mademoiselle de
Courtaix."

"How did you know that?" he asked, in surprise.

"Why, just as everyone else knows it in Pont-sur-Loire."

"In the meantime," he said, in an irritated tone, "I shall miss the
meet if I don't look out."

"Don't stay," said Lisette regretfully, "enjoy yourself--and I shall
see you this evening?"

"Yes--this evening." Just as he was entering the wood, he turned
round in his saddle, and called out: "Above all, take care that they
do not see you; don't go where the carriages are."

And then, taking the path along which Bijou had gone, some little time
before, he put his horse to a sharp gallop, in order to make up for
lost time. Suddenly he stopped short, trying to distinguish something
which he saw some distance ahead of him.

"Well!" he said to himself, "if it isn't a horse without its
rider!--some fine gentleman has got himself landed already." As he
drew nearer, he saw that the horse had a lady's saddle, and he uttered
a cry as he perceived Bijou lying on her back on the grass to the
right of the path. One of her arms was stretched out crosswise, and
the other was down at her side, her eyes were closed, and her lips
parted.

Bernès sprang to the ground, fastened his horse up, and then taking
Denyse in his arms, tried to prop her up against a tree. When,
however, the girl's head fell languidly on his shoulder, he drew her
to him, and, bending over her, kissed her soft curly hair over and
over again.

"Bijou, dear Bijou!" he murmured, in spite of himself; "listen to me,
will you? answer me--speak to me--I am so wretched seeing you like
this."

At the end of two or three minutes Denyse gave a very gentle sigh, and
opened her eyes slowly.

At the sight of Bernès her grave face lighted up with a smile.

"Ah!" she murmured, "wasn't it stupid, that fall?"

"How did you manage it?" he asked.

"I don't know. I fancy my horse put his foot in a hole."

"And you went up in the air?"

"That was it," she answered, laughing.

"Are you hurt?"

"Not the least bit in the world!" And then she added pensively: "It's
very nice of you to trouble about me, and all the more so as you do
not like me, I know."

Hubert de Bernès turned as red as a tomato.

"Oh, mademoiselle, how can you think--"

"I do think so--"

"Well, but," he began, in an anxious voice, "tell me at least whatever
makes you imagine such a thing?"

"Oh, everything and nothing; it would take too long to explain. Well,
this morning, for instance, when I asked you to go with us to the
theatre, you looked quite annoyed, and you refused; oh, yes--out and
out. Well, why did you refuse?"

"But, mademoiselle, I--I assure you--"

"There you see, you cannot find a word to say, not even the most
common-place excuse."

Shaking her head so that her hair came down and fell over the young
man's shoulder and against his face, she went on talking, laughing all
the time, and still leaning against him for support.

"I don't mind, though, at all, for whether you want to or not now, you
will have to come with us to the theatre; you cannot refuse."

"But--"

"Oh, there is no but about it. I will have that now for the payment of
our bet."

"Our bet?"

"Well, did we not make a bet? I, that there would be an accident,
because there always are accidents, you know; and you, that there
would not be one at all."

"Yes, but--"

"Well, it seems to me that this is one. Don't you consider it
enough--my accident? Well, I wonder what more you want?"

"Yes, it's true," he managed to stammer out. "What an idiot I am! the
fact is, I was so frightened--if you only knew."

She looked up at him with a sweet expression in her beautiful eyes,
and he was fascinated by her sweetness.

"Thank you again," she said, holding out her little hand to him;
"thank you for looking after me; and now you had better go on
quickly."

"But can you mount again?"

"Not just yet--I feel a sort of stiffness, and a tired feeling all
over. No, will you go on and tell M. de Clagny to come with his
carriage and fetch me; don't say anything about it to the others; I
don't want grandmamma to know."

As Hubert de Bernès was holding her hand pressed against his lips,
Bijou went on impatiently:

"Go now, quickly! ask M. de Clagny to leave his carriage on the road,
and explain to him that he will find me in the wood near the road,
just where I left him a little while ago. And will you fasten Patatras
to a tree before you go away? Thank you!" She looked at him again with
her sweetest expression, and asked once more: "It's settled, then, for
this evening, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's quite settled," he answered.

As soon as he was out of sight, she lay down again in exactly the same
position in which Bernès had found her.

A little later the sound of carriage-wheels was heard along the road,
and M. de Clagny, getting down from his coach, entered the wood. At
the sight of Bijou, he uttered a cry of horror, and, rushing to her,
took her in his arms in his anxiety and anguish.

"Bijou, my love! my darling! dear little Bijou!" And then, like
Bernès, he added: "listen to me, Bijou dear; answer me; please speak
to me!"

He kissed her soft hair, and drew her closer and closer to him, until
at last she opened her eyes, and looked up at him with her pretty,
innocent expression; and then, as though she were going to sleep
again, she murmured, as she laid her head confidingly against him:

"Ah, you are so nice to me; and I am so happy like this! I should like
to stay here always!"



XIV.


"COME in!" called out Bijou.

She was standing in front of the glass, brushing her hair leisurely.
The more she brushed, the more her hair curled, and scented the
atmosphere at the same time with a delicate perfume.

"The Count de Clagny has come, mademoiselle, to ask how you are?" said
the maid.

"How I am?"

"After the accident yesterday."

"Ah, yes! I had forgotten it!" And, going to the window, she asked:
"Is he driving?"

"No, mademoiselle, he came on horseback; but he is in the
drawing-room."

"Oh, very well, I will go down!"

As soon as the domestic had gone, Bijou slipped on another _peignoir_
quickly. She then put on some pink kid slippers without heels, which
made her little feet look delightfully droll, and with her hair
hanging loosely down over the frilled collar of her long, loose dress,
she ran downstairs to M. de Clagny.

On seeing her enter the room, the count rose quickly. His face looked
drawn and tired, and there was a sad expression in his eyes.

"How good of you to have put yourself about to come so early on my
account!" said Bijou, holding out both her hands to him. He pressed
them to his lips whilst she went on: "Why, it is scarcely eight
o'clock! you must have started from La Norinière awfully early!"

"Don't let us trouble about me; but tell me how you are?"

"Why, I am perfectly well, thank you! You saw yesterday that I
followed the paper-chase just as though I had not had any fall
beforehand; and then, in the evening at the theatre, I did not look
ill, did I?"

"No, not exactly ill; but at the theatre it seemed to me that you were
a little excitable and nervous." And then he added sadly: "I did not
see much of you though, either; you scarcely troubled about anyone but
Hubert de Bernès, and you quite forsook your poor old friend."

She got up and went to him.

"Oh! how can you imagine--" she began, in a coaxing way, but he
interrupted her.

"I did not imagine, alas! I saw for myself; and I am not reproaching
you, my dear little girl--young people of course prefer young people,
it is quite natural!"

"Oh, no!" said Bijou, with evident sincerity; "not at all--I am not so
fond as all that of young people generally; and, above all, I cannot
endure young men about the age of M. de Bernès."

"Yes, I remember that you told me that once before; you said so the
first time I saw you; it was here in this room, when we were waiting
together for the arrival of your guests to dinner."

Denyse laughed.

"Well, what a memory you have!"

"Always, when it is a question of you." And then, in a voice which
trembled slightly, he asked: "Do you remember something you said to me
yesterday?"

"Yesterday?"

"Yes, yesterday, when I was holding you in my arms, and you were
nestling against me like a little trembling bird!"

Bijou appeared to be trying to remember what it was. She opened her
large eyes wide, and they looked just then like pale violets.

"No, I don't know what it was; I don't remember! I was a little upset
after my accident, you know!" And then, as M. de Clagny remained
silent, she asked: "Tell me, what could I have said that was so
interesting?"

He repeated her words slowly, watching Bijou all the time attentively,
as she listened with an amused air, her pretty lips parted.

"You said, 'I am so happy like this; I should like to stay here
always.'"

"I don't remember saying that; but, anyhow, I was quite right, because
it was perfectly true, you know!"

He drew Bijou to him, and asked:

"Truly, would it not alarm you to see me always near you like that?"

"Why, no, it would not alarm me! Oh, no, not at all!"

"Really and truly?"

"Really and truly! but why do you ask me that?"

"Oh, for no reason at all. Do you know whether Madame de Bracieux is
up yet?"

"She does not get up before half-past eight or nine o'clock,
especially when she is up late like last night; it was nearly two
o'clock when we came in!"

"And you are just as fresh-looking and as pretty as though you had
slept all night. Really, though, I should very much like to see Madame
de Bracieux."

"You want to speak to her yourself, or is it any message I can take to
her from you?"

"No; I want to speak to her myself."

"Well, you know she will probably keep you waiting 'a spell,' as they
say in this part of the world."

"Well, I will wait."

Bijou looked at M. de Clagny in surprise. He was pacing up and down
the long room.

"What's the matter?" she asked at last, in her curiosity, "for there
certainly is something the matter!"

"Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes! You keep marching backwards and forwards. That reminds
me--one day I saw Paul de Rueille pacing about like that."

"I saw him, too; it was the night of the La Balue, Juzencourt & Co.'s
dinner, whilst you were singing."

"No, oh, no! It was one day when he had some ridiculous duel, and he
did not know whether it would be better to tell Bertrade, or not to
tell her."

"And what did he do?"

"I fancy he did not tell her anything about it."

"Oh, well, he had more pluck than I have."

"Have you a duel on?" Bijou asked impetuously.

"A duel if you like to call it that; and a ridiculous one most
certainly--a fight with impossibilities. You cannot understand that,
my dear little Bijou."

"And you think that grandmamma will understand it better than I
could?"

"I do not know! Anyhow, she will listen to me, and she will pity me."

"But I, too,--I would listen, and I would pity you."

"I should not like to be pitied by you!" he said, and the expression
of his face betrayed deep suffering.

"You do not care for me, then?" she asked.

M. de Clagny made a movement forward, then stopping himself, he said,
with a calmness that contrasted strangely with the troubled look in
his eyes and his hoarse voice:

"Oh, yes; I do care for you. I care for you very much, indeed." And
then picking up his hat, which he had put down on one of the tables,
he moved quickly towards the door, which led on to the terrace. "I
will wait in the park," he said, "until the marchioness can see me."

When he saw, however, that Bijou had left the drawing-room, he
returned, and sank down on a chair, looking suddenly much older from
the effect of some mental anxiety which was weighing on him.

The marchioness did not keep him waiting long. She entered the room,
with a smile on her face.

"Well, you _are_ an early visitor!" she began; but on seeing the
worried look on her old friend's face, she asked anxiously: "Why, what
is it? Whatever has happened?"

"A great misfortune."

"Tell me?"

"It is precisely for that I have come so early. You will remember that
when I came here for the first time, a fortnight ago, I was admiring
Bijou, and you reminded me of the fact that she was your
grand-daughter, and might very well be mine?"

"Yes."

"I answered that I knew that perfectly well, but that all that was
mere reasoning, and that when the heart remains young it does not
listen to reason."

"I remember perfectly well! What then?"

"What then? Well, at present, I love Bijou! I love her with all my
heart!"

"Absurd!" exclaimed the old lady, lifting her hands in amazement.

"You are certainly consoling!"

"Well, but--my poor, old friend, what do you want me to say? You do
not expect to marry Bijou, do you?"

His eyes were moist, and his voice choked as he replied:

"No; I do not expect to! And yet, I beg you to tell your
grand-daughter what I have just confessed to you. I am fifty-nine. I
have twenty-four thousand pounds a year. I am neither a bad lot, nor
am I utterly repulsive-looking, and I love her as no other man can
love her."

"But only think that you are--"

"Thirty-eight years older than she is; it is for me that this
difference of age is more to be feared. Yes, I know that, and I am
willing to accept all the risks of such a disproportion."

"And she?"

"She? Well, let her decide for or against me. She is twenty-one; she
is no longer a child, and she knows what she is about."

"Yes; but that does not prevent me from having a certain amount of
responsibility, and--"

"Ah, you see; you are afraid that she may consent!"

"Afraid? oh, dear, no! I am quite convinced that such an ideal little
creature has, about the man she dreams of for her husband, a vision of
someone quite different from you."

"And, supposing, by chance--I do not expect this at all--but,
supposing you were mistaken, what should you do?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"Nothing at all. And it is just this--I am afraid that you would use
your influence with Bijou."

"No; I shall just tell her what I think; I ought to, under the
circumstances--but nothing more."

"Then you _are_ going to speak to her?"

"Yes."

"May I come again a little later?"

"Oh, no! give me until to-morrow. I shall not speak to her, probably,
before this evening; but that need not prevent your coming to dinner
if you feel inclined to. It was for the--for the answer that I was
putting you off until to-morrow."

"If she should refuse, I shall go away."

"Where?"

"Oh, how can I care where?--my life will be over. I shall go and
finish my days in some out-of-the-way spot."

"You talked like that some twelve years ago; and here you are
to-day--I cannot say younger than then." The marchioness stopped
short, and then continued, with a smile: "Why should I not say it,
though? You really do seem younger to me now than you did in those
days; you are perfectly astonishing, my dear friend, anyone would
think you were about forty-five."

"If only it were true what you say!"

"It is, I assure you! but you know that does not alter the fact that
you are fifty-nine."

M. de Clagny rose to take his leave.

"Farewell!" he said, "until to-morrow." And then, with a pathetic
little smile, he added: "Or until this evening. Yes,--towards the end
of the day I shall be taken with a violent desire to see her again,
and I shall come as I did the day before yesterday, and Thursday, and
every day."

He took Madame de Bracieux's hand in his, and clasped it nervously, as
he murmured:

"For the sake of our long friendship, I beg you, be merciful to me."

       *       *       *       *       *

During luncheon the marchioness seemed preoccupied, and several times
M. de Jonzac asked her what she was thinking about.

"Whatever is it?" he said; "you have certainly got the blues."

"Aunt must have gone to bed very late," said Jean de Blaye. "I heard
you all come in; it must have been two o'clock." And then, turning to
Bijou, he asked: "And how did you enjoy yourself? was it nice?"

"Delightful," she answered, in an absent sort of way.

"That little Lisette Renaud is perfectly charming," said M. de
Rueille, "with her beautiful, large sad eyes. You liked her, too, did
you not, grandmamma?"

"Yes," answered Madame de Bracieux, "she is perfectly fascinating, and
she has an admirable voice. I was astonished to find all that in
Pont-sur-Loire; astonished, too, at the elegance of the house. There
were plenty of pretty women, and very well dressed, too."

"Nearly all of them wore pink," put in Denyse, "I noticed that."

"Oh! that is through you," said M. de Rueille. "The Pont-sur-Loire
ladies see you always arrayed in pink, and as you are considered by
them to be _tip-top_, they have taken to pink, too." And seeing that
Bijou looked surprised, he asked: "Well, isn't that quite clear
enough?"

"It is quite clear," she answered, laughing, "but a trifle imaginary.
No one pays any attention to me, my dear Paul." And then, as Madame
de Rueille turned towards her, Bijou appealed to her: "What do you
think about the matter, Bertrade?"

"I think that you are too modest."

"Oh, yes," said Giraud, who was gazing at the young girl with admiring
eyes, "Mademoiselle Denyse is too modest. Yesterday evening everyone
in the house was looking at her, and even the actress herself--"

"It's your imagination, Monsieur Giraud!" exclaimed Bijou,
interrupting him hastily. "I never noticed that anyone was interested
in our box; but even if they were, it does not follow necessarily that
it was at me that--"

"Evidently not," remarked Henry de Bracieux, in a chaffing tone. "It
was grandmamma in whom the natives were so deeply interested."

"No! but it might have been Jeanne Dubuisson."

"Yes, that's true! She is not known at all in Pont-sur-Loire,
therefore the sight of her would naturally make a sensation."

Bijou shrugged her shoulders.

"You know that I have a horror of people making a fuss about me, and
you say things like this all the time to tease me."

"If you have a horror of making a sensation," exclaimed Pierrot,
"that great Gisèle de la Balue is not like you, I can tell you. She's
one who would change places with you. Yesterday, at the paper-chase
feed, she was bothering round everyone like a great meat-fly; even
Bernès sent her about her business."

"I think young Bernès is very nice," said the marchioness. "I was
noticing him all the evening yesterday, and I like him very much. He
is very natural, has good manners, and is not by any means stupid."

Jean de Blaye noticed that Bijou was screwing up her lips into a
little pout of indifference.

"You don't appear to be of the same opinion as grandmamma?" he said.

"Oh, dear me! Yes, I am."

"Well, you are not enthusiastic; you may as well own it."

"Why, yes, I own it."

The marchioness turned to her grand-daughter:

"Ah! and what have you against him?"

"Why, nothing, grandmamma, nothing at all! I think he is just like
everyone else, and so when I see him I can't go into ecstasies over
him--that's all."

"I fancy," remarked M. de Rueille, "that the man isn't born yet about
whom you would go into ecstasies. You are very good-hearted, very
indulgent. You look upon everyone as all very well in a negative sort
of way, but, practically, it is quite another matter."

"Oh, you exaggerate!"

"I exaggerate? Well, then, just mention one man, one only, who is
according to your fancy."

"Why, M. de Clagny, for instance!"

"You think he is nice; you like him?" said the marchioness. "Yes, but
how? You would not marry him, I presume?"

"Oh, no!" answered Bijou, laughing, "I don't want to marry him."

Just as they were all leaving the table, Jean de Blaye asked:

"Has anyone any commissions for Pont-sur-Loire?"

"What!" exclaimed Bijou, in surprise, "you are going off to
Pont-sur-Loire like that, all by yourself? Why, whatever are you going
to do there, I wonder?"

"What am I going to do there?" he said, slightly disconcerted. "Why, I
have some things to get."

"Will you take me?"

"Take you? But--"

Ever since the evening when he had told Bijou that he loved her, he
had avoided, as much as possible, all opportunities of being alone
with her. She, on her part, had not changed her behaviour towards him
or Henry de Bracieux in any way. She was just as free and cordial in
her manner with them as she had been before refusing them her hand;
and, indeed, it seemed as though she had forgotten they had proposed
to her.

"What?"--she asked, looking astonished. "You won't take me with you?"

Thoroughly uncomfortable, and dreading the long _tête-à-tête_, yet not
daring in the presence of all the others to refuse to take Bijou, he
answered, in a joking tone:

"Why, yes! On the contrary, I am highly flattered by the honour you
are doing me!"

"That's all right, then. You are very kind."

"Oh, very; but, all the same, you will have to take someone else to be
with you as well, because I have some business."

"Oh!" said Denyse, in a disappointed tone, "you don't want me with you
when we get there."

"But, Bijou, my dear," put in Madame de Bracieux, "you could not,
anyhow, go there--just you two! It does not matter if Jean is your
first cousin; it would not be the thing, you know! You must take
Josephine with you; and even then I don't know whether I ought to
allow it--"

"But whatever do you want to do in Pont-sur-Loire?" she added, after a
pause.

"Oh, only some errands, grandmamma; you forget that there are always
errands to be done for the house. And then, too, I can go and see
Jeanne; it is just the day when M. Spiegel is busy and does not go so
that I shall not interrupt their billing and cooing."

"It does not seem to me as though they do much billing and cooing!"
said M. de Jonzac. "I was watching them yesterday at the paper-chase,
and I'm very much mistaken if that engagement is not a very
half-and-half sort of affair."

"But why should you think that, Uncle Alexis?" asked Bijou, looking
troubled.

"Because the girl looks sad, and the professor indifferent. Haven't
you noticed that?"

"No; but then I don't notice things much," she answered.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the way from Bracieux to Pont-sur-Loire, Bijou and Jean were
silent.

In the town just near the station, they met Madame de Nézel, who had
come in from The Pines by the half-past two train. On seeing her,
Bijou made a little movement, and was just about to speak to her
cousin, but, on second thoughts, she said nothing, and only looked up
at him, with a sweet expression in her bright eyes. Jean, feeling
awkward and confused, had pretended not to see Madame de Nézel, and
she, instead of going on into the centre of the town, had turned down
a narrow street, by some waste ground and gardens. As she got out of
the carriage with Josephine at the Dubuissons' door, Bijou asked:

"Where shall I find you? And at what time?"

"At the hotel; I will tell them to put the horse in at six o'clock if
that will suit you?"

"At six o'clock!" she exclaimed, in astonishment. "Oh, well! you
_must_ have plenty of things to do! Three hours and a half of shopping
in Pont-sur-Loire!"

Impatient and wishing above all things to escape Bijou's innocent
questioning, Jean offered to start earlier, but she refused.

"Oh, no! why should you? I shall be delighted to stay as long as you
wish with Jeanne!"

Mademoiselle Dubuisson was at home. Denyse thought she looked sad, and
her eyes had dark circles round them.

"What is the matter now?" she asked. "There's something wrong."

"Yes, things are not quite right."

"Is--your _fiancé_?"

"Oh, it's just the same."

"Which means----"

"That I think he has got--well--a little cool. But there is something
else that has upset me to-day."

"What is it?"

"Oh, well! it is an event that really does not concern me at all; but
it has made me feel wretched all the same." She avoided looking at
Bijou as she continued: "You know that--Lisette Renaud?"

"Yes. Well?"

"Well, she is dead--this morning."

"Dead!--What of?"

"People think she killed herself," said Jeanne, almost in a whisper.

"But how?"

"By taking morphia. You know they could not go into details before me,
but I understood, from what they were saying, that it was after an
explanation she had had with M. de Bernès."

"When?"

"Yesterday after the theatre, or else this morning. Papa and M.
Spiegel were talking of it at luncheon; but in a vague sort of way, so
that I should not understand."

"How fearfully sad!--I can quite understand that it should have upset
you."

"Yes; it is only natural, and all the more so as, just now, troubles
from love affairs touch me very nearly--and for a good reason!" she
added, with a sad little smile.

"That poor little actress!" said Bijou, in a tone of regret. "As a
rule, I don't care much for women who are on the stage, but this one
seemed to be nice, and then, she really did sing well--it is a
pity!--M. de Bernès must be wretched!"

"Do you think people really are so wretched when they cause others to
suffer?" asked Jeanne, still not looking at Bijou. "I don't think they
are! There are the thoughtless people, who make others suffer without
knowing it, and then there are the others, who cause people to suffer
because it amuses them; and neither the former nor the latter know
what it is to feel remorse--"

As Jeanne stood still, lost in thought, a far-away look in her eyes,
Bijou stroked her friend's face gently.

"There, don't think any more about these sad things, Jeanne, dear,"
she said. "Your grief won't change anything when the mischief is
already done, and you are making yourself wretched all in vain. Come,
now, let us talk about our play, and about dress, or no matter
what--oh! by the bye, about dress, does yours fit well at last?"

"It fits; but it does not suit me!"

"Oh, that's impossible!"

"No, it's very natural, on the contrary! I have not your complexion,
remember! I am paler than you are, and that pink makes me paler still;
and then I am thin, and the little gathered bodice, which shows up
your pretty figure to perfection, makes me look no figure at all--it
does not matter, though--it's of no importance whatever!"

"What do you mean by saying it is of no importance?"

"Why, yes, don't you see, Bijou dear, that whether one is well or
badly dressed, if one is just common-place as I am, one would always
pass unnoticed by the side of anyone as beautiful as you are."

Bijou turned her eyes up towards the ceiling, and said, in a
half-serious, half-joking way:

"My poor dear child, you are wandering--you don't know at all what you
are talking about!" And then suddenly changing her tone she asked:
"What time do you start to the races to-morrow?"

"I don't know. Papa will have arranged that with M. Spiegel. Ah, tell
me! shall you go early to the Tourvilles' dance? I don't want to get
there before you."

Denyse was looking at her watch.

"Oh! I must go!" she exclaimed. "They want some gardenias at home for
button-holes; I don't know where I shall be able to get any; someone
told me of a florist up by the station somewhere."

"By the station? but there are only market-gardeners there, no
florists."

"Yes, it seems that in that little lane--you know--to the right of the
quay--"

"Lilac Lane, I know where you mean; but there are only vegetable
gardens there, and some waste ground, and then a few small houses,
that are generally rented by officers because they are near to the
barracks."

"Well, anyhow," said Bijou, getting up, "I'll go and look round
there!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Denyse was the first to arrive at the hotel. Jean de Blaye was rather
behind time, and when he did appear, he looked sad, and his face was
very pale. He had met Madame de Nézel by appointment, but she had only
come to break off entirely with him, and this freedom was of no use to
him now; but, at the same time, there was nothing left for him to do
but accept his fate. They were both wretched and discontented with
each other, and yet they had been obliged to stay together at their
trysting-place, because Bijou, escorted by the old housekeeper
Josephine, had been rambling up and down the lonely lane for a good
part of the afternoon. She had gone backwards and forwards as though
in search of something, and with a persistency which Jean could not
understand, and which made him feel very uneasy.

When they were driving across the square by the station at three
o'clock, she had, perhaps, seen Madame de Nézel turning down Lilac
Lane. If that were so, she had probably wanted to assure herself
whether her suspicions were correct. How inquisitive and fond of
ferreting she must be, then--this Denyse whom he loved so dearly, and
who had, without knowing it, ruined his whole life.

He apologised for his unpunctuality, and helped Bijou into the
carriage, whilst she assured him in the sweetest way that he was not
late at all.

Just as he was wondering how he could ask her what she had been doing,
she volunteered the information he wanted.

"Do you know you will have your gardenias for to-morrow after all? But
it _has_ been difficult to get them. I have been running about all
over Pont-sur-Loire nearly all the afternoon. They sent me to the
queerest little streets, where I got lost, and never found the place
at all."

Delighted at this proof of Bijou's innocence, Jean exclaimed
involuntarily:

"Ah! that was what you were hanging about for in Lilac Lane?"

She fixed her large astonished eyes on him, as she asked:

"However did you know? Did you see me?"

"I did not," he answered quickly; "one of my friends told me."

"Who was it? Do I know him--your friend?"

"I don't think so; he's an officer in Bernès' regiment. Ah, by the
bye, what do you think! The poor little actress you heard last
night--well, she has killed herself!"

"Yes, I know; it is a great pity!"

Bijou said this in a tone which made it impossible to continue the
conversation on this topic. She was so dignified, and her meaning was
so plain, that Jean almost regretted having said a word to her of this
affair, considering that it was a trifle delicate; but, after all, as
he said to himself, Bijou was no child; she would soon be twenty-two!

       *       *       *       *       *

At four o'clock, M. de Clagny arrived at Bracieux, his heart beating
fast at the thought of seeing Bijou again, and of seeing her quite
free and unconstrained as usual, for she would not yet know of his
proposal.

He was very much disappointed on hearing that she was at
Pont-sur-Loire, and that she had gone there with Jean. He asked the
marchioness to tell him candidly just what she thought would be the
result of his advances with reference to the young girl, and Madame de
Bracieux replied that she could not approach the subject now, as
Denyse had declared to them all that very morning that "she thought M.
de Clagny charming, but that she should not like to marry him."

He stood the shock fairly well, but insisted that Bijou should be told
that evening of his proposal. She would then have until the next day
to think it over, and that was what he wished.

Denyse and Jean returned just at dinner-time. When they came
downstairs, everyone was at the table, and the topic of conversation
was the death of poor Lisette Renaud.

M. de Rueille had been out riding, and had met some officers, who were
on duty there, and who had, of course, told him the story.

"It is fearful," said Bertrade, "to think of that poor girl killing
herself; she was so pretty, and so young."

"It is just because one is young that one would commit suicide, if
unhappy; otherwise one would have to go on being wretched for so long
a time," said Giraud in a strange voice, which resounded in the
spacious dining-room.



XV.


THE marchioness decided not to speak to Bijou about M. de Clagny that
evening, as she did not want to disturb the young girl's rest.

The following morning, however, she sent for her, and Bijou arrived,
gay and lively as usual. She gave a little pout of disappointment when
her grandmother informed her that she wished to speak to her about
something very serious.

"It concerns one of my greatest friends," began Madame de Bracieux,
"and he is also a friend of yours."

"M. de Clagny?" interrupted Bijou.

"Yes, M. de Clagny. You must have seen that he is very fond of you,
haven't you?"

"I am very fond of him, too, very fond of him."

"Exactly, but you care for him as though he were your father, or a
delightful old uncle, whilst he does not care for you either as though
you were his daughter, or niece; in short, you will be very much
astonished--"

"Astonished at what?" asked Bijou timidly.

"At--well, he wants to marry you, that's the long and short of it."

"He, too?" murmured the young girl, looking bewildered.

"What do you mean by 'he, too'?" exclaimed the marchioness, bewildered
in her turn; "who else wants to marry you that you say 'he, too '?"

Denyse blushed crimson.

"I ought to have told you all that before, grandmamma," she said,
sitting down on a little stool at Madame de Bracieux's feet; "but we
have been so dissipated just lately, what with the paper-chase, the
theatre, the races, and the dances, that I don't seem to have had a
minute, and then, too, it was not very interesting either."

"Ah! that's your opinion, is it?"

"Well, considering that I don't want to marry either of them."

"Well, but who is it, child, who is it?" asked the marchioness.

"Why, just Henry and Jean. Jean spoke to me first for Henry, who, it
seems, had got him to ask me whether I would allow him to ask your
permission to marry me. I answered that he ought to have asked _you_
first and not me--"

"You are a real little Bijou, my darling."

"But that it really did not matter, as I did not want to marry him."

"He is not rich enough for you, my dear."

"Oh, I don't know anything about that. And then, too, all that is
quite the same to me, but I should not like Henry for a husband. I
know him too well."

"Ah! and what about Jean?"

"Jean, too, I should not like as a husband. That is just what I told
him, when, after I had refused Henry, he began again on his own
account."

"They go ahead--my grandchildren. Now I can understand how it is that,
for the last few days, they have had faces as long as fiddles."

There was a short silence, and then Madame de Bracieux remarked, as
though in conclusion:

"I know then, now, what your answer is to my poor old friend Clagny."

"How do you know, though?"

"Because if you will not have either of your cousins, who are, both of
them, in their different ways, very taking, it is scarcely probable
that you would accept an old friend of your grandmother's."

"But he, too, is very taking!"

"Yes, that's true; but he is sixty years old!"

"He does not look it!"

"He is though."

"I know; but that does not make any difference to the fact that I
should not mind marrying him any more than I should Jean or Henry."

"You do not know what marriage is; you do not understand."

Bijou half closed her beautiful, bright eyes.

"Yes," she said, speaking slowly, "I do understand quite well,
grandmamma."

"Well, all this is no answer for me to give to M. de Clagny."

"Is he coming to-day?"

"He is coming directly."

Bijou moved uneasily on her footstool, and then, after a moment's
consideration, she said:

"You can tell him, grandmamma, that I am very much touched, and very
much flattered that he should have thought of me, but that I do not
want to marry yet--" And then, laying her head on the marchioness's
lap, she added: "because I am too happy here with you."

"My little Bijou! my darling Bijou!" murmured Madame de Bracieux,
stooping to kiss the pretty face lifted towards her, "you know what a
comfort you are to me; but, all the same, you cannot stay for ever
with your old grandmother. I am not saying that, though, in order to
persuade you into a marriage that would be perfect folly."

Denyse looked up at the marchioness, as she asked:

"Folly? But why folly?"

"Because M. de Clagny is thirty-eight years older than you are, and he
will be quite infirm just when you are in your prime; and such
marriages have certain inconveniences which--well--which you would be
the first to find out."

Bijou had risen from her low seat on hearing the sound of
carriage-wheels, which drew up in front of the hall-door. She looked
through the window, and then ran away, saying:

"Here he is, grandmamma!"

       *       *       *       *       *

During luncheon, Madame de Bracieux announced, in a careless,
indifferent way:

"M. de Clagny is leaving here; he came to say good-bye to me this
morning."

Bijou looked up, and Jean de Blaye remarked:

"He is leaving here? Why, it seemed as though he had taken root in
this part of the world."

"Oh," put in M. de Rueille, "old Clagny's roots are never very deep."

Bijou turned towards the marchioness.

"When is he leaving, grandmamma?" she asked anxiously.

"Why, at once; to-morrow, I think. Anyhow, we shall see him to-night
at Tourville; he is going to the ball in order to see everyone to whom
he wants to say good-bye."

"And he is not going to the races?"

"No, he is busy packing."

"And our play to-morrow!" exclaimed Denyse, in consternation. "He had
promised me over and over again to come to it."

The marchioness glanced at her grand-daughter, and said to herself
that, decidedly, even with the kindest heart in the world, youth knows
no pity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bijou's arrival at the Tourville ball was a veritable triumph. In her
pink crêpe dress, which matched her complexion admirably, she looked
wonderfully pretty, and different from anyone else.

"Just look at the Dubuisson girl," said Louis de la Balue to M. de
Juzencourt. "She has tried to get herself up like Mademoiselle de
Courtaix. She has copied her dress exactly, and just see what she
looks like. She might pass for her maid, and that's the most she could
do. How is it, now?"

M. de Juzencourt laughed gruffly.

"Why, it's just that if the outside is the same, what's inside it
isn't the same. Isn't she going to be married?"

"Yes, she's going to marry a young Huguenot, who must be somewhere
about, hiding in some corner or another. Ah! No! he isn't in a corner
either. There he is, like all the others, fluttering round 'The
Bijou.'"

"And you? You don't flutter round her?" asked M. de Juzencourt.

"I? I'd marry her--because, sooner or later, one's got to get married,
or one's parents make a fuss, because of keeping up the name, you
know--but as to fluttering round--By Jove, no! that isn't in my line!"
and then, in a languid way, he went off to Henry de Bracieux.

"How hot it is," he began, glancing at him dreamily, and speaking in a
low voice, with an affected drawl. "You are lucky not to turn red.
You've got such a complexion, though, that's true. You look like a
regular Hercules, and yet, with that, your complexion is as
delicate--"

As he was leaning towards him, and looking sentimental, Henry
exclaimed impatiently, in his full, sonorous voice:

"Oh! hang my complexion!" and turning away, he left young La Balue
planted there in the middle of the drawing-room, and went off himself
to Jean de Blaye, who, with a melancholy expression on his face, was
standing at some distance off, watching Bijou through the intricacies
of a dance, for which six partners had all tried to claim her.

When M. de Clagny approached Denyse, and bowed to her ceremoniously,
she said at once, without even returning his bow:

"Grandmamma has told me that you are going away. I am sure that it is
because of me?"

He nodded assent, and she put her little hand through his arm, and
moved in the direction of another room, which was almost empty.

"Please," she began, in a beseeching tone, "please, do not go away."

"And I, in my turn," he answered, deeply moved, "must say, please,
Bijou, do not ask what is impossible. I have not been able to be with
you without getting as foolish as all the others. I have let myself go
on dreaming, just as fools dream, and now that all is over, I must try
to become wise again, and to forget my dream, and in order to do that
I must go away, very far away, too."

"You thought that--that I should say yes?" she asked.

"Well, you were so good to me, so sweet and confiding always, that I
did hope--yes, God help me--I did hope--that perhaps you would let me
go on loving you."

"And so it was my fault that you hoped that?" she said dreamily.

"It wasn't your fault--it was mine; one always does hope what one
wants."

"Yes, I am sure that I ought not to have behaved as I did with you."
And her eyes filled with tears as she murmured, almost humbly: "I am
so sorry! will you forgive me?"

"Bijou!" exclaimed M. de Clagny, almost beside himself. "My dear
Bijou, it is I who ought to ask your forgiveness for causing you a
moment's sadness."

"Well, then, be kind--don't go away! not to-morrow, at any rate!
Promise me that you will come to Bracieux to-morrow to see us act our
play! Oh, don't say no! And then, afterwards, I will talk to
you--better than I could this evening." And gazing up at him with her
soft, luminous eyes, she added: "You won't regret coming, I am sure."

Jean de Blaye was just passing by at that moment, and Bijou stopped
him, and said, in a coaxing way:

"Won't you ask me for a waltz? do, please, you waltz so well."

And laying her hand on his shoulder, she disappeared, just as Pierrot
arrived to claim his dance.

"Leave your cousin in peace," said M. de Jonzac, who was seated on a
divan watching the dancing. "You are much too young to ask girls to
dance with you--I mean girls like Bijou."

"Ah, how old must I be then before I can ask them--not as old as you,
I suppose?"

"You certainly have a nice way of saying things."

"I say, father, why do Jean and Henry say that young La Balue gets to
be worse and worse form?"

"Young La Balue? Oh, I don't know."

"They say that he makes himself up."

"That's true."

"And that he gets to be worse and worse form! How?"

"If you want to know how, you have only to ask your cousins: they will
tell you."

"They won't, though! I asked them, and Jean just said, 'Don't come
bothering here.' Are we going home soon?"

"Going home? why, your cousin is sure to stay for the cotillion."

"I was very stupid to come here instead of staying with M. Giraud and
the abbé."

"Ah, by the bye, why didn't he come--M. Giraud? Bijou asked for an
invitation for him."

"Yes, but he wouldn't come: he is awfully down in the dumps, and has
been for some time. He doesn't eat, and he doesn't sleep either;
instead of going to bed, he goes off walking by the river all night."

"And you don't know what's the matter with him?"

"The matter with him! I think it is Bijou that is the matter with
him."

"What do you mean? Bijou the matter with him?"

"Why, yes, it's the same with Jean, and Henry, and Paul. You can see
very well, father, that they are all running after her, can't you? not
to speak of old Clagny, who isn't worth counting now." He stopped a
minute, and then finished off, in a sorrowful way: "and not to speak
of me either, for I don't count yet."

"Oh! you exaggerate all that," said M. de Jonzac, quite convinced that
his son was in the right, but not wanting to own it. "Bijou is
certainly very pretty, and it is not surprising that--"

Pierrot interrupted his father eagerly.

"Oh! it isn't that she is just pretty only, but she is good, and
clever, and jolly, and everything. They are quite right to fall in
love with her, and, if I were only twenty-five--"

"If you were twenty-five, my dear young man, she would send you about
your business, as she does the others."

"That's very possible," replied Pierrot philosophically, but at the
same time sadly; and then, pointing to Bijou, who was just standing
talking to Jeanne Dubuisson in the middle of the room, he said: "Isn't
she pretty, though, father? Just look at her; she is dressed
absolutely like Jeanne, their dresses are just alike, stitch for
stitch, as old Mère Rafut says. I'm sure that, if they mixed them up
when they were not in them themselves, there'd be no telling which was
which after; and yet like that on them, I mean, they don't look alike
at all! Do you think I might venture to ask her for a dance,
father--Jeanne Dubuisson?"

"Oh, yes; she is good-hearted enough to give you one!"

A minute or two later and Jeanne went off with Pierrot for the next
dance. M. Spiegel crossed over to Bijou, and asked her for the waltz
which was just commencing, but she shook her head, saying:

"I am so tired, if you only knew!"

"Only just a little turn, won't you?" he begged. "Ever since the
beginning of the evening I have not been able to get a single waltz
with you."

"Oh, no; please don't ask me! I do want to rest; I--" and then,
suddenly making up her mind to speak out, she said, "Well, then, no;
it isn't that--I know I am not clever at telling untruths--I am not at
all tired, but I don't want to waltz with you, because--"

"Because?"

"Because I am afraid of hurting Jeanne's feelings--"

"Hurting Jeanne's feelings! But how?" he asked, in surprise.

"Well, it sounds very vain what I am going to say, but I must tell you
all the same. Why, I think that Jeanne worships you to such a degree
that she is jealous of everyone who approaches you, or who speaks to
you, or who looks at you even!"

M. Spiegel looked displeased; he knitted his brows, and his
placid-looking face suddenly took a hard expression.

"She has told you so?"

Bijou answered with the eagerness and embarrassment of anyone feeling
compelled to tell an untruth.

"Oh, no--no, I have just imagined it myself; you know I am so fond of
Jeanne! I know all that passes in her mind, and I should be so
wretched if I caused her any unhappiness--or even the slightest
anxiety; do you understand what I mean?"

"I understand that you are just an angel of goodness, mademoiselle,
and that it is no wonder they are all so fond of you!"

Bijou was looking down on the floor, her breath coming and going
quickly, a faint flush had come into her cheeks, and her nostrils were
quivering, as she listened silently to the young professor's words.

He put his arm round her waist, took her little hand in his, as she
offered no resistance, and whirled her off into the midst of the
dance. M. Spiegel waltzed divinely, and Bijou was passionately fond of
the waltz _à trois temps_. With a flush on her cheeks, her eyes
half-closed, and her lips parted, showing her dazzling white teeth,
she went on whirling round as long as the orchestra played. Several
times she passed quite close to Jeanne, without even seeing her poor
friend, who was being jerked about by Pierrot. The youth kept treading
on his partner's toes, or knocking her against the furniture; and
when, now and again, Jeanne would stop to get breath, Pierrot would
chatter away most eloquently about all kinds of sports, of which she
was absolutely ignorant.

"You know," he said, putting out his enormous foot and his formidable
knee, "I am a very second-rate dancer, but I'm very good at football.
Our team is going to play a match this winter against the
Pont-sur-Loire team; you ought to see it; it will be first-class! I
keep goal; you should just see what jolly kicks--"

He broke off as Jeanne did not speak. She was looking uneasily at her
_fiancé_ as he passed and re-passed, apparently happy in guiding Bijou
along through the rapid whirl of the dance.

"I am boring you," said Pierrot; "shall we go on now?"

"No," she replied, in a changed voice; "I do not feel quite myself,
and it is so warm! Will you take me across to papa--he is playing
cards over there. I should like to go home!"

Whilst they were on their way to M. Dubuisson, Bijou stopped M.
Spiegel just near the orchestra; and said, in a laughing voice:

"Why, you are indefatigable--one must get one's breath, though;
besides, the waltz is just finishing now!"

She glanced at the four wretched musicians, who were in a deplorable
state, with their shiny-looking coats, their limp shirt-fronts, and
their faces bathed in perspiration.

"Why, Monsieur Sylvestre!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Good evening,
Monsieur Sylvestre! Well, I never! I didn't expect to see you!"

The poor fellow looked up eagerly, and, gazing at Bijou, with his
soft, blue eyes full of deep distress, he stammered out:

"I did not expect to be seen either, mademoiselle!"



XVI.


ON going to bed at five in the morning, Bijou slept for two hours, and
when, later on, she went to the marchioness's room, she looked as
fresh and as thoroughly rested as after a long night's sleep.

"Grandmamma," she said, "I have been thinking a great deal ever since
yesterday."

"About what?"

"Why, about what you told me as regards M. de Clagny."

"Ah!" said the marchioness, rather annoyed at a subject being brought
up again, which she had thought over and done with.

Rather selfish, like nearly all elderly people, it seemed to her
utterly useless to trouble about matters which were painful or sad,
except just to settle them off once for all.

"I have been thinking," continued Bijou. "And then, too, I saw M. de
Clagny last night at the ball--"

"Well, and what is the result of all this thinking and of this
interview?" asked the marchioness, rather anxiously.

"The result is that I have changed my mind."

"What do you say?"

"I say that, with your permission, I will marry M. de Clagny."

"Nonsense! you won't do anything of the kind."

"Why not?"

"Because it would be madness."

"Why, no, grandmamma, it would be very wise, on the contrary; if I did
not marry him, I should never again all my life long have a minute's
peace."

"Because?--"

"Because I have seen that he is dreadfully and horribly unhappy."

"No doubt; but that will all be forgotten in time."

"Oh, no, it won't be forgotten! And I told you I like M. de Clagny
more than I have ever liked anyone--except you; and so the idea that
he is wretched on my account--and, perhaps, a little through my
fault--would seem odious to me, and would make me unhappy--much more
unhappy even than he is."

"But you would be still more so if you married him. Listen, Bijou,
dear, you know nothing about life, nor about marriage. I have,
perhaps, been wrong in bringing you up so strictly, not letting you
read or hear enough about things; there are certain duties and
obligations which marriage imposes upon us, and about which you know
nothing, and these duties--well, you ought to know something about
them, before rushing headlong into such a terrible venture as this."

"No!" said Bijou, with a gesture to prevent Madame de Bracieux
continuing, "don't tell me anything, grandmamma. I know what
responsibilities I should have to accept, and what my duty would be,
and I have decided--decided irrevocably--to become the wife of M. de
Clagny, whom I love dearly." And then, as the marchioness made a
movement as though to protest, she repeated: "Yes, I love him dearly;
and the proof is that the idea of marrying him does not terrify me,
whilst the thought of marrying the others made me feel a sort of
repulsion."

She knelt down in front of the marchioness, and began again in a
coaxing voice:

"Say that you will consent, grandmamma; say so--do, please."

"You are nearly twenty-two. I cannot overrule you as though you were a
little child, therefore I consent, but without any enthusiasm, I can
assure you, and I implore you to reconsider the matter, Bijou, my
dear. I am afraid that you are following the impulse of your kind
heart and of your extremely sensitive nature and making a mistake that
will be irreparable."

"I do not need to consider the matter any more; I have done nothing
else ever since yesterday; and I know that this is my only chance of
happiness, or of what at any rate seems to be the most like happiness.
Don't say anything to anyone about it, will you, grandmamma?"

"Oh, dear no! you can be easy on that score; you don't imagine that I
am in a hurry to announce such an engagement, and to contemplate the
horrified, astonished looks they will all put on. Oh, no; if you think
I am in a hurry, you are mistaken, my darling."

"And above all, don't say anything to M. de Clagny; I am enjoying the
thought of telling him this evening."

"But he told me that he should not come--"

"Ah! but he promised me that he would come." And then, holding up her
merry face to be kissed, she added: "And now I must go and attend to
our scenery, and to the footlights, which won't light, and to my
costume, which is not finished."

The marchioness took Bijou's head in her beautiful hands, which were
still so white and smooth, and kissing her, murmured:

"Go, then; and may Heaven grant that we shall have no cause to
regret--your good-heartedness--and--my weakness."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Dubuissons and M. Spiegel had promised to come at four o'clock.
One of the scenes which did not go very well had to be rehearsed.
Bijou, who was busy gathering flowers, went towards the cab when they
arrived, and was surprised to see only Jeanne and her father.

"What have you done with M. Spiegel?" she asked.

It was M. Dubuisson who answered, in a confused sort of way:

"He is coming--with your cousin M. de Rueille, who was at
Pont-sur-Loire and who offered to bring him."

"Don't disturb your grandmamma," said Jeanne, taking Bijou's arm.
"Papa won't come in yet, he has his lecture to prepare, and he will go
and do it, walking about in the park." And then, as soon as M.
Dubuisson had moved off, she began again: "If M. Spiegel and I had not
had parts in the play, and so had not been afraid of spoiling it for
you by not appearing, we should not have come."

"You would not have come?" exclaimed Bijou, in astonishment; "and why
not, pray?"

"Because we are now in the most false and ridiculous position."

"You?"

"Yes, we are--our engagement is broken off."

"Broken off!" repeated Bijou, in consternation; "broken off! but what
for?"

"Because I was quite certain that he cared for me very little or not
at all," answered Jeanne, speaking very calmly, but not looking at
Bijou, "and so I told him this morning that I did not feel equal to
accepting the life of misery which I foresaw, and that I gave him back
his liberty."

"Good heavens, is it possible--and you do not regret anything?"

"Nothing! I am very wretched, but my mind is more easy."

Bijou looked straight into her eyes as she asked:

"And it is--it is because of me, isn't it? it is because of M.
Spiegel's manner towards me that you broke it all off?" Jeanne nodded,
and Bijou went on: "And so you really thought that your _fiancé_ was
making love to me?"

"Oh, as to making love to you, no, perhaps not--but he certainly cares
for you."

"And what then?"

"What do you mean by _what then_?"

"Well, what would be the end of that for him?"

"Well, it would cause him to suffer; and who knows, he might have
hoped--?"

"Hoped what? to marry me?"

"No--yes! I don't know; he might have hoped in a vague sort of way--I
don't know what."

"And do you think that I can endure the idea of causing your
unhappiness, no matter how involuntarily on my part?"

"It is not in your power to alter what exists."

Bijou appeared to be turning something over in her mind.

"Supposing I were to marry," she said at last abruptly. And then
hiding her face in her hands she said in a broken voice: "M. de Clagny
wants to marry me."

"M. de Clagny!" exclaimed Jeanne, stupefied, "why, he's sixty!"

"I said no; I will say yes, though."

"You are mad!"

"Not the least bit in the world! I am practical. The remedy is perhaps
a trifle hard, but what is to be done? I love you so, Jeanne, that the
idea of seeing you unhappy makes me wretched!"

"I assure you, though, that even if you marry M. de Clagny, I should
not marry M. Spiegel. He said things to me just now which were very
painful, and no matter how much I tried, I could not forget them."

"Painful things, about what?"

"About my jealousy--he said that it was ridiculous--and yet I had not
complained about anything. I kept it from him as much as possible, my
jealousy; but at the ball, I did not feel well, and I asked papa to
take me home, and he was displeased about that, he thought I was
sulking."

"Oh, all that will soon be forgotten!"

"No! and so you see, Bijou, it would be for nothing at all that you
would commit the very worst of all follies--marrying an old man."

"An old man! it's queer, he does not seem to me at all like an old
man--M. de Clagny! I should certainly prefer marrying a younger man
and one whom I should like in every respect, but now--"

Jeanne put her arm round Bijou and, resting her hand on her friend's
shoulder, kissed her as she said:

"You must just wait for him in peace, the one 'whom you would like in
every respect!' You have plenty of time!"

"No, I have quite decided! Whatever you do now will be useless, for,
in spite of what you say, when once the cause of your little
misunderstanding has vanished, the misunderstanding will vanish in
the same way. There now, kiss me again, and tell me that you love me."

"Well!" said Jean de Blaye, who now appeared with M. Spiegel, "is
everyone ready; are we going to rehearse?"

For the last few days he had been in a nervous, excitable state,
feeling the need of anything that would take him out of himself, and
doing his utmost all the time to keep himself from thinking. "Yes,"
answered Denyse very calmly, wiping her eyes quickly, "we are ready;
we were only waiting for you." And then, in a very gracious, natural
way, she held out her hand to M. Spiegel, who took it, saying at the
same time:

"You are not too tired, mademoiselle, after such a late night?" And
then, glancing involuntarily at Mademoiselle Dubuisson's rather
sallow-looking face, he added: "Why, you are looking fresher even than
yesterday."

Jeanne came nearer to Bijou, and, as they moved away together, she
said, pointing to the professor, and with a look of intense grief in
her gentle eyes:

"You see your remedy would not do; he is incurable."

       *       *       *       *       *

The little play was performed before a large audience of guests, who
were highly amused. Bijou was so pretty in her costume as Hebe, she
looked so pure and maidenly and so sweet, that, when the piece was
finished, and she wanted to go and put on her ball-dress, everyone
begged her to remain just as she was. As she was going away into a
side-room to escape the compliments of the various guests, M. de
Rueille stopped her, and said, in a sarcastic tone:

"And so that is the costume that was to be quite the thing, and which,
in order to please me, you were going to get Jean to alter?"

Jean came up just at this moment, with Henry de Bracieux and Pierrot.

"Accept my compliments," said M. de Rueille drily, turning towards
him; "you certainly know how to design costumes for pretty girls; but,
if I were you, I would have been rather more careful."

"Why, what's up with you?" asked Jean, without even looking at Bijou;
"the costume's right enough!"

"Besides," remarked Bijou tranquilly, "there are only three persons who
have any right to trouble themselves about my costumes--grandmamma, I
myself, or my husband."

"Yes, if you had one!"

"Certainly; well, I shall be having one!"

Jean de Blaye shrugged his shoulders incredulously, and Bijou
continued:

"I assure you it is quite true! I am going to be married."

"To whom?" asked M. de Rueille uneasily.

"Oh, yes, what a good joke!" remarked Pierrot.

"Whom are you going to marry?" asked Henry de Bracieux. "Tell us!"

M. de Clagny had just entered the room, and putting her arm through
his, she said, in a mischievous way, to the others:

"I am going to tell M. de Clagny." And then, turning to him, she
added: "Let us go out-doors, though; it is stifling in here!"

"Isn't she æsthetic this evening?" murmured Pierrot, gazing at Bijou's
long Grecian cloak of pale pink. "I should think M. Giraud would think
her perfect to-night; he's always saying she isn't made for modern
costumes."

"Ah, by the bye, where is he--Giraud?" asked Jean de Blaye; "he
disappeared after dinner, and we have not seen him again!"

Pierrot explained that he must have gone off for a stroll along the
river, as he did nearly every evening. He was getting more and more
odd, and had fits of gaiety and melancholy, turn by turn. That very
morning he had left the schoolroom in order to go to Madame de
Bracieux, who had sent to ask him to translate an English letter for
her; and then he had come back some time after, saying that he had not
ventured to knock, because he could hear that the marchioness was
talking to Mademoiselle Denyse, and ever since then he had not uttered
another word.

"Where the devil's he gone?" asked Jean; and Pierrot, speaking through
his nose, began to imitate the street vendors on the boulevards.

"Where is Bulgaria? Find Bulgaria!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When she was alone with M. de Clagny under the big trees, Bijou said,
in the sweetest way:

"I came back home this morning, quite wretched at having caused you
any sorrow. It seemed to me that I must have been too affectionate in
my manner towards you--too free--and that I had made you think
something quite different. Is that so?"

"Yes, that is just it--and so you have no affection at all for me?"

"You know very well that I have!"

"I mean that you like me just as though I were some old relative or
another."

"More than that!"

"Well, but you do not love me enough to--to--love me as a husband?"

"I do not know at all. I cannot understand myself just what I feel for
you. In the first place, I think you are very nice-looking, and very
charming, too; and then, when you are here, I feel as though I am
surrounded with care and affection. It seems to me that I breathe more
freely, that I am gayer and happier, and I have never, never felt like
that before--"

Very much touched by what she was saying, and very anxious, too, about
what she was going to say, the count pressed Bijou's arm against his
without answering.

"Well, then," she continued, "I thought that, as I liked you better
than I have ever yet liked anyone, and that, on the other hand, I
should never be able to console myself for having caused you so much
sorrow, the best thing would be to marry you."

M. de Clagny stopped short, and asked, in a choked voice:

"Then you consent?"

"Yes."

"My darling!" he stammered out, "my darling!"

"I told grandmamma this morning," continued Bijou, "and I must confess
that she was not delighted. She did all she could to make me change my
mind."

"I can quite understand that."

"She thinks that it is mad, for you as well as for me, to marry when
there is such disproportion of age; and then, she did not say so, but
I could see that there was something troubling her, which troubles me
too, though to a much less degree."

"And it is?"

"The disproportion in money matters. Yes--it appears that you are
horribly rich. Grandmamma said so yesterday, when she told me that you
had asked for my hand."

"What can it matter, Bijou, dear, whether I am a little more or less
rich?"

"It matters a great deal, with grandmamma's ideas about things
especially. Oh, it is not that she thinks it humiliating for me to be
married without anything, for I have nothing, you know, in comparison
with what you have! No, she looks upon marriage as a partnership, or
exchange of what one has. '_Give me what you've got, and I'll give
you what I've got_,' as the country people here say. Well, you have
your name, which is a good one, and your money, which makes you a very
rich man; on my side, I have my name, which is rather a good one, too,
and my youth, which certainly counts for something."

"Very well, then, and how can the disproportion of what we have make
your grandmamma uneasy?"

"Well, it's like this, you know--grandmamma is very fond of me, and
she thinks that, as I am thirty-eight years younger than you, you
might die before me, and that, after living for years in very great
luxury, after letting myself get accustomed to every comfort, which,
up to the present, I have not had, I might suddenly find myself very
poor and very wretched at an age when it would be too late to begin
life over again, and so I should suffer very much on account of the
bad habits I had contracted, and which I should not be able to drop--"

"You know very well, my adored Bijou, that everything I possess is and
will be yours. My will is already made, in which I leave everything to
you, even if you do not become my wife."

"Yes, but she always says a will could be torn up."

"If your grandmamma would prefer it, I could make it over to you in a
marriage settlement."

Bijou laughed.

"Ah! she would imagine, then, that we might be divorced, and a divorce
does away with all things--"

"But, supposing I make out in the marriage contract that the half of
what I possess now is really yours, and supposing I made over the rest
to you, only reserving to myself the interest?"

Bijou shook her head, and then, with a pretty movement of playful
affection, she threw her soft arms round M. de Clagny's neck, and
said:

"I don't want you to give me anything but happiness, and I am sure you
will give me plenty of that. I hope you will live a very, very long
time, and it would not matter to me, when I am old, if I were to find
myself poor again, comparatively speaking."

"And I," he said, covering Denyse's face and hair with kisses, "I
could not go on living with the thought that I might be taken away
without your future being provided for in the way in which I should
wish it to be."

"Don't talk about all those things," she murmured. "I want to think
that I shall never be separated from you--never, never!"

Trying, in spite of the darkness, to look into Bijou's eyes, he asked
anxiously:

"Will you be able to love me a little, as I love you?"

Without answering, she held her pretty lips up to him, but just at
that moment the sound of voices made them move away from each other
abruptly.

Only a few yards away from them they could hear several persons
talking in low voices, and also the sound of heavy footsteps walking
with measured tread. It seemed as though just there, quite near to
them, a heavy burden were being carried along, whilst, in the midst of
the darkness, lights kept passing by.

"It's very odd," said M. de Clagny; "one would think something had
happened."

Bijou, however, who had stopped short, her heart beating fast with
anxiety, struck with the strangeness of the little procession, put her
hand on the count's arm, and said, quite tranquilly:

"Oh, no! it must be the men going back to the farm. Just now they are
at work up at the house through the day, and then, when they have had
something to eat, they go back home."

"It seemed to me, though, that the lanterns were on the way towards
the house."

She was walking along with her hand on his arm, and a thrill of joy
ran through him as he drew this beautiful girl, who had just promised
herself to him, closer still, in a passionate embrace.

They returned slowly to the house along the avenues, meeting several
carriages, which were bearing away the departing guests.

"How's that?" exclaimed Bijou, in surprise. "They are going away
already--but what about the cotillion? Is it very late?"

On arriving at the hall-door steps, they met the La Balues coming
towards their carriage.

"How's this?" asked Bijou. "You are going? But why?"

M. de la Balue mumbled out some unintelligible words, whilst his son
and daughter, looking very sad, shook hands with Bijou.

"Well, what long faces they are making," remarked M. de Clagny,
beginning to get anxious in his turn. "Ah! what's that? Whatever's the
matter?"

In the hall there was a long pool of water. The servants were going
backwards and forwards quickly, looking awestruck, and then Pierrot
came in sight, his eyes swollen with crying, and his hands full of
flowers. Madame de Rueille was following him, carrying flowers, too.

Bijou stopped short, thunderstruck; but M. de Clagny hurried up to
Madame de Rueille.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"M. Giraud has drowned himself," answered Bertrade. "They have just
brought him back here. It was the miller who found him near the dam--"

And then, seeing that Pierrot was gazing at her in consternation,
shaking his flowers about at the end of his long arms in sheer
desperation, she added, in a hard voice:

"Yes, I know very well that grandmamma has forbidden anyone to speak
of it before Bijou, but, for my part, I want her to know about it."



XVII.


AS she stood waiting at the threshold of the little church for her
Uncle Alexis, who was just getting out of the carriage, Bijou turned
round, and, after giving a little kick to her long white satin train,
and pulling the folds of her veil over her face, she gazed round at
the motley crowd, who were hurrying towards the church-porch, with
that quick look in her luminous eyes which took in everything at a
glance.

She saw first the profile of Jean de Blaye towering above the others;
he was advancing towards her with an indifferent, languid expression
on his face, and talking to M. de Rueille, who looked slightly nervous
and excited. Henry de Bracieux, with a worried look on his face, was
listening in an absent sort of way to the marchioness, as she gave her
orders to the coachman.

Pierrot had got one of the tails of his coat, which was too short for
him, caught in the carriage-door, and, with his big, white-gloved
hands, he was awkwardly endeavouring to get free, but unsuccessfully.

M. Sylvestre, with an enormous roll of music under his arm, looking
very nervous, and in a great hurry, was rushing towards the staircase
which led to the gallery, without daring to lift his eyes from the
ground; whilst Abbé Courteil, accompanied by his two pupils, passed
by, looking very business-like--he, too, not venturing to glance in
the direction of Bijou.

Jeanne Dubuisson, who had got rather thinner, was waiting with her
father until the crowd made way for her to pass.

Among the Bracieux villagers, and just behind all the fine ladies and
gentlemen, who had come from Pont-sur-Loire and the country-houses in
the neighbourhood, Charlemagne Lavenue was pressing forward with long
strides. He was dressed in his best clothes, and his square shoulders
and ruddy complexion seemed to stand out against the background of
blue sky.

As she stood there, with her eyes lowered, looking as though she had
seen nothing, with the sun, which had brightened up the whole country
round for her marriage, shining full on her, Bijou was enjoying to
the full the bliss of living, of knowing herself beautiful, and of
being beloved by everyone.

The sound of her Uncle Alexis' voice as he offered her his arm, and
said: "Are you ready?" woke her up out of her ecstasy.

Very graceful and beautiful she looked, as she moved along to the
music of the organ, which was pealing forth.

A cabman, who had gone inside the church to see "the wedding,"
exclaimed, as Bijou passed up the aisle:

"Bless my soul! but ain't she a pretty one---the bride?"

Whereupon one of Farmer Lavenue's day-labourers replied:

"I believe you. And I can tell you what--she's as good as she is
pretty--she is! And even better nor that!"


                   THE END.

    _Printed by Cowan & Co., Limited, Perth._


        *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Missing or incorrect punctuation fixed.

Hyphenated and non-hyphenated versions of same words retained when
occurring equally.

Unusual spellings retained, but obvious misspellings corrected.

P.38: "bruta tenderness" to "brutal tenderness"

P.65 and 6: "anyrate"(2) to more frequent "any rate" (11)

P.292: "got o st" to "got lost"





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