She had been placed for her education, fourteen years before, in a Parisia_onvent, by a widowed mammma who was fonder of Homburg and Nice than o_etting out tucks in the frocks of a vigorously growing daughter. Here,
besides various elegant accomplishments—the art of wearing a train, o_omposing a bouquet, of presenting a cup of tea—she acquired a certain turn o_he imagination which might have passed for a sign of precocious worldliness.
She dreamed of marrying a man of hierarchical "rank"—not for the pleasure o_earing herself called Madame la Vicomtesse, for which it seemed to her sh_hould never greatly care, but because she had a romantic belief that th_njoyment of inherited and transmitted consideration, consideration attache_o the fact of birth, would be the direct guarantee of an ideal delicacy o_eeling. She supposed it would be found that the state of being noble doe_ctually enforce the famous obligation. Romances are rarely worked out in suc_ranscendent good faith, and Euphemia's excuse was the prime purity of he_oral vision. She was essentially incorruptible, and she took this perniciou_onceit to her bosom very much as if it had been a dogma revealed by a white-
winged angel. Even after experience had given her a hundred rude hints sh_ound it easier to believe in fables, when they had a certain nobleness o_eaning, than in well-attested but sordid facts. She believed that a gentlema_ith a long pedigree must be of necessity a very fine fellow, and enjoyment o_ chance to carry further a family chronicle begun ever so far back must be,
as a consciousness, a source of the most beautiful impulses. It wasn'_herefore only that noblesse oblige, she thought, as regards yourself, bu_hat it ensures as nothing else does in respect to your wife. She had never,
at the start, spoken to a nobleman in her life, and these convictions were bu_ matter of extravagant theory. They were the fruit, in part, of the perusa_f various Ultramontane works of fiction —the only ones admitted to th_onvent library—in which the hero was always a Legitimist vicomte who fough_uels by the dozen but went twice a month to confession; and in part of th_trong social scent of the gossip of her companions, many of them filles d_aut lieu who, in the convent-garden, after Sundays at home, depicted thei_rothers and cousins as Prince Charmings and young Paladins. Euphemia listene_nd said nothing; she shrouded her visions of matrimony under a coronet in th_ilence that mostly surrounds all ecstatic faith. She was not of that type o_oung lady who is easily induced to declare that her husband must be six fee_igh and a little near-sighted, part his hair in the middle and have ambe_ights in his beard. To her companions her flights of fancy seemed short,
rather, and poor and untutored; and even the fact that she was a sprig of th_ransatlantic democracy never sufficiently explained her apathy on socia_uestions. She had a mental image of that son of the Crusaders who was t_uffer her to adore him, but like many an artist who has produced _asterpiece of idealisation she shrank from exposing it to public criticism.
It was the portrait of a gentleman rather ugly than handsome and rather poo_han rich. But his ugliness was to be nobly expressive and his povert_elicately proud. She had a fortune of her own which, at the proper time,
after fixing on her in eloquent silence those fine eyes that were to softe_he feudal severity of his visage, he was to accept with a world of stifle_rotestations. One condition alone she was to make—that he should have "race"
in a state as documented as it was possible to have it. On this she woul_take her happiness; and it was so to happen that several accidents conspire_o give convincing colour to this artless philosophy.
Inclined to long pauses and slow approaches herself, Euphemia was a grea_itter at the feet of breathless volubility, and there were moments when sh_airly hung upon the lips of Mademoiselle Marie de Mauves. Her intimacy wit_his chosen schoolmate was founded on the perception—all her own—that thei_ifferences were just the right ones. Mademoiselle de Mauves was ver_ositive, very shrewd, very ironical, very French—everything that Euphemi_elt herself unpardonable for not being. During her Sundays en ville she ha_xamined the world and judged it, and she imparted her impressions to ou_ttentive heroine with an agreeable mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism. Sh_as moreover a handsome and well-grown person, on whom Euphemia's ribbons an_rinkets had a trick of looking better than on their slender proprietress. Sh_ad finally the supreme merit of being a rigorous example of the virtue o_xalted birth, having, as she did, ancestors honourably mentioned by Joinvill_nd Commines, and a stately grandmother with a hooked nose who came up wit_er after the holidays from a veritable castel in Auvergne. It seemed to ou_wn young woman that these attributes made her friend more at home in th_orld than if she had been the daughter of even the most prosperous grocer. _ertain aristocratic impudence Mademoiselle de Mauves abundantly possessed,
and her raids among her friend's finery were quite in the spirit of he_aronial ancestors in the twelfth century—a spirit regarded by Euphemia but a_ large way of understanding friendship, a freedom from conformities withou_tyle, and one that would sooner or later express itself in acts of surprisin_agnanimity. There doubtless prevailed in the breast of Mademoiselle de Mauve_erself a dimmer vision of the large securities that Euphemia envied her. Sh_as to become later in life so accomplished a schemer that her sense of havin_urther heights to scale might well have waked up early. The especially fin_ppearance made by our heroine's ribbons and trinkets as her friend wore the_inistered to pleasure on both sides, and the spell was not of a nature to b_enaced by the young American's general gentleness. The concluding motive o_arie's writing to her grandmamma to invite Euphemia for a three weeks'
holiday to the castel in Auvergne involved, however, the subtles_onsiderations. Mademoiselle de Mauves indeed, at this time seventeen years o_ge and capable of views as wide as her wants, was as proper a figure as coul_ossibly have been found for the foreground of a scene artfully designed; an_uphemia, whose years were of like number, asked herself if a right harmon_ith such a place mightn't come by humble prayer. It is a proof of th_incerity of the latter's aspirations that the castel was not a shock to he_aith. It was neither a cheerful nor a luxurious abode, but it was as full o_onders as a box of old heirlooms or objects "willed." It had battered tower_nd an empty moat, a rusty drawbridge and a court paved with crooked grass-
grown slabs over which the antique coach-wheels of the lady with the hooke_ose seemed to awaken the echoes of the seventeenth century. Euphemia was no_rightened out of her dream; she had the pleasure of seeing all the easie_assages translated into truth, as the learner of a language begins with th_ommon words. She had a taste for old servants, old anecdotes, old furniture,
faded household colours and sweetly stale odours—musty treasures in which th_hateau de Mauves abounded. She made a dozen sketches in water-colours afte_er conventual pattern; but sentimentally, as one may say, she was for eve_ketching with a freer hand.
Old Madame de Mauves had nothing severe but her nose, and she seemed t_uphemia—what indeed she had every claim to pass for—the very image an_attern of an "historical character." Belonging to a great order of things,
she patronised the young stranger who was ready to sit all day at her feet an_isten to anecdotes of the bon temps and quotations from the famil_hronicles. Madame de Mauves was a very honest old woman; she uttered he_houghts with ancient plainness. One day after pushing back Euphemia's shinin_ocks and blinking with some tenderness from behind an immense face-a-mai_hat acted as for the relegation of the girl herself to the glass case of _useum, she declared with an energetic shake of the head that she didn't kno_hat to make of such a little person. And in answer to the little person'_vident wonder, "I should like to advise you," she said, "but you seem to m_o all of a piece that I'm afraid that if I advise you I shall spoil you. It'_asy to see you're not one of us. I don't know whether you're better, but yo_eem to me to have been wound up by some key that isn't kept by your governes_r your confessor or even your mother, but that you wear by a fine blac_ibbon round your own neck. Little persons in my day—when they were stupi_hey were very docile, but when they were clever they were very sly! You'r_lever enough, I imagine, and yet if I guessed all your secrets at this momen_s there one I should have to frown at? I can tell you a wickeder one than an_ou've discovered for yourself. If you wish to live at ease in the doux pay_e France don't trouble too much about the key of your conscience or eve_bout your conscience itself—I mean your own particular one. You'll fancy i_aying things it won't help your case to hear. They'll make you sad, and whe_ou're sad you'll grow plain, and when you're plain you'll grow bitter, an_hen you're bitter you'll be peu aimable. I was brought up to think that _oman's first duty is to be infinitely so, and the happiest women I've know_ave been in fact those who performed this duty faithfully. As you're not _atholic I suppose you can't be a devote; and if you don't take life as _ifty years' mass the only way to take it's as a game of skill. Listen t_his. Not to lose at the game of life you must—I don't say cheat, but not b_oo sure your neighbour won't, and not be shocked out of your self-possessio_f he does. Don't lose, my dear—I beseech you don't lose. Be neithe_uspicious nor credulous, and if you find your neighbour peeping don't cr_ut; only very politely wait your own chance. I've had my revenge more tha_nce in my day, but I really think the sweetest I could take, en somme,
against the past I've known, would be to have your blest innocence profit b_y experience."
This was rather bewildering advice, but Euphemia understood it too little t_e either edified or frightened. She sat listening to it very much as sh_ould have listened to the speeches of an old lady in a comedy whose dictio_hould strikingly correspond to the form of her high-backed armchair and th_ashion of her coif. Her indifference was doubly dangerous, for Madame d_auves spoke at the instance of coming events, and her words were the resul_f a worry of scruples—scruples in the light of which Euphemia was on the on_and too tender a victim to be sacrificed to an ambition and the prosperity o_er own house on the other too precious a heritage to be sacrificed to a_esitation. The prosperity in question had suffered repeated and grievou_reaches and the menaced institution been overmuch pervaded by that col_omfort in which people are obliged to balance dinner-table allusions t_eudal ancestors against the absence of side-dishes; a state of things th_orrier as the family was now mainly represented by a gentleman whose appetit_as large and who justly maintained that its historic glories hadn't bee_stablished by underfed heroes.
Three days after Euphemia's arrival Richard de Mauves, coming down from Pari_o pay his respects to his grandmother, treated our heroine to her firs_ncounter with a gentilhomme in the flesh. On appearing he kissed hi_randmother's hand with a smile which caused her to draw it away with dignity,
and set Euphemia, who was standing by, to ask herself what could have happene_etween them. Her unanswered wonder was but the beginning of a long chain o_uzzlements, but the reader is free to know that the smile of M. de Mauves wa_ reply to a postscript affixed by the old lady to a letter addressed to hi_y her granddaughter as soon as the girl had been admitted to justify th_atter's promises. Mademoiselle de Mauves brought her letter to he_randmother for approval, but obtained no more than was expressed in a frigi_od. The old lady watched her with this coldness while she proceeded to sea_he letter, then suddenly bade her open it again and bring her a pen.
"Your sister's flatteries are all nonsense," she wrote; "the young lady's fa_oo good for you, mauvais sujet beyond redemption. If you've a particle o_onscience you'll not come and disturb the repose of an angel of innocence."
The other relative of the subject of this warning, who had read these lines,
made up a little face as she freshly indited the address; but she laid dow_er pen with a confident nod which might have denoted that by her judgemen_er brother was appealed to on the ground of a principle that didn't exist i_im. And "if you meant what you said," the young man on his side observed t_is grandmother on his first private opportunity, "it would have been simple_ot to have sent the letter."
Put out of humour perhaps by this gross impugnment of her sincerity, the hea_f the family kept her room on pretexts during a greater part of Euphemia'_tay, so that the latter's angelic innocence was left all to her grandson'_ercy. It suffered no worse mischance, however, than to be prompted t_ntenser communion with itself. Richard de Mauves was the hero of the youn_irl's romance made real, and so completely accordant with this creature o_er imagination that she felt afraid of him almost as she would have been of _igure in a framed picture who should have stepped down from the wall. He wa_ow thirty-three—young enough to suggest possibilities of ardent activity an_ld enough to have formed opinions that a simple woman might deem it a_ntellectual privilege to listen to. He was perhaps a trifle handsomer tha_uphemia's rather grim Quixotic ideal, but a very few days reconciled her t_is good looks as effectually they would have reconciled her to _haracterised want of them. He was quiet, grave, eminently distinguished. H_poke little, but his remarks, without being sententious, had a nobleness o_one that caused them to re-echo in the young girl's ears at the end of th_ay. He paid her very little direct attention, but his chance words—when h_nly asked her if she objected to his cigarette—were accompanied by a smile o_xtraordinary kindness.
It happened that shortly after his arrival, riding an unruly horse whic_uphemia had with shy admiration watched him mount in the castle-yard, he wa_hrown with a violence which, without disparaging his skill, made him for _ortnight an interesting invalid lounging in the library with a bandaged knee.
To beguile his confinement the accomplished young stranger was repeatedl_nduced to sing for him, which she did with a small natural tremor that migh_ave passed for the finish of vocal art. He never overwhelmed her wit_ompliments, but he listened with unfailing attention, remembered all he_elodies and would sit humming them to himself. While his imprisonment laste_ndeed he passed hours in her company, making her feel not unlike som_nfriended artist who has suddenly gained the opportunity to devote _ortnight to the study of a great model. Euphemia studied with noiseles_iligence what she supposed to be the "character" of M. de Mauves, and th_ore she looked the more fine lights and shades she seemed to behold in thi_asterpiece of nature. M. de Mauves's character indeed, whether from a sens_f being so generously and intensely taken for granted, or for reasons whic_id graceful defiance to analysis, had never been so much on show, even to th_ery casual critic lodged, as might be said, in an out-of-the-way corner o_t; it seemed really to reflect the purity of Euphemia's pious opinion. Ther_ad been nothing especially to admire in the state of mind in which he lef_aris—a settled resolve to marry a young person whose charms might or migh_ot justify his sister's account of them, but who was mistress, at the worst,
of a couple of hundred thousand francs a year. He had not counted ou_entiment—if she pleased him so much the better; but he had left a meagr_argin for it and would hardly have admitted that so excellent a match coul_e improved by it. He was a robust and serene sceptic, and it was a singula_ate for a man who believed in nothing to be so tenderly believed in. What hi_riginal faith had been he could hardly have told you, for as he came back t_is childhood's home to mend his fortunes by pretending to fall in love he wa_ thoroughly perverse creature and overlaid with more corruptions than _ummer day's questioning of his conscience would have put to flight. Te_ears' pursuit of pleasure, which a bureau full of unpaid bills was all he ha_o show for, had pretty well stifled the natural lad whose violent will an_enerous temper might have been shaped by a different pressure to some suc_howing as would have justified a romantic faith. So should he have exhale_he natural fragrance of a late-blooming flower of hereditary honour. Hi_iolence indeed had been subdued and he had learned to be irreproachabl_olite; but he had lost the fineness of his generosity, and his politeness,
which in the long run society paid for, was hardly more than a form o_uxurious egotism, like his fondness for ciphered pocket-handkerchiefs,
lavender gloves and other fopperies by which shopkeepers remained out o_ocket. In after- years he was terribly polite to his wife. He had forme_imself, as the phrase was, and the form prescribed to him by the society int_hich his birth and his tastes had introduced him was marked by some peculia_eatures. That which mainly concerns us is its classification of the faire_alf of humanity as objects not essentially different—say from those ver_avender gloves that are soiled in an evening and thrown away. To do M. d_auves justice, he had in the course of time encountered in the feminin_haracter such plentiful evidence of its pliant softness and fin_djustability that idealism naturally seemed to him a losing game.
Euphemia, as he lay on his sofa, struck him as by no means contradictory; sh_imply reminded him that very young women are generally innocent and that thi_s on the whole the most potent source of their attraction. Her innocenc_oved him to perfect consideration, and it seemed to him that if he shortl_ecame her husband it would be exposed to a danger the less. Old Madame d_auves, who flattered herself that in this whole matter she was very laudabl_igid, might almost have taken a lesson from the delicacy he practised. Fo_wo or three weeks her grandson was well-nigh a blushing boy again. He watche_rom behind the Figaro, he admired and desired and held his tongue. He foun_imself not in the least moved to a flirtation; he had no wish to trouble th_aters he proposed to transfuse into the golden cup of matrimony. Sometimes _ord, a look, a gesture of Euphemia's gave him the oddest sense of being, o_f seeming at least, almost bashful; for she had a way of not dropping he_yes according to the mysterious virginal mechanism, of not fluttering out o_he room when she found him there alone, of treating him rather as a gloriou_han as a pernicious influence—a radiant frankness of demeanour in fine,
despite an infinite natural reserve, which it seemed at once graceless not t_e complimentary about and indelicate not to take for granted. In this way ha_een wrought in the young man's mind a vague unwonted resonance of sof_mpressions, as we may call it, which resembled the happy stir of the chang_rom dreaming pleasantly to waking happily. His imagination was touched; h_as very fond of music and he now seemed to give easy ear to some of th_weetest he had ever heard. In spite of the bore of being laid up with a lam_nee he was in better humour than he had known for months; he lay smokin_igarettes and listening to the nightingales with the satisfied smile of on_f his country neighbours whose big ox should have taken the prize at a fair.
Every now and then, with an impatient suspicion of the resemblance, h_eclared himself pitifully bete; but he was under a charm that braved even th_upreme penalty of seeming ridiculous. One morning he had half an hour'_ete-a-tete with his grandmother's confessor, a soft-voiced old Abbe whom, fo_easons of her own, Madame de Mauves had suddenly summoned and had lef_aiting in the drawing-room while she rearranged her curls. His reverence,
going up to the old lady, assured her that M. le Comte was in a most edifyin_tate of mind and the likeliest subject for the operation of grace. This was _heological interpretation of the count's unusual equanimity. He had alway_azily wondered what priests were good for, and he now remembered, with _ense of especial obligation to the Abbe, that they were excellent fo_arrying people.
A day or two after this he left off his bandages and tried to walk. He mad_is way into the garden and hobbled successfully along one of the alleys, bu_n the midst of his progress was pulled up by a spasm of pain which forced hi_o stop and call for help. In an instant Euphemia came tripping along the pat_nd offered him her arm with the frankest solicitude.
"Not to the house," he said, taking it; "further on, to the bosquet." Thi_hoice was prompted by her having immediately confessed that she had seen hi_eave the house, had feared an accident and had followed him on tiptoe.
"Why didn't you join me?" he had asked, giving her a look in which admiratio_as no longer disguised and yet felt itself half at the mercy of her replyin_hat a jeune fille shouldn't be seen following a gentleman. But it drew _reath which filled its lungs for a long time afterwards when she replie_imply that if she had overtaken him he might have accepted her arm out o_oliteness, whereas she wished to have the pleasure of seeing him walk alone.
The bosquet was covered with an odorous tangle of blossoming creepers, and _ightingale overhead was shaking out love-notes with a profusion that made th_ount feel his own conduct the last word of propriety. "I've always heard tha_n America, when a man wishes to marry a young girl, he offers himself simpl_ace to face and without ceremony— without parents and uncles and aunts an_ousins sitting round in a circle."
"Why I believe so," said Euphemia, staring and too surprised to be alarmed.
"Very well then—suppose our arbour here to be your great sensible country. _ffer you my hand a l'Americaine. It will make me intensely happy to feel yo_ccept it."
Whether Euphemia's acceptance was in the American manner is more than I ca_ay; I incline to think that for fluttering grateful trustful softly-amaze_oung hearts there is only one manner all over the world.
That evening, in the massive turret chamber it was her happiness to inhabit,
she wrote a dutiful letter to her mamma, and had just sealed it when she wa_ent for by Madame de Mauves. She found this ancient lady seated in he_oudoir in a lavender satin gown and with her candles all lighted as for th_eeping of some fete. "Are you very happy?" the old woman demanded, makin_uphemia sit down before her.
"I'm almost afraid to say so, lest I should wake myself up."
"May you never wake up, belle enfant," Madame de Mauves grandly returned.
"This is the first marriage ever made in our family in this way—by a Comte d_auves proposing to a young girl in an arbour like Jeannot and Jeannette. I_as not been our way of doing things, and people may say it wants frankness.
My grandson tells me he regards it— for the conditions—as the perfection o_ood taste. Very well. I'm a very old woman, and if your differences shoul_ver be as marked as your agreements I shouldn't care to see them. But _hould be sorry to die and think you were going to be unhappy. You can't be,
my dear, beyond a certain point; because, though in this world the Lor_ometimes makes light of our expectations he never altogether ignores ou_eserts. But you're very young and innocent and easy to dazzle. There neve_as a man in the world—among the saints themselves—as good as you believe m_randson. But he's a galant homme and a gentleman, and I've been talking t_im to-night. To you I want to say this—that you're to forget the worldl_ubbish I talked the other day about the happiness of frivolous women. It'_ot the kind of happiness that would suit you, ma toute- belle. Whateve_efalls you, promise me this: to be, to remain, your own sincere little sel_nly, charming in your own serious little way. The Comtesse de Mauves will b_one the worse for it. Your brave little self, understand, in spite o_verything—bad precepts and bad examples, bad fortune and even bad usage. B_ersistently and patiently just what the good God has made you, and even on_f us—and one of those who is most what we ARE—will do you justice!"
Euphemia remembered this speech in after-years, and more than once, wearil_losing her eyes, she seemed to see the old woman sitting upright in her fade_inery and smiling grimly like one of the Fates who sees the wheel of fortun_urning up her favourite event. But at the moment it had for her simply th_roper gravity of the occasion: this was the way, she supposed, in which luck_oung girls were addressed on their engagement by wise old women of quality.
At her convent, to which she immediately returned, she found a letter from he_other which disconcerted her far more than the remarks of Madame de Mauves.
Who were these people, Mrs. Cleve demanded, who had presumed to talk to he_aughter of marriage without asking her leave? Questionable gentlefol_lainly; the best French people never did such things. Euphemia would retur_traightway to her convent, shut herself up and await her own arrival. It too_rs. Cleve three weeks to travel from Nice to Paris, and during this time th_oung girl had no communication with her lover beyond accepting a bouquet o_iolets marked with his initials and left by a female friend. "I've no_rought you up with such devoted care," she declared to her daughter at thei_irst interview, "to marry a presumptuous and penniless Frenchman. I shal_ake you straight home and you'll please forget M. de Mauves."
Mrs. Cleve received that evening at her hotel a visit from this personag_hich softened her wrath but failed to modify her decision. He had very goo_anners, but she was sure he had horrible morals; and the lady, who had been _ood-natured censor on her own account, felt a deep and real need to sacrific_er daughter to propriety. She belonged to that large class of Americans wh_ake light of their native land in familiar discourse but are startled bac_nto a sense of having blasphemed when they find Europeans taking them a_heir word. "I know the type, my dear," she said to her daughter with _ompetent nod. "He won't beat you. Sometimes you'll wish he would."
Euphemia remained solemnly silent, for the only answer she felt capable o_aking was that her mother's mind was too small a measure of things and he_over's type an historic, a social masterpiece that it took some mysti_llumination to appreciate. A person who confounded him with the common thron_f her watering-place acquaintance was not a person to argue with. It struc_he girl she had simply no cause to plead; her cause was in the Lord's hand_nd in those of M. de Mauves.
This agent of Providence had been irritated and mortified by Mrs. Cleve'_pposition, and hardly knew how to handle an adversary who failed to perceiv_hat a member of his family gave of necessity more than he received. But h_ad obtained information on his return to Paris which exalted the uses o_umility. Euphemia's fortune, wonderful to say, was greater than its fame, an_n view of such a prize, even a member of his family could afford to take _nubbing.
The young man's tact, his deference, his urbane insistence, won a concessio_rom Mrs. Cleve. The engagement was to be put off and her daughter was t_eturn home, be brought out and receive the homage she was entitled to an_hich might well take a form representing peril to the suit of this firs_eadlong aspirant. They were to exchange neither letters nor mementoes no_essages; but if at the end of two years Euphemia had refused offers enough t_ttest the permanence of her attachment he should receive an invitation t_ddress her again. This decision was promulgated in the presence of th_arties interested. The Count bore himself gallantly, looking at his youn_riend as if he expected some tender protestation. But she only looked at hi_ilently in return, neither weeping nor smiling nor putting out her hand. O_his they separated, and as M. de Mauves walked away he declared to himsel_hat in spite of the confounded two years he was one of the luckiest of men—t_ave a fiancee who to several millions of francs added such strangel_eautiful eyes.
How many offers Euphemia refused but scantily concerns us—and how the youn_an wore his two years away. He found he required pastimes, and as pastime_ere expensive he added heavily to the list of debts to be cancelled b_uphemia's fortune. Sometimes, in the thick of what he had once calle_leasure with a keener conviction than now, he put to himself the case o_heir failing him after all; and then he remembered that last mute assuranc_f her pale face and drew a long breath of such confidence as he felt i_othing else in the world save his own punctuality in an affair of honour.
At last, one morning, he took the express to Havre with a letter of Mrs.
Cleve's in his pocket, and ten days later made his bow to mother and daughte_n New York. His stay was brief, and he was apparently unable to bring himsel_o view what Euphemia's uncle, Mr. Butterworth, who gave her away at th_ltar, called our great experiment of democratic self-government, in a seriou_ight. He smiled at everything and seemed to regard the New World as _olossal plaisanterie. It is true that a perpetual smile was the most natura_xpression of countenance for a man about to marry Euphemia Cleve.