In the course of a day or two, a handsome carriage drew up in front of Mrs. Scudder’s cottage, and a brilliant party alighted. They were Colonel and Madame de Frontignac, the Abbé Léfon, and Colonel Burr. Mrs. Scudder and her daughter, being prepared for the call, sat in afternoon dignity and tranquillity, in the best room, with their knitting-work.

Madame de Frontignac had divined, with the lightning-like tact which belongs to women in the positive, and to French women in the superlative degree, that there was something in the cottage-girl, whom she had passingly seen at the party, which powerfully affected the man whom she loved with all the jealous intensity of a strong nature, and hence she embraced eagerly the opportunity to see her,—yes, to see her, to study her, to dart her keen French wit through her, and detect the secret of her charm, that she, too, might practise it.

Madame de Frontignac was one of those women whose beauty is so striking and imposing, that they seem to kindle up, even in the most prosaic apartment, an atmosphere of enchantment. All the pomp and splendour of high life, the wit, the refinements, the nameless graces and luxuries of courts, seemed to breathe in invisible airs around her, and she made a Faubourg St. Germain of the darkest room into which she entered. Mary thought, when she came in, that she had never seen anything so splendid. She was dressed in a black velvet riding-habit, buttoned to the throat with coral; her riding-hat drooped with its long plumes so as to cast a shadow over her animated face, out of which her dark eyes shone like jewels, and her pomegranate cheeks glowed with the rich shaded radiance of one of Rembrandt’s pictures. Something quaint and foreign, something poetic and strange, marked each turn of her figure, each article of her dress, down to the sculptured hand on which glittered singular and costly rings,—and the riding-glove, embroidered with seed-pearls, that fell carelessly beside her on the floor.

In Antwerp one sees a picture in which Rubens, who felt more than any other artist the glory of the physical life, has embodied his conception of the Madonna, in opposition to the faded, cold ideals of the Middle Ages, from which he revolted with such a bound. His Mary is a superb Oriental sultana, with lustrous dark eyes, redundant form, jewelled turban, standing leaning on the balustrade of a princely terrace, and bearing on her hand, not the silver dove, but a gorgeous paroquet. The two styles, in this instance, were both in the same room; and as Burr sat looking from one to the other, he felt, for a moment, as one would who should put a sketch of Overbeck’s beside a splendid painting of Titian’s.

For a few moments, everything in the room seemed faded and cold, in contrast with the tropical atmosphere of this regal beauty. Burr watched Mary with a keen eye, to see if she were dazzled and overawed. He saw nothing but the most innocent surprise and delight. All the slumbering poetry within her seemed to awaken at the presence of her beautiful neighbour,—as when one, for the first time, stands before the great revelations of Art. Mary’s cheek glowed, her eyes seemed to grow deep with the enthusiasm of admiration, and, after a few moments, it seemed as if her delicate face and figure reflected the glowing loveliness of her visitor, just as the virgin snows of the Alps become incarnadine as they stand opposite the glorious radiance of a sunset sky.

Madame de Frontignac was accustomed to the effect of her charms; but there was so much love in the admiration now directed towards her, that her own warm nature was touched, and she threw out the glow of her feelings with a magnetic power. Mary never felt the cold, habitual reserve of her education so suddenly melt, never felt herself so naturally falling into language of confidence and endearment with a stranger; and as her face, so delicate and spiritual, grew bright with love, Madame de Frontignac thought she had never seen anything so beautiful, and stretching out her hands towards her, she exclaimed, in her own language,—

Mais, mon Dieu! mon enfant, que tu es belle!

Mary’s deep blush, at her ignorance of the language in which her visitor spoke, recalled her to herself;—she laughed a clear, silvery laugh, and laid her jewelled little hand on Mary’s with a caressing movement.

He shall not teach you French, ma toute belle,’ she said, indicating the Abbé, by a pretty, wilful gesture; ‘I will teach you;—and you shall teach me English. Oh I shall try so hard to learn!’ she said.

There was something inexpressibly pretty and quaint in the childish lisp with which she pronounced English. Mary was completely won over. She could have fallen into the arms of this wondrously beautiful fairy princess, expecting to be carried away by her to Dreamland.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Scudder was gravely discoursing with Colonel Burr and M. de Frontignac; and the Abbé, a small and gentlemanly personage, with clear black eye, delicately-cut features, and powdered hair, appeared to be absorbed in his efforts to follow the current of a conversation imperfectly understood. Burr, the while, though seeming to be entirely and politely absorbed in the conversation he was conducting, lost not a glimpse of the picturesque aside which was being enacted between the two fair ones whom he had thus brought together. He smiled quietly when he saw the effect Madame de Frontignac produced on Mary.

‘After all, the child has flesh and blood!’ he thought, ‘and may feel that there are more things in heaven and earth than she has dreamed of yet. A few French ideas won’t hurt her.’

The arrangements about lessons being completed, the party returned to the carriage. Madame de Frontignac was enthusiastic in Mary’s praise.

Cependant,’ she said, leaning back, thoughtfully, after having exhausted herself in superlatives,—‘cependant elle est dévote,—et à dix-neuf comment cela se peut-il?

‘It is the effect of her austere education,’ said Burr. ‘It is not possible for you to conceive how young people are trained in the religious families of this country.’

‘But yet,’ said Madame, ‘it gives her a grace altogether peculiar; something in her looks went to my heart. I could find it very easy to love her, because she is really good.’

‘The Queen of Hearts should know all that is possible in loving,’ said Burr.

Somehow, of late, the compliments which fell so readily from those graceful lips had brought with them an unsatisfying pain. Until a woman really loves, flattery and compliment are often like her native air; but when that deeper feeling has once awakened in her, her instincts become marvellously acute to detect the false from the true. Madame de Frontignac longed for one strong, unguarded, real, earnest word from the man who had stolen from her her whole being. She was beginning to feel in some dim wise what an untold treasure she was daily giving for tinsel and dross. She leaned back in the carriage, with a restless, burning cheek, and wondered why she was born to be so miserable. The thought of Mary’s saintly face and tender eyes rose before her as the moon rises on the eyes of some hot and fevered invalid, inspiring vague yearnings after an unknown, unattainable peace.

Could some friendly power once have made her at that time clairvoyant and shown her the reality of the man whom she was seeing through the prismatic glass of her own enkindled ideality! Could she have seen the calculating quietness in which, during the intervals of a restless and sleepless ambition, he played upon her heart-strings, as one uses a musical instrument to beguile a passing hour,—how his only embarrassment was the fear that the feelings he was pleased to excite might become too warm and too strong, while as yet his relations to her husband were such as to make it dangerous to arouse his jealousy! And if he could have seen that pure ideal conception of himself which alone gave him power in the heart of this woman,—that spotless, glorified image of a hero without fear, without reproach,—would he have felt a moment’s shame and abasement at its utter falsehood?

The poet says that the Evil Spirit stood abashed when he saw virtue in an angel form! How would a man, then, stand, who meets face to face his own glorified, spotless ideal, made living by the boundless faith of some believing heart? The best must needs lay his hand on his mouth at this apparition; but woe to him who feels no redeeming power in the sacredness of this believing dream,—who with calculating shrewdness uses this most touching miracle of love only to corrupt and destroy the loving! For him there is no sacrifice for sin, no place for repentance. His very mother might shrink in her grave to have him laid beside her.

Madame de Frontignac had the high, honourable nature of the old blood of France, and a touch of its romance. She was strung heroically, and educated according to the notions of her caste and church, purely and religiously. True it is, that one can scarcely call that education which teaches woman everything except herself,—except the things that relate to her own peculiar womanly destiny, and, on plea of the holiness of ignorance, sends her without one word of just counsel into the temptations of life. Incredible as it may seem, Virginie de Frontignac had never read a romance or work of fiction of which love was the staple; the régime of the convent in this regard was inexorable; at eighteen she was more thoroughly a child than most American girls at thirteen. On entrance into life, she was at first so dazzled and bewildered by the mere contrast of fashionable excitement with the quietness of the scenes in which she had hitherto grown up, that she had no time for reading or thought,—all was one intoxicating frolic of existence, one dazzling, bewildering dream.

He whose eye had measured her for his victim verified, if ever man did, the proverbial expression of the iron hand under the velvet glove. Under all his gentle suavities there was a fixed, inflexible will, a calm self-restraint, and a composed philosophical measurement of others, that fitted him to bear despotic rule over an impulsive, unguarded nature. The position, at once accorded to him, of her instructor in the English language and literature, gave him a thousand daily opportunities to touch and stimulate all that class of finer faculties, so restless and so perilous, and which a good man approaches always with a certain awe. It is said that he once asserted that he never beguiled a woman who did not come half-way to meet him,—an observation much the same as a serpent might make in regard to his birds.

The visit of the morning was followed by several others. Madame de Frontignac seemed to conceive for Mary one of those passionate attachments which women often conceive for anything fair and sympathizing, at those periods when their whole inner being is made vital by the approaches of a grand passion. It took only a few visits to make her as familiar as a child at the cottage; and the whole air of the Faubourg St. Germain seemed to melt away from her, as, with the pliability peculiar to her nation, she blended herself with the quiet pursuits of the family. Sometimes, in simple straw hat and white wrapper, she would lie down in the grass under the apple-trees, or join Mary in an expedition to the barn for hen’s eggs, or a run along the sea-beach for shells; and her childish eagerness and delight on these occasions used to arouse the unqualified astonishment of Mrs. Katy Scudder.

The Doctor she regarded with a naïve astonishment, slightly tinctured with apprehension. She knew he was very religious, and stretched her comprehension to imagine what he might be like. She thought of Bossuet’s sermons walking about under a Protestant coat, and felt vaguely alarmed and sinful in his presence, as she used to when entering under the shadows of a cathedral. In her the religious sentiment, though vague, was strong. Nothing in the character of Burr had ever awakened so much disapprobation as his occasional sneers at religion. On such occasions she always reproved him with warmth, but excused him in her heart, because he was brought up a heretic. She held a special theological conversation with the Abbé, whether salvation were possible to one outside of the True Church,—and had added to her daily prayer a particular invocation to the Virgin for him.

The French lessons with her assistance proceeded prosperously. She became an inmate in Mrs. Marvyn’s family also. The brown-eyed, sensitive woman loved her as a new poem; she felt enchanted by her; and the prosaic details of her household seemed touched to poetic life by her innocent interest and admiration. The young Madame insisted on being taught to spin at the great wheel; and a very pretty picture she made of it, too, with her earnest gravity of endeavour, her deepening cheek, her graceful form, with some strange foreign scarf or jewelry waving and flashing in odd contrast with her work.

‘Do you know,’ she said, one day, while thus employed in the north room at Mrs. Marvyn’s,—‘do you know Burr told me that princesses used to spin? He read me a beautiful story from the “Odyssey,” about how Penelope cheated her lovers with her spinning, while she was waiting for her husband to come home;—he was gone to sea, Mary,—her true love,—you understand.’

She turned on Mary a wicked glance, so full of intelligence that the snowdrop grew red as the inside of a sea-shell.

Mon enfant! thou hast a thought deep in here!’ she said to Mary, one day, as they sat together in the grass under the apple-trees.

‘Why, what?’ said Mary, with a startled and guilty look.

‘Why, what? petite!’ said the fairy princess, whimsically mimicking her accent. ‘Ah! ah! ma belle! you think I have no eyes;—Virginie sees deep in here!’ she said, laying her hand playfully on Mary’s heart. ‘Ah, petite!’ she said, gravely, and almost sorrowfully, ‘if you love him, wait for him,—don’t marry another! It is dreadful not to have one’s heart go with one’s duty.’

‘I shall never marry anybody,’ said Mary.

‘Nevare marrie anybodie!’ said the lady, imitating her accents in tones much like those of a bobolink. ‘Ah! ah! my little saint, you cannot always live on nothing but the prayers, though prayers are verie good. But, ma chère,’ she added, in a low tone, ‘don’t you ever marry that good man in there; priests should not marry.’

‘Ours are not priests,—they are ministers,’ said Mary. ‘But why do you speak of him?—he is like my father.’

‘Virginie sees something!’ said the lady, shaking her head gravely; ‘she sees he loves little Mary.’

‘Of course he does!’

‘Of-course-he-does?—ah, yes; and by-and-by comes the mamma, and she takes this little hand, and she says, “Come, Mary!” and then she gives it to him; and then the poor jeune homme, when he comes back, finds not a bird in his poor little nest. Oh, c’est ennuyeux cela!’ she said, throwing herself back in the grass till the clover heads and buttercups closed over her.

‘I do assure you, dear Madame!’—

‘I do assure you, dear Mary, Virginie knows. So lock up her words in your little heart; you will want them some day.’

There was a pause of some moments, while the lady was watching the course of a cricket through the clover. At last, lifting her head, she spoke very gravely,—

‘My little cat! it is dreadful to be married to a good man, and want to be good, and want to love him, and yet never like to have him take your hand, and be more glad when he is away than when he is at home; and then to think how different it would all be, if it was only somebody else. That will be the way with you, if you let them lead you into this; so don’t you do it, mon enfant.’

A thought seemed to cross Mary’s mind, as she turned to Madame de Frontignac, and said, earnestly,—

‘If a good man were my husband, I would never think of another,—I wouldn’t let myself.’

‘How could you help it, mignonne? Can you stop your thinking?’

Mary said, after a moment’s blush,—

‘I can try!

‘Ah, yes! But to try all one’s life,—oh, Mary, that is too hard! Never do it, darling!’

And then Madame de Frontignac broke out into a carolling little French song, which started all the birds around into a general orchestral accompaniment.

This conversation occurred just before Madame de Frontignac started for Philadelphia, whither her husband had been summoned as an agent in some of the ambitious intrigues of Burr.

It was with a sigh of regret that she parted from her friends at the cottage. She made them a hasty good-bye call,—alighting from a splendid barouche with two white horses, and filling their simple best room with the light of her presence for a last half-hour. When she bade good-bye to Mary, she folded her warmly to her heart, and her long lashes drooped heavily with tears.

After her absence, the lessons were still pursued with the gentle, quiet little Abbé, who seemed the most patient and assiduous of teachers; but, in both houses, there was that vague ennui, that sense of want, which follows the fading of one of life’s beautiful dreams! We bid her adieu for a season;—we may see her again.

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