The domesticating of Madame de Frontignac as an inmate of the cottage, added a new element of vivacity to that still and unvaried life. One of the most beautiful traits of French nature is that fine gift of appreciation, which seizes at once the picturesque side of every condition of life, and finds in its own varied storehouse something to assort with it. As compared with the Anglo-Saxon, the French appear to be gifted with a naïve childhood of nature, and to have the power that children have of gilding every scene of life with some of their own poetic fancies.

Madame de Frontignac was in raptures with the sanded floor of her little room, which commanded, through the apple-boughs, a little morsel of a sea-view. She could fancy it was a nymph’s cave, she said.

‘Yes, ma Marie, I will play Calypso, and you shall play Telemachus, and Dr. Hopkins shall be Mentor. Mentor was so very, very good, only a little bit—dull,’ she said, pronouncing the last word with a wicked accent, and lifting her hands with a whimsical gesture like a naughty child who expects a correction.

Mary could not but laugh; and as she laughed more colour rose in her waxen cheeks than for many days before.

Madame de Frontignac looked triumphant as a child who has made its mother laugh, and went on laying things out of her trunk into her drawers with a zeal that was quite amusing to see.

‘You see, ma blanche, I have left all Madame’s clothes at Philadelphia, and brought only those that belong to Verginie,—no tromperie, no feathers, no gauzes, no diamonds, only white dresses and my straw hat en bergère. I brought one string of pearls that was my mother’s; but pearls, you know, belong to the sea-nymphs. I will trim my hat with sea-weed and buttercups together, and we will go out on the beach to-night and get some gold and silver shells to dress ma miroir.’

‘Oh, I have ever so many now,’ said Mary, running into her room, and coming back with a little bag. They both sat on the bed together, and began pouring them out, Madame de Frontignac showering childish exclamations of delight.

Suddenly Mary put her hand to her heart as if she had been struck with something; and Madame de Frontignac heard her say, in a low voice of sudden pain, ‘Oh, dear!’

‘What is it, mimi?’ she said, looking up quickly.

‘Nothing,’ said Mary, turning her head. Madame de Frontignac looked down, and saw among the sea-treasures a necklace of Venetian shells that she knew never grew on the shores of Newport. She held it up.

‘Ah, I see,’ she said. ‘He gave you this. Ah, ma pauvrette,’ she said, clasping Mary in her arms, ‘thy sorrow meets thee everywhere. May I be a comfort to thee, just a little one.’

‘Dear, dear friend,’ said Mary, weeping. ‘I know not how it is. Sometimes I think this sorrow is all gone; but then, for a moment, it comes back again. But I am at peace; it is all right, all right; I would not have it otherwise. But oh, if he could have spoken one word to me before! He gave me this,’ she added, ‘when he came home from his first voyage to the Mediterranean. I did not know it was in this bag. I had looked for it everywhere.’

‘Sister Agatha would have told you to make a rosary of it,’ said Madame de Frontignac; ‘but you pray without a rosary. It is all one,’ she added; ‘there will be a prayer for every shell, though you do not count them. But come, ma chère, get your bonnet, and let us go out on the beach.’

That evening, before retiring, Mrs. Scudder came into Mary’s room. Her manner was grave and tender, her eyes had tears in them; and although her usual habits were not caressing, she came to Mary and put her arms around and kissed her. It was an unusual manner, and Mary’s gentle eyes seemed to ask the reason of it.

‘My daughter,’ said her mother, ‘I have just had a long and very interesting talk with our dear good friend, the Doctor; ah, Mary, very few people know how good he is.’

‘True, mother,’ said Mary, warmly; ‘he is the best, the noblest, and yet the humblest man in the world.’

‘You love him very much, do you not?’ said her mother.

‘Very dearly,’ said Mary.

‘Mary, he has asked me this evening if you would be willing to be his wife.’

‘His wife, mother?’ said Mary in the tone of one confused with a new and strange thought.

‘Yes, daughter; I have long seen that he was preparing to make you this proposal.’

‘You have, mother?’

‘Yes, daughter; have you never thought of it?’

‘Never, mother.’

There was a long pause, Mary standing just as she had been interrupted in her night toilette, with her long, light hair streaming down over her white dress, and the comb held mechanically in her hand. She sat down after a moment, and clasping both hands over her knees, fixed her eyes intently on the floor; and there fell between the two a silence so intense, that the tickings of the clock in the next room seemed to knock upon the door. Mrs. Scudder sat with anxious eyes watching that silent face, pale as sculptured marble.

‘Well, Mary,’ she said at last.

A deep sigh was the only answer. The violent throbbings of her heart could be seen undulating the long hair as the moaning sea tosses the rockweed.

‘My daughter!’ again said Mrs. Scudder.

Mary gave a great sigh, like that of a sleeper awakening from a dream, and looking on her mother, said: ‘Do you suppose he really loves me, mother?’

‘Indeed he does, Mary, as much as man ever loved woman.’

‘Does he indeed?’ said Mary, relapsing into thoughtfulness.

‘And you love him, do you not?’ said her mother.

‘Oh yes, I love him!’

‘You love him better than any man in the world, don’t you?’

‘Oh, mother, mother! yes!’ said Mary, throwing herself passionately forward, and bursting into sobs; ‘yes, there is no one else now that I love better,—no one,—no one!’

‘My darling, my daughter!’ said Mrs. Scudder, coming and taking her in her arms.

‘Oh, mother, mother!’ she said, sobbing distressfully, ‘let me cry, just for a little,—oh, mother, mother, mother!’

What was there hidden under that despairing wail?—it was the parting of the last strand of the cord of youthful hope.

Mrs. Scudder soothed and caressed her daughter, but maintained still in her breast a tender pertinacity of purpose, such as mothers will, who think they are conducting a child through some natural sorrow into a happier state.

Mary was not one either to yield long to emotion of any kind. Her rigid education had taught her to look upon all such outbursts as a species of weakness, and she struggled for composure, and soon seemed entirely calm.

‘If he really loves me, mother, it would give him great pain if I refuse,’ said Mary, thoughtfully.

‘Certainly it would; and, Mary, you have allowed him to act as a very near friend for a long time; and it is quite natural that he should have hopes that you loved him.’

‘I do love him, mother,—better than anybody in the world except you. Do you think that will do?’

‘Will do?’ said her mother; ‘I don’t understand you.’

‘Why, is that loving enough to marry? I shall love him more perhaps after, shall I, mother?’

‘Certainly you will; every one does.’

‘I wish he did not want to marry me, mother,’ said Mary, after a pause. ‘I liked it a great deal better as we were before.’

‘All girls feel so, Mary, at first; it is very natural.’

‘Is that the way you felt about father, mother?’

Mrs. Scudder’s heart smote her when she thought of her own early love,—that great love that asked no questions; that had no doubts, no fears, no hesitations; nothing but one great, outsweeping impulse, which swallowed her life in that of another. She was silent; and after a moment, she said, ‘I was of a different disposition from you, Mary. I was of a strong, wilful, positive nature. I either liked or disliked with all my might; and besides, Mary, there never was a man like your father.’

The matron uttered this first article in the great confession of woman’s faith with the most unconscious simplicity.

‘Well, mother, I will do whatever is my duty. I want to be guided. If I can make that good man happy, and help him to do some good in the world,—After all, life is short, and the great thing is to do for others.’

‘I am sure, Mary, if you could have heard how he spoke, you would be sure you could make him happy. He had not spoken before, because he felt so unworthy of such a blessing: he said I was to tell you that he should love and honour you all the same, whether you could feel to be his wife or not; but that nothing this side of heaven would be so blessed a gift; that it would make up for every trial that could possibly come upon him,—and you know, Mary, he has a great many discouragements and trials;—people don’t appreciate him; his efforts to do good are misunderstood, and misconstrued; they look down on him, and despise him, and tell all sorts of evil things about him; and sometimes he gets quite discouraged.’

‘Yes, mother, I will marry him,’ said Mary. ‘Yes, I will.’

‘My darling daughter,’ said Mrs. Scudder, ‘this has been the hope of my life.’

‘Has it, mother?’ said Mary, with a faint smile; ‘I shall make you happier then?’

‘Yes, dear, you will; and think what a prospect of usefulness opens before you; you can take a position as his wife which will enable you to do even more good than you do now; and you will have the happiness of seeing every day how much you comfort the hearts and encourage the hands of God’s dear people.’

‘Mother, I ought to be very glad I can do it,’ said Mary; ‘and I trust I am. God orders all things for the best.’

‘Well, my child, sleep to-night, and to-morrow we will talk more about it.’

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