A day or two after, Madame de Frontignac and Mary went out to gather shells and seaweed on the beach. It was four o’clock; and the afternoon sun was hanging in the sultry sky of July with a hot and vaporous stillness. The whole air was full of blue haze, that softened the outlines of objects without hiding them. The sea lay like so much glass; every ship and boat was double; every line, and rope, and spar had its counterpart; and it seemed hard to say which was the most real, the under or the upper world. Madame de Frontignac and Mary had brought along a little basket, which they were filling with shells and sea-mosses. The former was in high spirits. She ran, and shouted, and exclaimed, and wondered at each new marvel thrown out upon the shore, with the abandon of a little child. Mary could not but wonder whether this indeed were she whose strong words had pierced and wrung her sympathies the other night, and whether a deep life-wound could lie bleeding under those brilliant eyes and that infantine exuberance of gaiety; yet surely all that which seemed so strong, so true, so real, could not be gone so soon,—and it could not be so soon consoled. Mary wondered at her, as the Anglo-Saxon constitution, with its strong, firm intensity, its singleness of nature, wonders at the mobile, many-sided existence of warmer races, whose versatility of emotion on the surface is not incompatible with the most intense sameness lower down.

Mary’s was one of those indulgent and tolerant natures which seem to form the most favourable base for the play of other minds, rather than to be itself salient,—and something about her tender calmness always seemed to provoke the spirit of frolic in her friend. She would laugh at her, kiss her, gambol round her, dress her hair with fantastic coiffures, and call her all sorts of fanciful and poetic names in French or English, while Mary surveyed her with a pleased and innocent surprise, as a revelation of character altogether new and different from anything to which she had been hitherto accustomed. She was to her a living pantomime, and brought into her unembellished life the charms of opera, and theatre, and romance.

After wearying themselves with their researches, they climbed round a point of rock that stretched some way out into the sea, and attained to a little kind of grotto, where the high cliffs shut out the rays of the sun. They sat down to rest upon the rocks. A fresh breeze of declining day was springing up, and bringing the rising tide landward,—each several line of waves with their white crest coming up and breaking gracefully on the hard, sparkling sand-beach at their feet.

Mary’s eyes fixed themselves, as they were apt to do, in a mournful reverie, on the infinite expanse of waters, which was now broken and chopped into thousand incoming waves by the fresh afternoon breeze. Madame de Frontignac noticed the expression, and began to play with her as if she had been a child. She pulled the comb from her hair, and let down its long silky waves upon her shoulders.

‘Now,’ said she, ‘let us make a Miranda of thee. This is our cave. I will be Prince Ferdinand. Burr told me all about that,—he reads beautifully, and explained it all to me. What a lovely story that is;—you must be so happy who know how to read Shakspeare without learning. Tenez! I will put this shell on your forehead,—it has a hole here, and I will pass this gold chain through—now! What a pity this seaweed will not be pretty out of water; it has no effect; but there is some green that will do,—let me fasten it so. Now, fair Miranda, look at thyself.’

Where is the girl so angelic as not to feel a slight curiosity to know how she shall look in a new and strange costume? Mary bent over the rock where a little pool of water lay in a brown hollow above the fluctuations of the tide, dark and still, like a mirror,—and saw a fair face, with a white shell above the forehead, and drooping wreaths of green seaweed in the silken hair; and a faint blush and smile rose on the cheek, giving the last finish to the picture.

‘How do you find yourself?’ said Madame; ‘confess now that I have a true talent in coiffure. Now I will be Ferdinand.’ She turned quickly, and her eye was caught by something that Mary did not see; she only saw the smile fade suddenly from Madame de Frontignac’s cheek, and her lips grow deadly white, while her heart beat so that Mary could notice its flutterings under her black silk bodice.

‘Will the sea-nymphs punish the rash presumption of a mortal who intrudes?’ said Colonel Burr, stepping before them with a grace as invincible and assured as if he had never had any past history with either.

Mary started with a guilty blush, like a child detected in an unseemly frolic, and put her hand to her head to take off the unwonted adornments.

‘Let me protest, in the name of the graces,’ said Burr, who by that time stood with easy calmness at her side; and as he spoke he stayed her hand with that gentle air of authority which made it the natural impulse of most people to obey him. ‘It would be treason against the picturesque,’ he added, ‘to spoil that toilet so charmingly uniting the wearer to the scene.’

Mary was taken by surprise, and discomposed, as every one is who finds one’s self masquerading in attire foreign to their usual habits and character; and therefore, when she would persist in taking it to pieces, Burr found sufficient to alleviate the embarrassment of Madame de Frontignac’s utter silence in a playful run of protestations and compliments.

‘I think, Mary,’ said Madame de Frontignac, ‘that we had better be returning to the house.’

This was said in the haughtiest and coolest tone imaginable, looking at the place where Burr stood, as if there were nothing there but empty air. Mary rose to go; Madame de Frontignac offered her arm.

‘Permit me to remark, ladies,’ said Burr, with the quiet suavity which never forsook him, ‘that your very agreeable occupations have caused time to pass more rapidly than you are aware. I think you will find that the tide has risen so as to intercept the path by which you came here. You will hardly be able to get around the point of rocks without some assistance.’

Mary looked a few paces ahead, and saw, a little before them, a fresh afternoon breeze driving the rising tide high on to the side of the rocks, at whose foot their course had lain. The nook in which they had been sporting formed a part of a shelving ledge which inclined over their heads, and which it was just barely possible could be climbed by a strong and agile person, but which would be wholly inaccessible to a frail, unaided woman.

‘There is no time to be lost,’ said Burr, coolly, measuring the possibilities with that keen eye that was never discomposed by any exigency. ‘I am at your service, ladies; I can either carry you in my arms around this point, or assist you up these rocks.’ He paused and waited for their answer.

Madame de Frontignac stood pale, cold, and silent, hearing only the wild beating of her heart.

‘I think,’ said Mary, ‘that we should try the rocks.’

‘Very well,’ said Burr; and placing his gloved hand on a fragment of rock, somewhat above their heads, he swung himself on to it with an easy agility; from this he stretched himself down as far as possible towards them, and extending his hand, directed Mary, who stood foremost, to set her foot on a slight projection, and give him both her hands; she did so, and he seemed to draw her up as easily as if she had been a feather. He placed her by him on a shelf of rock, and turned again to Madame de Frontignac: she folded her arms and turned resolutely away towards the sea.

Just at that moment a coming wave broke at her feet.

‘There is no time to be lost,’ said Burr; ‘there’s a tremendous wave coming in, and the next wave may carry you out.’

Tant mieux,’ she responded, without turning her head.

‘Oh, Verginie! Verginie!’ exclaimed Mary,—kneeling and stretching her arms over the rock; but another voice called Verginie, in a tone which went to her heart. She turned and saw those dark eyes full of tears.

‘Oh, come,’ he said, with that voice which she could never resist.

She put her cold, trembling hands into his, and he drew her up and placed her safely beside Mary. A few moments of difficult climbing followed, in which his arm was thrown now around one and then around the other, and they felt themselves carried with a force, as if the slight and graceful form were strung with steel.

Placed in safety on the top of the bank, there was a natural gush of grateful feeling towards their deliverer. The severest resentment, the coolest moral disapprobation, are necessarily somewhat softened when the object of them has just laid one under a personal obligation.

Burr did not seem disposed to press his advantage, and treated the incident as the most matter-of-course affair in the world. He offered an arm to each lady, with the air of a well-bred gentleman, who offers a necessary support; and each took it, because neither wished, under the circumstances, to refuse.

He walked along leisurely homeward, talking in that easy, quiet, natural way in which he excelled, addressing no very particular remark to either one, and at the door of the cottage took his leave, saying, as he bowed, that he hoped neither of them would feel any inconvenience from their exertions, and that he should do himself the pleasure to call soon, and inquire after their health.

Madame de Frontignac made no reply; but curtsied with a stately grace, turned and went into her little room, whither Mary, after a few minutes, followed her.

She found her thrown upon the bed, her face buried in the pillow, her breast heaving as if she were sobbing; but when at Mary’s entrance she raised her head, her eyes were bright and dry.

‘It is just as I told you, Mary,—that man holds me. I love him yet, in spite of myself. It is in vain to be angry. What is the use of striking your right hand with your left? When we love one more than ourselves, we only hurt ourselves with our anger.’

‘But,’ said Mary, ‘love is founded on respect and esteem; and when that is gone——’

‘Why, then,’ said Madame, ‘we are very sorry; but we love yet; do we stop loving ourselves when we have lost our own self-respect? No! it is so disagreeable to see, we shut our eyes and ask to have the bandage put on,—you know that, poor little heart; you can think how it would have been with you, if you had found that he was not what you thought.’

The word struck home to Mary’s consciousness, but she sat down and took her friend in her arms with an air, self-controlled, serious, rational.

‘I see and feel it all, dear Verginie, but I must stand firm for you. You are in the waves, and I on the shore. If you are so weak at heart, you must not see this man any more.’

‘But he will call.’

‘I will see him for you.’

‘What will you tell him, my heart,—tell him that I am ill, perhaps?’

‘No; I will tell him the truth,—that you do not wish to see him.’

‘That is hard,—he will wonder.’

‘I think not,’ said Mary, resolutely; ‘and furthermore I shall say to him that, while Madame de Frontignac is at the cottage, it will not be agreeable for us to receive calls from him.’

‘Mary, ma chère, you astonish me!’

‘My dear friend,’ said Mary, ‘it is the only way. This man,—this cruel, wicked, deceitful man,—must not be allowed to trifle with you in this way. I will protect you.’ And she rose up with flashing eye and glowing cheek, looking as her father looked when he protested against the slave-trade.

‘Thou art my Saint Catherine,’ said Verginie, rising up, excited by Mary’s enthusiasm, ‘and hast the sword as well as the palm; but, dear saint, don’t think so very, very badly of him,—he has a noble nature; he has the angel in him.’

‘The greater his sin,’ said Mary; ‘he sins against light and love.’

‘But I think his heart is touched,—I think he is sorry. Oh, Mary, if you had only seen how he looked at me, when he put out his hands on the rocks,—there were tears in his eyes.’

‘Well there might be,’ said Mary; ‘I do not think he is quite a fiend; no one could look at those cheeks, dear Verginie, and not feel sad, that saw you a few months ago.’

‘Am I so changed?’ she said, rising and looking at herself in the mirror. ‘Sure enough, my neck used to be quite round,—now you can see those two little bones, like rocks at low tide. Poor Verginie! her summer is gone, and the leaves are falling; poor little cat;’—and Verginie stroked her own chestnut head, as if she had been pitying another, and began humming a little Norman air, with a refrain that sounded like the murmur of a brook over the stones.

The more Mary was touched by these little poetic ways, which ran just on an even line between the gay and the pathetic, the more indignant she grew with the man that had brought all this sorrow. She felt a saintly vindictiveness, and a determination to place herself as an adamantine shield between him and her friend. There is no courage and no anger like that of a gentle woman when once fully roused; if ever you have occasion to meet it, you will certainly remember the hour.

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