time was the month of April, 1785, and the place Paris, where the
spring that year was a genuine spring. The garden was in holiday
attire, the greensward was studded with marguerites, the birds were
singing, and the lilacs grew so straight and so close to Julien's
window, that their fragrant clusters actually entered his room and
strewed the white tiled floor of his studio with their little
Julien Thierry was a painter of
flowers, like his father André Thierry, renowned under Louis XV. in
the art of decorating spaces over doors, dining-room panels and
boudoir ceilings. Those dainty ornaments became, under his skilful
hands, objects of genuine, serious art, so that the artisan had
became an artist, highly esteemed by people of taste, handsomely
paid, and a person of much consideration in society. Julien, his
pupil, had confined himself to painting on canvas. The fashion of
his time frowned upon the fanciful and charming decorations of the
Pompadour style. The Louis XVI. style was more severe; flowers were
no longer strewn upon walls and ceilings, but were framed. Julien,
then, painted flower and fruit pieces of the Mignon variety,
mother-of-pearl shells, multi-colored butterflies, green lizards
and drops of dew. He had much talent, he was handsome, he was
twenty-four years old, and his father had left him nothing but
André Thierry's widow was there
in the studio where Julien was at work, and where the clusters of
lilac shed their petals under the soft touch of a warm breeze. She
was a woman of sixty, well-preserved, with eyes that were still
beautiful, hair almost black, and slim, delicate hands. Short,
slight, pale, dressed poorly, but with studied neatness, Madame
Thierry was knitting mittens, and from time to time raised her eyes
to glance at her son, who was absorbed in the study of a
"Julien," she said, "why is it, I
wonder, that you don't sing now when you are working? You might
induce the nightingale to let us hear his voice."
"Listen, mother, there he is
now," Julien replied. "He doesn't need anybody to give him the
And at that moment they did in
fact hear the pure, sweet and resonant notes of the nightingale for
the first time that year.
"Ah! so he has come!" exclaimed
Madame Thierry. "To think that a whole year has passed!—Can you see
him, Julien?" she asked, as the young man, putting aside his work,
scrutinized the shrubs massed in front of the window.
"I thought I saw him," he replied
with a sigh, "but I was mistaken."
And he returned to his easel. His
mother watched him more closely, but she dared not question
"Never mind," she began after a
few moments, "you have a beautiful voice too, and I used to love to
hear you sing the pretty ballads your poor father sang so well—only
last year at just this time!"
"Yes," Julien replied, "you
insist on my singing them, and then you weep. No, I don't propose
to sing any more!"
"I won't weep, I promise you!
Sing me a lively one, and I will laugh—as if he were here!"
"No! don't ask me to sing. It
makes me feel sad too! Later, later! it will come back gradually.
Let us not force our sorrow!"
"Julien, we must not talk about
sorrow any more," said the mother in a tone of gentle but
indubitably strong determination. "I was a little weak at the
beginning; you will forgive me, won't you? To lose thirty years of
happiness in a day! But I ought to have reflected that you lost
more than I did, because I still have you, while I am good for
nothing except to love you."
"And what more can I want?" said
Julien, kneeling in front of his mother. "You love me as no one
else will ever love me, I know! and I do not say that you were
weak. You concealed from me at least half of your suffering, I saw
it and understood it. I gave you full credit for it, never fear,
and I thank you for it, my dear mother! You sustained me when I
needed it sadly; for I suffered on your account at least as much as
on my own, and, when I saw how brave you were, I was always certain
that God would perform a miracle to keep you alive and well for me,
despite the most cruel of trials. He owed us that much, and He did
it. Now, mother, you do not feel weak and disheartened any more, do
"Now, my child, I am really
happy. You are right in thinking that God sustains those who do not
despair, and that He gives strength to those who pray to Him for it
with all their hearts. Do not think that I am unhappy; I have wept
bitterly; but how could I do otherwise? he was so lovely, so kind
to us! and he always seemed to be so happy! He might have lived a
long while—but that was not God's will. I have had such a beautiful
life that I really had no right to ask for anything more. And see
what the divine goodness has left me! the best and most dearly
loved of sons! Should I complain? Should I pray for death? No, no!
I will join your dear father when my time comes, and he will say to
me: 'You did well to remain on earth as long as you could, and not
leave our beloved son too soon.'"
"So you see," said Julien,
putting his arms around his mother, "that we are no longer unhappy,
and that there is no need for me to sing to divert our thoughts. We
can think of him without bitterness and of each other without
They remained in a close embrace
for an instant, then returned to their respective
This took place in Rue de
Babylone, in a sort of pavilion, already very old, for it dated
from the reign of Louis XIII., and stood by itself at the end of
the street, whose most modest structure—and at the same time the
one nearest the said pavilion—was the house, to-day torn down,
which was then called the hôtel d'Estrelle.
While Julien and his mother were
engaged in the conversation we have just reported, two other
persons were talking in a dainty little salon of the aforesaid
hôtel d'Estrelle, a cool, homelike apartment, decorated in the
style of the last years of Louis XVI., a pretty bastard Greek
style, a little stiff in outline, but harmonious in tone and set
off by much gilding against a pearl-white ground. The Comtesse
d'Estrelle was simply dressed in a half-mourning gown of gray silk,
and her friend the Baronne d'Ancourt in a morning visiting
costume—that is to say, in an elaborate combination of muslins,
ribbons and lace.
"Dear heart," she was saying to
the countess, "I don't understand you at all. You are twenty years
old; you are as beautiful as the Loves, and you persist in living
in solitude like the wife of a petty bourgeois! You have put off
your mourning, and everybody knows that you had no reason to regret
your husband, the least regrettable of mankind. He left you a
fortune; that is the only reasonable thing he ever did in his
"And as to that, my dear
baroness, you are entirely mistaken. The fortune the count left me
is overburdened with debts; I was told that, by making a few
sacrifices and depriving myself of some luxuries, I might clear
myself in a few years. So I accepted the succession without looking
into it very carefully, and the result is that to-day, after two
years of uncertainty and long explanations of which I did not
understand a word, my new solicitor, who is a very honorable man,
assures me that I have been deceived and that I am much nearer
being poor than rich. The case is so serious, my dear, that I have
been in consultation with him this morning to decide whether or not
I could keep this house."
"What! sell your house! Why, that
is impossible, my dear! It would be a stain on your husband's
memory. His family will never consent to that."
"His family say that they will
not consent, but they also say that they will not help me in any
way. What do they want, and what do they expect me to do?"
"They are a detestable family!"
cried the baroness, "but I ought not to be astonished at anything
that the old marquis and his bigot of a wife may do!"
At that moment Monsieur Marcel
Thierry was announced.
"Show him in," said the countess;
and she added, addressing the baroness: "it is the very person of
whom I was just speaking—my solicitor."
"In that case I will leave
"That is not necessary. He has
but a word to say to me, and as you know my plight——"
"And am deeply interested in it.
I will remain."
The solicitor entered.
He was a man of about forty,
balder than was natural at his age, but with a pleasant face,
good-humored and frank, although remarkably shrewd and even
satirical. One could see that much experience of the conduct of men
at odds with their selfish interests had made him thoroughly
practical, perhaps sceptical, but that it had not destroyed his
ideal of uprightness and sincerity, which he was all the better
able to recognize and appreciate.
"Well, Monsieur Thierry," said
the countess, motioning to a chair, "is there anything new since
this morning that you have taken the trouble to return?"
"Yes, madame," the solicitor
replied, "there is something new. Monsieur le Marquis d'Estrelle
sent his man of business to me with an offer which I have accepted
in your behalf, subject to your assent, which I have come to
obtain. He suggests coming to your assistance by turning over a few
unimportant pieces of property, the total value of which, to be
sure, will not pay all the debts which are hanging over you, but
which will allay your anxieties for a moment and delay the sale of
your house by enabling you to give your creditors something on
"Something on account! Is that
all?" cried the Baroness d'Ancourt indignantly. "That is all that
the Estrelle family can do for the widow of a spendthrift? Why, it
is a perfect outrage, monsieur le procureur!"
"It is at the best a pitifully
mean performance," rejoined Marcel Thierry; "I wasted my eloquence,
and this is where we stand. As madame la comtesse has no fortune of
her own, she is forced, in order to retain even a paltry dower, to
submit to the conditions imposed by a family devoid of
consideration and generosity."
"Say of heart and honor!"
exclaimed the baroness.
"Say nothing at all," added the
countess, who had listened with a resigned expression. "The family
is what it is; it is not for me to pass judgment on them, bearing
their name as I do. In every other respect I am a stranger to them,
and lamentations would come with a very bad grace from me, for I
alone am to blame."
"You to blame!" repeated the
solicitor, with an incredulous smile.
"Yes," continued Madame
d'Estrelle. "I have committed one great sin in my life. I consented
to that marriage, against which my heart and my instincts rebelled.
I was a coward! I was a mere child, and they gave me my choice
between a convent and a disagreeable husband; I was afraid of
everlasting seclusion, so I accepted the everlasting humiliation of
an ill-assorted marriage. I did as so many other women have done, I
thought that wealth would take the place of happiness. Happiness! I
did not know, I have never known what it is. I was told that it
consisted, above all things, in riding in a carriage, wearing
diamonds, and having a box at the opera. My head was turned, I was
intoxicated, put to sleep with presents. I must not say that my
hand was forced, for that would not be true. To be sure there were
locks and bolts and bars, imprisonment for life in the cloister,
before me in case of refusal; but there was neither axe nor
executioner, and I might have said no if I had had any courage. But
we have none, my dear baroness, we may as well admit it; we women
cannot make up our minds to resign frankly, and conceal our
spring-time under the veil of a nun, which, however, would be more
dignified, more honest and perhaps pleasanter in the end than to
throw ourselves into the arms of the first stranger who presents
himself. That then was my cowardice, my blindness, my folly, my
vanity, my neglect of myself—in a word, my sin! I hope never to
commit another; but I cannot forget that my punishment has come
through my sin. I allowed puerile ambition to dispose of my life,
and to-day I see that I was deceived, that I am not rich, that I
must sell diamonds and horses, and that there is great danger that
before long I shall not have over my head the roof of a house that
bears my crest. That is as it should be—I feel it and admit it; I
am penitent, but I do not want to be pitied, and I shall accept
without discussion such alms as my husband's relations choose to
bestow upon me in order to save his honor."
A pause of amazement and emotion
succeeded this declaration from Julie d'Estrelle. She had spoken
with ill-concealed distress, like one weary of discussing pecuniary
interests, who gives way to the craving to pass her mental life in
review and to discover the philosophical formula for her situation.
The proud Amélie d'Ancourt was more scandalized than moved by an
avowal which condemned her own ideas and the customs of her caste;
moreover, she considered this effusive outburst on her friend's
part, in the presence of a petty attorney, a little
As for the attorney, he was
sincerely touched; but he did not allow it to appear, being
accustomed to see such explosions of secret feeling override the
proprieties, even among people of the highest rank.
"My fair client is a sincere and
touching creature," he said to himself; "she is right to accuse
herself; there is no human law which can force a yes from the mouth
which is determined to say no. She sinned like other women, because
she longed for glittering gewgaws; but she sadly admits it, and in
that she shows herself superior to most of her sisters. It is not
for me to console her; I will confine myself to saving her, if I
can.—Madame," he said aloud, after turning over these reflections
in his mind, "you can augur better for your interests in the future
than in the past. The present shows that monsieur le marquis will
not easily make up his mind to set you free, but that he will not
make up his mind to abandon you in any event. The paltry assistance
which he offers you is not to be the last, so I was given to
understand, and I am certain of it. Wait a few months, allow his
son's creditors to threaten you, and you will find that he will put
his hand in his pocket again to prevent the sale of this house.
Forget these worries, do not think of moving, trust to time and
"Very good, monsieur," said the
baroness, who was in haste to give her opinion and display her
pride of rank. "That is very excellent advice of yours; but, if I
were in madame la countesse's place, I would not follow it. I would
flatly refuse these miserable little charities! Yes, indeed, I
should blush to accept them! I would go from this house with head
erect, and live in a convent; or, better still, I would go to some
one of my friends, Baronne d'Ancourt for example, and I would say
to the marquis and marchioness: 'Arrange matters to suit
yourselves; I will let the house be sold. I have incurred no debts,
and I do not worry about those left by monsieur your son. Pay them
with the tattered remnants of a fortune that he left me, and we
will see whether you will put up with the public spectacle of my
destitution.'—Yes, my dear Julie, that is what I would do, and I
promise you that the marquis, who is very rich by his second
marriage, would retract these infamous propositions he makes
"Does Madame la Comtesse
d'Estrelle coincide with that opinion," said the solicitor, "and am
I to burn our bridges?"
"No," replied the countess. "Tell
me in two words of what my father-in-law's contribution consists,
and, whatever it may be, I accept it."
"It consists," replied Marcel
Thierry, "of a small farm in the Beauvoisis, worth about twenty
thousand francs, and a very old, but not badly dilapidated
pavilion, situated on your street at the end of the garden of your
"Ah! that old pavilion of
Richelieu's day?" said the countess indifferently.
"A mere hovel!" said the
baroness; "it is good for nothing but to pull down!"
"Possibly," replied Marcel; "but
the land has some value, and as the street is being built up, you
might find a purchaser for it."
"And allow a house to be built so
near my own," said Julie, "overlooking my garden, and almost
overlooking my apartments."
"No, you would require that the
house should turn its back to you and take the air from the street
or from my uncle's garden."
"Who might your uncle be?"
queried the baroness, with an indescribable touch of contempt in
"Monsieur Marcel Thierry," said
the countess, "is a near relative of my wealthy neighbor, Monsieur
Antoine Thierry, of whom you must certainly have heard."
"Oh! yes, a former
"An armorer," rejoined Marcel.
"He made his fortune in the colonies without ever setting foot on a
ship, and, thanks to shrewd planning and good luck, he made several
millions in his chimney corner, you might say."
"I congratulate him," replied the
baroness. "And he lives in this neighborhood?"
"His house faces the new court;
but his garden is separated only by a wall from the Comtesse
d'Estrelle's, and the pavilion forms a sort of elbow between the
two estates. Now my uncle might purchase the pavilion, either to
straighten his own lines by destroying it, or to repair it and turn
it into a green-house or gardener's lodge."
"So the wealthy Monsieur Thierry
has his eye on the pavilion," observed the baroness, "and perhaps
he has commissioned you——"
"He has commissioned me to do
nothing," Marcel interrupted in a firm tone. "He has no knowledge
whatever of the affairs of my other clients."
"Then you are his solicitor
"Naturally, madame la baronne;
but that will not prevent me from making him pay the highest
possible price for whatever it may please madame la comtesse to
sell him, and he will not take it ill of me. He is too good a man
of business not to know the value of a piece of real estate that he
"But I have not decided to sell
the property we are talking about," said the countess, emerging
from a sort of vague reverie. "It does not annoy me at all. It is
occupied, I am told, by a most excellent person of quiet
"True, madame," said Marcel; "but
the rent is so small that it will increase your income very
slightly. However, if you prefer to keep it, it will be of use to
you, in that it represents a substantial security for the interest
on your debts."
"We will talk about this again,
Monsieur Thierry. I will think it over and you will advise me
further. Tell me the total amount of the gift to be made to
"About thirty thousand
"Should I express my thanks for
"If I were in your place, I would
do nothing of the kind!" cried the baroness.
"Do so by all means," said the
solicitor in an undertone. "A word of amiable and modest
resignation costs a heart like yours nothing at all."
The countess wrote two lines and
handed them to Marcel.
"Let us hope," he said, as he
rose to go, "that the Marquis d'Estrelle will be touched by your
"He is not a bad man," replied
Julie, "but he is very old and feeble, and his second wife governs
"She is a genuine plague spot,
that ex-Madame d'Orlandes!" cried the baroness.
"Do not speak ill of her, madame
la baronne," retorted Marcel; "she belongs to that society and
entertains those opinions which you certainly look upon as the law
and the prophets."
"What is that, monsieur le
"She abhors the new ideas and
considers the privileges of birth the blessed ark of
"Do not insult me by comparing me
to that woman," said the baroness; "that her ideas are all right is
very possible; but her actions are all wrong. She is miserly, and
people say that she would even desert her opinions for
"Oh! in that case," said Marcel,
with an equivocal smile which Madame d'Ancourt took for an act of
homage, "I can understand that madame la baronne must regard her
with profound aversion."
He bowed and retired.
"That man is not by any means
ill-bred!" said the baroness, who had observed the dignified and
respectful ease of his exit. "His name is Thierry, you say?"
"Like his uncle's the rich man,
and like his other uncle, much more favorably known, Thierry the
painter of flowers."
"Ah! the painter? I almost knew
the excellent Thierry. My husband used to receive him in the
"Everybody received him at all
hours, my dear love, at least all people of taste and intelligence;
for he was a charming old man, extremely well educated and most
agreeable in conversation."
"Baron d'Ancourt apparently lacks
taste and intelligence, for he did not choose to have him to
"I do not say that the baron
"Say it, say it, I don't care; I
know more about it than you do."
And, having delivered that
double-edged retort, the baroness, who had a sovereign contempt for
her husband's intellect, but forgave him in consideration of his
eminent qualities in the matter of noble birth, indulged in a
hearty and good-humored peal of laughter.
"Let us return to these
Thierrys," she said. "Do I understand that you were well acquainted
with the artist?"
"No, I did not know him. You know
that Comte d'Estrelle fell sick immediately after our marriage,
that I went with him to take the waters, and that as a matter of
fact I have never received visitors at all, for he simply
languished and languished until he died."
"That is why you have never seen
society and know nothing about it. Poor dear, after sacrificing
yourself for a brilliant life, you have known nothing except the
duties due to a dying man, the crêpe of mourning, and the
annoyances of business! Come, you must leave all this behind you,
my dear Julie; you must marry again."
"Ah! God forbid!" cried the
"You propose to live alone and
bury yourself, at your age? Impossible!"
"I cannot say that is to my
taste, for I have no idea. I have passed so entirely beside
everything that goes to make up the life of young women—marriage,
wealth and liberty—that I am hardly acquainted with myself. I know
that I have consumed two years in ennui and melancholy, and thus
far in my solitude, except for these money troubles, which are
exceedingly distasteful to me, but which I do my best to endure
without bitterness, I find myself in a more tolerable condition
than in those through which I have previously passed. It may be
that my character lacks energy just as my mind lacks variety. Being
driven to some occupation to kill time, I have taken a liking to
quiet amusements. I read a great deal, I draw a little, I play on
the piano, I embroider, I write occasional letters to my old
friends at the convent. I receive four or five people of a serious
turn of mind, but good-tempered, and always the same, so that I am
habitually placid and free from excitement. In a word, I do not
suffer, and I am not bored; and that is a good deal to one who has
always suffered or yawned with ennui hitherto. So leave me as I am,
my friend. Come to see me as often as you can without interfering
with your pleasures, and do not worry about my lot, which is not so
bad as it might be."
"All this will do very well for a
while, my dear, and you act like a woman of spirit by meeting
misfortune with a stout heart; but all things have their day, and
you must not sacrifice too much of the age of beauty and the
advantages which it procures. You are not, be it said without
offence, of very exalted birth, but your unfortunate marriage gave
you a fine name and a title which placed you on a higher social
level. You are a widow, which enables you to go about and be seen
and known, and you have no children; so that you are still in all
the bloom of your youth. You have no fortune; but, as your dower,
overladen with debts as it is, will be no great loss, you can very
well hold it cheap, and renounce it for a more eligible suitor than
the first. If you choose to put yourself in my hands, I will
undertake to arrange the sort of marriage for you to which you have
a perfect right to aspire."
"The sort of marriage? You
surprise me; explain yourself!"
"I mean to say that you are too
fascinating not to be married for love."
"Very good; but will it be
someone whom I shall be able to love?"
"If the man, instead of being a
spendthrift and a fool, is really rich and well-born, for that is
most important of all, and you cannot descend socially without
blame; if he has breeding, tact, and the instincts of a man of
quality; and, lastly, if he is an honorable man—what more can you
ask? You must not expect that he will be in his first youth, and
built like the hero of a novel.—We see but few of those magnificent
creatures who are disposed to select a person of great merit for
her lovely eyes; everybody is more or less hard up in these
"I understand you," replied
Madame d'Estrelle, with a sad smile. "You wish me to marry some
excellent old man, some friend of yours, for I do not believe that
you would propose a monster to me. Thanks, my dear baroness, I
don't propose again to hire myself out to an invalid for large
wages; for, to put things baldly, that is the sort of good-fortune
which you have in mind for me. But, although I should be capable of
waiting upon and nursing a father, if I had one, with the utmost
tenderness, or even an old friend who needed me, I am firmly
resolved never again to put my neck in the yoke of an infirm and
morose stranger. I conscientiously fulfilled those depressing
duties to Monsieur d'Estrelle, and everybody gave me credit for it.
Now I am free, and I propose to remain free. I have no relatives
left—only a few friends. I desire nothing more, and I ask you in
all seriousness not to seek happiness for me according to your
ideas, which I do not share. You, my friend, are still what I was
at sixteen, when I was married. You have retained the illusions
which were dinned into my ears; you believe that one cannot do
without wealth and show, and, therefore, are younger than I. So
much the better for you, since fate has bound you to a husband who
denies you nothing. That is all that you need, is it not? But I
should be more exacting; I should like to love. You laugh? Ah! yes,
I know your theories. 'The honeymoon is short,' you have said to me
a hundred times; 'but the golden moon is the light which never goes
out.' For my part, I am foolish enough to say to myself that on the
first day of my married life I propose to love and believe, even
though it last but a day! Otherwise, I know by experience, marriage
is a shame and a martyrdom."
"If that is so," said the
baroness, rising, "I leave you to your reveries, my dear friend,
and humbly beg pardon for interrupting them."
She took her leave somewhat
piqued, for she was perspicacious, although foolish, and she
realized that the gentle-mannered Julie, in that outbreak of
rebellion, had told her a home-truth; but she was not evil-minded,
and an hour later had forgotten her spleen. Indeed, she felt a
little depressed, and at times was quite ready to say to
"Perhaps Julie is right!"
Julie, on her part, felt that all
her courage failed her as soon as she was left alone, and her pride
melted away in tears. She was strong only as a result of nervous
reactions, and perhaps of a more eager craving for love than she
confessed to herself. Naturally she was timid, even shrinking. She
knew the baroness's kind heart too well to fear a real rupture with
her; but she too said to herself:
"Perhaps Amélie is right! I seek
the impossible, the surroundings of rank and fortune in conjunction
with love! Who ever obtains that? No one in my position. For lack
of the best, I may be going to fall into the worst, which is
solitude and sadness."
She took her parasol, one of
those flat white parasols which produced a prettier effect among
the shrubbery than our modern mushrooms, and placing the heels of
her little slippers softly on the turf, her skirt turned gracefully
back over the straight petticoat, she strolled pensively along
under the lilac bushes in her garden, inhaling the air of spring in
silent misery, starting at the voice of the nightingale, thinking
of nobody, yet carried outside of herself by a boundless
She went from lilac to lilac
until she drew near the pavilion, where, an hour earlier, Julien
Thierry, the painter's son, the rich man's nephew, the solicitor's
cousin, was at work. The garden was large for a garden in Paris,
and was beautiful, both as to its arrangement and its contents.
Every day Madame d'Estrelle walked around it two or three times,
casting a melancholy or loving glance at each of the flower-beds
with which the turf was studded. When she came in sight of the
windows of the Louis XIII. pavilion, she did not turn away nor
worry about being seen, for the pavilion had been long unoccupied.
Julien and his mother had been settled there only a month; Madame
d'Estrelle had complained to Marcel Thierry because the marquis,
her father-in-law, being unwilling to sacrifice the trifling
revenue from so worthless a piece of property, had let it to
strange tenants. Marcel had reassured her by informing her that the
new tenant was the venerable and most respectable widow of his
uncle the artist. He had not mentioned Julien. It may be that the
countess did not know that the painter had left a son. At all
events it had not occurred to her to make inquiries about him. She
had never seen him at the windows, in the first place because she
was very near-sighted and the young women in those days did not
wear glasses; and secondly, because Julien, being informed of the
proximity of a person of rigid morals, had taken great pains not to
show himself. Sometimes Madame d'Estrelle had seen at the first
floor window a pale, refined face surmounted by a white cap, which
saluted her with deferential reserve. She had returned the
sweet-faced widow's salutation pleasantly, even with respect; but
they had not as yet exchanged a word.
On this day Julie, seeing that
the ground-floor window was partly open, began to ask herself for
the first time why she had not entered into neighborly relations
with Madame Thierry. She examined the wall of the little building,
and noticed that the door at the end of the garden was locked on
the outside, as when the house was unoccupied. Madame Thierry could
see nothing but the shrubbery, which concealed the countess's
mansion and a part of the principal lawn. She had no right even to
sit in the sunshine, along the wall of her house, under those
flowering shrubs which actually entered her rooms, and which she
had no right to prune. Moreover, she was forbidden, by the terms of
her lease, to walk on the gravelled walk that ran inside the street
wall. In a word, the door was condemned, and the tenant had made no
vexatious demands on that subject.
It is true that the countess had
anticipated such a demand with the determination to comply with it;
but she had not noticed the feeling of timidity or pride which
prevented Madame Thierry from making it. She thought of it on that
day of self-condemnation, and reproached herself for not
forestalling the poor widow's presumed desire.
"If it had been some ruined great
lady," she thought, "I should have been careful not to forget the
consideration due to age or misfortune. There is another proof of
what I was just saying to the baroness: our minds are given a false
direction and our hearts are withered by being brought up in the
prejudices of rank. I feel that I have been selfish and
discourteous in my treatment of this lady, who, as I have been
told, is eminently respectable and in very straitened
circumstances. How can I have forgotten a bounden duty? But here is
an opportunity to make up for everything, and I will not throw it
away; for I long to make peace with myself to-day."
The countess resolutely
approached the window and coughed two or three times as if to give
notice of her presence; and as no one stirred she ventured to tap
on the glass.
Julien had gone out, but Madame
Thierry was at home. Greatly surprised, she came to the window,
and, when she saw that beautiful lady whom she knew perfectly well
by sight, although she had never spoken to her, she threw it wide
"Excuse me, madame," said the
countess, "for choosing this method of making your acquaintance;
but I am not quite out of mourning yet, as you see; I do not pay
visits, and I have something to say to you with your permission.
Can you listen to me for a moment where you are?"
"Assuredly, madame, and with very
great pleasure," replied Madame Thierry in a dignified and amiable
tone, and with a perfect ease of manner in which there was nothing
of the petty bourgeoise dazzled by an overture from one of more
The countess was deeply impressed
by the distinction of her face, by the excellent taste of her
simple dress, by her sweet voice, and by an indefinable savor of
refinement exhaled by her whole person.
"Be seated, I beg," she said,
spying the arm-chair in the window recess; "I do not wish to keep
"But you, madame?" rejoined the
widow with a smile. "Ah! I have an idea. With your permission I
will pass you a chair."
"No, do not take that
"Yes, indeed! Here is a very
light straw chair; and between us——"
Between them they succeeded in
passing the chair over the window-sill, one holding it, the other
receiving it, and smiling both at that unceremonious performance,
which created a sort of intimacy between them at once.
"This is what I had to say," said
Madame d'Estrelle when she was seated. "Hitherto, you have been
living in a house belonging to the Marquis d'Estrelle, my
father-in-law; but to-day you are living in my house, monsieur le
marquis having presented it to me. I do not know as yet the terms
of your lease; but there is one which I presume you will consent to
"Be kind enough to tell me which
one you refer to, madame la comtesse," replied the widow, bowing
slightly, and with a faint cloud upon her face in anticipation of
"I refer," said the countess, "to
keeping this miserable door always locked and bolted between us; it
is a perfect eyesore to me. If you consent, I propose to have it
opened to-morrow. I will give you the keys, and I invite you to
walk in my garden for exercise or diversion as much as you please.
It will be a great pleasure to me to meet you here. I live very
much alone, and if you are willing to stop and rest sometimes in
the house I live in, I will do my utmost to prevent your being
dissatisfied with me as a neighbor."
Madame Thierry's face had lighted
up. The countess's offer gave her genuine pleasure. To have a
beautiful garden under one's eyes every hour in the day and not be
able to set foot inside it, is a sort of torture. Moreover, she was
deeply touched by the graceful way in which the invitation was
given, and she realized at once that she had to do with a lovable
and noble-hearted woman. She thanked her with charming warmth,
abating nothing of the gentle dignity of her manners, and they at
once began to converse as if they had always known each other, the
instinctive sympathy between them was so quick and so entirely
"You live alone, you say?" said
Madame Thierry; "surely it is a merely temporary condition of
affairs, and not a matter of inclination?"
"It is partly because I shrink
from society and distrust myself. Do you like society,
"I do not hate it," said the
widow. "I left it because I was in love; I forgot it, then returned
to it without an effort and without losing my head. Then I left it
again, from necessity and without regret. All this seems a little
obscure to you, does it not?"
"I know that Monsieur Thierry was
in very comfortable circumstances and had most desirable social
connections; that he went into society and received at his own
house the very elite of persons of intellect."
"But you do not know of our
earlier life? It made some noise at the time; but that was a long
while ago and you are so young!"
"Stay!" said the countess. "I beg
your pardon for my forgetfulness. Now, I remember: you are of noble
"Yes; I was Mademoiselle de
Meuil, of a good old noble family of Lorraine. Indeed I might have
been quite wealthy if I had consented to marry at the bidding of my
guardians. I loved Monsieur Thierry, who was then only a journeyman
painter, without a name and without means. I left everything, broke
with everything, threw everything to the winds to become his wife.
Little by little he became famous, and just as he began to earn
money rapidly, I received my inheritance. So we were repaid for our
constancy, not only by thirty years of happiness, but by more or
less prosperity in our old age."
"Oh! now it's a different story!
I am happy still, but in another way. I have lost my dearly loved
companion, and with him all material comfort; but I still have such
She was about to mention her son,
when a servant in livery came and informed the countess that her
old friend Madame Desmorges was waiting for her in the house.
"To-morrow," said Julie as she
rose to go, "we will talk at our ease, in your house or mine. I am
anxious to know all about you, for I feel that I love you dearly.
Forgive me for saying it so bluntly, but it is the truth! I must go
to receive an elderly lady whom I cannot keep waiting; but I will
give orders now for the workmen to come here to-morrow and open
your prison door."
Madame Thierry was enchanted with
Madame d'Estrelle. She was a woman of keen and spontaneous
sympathies, still young in heart and full of enthusiasm, because
she had lived in the enthusiastic atmosphere that surrounds a
beloved artist, and she was more or less romantic, as a woman must
be who has sacrificed everything to love. In the first flush of
excitement, she would have told her son what had happened; but he
was not there, and she exerted her ingenuity to arrange for him the
same surprise she had enjoyed. Many times, as they were passing
from comparative opulence to their present straitened and harassing
condition, Julien had taken alarm at the privations with which his
mother was threatened. They had had a pretty little cottage at
Sèvres, with a fine garden, where Madame Thierry tended lovingly
with her own hands the flowers which her husband and son used as
models. They had had to sell everything. Julien's heart ached when
he saw the poor old woman confined in Paris, in that pavilion,
which they hired at a very modest rate. He hoped at first that they
could enjoy the surrounding gardens; but the lease informed him
that neither the Marquis d'Estrelle, their landlord, nor the
wealthy Monsieur Thierry, their near neighbor and near kinsman,
would allow them to walk elsewhere than in the street, which was
always filled with workmen and with materials for buildings under
"He complained bitterly of that
condemned door," said Madame Thierry to herself, as she thought of
her son. "A score of times he has had an idea of going and asking
the countess to remove the prohibition for my benefit, promising on
his honor that he himself would never cross the threshold of the
pavilion. I have always dissuaded him from taking a step which
might have subjected us to humiliation. How glad he will be to see
me at liberty! But how shall I arrange matters to give him a little
surprise? Suppose I should send him on an errand to-morrow morning,
while the workmen are here?"
She was arranging her plan in her
head, when Julien came home to dinner. The straw chair was still in
the garden near the window. Madame d'Estrelle had placed her white
parasol on the ground against the chair, and had forgotten to take
it. Madame Thierry had gone into the kitchen to tell her only
servant, a strapping Norman wench, to bring in the chair. So Julien
saw those two objects, without any previous warning. He divined
without comprehending; his head swam, his heart beat fast, and his
mother found him so confused, so excited, so strange, that she was
frightened, thinking that something had happened to him.
"What is it, in heaven's name?"
she cried, running to him.
"Nothing, mother," said Julien,
after a slight struggle with himself to overcome his emotion. "I
hurried home and I was very warm, so that the cool air of the
studio gave me a chill. I am hungry, let's have dinner; you can
explain to me at the table the meaning of this visit you have
He took in the chair, unfolded
and refolded the parasol, and kept it in his hands a long while,
with an affectation of indifference; but his hands trembled, and he
could not meet his mother's eyes.
"Mon Dieu!" she said to herself,
"can it be that this increase of melancholy during the past
fortnight, this refusal to sing, these stifled sighs, this peculiar
behavior, this sleeplessness and loss of appetite are due to—But he
doesn't know her, he has hardly seen her in the distance. Oh! my
poor child, can it be possible?"
They took their places at the
table. Julien questioned his mother calmly enough. She described
the countess's visit with much discretion, restraining the impulse
of her heart, which would have made her eloquent on the subject,
had it not been for the discovery she had made, or the danger she
began to foresee.
Julien felt that his mother was
watching him, and he kept a close watch upon himself. He had never
before had any secrets from her; but, during the last few days he
had had one, and the fear of alarming her made him cunning.
"This step of Madame d'Estrelle,"
he said, "shows that she is a prudent and gracious woman. She has
realized—a little tardily perhaps—that she owed you some
consideration. Let us be grateful to her for her kindness of heart.
You told her, I presume, that I had sufficient good sense not to
consider myself included in the permission she has given
"That goes without saying. I
didn't mention you to her at all."
"Indeed, she probably is not
aware of my existence, and perhaps it will be as well for you never
to mention your son to her, so that she may not repent of her
"Why shouldn't I mention you to
her? I shall or shall not, according to the turn the conversation
happens to take."
"You expect to see her often
then? to go to her house perhaps?"
"To meet her in the garden
unquestionably; whether I go to her house or not will depend on the
duration of her kindly disposition."
"Was she agreeable?"
"Very agreeable and
"Is she bright?"
"I don't know; she has plenty of
good sense, I think."
"None of the arrogance of a
"She showed me none of it."
"Is she young?"
"And quite pretty, so they
"Fie! do you mean to say you have
never seen her?"
"I have, but at a distance. I
have never happened to be near the window when she walked along our
"But you know that she walks
there every day?"