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- Stray Pearls - 5/67 -
dejeuner, the gentlemen would compliment me on my rouge au naturel, and the ladies would ironically envy my English appetite.
Sometimes we rested in large hostels in cities, and then our walk began with some old cathedral, which could not but be admired, Gothic though it were, and continued in the market-place, where the piles of fruit, vegetables, and flowers were a continual wonder and delight to me. My husband would buy bouquets of pinks and roses for me; but in the coach the ladies always said they incommoded them by their scent, and obliged me to throw them away. The first day I could not help shedding a few tears, for I feared he would think I did not value them; and then I perceived that they thought the little Englishwoman a child crying for her flowers. I longed to ask them whether they had ever loved their husbands; but I knew how my mother would have looked at me, and forbore.
Once or twice we were received in state at some chateau, where our mails had to be opened that we might sup in full toilet; but this was seldom, for most of the equals of M. le Marquis lived at Paris. Sometimes our halt was at an abbey, where we ladies were quartered in a guest-chamber without; and twice we slept at large old convents, where nobody had lived since the Huguenot times, except a lay brother put in by M. l'Abbe to look after the estate and make the house a kind of inn for travelers. There were fine walled gardens run into wild confusion, and little neglected and dismantled shrines, and crosses here and there, with long wreaths of rose and honeysuckle trailing over them, and birds' nests in curious places. My Viscount laughed with a new pleasure when I showed him the wren's bright eye peeping out from her nest, and he could not think how I knew the egg of a hedge-sparrow from that of a red-breast. Even he had never been allowed to be out of sight of his tutor, and he knew none of these pleasures so freely enjoyed by my brothers; while as to his sister Cecile, she had been carried from her nurse to a convent, and had thence been taken at fourteen to be wedded to the grandson and heir of the Count d'Aubepine, who kept the young couple under their own eye at their castle in the Bocage.
My husband had absolutely only seen her twice, and then through the grating, and the marriage had taken place while he was in Savoy last autumn. He knew his brother-in-law a little better, having been his neighbour at Nid de Merle; but he shrugged his shoulders as he spoke of 'le chevalier,' and said he was very young, adored by his grandparents, and rather headstrong.
As to growing up together in the unity that had always existed between an absolute surprise to him to find that my dear brother was grieved at parting with me. He said he had lain and heard our shouts in the passages with wonder as we played those old games of ours.
'As though you were in a den of roaring wild beasts,' I said; for I ventured on anything with him by that time, voices, I teased him about his feelings at having to carry off one of these same savage beasts with him; and then he told me how surprised he had been when, on the last evening he spent in his chamber in our house, Eustace had come and implored him to be good to me, telling him--ah, I can see my dear brother's boyish way!--all my best qualities, ranging from my always speaking truth to my being able to teach the little dog to play tricks, and warning him of what vexed or pained me, even exacting a promise that he would take care of me when I was away from them all. I believe that promise was foremost in my husband's mind when he waited on me at sea. Nay, he said when remembered the tears in my brother's eyes, and saw how mine arose at the thought, his heart smote him when he remembered that his sister's marriage had scarcely cost him a thought or care, and that she was an utter stranger to him; and then we agreed that if ever we had children, we would bring them up to know and love one another, and have precious recollections in common. Ah! l'homme propose, mais Dieu dispose.
It was only on that day that it broke upon me that we were to be separated immediately after our arrival in Paris. M. de Bellaise was to go to his regiment, which was at garrison at Nancy, and I was to be left under the charge of old Madame la Marquise de Nidemerle at Paris. I heard of it first from the Marquise himself in the coach, as he thanked one of the ladies who invited me--with him--to her salon in Paris, where there was to be a great entertainment in the summer. When I replied that M. de Bellaise would have rejoined his regiment, they began explaining that I should go into society under Madame de Nidemerle, who would exert herself for my sake.
I said no more. I knew it was of no use there; but when next I could speak with my husband--it was under an arbour of vines in the garden of the inn where we dine--I asked him whether it was true. He opened large eyes, and said he knew I could not wish to withdraw him from his duty to his king and country, even if he could do so with honour.
'Ah! no,' I said; 'I never thought of that.' But surely the place of a wife was with her husband, and I had expected to go with him to his garrison at Nancy, and there wait when he took the field. He threw himself at my feet, and pressed my hands with transport at what he called this unheard-of proof of affection; and then I vexed him by laughing, for I could not help thinking what my brothers would have said, could they have seen us thus.
Still he declared that, in spite of his wishes, it was hardly possible. His great-uncle and aunt would never consent. I said they had no right to interfere between husband and wife, and he replied that they had brought him up, and taken the place of parents to him; to which I rejoined that I was far nearer to him. He said I was a mutinous Englishwoman; and I rejoined that he should never find me mutinous to him.
Nay, I made up my mind that if he would not insist on taking me, I would find means to escape and join him. What! Was I to be carried about in the coach of Madame de Nidemerle to all the hateful salons of Paris, while my husband, the only person in France whom I could endure, might be meeting wounds and death in the Low Countries while I might be dancing!
So again I declined when the ladies in the coach invited me to their houses in Paris. Should I go to a convent? they asked; and one began to recommend the Carmelites, another the Visitation, another Port Royal, till I was almost distracted; and M. le Marquis began to say it was a pious and commendable wish, but that devotion had its proper times and seasons, and that judgment must be exercised as to the duration of a retreat, etc.
'No, Monsieur,' said I, 'I am not going into a convent. A wife's duty is with her husband; I am going into garrison at Nancy.'
Oh, how they cried out! There was such a noise that the gentlemen turned their horses' heads to see whether any one was taken ill. When they heard what was the matter, persecution began for us both.
We used to compare our experiences; the ladies trying to persuade me now that it was improper, now that I should be terrified to death now that I should become too ugly to be presentable; while the gentlemen made game of M. de Bellaise as a foolish young lover, who was so absurd as to encumber himself with a wife of whom he would soon weary, and whose presence would interfere with his enjoyment of the freedom and diversions of military life. He who was only just free from his governor, would he saddle himself with a wife? Bah!
He who had been so shy defended himself with spirit; and on my side I declared that nothing but his commands, and those of my father, should induce me to leave him. At Amiens we met a courier on his way to England, and by him we dispatched letters to my father.
M. de Nidemerle treated all like absurd childish nonsense, complimenting me ironically all the while; but I thought he wavered a little before the journey was over, wishing perhaps that he had never given his nephew a strange, headstrong, English wife, but thinking that, as the deed was done, the farther off from himself she was the better.
At least, he no longer blamed his nephew and threatened him with his aunt; but declared that Madame de Rambouillet would soon put all such folly out of our minds.
I asked my husband what Madame de Rambouillet could have to do with our affairs; and he shrugged his shoulders and answered that the divine Arthenice was the supreme judge of decorum, whose decisions no one could gainsay.
THE SALON BLEU
We arrived at Paris late in the day, entering the city through a great fortified gateway, and then rolling slowly through the rough and narrow streets. You know them too well, my children, to be able to conceive how strange and new they seemed to me, accustomed as I was to our smooth broad Thames and the large gardens of the houses in the Strand lying on its banks.
Our carriage turned in under the porte cochere of this Hotel de Nidemerle of ours, and entered the courtyard. My husband, his uncle, and I know not how many more, were already on the steps. M. de Nidemerle solemnly embraced me and bade me welcome, presenting me at the same time to a gentlemen, in crimson velvet and silver, as my brother. My foolish heart bounded for a moment as if it could have been Eustace; but it was altogether the face of a stranger, except for a certain fine smile like my mother's. It was, of course, my half-brother, M. le Baron de Solivet, who saluted me, and politely declared himself glad to make the acquaintance of his sister.
The Marquis then led me up the broad stairs, lined with lackeys, to our own suite of apartments, where I was to arrange my dress before being presented to Madame de Nidemerle, who begged me to excuse her not being present to greet me, as she had caught cold, and had a frightful megrim.
I made my toilet, and they brought me a cup of eau sucree and a few small cakes, not half enough for my hungry English appetite.
My husband looked me over more anxiously than ever he had done before; and I wished, for his sake, that I had been prettier and fitter to make a figure among all these grand French ladies.
My height was a great trouble to me in those unformed days. I had so much more length to dispose of than my neighbours, and I knew they remarked me the more for it; and then my hair never would remain in curl for half an hour together. My mother could put it up safely, but since I had left her it was always coming down, like flax from a distaff; and though I had in general a tolerably fresh and rosy complexion, heat outside and agitation within made my whole face,
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