Jaqueline Triquet was the daughter of a propriétaire, or owner, of a very small farm, near a village in the Bourbonnois, the real name of which it might be dangerous to state, for reasons that will be apparent to such of our fair readers as may condescend patiently to toil through what is to follow. Let it therefore be called, after the patron saint of France, St Denis.
Jaqueline, our heroine, was about the middle height of her sex, but had the appearance of being somewhat shorter, in consequence of the rather masculine breadth of her frame and vigorous “development” of muscle. These were, however, great advantages to one compelled to live a life of labour, and to associate with persons of a class not particularly celebrated for delicacy of manners or feeling; and of these advantages Jaqueline evinced that she was perfectly aware, by frequently asserting that she was “not afraid of any man.”
Her other personal qualifications were a compact, round, good-humoured-looking countenance, with two very bright black useful eyes, which had an odd way of trying to look at each other—a propensity that, if not over-violent, has been pronounced exceedingly attractive by many connoisseurs of beauty. But, alas! Jaqueline was no beauty, whatever she might have been in early youth; for that dreadful enemy of fair faces, the small-pox, had attacked her in his angry mood, and sadly disfigured every charm save that over which even he hath no power, the all-pleasing expression of good-humour. So that remained for Jaqueline; and not that alone. Not merely was the cheerful outward sign upon her homely sunburnt countenance, but the blessed reality was within; and there was not a merrier, more industrious, nor lighter-hearted lass in the whole commune. Artless, simple, and kind to all, she was a general favourite; and with general favour she remained apparently quite content, till certain of her younger companions got married, and then she felt occasionally dull—she knew not why.
“It is not that I envy them, I am sure,” said she to herself in one of her musing fits; “no—I rejoice in their happiness. If Franchette had not married Jean Clement, I am sure I never should, even if he had asked me, which he never did. And then Jaques Roget, and Pierre Dupin, and Philippe Chamel—bless them all, and their wives too, I say! I wish them happy; I’m sure I do. I don’t envy them; I’m sure I don’t. And yet—yet—I can’t think what’s the matter with me!”
Poor Jaqueline’s was no very uncommon case. She was not in love with any particular person. Her heart was her own, and a good warm heart it was, and she felt conscious that it was well worth somebody’s winning; therefore it is no marvel that at last she breathed a secret wish that somebody would set about the task in earnest.
Such was the state of her feelings when her father, who was a widower, resolved to intrust her with the management of certain affairs in the way of business at Moulins, which he had hitherto always attended to personally.
“The change will do you good, my child,” said he; “and Madame Margot will be delighted to see you, if it were only for your poor dear mother’s sake, rest her soul! She always asks after you, and has invited me to bring you with me a thousand times. So you may be sure of a welcome from her. And Nicolas is a good lad too, and has managed the business admirably since his father’s death, though he is such a lively fellow that one could hardly expect it. He’ll chaperon you, and do the aimable, no doubt. So, vale! never fear. And if you find yourself happy with them, and Madame presses you to stay—why, it’s only August now, and I sha’n’t want you home till the vintage—so do as you like, my good child; I can trust you.”
The journey to Moulins was little more than ten leagues; but travelling in the cross-roads of the Bourbonnois is a very rough and tedious affair. To Jaqueline it appeared the most important event in her life; and as she rode, in the cool of a Monday morning, upon her father’s nag, to a neighbouring farmer’s, about two leagues on her way, she felt half inclined to turn back, and request to be left at home in quiet, rather than go on to be mingled in scenes of gaiety, wherein something whispered to her that she was not likely to be very happy. But the congratulations of the said farmer’s daughters, who all declared how much they envied her, and how delighted they should be to be in her place, to which, perhaps, may be added the invigorating effects of a most unromantic, substantial breakfast, caused a marvellous change in her feelings, insomuch that she appeared the merriest of the party, as they walked afterward to the summit of a rising ground, from which her further progress on foot into the high-road might be clearly indicated. There, after receiving minute instructions, by attending to which she was assured that it was impossible she could mistake her way, she took leave of her friends, with the feeling that she was about to be launched into a new sort of world.
The sun shone brightly, the birds sang merrily, and ever and anon a passing breeze rustled cheerfully the foliage above and all around, as Jaqueline stepped lightly on, scarcely encumbered by her not very elegant nor ponderous bundle, containing much less than the fair sex usually require when going on a visit. But this lightness of wardrobe caused the not least agreeable of her anticipations, as her father had given her a carte blanche to supply its defects from the magasins of Moulins, stipulating only that in her headgear there should be no deviation from the established costume of their ancestresses, who, from generation to generation, had worn, or rather carried, perched forward upon their caps, the small, boat-like, diminutive-crowned hat called La Fougère.
Now, whether she had been thinking too much about how her new fougère should be trimmed, or that the plain directions of her friends were too perplexingly minute to be borne clearly in memory, cannot be ascertained; but at a spot where a single footpath became double, she hesitated and looked round, and endeavoured to recollect. There was no one near to bias her choice; so she decided for herself, and took the left path, uttering the self-comforting ejaculation—“I am sure that this is the right.” Therefore she walked briskly on, till visited by unpleasant misgivings that her steps had deviated too far to the left; and then followed doubt upon doubt, fast walking, stopping, hesitation, and looking about, as usual in such cases, till it became too evident that she had contrived to do that which her kind friends pronounced to be impossible. She had lost her way.
Now, losing one’s way is far from agreeable, even to common, everyday people; but when such a misfortune occurs to heroines, it is a much more serious piece of business, inasmuch as their blundering always exercises an evil influence over the weather. No matter how fine and cloudless the day may have previously been, no sooner is a heroine bewildered, and, amid unknown tracks, compelled to “give it up” as a too-puzzling riddle, than all the elements combine to increase her perplexity. The thunders incontinently commence growling over her head, the vivid lightning flashes all around, the winds blow a hurricane, and down comes the rain like a cataract. The moral intended to be drawn from such often-repeated disasters probably is, that young ladies should be careful of their footsteps; for certainly the elements of society are not less pitiless to an erring female than are those of nature toward a lost heroine.
Jaqueline’s predicament was no exception to the general rule, which is not surprising, as the sudden and violent summer storms of the Bourbonnois are proverbial. However, before she was quite “wet through,” she had the heroine’s usual good-luck of finding shelter in the ruins of an old castle, to which she was guided by the welcome sight of a small wreath of smoke, ascending from a corner of the dilapidated building. After peeping cautiously from behind the open folding-shutter of an unglazed window, and ascertaining the sex of the lonely tenant, she ventured to enter, and was most kindly welcomed by an aged woman, whose bodily infirmities had in no degree affected the organs of speech. So Jaqueline soon had the consolation of learning how and where she had missed her way, and also of hearing many particulars of her hostess’s life, which need not be repeated here. The best of the affair, however, was, that the old body had both the means and the inclination to make her guest comfortable. There was plenty of dry wood piled up in the corner of the room, and it was not spared. The fire crackled and blazed cheerfully; and then she placed certain culinary earthen vessels upon and around it, and at the end of a string in the front suspended a fowl, over the roasting of which she sate down to watch and talk.
The rain still continued, and Jaqueline felt grateful; therefore, after some little necessary attention to her dress, she thought she could not do better than, as the phrase is, “make herself generally useful.” So she bustled about, and evinced a knowledge of the menage and the cuisine that raised her greatly in the estimation of her entertainer.
The wing of a fowl, and une petite goutte of wine, in a tumbler of water, is the usual allowance for French heroines. How far Jaqueline surpassed them need not be told; but, by the time their dinner was ended, she and the ancient dame seemed quite upon the footing of old acquaintance.
“Ah!” continued the old woman (for she had talked continuously)—“Ah! I like you, my good girl. I’ve taken a fancy to you; and when I take a fancy to anybody, I can do something—hem!”
“You have been very kind to me,” said Jaqueline—“very kind; and you may depend upon it I shall not be ungrateful. You must come and pay me a visit in October, at the vintage, and then——”
“You’ll be very glad to see me,” continued the old woman. “That’s what you mean to say, I know. Well, well, there’s time enough for that; but—now, now—tell me! Isn’t there anything that I can do for you now? Haven’t you some wish?”
“Only that you would be so good as to show me the way to the Cock and Bottle, in the high-road,” replied Jaqueline, to the apparent great amusement of the old crone, who cackled immoderately till a fit of coughing compelled her to take a few more sips of wine, of which Jaqueline began to suspect she had already taken quite enough.
“Excuse my laughing, my child,” said she at length—“but really your mistake was so diverting. I meant to talk of more serious things—of your prospects in life—of your wishes particularly. Young people always have wishes. Ay! I see by that smile that you have. There—that’s understood—and now tell me what it is.”
Here followed a long confabulation, in which Jaqueline revealed all the particulars of her birth, parentage, and education; and eventually the old body wormed out of her the secret that she did really wish the other sex would pay her somewhat more marked attention.
“But can’t you name any particular one whom you should prefer?” was the next question; “if you can, don’t be afraid to tell me. No one else shall know it, and I’m sure I could manage it. What’s his name?”
Jaqueline replied that she felt no decided preference for any one, and added merrily, “Let them come and offer themselves—that’s all I wish. No matter how many of them. It will be time enough then for me to make my choice.”
“Perhaps you might find that difficult if they were very numerous,” observed her hostess. “I remember, when I was about your age, there was—heigho! never mind! That’s all gone by, and so it’s of no use talking about it. Come, let us go out and look at the weather. Something tells me that you will not be able to go farther to-night. There’s another storm brewing, or I am much mistaken.” Jaqueline’s arm on the left, and a crutch-headed stick on the right, supported the old lady as they walked round and about the ruins of the castle, every part of which she explained the former uses of, with an accuracy that might have satisfied the most curious inquirer, but which quite bewildered our heroine. What people could have wanted with so many different salons, galleries, and apartments, was to her quite a mystery, and she gazed upon the massive thickness of the walls with feelings approaching to reverence. Consequently, when they were driven in by the promised storm, she was precisely in the right state of mind to be strongly impressed by the awful long stories that her hostess had to relate of and concerning the former owners of the place. She told how the castle had been ransacked and set on fire at the Revolution, and how Monsieur le Comte de Montjeu and his family made their escape into foreign parts, and were not heard of till after the Restoration, when the young Comte Henri, whom she had nursed when an infant, suddenly made his appearance. Of him she spake in raptures. He had purchased the site of the ruins, and some land adjacent, and would doubtless some day restore all to its former splendour, as he held some very lucrative appointment at Paris. Moreover, she described him as a very handsome young man, though she feared that he was somewhat too much addicted to gallantry and gaiety. But then, she added, that was a family failing, and put her in mind of some passage in the life of his grandfather, which she immediately proceeded to relate; and so on, and on, and on continuously, as though reading from a book, went the old lady with her long tales; and Jaqueline listened, first with curiosity, then from complaisance (as it was evident that the narrator took pleasure in her own performance), and at length with a rather dim apprehension of what she heard. This may be accounted for, either by her not being able to sleep on the previous night, for thinking of her intended journey, or from the fatigue and exposure to sunshine and storm during the day, or by her hostess’s hospitable entertainment at dinner and supper (the latter meal forming an interlude between two of the long stories), or by the whole combined. But be the cause what it may, she nodded, as most folks would under similar circumstances, and then was suddenly aroused by missing the monotonous tones of her entertainer, to whom she apologised, and shook herself into an attentive attitude. The apology was graciously received, and Jaqueline’s drowsiness dispelled for a while by a legend about a spring, just at the bottom of the hill, the water of which was reported to have the power of causing young maidens, who drank thereof, to become wonderfully fascinating, and to attract lovers of every degree.
“You shall take a draught of it in the morning, ma bonne,” she said. “Don’t be afraid; you will have your wish before you come back from Moulins, I’m pretty sure. If not, however, call upon me on your way back. However, take the water in the morning. Perhaps it mayn’t operate immediately, but perhaps it may; for I remember hearing of two young ladies who”—and off went the old lady into another long story about romantic lovers of high degree; and the result of all was, that Jaqueline went late to bed, with her head full of strange and multitudinous fancies.
“What a lovely morning it is!” thought Jaqueline. “How pure and delicious the water of this spring looks! As to what the old lady says about its wonderful qualities, I can’t believe that; but, however, I will taste it. There! oh, how cool and refreshing!”
Suddenly there was heard the sound of a horn at a short distance, and a moment after a hunting party came galloping toward the fountain. Jaqueline would have hid herself, but it was too late; and ere she had decided in what direction to make her escape, a young, handsome, elegantly dressed cavalier, who led the party, threw himself from his horse, and, respectfully approaching her, begged that she would not be alarmed.
“Thank ye!” said Jaqueline; “no, I an’t frightened; only I stopped just to see which way you was a-galloping, because I don’t want to be run over.”
“Charming creature!” exclaimed the cavalier, “do you suppose it possible that any human being would hurt a hair of your head?”
“I don’t know about that,” replied Jaqueline. “All as I can say is, that I don’t know any reason why they should; for I never did no harm to nobody as I know of.”
“Never, I am sure,” said the young man. “No; innocence and benevolence are too plainly expressed in every feature of that lovely countenance. May I crave to know by what happy chance you have been led to this sequestered spot?”
“I can’t see exactly as that’s any business of yours,” replied Jaqueline; “howsomever, if you must know, I’m going to the Cock and Bottle in the high-road, where I hope to find a patache to take me to Moulins; so, as the good old dame is asleep, and I don’t like to wake her, if you or some of your people will direct me, I shall feel obliged to you: but I’ll thank you not to give me no more of your fine speeches, that’s all.”
“A miracle! She despises flattery!” exclaimed the enraptured youth, clasping his hands together; and then, without farther ceremony, he threw himself upon his knees, made a regular fervent offer of himself and fortune, declared himself to be the Comte Henri de Montjeu, and, seizing the hard hand of his inamorata, pressed it to his lips.
“Drat the man! He’s mad!” cried Jaqueline, attempting to extricate her hand; but, the moment after, finding that he did not bite it, she allowed it to remain where it was, and, heaving a sigh of compassion, said to herself, “What a pity! He is so very handsome!”
“Ha!” exclaimed the Comte, “you sigh! You pity me, and pity is—Well, well. What more can I expect at present? I have been rash. I have alarmed you, I fear; but henceforth I will be calm,” and he got up and gave himself a violent slap on the forehead to prove his intention.
“Ah!” thought Jaqueline, “you may knock, but there’s nobody at home, I guess. Bless my heart! what a pity, so handsome as you are!”
“I will believe that by time and opportunity, and the most devoted attentions, I may at length hope to excite an interest in your heart?” said the Comte inquiringly, and again taking her hand.
“The best way is to humour him, I suppose,” thought Jaqueline, as she replied, “Very likely you may, for I can’t say but I’m sorry for you. Howsomever, you must mind and behave yourself.”
This encouragement exhilarated the Comte so powerfully, that, after uttering sundry brief rhapsodies, his lips approached so near her sunburnt cheeks, that he seemed on the point of forgetting her injunctions concerning his behaviour, when she called him to order by the ejaculation of “Paws off!” on hearing which he bowed low, and retired to give certain instructions to his followers. These were executed with wonderful rapidity; for Jaqueline had barely time to tuck up and adjust her clothes for running, or, as she called it, “make a bolt,” when she found herself surrounded by the horsemen, one of whom, the ugliest of the lot, was mounted before a pillion, upon which the Comte begged he might have the honour of placing her. To this, after some demur, she submitted, because escape on foot now seemed impossible; but no sooner had she taken her seat, than she whispered in the ear of the man before her, “Your master’s mad, that’s clear. So contrive, if you can, to let us get away from him; and if you take me safe to the Cock and Bottle, I’ll not stand upon trifles, but make it worth your while. What d’ye say?”
“What do I say?” replied the man, in the same low tone, and looking round with a most hideous leer. “I say that I wouldn’t mind going all over the world for you, without fee or reward, except, perhaps” —(and he smacked his thick wide lips too significantly)— “for I’m blessed if you ain’t just about the nicest girl I ever clapped my eyes on.” And again he leered so frightfully, that Jaqueline would have jumped down had she not been strapped to the pillion.
“The holy Virgin protect me,” she murmured; “what sort of folks have I got among?” and she looked round timidly, but could discern no cause for alarm, unless it were that the eyes of all the party seemed fixed upon her, and every countenance was expressive of deep admiration. This was certainly a sort of homage to which she had been unused, and probably, on that account, acted more strongly on her feelings; for she immediately decided that such handsome, agreeable faces could belong only to men utterly devoid of evil intentions. Having thus made up her mind, she rather enjoyed the first part of her ride, as they bounded along merrily across the country, and the Comte rode by her side, ever and anon making observations and complimentary speeches, to which she usually replied by hoping that they were in the right road to the Cock and Bottle.
“Soyez tranquille!” was his invariable answer to that question; and so they held on their way, till they arrived at a large house, into the courtyard of which he led the cavalcade, and then, dismounting from his horse, he informed her that she was at her journey’s end, and assisted her to alight at the principal entrance, which seemed to her more fit for a palace than an inn.
“You will please to take every care of this young lady, for my sake, my good Madame Rigaud,” said the Comte to an elderly female, who stood, with several livery servants, in the hall.
“This way, Mademoiselle,” said the said housekeeper, with a curtsy, and she led Jaqueline through divers passages and elegant apartments, at which she marvelled exceedingly, although she had heard strange stories of the magnificence of certain large hotels in Paris and elsewhere. But the splendour of the chamber into which she was at last ushered was quite overpowering, and she stood gazing at the profusion of rich velvet and silk surrounding her, till roused by Madame Rigaud’s request to be favoured with her commands.
“Bless your heart, my good madame!” exclaimed Jaqueline, “this is no place for me! I’m only a small farmer’s daughter. So just have the goodness to show me the way into the kitchen, and let me have a basin of soup and boulli, if there happens to be any, till the next patache comes by for me to make a bargain to go to Moulins.”
Madame Rigaud replied, that no vehicles of that description ever passed the place; and an explanation followed, from which it appeared that Jaqueline was in the new chateau of the Comte, and some leagues farther from the Cock and Bottle than when she commenced her ride.
“How could he think of serving me such a trick?” she gasped, sinking into one of the velvet chairs, and all but sobbing. “He’s mad, isn’t he?”
“I should almost think he is,” said Madame Rigaud. “To be sure, there is no accounting for the tricks of young men, I know that pretty well; nor their fancies neither; but this is so very extraordinary!” and, looking down upon her charge, she elevated her hands and then her eyes, and shrugged her shoulders expressively.
“I’ll not stay here; I’m determined upon that!” exclaimed Jaqueline.
“That’s right, my dear,” said Madame Rigaud; and forthwith they concocted a plan of escape, which was to be carried into effect by the aid of Madame Rigaud’s son Philippe, who was in the Comte’s service; and in the meanwhile they retired to her private room to avoid observation; and there the said Philippe, a smart, active young man, presently made his appearance.
“It’s a burning shame,” he cried, when he had heard the story; “but I’ll see Ma’mselle safe to the Cock and Bottle, and to Moulins too, if she will allow me. So, mother, you must go directly to the stables, and tell Pierre to put the side-saddle on the strawberry mare, and let me have Volante. Nobody will suspect you; and, by the time you come back, the Comte’s breakfast will be served, and the footman will be engaged in waiting, and then Ma’mselle and I can slip off unnoticed. Courage!” and he laughed, and slapped his thigh right jovially. But the moment his mother had disappeared and closed the door, his demeanour was totally changed, and making a serious face, and putting his hand on his heart, he bent his body forward most obsequiously, and then went upon his knees before Jaqueline, and vowed after a very solemn fashion, that not only would he conduct her to Moulins, but that it would give him the greatest of all possible satisfaction to accompany her throughout the whole journey of life.
“Do you suppose I’m going to ride on horseback all my days?” inquired the bewildered maid; “no, no. All I want is to get safe to the Cock and Bottle. But you’d better get up, and not make such a fool of yourself; for don’t you see that the floor has been fresh ruddled, and you’ll stain your best——”
Here her speech was cut short, and the scene abruptly changed, by the sudden opening of the door, and the appearance of a remarkably fat, red-faced, profusely powdered, well-dressed man of “a certain age,” who, the moment he caught sight of Jaqueline, seemed fixed to the spot where he stood, with his eyes riveted upon her countenance. Whether he had observed Philippe’s position was doubtful, as that sprightly youth had jumped upon his feet at the first movement of the door, and stood sheepishly against the wall, twirling his thumbs; a task from which he was speedily relieved by the advance of the new-comer, who dismissed him from the room by a silent, authoritative wave of the hand.
“This must be the old Comte,” thought Jaqueline, rising and bobbing her best curtsy. “No wonder he is surprised to see the like of me here; but I’ll tell him all about it, and I daresay he’ll be glad enough to send me off to the Cock and Bottle, if it’s only to get rid of me.”
“Oh! I beg, I entreat, Mademoiselle,” gasped the unwieldy stranger; and as he spake he continued a series of short bows, ducking his red face as forward as he dare, without danger of destroying the equilibrium of his body. “Oh, Mademoiselle! Pray do not disturb yourself. It is a mistake, quite. Ah! Monsieur le Comte requests—oh, oh! Pray, be seated! Ugh! ugh! What can I say? What shall I do? I never was so perplexed in my life before. Oh! You will never forgive!”
“Yes, but I will, though,” said Jaqueline; “I’ll forgive all that’s past, if you will but get me out of the way of your son.”
“My son!” exclaimed the fat man; “Eh? How came Mademoiselle to know that I had a son? And he, the young rascal! has he dared to aspire so high? I could not have supposed him capable of such audacity!”
“Couldn’t you?” observed Jaqueline; “well, then, you ought to look after him better, and not let him go playing such precious tricks as he has with me this morning, deceiving me first by talking all sorts of nonsense, and then bumping me about the country on horseback, till I declare I’m quite uncomfortable.”
The eyes of the huge red face before her here became dilated to an extraordinary degree; but the mental perception of their owner appeared to be eclipsed, as he stood with puffed-out cheek discharging his breath violently through his pursed-up mouth, as though playing upon a trumpet.
“It’s no use being in a passion about it now,” continued Jaqueline; “what’s done can’t be helped; and if you’ll only see me safe to the Cock and Bottle——”
“What, I!” exclaimed the stout gentleman; “may I venture to hope that you will condescend to accept of my humble services?”
“To be sure I will,” replied Jaqueline, “and thank you too. Why not?”
“Oh! this is too much happiness!” sighed the panting elderly beau, and forthwith, by the help of a chair, he lowered himself down upon his knees, and then attempted to seize the maiden’s hand; but she somewhat too nimbly moved her chair and self backward, and thereby caused him to fall forward on all-fours, in which position he was when Madame Rigaud suddenly re-entered, and exclaimed—“Ah! Monsieur Robert! what can be the matter?”
“I’m afraid the poor gentleman is taken suddenly ill,” replied Jaqueline.
“What presence of mind! what angelic—humph!” muttered the patient, looking up, and winking in a very odd way at the maiden.
Madame Rigaud declared that it was of no kind of use for them to try to lift him up, so she lifted up her voice, and presently the room was crowded; for Monsieur Robert was no less a personage than the house-steward, or maître-d’hotel, who had been sent by the Comte to desire Madame Rigaud to inform the young lady that breakfast was served, and her presence to grace that meal was most respectfully requested, and anxiously desired.
Of this invitation Jaqueline was not made aware until the apoplectic invalid had been placed upon a sofa, and contrived to catch hold of one of her hands, and pinch it sadly. “Ah! I’m quite well now!” he exclaimed, “it was only a momentary—ah! I don’t know what;” and, rising briskly, he ordered all present to leave the room, as he had something particular to say to the young lady. The domestics instantly withdrew; but Madame Rigaud remained, and whispered to Jaqueline that the horses would be ready in ten minutes, and then, in a louder tone, proposed that they should take breakfast together immediately.
At this proposition Monsieur Robert appeared much shocked, and spake incoherently about proper respect, and the Comte’s particular desire, and his own most perfect devotion to the service of Mademoiselle; to which she replied—“You may as well save your breath to cool your broth, old gentleman. I’ve had quite enough of the Comte’s tricks already this morning; and as for your services, they’re of no use to me.”
“Oh, cruel!” groaned Monsieur Robert. “Did you not just now accept them, and even condescend to request me to see you safe to some place?”
“Well, well, I don’t want you now,” said Jaqueline; “I’ve got an active young man, who will do a great deal better.”
“Oh! how cruelly capricious!” he sighed, and the great red face was turned upward as he clasped his hands imploringly, and he was striving, no doubt, to concoct something very pathetic, when the young Comte burst in upon them, and began, in no measured terms, to upbraid Madame Rigaud for her misconduct in allowing his distinguished visitor to occupy any other than the best apartments. He then apologised to Jaqueline, and taking her hand, and bowing respectfully, led her out of the room toward the salle à manger, from whence issued certain savoury odours, which operated more powerfully upon the hungry maiden than could all the fine speeches he continued to utter. So, determined to make a good breakfast, to strengthen her for her flight with Philippe, she allowed herself to be conducted into the elegant apartment, where she was received by the company with as much deference as though she had been a princess. The party consisted of half-a-dozen persons; and as there were no other ladies present, she was the great object of attention. The Comte gallantly pressed her to partake of certain delicacies at table; and, when she laconically expressed her approbation thereof, seemed quite in ecstasy. One gentleman complimented her upon patronising the dress of the country, and thereby evincing a purity of taste far superior to that of ladies who fancy nothing becoming unless brought from Paris. “Ah!” sighed another, “with such personal attractions, Mademoiselle has little need to trouble herself about fashions.”—“No,” said Jaqueline; “that’s the mantua-makers’ and milliners’ business, not mine; I never trouble my head about such things, not I.”—“What elevation of mind!” exclaimed the Comte.—“How infinitely above vulgar prejudices!” ejaculated one of his companions; and the rest expressed their admiration by the epithets “charming,” “admirable,” and so on. In short, everything she uttered was declared to be replete with wit or sentiment; and the result was, that by the time she had finished a very hearty déjeuné à la fourchette, she began to question whether she really might not possess certain endowments for which she had never previously given herself credit, and had not quite decided, when the Comte contrived to draw her attention toward a window, and so have her to himself. He then, without loss of time, made her a regular offer of himself, his chateau, and his fortune; and Jaqueline replied with a sigh, “I don’t think I shall do for you, nor you for me; but, howsomever, I can’t say nothing more about it without asking my father.”
“I’ll ask him!” exclaimed the enraptured Comte; “I’ll ride over to him directly. I’ll bring him back to dinner. We have a priest in the chateau,” and he knelt and pressed her hand to his lips.
“Well, upon my word!” said Jaqueline, “some people fancy they’ve only to ask and have. Just as if my father would give me away like a bunch of grapes.”
“What an admirable simile!” exclaimed the Comte. “Yes, a bunch of grapes, sound, ripe, beautiful to the eye, exquisite in flavour, blooming, delicate to the touch——”
“Better not try,” muttered Jaqueline, for, as he spake, he rose up and approached rather too near. “Paws off! as I told you before, or you’ll catch it presently,” and she pushed him away with a vigour seldom displayed by ladies of his own rank.
“This is too much!” exclaimed one of the party, rushing forward. “Monsieur le Comte, you forget yourself strangely. No man can stand tamely by, and see such innocence and beauty annoyed. You must perceive that your attentions are unwelcome, and I insist upon it that you proceed no farther. Don’t be alarmed, Mademoiselle, I will protect you.”
“You insist!” cried the Comte, scowling fiercely. “It is you who forget yourself, Monsieur le Capitaine, when you dare to address such language to me.”
“Dare!” shouted the captain; “for this lady’s sake I would dare a thousand such miserables.”
“I think a walk into the open air may be of service to you,” observed the Comte, pointing significantly to the door.
“Good!” replied the captain, and after bowing respectfully to Jaqueline, he withdrew, and was almost immediately followed by the Comte and two more of the party, leaving only a dapper thin little gentleman dressed in black, who immediately strutted up to our heroine, and, laying his hand upon his left breast, began to hem and cough, and looked exceedingly perplexed and miserable. “What’s the matter with you?” thought Jaqueline; “you look as if you had eaten something that had disagreed with you.”
“That benevolent glance has revived me!” exclaimed the small gentleman. “Ah, mademoiselle! I have struggled hard. The Comte is my patron. I would not be ungrateful; but—but—I am convinced that a lady of your delicate perceptions, of your incomparable—Oh! what shall I say? I am a notary, and seldom want words—but on this occasion they seem to fail me. I mean to say that I am firmly convinced that neither my friend the Comte nor his boisterous comrades are fit or capable of—ahem! In short, a quiet life, with one who would do his utmost to secure your affections, to merit your esteem, and to promote your happiness, is——”
“Just the very thing I should like,” said Jaqueline; “but the question is, where to find him.”
“Behold him here!” exclaimed the notary, dropping on his knees. “Never before did this heart surrender to beauty. Hitherto my whole soul has been given to making money, without being very particular how, I must own; but now, all is changed! There is about you an irresistible charm——”
“Ah!” shrieked Jaqueline, “so there is! I see it all now! It’s all along of that water I drank this morning. Get out of the way, do!” and, rushing past him, she ran off to the room of Madame Rigaud, whom she earnestly entreated to introduce her to the priest of the family without loss of time. “I shall place myself under his protection,” said she.
“The resolution does you great credit,” observed Madame Rigaud. “He will attend you here immediately, I am sure; for he is an excellent man, and always delighted to do good.”
About five minutes after, as Jaqueline was standing alone before a mirror, endeavouring vainly to discover what change in her appearance had caused such a marvellous change in the manners of the men toward her, the door slowly opened, and a venerable grey-haired ecclesiastic stood gazing upon her in respectful silence.
“Ah! Father Dunstan!” she exclaimed joyously, “is that you? Oh! I am so rejoiced to see you! Don’t you know me?”
“Really, Mademoiselle,” said the holy man, nervously, “there must be some mistake. If I had ever had the honour of being introduced to you, I am sure I could not have forgotten——”
“No, I can’t be mistaken,” observed Jaqueline, “only I’m grown a good deal since you left St Denis. Many a time you’ve dandled me on your knee; but I suppose I’m too heavy for that now; so come, sit down, and I’ll take a chair beside you, or perhaps I ought to go upon my knees, for it is a sort of confession that I’ve got to make, though really I didn’t think there could be any great harm in just drinking a little water. However, you’ll tell me what to do, I know; for you were always very kind and indulgent, though you used to thump me on the back, and laugh at me for romping, and say that I was too strong for a girl, and ought to have been a boy.”
“Is it possible?” exclaimed the bewildered priest.
“Perfectly true, mon bon père,” said our heroine. “Look at me again. There, I am your old play-fellow, Jaqueline Triquet.”
“Is it possible!” repeated the good man, elevating his hands and eyes in especial wonder.
Jaqueline then told her tale, and in conclusion, said, “And now, my good father, I place myself under your protection, and hope you will take me away from this place, and all the strange people about it. I’ll go anywhere with you; but had rather go to the Cock and Bottle, because there I shall be sure to find a patache to take me to Moulins.”
“My dear child,” said the priest fervently, “I will go with thee; I will protect thee; but while I am preparing for our departure, thou must leave this room, where thou art liable to intrusions, and I will place thee in the charge of good Madame Rigaud.”
Jaqueline was accordingly removed to a more private apartment, where she awaited the priest’s summons in great uneasiness, as Madame Rigaud, who was not particularly taciturn, visited her from time to time with strange accounts of what had passed, and was then going on among the household, all in consequence of her untoward presence therein.
It seemed that the Comte had wounded his friend the Captain, and that, while he was so laudably engaged, a footman, anxious to gaze upon the charms of the bewitching fair one, had peeped through the opening of the half-closed door of the salon, and witnessed the scene between her and the amorous notary, the particulars of which he whispered to his master on his triumphant return. The Comte thereupon rushed furiously forward, and, discovering the luckless limb of the law still upon his knees, and apparently paralysed by Jaqueline’s abrupt retreat, without any ceremony bestowed upon him sundry hard names and one particularly ugly kick, by the latter of which the little gentleman was so thrown off his guard as to abandon the chance of a lucrative legal process, and to demand satisfaction instanter. It was given, and the Comte was wounded; and then the notary, feeling that his suit was in no degree advanced by this display of his prowess, and yet smarting under the mortification consequent upon our heroine’s style of receiving his addresses, most unadvisedly spake of her after the fashion of the fox in the fable, when he found that the grapes were above his reach. This produced certain sarcastic observations from another of the party, which led to a fresh encounter, that terminated by the legal functionary’s being disarmed with a violent sprain in his right wrist.
Then, in the lower department, much altercation had taken place. Monsieur Robert thought proper to call Philippe Rigaud a young puppy; and Philippe, instead of acknowledging his puppyism, as in duty bound, to his superior, vehemently apostrophised him as an old fool. The female domestics were all scandalised beyond measure at the blindness and stupidity of their sweethearts in particular, and the men-servants generally, in admiring an awkward country-girl, as some called our heroine; but all agreed in pronouncing her to be “no great things.”
At length Jaqueline and Father Dunstan took their departure through a private road from the back of the chateau, and rode in silence, side by side, for nearly a league, when Jaqueline expressed her sorrow for the disasters and quarrels that have just been related.
“It was no fault of thine, my child,” observed the priest; “it is ever thus when women are so exceedingly beautiful. Men don’t know what to do with themselves. Heigho!”
“La, Father Dunstan!” exclaimed Jaqueline, “what can that have to do with the present case? I’m no beauty, that’s certain, or some of our young fellows would have found it out long ago. You used to say yourself that I was more fit for a boy; and latterly I’ve been thinking the same, and had a great mind, since nobody would come a-courting to me, to dress myself up like a man, and try my luck that way.”
“Most exceedingly dull and stupid must the young men about St Denis be in the present generation!” said Father Dunstan. “But you’ll find it very different at Moulins. Heigho!” and they rode on in silence for a considerable distance, and then Jaqueline exclaimed, “Why, this is the same way that I was brought this morning! Yes. And there I declare is part of the old castle, peeping above the trees. We shan’t get to the Cock and Bottle to-night at this rate! But, bless us, mon bon père, what’s the matter with you? Aren’t you well?”
“Not exactly, my dear,” replied the priest; “I feel a very peculiar sensation in my pericardium, and a dizziness about the head.”
“Can I do anything for you?” inquired Jaqueline.
“I think,” said Father Dunstan, “nay, I am sure that it would do me good to hear you talk a little, my dear Mademoiselle.”
“Very well,” replied Jaqueline, “I don’t mind talking a great deal, if that will be of any service: but what must it be about?”
“Anything. Only speak kindly.”
“Speak kindly! why, how can I speak in any other way to such a nice good old man as you are?”
“No, no, not very old. Don’t talk so,” said the priest, reproachfully.
“Well then, I won’t,” continued Jaqueline—“for I’ll please you, if I can; and, now I look at you again, really I shouldn’t have thought you’d been so old as you are, if I didn’t remember that, when I was a child, you looked much the same as you do now; and I’ve heard my father say——”
“Never mind what, my dear. Don’t mention it.”
“Very well, father, then I’ve done, though I can’t see how it signifies about your age, when you are so hearty and strong as you are.”
“Do you really think so?” inquired the delighted priest.
“Why, of course. One has only to look at you, and see that plain enough,” said Jaqueline; and then, perceiving the sort of talk that was most likely to be agreeable to her companion, she continued to compliment him upon his good looks till they arrived at the ruins.
The old lady was absent; but Father Dunstan said he knew her well, and that she would be very angry if he did not make himself quite at home. So he prevailed upon Jaqueline to consider herself as his guest till their hostess’s return; and bestirring himself with the alacrity of a youth, he had put up the horses, spread the table-cloth, lighted the fire, and was beating up an omelet, before Jaqueline had finished her simple toilet. When she expressed her wish to take the culinary department, he gently, but firmly and respectfully, requested her to take a seat, and let him have his own way, which she accordingly did, marvelling exceedingly at his dexterity and accurate knowledge of the contents of the old lady’s larder, and the spot in which everything was kept.
In due time they sate down to dine, and his attention to her during the meal was excessive, and therefore tiresome to one unused to form and ceremony. So, when it was finished, she reminded him of his old habit of taking a nap in the afternoon, and recommended him to do so on the present occasion, hinting, at the same time, her hope that, when he had so refreshed himself, he would be ready to escort her to the Cock and Bottle. But at this last suggestion he shook his head, and said something about the horses being tired, and then yawned and took a glass of wine, and then yawned again, and so on till he fell asleep.
“I think I’ll go and lie down, and do the same,” thought Jaqueline, “for I’m dreadfully fatigued with all this riding”—and she betook herself to the little dormitory in which she had been installed by the old lady on the preceding night; and after gaping once or twice, and wondering when she should get to the Cock and Bottle, she lost sight of her cares—and the next question she had occasion to ask herself was, “How long have I been asleep?”
It is a question which, after fatigue, we have all occasionally found it very difficult to answer. Jaqueline rubbed her eyes, and repeated it aloud, [Pg 99]and greatly was she astonished to receive a reply in the well-known tones of Father Dunstan, who was seated by her bedside. “You have slept soundly, my dear. It is now morning. I have kept watch over you, as I hope always to be permitted to do hereafter. Heigho!”
“La! Father Dunstan!” exclaimed Jaqueline, shrinking under the coverlet—“surely this is very improper conduct, although you are such a very old man.”
“No, no,” cried the priest, “I am not an old man. I feel that I am not. You will be very happy with me, and without you I cannot live. I have not slept a wink all night for thinking of you, and have made up my mind. It is of no use for you to refuse, as I’ve got you here in the middle of the forest. So agree at once to go with me to England, where priests are allowed to marry, and you will never repent it. Beautiful, beautiful creature as you are, I shall never cease to adore you!”
“You horrid, wicked old wretch!” shrieked Jaqueline, “get along out of the room immediately, or, if you don’t, mind I have not taken off my clothes: I’ll get up and give your old bones such a shaking—I will. Eh! What! You’d hold me down would you? Let go the clothes, will you! If I do but get my hands loose, I’ll scratch your eyes out, I will, you ugly old—old—old monster! What! You’d smother me, would you? Help, help, murder!” and making a violent effort as she shrieked, she felt herself suddenly released from the incumbent pressure.
“Oh, he’s gone, is he!” she exclaimed, breathing hard after the struggle, and looking round the room, “better for him, or else I’d have—but bless me! I am undressed, after all! How very strange that I don’t recollect——”
Here she was agreeably surprised by the appearance of her kind hostess, who came running into the room in great apparent alarm, to inquire what was the matter. The explanation that followed, consisted of the adventures which have been related; and when the old lady had heard them to the end, she remarked, with an odd sort of smile—“Well, never mind, my dear, you are safe out of their clutches now; so dress yourself, and come down to breakfast, for it is very near eight o’clock; but I did not call you before, as you seemed so sound asleep; and now I know what’s happened, I don’t wonder.”
“No, no, you may depend upon it I shall not tell anybody about it, for my own sake; for if it got talked of, it might come to the ears of the Comte and the rest of them, and they’d be after me again; but I’ve had quite enough of your gentry, and lots of lovers; and if ever I should get another, I hope he’ll be a plain sort of body like myself.”
Thus said Jaqueline to her kind hostess of the castle, on their way to the Cock and Bottle, where they arrived after a pleasant walk, and parted without further adventures.
On the evening of that day our heroine was safely conveyed in the patache to the door of Madame Margot, who was a restauratrice in the Cours Public, a pleasant open space planted with trees in the town of Moulins. Her reception was most cordial; but Nicolas Margot, who officiated as premier garçon in the establishment, evinced no symptoms of that intense admiration which she had so recently excited. In a few days, however, they became excellent friends, as she cheerfully assisted him in his vocation during the morning, and he was consequently earlier at liberty to chaperon her about the town and environs, and all went on smoothly till the last day of the first week, which Jaqueline declared was Sunday.
How any Christian could so err, appeared wonderful—but she was positive, and would not be convinced, until the day had passed by, and the next came and was kept as Sabbaths are wont to be observed in France, by unusual gaiety all day, something more showy than common at the theatre in the evening, and fireworks “superbe et magnifique” at night. Then she was puzzled, and came to the conclusion that townsfolk and country people kept the calendar in two ways.
“They will never persuade me to the contrary,” she repeated to herself; “for I never can forget how I spent last Tuesday. But the old lady was right. It won’t do to tell Madame Margot or Nicolas about that, or I don’t know what they might not fancy, although I am sure it was no fault of mine that I got among such a pack of fools.”
So she kept that secret; and as time passed merrily along, it somehow happened that she and Nicolas glided unawares into such a degree of confidence, that it was the only secret she withheld from him.
The influence of the moon upon disordered brains may probably account for much of the nonsensical talk that passes between young persons of different sexes, when walking in pairs on “a shiny night;” and that or something else, ere a month had elapsed, caused a great alteration in the tone and subjects of familiar chat between Jaqueline and Nicolas.
This was observed by Madame Margot, who thereupon also changed her manner, by kissing her guest more fervently at night ere she retired to rest, while Nicolas looked very much as though he should like to do the same.
“She is a charming, good girl,” said the mother to her son, when they were left together on one of these occasions, after Jaqueline’s departure.
“That she is!” exclaimed Nicolas, stretching out his legs, twirling his thumbs, and looking down into the fire.
“And so good-tempered!” added Madame Margot, “and so willing and clever about a house! Why, since she has been here, she has been as good as a waiter to us.”
“Worth more than all we ever had put together in a lump,” said Nicolas.
“She would make an excellent wife,” observed the mother, looking archly at her son; but he would not look at her, being apparently watching some change going on among the ashes. “And she will bring her husband some money too,” she added, after a pause.
“The devil take the money!” exclaimed Nicolas, jumping up and striding hastily across the room.
“Oho! Is it so?” thought the restauratrice; “then the omelet’s ready for the pan;” and, in the spirit of that conviction, she led her son into a conversation, the result of which was, that in the course of a few days she contrived to make an arrangement with a neighbouring traiteur, whereby he engaged to take charge of her establishment for the space of one month, leaving her and her son at liberty to take a journey into the country on business.
What passed during those few days between Jaqueline and Nicolas need not be told, except that he now and then said things which reminded her of certain of the speeches of the “pack of fools,” whom she had encountered on the memorable missing Tuesday.
It was a fine day in September, when Madame Margot, Jaqueline, and Nicolas, took their seats in a patache; and were safely conveyed to the Cock and Bottle, where, to our heroine’s great surprise, they were welcomed by her father and the little old lady of the ruins.
The cause of this surprise may as well be told here. The said old lady was an eccentric good body, and, having taken a fancy to Jaqueline, resolved to be her friend. So, after her departure from the castle, she went over to St Denis to make inquiries, as (like all benevolent persons) she had often been deceived. All that she heard of her young protégé was to her heart’s content, and, by means of the curé, with whom she was acquainted, she found no difficulty in gaining the friendship of papa Triquet, to whom she related the particulars of her interview with, and intentions toward his daughter. She then, with his consent, wrote a letter to Madame Margot, authorising her, in case of inquiry touching such matters at Moulins, to state that Jaqueline Triquet would, on her wedding-day, receive from her a given quantity of that dross which Nicolas thought fit afterwards to proffer to his infernal majesty. This circumstance was not made known to the lovers till after the marriage, when the promise was strictly fulfilled.
And now, to the reader’s imagination may be left all the particulars of the journey homeward—how papa Triquet flirted with the fat widow and the little laughing old lady—how Jaqueline was more envied by her friends, on her return from than on her departure for Moulins—how Nicolas and she, having once began each to fancy that there was something very capital in the other, proceeded onward in the delusion till each seemed perfect in the other’s eyes, though to the world in general there really appeared nothing very particular in either of them.
The wedding-day passed, with accustomed gaiety, at St Denis; and towards the close thereof, when the bride was allowed a short respite from dancing, the good little old lady took her aside, and gave her certain reasons whereby to account for the missing Tuesday, concluding by observing—“I would not tell you before, because I thought it might be a lesson to you not to wish for beauty, or think of acquiring attractions by the use of charms and such nonsense. The most powerful charm and attraction is a good temper and kind conduct. Ha, ha! Why, you don’t look above half convinced yet: but, remember, you were very much fatigued that night, and it was very sultry after the storm, and you were very thirsty, I daresay, and so it is no great wonder that water was running in your head.” But, probably, she forgot the long tales which she herself told that night, about the olden times of splendour and gaiety, with elaborate descriptions of furniture, liveries, &c. &c., which were not a little likely to have some influence in the affair.
As Jaqueline resolved to have no secrets unknown to her husband, she related the whole matter to him on the following day, and then said, “It seemed to me as if I saw all those people as plain as I see you now; and if all that then happened was a dream, how do I know but I am in a dream now?”
“It really seems to me as if I was, my dear Jaqueline,” said her spouse. “But it is a very happy one, and I am in no hurry to wake.”
Our intended limits are already exceeded. We shall, therefore, only put on record, for the benefit of future tourists, that in the Cours Public at Moulins they may still find excellent accommodation for large and small parties at the house of a restaurateur, whose buxom, bustling wife, Madame Jaqueline, manages matters after a fashion that induced a gourmand to observe latterly—“With such cooking a monkey might eat his own father.” Her attentions are unremitting—and the only piece of unasked advice that she is in the habit of offering to her guests is, never to drink cold water, particularly in hot weather, without tempering it properly with good wine or Eau de Vie.
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