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The dinner was already served, and the two gentlemen, each standing beside his chair, awaited the appearance of Mademoiselle de Montalembert.
Monsieur Guibert and his valet had not been idle; and the gentleman now appeared, dressed with all the elaborate exactness of what they termed, some time ago, à merveilleux. His waistcoat of a rich mazarine blue, embroidered with flowers in gold, under which was coyly allowed to peep forth the delicate rose-colour of his under-vest-his cravat of the most fanciful colour and finished tie—his coat shaped by the first artist in Paris his satin-leather shoes decorated with their fresh-cut bows of riband-his chains of twisted gold, from which depended his brequet, in size somewhat larger than a half-franc piece-his whole person redolent with perfumes, certainly contrasted in the drollest manner imaginable with a certain blunt homeliness which characterized his expression-a mingled something between goodhumoured honest humorist and fin escroc.
He looked as if he intended to be, as he would himself, perhaps, have expressed it in English, “very killing ;' and carried withal an air of that almost impudent assurance, which men of inferior breeding, and little accustomed to the society of accomplished gentlewomen, sometimes assume, upon their first introduction to elegance, rank, or beauty.
The marquis, indelibly the gentleman, that sole prescriptive quality for which an aristocracy may justly be envied, stood cold and calm, pale and dignified.
In spite of the cutting mortifications of the morning, he had reassumed a certain grave composure of manner. Be. fore his servants, and at the head of his own table, he felt in some measure protected, as it were, from the intolerable sarcasms and audacious familiarity of M. Guibert; and had recovered that air of distant and polite reserve which in him was usually so imposing.
Thus they stood, each behind his chair. The door flew open. “My daughter," said the marquis, in a grave, half-mekancholy accent.
And she entered. The beautiful young creature came forward, attended by Therese,
The marquis advanced and took her hand to lead her to the table; upon which she raised her large tranquil eyes, and fixing them upon M, Guibert, to whom she seemed, in á manner, to be presented, she made him a very low courtesy, with an air at once so graceful, so calm, so gentle, yet so dignified, that M. Guibert, surprised out of all his assurance, could only step suddenly backward, and responded by a very profound and reverential bow,
He had advanced a step or two, with his usual confidence, on the first announcement being made; but when this beautiful vision met his eyes, struck by the awful power—“the might, the majesty of loveliness"-he shrunk, as it were, into his own nothir.gness, and stood abashed and disconcerted before her.
The marquis saw it all with a glance of his eye-strange feelings of regret at the anticipated sacrifice, mingling with a father's pride-and with a certain secret, malicious satisfaction, that the heart, at least, of the young lady, had made its own selection, and had escaped from the fetters of M. Guibert.
Montalembert placed himself at the head of his table, his guest on one side, and Virginie opposite.
Presently M. Guibert seemed to recover, in some degree, his self-confidence; he did not, however, begin to talk with quite his usual fluency; but was profuse in his attentions to the young lady, and rather more respectful in his manner towards her father than he had been in the morning.
The marquis, cold and abstracted, did the honours of the repast. Virginie, her thoughts wandering far from the present scene, received the attentions of the stranger with an absent, indifferent air: but Therese fixed her hawk's eye upon him, and while, with her usual quickness, she began to surmise something of the truth of the affair, she inwardly rejoiced at those arrangements which were to baffle all the plans of the marquis and his 'ally.
The evening was most delightful. A cool breeze lifted the muslin curtains which hung over the windows, and showed the green distant hills shining in the clear evening light ;-the trees casting their long dark shadows upon the earth; the groups of cattle standing out, with that peculiar distinctness which renders such an hour, in such scenes, so eminently beautiful.
M. Guibert looked round him with an appearance of great satisfaction, and settling himself in his chair, in the attitude of one perfectly contented with himself and his expectations, began to admire the beauty of the landscape.
The marquis listened, not as men listen who hear the praises of their own possessions, but as one fretting under the sting of pismires. Virginie answered gently and with
At last the mortal dinner was concluded, and Mademoiselle de Montalembert arose to leave the room.
“Are you going away so soon?" said Guibert, almost with the air of one who had a right to bid her stay. “ It is her custom,” said the marquis, slightly.
“Good night, my dear;” in a tone so unusually kind, that it brought tears to the eyes of the half-repentant girl,
“Good night, my dear father." Therese hurried her away, .
“ You have behaved handsomely !" cried Guibert, in a sort of rapture, the moment the door was closed. “I own I hardly expected it. I thought you would escape me some way or other; and even when I read your signal, I made up my mind that your daughter must be some ugly, stupid being, that you were glad enough to dispose of even to me. But you have acted like a man of honour, M. le Marquisand I honour you accordingly. This is a treasure, indeed !-a charming girl !—I'm a d-d happy dog, that's certain.
“ And you really have been such a bonne bête," he ran on, “as to keep this pretty creature up in the hills here, to preserve her for your very affectionate old friend, Guibert. You really have ?—Kept her cloistered like a nun, and hidden her from the eyes of all those pretty fellows with which the great world swarms—and who would, half of them, have been ready to have gone mad for her-You have-uponyour-honour—?"
“I have done what lay in my power, sir, to redeem my pledge,” said the marquis.
Ăy! most nobly is it redeemed. I shall be only too infinitely blest,” surveying himself in one of the vast mirrors opposite, with an expression of more than ordinary selfsatisfaction, “only too superlatively happy,-may I but flatter myself that any impression can be made upon a heart so new and so naïve. I have had my turn in my day, whatever you may think. You aristocrats are not the only happy fellows on the face of the earth.” “ Undoubtedly not,” said the marquis, with a cold sneer.
Well,” continued his tormentor, “I can conceive nothing more provoking to one of your prejudices, than to have lost a stake like this to a man like me. One so infinitely beneath you, according to your ideas of these things. But then, on the other side, you ought to consider yourself lucky that she has fallen into good hands—into the hands of one really not a very bad sort of a fellow, as times go. For any thing that you knew or cared at the time, I might have been a rascal and a brute. I can assure you, in perfect sincerity, that I am neither. I am even, as I hinted before, somewhat of a romantic turn. I shall dote upon this daughter of yours. She pleases me more than I ever expected to be pleased by any daughter of Eve. I shall take both pride and pleasure in making her happy."
Happy !" repeated the marquis, bitterly. “Oh! come, come!” said the guest—"I hate that sentimental tone; I know it of old. Whenever you are sentimental, I suspect you. None of that with me.”
“Guibert,” said the marquis, with feeling, "you have me at advantage--you know it-be merciful. It is enough, My only child will be laid upon the rack-and, good Heavens! what a rack! to satisfy you. Be satisfied ; I have acted honourably by you so far-I mean to persevere."
" I am very glad to be assured of it,” said Guibert; "and, as you are fully aware of the alternative, I give you due credit for your delicate principles.”
To this the marquis made no reply, and a long silence ensued : during
which, while the father sat struggling with his anguish, M. Guibert, quite at home, walked from window to window, surveying the surrounding country through his eyeglass; and examining, with much apparent satisfaction, the possession he already considered as half his own.
So wore the evening away. The sun set, the twilight came, the night darkened. The unhappy father, who counted every second by throbs of pain, saw the still shadows creep over the hills and darkness settle on the slumbering world. He longed to rest in that everlasting darkness, of which night and sleep afford each revolving day the type : he longed to rest, were it in annihilation.
But to retreat, even for a moment, to the quiet of his own secluded chamber, was not allowed. Unrelenting and persevering, Guibert continued to inflict upon him his presence and his conversation, and it was midnight before he proposed retiring to their apartments.
The marquis entered his—bolted the door roughly on Champagne-stretched himself upon a long couch that stood in the centre of the room-and, there extended, without motion and almost without sentiment, he awaited, in stupid desperation, the first beams of that dreaded morning, when his fell secret must be revealed to his daughter.
His daughter, meanwhile, had returned ; her dress wetted with the dew of night -her face pale and disturbed-her hair disordered-Therese following, the picture of vexation.
As soon as they had quitted the dining-room, Therese had put on Virginie's hat and usual walking-dress; and folding the white mantle, which she intended for the bridal veil, she had urged, rather than led her charge, through the quiet glens and mazy paths that led to the little village of Beaucourt.
The door of Madeleine's cottage stood open to receive them; the last rays of light fell upon that humble abode.
A certain air of simple preparation pervaded the dwelling; the tiled floor was swept and sanded; the large irons upon the hearth shone bright, and a pot of greens adorned the chimney; the bed-curtains and counterpane had evidently been fresh washed ; several nosegays of newly-gathered flowers were placed about the room; the floor itself was strewed with rosemary and lavender.
Madeleine, supporting her majestic but broken figure upon her large staff, was waiting to receive her guests; while Victor, with eyes of eager impatience, watched the path by which the expected visitants were to approach.
She came in, looking fluttered, pale, ashamed—but Victor flew to her side, and his honest assurances, his heartfelt acknowledgments, his cheerful self-congratulations, the grateful joy which shone in those eyes—to hera heaven of beauty-soon caused her breast to overflow with that soft joy which the kind looks and words of the too tenderly beloved afford to trembling, sensitive, hesitating woman-Ah! why ever to be exchanged for coldness! indifference! rude. ness! harshness !
“Enter, dear daughter," said Madeleine, coming forward to receive her, " and accept thy mother's blessing, sent by
“Is M. Bernard come?" asked Therese of Victor, looking impatiently around. “He promised he would be here before us."
Victor was too much occupied at this moment in attending to Virginie, to trouble himself about the absence even of so important a personage as M. Bernard: he was placing, for her a chair near the open casement, at the back of the room which looked upon Madeleine's garden; he was taking off her hat and cloak—he was performing all those trifling, but grateful services, which it is a sort of heaven to pay
and to receive under such circumstances. Therese walked out, but no M. Bernard appeared.
The sun had set, and the evening was closing with that sudden rapidity which belongs to those latitudes. Therese looked anxiously at the clock-half past eight !
“He promised to be punctual-to be here as the bell rung eight,”-she kept repeating to herself.
“ Ah! here he comes !" at length she exclaimed, and a dark figure was seen approaching the cottage.
“He walks in a strange, uncertain manner,” thought she.
The long flowing dress of the priest was now distinctly visible, as he passed up the little lane and entered the cottage.
Victor sprang forward to receive him, while Therese arranged round the trembling Virginie that bridal veil which she had so carefully prepared, and placed upon her head the indispensable orange-flowers.