« ZurückWeiter »
strong feelings of compassion. In most people that virtue does not appear to exceed the limits of a sentiment; in her, pity became a passion. Her great beauty and the quiet appreciation which she had of it, without the slightest admixture of coquetry or affectation, was one of the most striking characteristics of this regal and most original of women. I have seen her go across the room and look steadily at her handsome face for minutes together in the glass with a singleness of purpose that nearly made me laugh ; but I never saw her squint at herself as she went by, or pretend to arrange something in her head-dress, or adopt any of the little mean expedients that uneasy vanity, male and female alike, resorts to whenever a looking-glass is in question. I have never known but one other handsome woman equally unoccupied with her own beauty. If you had told her to put on her grandmother's nightcap, she would have been quite content to do so, and to look like her grandmother in it. Madame Olympe would have put on the cap, too, in a minute ; but somehow her rue would have been worn with a difference, and she would, through an involuntary artistic instinct, have arranged it at once so as to look in it a thousand times handsomer and younger than she did before. Her extraordinary unconsciousness is, I think, perhaps what attracts and attaches one to her more than anything else. She has no more respecthumain than a baby: the sunlight and the shadows flit over her face according to her humours, just as they brighten and darken the face of uncontrolled childhood ; and in her and about her there is all the time a sort of grand innocence which makes one laugh, and for which one adores her. She was evidently gradually growing very fond of Ursula and of Monsieur Jacques. The former had got quite to understand her feeling upon the score of manners; and whenever any little passage occurred to bring a gloom over Madame Olympe's countenance, she would bread out into a sudden appeal of glorious recitative that ended everything with an embrace. Monsieur Jacques liked Madame de Caradec very much, and had the greatest opinion of her artistic organization ; but he was still frightened to death at her size and her abruptness, and whenever she came into the room used to strike up the air of “See the conquering hero comes,” to the great edification of myself and Ursula. Luckily Madame Olympe's acquaintance with Handel was limited. As for me, Monsieur Jacques and I had become sworn friends; he would come to me for a hundred little services, such as numbering the leaves of his music, stitching them together, sewing buttons on his gloves—and he used to call me his providence.
Delightful as they all seemed to consider Monsieur de Saldes, I did not think our party gained from having him—it became less genial at once. One couldn't help a certain feeling of anxiety and responsibility caused by his presence in some sort of undefined way; he was referred to in one's own mind about everything that did, could, or might occur, in a mute unacknowledged manner, and it threw a coldness over the whole. On the day of lis arrival he contrived to escape the natural fate that awaited him in Miss VOL. XV.-NO. 87.
Blankeney, and to take Ursula in to dinner, to Monsieur Jacques' great annoyance, who sat next to me.
* Do not let her marry him," he said to me. “ You have obtained such a good influence over her already — exercise it for her profit, I implore you. Do not let her marry him ; I am sure he would not make her happy."
“ Do you think there is any chance of such a thing ?" I asked in some surprise.
* Things much more improbable have happened," he answered. “He is not good-looking, is he? it is such a worn-out face.”
“ The eyes are fine," I remarked.
“ Mine are fine too,” he said, plaintively. “ Have you ever looked at them?” and he fixed them on me. “ They are like velvet !” he added with a melancholy air.
I then noticed for the first time how handsome they were. What gare a great peculiarity to his face was that to these very black eyes there was hardly any eyebrow whatever.
“ Is it possible that you are jealous ?” said I.
“No,” he answered, " not precisely. I never desired to marry her myself; and if I were to desire it and that she were to consent, I should certainly cease to desire it immediately ; but I have an uncomfortable presentiment about that man-he will love her, or she will love him, and that would make me perfectly miserable.”
Lady Blankeney continued very low, poor woman, at her failure abont Madame de Verneuil's party, and could not flutter her little frivolous wings at all. Ursula, too, snubbed her upon every possible occasion-rather unnecessarily I thought. “What shall you do about the Johnsons,
I Ursula ? ” said she. “I hear they have arrived in London with letters from Mrs. Egerton for various people, and for you and myself among the number. What shall you do ?”
“ Do, Lady Blankeney ?” said Ursula, “What can you possibly mean?”
“I mean,” said Lady Blankeney, “shall you call, or what ? "
“If you mean by . what,' neglect them, Lady Blankeney, I shall certainly not do that,” replied Ursula. “ Indeed I don't see what option I have in the matter. These people come to me recommended by a friend who was extremely kind to me in Italy, so that whoever or whatever they may be I shall do honour to the recommendation, and call upon them as soon as I arrive in London myself, and show them every civility in my power. Don't you intend to go and see them, that you inquire ? ”
“Well,” she said, “I don't quite know yet how that may be. I shall wait a little and see."
66 See what? asked Ursula. " Whether society in general takes any notice of them ?"
“Yes,” said Lady Blankeney, quite simply. "I think it will be better just to wait a little and see.”
" Is there any
“Who are these people ?” asked Madame Olympe. reason why they should not be received or visited ? ”
“O dear, no," replied Lady Blankeney, with the greatest naïveté. " They are very good sort of people indeed; quite so, I believe.”
“It's more than a belief, isn't it, Lady Blankeney ?” said Ursula. “ You know them quite well, don't
you ?” “ You are personally acquainted with them, then, already, are you ? " said Madame Olympe.
"Yes," said Lady Blankeney. “I know them that is, I did know them once. They were very rich once, and used to give very nice parties indeed, and I used always to go there-always. And now they are very poor, and I never go there now-never.”
Lady Blankeney's worldliness was such a good-tempered, impervious, simple-minded sort of thing, that it became really an amusement to me to listen to her, and I could not bring myself to feel indignant and disgusted as Ursula did, whom it never made to smile for a single instant.
We had nearly finished dessert, when Ursula suddenly exclaimed, “What in the world are you doing, Jacques ?”
He was carefully stroking down both sides of his nose with the first finger of each hand, and then rubbing the points of the fingers together at the end of his nose, as if to rub off some adhesive substance. I had seen him steadily doing this during the last ten minutes.
"That is the way the flies do," he said, looking up at her meditatively. “ Hast thou never seen how they clean their bodies, first with their legs going carefully under their wings, and then how they clean their legs by scraping them against each other ?” and he did it again. " Ceci c'est T'éléphant,” he continued mournfully, and stretching his arm out with a sudden impetuous sort of circular sweep across to Ursula's plate, he picked up from off it a peach which she was just going to eat, and dropped it with a curve from above into his own mouth. The dexterity and the likeness to the creature he was imitating were perfectly marvellous, and perfectly irresistible—even Maria blinked her short-sighted eyes and ebuckled faintly. Monsieur René alone maintained a well-bred gravity, and gave the signal for leaving the table by rising at once.
"He detests me,” said Jacques, with a sickly smile. “Don't marry him, my Ursula ! If thou dost, I shall give thee my benediction " (and he extended two fingers on the top of her head), “ and thou wilt never hear
of me again.”
Ursula laughed and said :-" I should not suit Monsieur de Saldes at all, my good Jacques, and he is far too wise not to be aware of that fact; and as for me, I would a great deal rather marry the man in the moon ; 50 thou hast nothing to fear. Ile hates thee to-night, does he ? Last night it was Miss Blankeney. Art thou reconciled to her ?”
"No, my angel,” he answered, “ and never shall be. Thou laughest at all my instincts, but they are perfectly correct. It is an affair of magnetism, all that, and to a magnetic subject like myself first impressions
are quite infallible. But besides the warnings of presentiment and instinct which thou treatest with contempt, there is a fatal something else at work between Meess and myself which causes a deadly and invincible enmity in her bosom. Thou dost not know the misfortune that befell me the dar after I arrived in Paris. I lost my way in the hotel, and could not find my own door, and went into her room by mistake. Ah! she is abominable ! She had a little rat's-tail of hair hanging down behin., and a huge false plait in her hand; and she had false things on before, and false things on behind, and false things on all round; everything was false except her great teeth and her miserable spindles. She screamed, ad frisked wildly about the room, foaming at the mouth, and saying, “Sortez! sortez!' in a state of fury. But I was glued to the ground, paralyzed with horror, and I couldn't move. At last she hurled her plait at me, and I fled. But these are things a woman never forgives. I know all her little secrets, and she knows that I know them; and ever since that day she has always wished that I was dead. I see it in her face very often ; I know the expression quite well.”
After we had been laughing a little while at this adventure, Trsula, who was extremely fond of chess, and who wished for her revenge after being beaten the night before, proposed that we should have a game; but a very decided stop was put to this suggestion by Madame Olympe, who said,
· Ursula, you shall not play at chess; it is a horrid game; it wichdraws people completely from the rest of the society, and swallows them up. I will not have you play. As for Bessie,"—and she stooped down and kissed me," she is ill, and may play if she pleases.” After which grand but somewhat idle concession, she opened the piano, and the evening was spent in most delightful music. Monsieur René was the first Frenchman I had ever known who was really conversant with the works of Mendelssohn, and really appreciated them. Far from appearing taken with Ursula, be seemed to me to have rather an antagonistic feeling towards her than otherwise. He was singularly cold and niggardly in his praise of her singing, expressing admiration only when positively appealed to by Madame Olympe, in her enthusiasm. She had been singing some things of Rossini's, and after a sort of obliged compliment to her perfect execution of them, he inquired if she never indulged in more serious music than that. She then sang the great air from the Orfeo quite magnificently. He, horever, merely remarked that it had been originally written for a high tenor, and lost immensely by being arranged for a woman's voice.
“I don't care," said Ursula. "Everybody is not so learned as you, Monsieur de Saldes, and there is so very little real contralto music existing, that I am willing to rob on all sides, wherever I can adapt my theft successfully to my means.”
“ I will write a new oratorio of Samson," said Monsieur Jacques. “ And Samson shall be a contralto, and thou shalt sing it—thou who art strong."
“ But how wilt thou write it?" said Ursula—" thou who art not strong? One does but what one is. Thou dear old ninny,” she went on caressingly, “thou hast a little soul : how wilt thou do great things with it? But thou hast a tender soul, and a fanciful brain, and of grace, tenderness, and fancy thou wilt always be master. Thou canst but what thou art. Write me a cantata of David before he went up to slay the Philistine, in the flower of his shepherd days, and I will sing that for thee."
Monsieur de Saldes then came to me and begged me to play something. I hesitated a little, for I thought it would sound very poor after the singing, but he insisted, adding, "I believe I am very peculiar, but I confess I like instrumental music (even the piano) better than singing."
I played one after the other of the Lieder ohne Worte for him. He knew them all, and it was quite delightful to play to so absorbed and enjoying a listener. His manner, too, was quite charming, so gentle, and with something of a pleasant deference about it—a sort of perfume of another day, and which is quite gone out of fashion. Madame Olympe and Jacques then played us some of Beethoven's sonatas for piano and violin, and I retired to my sofa and crochet, where I was followed by Monsieur de Saldes, who very good-naturedly helped me to wind my wool. Once, during the Adagio of the wonderful sonata in C minor, I happened to look up at him; he was holding his hands quite still and the worsted wouldn't run : I saw that his thoughts were far away and his eyes quite full of tears.