From Tales of Humour, Anonymous, London: Burns and Oates; New York: Benzigers; undated (c. 1890); pp. 211-232.
M. DE PRATILLY was a worthy gentleman of Brittany, who had been absent for many years from his country-seat, and had resided at Paris, in order to superintend the education of his children. He kept up all his family connexions and powerful influence in the country, by a yearly journey at vacation and harvest time. He enjoyed what is termed — I scarcely know why — an honourable independence, which promised in the future but a slender patrimony for each of his six children, and allowed him to give but a very poor allowance, as marriage portion, to each of his two daughters. Their settlement in life, therefore, was not an easy matter. The elder, Geneviève, was about twenty-eight years of age. Without having decidedly resolved to die an old maid, she had pretty well made up her mind never to marry, and resigned herself to her fate with great cheerfulness. She was a little brunette, with expressive features, which were pleasing rather from their liveliness than from their regularity, a quality in which they were somewhat deficient. Of a singularly estimable and high-minded character, and with a comprehensive and carefully cultivated intellect, no consideration whatever could have made her descend from the rank which her name entitled her to hold in society. Opportunities of contracting a merely suitable marriage had occurred 214 more than once, but she had always rejected them, without allowing herself time to hesitate, as such a marriage did not satisfy her wishes. She had a high idea of nobility in general, and more particularly of her that of her own family, which although wanting in historical honours, might refer, with a just pride, to its remote antiquity, lost in the mists of ages, — to an inscription in the Room of the Crusades, in the Museum at Versailles, and to a descent in a direct line for twelve generations, confirmed by indubitable proofs a the Reformation of 1668. She knew by heart the “Catalogue of the Noble Families of Brittany.” To that Catalogue she referred, as to an authority from which there was no appeal, when proposals of marriage were made to her; and she would have looked upon an alliance with a family one generation more recent than her own as beneath her rank. She cared very little for the opposition of the world on this favourite theme, or even for interpreting it in a quite contrary sense. The advancement of the Republic to supreme power, far from disturbing her faith in the aristocracy, rather confirmed her in it, and filled her with a sovereign contempt for the proceedings of the democracy. She was very indifferent, however, respecting the events of the day, never read the newspapers, and had only an opinion in politics founded on feeling, — a firm and unshakeable confidence in the return, at a date more or less distant, of the legitimate monarch.
Distinct from this belief, which was almost with her a second religion, her mind lived chiefly in the past; and she concentrated around her, without quitting the narrow circle of her family, all the affections of her heart.
Margaret, her younger sister, was ten years her junior, and bloomed in all the brightness of remarkable beauty. She was, in every respect, a charming girl; and it is not necessary to describe features 215 minutely, which, both as a whole and in detail, were equally faultless. By no means of a decided character, she was just what might be expected at her time of life, — prouder of her youth, now numbering eighteen years, than of her rank and name, which she was much more disposed than her sister to exchange for another. Her mother looked upon her with peculiar fondness and pride. Geneviève was more the object of the father’s affectionate attachment; but these marks of love, proceeding from a resemblance which showed itself even in the features, did not arise from any acknowledged preference, and were never displayed by actions that could excite the slightest jealousy in either sister.
Margaret’s marriage was now beginning to be discussed in the family circle. Her sister, in particular, often spoke of it in a joking manner, and declared she would agree only to a first-rate connexion, to which she thought her fully entitled both by her rank and beauty.
Madame de Pratilly opened her unpretending drawing-room once a-week for the reception of her friends, who were not a very numerous body, and were chiefly composed of persons from the same part of France with herself, — the deputies, or representatives of the department, — young men from the country, who had come up to Paris to prosecute their law-studies, — and families on a visit to the capital. It was delightful to see the young men fluttering round Margaret; but it was universally acknowledged in the family, that not one of them was a suitable match for her.
One evening, towards the end of February, 1849, Monsieur and Madame de Pratilly were in their drawing-room, with their daughters and their son, Raymond, a young student, twenty years of age. The other sons were still at College, so that no mention will be made of them in this true story. 216 Monsieur de Pratilly was reading a newspaper, “La Patrie,” and stopped occasionally for the purpose of making some remarks aloud, while his wife and Geneviève were occupied in sewing. Margaret and her brother were talking with a party of ladies, when a letter was brought in, addressed to Madame de Pratilly. She read it, expressing at the same time much surprise, and again read it aloud: it was as follows: —
“MADAME, — My young friend, the Marquis du Roscoat, has expressed on several occasions a great with to be introduced to you. I beg that you will have the goodness to allow me to present him to you. It is a commission which will afford me real pleasure; for I am not acquainted with any lady for whom I entertain a more affectionate esteem than yourself. If you will condescend to allow me, I shall have the pleasure of accompanying my young friend to see you on Wednesday next; and shall be happy to take that opportunity of expressing to you how much I am,
“Your most respectful Servant,
LE COMTE DU MESNIL.”
In order to understand what follows, it is necessary to mention that the Marquis du Roscoat, whose real name is not mentioned, but only the name of one of his estates, belonged to an illustrious and wealthy family, which was originally of Brittany, but had been settled for many centuries in the vicinity of Paris, on account of duties connected with the Court. He was personally unknown to Monsieur de Pratilly, who had never had the slightest intercourse with him.
“Do you understand this,” remarked Madame de Pratilly, when she had finished reading the letter. “I see now the meaning of the two cards that I 217 received lately one after the other, from the old Count du Mesnil, who gave up visiting us years ago. What strange fancy has seized M. du Roscoat to think of coming and tiring himself to death with us? I have neither a house nor furniture fit for the reception of a nobleman in his station. It is all a mistake, no doubt; and he is not aware into what a trap he is being led. What have we to offer a man of such distinction? It is quite vexatious, and I don’t know what reply to make.”
M. de Pratilly, without raising his eyes from off the newspaper, declared that there was no way of refusing to see M. du Roscoat; and that should he find it very dull on his first visit, he would be at liberty to stay away, which would not be any very great misfortune.
“I have no doubt,” exclaimed Geneviève, who had taken the letter out of her mother’s hands, for the purpose of narrowly weighing all its expressions, “that the gentleman has fallen in love with Margaret. He has seen her somewhere, perhaps at Madame de Fontaine’s last ball, and wishes to be better acquainted with her; there is clearly no other possible explanation. What do you think, my dear, of being Marchioness of Roscoat — eighteen generations of ancestors and the King’s carriage — besides a splendid fortune — which is always acceptable? — all this is quite what you deserve. O it will be delightful, and I cannot refrain from dancing for joy at the thought of it!”
“Don’t be foolish,” said M. de Pratilly, smiling, and laying down his newspaper on the mantelpiece. “How can you allow yourself to be so excited by a fanciful supposition! Take care you do not meet the fate of Perrette with her milk-pail. But now, Margaret, tell me, did you observe any young man at the last ball who had particularly attentive 218 to you? Did you hear M. du Roscoat’s name mentioned?”
“I did not know the names of any of my partners,” replied Margaret, “at the ball: several of them were very polite to me, as young men usually are, but I was not aware that any of them paid me more than ordinary attention.”
Her concluding words were uttered hesitatingly and with a blush that overspread her whole countenance.
Raymond, who sat opposite to his sister, noticed this tell-tale change in her complexion, and said in his lively style, —
“O what a pretty blush!
“Well, for my part, I declare that there was a young man who never took his eyes from you all the evening, who danced twice with you, and whom you seemed to think very agreeable. I do not know his name, but I am sure that I heard in a group of which he was one, the name of Roscoat mentioned.”
“There is no doubt of his being the person,” continued Geneviève. “What is he like, Raymond? Is he dark or fair? tall or stout? handsome? what age is he? Tell me, I am quite inpatient to know all about my future brother-in-law.”
“When you have finished,” said Raymond, “I will reply to you. He is of the middle size, dark-complexioned with black moustaches, and of a distinguished carriage; age, twenty-five to twenty-eight. I own that I did not take the size of his waist: I am not like you ladies, who have a fancy for wasps.”
“I am sure that he cannot be stout: a young Marquis must be rather thin,” added Geneviève. “Margaret, who says nothing, is of the same opinion, I think. She will be delightful when married, as the Marchioness du Roscoat. Why, I scarcely dare to look at you. Six generations more than ourselves, my dear, and a true — a real Marquisate — which is no 219 mushroom affair. I shall take charge of the trousseau, Mamma — you have no occasion to trouble yourself about that.”
“It is a pity that you cannot also provide for the marriage portion,” said M. de Pratilly, in a half-jocular tone. “I see you have quite made up your mind, and that you are not conscious of any obstacles. I do not know if M. Roscoat really thinks about your sister; but if what you suppose be well-founded, and if he has asked to be introduced to us with the view of seeing her again, his whim is not likely to carry him very far. When he had climbed up our three pairs of stairs, and become acquainted with your apartments, he will have seen enough; and if, strange to tell, he should go the length of inquiring about the dowry and our future prospects, you can understand me when I say that he will soon beat a retreat. We no longer live in times when kings marry shepherdesses; every one knows how to cast accounts, and all the pleasant things in the world are not equal to pounds sterling — cash down. You, my dear child, are the best proof of the truth of what I now say,” added M. de P. with a sign.
“I never had the beauty of my sister,” exclaimed Geneviève ingenuously. “Love matches take place much more frequently than you imagine, and I could tell you of several where the women were not nearly so attractive as Margaret.”
“Certainly,” observed Madame de Pratilly, whose maternal affection influenced her to be easily led away by Geneviève’s hopes. “Look at little Madame de la Barthe, with her distorted figure, who has made such a rich marriage. She had no fortune, and certainly she is not equal to our dear Margaret.”
“There are also persons who win the great prizes in the lottery,” remarked M. de Pratilly.
“Well,” observed Raymond, “my answer is that we have at any rate an excellent number, and that 220 the young man whom I noticed was quite fascinated by my sister.”
During this conversation, which continued for the remainder of the evening, Margaret was quite put out of countenance; she endeavoured to resume her game, moved her chess-men the wrong way, and drew down upon herself the satirical reprimands of her brother, who begged for to forget M. du Roscoat for a little while.
“A proper reply must be written to the old Count du Mesnil.” Geneviève took upon herself the office of secretary. She went to her room for her beautiful velvet blotting-case, dipped her old pen in the ink, and sketched out a letter on the finest satin paper. She was very difficult to please in composing her letter; it was full of erasures, and everybody had an amendment to propose, which was discussed at length, and then put to the vote. M. de Pratilly insisted on its being brief and simple; his wife wished that it should display more politeness. Geneviève weighed every word to express herself in such a way as to please both; endeavouring to conciliate the dignity of the family with the expression of great pleasure at the compliment paid to them by M. Roscoat. Raymond, laughing all the while, proposed the most exaggerated style of phraseology that he could invent. As it generally happens, the result of this conference was a composition without ease or elegance, retaining nothing of the original sketch, and very far from being equal to it. At last it was transcribed by Mdme. de Pratilly in a hand almost trembling with emotion; it was addressed, and Geneviève was particularly careful to seal the envelope with a double coat of arms on green wax. When this operation was concluded, and the letter given to the servant to be delivered next morning, all parties separated, and betook themselves to rest, Raymond being the only one who fell into a profound sleep as usual immediately 221 after lying down. M. de Pratilly, like a man of sense, was but slightly impressed with what had passed, although he was not wholly free from the musings of paternal solicitude; and he endeavoured coolly to reason with himself as to what might be the result of the promised interview, and what ought to be the extreme limit of the sacrifices he should make, without injustice towards his other children, in order to smooth the way for Margaret’s contracting so brilliant an alliance. Madame de Pratilly felt proud of it in anticipation, and then would suddenly shed tears on reflecting that it would remove her beloved child from her. It was evident that M. du Roscoat, when he married, would take her away with him; and there was no hope whatever of keeping her near them during the early years of their union. At Paris she would still be frequently seen by her family; but when the education of the young people was finished, and they returned to the old manor house in Brittany, Margaret would be entirely lost to them. At times this reflection became so painful that the excellent lady forgot all her maternal vanity, and allowed herself to wish that the marriage, although quite settled in her own mind, were broken off. As for Geneviève, she had not to endure such mental struggles, but her imagination was not the less strongly excited.
Before extinguishing her candle, she referred to the book of the peerage; she thought of Margaret’s delight, of the honour that would be reflected on her family; on the éclat of the wedding at the aristocratic church of St. Thomas Aquinas; she planned her toilet for the occasion; and almost at the same time, she offered up fervent prayers to Almighty God for he happiness of her sister, mingling with them, by a process peculiar to herself, the most frivolous wishes, with the most religious aspirations of the heart.
It will be easily understood, that it would be 222 Margaret, as chiefly interested, who had the greatest reason to pass a bad night, if indeed those hours of sleeplessness can be called bad which are filled with the hopes of a first love. The evening had been very wearisome to her, and she was anxious to be left to her own reflections. Since the evening of Madame de Fontaine’s ball, the image of her handsome unknown had not quitted her; bright dreams had frequently flitted across her slumbers; she often reflected on the words that he had addressed to her, which she thought had a very different expression from the common-place remarks casually made by others who had danced with her. Her curiosity was awakened, she wished extremely to know the name, at least, of the young man, and dared not venture to ask it of any one. She shrunk from asking herself the motive of this unusual discretion, knowing instinctively that the mystery proceeded from a new feeling which she would not attempt to analyse; perhaps, a mere youthful fancy, and her wishes only extending to another meeting at the next ball. But the letter of M. du Mesnil, the positive explanation of Geneviève, the bold commentary of Raymond, had lit up quite a new prospect, and set fire, as it were, to a mass of inflammable materials. The subject in question was no longer a mere momentary infatuation, but an affair involving the happiness of her whole life; and Margaret acknowledged that her heart was much more profoundly interested than she had supposed it to be. Everything co-operated to delight her with this brilliant discovery. The young man, whose name might be Martin, or Lefebre, like that of any ordinary passer by, was the Marquis du Roscoat — handsome, rich, and passionate; his voice was endowed with a winning softness; he sought her for herself alone. It may be supposed that in all this there was enough to fascinate and to dazzle a girl of eighteen.223
Three days had yet to pass before this interesting interview could take place — an interview a hundredfold more memorable to Madame de Pratilly and her daughters than that of Erfurdt; and these three days were scarcely sufficient for the necessary preparations. M. de Pratilly was desirous that no change should take place in the plain and unpretending routine of their domestic life; but he found it impossible to contend with the ladies of the house. Geneviève obtained permission to prepare in addition to the usual evening cup of tea, ice-creams, cakes, and punch, under the pretext of a lost wager, which would allow of having a special gathering of friends — give greater éclat to the reception, and enable them to invite a larger number than usual of the members of the Chamber of Deputies.
She set out the drawing-room in the best style, and placed some splendid articles of furniture in it, which she brought from her own apartment. Margaret’s toilet became a subject for the most learned discussions, and the hair-dresser was summoned to arrange her magnificent tresses in the most artistic style. Several persons were invited to dine on the occasion, from among that class of individuals whom the family was most desirous of bringing under M. du Roscoat’s notice. M. de Pratilly did not trouble himself at all in the matter, and only threw ridicule on such an elaborate display of cleverness.
At length, the sun of this fortunate Wednesday went down as peacefully as usual, and the entertainment began. The dinner-party was tolerably lively; afterwards the friends and guests arrived in succession. Every ring of the bell which resounded in the drawing-room, caused Margaret’s heart to beat violently; each time that the door was opened, she blushed and cast down her eyes, while Geneviève and her mother bent looks full of anxiety towards the new arrivals. Perhaps the servant was in the confidence 224 of the family, or rather, from the whisperings of the preceding days, he had discovered the secret of the preparations which he had been ordered to make; but assuredly his voice became grander and more sonorous than ever, when, about nine o’clock, he opened the folding-doors, and announced the Count du Mesnil and the Marques du Roscoat.
A moment’s silence prevailed throughout the drawing-room, and M. du Mesnil, a good-looking old gentleman, followed by his young friend, advanced towards Madame de Pratilly, who, on her part, rose up quickly, and came to meet him. M. du Roscoat, with much ease of manner, addressed some polite remarks to her, to which she could not reply, without betraying some degree of embarrassment. All this time Geneviève had leisure to observe very attentively all that passed.
“Our poor Raymond,” she said, “is certainly very near-sighted, and ought to wear glasses. Our future brother-in-law is, most certainly, not an Adonis. Dark-complexioned he possibly may be, but the crown of his head is singularly scanty of hair, and his temples are getting grey; the black moustachio is wearing reddish, and ten good years, at least, must be added to Raymond’s five-and-twenty. He is anything but tall, and is deplorably embonpoint. It is unsafe to trust to a description of manner and appearance! He has not the least look of being in love, and would make a better figure in a whist-party than at a ball. If poor Margaret thought he looked as charming as that rattle-pated boy, Raymond, described him to be, — she is not difficult to please, or else his conversation must be very fascinating. He really has a distinguished and intellectual air. In talking, I see that he becomes animated, and then his plain look wears off in some degree. And besides, his name, fortune, title, are to be considered, and are worth some sacrifices. But Margaret 225 astonishes me. Until M. du Roscoat’s arrival, she seemed quite agitated and uneasy; but since he came, she has regained all her usual composure; she does not even turn her eyes to his part of the room; she converses gaily with her friends, and I have never seen her merrier. I do not at all understand it; I did not think she possessed so much self-command, and I shall congratulate her upon it.”
All these reflections passed in Geneviève’s mind when she was engaged in exchanging a few words with her neighbours, and replying, with an absent air, to their inquiries, which were not always judicious.
The entrance of the Marquis had created a sensation. His name was much better known than his person, and a position of this nature always excites a lively feeling of curiosity. The coincidence of his presentation with the unusual éclat of that day’s reception — Geneviève’s abstracted state of mind — her mother’s agitation — the ill-dissembled pleasure that beamed in her countenance whenever M. du Roscoat spoke to her in a particularly affable manner — and the proud glances that she cast at Margaret — none of these things escaped notice. Accordingly, the new guest was the subject of an animated conversation in every group of talkers; and among the ladies, who formed parties by themselves, more than one eye-glass held up to a beautiful face, was directed towards him. A party of chattering, laughing girls surrounded Margaret, teazing and quizzing her, or at least attempting it; but the shafts of heir wit were either pointless, or reverted on themselves.
“What do you think of him?” inquired Fanny, in coaxing tone.
“Who do you mean?”
“Indeed! Take care that I do not remind you of this expression, some day.”
“You will not say as much about Mr. Charles, I think.”
“Who is Mr. Charles?” inquired several voices at once.
“It is a fictitious name: I am certain that every one of you knows a Mr. Charles.”
The allusion, however, was understood; and Fanny, deeply blushing, begged that this quizzing might be carried no further.
“Well now, you are very mysterious,” said Louisa, taking up the subject. “Why not agree with us, that you are about to marry him? He is rather too old for you; but then, it is said he is immensely rich.”
“Don’t you think that my brother Raymond would make a better bridegroom?”
It was now Louisa’s turn to be put out of countenance. As for Margaret, she maintained an imperturbable self-possession, and defended herself, as we have seen, with considerable animation, carrying the war, in the manner of Scipio Africanus, into the enemy’s territory. However, it was in vain that she protested her ignorance of M. du Roscoat, and even that she would never marry him; she gained no belief among the group of her blooming companions.
All this was innocent enough, and exceeded not the bounds of good nature and good taste. But there were some older personages — matrons present, whose observations were tinged with a much sharper spirit.
I know nothing so bitter as the jealousy of a mother who has a marriageable daughter on her hands. Give to a woman, of the mildest and most inoffensive character, a plain-looking daughter, who 227 is past the bloom of youth, and who in the ball-room sits unnoticed and unappropriated — on that bench so well denominated the school of adversity; place under her eyes the success of a friend of the poor deserted one — that friend beautiful, eagerly courted, rendered coquettish by the number of those who pay her homage.
“I do not understand how they can fasten such a husband on poor Margaret,” remarked the mother of Fanny to Louisa’s mother; “it is quite a sacrifice, and she really deserved a better fate.”
“Yo are very kind to take pity on her,” replied the other lady; “you see how happy she seems! How can it be helped? The little thing is a bit of a coquette, and her good fortune dazzles her.”
“It is certain,” resumed the first lady, “that he way in which Margaret has been educated, is scarcely in accordance with her position in society. Most assuredly, I have not brought up my daughter in that way.”
“You are quite right, madame; and I may say the same. Besides, that style of living does not always succeed. Look at Geneviève, whom it will be more difficult than ever to get married, and who will soon be compelled to put on her old maid’s cap. Poor girl! that will be a great vexation to her mother. But Margaret’s marriage will not be a happy one, for it is never pleasant for a woman to be indebted for everything to her husband. I should not have liked to be in such a position myself, nor should I like it for my daughter.”
“Nor I,” replied the other lady; “people’s pride takes different shapes: for my part, I confess that my pride exceeds that of Madame de Pratilly, for I never would have accepted an alliance where all the advantages were on one side. We are not rich, but we have carefully put by a suitable marriage portion for 228 our dear Louisa, and she shall have no trouble, thank God, in finding a proper husband for her. As the Pratillys spend all their income as they receive it, they cannot give their daughters anything, and are obliged to accept the first offer.
“It can’t be helped,” replied the other lady; “each has his own system, and it is no concern of ours.” The charitable colloquy of the two ladies, so consistent with this last observation, continued for a long time in this tone, and ended by a pompous and mutual eulogy of the virtues, the charms, and the accomplishments of Fanny and Louisa.
M. du Roscoat, having now conversed sufficiently with Madame de Pratilly, had taken advantage of the arrival of some visitors, to seek the society of the master of the house, to whom he had merely bowed on entering the room. He found him engaged in conversation with some members of the Chamber of Deputies, and it is needless to say that they were talking on politics: alas! of what else do they ever speak?
M. du Roscoat made several inquiries as to the state of public opinion in Brittany, and what was thought respecting the approaching general election.
“You will have a considerable number of colleagues to replace,” he remarked; “for there were many who were accepted on very slight grounds last year, in the height of our republican fervour. This years, better securities must be required.” He then added, in a careless tone, addressing himself to M. de Pratilly, “I have received letters from your department, where it is proposed that I should present myself. You know that I have considerable property there, and I intend shortly to pay it a visit. I am even thinking of restoring the old Castle of Roscoat, in order to pass a portion of the summer months there, should circumstances permit. Do you 229 think that I should have any chance, and might I reckon on your support?”
“I will frankly tell you my real opinion,” replied M. de Pratilly. “The next election in Brittany will take place under local influences, and in a spirit of antagonism to the capital. Between you and I, Paris well deserves a retaliation from the provinces, and in fact, candidates from Parish, however great their merits, will absolutely have no chance. If you lived in the country — and you could not confer a greater pleasure on me than by informing me of your intention to do so — voters would naturally come forward for you, and your success would be certain. But at present, as affairs now stand, you would have the votes of but one half the electors — a state of things which would only be to the advantage of our enemies; and I would therefore strongly advise you, for the sake of your own future interest, not to offer yourself.”
Although the result of this conference disappointed M. du Roscoat’s hopes a little, he was too well bred a man to show any uneasiness at it, and he felt at the same time, the wisdom of the advice. He affected to attach very little importance to the notion, which he professed himself quite disposed to give up. Before leaving, he wished to say a few words to Madame de Pratilly. Geneviève had come up to her mother in order to question her respecting her impressions, and found her quite enchanted about the proposed restoration of the Castle of Roscoat, — a project which the Marquis had communicated to her. The good lady understood that this was in order to prepare apartments for Margaret, and it had the effect of effacing the only bitter reflection which was blended with her other thoughts relative to the marriage. She was, indeed, no longer mistress of herself and was completely indifferent to the want of bloom 230 in the appearance of her presumptive son-in-law. M. du Roscoat concluded by warmly celebrating the attractions of Margaret, and by declaring himself struck with her resemblance to her mother, whose good graces he by this means secured. He even ventured to address a compliment to the latter lady, which was very well received; and, at the moment of taking his leave, he added, — “Madame du Roscoat will be very happy to make your acquaintance; unfortunately the state of her health compels her to keep her room. She receives her friends every Tuesday, and if you will allow me to invite you in her name, together with your daughters —”
“I shall consider it a great honour,” replied Madame de Pratilly, interrupting him hastily, “to present my respects to your noble mother.”
“I am speaking of my wife,” replied M. du Roscoat.”
“Are you married?” exclaimed Geneviève, without allowing herself to reflect on the strangeness of the question, and particularly on the intonation she gave her voice in asking it.
“Yes, Miss Geneviève, and the father of five children,” he replied.
Madame de Pratilly, on hearing these words, was as if stupefied, and seemed almost petrified with astonishment. Geneviève bit her lips in trying to repress her inclination to laugh. Fortunately, at this very moment a great moving of chairs took place, the door of the dining-room opened, and a table was brought in, set out with tea and ices. Monsieur du Roscoat took advantage of this opportunity to take his departure, without tasting the superb collation prepared entirely on his account, His going away permitted Madame de Pratilly to recover somewhat from her agitation: she appeared, however, to be unwell; and, under the pretence of suffering from 231 headache, she left her daughters and Raymond to do the honours of the entertainment. A headache is always a resource in circumstances of this kind, and is very favourable to an escape from situations of a painful nature.
Geneviève’s amiable character was now displayed charmingly. She rivalled Margaret in grace and good-humour, and the evening was concluded as gaily as possible.
When all the guests had departed, and the family were alone in the drawing-room, Geneviève threw herself on a sofa, and burst into a fit of immoderate laughter.
“What is the matter?” inquired Monsieur de Pratilly, who was entirely ignorant of what had passed, and was sympathising with his wife’s headache.
“He is married! he has five children!” exclaimed Geneviève as well as she could, although almost choked with convulsive merriment.
“Pray, be calm, and show some regard for your sister’s feelings,” remarked Madame de Pratilly, who could not, without a severe struggle, give up the brilliant dream which she had so fondly cherished.
“Do not fear for me,” said Margaret, “I am delighted to hear the news; for I was firmly resolved never to marry the bald-headed old gentleman.”
“But then,” asked her mother, “why did he seek to be introduced to us, and show us so much attention?”
“The reason is a very simple one. Like every Frenchman for the last twenty-five years, he has taken a fancy to be a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and thought that my influence would recommend him in our part of the country. I see clearly now that his visit had no object but to ascertain how far I could assist him.” 232
“And the fine young man whom you described to us,” said Geneviève to her brother, “who was so attentive to Margaret at the ball, and whose attentions were not ungraciously received, — was he, then, really the bald-headed Marquis du Roscoat, my poor, short-sighted brother? You must admit that it was you who led us into this absurd mistake.”
“I maintain that the fine young man exists,” replied Raymond, “and that he is very fond of Margaret; but I never said that he was the Marquis du Roscoat.”
All was now explained, and here this story ought to conclude. For the sake of those readers, however, who would be disappointed not to meet with the matrimonial conclusion which they expect, it may be added, in few words, that Margaret saw her graceful partner again at the next ball, and that, three months afterwards, she was married to Maurice de Merville, a young man of Normandy, who possessed a small estate in that province. They were very much fascinated with each other, and were united under the most favourable auspices. There can be no manner of doubt that they lived happily together, and had many children, as we are always told in the fairy tales.
Geneviève declared his descent to be strictly satisfactory, and had no objection to the marriage; but, although she loves her brother-in-law very much, she persists in thinking that Margaret might have done better, and still regrets the Marquisate, and the eighteen generations of descent.
1 An a nonymous translation of the French story, <“Une entrevue,” by Alfred de Courcy, in Le Correspondant, le recueil périodique, Volume 26, Paris: Bureau de Correspondant, 1850; pp. 236-249.