“Your father allows him to act as he pleases; indeed, he feels the force of what your brother says, and so does my brother-in-law, who has given his assent, as commanding officer, to your brother’s exchange. Auguste laments you very much, and the poor fellow looks very ill. I think he has done right, although it is a severe blow to your mother; but for her I have no compassion.”
“My mother never liked Auguste, madame.”
“No, I believe that; but what annoys her is the cause of his leaving his regiment, as it is open condemnation of her conduct.”
“Yes, I can understand that feeling on her part,” replied I.
“Well, Valerie, I did not return until the regiment was gone and the barracks cleared. You know the commandant always goes the last. I saw my sister safe off, and now I am here to tell you that you are no longer a prisoner, but may make yourself comfortable by roving through my apartments. But the first affair which we must take in hand is your wardrobe. I am rich enough to furnish you, so that shall be seen to immediately. And, Valerie dear, let me now say once for all, what I do not intend to repeat in words, but I hope to prove by my actions. Look upon me as your mother, for I have not taken you away from your family without the resolution of supplying, as far as I can, not the mother you have lost, but the mother which in your dreams you have fancied. I love you, my child, for you are deserving of love. Treat me, therefore, with that unlimited confidence and affection which your young and pure heart yearns to pour out.”
“Bless you, madame, bless you,” cried I, bursting into tears, and burying my face in her lap; “I feel that now I have a mother.”
For several days I remained quiet in the little ante-chamber, during which Madame d’Albret had been busy every morning driving in her carriage, and ordering me a wardrobe; and as the various articles came in, I was as much surprised as I was pleased at the taste which had been shown, and the expense which must have been incurred.
“My dear madame,” cried I, as each parcel was opened, “these are much too good for me; recollect I am but a poor soldier’s daughter.”
“You were so,” replied Madame d’Albret; “but you forget,” continued she, kissing my forehead, “that the poor soldier’s daughter was drowned in the Seine, and you are now the protégée of Madame d’Albret. I have already mentioned to all my friends that I expect a young cousin from Gascony, whom I have adopted, having no children of my own. Your own name is noble, and you may safely retain it, as there are no want of Chatenoeufs in Gascony, and there have been former alliances between them and the d’Albrets. I have no doubt that if I were to refer back to family records, that I could prove you to be a cousin, some three hundred times removed, and that is quite enough. As soon as you are quite well, and I think in a week all vestiges of your ill-treatment will be effaced, we will go down to my chateau for a few months, and we will return to Paris in the season. Has Madame Paon been here?”
“Yes, my dear madame, she has, and has taken my measure for the dresses; but don’t scold me. I must cry a little, for I am so happy and so grateful. My heart will burst if I do not. Bless you, bless you, dear madame; little did I think before I saw you, that I should ever cry for joy.”
Madame d’Albret embraced me with much affection, and allowed me to give vent to my feelings, which I did, bedewing her hands with my tears. A week afterwards, everything was ready, and we set off for the chateau in Brittany, travelling in Madame d’Albret’s post-chariot with an avant courier, and without regard to expense.
And now I must make the reader somewhat better acquainted with my kind protectress. I little thought at the time that she offered me her protection, that she was a personage of such consequence, but the fact was, that her sister having made a very inferior match to her own, she, out of delicacy, while the Colonel and his wife were at Paris, avoided anything like state in paying them a visit, and I supposed that she was much in the same rank and society as they were; but such was not the case.
Madame d’Albret had married into one of the highest and most noble families of France. Her husband had died three years after their marriage, and having no children, had left her a large revenue entirely at her own disposal during her life, and wishing her to marry again, had the property entailed upon her children if she had any, if not, after her death, it was to go to a distant brand of the d’Albret family. I was informed that her income amounted to 60,000 livres per annum, besides her chateau in the country, and the hotel in the Rue St Honoré, which belonged to her, although she only occupied a portion of it. Her husband had now been dead more than ten years, and Madame d’Albret had not been persuaded by her numerous suitors to marry again. She was still handsome, about thirty-four years of age, and I hardly need say, was in the very best society in Paris. Such was the person who came to the barracks in so unassuming a manner, and whose protection I was so fortunate as to obtain.
I could dwell long upon the happy days that I passed at the chateau. There was no want of society, and the réunions were charming; and being in the country, I was allowed to join them, having been formally introduced by Madame d’Albret to all her visitors, as her cousin. My time was fully occupied. Madame d’Albret, perceiving that I had great talent for music and a fine voice, had procured me good masters, and wishing to prove my gratitude by attention, I was indefatigable, and made so rapid a progress, that my masters were surprised. Music and embroidery, at which I had before mentioned I was very expert, were my only occupations—and on the latter my talents were exerted to please Madame d’Albret, by offering her each piece as they were successively taken from the frame. So far from wishing to return to Paris, I was unhappy at the idea of leaving the chateau. Indeed, if the reader will recall what I have narrated of my former life, he will at once perceive that I could but be in a state of perfect happiness.
Until I was received by Madame d’Albret, I had lived a life of persecution, and had not known kindness. Fear was the passion which had been acted upon, and which, I may say, had crushed both mind and body: now all was kindness and love. Praise, which I had never before received, was now lavished upon me, and I felt my energies and talents roused, and developing themselves in a way that astonished myself. I had not known what I was, or what I was capable of. I had had no confidence in myself, and I had believed myself to be almost as incapable as my mother would have persuaded me, and everybody else. This sudden change of treatment had a most surprising effect. In the course of a few months I had grown nearly three inches taller, and not only my figure, but my features, had become so improved, that, although not vain, it was impossible for me not to believe what every one said, and what my glass told me, that I was very handsome, and that I should make a great sensation when I was introduced at Paris. But although I believed this, I felt no desire. I was too happy as I was, and would not have exchanged the kindness of Madame d’Albret for the best husband that France could produce; and when anything was mentioned by ladies who visited Madame d’Albret, to that effect, and they talked about my future establishment, my reply invariably was, “Je ne veux pas.” I had always expressed my regrets that we should be obliged to go to Paris for the season, and Madame d’Albret, who of course had no wish to part with me so soon, and who felt that I was still young enough to remain for some years single, made me very happy by telling me that she did not intend to stay long in the capital, and that although I should appear at her parties, she did not intend that I should be much at public places. And so it proved; we went to Paris, and the best masters were procured for me, but I did not go out with Madame d’Albret, except occasionally, in her morning drives, and once or twice to the Opera and theatres. My music occupied the major portion of my time, and having expressed a wish to learn English, I had a good master; but I had another resource from an intimacy having arisen between me and Madame Paon, whom, I believe, I have before mentioned as the first milliner in Paris.
This intimacy was brought about in the following manner. Being very clever with my needle, and having a great taste for dress, I used to amuse myself at the chateau with inventing something new, not for myself, but for Madame d’Albret, and very often surprised and pleased her by making alterations or additions to her dresses, which were always admired, and declared to be in the best taste. On our arrival at Paris, Madame Paon was visited of course, that the new fashions might be ascertained, and she immediately remarked and admired my little inventions. I was therefore consulted whenever a new dress was to be made for Madame d’Albret, and as Madame Paon was a very lady-like and superior person, of a decayed, but good family, we soon became very intimate. We had been at Paris about two months, when one morning Madame Paon observed to Madame d’Albret, that as I was learning English it would not be a bad plan if Madame d’Albret was to drop me at her establishment when she took her morning airing, as she had two highly respectable English modistes in her employ, who she found were necessary for her English customers, and that I should learn more English by an hour’s conversation with them than a master could supply. Madame d’Albret agreed with her, I was pleased at the idea, and consequently three or four mornings in the week were passed at Madame Paon’s.
But the reader must be introduced to the establishment of Madame Paon, or he may imagine that it was too condescending for a young lady in my position to visit at a milliner’s. Madame Paon was the first milliner at Paris, and as is generally the case, was on the most intimate terms with all the ladies. She made for the court, and, indeed, for every lady to whom she could dedicate her time, as it was almost a favour to be permitted to be one of her customers. Her establishment was in the Rue St Honoré, I forget the name of the hotel, but it was one of the largest.
The suite of apartments were magnificent. You passed from one room to another, each displaying every variety of rich and graceful costume. In every room were demoiselles well-dressed to attend to the customers, and everything bespoke a degree of taste and elegance quite unparalleled. At last you arrived at the reception-room of madame, which was spacious and most superbly furnished. There were no men in the establishment except in one room, called the Comptoir, in which were six clerks at their desks. When I add that Madame Paon was elegant in her manners, and handsome in her person, very tall and majestic, that she was rich, kept several servants, a handsome carriage, and had a maison de campagne, to which she retired every Saturday afternoon, the reader may acknowledge that she was a person whom Madame d’Albret might permit me to visit.
This intimacy soon became very great. There was a certain degree of éclat at my being so constantly in the house, and, moreover, as I had a decided taste for dress, I often brought forward some new invention which was not only approved of, but a source of profit to Madame Paon. Everything was submitted to my judgment as Madame Paon more than once observed, “What a first-rate modiste you would make, mademoiselle; but, unfortunately for the fashions, there is no chance of your being so employed.”
At last the Paris season was nearly over, and truly glad was I when Madame d’Albret mentioned the day of our departure. I had very much improved in my music and my English during our residence at Paris. I had not been out except to small parties, and had no wish whatever to go out at all. I was satisfied with Madame d’Albret’s company, and had no wish to leave her. I may say that I was truly happy, and my countenance was radiant, and proved that I was so. My thoughts would occasionally revert to my father and my brother Auguste, and make me melancholy for the time, but I felt that all was for the best, and I built castles, in which I imagined my suddenly breaking in upon them, throwing myself in my father’s arms, and requesting him to share the wealth and luxury with which I fancied myself to be endowed.
I was now nearly eighteen years old. I had been one year under the protection of Madame d’Albret, and the old dowagers who visited us at the chateau were incessantly pointing out to Madame d’Albret that it was time to look out for an establishment for me. Madame d’Albret was, to a certain degree, of their opinion, but she did not wish to part with me, and I was resolute in my determination not to leave her. I had no wish to be married; I had reflected much upon the subject; the few married lives I had witnessed were not to my taste. I had seen my kind-hearted amiable grandmother thwarted by a penurious husband; I had witnessed my father under the control of a revengeful woman; and when I beheld, as I did every day, the peace and happiness in the establishment of Madame d’Albret as a single woman, I felt certain that marriage was a lottery in which there were thousands of blanks to one prize. When, therefore, any of Madame d’Albret’s acquaintances brought up the subject, when they left the room I earnestly implored Madame d’Albret not to be influenced by their remarks, as I had made up my mind to remain single, and that all I asked was to remain with her and prove my gratitude.
“I believe you, Valerie,” replied Madame d’Albret, “but I should not be doing my duty if I permitted you to act upon your own feelings. A girl like you was not intended by Heaven to pine away in celibacy, but to adorn the station in life in which she is placed. At the same time, I will not press the matter, but if an advantageous offer were to be made, I shall then consider it my duty to exert my influence with you to make you change your mind, but, at the same time, I will never use anything more than persuasion. I am too happy with you as a companion to wish to part with you, but, at the same time, I should be very selfish if I did not give you up when your own interest told me that such was my duty.”
“Well, madame, I thank Heaven that I have no fortune, and that will, I trust, be a bar to any proposals from the interested gentleman of the present day.”
“That may not save you, Valerie,” replied Madame d’Albret, laughing, “gentlemen may be satisfied with expectancies; nay, it is possible that one may be found who may be satisfied with your own pretty self, and ask no more.”
“I rather think not, madame,” replied I. “You have too good an opinion of me, and must not expect others to view me with your partial eyes; all I can say is, that if such a gentleman could be found, his disinterestedness would make me think more highly of him than I do of the sex at present, although not sufficiently well to wish me to change my present condition.”
“Well, well, we shall see,” replied Madame d’Albret, “the carriage is at the door, so bring me my bonnet and cashmere.”
A few weeks after our return to the chateau, a Monsieur de G—, of an old family in Brittany, who had been for the last two years in England, returned to his father’s house, and called upon Madame d’Albret. She had known him from childhood, and received him most cordially. I must describe him fully, as he played no small part in my little drama. He was, I should think, nearly thirty years of age, small in person but elegantly made, with a very handsome but rather effeminate face. His address and manners were perfect. He was very witty, and apparently very amiable. His deportment towards our sex was certainly most fascinating—so tender and so respectful. I certainly never had before seen so polished a man. He sang well, and played upon several instruments; drew, caricatured—indeed, he did everything well that he attempted to do; I hardly need say that with such qualifications, and being so old a friend, that he was gladly welcomed by Madame d’Albret, and became a daily visitor at the chateau. I was soon intimate with him and partial to his company, but nothing more; indeed, his attentions to Madame d’Albret were quite as great as to me, and there was nothing to permit any one to suppose that he was paying his court either to her or to me. Madame d’Albret thought otherwise, because we sang together, and because he talked to me in English, and she as well as others rallied me in consequence.
After two months had passed away, Monsieur de G— was supposed to be paying his attentions more particularly to me, and I thought so myself; Madame d’Albret certainly did, and gave him every opportunity. He was the heir to a large property, and did not require money with his wife. About this time, an English lady of the name of Bathurst who was travelling with a niece, a little girl about fourteen years old, had accepted an invitation from Monsieur de G—’s father, to pass a week with them at their chateau, which was about five miles from that of Madame d’Albret, and this lady was introduced. She was apparently very amiable, and certainly very distinguée in her manners, and we saw a great deal of her as she was a great favourite with Madame d’Albret.
A few weeks after the introduction of this English lady, I was one day on the terrace alone, when I was accosted by Monsieur de G—. After a remark or two upon the beauty of the autumnal flowers, he observed, “How different are the customs of two great nations, with but a few leagues of water between them—I refer to the French and the English. You would be surprised to see how great they are if you were ever to go to England—in none, perhaps, more so than in the affairs of the heart. In France we do not consult the wishes or the feelings of the young lady, we apply to her parents, and if the match is considered equally advantageous, the young lady is told to prepare herself for changing her condition. In England the very reverse is the case; we apply to the young lady, gain her affections, and when certain of them, we then request the sanction of those who are her guardians. Which do you think is the most natural and satisfactory, Mademoiselle de Chatenoeuf?”
“I have been brought up in France, Monsieur de G—, and I prefer the mode of France; our parents and our guardians are the people most able to decide upon the propriety of a match, and I think that until that point is ascertained, no affections should be engaged, as, should the marriage not be considered advisable, much pain and disappointment will be prevented.”
“In some instances, I grant that such may be the case,” replied he; “but still, is it not treating your sex like slaves to permit no love before marriage? and is it agreeable for ours, that we lead to the altar a person who may consent from a sense of duty, without having the least regard for her husband; nay, perhaps feeling an aversion?”
“I do not think that any kind parents would force their child to marry a man for whom she felt an aversion,” replied I; “and if there is not much love before marriage, there may be a great deal after; but the fact is, it is a subject upon which I am not able, nor do I wish to give my opinion.”
“As you disagree with me, Mademoiselle de Chatenoeuf,” replied he, “I fear you will not be pleased at my courting you in the English fashion; and previous to addressing myself to Madame d’Albret, making known to you my sincere regard for you, and my humble hopes that I am not indifferent to you.”
“I will answer you very plainly, Monsieur de G—; and perhaps it is as well you have taken this unusual step, as it will save you the trouble of making any application to Madame d’Albret. Flattered as I am by your compliment, I beg to decline the honour you propose, and now that you know my feelings, you will of course not be so ungenerous as to make any application to Madame d’Albret.”
“Certainly, mademoiselle,” replied he, with great pique, “but on one condition, which is, that you will promise me that you will not mention to Madame d’Albret what has now passed between us.”
“That I willingly promise, Monsieur de G—, as I may consider it as your secret.”
“And I trust,” continued he, “that you will not discard me from your friendship, but receive me as before.”
“I shall always be happy to receive the friends of Madame d’Albret,” replied I, “and now I wish you a good-morning.”
I went to my own room and reflected upon what had passed. I was angry with Monsieur de G— for what I considered the unwarrantable liberty he had taken, the greater as he must have known my utter dependence upon Madame D’Albret; and how unlikely it was that I would form any such engagement without her knowledge and sanction. That I had no love for Monsieur de G— was certain, although I was pleased with his company and conversation. I was sorry on reflection that I had given my promise not to mention what had passed, but having made the promise, although hastily, I resolved to adhere to it.
I took it for granted that he would gradually withdraw himself, and that we should see little more of him; but in this I was mistaken; he was as frequent in his visits as before, dividing his attentions between Madame d’Albret and me. This annoyed me, and I avoided him as much as I could, and the consequence was, that he was oftener with Madame d’Albret than with me. At first when Madame d’Albret perceived this, she appeared to be vexed, as she had evidently set her mind upon the match, and expected daily to receive a formal proposal from him in my behalf; but gradually, why I know not, it gave her no further concern, and I was permitted to leave the room, and do as I pleased without being subjected to any remarks.
Such was the state of affairs when the Paris season drew near. Madame Bathurst had been induced to remain in Brittany, and was continually with us. She had often asked me to come over to England, and pass a few weeks with them, and I had jokingly replied that I would. One morning Madame d’Albret said to me—
“My dear Valerie, Madame Bathurst has again requested me to allow you to go to England with her. Now if you think that you would like to pass a short time with her, instead of remaining at Paris during the season, I really have no objection, if it would give you pleasure.”
“My dear madame, I was only joking when I said so.”
“Well, you have made Madame Bathurst think you were in earnest, my dear,” replied she; “and I thought so too, and have this morning promised that you shall go with her. I thought you would perfect yourself in English, and it would be a good opportunity of relieving you for a short time of your constant attendance upon me; so, my dear Valerie, I advise you to go. It will amuse you, and a little change will do you good: besides, my dear, I perceive that the attentions of Monsieur de G— are not agreeable to you, and it is as well to break it off by a short absence.”
“I shall not dispute your wishes, madame,” replied I, mournfully, for my heart misgave me, why I knew not, “but if I do go, it will be to oblige you, and not because I really wish it.”
“My dear Valerie, I think it will be for the best, and therefore you will oblige me. I have promised for you, and I should be sorry to have to recall my promise—so consent, my dear, and I will write to Madame Bathurst, that she may be prepared to receive you.”
“Certainly, madame,” replied I, “your wishes will ever be a law to me:” and so saying, I left the room, and going to my own chamber, I threw myself down on the bed, and wept bitterly without knowing why.
About ten days after this, Madame Bathurst called for me to take me to the chateau of Monsieur de G—’s father, where I was to remain till the next morning, when we were to post to Paris. It was with great pain that I quitted Madame d’Albret, but her kindness to me appeared to have increased rather than diminished, after the proposal of our short separation. “God bless you, my dear Valerie,” she said, “you must write to me twice a week; I shall be most impatient for your return.” I parted from her with many tears, and did not leave off weeping till we arrived at the chateau, at which Madame Bathurst resided.
I was received with formal politeness by the old gentleman, and Monsieur de G—, who was also at home, and in an excessive gay humour. “Alas, mademoiselle,” cried he, “what a desert you will leave behind you! It is too cruel, this travelling mania on your part. We never shall see you again.”