There was so much irony in his face as he said this, that I hardly knew what to make of it; but it made me feel anxious and dissatisfied. I would have given much to have abandoned the journey, but Madame d’Albret’s wishes were a law to me. To avoid reflection, which was painful, I talked with Caroline, the niece of Madame Bathurst, and as we were to set off at daylight, we retired early. The following morning we set off, and in due time arrived at Paris, where we remained but one day, and then proceeded to Boulogne, where we embarked.
It was now November, and half-way across the Channel we were enveloped in a fog, and it was with difficulty that we made the harbour. We set off for London, the fog continued during the whole day, and on our arrival at the suburbs it was thicker than ever, and the horses were led through the streets by people carrying flambeaux. I had heard that England was a triste pays, and I thought it so indeed. At last I observed to Madame Bathurst, “Est-ce qu’il n’y a jamais de soleil dans ce pays, madame?”
“Oh, yes,” replied she, laughing, “and a very beautiful sun too.”
The next day we set off for Madame Bathurst’s country seat, to pass the Christmas. Before we were three miles out of London, the fog had disappeared, the sun shone out brilliantly, and the branches of the leafless trees covered with rime, glittered like diamond wands, as we flew past them. What with the change in the weather, and the rapid motion produced by the four English post-horses, I thought England beautiful; but I must say that the first two days were a trial, the more so as I was very despondent from having quitted Madame d’Albret. I was delighted with Madame Bathurst’s country seat, the well-arranged gardens, the conservatories, the neatness displayed in every thing so different from France, the cleanness of the house and furniture; the London carpets over the whole of the rooms and staircases, were, in my opinion, great improvements; but I cared little for the society, which I found not only dull, but it appeared to me to be selfish. I found a lively companion in Caroline, and we sat up in a little boudoir, where we were never interrupted. Here I practised my music, and at Madame Bathurst’s request, spoke alternately English and French with my little companion, for our mutual improvement.
I had written twice to Madame d’Albret, and had received one very kind answer; but no mention was made of my return, although it was at first arranged that my visit was to be three weeks or a month. A fortnight after my arrival at Fairfield, I received a second letter from Madame d’Albret, kind as usual, but stating, to my great grief, that she was not well, having had an attack on her chest from having taken a violent cold. I answered the letter immediately, requesting that I might be permitted to return home and nurse her, for I felt very uneasy. For three weeks, during which I had no reply, I was in a state of great anxiety and distress, as I imagined that Madame d’Albret must have been too ill to write, and I was in a fever of suspense. At last I received a letter from her, stating that she had been very ill, and that she had been recommended by the physicians to go to the south of France for the winter. At the same time, as she could not put off her departure, she wrote to Madame Bathurst, requesting, if not inconvenient, that she would allow my visit to be extended till the spring, at which season she expected to return to Paris. Madame Bathurst read her letter to me, and stated how happy she should be for me to remain. I could do no otherwise but thank her, although I was truly miserable. I wrote to Madame d’Albret, and stated what my feelings were; but as she had, by what was said in her letter, already left for the south of France, I knew that my letter would arrive too late to enable her to alter her determination. All I requested was, that she would give me continual intelligence of her health.
I was, however, much consoled in my distress by the kindness of Madame Bathurst, and affectionate manners of her niece Caroline, who was my constant companion. There was a great deal of company not only visiting, but staying in the house; but although there was much company, there was very little society. Horses, dogs, guns, were the amusements of the gentlemen during the day. In the evening we saw little of them, as they seldom left the dinner-table before Caroline and I had retired to our rooms; and the ladies appeared to me to be all afraid of each other, and to be constantly on the reserve.
Christmas had passed, and I had not heard again from Madame d’Albret, which was a source of great vexation and many bitter tears. I fancied her dying in the south of France, without anyone to take care of her. I often spoke to Madame Bathurst on the subject, who offered all the excuses that she could devise, but I thought at the same time appeared to be very grave, and unwilling to continue the conversation. At last I thought of Madame Paon, and I wrote to her, inquiring whether she knew how Madame d’Albret was, detailing to her how I had come to England, and how Madame D’Albret had been seriously indisposed, stating my fears from not having received any reply to my last letters. The day after I had written to Madame Paon, Caroline, who was sitting with me in the boudoir, observed, “I heard Mrs Corbet say to my aunt that she had seen Madame d’Albret at Paris about ten days ago.”
“Impossible!” replied I; “she is in the south of France.”
“So I understood,” replied Caroline; “but she did say so, and my aunt immediately sent me out of the room on a message. I am sure it was to get rid of me, that she might talk to Mrs Corbet.”
“What can this mean?” exclaimed I. “Oh, my heart forebodes evil! Excuse me, Caroline, but I feel very miserable;” and I laid my face down on the table, covering it with my hands, and tears trickled fast through my fingers.
“Speak to my aunt,” said Caroline, consolingly; “do not cry, Valerie, it may be all a mistake.”
“I will at once speak to Madame Bathurst,” said I, raising my head, “it will be the best plan.”
I went into my room, bathed my eyes, and then sought Madame Bathurst, whom I found in the conservatory, giving directions to the gardener. After a time she took my arm and we walked down the terrace.
“Madame Bathurst,” said I, “I have been made very miserable by Caroline stating that Mrs Corbet had told you that she met Madame d’Albret at Paris. How can this be?”
“I cannot imagine more than yourself, my dear Valerie,” replied Madame Bathurst, “except that Mrs Corbet was mistaken.”
“Do you think it was Madame?”
“I cannot say, Valerie, but I have written to Paris to ascertain the fact, which is to me incomprehensible. A few days will let us into the truth; I cannot believe it—indeed, if it were true, I shall consider that Madame d’Albret has treated me ill, for much as I am pleased to have you here, she has not been candid with me in proposing that you should remain the winter, upon the plea of her being obliged to go to the south, when she is still at Paris. I cannot understand it, and until confirmed, I will not believe it. Mrs Corbet is not an acquaintance of hers, and may, therefore, be mistaken.”
“She must be, madame,” replied I; “still it is strange that I do not hear from her. I am fearful something is wrong, and what it can be, I cannot surmise.”
“Let us talk no more about it, my dear Valerie. A few days will decide the point.”
A few days did decide the point, for I received an answer from Madame Paon, in which she said:—
“My dear Mademoiselle Chatenoeuf,—You may imagine my surprise at receiving your letter, and I fear you must prepare yourself for unpleasant intelligence. Madame d’Albret is in Paris, and has never been in the south of France that I have heard. When she first called, I inquired after you. The reply was that you were on a visit to a lady in England; that you had left her; that you had a manie pour l’Angleterre; and so saying, she shrugged up her shoulders. I was about to inquire more particularly, but she cut the conversation short by asking to see a new pelisse, and I perceived at once that there was something wrong, but what I could not comprehend. I did not see her till four or five weeks afterwards, when she called, accompanied by a Monsieur de G—, a person well known in Paris, where he bears a very indifferent character, as a desperate gambler, and a man of very bad disposition concealed under a very polished exterior; but his character is better known in England, which country, I am told, he was obliged to quit in consequence of some gaming transaction anything but honourable. I again made inquiries after you, and this time the reply was given by Monsieur de G—, who replied that you were an ingrate, and your name must not be in future mentioned by anyone to Madame d’Albret.
“The handsome face of Monsieur de G—, was changed to that of a demon when he made this remark, and fully proved to me the truth of the report that he was a person of very bad disposition. Madame d’Albret made no remark, except that she should be careful how she ever engaged a demoiselle de compagnie again. I was struck at this remark from her, as I always considered that you were (and indeed I know you were at one time), viewed in a very different light, and I was quite mystified. About a fortnight afterwards Madame d’Albret called upon me and announced her intended marriage to Monsieur de G—, and requested me to make her wedding dresses. Here the whole mystery was out, but why, because she marries Monsieur de G—, you should lose her protection, and why Monsieur de G— should be so inveterate against you, is more than I can tell. I have now, my dear mademoiselle, given you a detail of all I know, and shall be most happy to hear from you if you will please to write to me, etcetera, etcetera.
“Emile Paon, née Mercé.”
Here was a solution of the whole mystery. I read the letter and fell back on the sofa, gasping for breath. It was some time before I could recover myself. I was alone in my bedroom, my head and eyes swimming; but I staggered to the washing-stand, and obtained some water. It was half-an-hour before I could recall my astonished senses, and then everything appeared as clear to me as if it had been revealed. Monsieur de G—’s double attentions; his spiteful look at my refusal; his occupying himself wholly with Madame d’Albret after I refused him; her wishing to get rid of me, by sending me to England with Madame Bathurst, and her subsequent false and evasive conduct. Monsieur de G— had had his revenge, and gained his point at the same time. He had obtained the wealth of Madame d’Albret to squander at the gaming-table, and had contrived, by some means or another, to ruin me in her good opinion. I perceived at once that all was lost, and when I considered the awkwardness of my position, I was almost in despair.
As I continued for more than an hour on the sofa, gloomily passing in review my short career, my present position, and occasionally venturing a surmise upon the future, a feeling which I had not had before,—one which had hitherto been latent—pride, gradually was awakened in my bosom, and as it was aroused, it sustained me. I have before observed that fear had been my predominating feeling till I had quitted my parents, love and gratitude had succeeded it, but now, smarting under injustice, pride, and, with pride, many less worthy passions, were summoned up, and I appeared in the course of two short hours to be another being. I felt confidence in myself, my eyes were opened all at once as it were to the heartlessness of the world; the more I considered the almost hopeless condition in which I was in, the more my energy was roused. I sat down on the sofa a confiding, clinging girl. I rose up a resolute, clear-sighted woman.
I reflected, and had made up my mind that Madame d’Albret would never forgive one whom she had injured as she had me. She had induced me to break off all family and parental ties (such as they were), she had made me wholly dependent upon her, and had now cast me off in a cruel and heartless manner. She had used deceit because she knew that she could not justify her conduct. She had raised calumnies against me, accusing me of ingratitude, as an excuse for her own conduct. Anything like a reconciliation therefore was impossible, and any assistance from her I was determined not to accept.
Besides, was she not married to Monsieur de G—, whom pique at my refusal had made my enemy, and who had, in all probability, as he pressed his own suit, perceived the necessity, independent of the gratification it afforded him to be my ruin, of removing me as a serious obstacle to Madame d’Albret’s contracting a new alliance? From that quarter, therefore, there was nothing to be expected or hoped for, even if it were desired. And what was my position with Madame Bathurst? On a visit! At the termination of which I was houseless.
That Madame Bathurst would probably offer me a temporary asylum, for she would hardly turn me out of doors, I felt convinced; but my new-born pride revolted at the idea of dependence upon one on whom I had no claim whatever. What, then, was to be done? I examined my capital. I was handsome, but that was of no use to me; the insidious conduct of Monsieur de G— had raised to positive dislike the indifference that I felt for his sex, and I had no inclination to make a market of my personal advantages. I could sing and play well. I spoke French and English, and understood Italian. I could embroider the work well with my needle. Such were my capabilities, my stock-in-trade with which to commence the world; I was, therefore, competent to a certain degree to give lessons in music and in French, or to take a governess’s place, or to become a modiste.
I thought of Madame Paon, but when I reflected in what manner I had visited her, the respect and homage, I may say, which had been offered up to me, and how different my reception and treatment would be if I entered the establishment as one of themselves, the reflection was too mortifying, and I determined that if I were driven to such an employment for my livelihood, it should be where I was not known. After much consideration, I decided that I would see Madame Bathurst, make known to her my intentions, and ask her assistance and recommendation to procure me a situation. I arranged my hair, removed all traces of my late agitation, and went down to her. I found her alone, and asking her whether she could spare me a few minutes of her time, I handed to her the letter which I had received from Madame Paon, and then made her acquainted with that portion of my history with which she had been unacquainted. As I spoke my courage revived, and my voice became firm—I felt that I was no longer a girl.
“Madame Bathurst, I have confided this to you, because you will agree with me that there can be nothing more between Madame d’Albret and me, for even if she made an offer, I would never accept it. I am now in a very false position, owing to her conduct. I am here on a visit, supposed by you to be the protégée of that lady, and a person of some consequence. Her protection has been taken away from me, and I am now a beggar, with nothing but my talents for my future support. I explain this to you frankly, because I cannot think of remaining as your visitor; and if I do not ask too much, all that I wish of your friendship is, that you will give me such a recommendation as you think I deserve, by which I may obtain the means of future livelihood.”
“My dear Valerie,” replied Madame Bathurst, “I will not hurt your feelings. It is a heavy blow, and I am glad to perceive, that instead of being crashed by it, you appear to rise. I have heard of Madame d’Albret’s marriage, and the deceit which she has been practising evidently to get rid of you. Not many days ago I wrote to her, pointing out the variance between what she stated in her letters, and her actual position, and requesting to know what was to be done relative to you. Her answer I have received this day. She states that you have cruelly deceived her; that at the very time that you professed the utmost gratitude and affection, you were slandering her and laughing at her behind her back, particularly to Monsieur de G—, to whom she is now married; and that, however she might be inclined to forgive and overlook your conduct herself, that Monsieur de G— is resolute, and determined that you never shall come again under his roof. She has, therefore, transmitted a billet of 500 francs to enable you to return to your father’s house.”
“Then,” replied I, “it is as I suspected; Monsieur de G— is the cause of all.”
“Why did you trust him, Valerie, or rather why were you so imprudent, and I must add, ungrateful, to speak of Madame d’Albret as you did.”
“And you believe it, Madame Bathurst, you believe that I did so? I can only say that if such is your belief, the sooner we part the better.”
I then told her what I had omitted in my narrative, how I had refused Monsieur de G—, and explaining his character, showed that he had acted thus out of interest and revenge.
“I believe it all now, Valerie, and I must beg your pardon for having supposed that you had been ungrateful. This explanation relieves me, and enables me to make you the offer which I had thought of doing, had I not been checked by this calumny against you. I say, therefore, for the present, my dear Valerie, remain here. You are quite equal to be governess to Caroline, but I prefer you should remain with me more as a friend than as a governess. I say this, because I fear you will be too proud to remain as a dependent, without making yourself useful. You know that I did intend to take a governess for Caroline as soon as we went to London. I will now take you if you will consent, and shall feel the obligation on my side, as I shall not only have retained a capable person, but shall also not lose a dear young friend.”
“I thank you for the offer, my dear madame,” replied I, rising and courtseying; “I trust, however, that you will allow me a little time for reflection before I decide. You must admit that this is a most critical epoch in my life, and I must not make one false step if it is possible to prevent it.”
“Certainly,” replied Madame Bathurst, “certainly. You are right, Valerie, in reflecting well before you decide; but I must say that you are rather haughty in your manner towards me.”
“I may have been, my dear Madame Bathurst, but if so, take my excuses. Recollect the Valerie of yesterday, who was your visitor and young friend, is not the Valerie of to-day!” and with these words I took up the cheque for 500 francs which Madame Bathurst had laid on the table, left the room, and returned to my own apartment.
I returned to my room, and was glad to be once more alone, for although I bore up well under the circumstances, still the compressed excitement was wearying to the frame. I had resolved to accept the offer of Madame Bathurst at the time that she made it, but I did not choose to appear to jump at it, as she probably expected that I would. I felt no confidence in anyone but my own self after the treatment of Madame d’Albret, and I considered that Madame Bathurst would probably dismiss me as soon as my services were no longer required, with as little ceremony as had Madame d’Albret. That I was capable of taking charge of and instructing Caroline, I knew well, and that Madame Bathurst would not easily procure a governess so capable in singing and music as myself. There would be consequently no obligation, and I resolved that I would reject her terms if they were not favourable. I had some money, for I had spent but a small portion of twenty sovereigns which Madame d’Albret had given me in a purse when I quitted her. I had therefore the means of subsistence for some little time, should I not come to terms with Madame Bathurst.
After an hour’s reflection, I sat down and wrote a letter to Madame Paon, stating what had occurred, and my determination to obtain my own livelihood, and adding that as I was not sure whether I should accept of Madame Bathurst’s offer, I wished her to give me a letter of introduction to some French acquaintance of hers in London, as I was an utter stranger to everything, and without advice, should probably be cheated in every way. As soon as this letter was finished I commenced another to Madame d’Albret, which was in the following words:—
“My dear Madame,
“Yes, I will still say my dear madame, for although you will never hear of me again, you are still dear to me, more dear perhaps than you were, when I considered you my patroness and my more than mother. And why so,—because when those we love are in misfortune, when those who have benefited us are likely to soon want succour themselves, it is then the time that we should pour out our gratitude and love. I do not consider it your fault, my dear Madame d’Albret, that you have been deceived by a base hypocrite, who wears so captivating a mask; I do not blame you that you have been persuaded by him that I have slandered and behaved ungratefully to you. You have been blinded by your own feelings towards him and by his consummate art. I am also to blame for not having communicated to you that he made me a proposal of marriage but a short time previous to my departure, and which I indignantly rejected, because he had taken such an unusual step without any previous communication with you on the subject—not that I would have accepted him, even if you had wished it, for I knew how false and unworthy he was considered to be. I should have told you, my dear madame, of this offer of marriage on his part, but he requested me as a favour not to mention it to you, and I did not then know that he was a ruined man, a desperate gambler, and that he had been obliged to quit this country for dishonourable practices at the gaming-table, as you may easily discover to be true; for even Madame Paon can give you all the necessary information. And into this man’s hands have you fallen, my dear Madame d’Albret. Alas, how you are to be pitied! my heart bleeds for you, and I fear that a few months will suffice to prove to you the truth of what I now write. That I am a sufferer by the conduct of Monsieur de G— is true. I have lost a kind patroness, an indulgent mother, and am now left to obtain my own livelihood how I can. All my visions, all my dreams of happiness with you, all my wishes of proving my gratitude and love for your kindness have vanished, and here I am, young, alone, and unprotected. But I think not of myself; at all events I am free—I am not chained to such a person as Monsieur de G—, and it is of you, and all that you will have to suffer, that my thoughts and heart are full. I return you the cheque for 500 francs—I cannot take the money. You are married to Monsieur de G—, and I can accept nothing from one who has made you believe that Valerie could be calumnious and ungrateful. Adieu, my dear madame; I shall pray for you, and weep over your misfortunes.
“Yours ever gratefully,
“Valerie de Chatenoeuf.”
That there was a mixed feeling in this letter, I confess. As I said in it, I really pitied Madame d’Albret and forgave her her unkindness; but I sought revenge upon Monsieur de G—, and in seeking that, I planted daggers into the heart of Madame d’Albret; but I did not at the time that I wrote reflect upon this. What I wished to do was to vindicate myself, and that I could not do without exposing Monsieur de G—, and exposing him in his true colours was, of course, awakening Madame d’Albret to her position sooner than she would have been, and filling her mind with doubts and jealousy. That this was not kind, I felt when I had perused what I had written previous to folding the letter, but I felt no inclination to alter it, probably because I had not quite so wholly forgiven Madame d’Albret as I thought that I had. Be it as it may, the letter was sealed and despatched by that night’s post, as well as that written to Madame Paon.
I had now only to arrange with Madame Bathurst, and I went down into the drawing-room where I found her alone. “I have considered, my dear Madame Bathurst,” said I, “your kind proposal. I certainly have had a little struggle to get over, as you must admit that it is not pleasant to sink from a visitor in a family into a dependent, as I must in future be, if I remain with you, but the advantages of being with a person whom I respect as much as I do you, and of having charge of a young person to whom I am so attached as I am to Caroline, have decided me on accepting your offer. May I know then, what may be the terms upon which I am received as governess?”
“Valerie, I feel that this is all pride,” replied Madame Bathurst, “but still it is not disreputable pride, and though I shall yield to it, I would have made no terms, but retained you as a dear friend, my purse and everything in the house at your command, and I hoped that you would have allowed me so to do; but as you will not, I have only to say that I should have expected to pay any governess whom I might have retained for Caroline, a salary of 100 pounds per annum, and that I offer you the same.”
“It is more than sufficient, my dear madame,” replied I, “and I accept your offer if you will take me on trial for six months.”