Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 35

A Discovery at the Luxembourg.

While Henry Dunbar sat in his lonely room at Maudesley Abbey, held prisoner by his broken leg, and waiting anxiously for the hour in which he should be allowed the privilege of taking his first experimental promenade upon crutches, Sir Philip Jocelyn and his beautiful young wife drove together on the crowded boulevards of the French capital.

They had been southward, and had returned to the gayest capital in all the world at the time when that capital is at its best and brightest. They had returned to Paris for the early new year: and, as this year happened fortunately to be ushered into existence by a sharp frost and a bright sunny sky, the boulevards were not the black rivers of mud and slush that they are apt to be in the first days of the infantine year. Prince Louis Napoleon Buonaparte was only First President as yet; and Paris was by no means the wonderful city of endless boulevards and palatial edifices that it has since grown to be under the master hand which rules and beautifies it, as a lover adorns his mistress. But it was not the less the most charming city in the universe; and Philip Jocelyn and his wife were as happy as two children in this paradise of brick and mortar.

They suited each other so well; they were never tired of each other’s society, or at a stand-still for want of something to say to each other. They were rather frivolous, perhaps; but a little frivolity may be pardoned in two people who were so very young and so entirely happy. Sir Philip may have been a little too much devoted to horses and dogs, and Laura may have been a shade too enthusiastic upon the subject of new bonnets, and the jewellery in the Rue de la Paix. But if they idled a little just now, in this delicious honeymoon-time, when it was so sweet to be together always, from morning till night, driving in a sleigh with jingling bells upon the snowy roads in the Bois, sitting on the balcony at Meurice’s at night, looking down into the long lamp-lit street and the misty gardens, where the trees were leafless and black against the dark blue sky, they meant to do their duty, and be useful to their fellow-creatures, when they were settled at Jocelyn’s Rock. Sir Philip had half-a-dozen schemes for free schools, and model cottages with ovens that would bake everything in the world, and chimneys that would never smoke. And Laura had her own pet plans. Was she not an heiress, and therefore specially sent into the world to give happiness to people who had been born without that pleasant appendage of a silver spoon in their infantine mouths? She meant to be scrupulously conscientious in the administration of her talents; and sometimes at church on a Sunday, when the sermon was particularly awakening, she mentally debated the serious question as to whether new bonnets, and a pair of Jouvin’s gloves daily, were not sinful; but I think she decided that the new bonnets and gloves were, on the whole, a pardonable weakness, as being good for trade.

The Warwickshire baronet knew a good many people in Paris, and he and his bride received a very enthusiastic welcome from these old friends, who pronounced that Miladi Jocelyn was charmante and la belle des belles; and that Sir Jocelyn was the most fortunate of men in having discovered this gay, lighthearted girl amongst the prudish and pragmatical meess of the brumeuse Angleterre.

Laura made herself very much at home with her Parisian acquaintance; and in the grand house in the Rue Lepelletier many a glass was turned full upon the beautiful English bride with the chevelure doré and the violet blue eyes.

One morning Laura told her husband, with a gay laugh, that she was going to victimize him; but he was to promise to be patient and bear with her for once in a way.

“What is it you want me to do, my darling?”

“I want you to give me a long day in the Luxembourg. I want to see all the pictures — the modern pictures especially. I remember all the Rubenses at the Louvre, for I saw them three years ago, when I was staying in Paris with grandpapa. I like the modern pictures best, Philip: and I want you to tell me all about the artists, and what I ought to admire, and all that sort of thing.”

Sir Philip never refused his wife anything; so he said, yes: and Laura ran away to her dressing-room like a school-girl who has been pleading for a holiday and has won her cause. She returned in a little more than ten minutes, in the freshest toilette, all pale shimmering blue, like the spring sky, with pearl-grey gloves and boots and parasol, and a bonnet that seemed made of azure butterflies.

It was drawing towards the close of this delightful honeymoon tour, and it was a bright sunshiny morning early in February; but February in Paris is sometimes better than April in London.

Philip Jocelyn’s work that morning was by no means light, for Laura was fond of pictures, in a frivolous amateurish kind of way; and she ran from one canvas to another, like a fickle-minded bee that is bewildered by the myriad blossoms of a boundless parterre. But she fixed upon a picture which she said she preferred to anything she had seen in the gallery.

Philip Jocelyn was examining some pictures on the other side of the room when his wife made this discovery. She hurried to him immediately, and led him off to look at the picture. It was a peasant-girl’s head, very exquisitely painted by a modern artist, and the baronet approved his wife’s taste.

“How I wish you could get me a copy of that picture, Philip,” Laura said, entreatingly. “I should so like one to hang in my morning-room at Jocelyn’s Rock. I wonder who painted that lovely face?”

There was a young artist hard at work at his easel, copying a large devotional subject that hung near the picture Laura admired. Sir Philip asked this gentleman if he knew the name of the artist who had painted the peasant-girl.

“Ah, but yes, monsieur!” the painter answered, with animated politeness; “it is the work of one of my friends; a young Englishman, of a renown almost universal in Paris.”

“And his name, monsieur?”

“He calls himself Kerstall — Frederick Kerstall; he is the son of an old monsieur, who calls himself also Kerstall, and who had much of celebrity in England it is many years.”

“Kerstall!” exclaimed Laura, suddenly; “Mr. Kerstall! why, it was a Mr. Kerstall who painted papa’s portrait; I have heard grandpapa say so again and again; and he took it away to Italy with him, promising to bring it back to London when he returned, after a year or two of study. And, oh, Philip, I should so like to see this old Mr. Kerstall; because, you know, he may have kept papa’s portrait until this very day, and I should so like to have a picture of my father as he was when he was young, and before the troubles of a long life altered him,” Laura said, rather mournfully.

She turned to the French artist presently, and asked him where the elder Mr. Kerstall lived, and if there was any possibility of seeing him.

The painter shrugged up his shoulders, and pursed up his mouth, thoughtfully.

“But, madame,” he said, “this Monsieur Kerstall’s father is very old, and he has ceased to paint it is a long time. They have said that he is even a little imbecile, that he does not remember himself of the most common events of his life. But there are some others who say that his memory has not altogether failed, and that he is still enough harshly critical towards the works of others.”

The Frenchman might have run on much longer upon this subject, but Laura was too impatient to be polite. She interrupted him by asking for Mr. Kerstall’s address.

The artist took out one of his own cards, and wrote the required address in pencil.

“It is in the neighbourhood of Notre Dame, madame, in the Rue Cailoux, over the office of a Parisian journal,” he said, as he handed the card to Laura. “I don’t think you will have any difficulty in finding the house.”

Laura thanked the French artist and then took her husband’s arm and walked away with him.

“I don’t care about looking at any more pictures to-day, Philip,” she said; “but, oh, I do wish you would take me to this Mr. Kerstall’s studio at once! You will be doing me such a favour, Philip, if you’ll say yes.”

“When did I ever say no to anything you asked me, Laura? We’ll go to Mr. Kerstall immediately, if you like. But why are you so anxious to see this old portrait of your father, my dear?”

“Because I want to see what he was before he went to India. I want to see what he was when he was bright and young before the world had hardened him. Ah, Philip, since we have known and loved each other, it seems to me as if I had no thought or care for any one in all this wide world except yourself. But before that time I was very unhappy about my father. I had expected that he would be so fond of me. I had so built upon his return to England, thinking that we should be nearer and dearer to each other than any father and daughter ever were before. I had thought all this, Philip; night after night I had dreamt the same dream — the bright happy dream in which my father came home to me, the fond foolish dream in which I felt his strong arms folded round me, and his true heart beating against my own. But when he did come at last, it seemed to me as if this father was a man of stone; his white fixed face repelled me; his cold hard voice turned my blood to ice. I was frightened of him, Philip; I was frightened of my own father; and little by little we grew to shun each other, till at last we met like strangers, or something worse than strangers; for I have seen my father look at me with an expression of absolute horror in his stern cruel eyes. Can you wonder, then, that I want to see what he was in his youth? I shall learn to love him, perhaps, if I can see the smiling image of his lost youth.”

Laura said all this in a very low voice as she walked with her husband through the garden of the Luxembourg. She walked very fast; for she was as eager as a child who is intent upon some scheme of pleasure.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31