OCTOBER 22, 1791.
Events crowd. This morning the one girl I have taken into my confidence came to my room with a strange tale. A stranger had arrived, an elegant young gentleman of foreign appearance, who had not yet given his name, but who must be a person of importance, if bearing and address go for anything. He came on horseback, attended by his valet, and his first word, after some directions in regard to his horse, was a request to see the landlady. When told she was ill, he asked for the clerk, and to him was about to put some question, when an exclamation from the doorway interrupted them. Turning, they saw madame standing there, her face petrified into an expression of terrified surprise.
“Hush!” sprang from the lady’s lips before he could finish his exclamation; and advancing, she laid her hand on his arm, saying, in French, which, by the way, my clerk understands: “If you hope anything from us, do not speak the name that is faltering on your tongue. For reasons of our own, for reasons of a purely domestic nature, we are traveling incognito. Let me ask you as a gentleman to humor our whim, and to know us at present as Madame and Mademoiselle Letellier.”
He bowed, but flushed with embarrassment.
“And mademoiselle? She is well, I trust?”
“Quite well, also. May I ask what has brought you into these parts, whom we thought in another and somewhat distant country?”
“Need you ask?”
They had drawn a little apart by this time, and the clerk heard no more; but their manner — the lady’s especially — was so singular that he thought I ought to know that she was here under a false name, and so had sent Margery to me with the news. As for the gentleman and Madame Letellier, they were still conversing in the lowest tones together.
Interested intensely in this new development in the drama hourly unfolding before my eyes, I dismissed Margery with an instruction or two, and passed into the hidden chamber, where I again laid my ear to the wall. The mother would have something to say when she returned, and I determined to hear what it was.
I had to wait a long time, but was rewarded at last by the sound of voices and the distinct exclamation from the daughter’s lips:
“Oh, mamma! what has happened?”
The mother’s reply was delayed, but it came at last:
“My face is becoming strangely communicative. You will read all my thoughts next. What makes you think anything has happened? Is this a place for occurrences?”
“Oh, mamma! you cannot deceive me. Your very limbs are trembling. See, you can hardly stand; and then, how you look at me! Oh, mamma, dear! is it good news or bad? for from your eyes it might be either. Has he —”
“He, he — always he!” the mother passionately interrupted. “You do not love your mother. You are thinking always of one whom you never saw till a year ago. My doubts, my fears, my sufferings are nothing to you. I might die —”
“Hush! hush! Whenever did you speak like this before, mamma? Love you! Did ever a child love her mother more? But our affection is sure, while that of him you do not like me to mention is threatened, and its existence forbidden. I cannot help but think, mamma, and of him. If I could, I were a traitor to the noblest instincts that sway a woman’s heart. I may not marry him — you say I never will — but think of him I must, and pray for him I will, till the last breath has left my lips. So, what is your news, dear mamma? Has papa written?”
“It is too early for the mail.”
“True, true. Some one has come, then; a messenger, perhaps, from New York. M. Dubois —”
“Dubois is a traitor. He has not kept the secret of our whereabouts. We have to settle with Monsieur and Madame Dubois, meanwhile —”
“Honora, can I trust you?”
“Ah! who is trembling now?”
“I! I! But how can I help it! You glance toward the door; you seem afraid some one will come. You — you —”
“Tut! do not mind me! Answer what I ask. Could you see the marquis — talk to him, hear him urge his love and plead for yours, without forgetting that your obedience is mine, and that you are not to give him so much as the encouragement of a glance, till I either give you permission to do so or command from you his immediate and unqualified dismissal?”
“See him?” It was all the poor girl had heard.
“Yes; see him. You have come from Paris — why not he? Since Dubois has proved himself a traitor —”
“Oh, mamma!” came now in great sobs, “you are not playing with me. He has come; he is here; the horse I heard stop at the door —”
“Was that of the marquis,” acknowledged the mother. “He is in the sitting room, child, but he does not expect you at present. This evening you shall see him if you will promise me what I have asked. Otherwise he must go. I will have no complications arising out of a secret betrothal. If you have not sufficient strength —”
“Oh, I have strength, mamma! I have strength. Only let me see him, and prove to myself that he is not worn by trouble and suspense, and I will do all you ask of me. Ah, how well I feel! What a beautiful — what a lovely day this is! Must I not go out till evening? May I not take one wee walk in the garden?”
“Not one, my child. At nine o’clock you may go to the sitting room for a half hour. Till then, think over what I have said, and prepare your lips to be dumb and your eyes to remain downcast; for I am firm in my demands, and nothing will make me change them.”
“You may trust me.” There was despair in the tones now. . . .
As they talked but little after this, and as I was greatly interested in seeing the young man who had been heralded by such glowing descriptions, I stole back to my room, and, putting on a green shade, hastened to join my guests in the front part of the house. One glance from beneath my hurriedly uplifted shade was sufficient to assure me as to which of the gentlemen there assembled was the one I sought. So frank a face, so fine a form, so attractive a manner, were not often seen in my inn, and prepossessed at once in his favor, I advanced to the owner of all these graces, and, calling him by name, bade him welcome to my house.
He must understand our language well, for he immediately turned with gentle urbanity, and discerning, perhaps, something in my face which assured him of my sympathy and respect, entered into a fluent conversation with me that at once increased my admiration and awakened my pity. For I saw that his nature was strong and his feelings deep, and as the future could have nothing but shame and misery, I instinctively felt oppressed by the fate which awaited him.
He did not seem to feel any apprehension himself. His eyes were bright; his smile beaming; his bearing full of hope. Now and then his glance would steal toward the door or through the open windows, as if he longed to catch a glimpse of some passing face or form; and at last, swayed by that sympathy which we women all feel for true love in man or woman, I asked him to accompany me into the garden, promising him a view that would certainly delight him. As the garden was plainly visible from the oak parlor, you can readily understand to what view I alluded. But he had no suspicion of my meaning, and followed me with some reluctance.
But his aspect changed materially when, in walking up and down the paths, I casually remarked:
“This is the least inhabited side of the inn. Only one room is occupied, and that by two foreigners — Madame and Mademoiselle Letellier. Yet it has a pleasant outlook, as you yourself can see.”
“Is she — are they behind those windows?” he asked, with an impetuosity I could not but admire in a man with so much to recommend him to the consideration of others. “I beg your pardon,” he added, a moment later, after a stolen glance at the house. “I know those ladies, and anything in connection with them is interesting to me.”
I believed it, and had hard work to hide my secret trouble. But his preoccupation assisted me, and at length I found courage to remark:
“They are from Paris, I understand. A fine woman, Madame Letellier. Must be much admired in her own land?”
He seemed to have no reason for resenting my curiosity.
“She is,” was his quick reply. “She is not only admired, but respected. I have never heard her name mentioned but with honor. I am happy to be known as her friend.”
I gave him one quick look. Good God! What lay before this man! And he so unconscious! I felt like wishing the inn would fall to atoms before our eyes, crushing beneath it the sin of the past and his false hopes for the future. He saw nothing. He was smiling upon a rose which he had plucked and was holding in his hand.
“This inn is one of the antiquities,” I now observed, anxious to know if any hint of its secrets had ever reached his ears. “They say it is one of the first structures reared on the river. Have you ever heard any of the traditions connected with it?”
“Oh, no,” he smiled. “The Happy–Go-Lucky is quite a stranger to me. You cherish up all its legends, though, I have no doubt. Are there any tales of ghosts among them? I can easily imagine certain disembodied spirits wandering through its narrow halls and up and down its winding staircases.”
“What spirits?” I asked, convinced, however, by his manner that he was talking at random, with the probable aim of prolonging our walk within view of the window behind which his darling might stand concealed.
“Madame must inform me. I have too little acquaintance with this country to venture among its traditions.”
“There is a story,” I began; but here a finely modulated but piercing voice rang musically down the paths from the house, and we heard:
“Your eyes will certainly suffer, Mrs. Truax, if you let the hot sun glare upon them so mercilessly.” And, turning, we saw madame’s smiling face looking from her casement with a meaning that struck us both dumb and led me to shorten our walk lest my interest in the romance then going on should be suspected and my usefulness thus become abridged.
Was it to forestall my suspicions, rid herself of my vigilance, or to insure herself against any forgetfulness on her daughter’s part, that madame, some two hours later, sent me the following note:
“DEAR MRS. TRUAX: I can imagine that after your walk in the blazing sunlight you do not feel very well this evening. I must nevertheless request of you a favor, my need being great and you being the only person who can assist me. The Marquis de la Roche–Guyon, with whom I saw you promenading, has come to this place with the express intention of paying court to my daughter. As I am not prepared to frown upon his suit, and equally unprepared to favor it, I do not feel at liberty to refuse him the pleasure of an interview with my daughter, and yet do not desire them to enjoy such an interview alone. As I am ill, quite ill, with a sudden and excruciating attack of pain in my right hip, may I ask if you will fulfill the office of chaperon for me, and, without embarrassment to either party, take such measures as will prevent an absolute confidence between them, till I have obtained the sanction of my husband to an intimacy which I myself dare not encourage?
“Very truly your debtor, if you accomplish
this, MADAME LETELLIER.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55