Hélène had been linked from childhood with Annie Villars, the rich heiress who had married the Marquis d’Anguilhon.
This marriage had been blamed, deplored by all the American high society. He was taking an immense fortune from the country, a young girl from a good household; these two losses had been keenly felt. Hélène, she had had a real sorrow.
For four years, we had waited in vain for the visit of the Marquise and her husband. The previous summer, however, they had appeared at Newport: it was the event of the season. Madame Ronald then saw the young couple in private; many of his fears and prejudices disappeared. She was immediately seduced by the face and manners of Jacques d’Anguilhon, declared him fascinating – fascinating – and created a whole current of sympathy in his favor. The Marchioness, secretly grateful to Hélène, invited her to come to Paris in the spring and promised to introduce her to her French friends. And this is a little for that that Hélène had fixed her trip for the month of April, because she had the keenest desire to enter this suburb of Saint-Germain which seemed to her a holy arch.
The Marquise d’Anguilhon and the Baronne de Kéradieu did not return until the first week of May. The day after her return, Annie came to visit her compatriots and immediately invited them to her dinner on Thursday, to this Franco-American dinner which had become like an institution at home. Madame Ronald, Dora and Monsieur Beauchamp accepted alone; Madame Carroll and Aunt Sophie, who disliked strangers, used their health as a pretext to refuse.
Madame Ronald had not seen the Marquis since Newport; she was anxious to hear his impressions of America and to chat with him again. He had really interested her and she had been flattered by the special attention he had given her.
On her way to the Anguilhon’s, Hélène recommended Dora for the tenth time to observe herself, not to say everything that came to her mind. The young girl, who nevertheless had a fairly good character, ended up getting angry:
– To hear you, she said, you would think I came from the Old West !
– No, but you’re a little surprising, you know, and the French could be wrong. You must always try to do honor to your friends. Annie wouldn’t be happy if you were found to be vulgar.
Miss Carroll shrugged, as was her habit when she couldn’t answer anything.
The Marquise d’Anguilhon was delighted that Madame Ronald saw her in her home, within the framework of this old hotel which had become dear to her. She knew that a faithful description would be sent to New York and would surely arrive by Hélène to the aristocratic clan of Colonial Dames.. With the de Kéradieu, the Prince de Nolles, the Vicomte de Nozay and two other friends, she invited the Marquis and the Marquise Verga – he, a Roman who occupied a high position at the court of Italy; she, a remarkably pretty American. This dinner of only twelve people was one of those meals Annie had learned to give. Mrs. Ronald and Miss Carroll had expected more splendor, but they were too accustomed to beautiful things not to recognize, at a second glance, the research, the great luxury that there was in the apparent simplicity of the service and decor. Madame d’Anguilhon had entrusted Dora to the care of the Vicomte de Nozay, sure that these two independent and original spirits would both derive all the fun imaginable. “She’s the youngest model of the world,” she had said. – Do not judge her badly: deep down, she is very good. ”
Much to Madame Ronald’s relief, and to the viscount’s disappointment, Mademoiselle Carroll spoke little, occupied as she was in observing her guests. Of a different kind from Annie, she had hardly known her, but their mothers were very close: she had heard a lot about her. Seeing her sober elegance, her dignity, she said to herself that that Marchioness did America honor. The master of the house interested him even more. It was the first time that she had seen a man of an ancient race up close, and, curiously enough, she, so modern, immediately fell under its spell. The Marquis, with his refined type, his golden brown eyes with a distant gaze, was well suited to astonish him. That evening he was nervous, singularly absent-minded; his wife was often obliged to repeat the same question to him. She did so with charming gentleness, and he, coming to himself, always had an affectionate smile, a pretty word of apology. None of this escaped Dora.
After dinner, Madame Ronald took Jacques to task:
‘You know,’ she said, ‘you haven’t been forgiven yet for leaving Newport so quickly. Did you not like it?
– Honestly, no ; there is too much luxury, too much noise, too much sparkle. The Indians, who called it “Island of Peace”, understood it better. An island of peace, that’s what it should be. Worldly life seemed out of place to me. These castles, these marble palaces without space, surrounded by walls and on a beach as busy as a street, struck me as nonsense. When I think that a few miles away we would have had a marvelous setting, beautiful shade and silence!…
– Silence! interrupted Baron de Kéradieu, – you forget that the Americans do not need silence yet.
– It’s true, I am absurd, confessed Jacques, with good grace.
– Isn’t Newport something like Trouville? asked the Vicomte de Nozay.
“Yes, but it is infinitely more brilliant,” replied Henri de Kéradieu. – It is the great “vanity fair” of the United States, the place on our planet where we have fun and where we flower the most.
– And where we see the most pretty women! added the Marquis Verga.
– Okay. In Europe Brighton alone could be compared to it, and again in Brighton there are crowds, poor people, badly dressed, while in Newport everything is first class, not a shadow on the table.
– If not, said Jacques, the sight of the workers who provide all this luxury and whose exhausted air is painful.
– It’s true, but who the hell thinks about it? For my part, when I spent a fortnight in Newport, I felt the fatigue of an grown-up who would have endured the noise of children’s games for a long time. Last summer, Anguilhon and I were happy to flee to Canada. It seemed delicious to us like a glass of Apollinaris after an overly succulent dinner.
‘In truth,’ Jacques went on, ‘Canada gave me an unforgettable feeling of rest. Quebec, with its large roofs, convents, churches, struck me as a corner of our old provincial France.
– You hear ? she says. Is that French enough! These gentlemen go to sea for seven days to see something new, and after a month they are looking for places that resemble their country.
– That is true ! And nothing pleased me like finding the Norman accent among the Canadians and hearing them pronounce “poëvre” instead of “pepper”. I was moved more than once to see how much the cult of France is still alive among them.
“We had a delicious surprise one day,” said M. de Kéradieu. In one of our horse rides, quite far from Quebec, we arrived in front of the gate of a beautiful property and we uttered a cry when we saw on the pillars of the entrance, inscribed in large letters, the name of “Milly “. Milly, the land of Lamartine! Surely a woman had to stay there who loved and understood the poet. This showed us how much Canada lags behind today’s France. He is still feeling … Jacques and I, moved by the same thought, we raised our hats to the unknown and to the memory of our compatriot. People would probably have laughed at us on the other side of the St. Lawrence, but what do you want? we are very French! said the baron with a smile at Annie.
– I hope, Monsieur d’Anguilhon, – said Charley Beauchamp, – that you have not only admired Canada and that America has not made too bad an impression on you.
– A bad impression! On the contrary … My stay in the United States has helped me understand modern life better than any book I could have read. If I have not always been charmed, I have always been amazed. Chicago, among others, stunned me. The height of its houses, the boldness of its buildings gave me a unique idea of grandeur and fragility. Twenty times, I have said to myself: “How beautiful and how ugly!” ”
– Have you been to the Old West ?
– Yes, and it is there that I was most strongly struck. The display of strength and activity that I saw there shook me so well that I wanted to try my muscles: I threw the ax into the trees, helped launch a few rafts … for several months, my hands were callused, and these marks made me very proud.
– I wouldn’t be surprised, said Annie, that one of these days my husband had a ranch somewhere. It would be newer than a racing stable.
“And healthier, above all,” said Jacques. The fortnight we spent, de Kéradieu and I, in the State of Nevada, with a compatriot, will remain one of my best memories. We shared the frugal life of our host, made miles in pursuit of horses. In the evening, when I smoked my last cigar under the sky with shining stars, in the silence of the meadow, worldly existence, the Bois, the club, appeared to me so stupid and so petty! In this pure sea air, as if loaded with sap, we feel renewed physically and morally. This is the air that we need, the rest of us! For my own part, I will go as often as possible to revive it.
– And our cities in the East, what effect have they had on you? asked Mr. Beauchamp who, like most of his compatriots, was curious about the opinion of Europeans.
– Excellent. Your universities, colleges, hospitals, institutions due to private initiative do you the greatest honor. In truth, your work is colossal.
The American’s face beamed with satisfaction.
– There are very few foreigners who do us this justice!
– Because it is wrong to look in your country for what it does not yet have, instead of seeing what it has.
– Ah! There are two great beautiful things in America, says the Marquis Verga: the women of Baltimore and the horses of Kentucky.
– That’s really Italian! said his wife.
– What do you want, my dear friend, you must not ask a man born between the Vatican and the Quirinal to understand a country as stunning as yours. During the three months that I spent there, I had at every moment the cut off breathing as in your terrible elevators, these elevators which do not raise you, but which take you away! … All the time, I felt jostled morally, and I had the feeling that I was being stepped on.
– At least that’s a new feeling! said M. Beauchamp with good humor.
“For example,” resumed the Marquis d’Anguilhon, “I was not edified by your political customs. They’re worse than ours, and that’s saying a lot.
– It’s because with us, as with you, honest people make the mistake of being selfish, – replied Annie with her usual outspokenness. – Instead of fighting against the intriguers, the ambitious without scruples, they leave the field free to them: then, corruption and misappropriation enter everywhere.
“You are right,” admitted M. Beauchamp; but there ! it is perhaps impossible to find in newly arrived, independent people the necessary impetus to give impetus to the affairs of a great country.
– Well, that’s sad! Helen said. Honesty should be a more powerful driving force than that of personal ambition.
– Ah! Madame Ronald, you ask too much of human nature, more than Providence does! said Jacques. It’s amazing how you all have a fighting instinct.
– By the way, Monsieur d’Anguilhon, what do you think of American women in droves? You promised to tell me.
– They seemed to me admirably made for their country. They have the qualities that characterize it: youth, daring, vitality.
– How true! said Charley Beauchamp.
“Besides, they are very pretty,” continued Jacques. To my surprise, I found the United States women’s kind of the XVIII th century, which disappeared in Europe. I have seen many faces resembling those painted by Latour and Greuze. In all seriousness, nowhere have I encountered so much beauty, or shaken hands so small and so firm.
– Surely, – said Dora with her sharp expression, – after all these flattering things we can expect a corrective “but” … and it is this “but” that interests me.
– Well, mademoiselle, I will add: but … for American women to have charm and finish, supreme harmony, well, they need a century more.
– I’d rather have it less! replied Miss Carroll.
– You are right, youth is a beautiful defect.
‘If you have only that one to reproach us with,’ said Mrs. Ronald, ‘we will not complain. And you, Annie, what impression did America make on you after six years of absence?
– Do not believe in an assignment on my part, but I must admit that a lot of things shocked me. I was struck by the universal nervousness. The moral level seemed to me to have dropped considerably. In my time, there were young girls – fast , – ” fast “, I found some – rapid , – “fast”, and I noticed that we were talking about divorces as much as marriages. The excessive noise and activity, which I am unaccustomed to, caused me real fatigue. The houses of our billionaires made me appreciate certain French interiors. I returned to our old Blonay with unimaginable pleasure. I never thought it was possible.
Then, with a pretty air of wisdom:
– I believe, after all, that life is only a series of lessons… and I have already, for my part, learned or received some. Ah! Monsieur de Limeray!
At this name, Helene, who had her back to the door, turned round quickly. It was indeed the “Prince”; she exchanged a distressed look with her brother and Dora.
– I was afraid I wouldn’t see you, – said Annie to the newcomer. – It would have been a shame, because, today, poker will be serious: America is in force.
And, thereupon, the young woman introduced the Comte de Limeray to her compatriots. Finding there, in this friendly salon, the strangers who, just the day before, had held his attention, the “Prince” looked surprised and delighted.
– I had no idea of the good fortune that awaited me this evening, – he said, bowing deeply to Helene, – but I had hoped a little. I have already noticed that you get to know, one day or another, the people you often meet.
– Have you often met Madame Ronald? said Madame d’Anguilhon, quite astonished.
– Yes several times. Chance… is it chance?… Led us to the same restaurants… Just yesterday, at the Café de Paris, we had dinner at neighboring tables.
Helene’s embarrassment increased, to the point of becoming visible.
– You understand English ? asked Mademoiselle Carroll suddenly and rather brashly.
– Perfectly! And I never congratulated myself so much on it as last night, – said the count with a slightly mocking smile.
Guy de Nozay, one of those terrible nearsightedness to whom nothing escapes, noticed this and guessed that the young girl had been guilty of some indiscretion.
– I hope for you, my dear, that you have only heard pleasant things, – he said mischievously. – It is quite rare, when one overhears a conversation which is not for your ear.
– I have heard pleasant … severe … very instructive, especially. I have learned that one can guess the character of an individual, the very menu of his dinner by the mere sight of his back, and that the mustaches of the French are from another era than themselves, this which makes them funny like living anachronisms.
– Ah bah! … I bet it was Miss Carroll who discovered this! Guy de Nozay said with a twinkle of mischief behind his monocle.
– Yes, it’s me, – answered Dora who did not let herself be disconcerted for so little. – Doubtless, in France, a young girl of good quality would not speak of back or mustache, but I am a foreigner: I am allowed to say what I want, and I take advantage of it.
“You are right,” said M. de Limeray. I’m not complaining, for my part; your original remarks amused me a lot.
– I’m glad of it!
– Is it in the American boarding schools that one learns to know the physiognomy of the back and the mustaches? asked the viscount, carried away by his love of teasing.
– No, no … nothing is taught as useful. It is a knowledge that I have acquired on my own, the fruit of my observations.
M. de Nozay bowed, smiling, as if beaten by the young girl’s frankness.
“You have a friend, sir,” said the Comte de Limeray, addressing Charles Beauchamp, “who has understood our country well. I have never heard such fair appreciation from a stranger.
– Oh ! he has lived in Paris for three years.
– You can live there for twenty years, still the same, and not feel the French soul like your friend does.
– Is that Willie Gray is an artist! I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days America took great pride in her talent. He has a painting at the Salon des Champs-Elysées, The Meditation of Jesus , which reveals a great power. If I had the space, I would buy it.
– I’ll go see him. I myself have a very sincere taste for painting. I’d love to meet Mr. Gray.
– I can take you to his workshop, if you wish.
– You will give me great pleasure.
Annie having invited her hosts to take a seat at the gaming table, poker began. It was very lively, thanks to the Americans who, as usual, brought a real passion to it.
After the game, the Comte de Limeray came to talk to Helene.
“You seem to be having fun in Paris,” he said.
– Mr. Ronald stayed in America?
– Yes ; unfortunately he was unable to accompany me.
– And you regret it a lot? asked the count, in a tone that pierced the impertinence of doubt.
To her extreme chagrin, Helene felt herself blush.
– Certainly !
– Excuse me, but like all Europeans, I cannot help being astonished at the confidence of American husbands, who let their wives, often very pretty women, come to Paris alone.
– Oh ! they know we are being honest.
“And that you have no temper,” said the Marquis Verga quite brutally.
– But I like to believe that, even with a temperament, a well-behaved woman would not fail in her duties.
– Do you think that a good education is a safeguard against temptation? asked M. de Limeray.
– I am sure ! Helene replied in a positive tone.
The count looked at her with an air of curiosity, astonishment, regret at not being able to put her to the test.
– I would like to know what is meant by “temperament”? said Dora. Nobody knew how to explain it to me, and the dictionary itself did not give me any information.
There was one of those terrible silences produced by indiscretions and the odd.
– The temperament is a defect according to some, a quality according to the others… a very dangerous thing, in short! replied the Vicomte de Nozay in the most serious tone; – and it is impossible to explain it to young girls.
– It’s a shame, because it must be interesting! said Miss Carroll thoughtlessly.
Then, suddenly realizing what she had just said, she blushed slightly and threw out a question foreign to the subject, which was her way of making up for it.
As we were about to separate, the Comte de Limeray approached Dora:
– Mademoiselle, – he said, resting his sad eyes on her, – since I have had the pleasure of knowing Madame de Kéradieu and Madame d’Anguilhon, I know that the truth never angers an American; that is why I am going to take the liberty of telling you that yesterday evening you passed a severe and unjust judgment on the French aristocracy. Rightly or wrongly, my generation has stayed away; but our children are gradually getting into the fight and they not only have the mustache of yesteryear, believe it: they also have the audacity, the heroism, which gives it that bold and particular turn that you have noticed. . My eldest son went to be killed in Africa for an idea… to give France, at a certain point, the lead over England. Others will follow his example, I have no doubt.
Dora felt herself covered with confusion and singularly small in front of this old gentleman so worthy.
– I often speak without thinking, – she said, overcoming her embarrassment fairly quickly, – but I always regret it when I have said something stupid and hurt someone.
– I believe him. As for me, I am happy to have had the opportunity to change your opinion. You don’t blame me?
– On the contrary.
The Earl held out his hand to Miss Carroll, who gave his hand with apologetic and repentant vivacity.
Hardly in the car and on the way to the Continental Hotel, Madame Ronald asked Dora what “the Prince” had said to her. The girl repeated her words exactly.
– Isn’t that playing bad luck? she added, laughing. M. de Limeray is perhaps the only French of this age, in the whole of the Faubourg, who understands English and he must be our neighbor at the table!
– What a delicious evening! said Charley Beauchamp. – It’s strange, I had in this company, in this old hotel, the same feeling of rest that I find in a room of the Louvre. And I noticed in the eyes of these men of the aristocracy that particular glow that old portraits have. Ah! no, they are not made for today’s costume, and even less for modern life! … I am no longer surprised that Annie fell in love with M. d’Anguilhon; he absolutely charmed me.
– Yes, he’s very curious… very interesting, – said Miss Carroll as if she were talking about a trinket. – However, I would never feel very comfortable with him. He would make a Sunday husband, but everyday, I prefer Jack… And then, if I were his wife, I would like to know who he thinks of when he’s distracted like tonight.