I HAD indeed
had a very long talk with the
crafty little politician,
and on regaining my quarters,
I found that dinner was half
over. To be late at meals was
against a standing rule of the
establishment, and had it been
one of the Flemish ushers who
thus entered after the removal
of the soup and the commencement
of the first course, M. Pelet
would probably have greeted him
with a public rebuke, and would
certainly have mulcted him both
of soup and fish; as it was,
that polite though partial gentleman
only shook his head, and as I
took my place, unrolled my napkin,
and said my heretical grace to
myself, he civilly despatched
a servant to the kitchen, to
bring me a plate of "puree aux
carottes" (for this was a maigre-day),
and before sending away the first
course, reserved for me a portion
of the stock-fish of which it
consisted. Dinner being over,
the boys rushed out for their
evening play; Kint and Vandam
(the two ushers) of course followed
them. Poor fellows! if they had
not looked so very heavy, so
very soulless, so very indifferent
to all things in heaven above
or in the earth beneath, I could
have pitied them greatly for
the obligation they were under
to trail after those rough lads
everywhere and at all times;
even as it was, I felt disposed
to scout myself as a privileged
prig when I turned to ascend
to my chamber, sure to find there,
if not enjoyment, at least liberty;
but this evening (as had often
happened before) I was to be
still farther distinguished.
"Eh bien, mauvais sujet!" said
the voice of M. Pelet behind
me, as I set my foot on the first
step of the stair, "ou allez-vous?
Venez a la salle-a-manger, que
je vous gronde un peu."
"I beg pardon, monsieur," said
I, as I followed him to his private
sitting-room, "for having returned
so late--it was not my fault."
"That is just what I want to
know," rejoined M. Pelet, as
he ushered me into the comfortable
parlour with a good wood-fire
--for the stove had now been
removed for the season. Having
rung the bell he ordered "Coffee
for two," and presently he and
I were seated, almost in English
comfort, one on each side of
the hearth, a little round table
between us, with a coffee-pot,
a sugar-basin, and two large
white china cups. While M. Pelet
employed himself in choosing
a cigar from a box, my thoughts
reverted to the two outcast ushers,
whose voices I could hear even
now crying hoarsely for order
in the playground.
"C'est une grande responsabilite,
que la surveillance," observed
I remarked that I thought Messieurs
Vandam and Kint must sometimes
be a little fatigued with their
"Des betes de somme,--des betes
de somme," murmured scornfully
the director. Meantime I offered
him his cup of coffee.
"Servez-vous mon garcon," said
he blandly, when I had put a
couple of huge lumps of continental
sugar into his cup. "And now
tell me why you stayed so long
at Mdlle. Reuter's. I know that
lessons conclude, in her establishment
as in mine, at four o'clock,
and when you returned it was
to speak with me, monsieur."
what subject? if one may ask."
talked about nothing, monsieur."
topic! and did she discourse
thereon in the schoolroom,
before the pupils?"
"No; like you,
monsieur, she asked me to walk
into her parlour."
Reuter--the old duenna--my
mother's gossip, was
there, of course?"
I had the honour of being quite
alone with mademoiselle."
"C'est joli--cela," observed
M. Pelet, and he smiled and looked
into the fire.
"Honi soit qui mal y pense," murmured
un peu ma petite voisine--voyez-vous."
"In that case,
monsieur will be able to aid
me in finding
out what was mademoiselle's reason
for making me sit before her
sofa one mortal hour, listening
to the most copious and fluent
dissertation on the merest frivolities."
"She was sounding
"Did she find
out your weak point?"
"What is my
"Why, the sentimental.
Any woman sinking her shaft
enough, will at last reach a
fathomless spring of sensibility
in thy breast, Crimsworth."
I felt the blood stir about
my heart and rise warm to my
Reuter of the number? Come,
speak frankly, mon fils;
elle est encore jeune, plus agee
que toi peut-etre, mais juste
asset pour unir la tendresse
d'une petite maman a l'amour
d'une epouse devouee; n'est-ce
pas que cela t'irait superieurement?"
I should like my wife to be
my wife, and not
half my mother."
"She is then
a little too old for you?"
not a day too old if she suited
me in other
"In what does
she not suit you, William?
She is personally
agreeable, is she not?"
hair and complexion are just
what I admire; and her
turn of form, though quite Belgian,
is full of grace."
her face? her features? How
do you like them?"
"A little harsh,
especially her mouth."
"Ah, yes! her mouth," said
M. Pelet, and he chuckled inwardly. "There
is character about her mouth--firmness--but
she has a very pleasant smile;
don't you think so?"
that expression of craft is
owing to her eyebrows;
have you remarked her eyebrows?"
I answered that I had not.
"You have not seen her looking
down then?" said he.
"It is a treat,
notwithstanding. Observe her
when she has some
knitting, or some other woman's
work in hand, and sits the image
of peace, calmly intent on her
needles and her silk, some discussion
meantime going on around her,
in the course of which peculiarities
of character are being developed,
or important interests canvassed;
she takes no part in it; her
humble, feminine mind is wholly
with her knitting; none of her
features move; she neither presumes
to smile approval, nor frown
disapprobation; her little hands
assiduously ply their unpretending
task; if she can only get this
purse finished, or this bonnet-grec
completed, it is enough for her.
If gentlemen approach her chair,
a deeper quiescence, a meeker
modesty settles on her features,
and clothes her general mien;
observe then her eyebrows, et
dites-moi s'il n'y a pas du chat
dans l'un et du renard dans l'autre."
"I will take careful notice
the first opportunity," said
"And then," continued M. Pelet, "the
eyelid will flicker, the light-coloured
lashes be lifted a second, and
a blue eye, glancing out from
under the screen, will take its
brief, sly, searching survey,
and retreat again."
I smiled, and so did Pelet,
and after a few minutes' silence,
"Will she ever
marry, do you think?"
birds pair? Of course it is
both her intention
and resolution to marry when
she finds a suitable match, and
no one is better aware than herself
of the sort of impression she
is capable of producing; no one
likes better to captivate in
a quiet way. I am mistaken if
she will not yet leave the print
of her stealing steps on thy
"Of her steps?
Confound it, no! My heart is
not a plank to
be walked on."
"But the soft
touch of a patte de velours
will do it no harm."
me no patte de velours; she
is all form and
reserve with me."
"That to begin
with; let respect be the foundation,
the first floor, love the superstructure;
Mdlle. Reuter is a skilful architect."
M. Pelet--interest. Will not
that point ?"
no doubt; it will be the cement
between every stone.
And now we have discussed the
directress, what of the pupils?
N'y-a-t-il pas de belles etudes
parmi ces jeunes tetes?"
character? Yes; curious ones,
at least, I imagine;
but one cannot divine much from
a first interview."
"Ah, you affect
discretion; but tell me now,
were you not
a little abashed before these
blooming young creatures?
yes; but I rallied and got
through with all due
"I don't believe
"It is true,
notwithstanding. At first I
thought them angels,
but they did not leave me long
under that delusion; three of
the eldest and handsomest undertook
the task of setting me right,
and they managed so cleverly
that in five minutes I knew them,
at least, for what they were--three
"Je les connais!" exclaimed
M. Pelet. "Elles sont toujours
au premier rang a l'eglise et
a la promenade; une blonde superbe,
une jolie espiegle, une belle
all of them--heads for artists;
what a group they
would make, taken together! Eulalie
(I know their names), with her
smooth braided hair and calm
ivory brow. Hortense, with her
rich chesnut locks so luxuriantly
knotted, plaited, twisted, as
if she did not know how to dispose
of all their abundance, with
her vermilion lips, damask cheek,
and roguish laughing eye. And
Caroline de Blemont! Ah, there
is beauty! beauty in perfection.
What a cloud of sable curls about
the face of a houri! What fascinating
lips! What glorious black eyes!
Your Byron would have worshipped
her, and you--you cold, frigid
islander!--you played the austere,
the insensible in the presence
of an Aphrodite so exquisite?"
I might have laughed at the
director's enthusiasm had I believed
it real, but there was something
in his tone which indicated got-up
raptures. I felt he was only
affecting fervour in order to
put me off my guard, to induce
me to come out in return, so
I scarcely even smiled. He went
do not the mere good looks
of Zoraide Reuter
appear dowdyish and commonplace
compared with the splendid charms
of some of her pupils?"
The question discomposed me,
but I now felt plainly that my
principal was endeavouring (for
reasons best known to himself--at
that time I could not fathom
them) to excite ideas and wishes
in my mind alien to what was
right and honourable. The iniquity
of the instigation proved its
antidote, and when he further
"Each of those
three beautiful girls will
have a handsome fortune;
and with a little address, a
gentlemanlike, intelligent young
fellow like you might make himself
master of the hand, heart, and
purse of any one of the trio."
I replied by
a look and an interrogative "Monsieur?" which
He laughed a forced laugh,
affirmed that he had only been
joking, and demanded whether
I could possibly have thought
him in earnest. Just then the
bell rang; the play-hour was
over; it was an evening on which
M. Pelet was accustomed to read
passages from the drama and the
belles lettres to his pupils.
He did not wait for my answer,
but rising, left the room, humming
as he went some gay strain of