MARY F. RAPHAEL
OUTSIDE the old shop stood a smart motor car. The street was quiet. Only a straggling company of pigeons busied themselves amongst the venerable cobble-stones. The trams, passing every now and then, set the birds flying. But they returned as soon as the temporary turmoil had died down and the road was clear again for them to resume their gleaning.
A hólland awning protected the goods in the shopwindow from the rays of the spring sun. Across the front of the awning was painted the word Antiquités in large blue letters.
It would indeed have been a pity had the old-rose brocade of those Louis XV chairs become yet more faded. The strong sunlight might have stolen the color, too, from the silk embroideries of that wonderful vestment, or from the quaint shawl flung so artlessly, yet artfully, over a corner of the gilt Empire cabinet.
It was the cabinet where part of Monsieur Dumont’s priceless collection of miniatures was shown.
In the window there were to be seen, besides, cutglass girandoles, carved and moulded frames of which the gilding had been mellowed to bronze by that most competent artist Time, Venetian glass mirrors, old Chinese lacquered chests, cloisonné enamel vases, queer porcelain figures. . . . There was, in fine, as Madame Dumont her self would have told you, of everything.
A TALL old man alighted from the car and paused x for some moments, scanhing the objects in the shopwindow.
He was obviously an aristocrat of the old French school. He carried himself erectly. His white beard and moustache were trimmed. And his tailor evidently gloried in his distinguished bearing.
He adjusted his eyeglasses and examined with interest the miniatures displayed in the cabinet. Presently his attention was claimed by one different from all the rest. It showed a Madonna and Child. The work, broad and skilful, was frankly modern. Its method of treatment contrasted strongly with the stippled technique of the other and older paintings. Con-
trary to convention, the Madonna was robed in white and the Child had dark curly hair.
Who had painted that Child? Parbleu, he must find out. ... It was exactly like. . . , It was the portrait craché! . . .
The miniature seemed to hold some strange attraction for him At last he pushed open the shop-door, and entered.
\ /IADAME DUMONT, smiling, portly, good-humored as always, greeted him from the farther end of the establishment.
“Bonjour, Monsieur le Comte. One little moment and I am with you.”
But before he could reply, he became aware of the
presence of a third person—another customer to whom she was talking.
A tall, elegant girl. Her face was somehow familiar to him. A fancy, of course, for she was quite a stranger. It was annoying that Madame immont was engaged. He had looked in only for a few moments on his way from the station to the château. He could not stay—but-
Suddenly his interest was riveted by some words of Madame Dumont’s that he chanced to overhear.
“But yes, madame. It is true what monsieur says. As it is modern work, it strikes a false note here. It is out of harmony with the other miniatures. But, ma foi—what will you? Dumont is in love with it-”
The young lady murmured something which the count did not catch.
“ . . . Enfin,” went on Madame Dumont, “pray monsieur to trust my husband yet a little longer, I beg you, madame. He is infallible. I guarantee you that he will not deceive himself. Never in life, I assure you, Dumont has he badly calculated”. . . .
The good dame hesitated, shrugged plump shoulders eloquently, and glanced towards Monsieur the Comte. There was a pause. . . .
“Very well, Madame Dumont, I will tell my husband what you say. He will perhaps be willing to leave it with you a little longer—before-—before deciding. But of course he likes the miniature. In every case, madame, we thank you very much.” The young lady bowed and left the shop.
'T'HE count glanced at her as she went out.
-*■ A graceful tenue, he thought. A pretty girl, Sapristi. Where had he seen that face? Quite recently, too, here in Versailles. ... It seemed she had been speaking of the miniature which had attracted him. Well, he was resolved she should not have it. He would outbid her, no matter what she offered. He must have it for Rosalie. The child’s wide brow, the small, straight nose, the dark hair and eyes, the fat little chin with, already, the suspicion of a cleft in it— the resemblance was really striking!
“It is some time that we have not seen you, Monsieur le Comte,” said the buxom lady of the shop, coming towards him. “And Madame la Comtesse, she is well, I hope?”
“I thank you. Yes, my wife is well. But—we are getting old, Madame Dumont. We are no longer very gay, we two old people up at the Castle.”
“Ah, the fine Castle of Monsieur le Comte— certes, it is so vast! There should be little feet—the grandchildren. See you, Monsieur le Comte, there is nothing as beautiful in one’s old age! The grandchildren— it is like the return of spring after winter for elderly folk.”
The old man drew himself up with dignity. “Eh, mon Dieu, Madame Dumont, we shall know how to continue to bear it. It is so long since our son is a negligible quantity to UB. His heart must be dead to his parents.”
“By pity, Monsieur le Comte, do not say so! Monlieur le Comte-”
“Enfin, evidently he prefers his art to our company. We heard rumors—a marriage—an impossible person, a model. But one must not believe all one hears. We wrote. He ignore« our letters. Well, so much the worse. We are learning to accept the inevitable.”
“But, voyons, Monsieur le Comte, probably Monsieur i© Vicomte fear« ——”
“We are his parente, Madame Dumont. Love should uhase away fear.” The count lifted his eyebrows and changed the subject. “You have some new miniatures, madame.”
“There are three fresh ones, Monsieur le Comte, but one of them would not interest you. It is modern. Only two are antiques. One of them is a replica of a wax medallion of the reign of Louis XIII. Dumont «ays it has great merit. Tiens, permit that I fetch it from the window --”
“Pardon, madam©, but it is not that one I wish to It is precisely the modern one which interests
Monsieur le Comte . . . and you who are so a connoisseur,” remonstrated the wily sales-
CHE was also an old retainer of the count’s family.
She had been born and bred on the estate. She was devoted to them aH, root and branch. And . . . there was a little plot she had in hand—ah, if only the good God would favor ft. . . .
“I know well,” said the eount, “that in eompari*©n with the technique of the old miniaturists, the painting of which I speak is coarse. As a work of art it has certainly less merit. But there is something, all the same, which pleases me. I should like to examine it, madame.”
With a show of reluctance Madame Dumont feèohed the Madonna and Child from the cabinet in the window. . . . “Voilà Monsieur le Comte. It is pretty, pretty as everything—but it is modern, you see.”
The oount held the little painting ín his thin aristocratic hand. It trembled •lightly, that hand—for in truth the likeness was •tartling, épatcunt! The thing might have been painted thirty-one years «ge from his own boy, from Marcel himself. It was strange that he should have come across it. It was almost as if Providence had willed that he should possess it. . . .
And while he studied the miniature, Madame Dumont’s shrewd, kindly eyes studied him. Et, hon Dien, the little plot was ripening. Monsieur le Comte and the young madame—to think these two should have found themselves in the «hop together, and quite unconscious of each other, too!
Surely, it was the destiny!
“What are you asking for the thing?” inquired the count at length.
“It is for almost nothing, Monsieur le Comte—a mere bagatelle ; two hundred and fifty francs, Dumont said. For, see you, though it is modern style, it is good painting. Ah, as to that, yes, for example, I guarantee it you! A bagatelle only. It is the last price, Dumont said, without benefit to us, well understood. For the artist is little known. The price is low because he needs the money.”
“No matter,” replied the count. “I will take the miniature. A little nothing, a birthday gift to Madame la Comtesse. It is her fête to-morrow.”
“I know it well, Monsieur le Comte. I thank you. Permit that I pack up the painting—so. Assuredly Madame la Comtesse will be pleased. Otherwise, you will bring it me back, quite simply. A thing so pretty, that sells itself always. Bonjour, Monsieur le Comte. A thousand thanks.”
XTEXT morning about twelve, just as Madame Dumont had finished her déjeuner—it had been croute-au-pot, with an omelette to follow and a little cup of black coffee—she was surprised to see Madame la Comtesse enter the shop.
Madame Dumont came through the glass partition into the show-room. “My felicitations on the birthday of Madame la Comtesse,” she said. (We must remember that she had been brought up on the estate and was housemaid at the Castle till she married Dumont). “You are not then content with the miniature that Monsieur le Comte has chosen? You wish to select something else? But willingly, Madame la Comtesse —anything that you like.”
“Thérèse,” said the countess—such an elegent countess, in her velvet coat and ermine furs, with her pretty shining gray hair showing below the black velvet of her toque—“Thérèse, this miniature . . . how did you come by it?” . . .
The poor lady! Madame Dumont saw at once how greatly she was agitated.
“But of course she had divined something. How will you that she should not have guessed? The women, they are sharp, more sharp than you others— you men,” Madame Dumont assured her husband when she was relating the affair to him afterwards.
“And so then,” she went on, “I told her. ‘But yes,r I said, ‘the painting is by your son, by Monsieur le Vicomte. It is a painting of his wife—ah, the sweet little lady—and of his son—but what a love of a child quel amour d’enfant!—and it is the very spit of them, so to speak.’ ”...
“You told her! But what cheek you have, you other women!” said Monsieur Dumont And he pinched his wife’s plump chin.
“Eh, my faith, yes, I told her. It is months, now, that they are here in Versailles, and the thing stretches itself out till it gets on one’s nerves. And these poor young ones, they get thinner. They eat maigre all the week round, to make the money go far enough. And the old ones, up at the Castle, they get more sad and lonely, month by month. It is nonsense, all that.”
“ ‘You have seen him, Thérèse—-my grandson?’ she asked me. Parbleu, Dumont, I assure you—she was jealous! Madame la Comtesse jealous of me!
“ ‘Certes, yes, that I have seen him Madame la Comtesse,’ I said. ‘It is the finest child possible. And as to Madame la Vicomtesse—the dearest little lady in the world—and witty—and spirituelle! When they come here together, they make us laugh—Dumont and me—but laugh!’
“ ‘Yet they say—I hear—she was a model,’ the poor old lady told me. And I was sharp. Dame, yes! I think I showed tact, Dumont. For I said, quite simply: ‘I knew nothing of that, Madame la Comtesse. That does not regard me. All I know is that she is as elegant and comme-il-faut as any princess—what do I say?—as even Madame la Comtesse herself. . .’
“And then figure to yourself, she came out with it. Would I take her then—then, at once? I had to go and put on my bonnet and mantle—moi, who had but just eaten my breakfast. And off we went in the auto —ah, dame, yes, in the grand auto, Dumont—to the Rue de la Poste.
' ’ poor third, those front of me, ed, and, my see you.
“And she But what a
we reached the house she was all pale, lady, from emotion. They are on the young ones. Up she went, trembling, in and T puffing behind, for I had not digestfaith, there is not a bad number of steps,
made me to enter first, and announce her. scene for a play, and how touching! Moi, quite frankly, I had the tears in the eyes.”
“I think well,” said Dumont—“you with your heart of stone!” and he patted her fat rosy cheek.
“Great silly, be silent, then, that I tell you the rest. ‘My mother!’ cried Monsieur le Vicomte, and he embraced her nearly to crush her. And then he led that dear young wife of his to her and said with a very noble air, ‘If you love me, my mother, you • must also love my wife.' And the little cabbage, watching it all !
“I suppose he felt himself abandoned. . . . Anyhow, he ran to the three of them, and, 'Maman!’ he cried, ‘me too! Embrace Paul, too!’ His father picked him up and put him in Madame la Comtesse’s arms. . . . Ah, it was a pretty scene, I promise you!” - .
UHE same evening the A car from the Castle passed down again into the town and halted in front of the house in the Rue de la Poste.
Presently a trio of people came out. A tall young man carrying a child, followed by a graceful girl. The groom fetched wraps and packages. Then the car made its way back to the Castle.
There was a stir in the old place. . . . Lights showed in rooms that had been uninhabited for years. Servants hurried to and fro.
And in the great diningroom the table was laid for five. . . .
The count had been absent in Paris all day. He returned to Versailles only half-an-hour before the dinner-hour, so that he was not able to greet the countess until he had dressed, and they met in the beautiful drawingroom adjoining the diningroom.
Many counts and viscounts, with their ladies and children, in swords and periwigs, in hoops and ruffles, in powder, brocade, and patches, looked down cn them from the damaskpanelled walls.
“Sapristi!” said the count, “you have made great toilette to-night,
“It is in honor of birthday, Paul.”
“It seems, too, we have guests? I saw five covers laid in the dining-room.”
“Yes. To celebrate
the anniversary. I—I thought you would not mind.”
“But no. Certainly not, my dear. Whatever pleases
you” - answered the
count. But his brows were raised. He was intrigued — and a little bored.
“I went to Dumont’s shop this morning,” said the countess, “and Madame Dumont presented me to the artist who— who painted the charming miniature you gave me. So I invited him with his wife to dine with us”-
“Ah!” said the count.
“They are—rather an interesting young couple,
Paul. I—I hope you will like them.”
“No doubt, ma chère. And the fifth guest?”
“They are bringing their small son. You see, they could not leave him quite alone. You are not annoyed?”
“But on the contrary, I shall be interested to see the child.”
“Yes,” murmured his wife, “a splendid child. And
we have so rarely a child here, Paul. I—I think I hear them coming.” ....
Something unusual in his wife’s manner awakened yet more the curiosity of the count.
He drew himself up and took his stand with his back to the great wide hearth, where logs burned, for the spring evening was chilly. Life-sized cherubs, wrought in marble, supported the high mantelpiece. But a real child, a child of flesh and blood— that would indeed be a novelty in the place. '. . The count adjusted his eyeglasses. ...
And then—the doors opened and the three guests entered.
said the count.
For, straddling across the floor towards him, he saw a small figure. It seemed to come to him from the past of more than thirty years ago. .... It had the same wide brow, dark curls, brown eyes. . . . And behind he caught sight of his son Marcel’s face—demanding—entreating. . . and of the face of the graceful girl whom he had noticed at the antiquity shop—or was it the face of the Madonna in the miniature?
. . . Then a light went up in his heart.
“Ah !” .. he exclaimed again. “Paul!” begged his wife. “H e r e’s Paul, grandmaman,” answered a confident, childish treble. And the jmall person ran forward.
The count took a deep breath. “There seem to be two of the same name,” he said with some formality.
“There cannot be too many after your pattern,” murmured the countess.
“It must be as you decide, ma chère.” ....
“We h a v e—all—decided, have we not? And the little Paul has set the example.” “Madame la Comtesse is served,” said the butler, announcing dinner.
“Then there is evidently nothing more to be said,” acquiesced the count drily. But there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes that his wife had not seen there for many a year. “May I therefore have the honor, madame ma bellefille, of conducting you to table?” And he offered his arm to his daughter-inlaw.—“Marcel, escort your mother.—As to Paul, he will no doubt show us the way.” . . .