Chapter XVI.

For a week nothing material transpired. All that time I lay in the drawer, gaining a knowledge of what passed, in the best manner I could. Betts Shoreham was a constant visitor at the house, and Tom Thurston made his appearance with a degree of punctuality that began to attract notice, among the inmates of the house on the opposite side of the street. All this time, however, Tom treated Julia with the greatest respect, and even distance, turning more of his attention toward Mrs. Monson. He acted in this manner, because he thought he had secured a sufficient lien on the young lady, by means of her “yes,” and knew how important it was for one who could show none of the usual inducements for consent, to the parents, to obtain the good-will of the “old lady.”

At the end of the week, Mrs. Monson opened her house to receive the world. As a matter of course, I was brought out on this occasion. Now, Betts Shoreham and Mademoiselle Hennequin had made great progress toward an understanding in the course of this week, though the lady becoming more and more conscious of the interest she had created in the heart of the gentleman, her own conduct got to be cautious and reserved. At length, Betts actually carried matters so far as to write a letter, that was as much to the point as a man could very well come. In a word, he offered his hand to the excellent young French woman, assuring her, in very passionate and suitable terms, that she had been mistress of his affections ever since the first month of their acquaintance. In this letter, he implored her not to be so cruel as to deny him an interview, and there were a few exceedingly pretty reproaches, touching her recent coy and reserved deportment.

Mademoiselle Hennequin was obliged to read this letter in Julia’s room, and she took such a position to do it, as exposed every line to my impertinent gaze, as I lay on the bed, among the other finery that was got out for the evening. Mrs. Monson was present, and she had summoned the governess, in order to consult her on the subject of some of the ornaments of the supper table. Fortunately, both Julia and her mother were too much engaged to perceive the tears that rolled down the cheeks of the poor stranger, as she read the honest declaration of a fervid and manly love, nor did either detect the manner in which the letter was pressed to Mademoiselle Hennequin’s heart, when she had done reading it the second time.

Just at this instant a servant came to announce Mr. Shoreham’s presence in the “breakfast-room.” This was a retired and little frequented part of the house at that hour, Betts having been shown into it, in consequence of the preparations that were going on in the proper reception-rooms.

“Julia, my dear, you will have to go below — although it is at a most inconvenient moment.”

“No, mother — let Mr. Betts Shoreham time his visits better — George, say that the ladies are engaged.”

“That will not do,” interrupted the mother, in some concern — “we are too intimate for such an excuse — would you, Mademoiselle Hennequin, have the goodness to see Mr. Shoreham for a few minutes — you must come into our American customs sooner or later, and this may be a favorable moment to commence.”

Mrs. Monson laughed pleasantly as she made this request, and her kindness and delicacy to the governess were too marked and unremitted to permit the latter to think of hesitating. She had laid her own handkerchief down at my side, to read the letter, but feeling the necessity of drying her eyes, she caught me up by mistake, smiled her assent, and left the apartment.

Mademoiselle Hennequin did not venture below, until she had gone into her own room. Here she wept freely for a minute or two, and then she bathed her eyes in cold water, and used the napkin in drying them. Owing to this circumstance, I was fortunately a witness of all that passed in her interview with her lover.

The instant Betts Shoreham saw that he was to have an interview with the charming French girl, instead of with Julia Monson, his countenance brightened; and, as if supposing the circumstance proof of his success, he seized the governess’ hand, and carried it to his lips in a very carnivorous fashion. The lady, however, succeeded in retaining her hand, if she did not positively preserve it from being devoured.

“A thousand, thousand thanks, dearest Mademoiselle Hennequin,” said Betts, in an incoherent, half-sane manner; “you have read my letter, and I may interpret this interview favorably. I meant to have told all to Mrs. Monson, had she come down, and asked her kind interference — but it is much, much better as it is.”

“You will do well, monsieur, not to speak to Madame Monson on the subject at all,” answered Mademoiselle Hennequin, with an expression of countenance that I found quite inexplicable; since it was not happy, nor was it altogether the reverse. “This must be our last meeting, and it were better that no one knew any thing of its nature.”

“Then my vanity — my hopes have misled me, and I have no interest in your feelings!”

“I do not say that, monsieur; oh! non — non — I am far from saying as much as that“ — poor girl, her face declared a hundred times more than her tongue, that she was sincere — “I do not — cannot say I have no interest in one, who so generously overlooks my poverty, my utter destitution of all worldly greatness, and offers to share with me his fortune and his honorable position — “

“This is not what I ask — what I had hoped to earn — gratitude is not love.”

“Gratitude easily becomes love in a woman’s heart” — answered the dear creature, with a smile and a look that Betts would have been a mere dolt not to have comprehended — “and it is my duty to take care that MY gratitude does not entertain this weakness.”

“Mademoiselle Hennequin, for mercy’s sake, be as frank and simple as I know your nature prompts — do you, can you love me?”

Of course such a direct question, put in a very categorical way, caused the questioned to blush, if it did not induce her to smile. The first she did in a very pretty and engaging manner, though I thought she hesitated about indulging in the last.

“Why should I say ‘yes,’ when it can lead to no good result?”

“Then destroy all hope at once, and say no.”

“That would be to give you — to give us both unnecessary pain. Besides, it might not be strictly true — I could love — Oh! No one can tell how my heart could love where it was right and proper.”

After this, I suppose it is unnecessary for me to say, that Betts soon brought the category of possibilities into one of certainty. To own the truth, he carried every thing by his impetuosity, reducing the governess to own that what she admitted she could do so well, she had already done in a very complete and thorough manner. I enjoyed this scene excessively, nor was it over in a minute. Mademoiselle Hennequin used me several times to wipe away tears, and it is strong proof how much both parties were thinking of other matters, that neither discovered who was present at so interesting a tête-à-tête.

At length came the dénouement. After confessing how much she loved Betts, how happy she would be could she be his slave all the days of her life, how miserable she was in knowing that he had placed his affections on her, and how much more miserable she should be, had she learned he had not, Mademoiselle Hennequin almost annihilated the young man by declaring that it was utterly impossible for her to consent to become his wife. The reason was the difference in fortune, and the impossibility that she should take advantage of his passion to lead him into a connection that he might afterwards regret. Against this decision, Betts reasoned warmly, but seriously, in vain. Had Mademoiselle Hennequin been an American, instead of a French, girl, her feelings would not have been so sensitive on this point, for, in this great republic, every body but the fortune-hunters, an exceedingly contemptible class, considers a match without money, quite as much a matter of course, as a match with. But, the governess had been educated under a different system, and it struck her imagination as very proper, that she should make both herself and her lover miserable, because he had two hundred thousand dollars, and she had not as many hundreds. All this strangely conflicted with Betts’ preconceived opinion of a French woman’s selfishness, and, while he was disposed to believe his adored perfection, he almost feared it was a trick. Of such contradictory materials is the human mind composed!

At length the eyes of Betts fell on me, who was still in the hand of Mademoiselle Hennequin, and had several times been applied to her eyes unheeded. It was evident I revived unpleasant recollections, and the young man could not avoid letting an expression escape him, that sufficiently betrayed his feelings.

“This handkerchief!” exclaimed the young governess — “Ah! it is that of Mademoiselle Julie, which I must have taken by mistake. But, why should this handkerchief awaken any feeling in you, monsieur? You are not about to enact the Moor, in your days of wooing?”

{the Moor = from Shakespeare’s Othello}

This was said sweetly, and withal a little archly, for the poor girl was glad to turn the conversation from its harassing and painful points; but Betts was in no humor for pleasantry, and he spoke out in a way to give his mistress some clue to his thoughts.

“That cursed handkerchief” — it is really indecent in young men to use such improper language, but they little heed what they say when strongly excited — “that cursed handkerchief has given me as much pain, as it appears also to have given you. I wish I knew the real secret of its connection with your feelings; for I confess, like that of Desdemona’s, it has excited distrust, though for a very different cause.

The cheeks of Mademoiselle Hennequin were pale, and her brow thoughtful. Still, she had a sweet smile for Betts; and, though ignorant of the nature of his suspicions, which she would have scarcely pardoned, it was her strongest wish to leave no darker cloud between them, than the one she felt it her duty to place there herself. She answered, therefore, frankly and simply, though not without betraying strong emotion as she proceeded.

“This handkerchief is well known to me,” answered the young French woman; “it revives the recollections of some of the most painful scenes of a life that has never seen much sunshine. You have heard me speak of a grandmother, Mr. Shoreham, who took care of my childhood, and who died in my arms. That handkerchief, I worked for her support in her last illness, and this lace — yes, this beautiful lace was a part of that beloved grandmother’s bridal trousseau. I put it where you see it, to enhance the value of my labors.”

“I see it all!” exclaimed the repentant Betts — “feel it all, dearest, dearest Mademoiselle Hennequin; and I hope this exquisite work, this refined taste brought all the comfort and reward you had a right to anticipate.

A shade of anguish crossed the face of Adrienne — for it was no other — as she gazed at me, and recalled all the scenes of her sufferings and distress. Then I knew her again, for time and a poor memory, with some development of person, had caused me to forget the appearance of the lovely creature who may be said to have made me what I am; but one glance at her, with that expression of intense suffering on her countenance, renewed all my earlier impressions.

“I received as much as I merited, perhaps,” returned the meek-minded girl — for she was proud only in insisting on what she fancied right — “and enough to give my venerated parent Christian burial. They were days of want and sorrow that succeeded, during which, Betts, I toiled for bread like an Eastern slave, the trodden-on and abused hireling of a selfish milliner. Accident at length placed me in a family as a governess. This family happened to be acquainted with Madame Monson, and an offer that was brilliant to me, in my circumstances, brought me to America. You see by all this how unfit I am to be your wife, monsieur. You would blush to have it said you had married a French milliner!”

“But you are not a milliner, in that sense, dearest Adrienne — for you must suffer me to call you by that name — you are a lady reduced by revolutions and misfortunes. The name of Hennequin I know is respectable, and what care I for money, when so much worth is to be found on your side of the scale. Money would only oppress me, under such circumstances.”

“Your generosity almost overcomes my scruples, but it may not be. The name to which I am entitled is certainly not one to be ashamed of — it is far more illustrious than that of Hennequin, respectable as is the last; but of what account is a name to one in my condition!”

“And your family name is not Hennequin?” asked the lover, anxiously.

“It is not. My poor grandmother assumed the name of Hennequin, when we went last to Paris, under an apprehension that the guillotine might follow the revolution of July, as it had followed that of ‘89. This name she enjoined it on me to keep, and I have never thought it prudent to change it. I am of the family of de la Rocheaimard.”

The exclamation which burst from the lips of Betts Shoreham, betokened both surprise and delight. He made Adrienne repeat her declarations, and even desired her to explain her precise parentage. The reader will remember, that there had been an American marriage in Adrienne’s family, and that every relative the poor girl had on earth, was among these distant connections on this side of the Atlantic. One of these relatives, though it was no nearer than a third cousin, was Betts Shoreham, whose great-grandmother had been a bonâ fide de la Rocheaimard, and who was enabled, at once, to point out to the poor deserted orphan some forty or fifty persons, who stood in the same degree of affinity to her. It is needless to say that this conversation was of absorbing interest to both; so much so, indeed, that Betts momentarily forgot his love, and by the time it had ended, Adrienne was disposed to overlook most of her over scrupulous objections to rewarding that very passion. But the hour admonished them of the necessity of separating.

“And now, my beloved cousin,” said Betts Shoreham, as he rose to quit the room, seizing Adrienne’s unresisting hand — “now, my own Adrienne, you will no longer urge your sublimated notions of propriety against my suit. I am your nearest male relative, and have a right to your obedience — and I command that you be the second de la Rocheaimard who became the wife of a Shoreham.”

“Tell me, mon cher cousin,” said Adrienne, smiling through her tears — “were your grand-parents, my good uncle and aunt, were they happy? Was their union blessed?”

{ mon cher cousin = my dear cousin}

“They were miracles of domestic felicity, and their happiness has passed down in tradition, among all their descendants. Even religion could not furnish them with a cause for misunderstanding. That example which they set to the last century, we will endeavor to set to this.”

Adrienne smiled, kissed her hand to Betts, and ran out of the room, leaving me forgotten on the sofa. Betts Shoreham seized his hat, and left the house, a happy man; for, though he had no direct promise as yet, he felt as reasonably secure of success, as circumstances required.