Chapter III.

Notwithstanding this accidental introduction to one of the nicest distinctions of good society, and the general exhilaration that prevailed in our party, I was far from being perfectly happy. To own the truth, I had left my heart in Picardie. I do not say I was in love; I am far from certain that there is any precedent for a pocket-handkerchief’s being in love at all, and I am quite sure that the sensations I experienced were different from those I have since had frequent occasion to hear described. The circumstances which called them forth were as follows:

The manufactory in which our family was fabricated was formerly known as the Château de la Rocheaimard, and had been the property of the Vicomte de la Rocheaimard previously to the revolution that overturned the throne of Louis XVI. The vicomte and his wife joined the royalists at Coblentz, and the former, with his only son, Adrien de la Rocheaimard, or the Chevalier de la Rocheaimard, as he was usually termed, had joined the allies in their attempted invasion on the soil of France. The vicomte, a marechal du camp, had fallen in battle, but the son escaped, and passed his youth in exile; marrying a few years later, a cousin whose fortunes were at as low an ebb as his own. One child, Adrienne, was the sole issue of this marriage, having been born in the year 1810. Both the parents died before the Restoration, leaving the little girl to the care of her pious grandmother, la vicomtesse, who survived, in a feeble old age, to descant on the former grandeur of her house, and to sigh, in common with so many others, for le bon vieux temps. At the Restoration, there was some difficulty in establishing the right of the de la Rocheaimards to their share of the indemnity; a difficulty I never heard explained, but which was probably owing to the circumstance that there was no one in particular to interest themselves in the matter, but an old woman of sixty-five and a little girl of four. Such appellants, unsupported by money, interest, or power, seldom make out a very strong case for reparation of any sort, in this righteous world of ours, and had it not been for the goodness of the dauphine it is probable that the vicomtesse and her grand-daughter would have been reduced to downright beggary. But the daughter of the late King got intelligence of the necessities of the two descendants of Crusaders, and a pension of two thousand francs a year was granted, en attendant.

{Rocheaimard = both the Château and the family are fictitious; marechal du camp = general commanding a brigade; le bon vieux temps = the good old days; late King = Louis XVI, guillotined in 1793; en attendant = for the time being}

Four hundred dollars a year does not appear a large sum, even to the nouveaux riches of America, but it sufficed to give Adrienne and her grandmother a comfortable, and even a respectable subsistence in the provinces. It was impossible for them to inhabit the château, now converted into a workshop and filled with machinery, but lodgings were procured in its immediate vicinity. Here Madame de la Rocheaimard whiled away the close of a varied and troubled life; if not in absolute peace, still not in absolute misery, while her grand-daughter grew into young womanhood, a miracle of goodness and pious devotion to her sole surviving parent. The strength of the family tie in France, and its comparative weakness in America, has been the subject of frequent comment among travelers. I do not know that all which has been said is rigidly just, but I am inclined to think that much of it is, and, as I am now writing to Americans, and of French people, I see no particular reason why the fact should be concealed. Respect for years, deference to the authors of their being, and submission to parental authority are inculcated equally by the morals and the laws of France. The conseilles de famille is a beautiful and wise provision of the national code, and aids greatly in maintaining that system of patriarchal rule which lies at the foundation of the whole social structure. Alas! in the case of the excellent Adrienne, this conseille de famille was easily assembled, and possessed perfect unanimity. The wars, the guillotine and exile had reduced it to two, one of which was despotic in her government, so far as theory was concerned at least; possibly, at times, a little so in practice. Still Adrienne, on the whole grew up tolerably happy. She was taught most that is suitable for a gentlewoman, without being crammed with superfluous accomplishments, and, aided by the good curé, a man who remembered her grandfather, had both polished and stored her mind. Her manners were of the excellent tone that distinguished the good society of Paris before the revolution, being natural, quiet, simple and considerate. She seldom laughed, I fear; but her smiles were sweetness and benevolence itself.

{ conseille de famille = council of relatives, supervised by a judge, that supervised the care of minors in France; curé = priest}

The bleaching grounds of our manufactory were in the old park of the château. Thither Mad. de la Rocheaimard was fond of coming in the fine mornings of June, for many of the roses and lovely Persian lilacs that once abounded there still remained. I first saw Adrienne in one of these visits, the quality of our little family circle attracting her attention. One of the bleachers, indeed, was an old servant of the vicomte’s, and it was a source of pleasure to him to point out any thing to the ladies that he thought might prove interesting. This was the man who so diligently read the Moniteur, giving a religious credence to all it contained. He fancied no hand so worthy to hold fabrics of such exquisite fineness as that of Mademoiselle Adrienne, and it was through his assiduity that I had the honor of being first placed within the gentle pressure of her beautiful little fingers. This occurred about a month before our departure for Paris.

Adrienne de la Rocheaimard was then just twenty. Her beauty was of a character that is not common in France; but which, when it does exist, is nowhere surpassed. She was slight and delicate in person, of fair hair and complexion, and with the meekest and most dove-like blue eyes I ever saw in a female face. Her smile, too, was of so winning and gentle a nature, as to announce a disposition pregnant with all the affections. Still it was well understood that Adrienne was not likely to marry, her birth raising her above all intentions of connecting her ancient name with mere gold, while her poverty placed an almost insuperable barrier between her and most of the impoverished young men of rank whom she occasionally saw. Even the power of the dauphine was not sufficient to provide Adrienne de la Rocheaimard with a suitable husband. But of this the charming girl never thought; she lived more for her grandmother than for herself, and so long as that venerated relative, almost the only one that remained to her on earth, did not suffer or repine, she herself could be comparatively happy.

Dans le bon vieux temps,” said the vicomtesse, examining me through her spectacles, and addressing Georges, who stood, hat in hand, to hearken to her wisdom; “dans le bon vieux temps, mon ami, the ladies of the château did not want for these things. There were six dozen in my corbeille, that were almost as fine as this; as for the trousseau, I believe it had twice the number, but very little inferior.”

{ dans de bon vieux temps = in the good old days; corbeille = wedding presents from a bridegroom; trousseau = wedding outfit}

“I remember that madame,” Georges always gave his old mistress this title of honor, “kept many of the beautiful garments of her trousseau untouched, down to the melancholy period of the revolution.”

“It has been a mine of wealth to me, Georges, in behalf of that dear child. You may remember that this trousseau was kept in the old armoire, on the right hand side of the little door of my dressing-room — “

{ armoire = cupboard or closet }

“Madame la Vicomtesse will have the goodness to pardon me — it was on the left hand side of the room — Monsieur’s medals were kept in the opposite armoire.”

“Our good Georges is right, Adrienne! — he has a memory! Your grandfather insisted on keeping his medals in my dressing-room, as he says. Well, Monsieur Georges, left or right, there I left the remains of my trousseau when I fled from France, and there I found it untouched on my return. The manufactory had saved the château, and the manufacturers had spared my wardrobe. Its sale, and its materials, have done much toward rendering that dear child respectable and well clad, since our return.”

I thought the slight color which usually adorned the fair oval cheeks of Adrienne deepened a little at this remark, and I certainly felt a little tremor in the hand which held me; but it could not have been shame, as the sweet girl often alluded to her poverty in a way so simple and natural, as to prove that she had no false feelings on that subject. And why should she? Poverty ordinarily causes no such sensations to those who are conscious of possessing advantages of an order superior to wealth, and surely a well-educated, well-born, virtuous girl need not have blushed because estates were torn from her parents by a political convulsion that had overturned an ancient and powerful throne.