The Cleopatra

My stay at La Terrasse was prolonged a fortnight beyond the close of the vacation. Mrs. Bretton’s kind management procured me this respite. Her son having one day delivered the dictum that “Lucy was not yet strong enough to go back to that den of a pensionnat,” she at once drove over to the Rue Fossette, had an interview with the directress, and procured the indulgence, on the plea of prolonged rest and change being necessary to perfect recovery. Hereupon, however, followed an attention I could very well have dispensed with—namely, a polite call from Madame Beck.

That lady, one fine day, actually came out in a fiacre as far as the château. I suppose she had resolved within herself to see what manner of place Dr. John inhabited. Apparently the pleasant site and neat interior surpassed her expectations. She eulogized all she saw, pronounced the blue salon “une pièce magnifique,” profusely congratulated me on the acquisition of friends “tellement dignes, aimables, et respectables,” turned also a neat compliment in my favour, and, upon Dr. John coming in, ran up to him with the utmost buoyancy, opening at the same time such a fire of rapid language, all sparkling with felicitations and protestations about his “château,” “madame sa mère, la digne châtelaine,” also his looks; which indeed were very flourishing, and at the moment additionally embellished by the good-natured but amused smile with which he always listened to madame’s fluent and florid French. In short, madame shone in her very best phase that day, and came in and went out quite a living catherine-wheel of compliments, delight, and affability. Half purposely, and half to ask some question about school business, I followed her to the carriage, and looked in after she was seated and the door closed. In that brief fraction of time what a change had been wrought! An instant ago all sparkles and jests, she now sat sterner than a judge and graver than a sage! Strange little woman!

I went back and teased Dr. John about madame’s devotion to him. How he laughed! What fun shone in his eyes as he recalled some of her fine speeches, and repeated them, imitating her voluble delivery! He had an acute sense of humour, and was the finest company in the world—when he could forget Miss Fanshawe.

To “sit in sunshine calm and sweet” is said to be excellent for weak people; it gives them vital force. When little Georgette Beck was recovering from her illness, I used to take her in my arms and walk with her in the garden by the hour together, beneath a certain wall hung with grapes, which the southern sun was ripening. That sun cherished her little pale frame quite as effectually as it mellowed and swelled the clustering fruit.

There are human tempers, bland, glowing, and genial, within whose influence it is as good for the poor in spirit to live as it is for the feeble in frame to bask in the glow of noon. Of the number of these choice natures were certainly both Dr. Bretton’s and his mother’s. They liked to communicate happiness, as some like to occasion misery. They did it instinctively, without fuss, and apparently with little consciousness; the means to give pleasure rose spontaneously in their minds. Every day, while I stayed with them, some little plan was proposed which resulted in beneficial enjoyment. Fully occupied as was Dr. John’s time, he still made it in his way to accompany us in each brief excursion. I can hardly tell how he managed his engagements; they were numerous, yet by dint of system he classed them in an order which left him a daily period of liberty. I often saw him hard-worked, yet seldom over-driven, and never irritated, confused, or oppressed. What he did was accomplished with the ease and grace of all-sufficing strength, with the bountiful cheerfulness of high and unbroken energies. Under his guidance I saw, in that one happy fortnight, more of Villette, its environs, and its inhabitants, than I had seen in the whole eight months of my previous residence. He took me to places of interest in the town of whose names I had not before so much as heard; with willingness and spirit he communicated much noteworthy information. He never seemed to think it a trouble to talk to me, and, I am sure, it was never a task to me to listen. It was not his way to treat subjects coldly and vaguely; he rarely generalized, never prosed. He seemed to like nice details almost as much as I liked them myself. He seemed observant of character, and not superficially observant either. These points gave the quality of interest to his discourse; and the fact of his speaking direct from his own resources, and not borrowing or stealing from books—here a dry fact, and there a trite phrase, and elsewhere a hackneyed opinion—ensured a freshness as welcome as it

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