A Burial

From this date my life did not want variety. I went out a good deal, with the entire consent of Madame Beck, who perfectly approved the grade of my acquaintance. That worthy directress had never from the first treated me otherwise than with respect; and when she found that I was liable to frequent invitations from a château and a great hôtel, respect improved into distinction.

Not that she was fulsome about it. Madame, in all things worldly, was in nothing weak; there was measure and sense in her hottest pursuit of self-interest, calm and considerateness in her closest clutch of gain. Without, then, laying herself open to my contempt as a time-server and a toady, she marked with tact that she was pleased people connected with her establishment should frequent such associates as must cultivate and elevate, rather than those who might deteriorate and depress. She never praised either me or my friends; only once, when she was sitting in the sun in the garden, a cup of coffee at her elbow and the Gazette in her hand, looking very comfortable, and I came up and asked leave of absence for the evening, she delivered herself in this gracious sort:—

“Oui, oui, ma bonne amie: je vous donne la permission de cœur et de gré. Votre travail dans ma maison a toujours été admirable, rempli de zèle et de discrétion: vous avez bien le droit de vous amuser. Sortez donc tant que vous voudrez. Quant à votre choix de connaissances, j’en suis contente; c’est sage, digne, laudable.”

She closed her lips and resumed the Gazette.

The reader will not too gravely regard the little circumstance that about this time the triply-enclosed packet of five letters temporarily disappeared from my bureau. Blank dismay was naturally my first sensation on making the discovery; but in a moment I took heart of grace.

“Patience!” whispered I to myself. “Let me say nothing, but wait peaceably; they will come back again.”

And they did come back. They had only been on a short visit to madame’s chamber. Having passed their examination, they came back duly and truly. I found them all right the next day.

I wonder what she thought of my correspondence. What estimate did she form of Dr. John Bretton’s epistolary powers? In what light did the often very pithy thoughts, the generally sound and sometimes original opinions, set, without pretension, in an easily-flowing, spirited style, appear to her? How did she like that genial, half-humorous vein which to me gave such delight? What did she think of the few kind words scattered here and there—not thickly, as the diamonds were scattered in the valley of Sindbad, but sparely, as those gems lie in unfabled beds? O Madame Beck! how seemed these things to you?

I think in Madame Beck’s eyes the five letters found a certain favour. One day after she had borrowed them of me (in speaking of so suave a little woman, one ought to use suave terms), I caught her examining me with a steady contemplative gaze, a little puzzled, but not at all malevolent. It was during that brief space between lessons, when the pupils turned out into the court for a quarter of an hour’s recreation; she and I remained in the first classe alone. When I met her eye, her thoughts forced themselves partially through her lips.

“Il y a,” said she, “quelque chose de bien remarquable dans le caractère anglais.”

“How, madame?”

She gave a little laugh, repeating the word “how” in English. “Je ne saurais vous dire ‘how;’ mais, enfin, les Anglais ont des idées à eux, en amitié, en amour, en tout. Mais au moins il n’est pas besoin de les surveiller,” she added, getting up and trotting away like the compact little pony she was.

“Then I hope,” murmured I to myself, “you will graciously let alone my letters for the future.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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