“And who may that be?” asked Monsieur de St. Aulaire, with lazy insolence.
“I had thought, my lord,” returned Calvert, bowing low, “that the subject of so enlightened a state as you say France is would surely have heard the name of General Washington. Monsieur does not read history?”
“’Tis impossible to read yours, since you have none,” returned St. Aulaire, with a contemptuous little laugh.
“We are making it every day, Monsieur,” said Calvert, calmly.
“Ah, sir!” demanded Madame de St. Andre, “are all Americans so presumptuous?”
“Yes, Madame—if ’tis presumptuous to admire General Washington.”
“We have heard of him in effect,” sneeringly broke in Monsieur de St. Aulaire. “A lucky adventurer with a pretty talent for fighting British cowards, a beggar who has not been turned away empty from our doors. Why, hasn’t the whole country given to him?—from the King down—and truth to tell we were glad to give as long as he whipped the English.”
“No, no, Monsieur de St. Aulaire,” suddenly interrupted Madame de St. Andre, turning upon him, “do not wrong France, do not wrong your King, do not wrong Lafayette and Rochambeau and Dillon and so many others! We gave because France was strong and America weak, because it was our greatest happiness to help right her wrongs, because ’tis ever France’s way to succor the oppressed. As for General Washington, Monsieur Calvert does well to admire him. The King admires him—can Monsieur de St. Aulaire do less? We are devoted royalists, but we can still respect and admire patriotism and genius under whatever government they flourish.” She changed her tone of authority and accusation and turned to Calvert. Again the mask had been dropped, the eyes were once more kind, the voice and smile once more tender. “I should like to hear more of your General Washington and of America, Monsieur,” she said, almost shyly, and Calvert wondered at the change in her. “If Monsieur skates, we should be happy to have him join us to-morrow afternoon on the ice near the Pont Royal. ’Tis for three o’clock.” And she smiled as she turned away, followed by Monsieur de St. Aulaire, apparently in no very good-humor.
When Calvert again looked around him, after having watched Madame de St. Andre disappear, he noticed Mr. Jefferson at the farther end of the room looking much disturbed and talking earnestly with Monsieur Necker, Monsieur le Comte de Montmorin, and Mr. Gouverneur Morris, who had at length left the side of the charming Madame de Flahaut. Calvert approached the group, and, as he drew near, he could hear Necker speaking in an anxious, despondent tone.
“My dear friend,” he was saying, “’tis not only difficulties with the finances which alarm us! Obedience is not to be found anywhere. Even the troops are not to be relied on.” And he turned wearily away.
When Mr. Jefferson caught sight of Calvert, who had stopped, hesitating to join the group lest he should intrude on some important and private business, he beckoned the young man forward.