A LOVE-STORY (1836-1839)
Early in 1836 the quiet of Herne Hill was fluttered by a long-promised, long-postponed visit. Mr. Domecq at last brought his four younger daughters to make the acquaintance of their English friends. The eldest sister had lately been married to a Count Maison, heir to a peer of France; for Mr. Domecq, thanks in great measure to his partner’s energy and talents, was prosperous and wealthy, and moved in the enchanted circles of Parisian society.
To a romantic schoolboy in a London suburb the apparition was dazzling. Any of the sisters would have charmed him, but the eldest of the four, Adele Clotilde, bewitched him at once with her graceful figure and that oval face which was so admired in those times. She was fair, too—another recommendation. He was on the brink of seventeen, at the ripe moment, and he fell passionately in love with her. She was only fifteen, and did not understand this adoration, unspoken and unexpressed except by intensified shyness; for he was a very shy boy in the drawing-room, though brimming over with life and fun among his schoolfellows. His mother’s ideals of education did not include French gallantry; he felt at a loss before these Paris-bred, Paris-dressed young ladies, and encumbered by the very strength of his new-found passion.
And yet he possessed advantages, if he had known how to use them. He was tall and active, light and lithe in gesture, not a clumsy hobbledehoy. He had the face that caught the eye, in Rome a few years later, of Keats’ Severn, no mean judge, surely, of faces and poet’s faces. He was undeniably clever; he knew all about minerals and mountains; he was quite an artist, and a printed poet. But these things weigh little with a girl of fifteen who wants to be amused; and so she only laughed at John.
He tried to amuse her, but he tried too seriously. He wrote a story to read her, “Leoni, a Legend of Italy,” for of course she understood enough English to be read to, no doubt to be wooed in, seeing her mother was English. The story was of brigands and true lovers, the thing that was popular in the romantic period. The costumery and mannerisms of the little romance are out of date now, and seem ridiculous, though Mr. Pringle and the public were pleased with it then, when it was printed in “Friendship’s Offering.” But the girl of fifteen only laughed the more.
When they left, he had no interest in his tour-book; even the mountains, for the time, had lost their power, and all his plans of great works were dropped for a new style of verse—the love-poems of 1836.