MADAME DE PLOUGASTEL
The postilion drew rein, and the footman opened the door, letting down the steps and proffering his arm to his mistress to assist her to alight, since that was the wish she had expressed. Then he opened one wing of the iron gates, and held it for her. She was a woman of something more than forty, who once must have been very lovely, who was very lovely still with the refining quality that age brings to some women. Her dress and carriage alike advertised great rank.
“I take my leave here, since you have a visitor,” said Andre-Louis.
“But it is an old acquaintance of your own, Andre. You remember Mme. la Comtesse de Plougastel?”
He looked at the approaching lady, whom Aline was now hastening forward to meet, and because she was named to him he recognized her. He must, he thought, had he but looked, have recognized her without prompting anywhere at any time, and this although it was some sixteen years since last he had seen her. The sight of her now brought it all back to him — a treasured memory that had never permitted itself to be entirely overlaid by subsequent events.
When he was a boy of ten, on the eve of being sent to school at Rennes, she had come on a visit to his godfather, who was her cousin. It happened that at the time he was taken by Rabouillet to the Manor of Gavrillac, and there he had been presented to Mme. de Plougastel. The great lady, in all the glory then of her youthful beauty, with her gentle, cultured voice — so cultured that she had seemed to speak a language almost unknown to the little Breton lad — and her majestic air of the great world, had scared him a little at first. Very gently had she allayed those fears of his, and by some mysterious enchantment she had completely enslaved his regard. He recalled now the terror in which he had gone to the embrace to which he was bidden, and the subsequent reluctance with which he had left those soft round arms. He remembered, too, how sweetly she had smelled and the very perfume she had used, a perfume as of lilac — for memory is singularly tenacious in these matters.
For three days whilst she had been at Gavrillac, he had gone daily to the manor, and so had spent hours in her company. A childless woman with the maternal instinct strong within her, she had taken this precociously intelligent, wide-eyed lad to her heart.
“Give him to me, Cousin Quintin,” he remembered her saying on the last of those days to his godfather. “Let me take him back with me to Versailles as my adopted child.”
But the Seigneur had gravely shaken his head in silent refusal, and there had been no further question of such a thing. And then, when she said good-bye to him — the thing came flooding back to him now — there had been tears in her eyes.
“Think of me sometimes, Andre-Louis,” had been her last words.