Paul de Gery went three times a week in the evening to take his lesson in bookkeeping in the Joyeuses’ dining-room, not far from that little parlour in which he had seen the family the first day, and while with his eyes fixed on his teacher he was being initiated into all the mysteries of “debtor and creditor,” he used to listen, in spite of himself, for the light sounds coming from the industrious group behind the door, with thoughts dwelling regretfully on the vision of all those pretty brows bent in the lamplight. M. Joyeuse never said a word of his daughters; jealous of their charms as a dragon watching over beautiful princesses in a tower, and excited by the fantastic imaginings of his excessive affection for them, he would answer with marked brevity the inquiries of his pupil regarding the health of “the young ladies,” so that at last the young man ceased to mention them.
He was surprised, however, at not once seeing that Bonne Maman whose name was constantly recurring in the conversation of M. Joyeuse, entering into the least details of his existence, hovering over the household like the emblem of its perfect ordering and of its peace.
So great a reserve on the part of a venerable lady who must assuredly have passed the age at which the interest of young men is to be feared, seemed to him exaggerated. The lessons, however, were good ones, given with great clearness, the teacher having an excellent system of demonstration, and only one fault, that of becoming absorbed in silences, broken by sudden starts and exclamations let off like rockets. Apart from this, he was the best of masters, intelligent, patient, and conscientious, and Paul learned to know his way through the complex labyrinth of commercial books and resigned himself to ask nothing beyond.
One evening, towards nine o’clock, as the young man had risen to go, M. Joyeuse asked him if he would do him the honour of taking a cup of tea with his family, a custom dating from the time when Mme. Joyeuse, nee de Saint-Amand, was alive, she having been used to receive her friends on Thursdays. Since her death and the change in the financial position, the friends had become dispersed; but his little weekly function had been kept up.
Paul having accepted, the good old fellow opened the door and called:
An alert footstep in the passage, and immediately the face of a girl of twenty, in a halo of abundant brown hair, made its appearance.
De Gery, stupefied, looked at M. Joyeuse.
“Yes, it is a name that we gave her when she was a little girl. With her frilled cap, her authority as the eldest child, she had a quaint little air. We thought her like her grandmother. The name has clung to her.”