Though the walk and bearing of Mdlle. de Cardoville were extremely elegant, and full of propriety and truly feminine grace, there was about her an air of resolution and independence by no means common in women, and particularly in girls of her age. Her movements, without being abrupt, bore no traces of restraint, stiffness, or formality. They were frank and free as her character, full of life, youth, and freshness; and one could easily divine that so buoyant, straightforward, and decided a nature had never been able to conform itself to the rules of an affected rigor.
Strangely enough, though he was a man of the world, a man of great talent, a churchman distinguished for his eloquence, and, above all, a person of influence and authority. Marquis d’Aigrigny experienced an involuntary, incredible, almost painful uneasiness, in presence of Adrienne de Cardoville. He—generally so much the master of himself, so accustomed to exercise great power—who (in the name of his Order) had often treated with crowned heads on the footing of an equal, felt himself abashed and lowered in the presence of this girl, as remarkable for her frankness as for her biting irony. Now, as men who are accustomed to impose their will upon others generally hate those who, far from submitting to their influence, hamper it and make sport of them, it was no great degree of affection that the marquis bore towards the Princess de Saint-Dizier’s niece.
For a long time past, contrary to his usual habit, he had ceased to try upon Adrienne that fascinating address to which he had often owed an irresistible charm; towards her he had become dry, curt, serious, taking refuge in that icy sphere of haughty dignity and rigid austerity which completely hid all those amiable qualities with which he was endowed and of which, in general, he made such efficient use. Adrienne was much amused at all this, and thereby showed her imprudence—for the most vulgar motives often engender the most implacable hatreds.
From these preliminary observations, the reader will understand the divers sentiments and interests which animated the different actors in the following scene.
Madame de Saint-Dizier was seated in a large arm-chair by one side of the hearth. Marquis d’Aigrigny was standing before the fire. Dr. Baleinier seated near a bureau, was again turning over the leaves of Baron Tripeaud’s biography, whilst the baron appeared to be very attentively examining one of the pictures of sacred subjects suspended from the wall.
“You sent for me, aunt, to talk upon matters of importance?” said Adrienne, breaking the silence which had reigned in the reception-room since her entrance.
“Yes, madame,” answered the princess, with a cold and severe mien; “upon matters of the gravest importance.”
“I am at your service, aunt. Perhaps we had better walk into your library?”
“It is not necessary. We can talk here.” Then, addressing the marquis, the doctor, and the baron, she said to them, “Pray, be seated, gentlemen,” and they all took their places round the table.