A fortnight after this, Madame de Nailles, having come back to Paris, from some watering-place, was telling Marien that Jacqueline had started for Bellagio with Mr. and Miss Sparks, the latter having taken a notion that she wanted that kind of chaperon who is called a companion in England and America.
“But they are of the same age,” said Marien.
“That is just what Miss Sparks wants. She does not wish to be hampered by an elderly chaperon, but to be accompanied, as she would have been by her sister.”
“Jacqueline will be exposed to see strange things; how could you have consented—”
“Consented? As if she cared for my consent! And then she manages to say such irritating things as soon as one attempts to blame her or advise her. For example, this is one of them: ‘Don’t you suppose,’ she said to me, ’that every one will take the most agreeable chance that offers for a visit to Italy?’ What do you think of that allusion? It closed my lips absolutely.”
“Perhaps she did not mean what you think she meant.”
“Do you think so? And when I warned her against Madame Strahlberg, saying that she might set her a very bad example, she answered: ’I may have had worse.’ I suppose that was not meant for impertinence either!”
“I don’t know,” said Hubert Marien, biting his lips doubtfully, “but—”
He was silent a few moments, his head drooped on his breast, he was in some painful reverie.
“Go on. What are you thinking about?” asked Madame de Nailles, impatiently.
“I beg your pardon. I was only thinking that a certain responsibility might rest on those who have made that young girl what she is.”
“I don’t understand you,” said the stepmother, with an impatient gesture. “Who can do anything to counteract a bad disposition? You don’t deny that hers is bad? She is a very devil for pride and obstinacy—she has no affection—she has proved it. I have no inclination to get myself wounded by trying to control her.”
“Then you prefer to let her ruin herself?”
“I should prefer not to give the world a chance to talk, by coming to an open rupture with her, which would certainly be the case if I tried to contradict her. After all, the Sparks and Madame Odinska are not yet put out of the pale of good society, and she knew them long ago. An early intimacy may be a good explanation if people blame her for going too far—”
“So be it, then; if you are satisfied it is not for me to say anything,” replied Marien, coldly.
“Satisfied? I am not satisfied with anything or anybody,” said Madame de Nailles, indignantly. “How could I be satisfied; I never have met with anything but ingratitude.”
THE SAILOR’S RETURN