Madame D’Argy sat knitting by the window in Fred’s chamber, with that resigned but saddened air that mothers wear when they are occupied in repairing the consequences of some rash folly. Fred had seen her in his boyhood knitting in the same way with the same, look on her face, when he had been thrown from his pony, or had fallen from his velocipede. He himself looked ill at ease and worried, as he lay on a sofa with his arm in a sling. He was yawning and counting the hours. From time to time his mother glanced at him. Her look was curious, and anxious, and loving, all at the same time. He pretended to be asleep. He did not like to see her watching him. His handsome masculine face, tanned that pale brown which tropical climates give to fair complexions, looked odd as it rose above a light-blue cape, a very feminine garment which, as it had no sleeves, had been tied round his neck to keep him from being cold. He felt himself, with some impatience, at the mercy of the most tender, but the most sharp-eyed of nurses, a prisoner to her devotion, and made conscious of her power every moment. Her attentions worried him; he knew that they all meant “It is your own fault, my poor boy, that you are in this state, and that your mother is so unhappy.” He felt it. He knew as well as if she had spoken that she was asking him to return to reason, to marry, without more delay, their little neighbor in Normandy, Mademoiselle d’Argeville, a niece of M. Martel, whom he persisted in not thinking of as a wife, always calling her a “cider apple,” in allusion to her red cheeks.
A servant came in, and said to Madame d’Argy that Madame de Talbrun was in the salon.
“I am coming,” she said, rolling up her knitting.
But Fred suddenly woke up:
“Why not ask her to come here?”
“Very good,” said his mother, with hesitation. She was distracted between her various anxieties; exasperated against the fatal influence of Jacqueline, alarmed by the increasing intimacy with Giselle, desirous that all such complications should be put an end to by his marriage, but terribly afraid that her “cider apple” would not be sufficient to accomplish it.
“Beg Madame de Talbrun to come in here,” she said, repeating the order after her son; but she settled herself in her chair with an air more patient, more resigned than ever, and her lips were firmly closed.
Giselle entered in her charming new gown, and Fred’s first words, like those of Enguerrand, were: “How pretty you are! It is charity,” he added, smiling, “to present such a spectacle to the eyes of a sick man; it is enough to set him up again.”
“Isn’t it?” said Giselle, kissing Madame d’Argy on the forehead. The poor mother had resumed her knitting with a sigh, hardly glancing at the pretty walking-costume, nor at the bonnet with its network of gold.
“Isn’t it pretty?” repeated Giselle. “I am delighted with this costume. It is made after one of Rejane’s. Oscar fell in love with it at a first representation of a vaudeville, and he gave me over into the hands of the same dressmaker, who indeed was named in the play. That kind of advertising seems very effective.”