The next time Madame de Nailles saw her stepdaughter she was dazzled by a radiant look in her young face.
“What has happened to you?” she asked, “you look triumphant.”
“Yes—I have good reason to triumph,” said Jacqueline. “I think that I have won a victory.”
“How so? Over yourself?”
“No, indeed—victories over one’s self give us the comfort of a good conscience, but they do not make us gay—as I am.”
“Then tell me—”
“No-no! I can not tell you yet. I must be silent two days more,” said Jacqueline, throwing herself into her mother’s arms.
Madame de Nailles asked no more questions, but she looked at her stepdaughter with an air of great surprise. For some weeks past she had had no pleasure in looking at Jacqueline. She began to be aware that near her, at her side, an exquisite butterfly was about for the first time to spread its wings—wings of a radiant loveliness, which, when they fluttered in the air, would turn all eyes away from other butterflies, which had lost some of their freshness during the summer.
A difficult task was before her. How could she keep this too precocious insect in its chrysalis state? How could she shut it up in its dark cocoon and retard its transformation?
“Jacqueline,” she said, and the tones of her voice were less soft than those in which she usually addressed her, “it seems to me that you are wasting your time a great deal. You hardly practise at all; you do almost nothing at the ‘cours’. I don’t know what can be distracting your attention from your lessons, but I have received complaints which should make a great girl like you ashamed of herself. Do you know what I am beginning to think?—That Madame de Monredon’s system of education has done better than mine.”
“Oh! mamma, you can’t be thinking of sending me to a convent!” cried Jacqueline, in tones of comic despair.
“I did not say that—but I really think it might be good for you to make a retreat where your cousin Giselle is, instead of plunging into follies which interrupt your progress.”
“Do you call Madame d’Etaples’s ‘bal blanc’ a folly?”
“You certainly will not go to it—that is settled,” said the young stepmother, dryly.
In all other ways Madame de Nailles did her best to assist in the success of the surprise. On the second of June, the eve of Ste.-Clotilde’s day, she went out, leaving every opportunity for the grand plot to mature. Had she not absented herself in like manner the year before at the same date—thus enabling an upholsterer to drape artistically her little salon with beautiful thick silk tapestries which had just been imported from the East? Her idea was that this year she might find a certain lacquered screen which she coveted. The Baroness belonged to her period; she liked Japanese things. But, alas! the charming object that awaited her, with a curtain hung over it to prolong the suspense, had nothing Japanese about it whatever. Madame de Nailles received the good wishes of her family, responded to them with all proper cordiality, and then was dragged up joyously to a picture hanging on the wall of her room, but still concealed under the cloth that covered it.