Madame d’Argy found the two lonely years she passed awaiting the return of her son, who was winning his promotion to the rank of ensign, so long, that it seemed to her as if they never would come to an end. She had given a reluctant consent to his notion of adopting the navy as a profession, thinking that perhaps, after all, there might be no harm in allowing her dear boy to pass the most dangerous period of his youth under strict discipline, but she could not be patient forever! She idolized her son too much to be resigned to living without him; she felt that he was hers no longer. Either he was at sea or at Toulon, where she could very rarely join him, being detained at Lizerolles by the necessity of looking after their property. With what eagerness she awaited his promotion, which she did not doubt was all the Nailles waited for to give their consent to the marriage; of their happy half-consent she hastened to remind them in a note which announced the new grade to which he had been promoted. Her indignation was great on finding that her formal request received no decided answer; but, as her first object was Fred’s happiness, she placed the reply she had received in its most favorable light when she forwarded it to the person whom it most concerned. She did this in all honesty. She was not willing to admit that she was being put off with excuses; still less could she believe in a refusal.
She accepted the excuse that M. de Nailles gave for returning no decided answer, viz.: that “Jacqueline was too young,” though she answered him with some vehemence: “Fred was born when I was eighteen.” But she had to accept it. Her ensign would have to pass a few more months on the coast of Senegal, a few more months which were made shorter by the encouragement forwarded to him by his mother, who was careful to send him everything she could find out that seemed to be, or that she imagined might be, in his favor; she underlined such things and commented upon them, so as to make the faintest hypothesis seem a certainty. Sometimes she did not even wait for the post. Fred would find, on putting in at some post, a cablegram: “Good news,” or “All goes well,” and he would be beside himself with joy and excitement until, on receiving his poor, dear mother’s next letter, he found out on how slight a foundation her assurance had been founded.
Sometimes, she wrote him disagreeable things about Jacqueline, as if she would like to disenchant him, and then he said to himself: “By this, I am to understand that my affairs are not going on well; I still count for little, notwithstanding my promotion.” Ah! if he could only have had, so near the beginning of his career, any opportunity of distinguishing himself! No brilliant deed would have been too hard for him. He would have scaled the very skies. Alas! he had had no chance to win distinction, he had only had to follow in the beaten track of ordinary duty; he had encountered no glorious perils, though at St. Louis he had come very near leaving his bones, but it was only a case of typhoid fever. This fever, however, brought about a scene between M. de Nailles and his mother.