A letter to Clotilde from the baroness was brought to the house by a messenger. The General thought over it. The letter was by no means a seductive letter for a young lady to receive from such a person, yet he did not anticipate the whole effect it would produce when ultimately he decided to give it to her, being of course unaware of the noble style of Clotilde’s address to the baroness. He stipulated that there must be no reply to it except through him, and Clotilde had the coveted letter in her hands at last. Here was the mediatrix—the veritable goddess with the sword to cut the knot! Here was the manifestation of Alvan!
She ran out to the shade of the garden walls to be by herself and in the air, and she read; and instantly her own letter to the baroness crashed sentence upon sentence, in retort, springing up with the combative instinct of a beast, to make discord of the stuff she read, and deride it. Twice she went over the lines with this defensive accompaniment; then they laid octopus-limbs on her. The writing struck chill as a glacier cave. Oh, what an answer to that letter of fervid respectfulness, of innocent supplication for maternal affection, for some degree of benignant friendship!
The baroness coldly stated, that she had arrived in the city to do her best in assisting to arrange matters which had come to a most unfortunate and impracticable pass. She alluded to her established friendship for Alvan, but it was chiefly in the interests of Clotilde that the latter was requested to perceive the necessity for bringing her relations with Dr. Alvan to an end in the discreetest manner now possible to the circumstances. This, the baroness pursued, could only be done by her intervention, and her friendship for Dr. Alvan had caused her to undertake the little agreeable office. For which purpose, promising her an exemption from anything in the nature of tragedy scenes, the baroness desired Clotilde to call on her the following day between certain specified hours of the afternoon.
That was all.
The girl in her letter to the baroness had constrained herself to write, and therefore to think, in so beautiful a spirit of ignorant innocence, that the vileness of an answer thus brutally throwing off the mask of personal disinterestedness appeared to her both an abominable piece of cynicism on the part of a scandalous old woman, and an insulting rejection of the cover of decency proposed to the creature by a daisy-minded maiden.
She scribbled a single line in receipt of the letter and signed her initials.