THE SALON BLEU
We arrived at Paris late in the day, entering the city through a great fortified gateway, and then rolling slowly through the rough and narrow streets. You know them too well, my children, to be able to conceive how strange and new they seemed to me, accustomed as I was to our smooth broad Thames and the large gardens of the houses in the Strand lying on its banks.
Our carriage turned in under the porte cochere of this Hotel de Nidemerle of ours, and entered the courtyard. My husband, his uncle, and I know not how many more, were already on the steps. M. de Nidemerle solemnly embraced me and bade me welcome, presenting me at the same time to a gentlemen, in crimson velvet and silver, as my brother. My foolish heart bounded for a moment as if it could have been Eustace; but it was altogether the face of a stranger, except for a certain fine smile like my mother’s. It was, of course, my half-brother, M. le Baron de Solivet, who saluted me, and politely declared himself glad to make the acquaintance of his sister.
The Marquis then led me up the broad stairs, lined with lackeys, to our own suite of apartments, where I was to arrange my dress before being presented to Madame de Nidemerle, who begged me to excuse her not being present to greet me, as she had caught cold, and had a frightful megrim.
I made my toilet, and they brought me a cup of eau sucree and a few small cakes, not half enough for my hungry English appetite.
My husband looked me over more anxiously than ever he had done before; and I wished, for his sake, that I had been prettier and fitter to make a figure among all these grand French ladies.
My height was a great trouble to me in those unformed days. I had so much more length to dispose of than my neighbours, and I knew they remarked me the more for it; and then my hair never would remain in curl for half an hour together. My mother could put it up safely, but since I had left her it was always coming down, like flax from a distaff; and though I had in general a tolerably fresh and rosy complexion, heat outside and agitation within made my whole face, nose and all, instantly become the colour of a clove gillyflower. It had so become every afternoon on the journey, and I knew I was growing redder and redder every moment, and that I should put him, my own dear Viscount, to shame before his aunt.
‘Oh! my friend,’ I sighed, ‘pardon me, I cannot help it.’
‘Why should I pardon thee?’ he answered tenderly. ’Because thou hast so great and loving a heart?’
‘Ah! but what will thine aunt think of me?’
‘Let her think,’ he said. ‘Thou art mine, not Madame’s.’
I know not whether those words made me less red, but they gave me such joyous courage that I could have confronted all the dragoons, had I been of the colour of a boiled lobster, and when he himself sprinkled me for the last time with essences, I felt ready to defy the censure of all the marchionesses in France.