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BY THE AUTHOR OF "PATTY."
THE old Court-yard of the "Ours d'Or" is full of warm light, but it is not glowing August sunshine.
The tall fuschias in green tubs which border the court are scarcely in leaf; there are no blossom-buds on the myrtles, though they have put out bright tender little leaves of expectation; the fountain sparkles, but the fish are not gambolling in the basin below-they are still housed safely in the glass globe in Clémence's parlour.
The sun disports himself chiefly among the gueldres roses and lilacs, which atone just now for the shabby brown show they will make in autumn, by a perfect luxury of blossoms; snowy masses with exquisite green and grey shadows in between; lilac flowers, now rich, now delicate-always exquisite, both in hue and fragrance.
It is almost May, and yet the keen March wind lingers so as to keep Eulalie the cook-there is no male chef at this old Flemish innmindful of her rheumatism, and unwilling to venture out of the warm shelter of her kitchen.
Eulalie is a small spare woman, with a clever face and dark eyes; these are full of vexation as she stands beside a small table on one side of the kitchen, and strips the leaves from crisp young lettuceplants.
"It is insupportable," she grumbles, as she drops each leaf deftly into the shining brass pan of water at her feet. "Mam'selle Clémence goes beyond reason; if her sister, Madame Scherer, were to ask for the gown off Mam'selle's back she would send it her. She gave Madame Scherer a husband, though it almost broke her heart, and that is enough too much; it is folly to go on pouring wine into a full bottle."
Eulalie shrugs her shoulders and shreds off the lettuce-leaves faster than ever; she has a clever head and a warm heart, but her temper needs a safety-valve. Some time ago it had found this, when Madame de Vos-the mother of the landlord of the "Ours d'Or"-came selfinvited to manage her son's household.
Eulalie disliked the fat pink-faced dame from the beginning, first for the petty vexations which Madame de Vos had inflicted on her son's wife, Eulalie's own dear mistress, but chiefly for the unceremonious
in which she had installed herself at the "Ours d'Or" after her daughter-in-law's death.
Eulalie had put on her war-paint at that time, and had felt compelled to keep her fighting weapons sharp and bright, and to say truth this process was in some way congenial to the skilful old woman.
At that time had happened the great sorrow of Clémence de Vos. Her betrothed lover, Louis Scherer, had returned at the appointed time to claim her as his wife; but Clémence was absent, and the extreme beauty of her young sister Rosalie, and, as Eulalie always persisted in affirming, the manœuvres of Madame de Vos, so infatuated the young soldier, that Clémence voluntarily released him from his troth-plight, and he and Rosalie were married.
But Clémence's father had been unable to forgive the wound inflicted on his beloved child, and, on Rosalie's wedding-day, madame her grandmother went back to live in her own house at Louvain.
"Dame! what a happiness! what a relief!" Eulalie had said. "Mam'selle Clémence will now take the place that should always have been hers; and what an angel is Mam'selle Clémence!"
It may be that the principle which urged the cook at the "Ours d'Or" so constantly to brighten the shining brass pots and pans on her kitchen-wall was thorough, and led her also to fear lest her tongue too might grow dull and rusty unless she sometimes sharpened it against her master Auguste de Vos, and even against the "angel" Mam'selle Clémence.
There is a slight sound, and Eulalie looks up.
A black-cloaked figure stands at the parlour door on the opposite side of the long, paved, arched-over entrance to the courtyard of the "Ours d'Or."
Eulalie comes forward to the door of her kitchen, which is on the opposite side of the paved entrance way.
"Mam'selle Clémence," she says, shrilly.
'Yes, yes, Eulalie, I am coming: " the voice is so sweet that one is impatient to see the face which goes with it, but Clémence has turned back to listen to her father's last words.
Auguste de Vos is a stout, florid Belgian, but he has dark hair and an intelligent face. He looks younger, and happier too, since he has been left to live alone with Clémence; he has the same blessed freedom from domestic worry that he enjoyed while his wife lived. Clémence has a dexterous way of keeping the bright side of life turned towards her father; even Eulalie's querulousness rarely reaches him. Auguste de Vos has never been a demonstrative man; but ever since the evening when Rosalie's marriage was decided, there has been a graver tenderness in his manner to his eldest daughter, a something not to be painted in words, but which often kindles in Clémence that strange emotion which brings a sob and a smile together.
“Well, my child," Auguste de Vos is saying, "if thou sayest it is
needful, I yield; but remember always that Rosalie' has three maids and only two children: it is to me inconceivable that after all her grandmother has done for her, and for Louis Scherer too, they should not contrive to nurse my mother in her sickness without thy help.”
Clémence smiles: she has a sweet, pensive face, but her dark eyes light up at this smile, and sparkle brightly through the long black lashes.
“Poor Rosalie! Thou art severe, my father; but it is almost the first request she has made me since her marriage, and it seems a beginning, and _” here Clémence falters and blushes, and then looks frankly into her father's eyes—he is father and mother both to her nowonly thou knowest well Rosalie has never been the same to me since she went away.”
Her father's eyes are full of wistful tenderness. “ The fault is none of thy making, Clémence."
“I must go to Eulalie :” she nods and leaves him. “Poor Rosalie,” she says to herself, "she is not yet forgiven.”
“ Hein,” Eulalie puts her head on one side like a pugnacious sparrow as Clémence steps into the kitchen, “fine doings, indeed ; and it is true then, Mam’selle, that you go to-morrow to Bruges to nurse the bonne-maman who never was once good to you?”
“Hush, Eulalie, you may not so speak of my grandmother,” Clémence's grey eyes look almost severe.
Eulalie turns to the table behind her.
“I speak as I find, Mam'selle. Duty is duty everywhere; and to me, Mam’selle, Monsieur is of more value than Madame his mother, and he will be sad without you ; and she-well she would have perhaps a little neglect, what will you ? Madame Scherer is young, and she loves her ease ; but she will be obliged to take care of Madame de Vos, if you do not go, Mam’selle Clémence."
“Nevertheless I am going.” Clémence speaks decidedly, and her bright smile quiets Eulalie. “Now I want some broth, a cold chicken, if you can spare me one, and some eggs. I am going to see your friend, the wife of the sacristan of St. Michel."
Eulalie grunts, but she produces the food demanded, and carefully stows it away in a basket.
“ It is all very well,” she says; “I don't grudge the food and drink which Mam’selle gives, but I ask myself, when Mam’selle Clémence marries and goes away—and she will marry some day, I suppose~ah! but the man will be lucky !—what will then happen to the wife of the sacristan and all the other sick folk of our parish ? She has used them to these dainties; ma foi ! it will be harder to give them up altogether than to go without them now.”
Louis Scherer left the army on his marriage; he has an appointment at Bruges, and Rosalie found housekeeping so little to her
liking, that after the first few months she persuaded her husband to let Madame de Vos live with them.
For a time this arrangement had been successful. Madame doated on the young couple, managed the servants, and contributed liberally to household expenses ; but when babies came—two with only a year's interval between-strife arose about their management, and the discord in his household disgusted Louis Scherer.
It was at his instigation that Rosalie had now written to ask Clémence to come and help to nurse Madame de Vos in her sickness.
Louis met his wife's sister at the railway station. Clémence had not seen him for more than a year: she thought he looked aged ; his
1 fair, handsome face was full of worry.
They had met since the marriage, and all remembrance of the old relations had been effaced by the new, save it may be a certain selfcomplacency in the man in the society of the woman who had once so dearly loved him, and in the woman a certain blindness to faults which were visible to all other eyes ; but then Clémence de Vos was indulgent to everyone—to every one but herself.
She asked after all the family, and then,
“ How is the Sæur Marie ?" she asked, “ Does Rosalie see her often?”
“Ma foi,”—Louis twirled his pretty, soft moustaches : he was really handsome, though he looked too well aware of the fact, “ Rosalie may, and she may not, see your aunt, the Sæur Marie ; but she does not tell me. I have no special liking for religieuses,
. especially when they are no longer young or pretty; but here we are, Clémence, and there is your little god-daughter peeping out of window."
They had come up a by-street, which ended on the quay of one of the canals, bordered on this side by a closely planted line of poplartrees. The newly opened leaves trembled in the warm sunshine reflected from the red, high-gabled houses over the water--houses which went straight down to the canal edge, and seemed to bend forward so as to get a view of their own full-length reflections in the yellow water. Behind the houses rose the graceful tourelles of the Hôtel de Ville, and beyond, rising high above all the rest, was the beffroi. It was just three o'clock, and suddenly the carillon sounded out from the lofty tower, swelling, with sweet throbs, through the air above them, as if the angels were holding a musical festival in those melodious, unearthly strains.
But Louis was too much used to the carillon to notice it. - There is your god-daughter, Clémence,” he said.
There was a
Clémence started from her rapt listening. It had seemed to her she heard her mother's voice up
Louis Scherer lived in a red stepped-gabled house. pointed window in the gable, with an arched hood of grey stone : the window-mullions too were of stone. Below were two similar windows, with a carved spandril between the arches; and at one of these lower windows peeped out a little smiling cherub-face—a miniature, Clémence thought, of Rosalie.
Clémence kissed both hands to the little maid, and then went in through the open archway below the windows.
There was a patter of little feet, a chirrup of slight treble voices, and then two laughing baby faces peeped from behind a green, halfclosed door on the left of the paved entrance.
Clémence forgot where she was, forgot even the bonne-maman's illness, and sat down on the door-step, with the two blooming darlings nestling in her arms.
The younger of the two, the little Clémence, talked glibly in her soft, incoherent gibberish ; but little Louis played for a while at beiny shy, alternately hiding his face in his aunt's black cloak, or else looking up with round, shining blue eyes, and his pink, fat forefinger between his pouting lips.
Louis had passed on into the house to fetch his wife.
“ Tiens, tiens !” Rosalie's voice sounded so shrill, that Clémence put the children off her lap, and jumped up from her low seat.
The sisters kissed each other affectionately, and then they exchanged looks.
“ Ma foi,” Rosalie said to herself, “ Clémence grows younger-looking every time I see her."
“Rosalie looks troubled ;” and Clémence followed her sister upstairs, stifling a wish that she would look more sweet and simple. She was still a beautiful blonde ; but the Rosalie of Clémence's youth had been lovelier in her simplicity than the befrizzled, over-dressed lady, whose smile was so forced and rare. In the short minute that followed their greeting Clémence had seen Loulou shrink away from his mother, and cling to his father's knees.
Madame de Vos's bedroom was at the end of the upstairs gallery. The walls were white, and so were the bed-hangings, with their whitetufted fringe.
The cushion in the window-seat was covered in white dimity; the window itself was shrouded in white curtains, fringed like the bed-hangings. All this white seemed to bring out in yet stronger relief the deeply tinted pink face of Madame de Vos. She stretched one hand out to greet Clémence; the other lay still on the coverlet, powerless for evermore.
“Eh bien, my child, thou art come at last, then, to look at what is left of thy grandmother. Ah! but, Clémence, is it not incredible
, that I, so active, and of so perfect a constitution, should be lying