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The Bunch of Cherries by E. V. Lucas

 

On the first day of May, Madame de Clinville, the widow of a Notary of Paris, conducted her daughter, fourteen years of age, to the delightful garden of the Tuileries, there to breathe the pure air of spring and the sweet perfumes from its flowers. In passing through the walks leading to the royal palace, the young lady's attention was attracted by one of the shops, supplied with the choicest and most rare fruits; among which was a bunch of cherries, arranged with so much taste, and so prettily intermixed with fresh green leaves, that she could not forbear expressing to her mother her anxious desire to have those cherries, notwithstanding she could foresee at that season they must be extravagantly dear. Madame de Clinville, who never denied her daughter anything, and who was in general very plain and moderate in her inclinations, purchased the bunch of cherries, although dear, and proceeded with her dear Emmelina—her daughter's name—to the Tuileries.

Having surveyed the beautiful walks of this truly enchanted place, they seated themselves on chairs under the shade of a large chestnut tree. It was scarcely ten o'clock in the morning, the hour most agreeable for walking, and frequently the most retired, as the fashionables of Paris seldom make their appearance before three or four o'clock, and in a déshabille that bespeaks them just arisen from their beds, as if to behold the sun for the first time. As such, Madame de Clinville and her daughter met with very little company.

The only object that struck their attention was a lady with the remains of beauty, whose external appearance indicated a person of quality, accompanied by a young lady, nearly Emmelina's age, dressed in white and a small green hat ornamented with a wreath of white pearls, which shaded the most amiable countenance. They both came and seated themselves near Madame and Miss de Clinville, when the young stranger could not keep her eyes from the bunch of cherries, and remarked to the lady who was with her: 'How fresh and beautiful they are!' Anxiety was depicted in her eyes and in every action, and at length, slowly advancing towards Emmelina, with the most affable condescension, she said: 'What a delicious nosegay you have there, miss! The freshness of it can only be compared with your complexion.'

'It would be a better comparison with your own,' answered Madame de Clinville; 'for, with your pretty green hat, one might justly say: “Behold the cherry under the leaf.”'

'It is surprising to me,' added the young stranger, 'that miss does not eat these fine cherries, no less gratifying to the taste than sight.'

'They are my mother's gift,' modestly answered Emmelina, 'and, being so rare, I really cannot enjoy them alone. If you, miss, will condescend to divide them with me!—the happiness of sharing with others that which we possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.'

'These last words, which Emmelina pronounced in the most expressive manner, made a lively impression on the young lady.

'How can you withstand a favour said with feelings and sentiments so interesting?' demanded the handsome lady who escorted her; at whose advice, attended with a sign of approbation, the young stranger accepted the first cherry from the delightful bunch.

Emmelina presented the second to her mother, and the stranger offered the third to her charming companion; and the two young folks ate of them by turns till there remained only the leaves. They entered into conversation, when Madame de Clinville endeavoured by several judicious and direct questions to ascertain the name of the pretty green hat; but, perceiving the lady make a sign of caution to the unknown, she ceased further interrogatories, and they mutually adhered to the customary civilities, and separated with assurances of the pleasure so agreeable an interview had excited.

On returning home, Madame de Clinville and her daughter observed that a servant in red livery had followed them, who appeared to examine very minutely the number of the house in which they lived, and from that circumstance concluded the strange lady wished to learn their place of residence, notwithstanding she had taken every precaution to conceal her own, or the most distant knowledge of the young person in the green hat.

Several months having elapsed, Madame de Clinville thought no longer of the Tuileries adventure, when one morning, while at breakfast with Emmelina and Gustavus, her only son—a pupil at the Imperial Academy, seventeen years of age—the porter of the lodge entered the apartment, holding in one hand a ripe pineapple, and in the other a note, directed to Mademoiselle de Clinville, the contents as follows:

[Illustration: The happiness of sharing with others that which we possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.—Page 244.]

     'Having been presented with two pineapples, permit me to offer
     you one of them, and to recall to mind your own impressive
     sentiment—
The happiness of sharing with others that which we
     possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.

                     'THE LITTLE GREEN HAT.'

In vain did Madame de Clinville and her children question the porter to know who brought this note. He answered:

'It was a messenger, who, upon leaving the parcel, went away without saying a word.'

Emmelina at once decided upon sharing the pineapple with her mother and brother, which they regarded but as a return for the bunch of cherries; but were still the more perplexed from a desire to know the two strangers. In a short time the porter again entered Madame de Clinville's house with a rich china vase, in which was an orange tree of an uncommon size in full bloom, with a second letter, which was, as usual, directed to Emmelina, and contained these words:

     'I received yesterday for my birthday fête, Ste Clotilde, two
     orange trees like the one sent you; condescend to accept of
     one. The happiness of sharing with others that which we
     possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.
'

The porter informed them it was conveyed by the same person, to whom he had put several useless questions.

'What!' said Emmelina, 'am I never to know who this charming Clotilde is, with the green hat?'

'Let me try,' said Gustavus; 'I will undertake to find her out. Describe her as exactly as you can.'

'She is about my size,' answered his sister, 'but a much better figure than I am. Her grace displays a prepossessing je ne sais quoi ; her regular and noble features are enlivened by an air of sweetness and gaiety that attracts and at the same time interests you; fine auburn hair flows in ringlets on her lovely neck; and the whiteness of her skin adds still greater beauty to her fine large blue eyes, the vivacity and expression of which seem to penetrate to the bottom of your heart, and to guess every thought.'

'From this picture,' said Gustavus, 'I foresee that, if I discover the unknown belle, I shall be repaid for my trouble on beholding her. Rely upon my wish to serve thee, no less than the person in whom I already sensibly feel so many charms are blended to admire.'

Gustavus exerted every effort to meet with the beauty in the green hat, the description of whom was engraven on his heart no less than on his memory. He sought her at all the public walks, theatres, balls, concerts, and, in short, every private society in Paris, yet could not possibly discover the slightest or most distant trace of her.

A month had elapsed when Emmelina, on her return from taking a walk, found upon her work-table a white silk basket, ornamented with embroidery, which, she was informed by her waiting-maid, was brought by a careful person. Not doubting it came from the amiable Clotilde, she opened the basket in her mother's presence, and found it contained every species of sweetmeat accompanied by a polite note, wherein the stranger mentioned having been a god-mother, and, loaded with presents, she had adopted Emmelina's maxim, which never was obliterated from her remembrance, and which she had actually worked in golden letters in front of the basket, with a bunch of cherries, ornamented with leaves, in embroidery—viz.: 'The happiness of sharing with others that which we possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.'

This tasty specimen of ingenuity created the most pleasing and grateful sensations in the breasts of the Clinville family, who, though distressed beyond measure at receiving so many anonymous gifts, by the manner in which they were offered were obliged to accept them. Emmelina and Gustavus therefore hesitated not to partake of the various and delicious confectionery with which the basket seemed entirely filled, but great was their surprise to discover underneath the sweetmeats half-a-dozen elegant fans, six dozen pairs of gloves, and, lastly, a beautiful white cashmere shawl with a broad border highly and elegantly finished.

'I cannot,' said Emmelina, 'think of wearing these rich articles without knowing from whom they come; simple cherries, offered with a truly hearty welcome, do not merit such considerable presents.'

'I commend thy discretion,' said Madame de Clinville to her; 'every instance denotes the rank and fortune of these charming strangers, and denies us the power to make them amends, as an exchange of presents can only be made with our equals; we must, therefore, take care of the handsome shawl till we can discover the person who has sent it.' Also the gloves and fans were carefully preserved in the elegant basket, and they contented themselves with doing justice to the delicacies.

Gustavus, although one of the first pupils at the Imperial Academy, frequently shared them with his sister, and daily repeated, while eating them: 'Oh, generous and charming green hat, I will find thee. Who would not, even the most callous, aspire to the honour and happiness of knowing thee? Yes, yes, I will discover thee....'

But, alas, his renewed researches were as unsuccessful as the former. In vain did he pursue every green hat he perceived at a distance in Paris, but could not find that similarity of grace, youth, beauty, and expression of which his sister had drawn so faithful and prepossessing a picture.

Emmelina, being no less desirous than her brother to gain a knowledge of the person with whom she had divided her cherries, prepared a note for the porter to deliver, at the same time giving him strict orders to send it by the next person that came, which note was directed To the charming Green Hat ... as follows:

     'If the sensibility of your heart correspond with the charms of
     your countenance, you must approve of the resolution I have
     taken not to make use of all the presents with which you have
     favoured me. I therefore assure you they are placed under my
     mother's care, who suffers no less than myself from the cruel
     secrecy in which you persist.

                     'EMMELINA DE CLINVILLE.'

The porter, faithful to the execution of his orders, was not long the holder of the note. Two days after the same messenger presented himself at the lodge, and was preparing to go away as usual, after having left the parcel, when the porter, formerly a soldier, and still full of vigour, seized him by the collar, and called loudly for Gustavus, who, followed by his mother and sister, quickly descended to know from whence he came, but neither entreaties, threats, nor the promise of reward could prevail with this good man, who merely said the parcel was delivered to him by an old servant in red livery, who had given him a crown for his trouble, and being well recompensed he would not betray the trust reposed in him.

'Since you are so discreet,' said Emmelina, 'I am sure you must be obliging. Do me the favour to deliver this note to the same servant from whom you received the parcel; that will not bring your discretion, for which I commend you, into question, and I shall be obliged by your compliance.'

'If you only require me to give the note,' answered the porter, 'I will do it willingly, and you may rely on my punctuality. You need not follow me, for you will lose both your time and trouble....' At these words he speedily departed with Emmelina's note.

Anxious to know the contents of the newly-arrived parcel, which appeared much heavier than any hitherto, Gustavus was himself eager to open the envelope, and found a handsome uniform for an artillery officer, with an elegant sabre, to which was attached a green morocco portfolio that contained this writing:

'My relation, the Minister at War, according to annual custom, on my birthday presents me with an officer's commission, for those of my family or friends who merit it. I beg you to accept it for your brother as a due reward for his success at the Imperial Academy. If, as I doubt not, he should signalize himself in his military career, and become a hero, all I request of him is to follow your maxim: The happiness of sharing with others that which we possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.'

To the above was added a lieutenant's commission of artillery, with orders to join the appointed regiment in eight days. Gustavus conceived it a dream, for that which he so ardently desired and least expected to be provided by the generosity of a beautiful young stranger, whose delicacy redoubled the value of the gift. 'And,' said he, 'shall I take my departure without knowing, seeing, or thanking her?'

'There is a mode,' exclaimed Madame de Clinville, with her eyes beaming with recollection and delight. 'We must introduce ourselves this day to the Minister at War, and request an interview; we may then learn from him to whom we are indebted for this happy event....'

'You are right,' replied Gustavus; 'let us go to him directly.' He dressed himself in the regimentals, which to his great surprise exactly fitted him. Emmelina and her mother dressed themselves elegantly, and in an hour's time all three arrived at the Minister's house, who received them with most polite affability, and, conceiving they were acquainted with their young benefactress, said: 'In acceding to the anxious solicitations of Miss de St. Leon I am only doing justice to her deserving protégé as I can trace in M. de Clinville's countenance a goodness that will render him worthy all the interest I can devote to him, and which I promise you he shall ever experience.'

'Miss de St. Leon! Miss de St. Leon!' repeated Gustavus.

'Most likely,' added Madame de Clinville, 'she is the daughter of the general who, by his great exploits, has attained one of the highest posts under Government, and is one of the Emperor's greatest favourites. We must learn where he lives, and go to him directly.'

'Let us,' said Emmelina, 'enter the first library and examine the Court calendar, and we shall find this so much desired address.' Upon which they discovered the general resided at the village St. Honoré, near the Elysée, and thither speedily repaired.

Emmelina desired the porter to announce that M. de Clinville, an artillery officer, and his family requested a moment's interview with Miss de St. Leon. The porter shortly returned with a footman, who had orders to introduce the ladies and the newly-appointed officer to the great hall where Miss de St. Leon delayed not to attend them.

She was in the same dress and green hat, ornamented with white pearls, which she wore on meeting her in the Tuileries, accompanied by the same lady, whom she called her aunt. She advanced precipitately to Emmelina, and, embracing her, said: 'Forgive me for having deceived you with secrecy, and wounded your delicacy.' She then added, with sensible emotion: 'I wished gradually to give you a proof of those sentiments you inspired me with on our first meeting, and convinced, by the inquiries I made, that your greatest ambition was to obtain a commission for your brother, and from the high character given of him by the head masters of the academy my aunt and I have (in the absence of my father with the army), without difficulty obtained him that which will add to the country's service another brave soldier, and to your worthy family the completion of your wishes, and, lastly, to myself the happiness of proving to you the high value I set on your delicious bunch of cherries which you obliged me to partake of, and how strong an impression the sentiment which accompanied them has made upon my remembrance.' To which at first Emmelina made no reply, but affectionately embraced and saluted her.

Madame de Clinville could not forbear requesting permission for the same indulgence.

Gustavus, with all the vivacity of a young French officer, and eager to realize the good opinion formed of him, exclaimed with an heroic accent: 'How long the time seems ere I shall take my station under the Imperial Eagles. If I do not in a year merit the cross of honour His Majesty shall be welcome to erase me from the list of the brave....' As soon as he found his amiable benefactress had carried her goodness so far as to find out his tailor, to whom she gave the order for his first regimentals, his surprise ceased that they fitted so well.

'To complete this day of joy,' said Miss de St. Leon's aunt, 'I hope these ladies and the young lieutenant will dine with us, so that we may enjoy as long as possible the felicities they have been the means of promoting.'

Madame de Clinville readily accepted the invitation, but requested leave to return home, when herself and children departed, and at the dinner-hour made their appearance dressed in the clothes they wore at the Tuileries meeting, but in addition to Emmelina's simple dress was displayed the rich cashmere shawl, one of the fans, and a pair of gloves received from the green hat, who sensibly felt this mark of attention.

They seated themselves at table, when Miss de St. Leon discovered, on unfolding her napkin, a small case containing a ring set with three brilliants. Underneath the mounting was engraved: A token of lasting gratitude....

She immediately put the ring on her finger, and declared she never would part from it. In Emmelina she found a constant and sincere friend, in Gustavus an officer of exalted rank by his important services to his country. Miss de St. Leon and Emmelina, in their frequent interviews and the participations of their sweetest endearments, repeated together: 'The happiness of sharing with others that which we possess enhances the value of its enjoyment.'

 
 
 

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