An American Girl
and Her Lovers
by Mary E. Blair
In the spring of 1869 I was induced, for the sake of rest
and recreation, to take charge of a young American girl during
a tour in Europe. This young girl was Miss Helen St. Clair of
Detroit, Michigan. We two were by no means strangers. She had
been my pupil since the time when she was the prettiest little
creature that ever wore a scarlet hood. I have a little
picture, scarlet hood and all, that I would not exchange for
the most beautiful one that Greuze ever painted. Not that her
face bore any resemblance to the pictures of Greuze. It had
neither the sweet simplicity of the girl in "The Broken
Pitcher," nor the sentimental graces which he bestows on his
court beauties. It was an exceedingly piquant, animated face,
never at rest, always kindling, flashing, gleaming, whether
with sunlight or lightning. Her movements were quick and
darting, like those of a humming-bird. Her enunciation, though
perfectly distinct, was marvelously rapid. The same quickness
characterized her mental operations. Her conclusions, right or
wrong, were always instantaneous. Her prompt decisiveness, her
talent for mimicry and her witchery of grace and beauty won her
a devoted following of school-girls, to whom her tastes and
opinions were as authoritative as ever were those of
Eugénie to the ladies of her court. School-girls, like
college-boys, are very apt in nicknames, and Helen's was the
"Little Princess," which her pretty, imperious ways made
I do not know how her parents dared trust her to me for a
year beyond the sea, but they did. We set off in high
enthusiasm, and Helen was full of mirth and laughter till we
were fairly on board the steamer in New York harbor, when she
threw herself on her father's breast with a gesture of utter
abandonment that would have made the fortune of a
débutante on any stage in the world. It was so
unlooked-for that we all broke down, and Mr. St. Clair was
strongly inclined to take her home with him. But so sudden was
she in all her moods that his foot had scarcely touched the
shore before she was again radiant with anticipation.
I will not linger on the pleasant summer travel, the Rhine
majesty, the Alpine glory. September saw us established in the
city of cities—Paris. Everywhere we had met throngs of
Americans. Neighbors from over the way in our own city greeted
us warmly in most unexpected places. But we had not crossed the
ocean merely to see our own countrymen. In Paris we were
determined to eschew hotels and pensions and to become the
inmates of a French home. Everybody told us this would be
impossible, but I find nothing so stimulating as the assertion
that a thing can't be done. Two weeks of eager inquiry, and we
were received into a family which could not have been more to
our wish if it had been created expressly for us. It was that
of Monsieur Le Fort, a professor in the Medical College, a
handsome elderly man with the bit of red ribbon coveted by
Frenchmen in his buttonhole. Madame Le Fort, a charming,
graceful woman midway between thirty and forty, and a pretty
daughter of seventeen, completed the family. With great
satisfaction we took possession of the pretty rooms, all white
and gold, that overlooked the Rond Point des Champs
My little princess had found a prince in her own country,
and, considering the laws of attraction, his sudden appearance
in Paris ought not to have been a surprise to her. But, to his
discomfiture, and even anger, Helen refused to see him. She had
bidden him good-bye at home, she said; they would not be
married for three years, if they ever were: she was going to
devote herself to her music; and she did not wish to see him
here. When he had
completed his studies and their engagement was announced (it
was only a mutual understanding now) there would be time enough
to see each other at home. Excellent reasoning! but a fortnight
later a tiny hand slipped between my eyes and the Figaro
a little note on which I read:
"DEAR FRED: I think I should like to say good-bye
The dark eyes looked half shyly, half coaxingly into
"Well," said I, "Katrine will mail it for you."
The next day I saw for the first time Mr. Frederic Denham.
He was tall and slender; with a sallow complexion, rather dull
gray eyes and black hair, by no means handsome, but
sufficiently well-looking to please a friendly eye. In his
manners there was a coldness and reserve which passed for
haughtiness. He was said to possess great talents and ambition,
and Helen had the fullest belief in his genius and success. Not
Goethe himself was a greater man in her eyes.
I had frequent opportunities of seeing them together, for,
according to French ideas, nothing is more improper than to
leave a young man and woman a moment by themselves. Was it my
fancy that he seemed too much absorbed in himself, too little
sensible of the rare good-fortune which made him the favored
lover of the beautiful Miss St. Clair? It might be so, but
others shared it.
"What ails the American?" asked Madame Le Fort. "Is it
possible that he is not in love with that fascinating young
creature? Or are all your countrymen so cold and inanimate?
Elle est ravissante, adorable! I cannot comprehend it."
"Probably," I replied, "he has too much reserve and delicacy
to make a display of his feelings in the presence
But I was not satisfied. The more I watched them, the more I
perceived a lack of deference to her opinions and respect for
her judgment—an irritating assumption of superior wisdom,
as if he had worn the visible inscription, "I will accept
homage, but not suggestions. Offer incense and be content."
Would the little princess be content? I saw symptoms of
"Do you think I am a little fool, Madame Fleming?"
she asked with heightened color and impetuous tone, turning
suddenly to me while they were conversing apart one
November came, and we were launched on the full tide of
Parisian society. Mr. Denham had gone to Germany to complete
certain scientific studies, and he left his fair betrothed with
a parting injunction not to dance with any foreigner. As well
shut her up in a cell! Nowhere is there such a furore for
dancing as in Paris. Every family has its weekly reception, and
every card of invitation bears in the corner, "On dansera."
These receptions are the freest and gayest imaginable. Any
person who has the entrée of the house comes when he
feels inclined. Introductions are not indispensable as with us:
any gentleman may ask a lady to dance with him, whether he has
been formally presented or not, and it would be an affront to
decline except for a previous engagement. The company assemble
about ten, and often dance till three or four in the morning.
In any one house we see nearly the same people once a week for
the whole winter, and such frequent companionship gives a
feeling of intimacy. It is surprising how many French men and
French women have some special artistic talent, dramatic or
musical, and with what ready good-humor each contributes to the
entertainment of the rest. In every assembly, with all its
sparkle of youth and gayety, there is a background of mature
age; but though a card-room is generally open, it never seems
to draw many from the salons de danse.
In these salons the little princess entered, at once upon
her royalty. Her dancing was the poetry of motion. She sang,
and the most brilliant men hung over her enraptured. "She was
like Adelina Patti," they said, "but of a more perfect and
delicate type of beauty. What wonderful eyes, with
the long thick lashes veiling Oriental depths of liquid light!
How the music trickled from her fingers, and poured from her
small throat like the delicious warble of a nightingale! What a
loss to art that her position precluded her from singing in the
opera! Not Malibran or Grisi ever had triumphs that would equal
hers." Eminent painters wished to make a study of her face.
Authors who had received the prizes of the Academy for grave
historical works sent her adulatory verses. "May
I—flirtation—wid you—loavely meess?" asked
one of "the immortal forty," displaying his English.
It grew rather annoying. I was importuned with questions,
such as "Will you receive proposals of marriage for Miss St.
Clair?" "What is her dowry?" "Are you entrusted to find a
husband for her abroad?" I was tired of answering, "Miss St.
Clair will probably marry in her own country." "Her parents
would be very reluctant to consent to any foreign marriage." "I
cannot tell what Mr. St. Clair will give his daughter. It is
not the custom to give dowries with us, as with you."
One evening we saw at Madame Le Fort's reception a young man
so distinguished in appearance that he was known as "le beau
Vergniaud." He was six feet in height and well made, with
abundant chestnut hair, dark hazel eyes, clearly-cut, regular
features, and a complexion needlessly fine for a man. From that
time he was invariably present, not only at Madame Le Fort's,
but wherever we went.
One day Helen said to me, "I made a silly speech last
evening. I was dancing with M. Vergniaud, and we were talking
of that charming Madame de Launay. I said, 'I should think she
might be happy, having an elegant house in Paris, a
château in the country, and such a handsome husband so
devoted to her.' And he rejoined instantly, very low, 'My dear
Miss St. Clair, can I not give you all this?' It was not fair
to take advantage of me in that way."
"What did you say?"
"Oh, I laughed it off. I did not think he was in earnest,
but he spoke to me again before he went away."
That afternoon Madame Le Fort came into my room with the
look of one who has something important to communicate. "I have
been wishing to see you," she said. "M. Vergniaud has taken me
into his confidence. He has formed a serious attachment to Miss
St. Clair, and wishes to make her his wife. It is a splendid
alliance," she continued, warming with her theme: "if he had
asked for my daughter I would give her to him blindfold. He
belongs to one of our old families. You should see his house on
the Avenue de Montaigne. Have you never seen him driving with
his superb horses in the Bois de Boulogne? He has an estate
with a fine old château in Touraine, a family
inheritance. His character and habits are unexceptionable too,"
she added by way of parenthesis. "It is not often that you find
all that in a man of twenty-six. So handsome besides!"
"True," said I, "but you forget Mr. Denham."
"On the contrary, I remember him too well to conceive the
possibility of his being a rival to René Vergniaud."
"But did you mention him to M. Vergniaud?"
"Yes, and he was greatly disturbed at first, but when I told
him that he had no expectation of marrying for two or three
years to come, he laughed and said it was of no importance. M.
Vergniaud would like to be married in a few weeks, as is the
custom with us, but I suppose it will take longer to adjust the
preliminaries on account of her parents being across the
Atlantic. What dowry has my little jewel?" (The inevitable
question, always put with as much simplicity and directness as
if one were asking the time of day.)
"I do not know," I replied. "It is so contrary to all our
notions. I do not think there is a man in America who in asking
a father for the hand of his daughter would inquire how much
money he was to have with her. It would be considered an
"Perhaps Mr. St. Clair would prefer to
settle an annuity on his
daughter. Is that the way the thing is managed in your
"It is not managed at all. A man gives his daughter what he
likes, or he gives her nothing but her bridal outfit. It is
never a condition of the marriage."
"How strange all that is! One can hardly believe it in
France. We set by a sum of money for Clarice's dowry almost as
soon as she was born, and it would be a hard necessity that
could compel us to diminish it by a single sou. If you would
like it, in a couple of days I can give you an exact inventory
of all M. Vergniaud's property and possessions. I could
guarantee that it will not vary twenty napoleons from the fact.
We do everything so systematically here."
"Thanks! I think it will hardly be necessary. I do not know
that Helen likes him particularly."
"Nobody admires that little paragon more than I—I
should be frantically in love with her if I were a
man—but she had better think twice before rejecting such
a parti as René Vergniaud, especially if she has
no dowry. You will surely not permit her to do so without
communicating with her father? He will understand her interests
"In this case I shall let her do just as she pleases, as her
father would if he were here."
Madame Le Fort's look of amazed incredulity was truly
comical. What ought I to do? I queried. On the whole, I decided
to do the easiest thing—wait.
The next day I was honored with a call from M. Vergniaud. He
believed that Madame Le Fort had spoken to me of his profound
attachment to the lovely Miss St. Clair—the most
passionate, the most devoted. Might he hope for my influence
with her father and mother? The matter of dowry was indifferent
to him: his income was sufficiently large, and, alas! he had no
parents to consult. Would I favor him with Mr. St. Clair's
address and a few words of introduction to him? He should be
under everlasting obligations to me, and if there was anything
he could do to show his gratitude, his appreciation—
I interrupted these protestations: "I doubt if Mr. St. Clair
would consent to any marriage which would separate him from his
daughter, however advantageous it might be in other
"My dear madame, who asks it? I have no business or
profession: we could easily spend a part of every year in
America if it were desirable."
"That would certainly make it easier, but it will be better
to defer writing till we have some intimation of Miss St.
Clair's sentiments. Her father will be guided chiefly by her
"It is a nice country for young girls, America," said he
with a smile. "I shall do all that is possible to win Miss St.
Clair's favor, for life would be worthless without her." And he
bowed himself gracefully out.
Is it possible that Helen will be indifferent to this young
Antinous? thought I. Poor Mr. Denham would have small chance
with me if I were in her place.
An hour later the concierge sent up to me an exquisite
bouquet of violets and white camellias, with the card of
René Vergniaud and a folded note: "If Madame Fleming
does not think it improper, will she be so kind as to give
these flowers to my beautiful queen?"
M. Vergniaud had asked Madame Le Fort's permission to call
on Miss St. Clair. "Certainly not," she replied. "I am
astounded at such presumption! But you may call to see
me. To-morrow evening we go to the opera, and Wednesday
to Madame Perier's, and Thursday is my reception, and Friday we
have tickets to Phèdre at the Français.
Saturday, then: it is the first evening we have free."
We were all assembled in the salon as usual after dinner
when M. Vergniaud was announced. The little princess was
radiant. She had never been merrier in a school-girl frolic or
more ready with gibe and jest and laughter. She sang her best
songs, putting her whole soul into them—"Si tu savais
comme je l'aime." René Vergniaud was so dazed that he
came near bidding farewell to his senses for ever. He evidently
thought that all this brilliancy was for him, and was in such a
rapture of delight that he never noticed Madame Le
Fort's repeated glances at the clock, and was only roused by
the polite invitation to come again. He was not too
disconcerted to make a charming apology, like a true Parisian,
and tore himself away.
Late as it was, as soon as we were in our own little parlor
I could not forbear saying, "I was surprised at you to-night,
Helen. How could you run on so? Madame Le Turc there,
too! and you know the young French girls never open their lips
to say more than 'Oui, monsieur'—'Non, monsieur,' to a
gentleman. What will M. Vergniaud think?"
"I don't care what he thinks," flinging herself down on an
ottoman with her head in my lap; "but I do care what you
think, Madame Fleming. Did I behave so very badly? I didn't
mean to, but I was resolved he should not get a chance to talk
any nonsense to-night; and he did, after all. I hate
being made love to before a whole room full. I had to
laugh or else cry." And the little fairy dissolved in a shower
of tears, like another Undine.
Another week went by. On Saturday afternoon Helen asked,
"Will you be so kind as to take me to the little Protestant
church beyond the Arc d'Étoile this evening, Madame
Fleming? I should like so much to hear that good M.
"So should I. But you have not forgotten that M. Vergniaud
will be here."
"I am under no obligation to entertain Madame Le Fort's
"But you know, Helen, that he comes for your sake. It is
well for you to consider that the future Madame Vergniaud will
have in some respects a more brilliant position than perhaps
any man in our country could offer you."
"I know all that, and I don't pretend to say that I should
not like it. I am ashamed of being so worldly, but to have a
superb establishment and all this charming Parisian society,
and give a grand ball whenever I liked, would be just paradise.
And to have it all in my grasp, and not be able to take it, is
too aggravating. It is so vexatious that the right man never
has the right things."
We went to church. M. Vergniaud called, but recollected an
engagement which took him away early. Monday evening he dropped
in again just after dinner: "Do not let me derange you in the
least, je vous en prie, madame. I come early because I am
engaged to three balls to-night."
Miss St. Clair could hardly have been more mute and
statue-like if she had been born and bred in France, where in
the presence of gentlemen young girls silently adhere to their
brilliant mothers, whose wit and grace and social tact make the
charm of the Parisian salons. Apparently, the French consider
that the combined attractions of youthful faces and sprightly
conversation would be too much for any man, and mercifully
divide the two. And this leaves them helpless before a little
American girl, laughing, talking, jesting, teasing, till,
bewildered by such a phenomenon, they are swept down so easily
that one is reminded of Attila's taunt to the Romans, "The
thicker the grass, the quicker it is mowed."
This social etiquette was very irksome to my little firefly,
who seemed always opening and shutting her wings. In the course
of the evening M. Vergniaud slipped into her hand, unperceived
by any of us, a closed envelope with the whisper, "Put it in
your pocket. Do not let any one see you."
She opened it deliberately: "M. Vergniaud is so kind as to
give me his photograph, Madame Fleming. Do you think it a good
The mystery which French people are fond of attaching to
harmless trifles is inconceivable. One evening, in the earlier
part of our stay in Paris, a cousin of Miss St. Clair's, who
was in the same hotel with Mr. Denham, called on us, and when
he was taking leave she held out an unsealed note: "Will you
give this to Fred? Don't forget it."
Madame Le Fort was thunderstruck: "Is it possible? Send a
note to a young gentleman right before Madame Fleming and all
"Why," said I, "do young people never write notes to each
other in France?" "Not
openly like that—little three-cornered notes to slip into
the hand while dancing."
"This is the way to fold them," said Clarice, taking up a
small sheet of paper. "You see that will just fit into the
hollow of the hand, and nobody could ever see it."
"I like our way much better. What is done openly is not half
"Nor half so interesting," rejoined Clarice.
The nimble hours danced on, as they had a trick of doing in
Madame Le Fort's salon. "I am afraid you forget the three
balls, M. Vergniaud."
"How can you be so cruel, mademoiselle? I shall only make my
compliments to the hostess and dance one set at each. I never
do more except when I come here."
A few days later I asked Helen, "Have you made up your mind
what answer to give M. Vergniaud? He intends to write to your
father. He was speaking to me about it again to-day."
"I won't have him writing to my father," she replied with
her wonted impetuosity. "I will not have my father worried
about nothing. It would be a month before I could set it
"He seems to be very much in love with you. He says he shall
be in despair, wretched for ever, if you reject him."
"So they all say. I don't believe a word of it, and I can't
help it if they are. I can't marry more than one of them, and I
don't believe I shall ever marry anybody. I won't be persecuted
The little princess was irritated. Something had evidently
gone wrong. It soon came out: "I had a letter from Fred this
morning—a very disagreeable letter."
"Indeed! You have not yet answered it, I suppose."
"No: he will have to write differently from that before he
gets any answer from me. I am not going to be lessoned and
scolded as if I were a little girl. Father never does it, and I
will not submit to it from him" After a pause: "He is
not so much to blame. It is that odious Mr. Wilkins, who keeps
writing to him how much attention I receive, and all that. As
if I could help it! Poor old Fred! We have known each other
ever since we were children."
That explains it, I thought. "Helen, if you have decided to
say no to M. Vergniaud, the sooner you say it the better."
"I have said it, and he doesn't mind it in the least. I wish
you would tell him: you always speak so that people know you
are in earnest and can't help believing you."
"Very well, Helen. I will ask Madame Le Fort to tell him
that his suit is hopeless, and that he must not annoy you by
persisting in it."
Early in February the Belgian ambassador, M. le comte de
Beyens, and Madame la comtesse, kindly took charge of Miss St.
Clair to the imperial ball at the Tuileries. She had never
looked more charming than in the exquisite costume of pale
rose-colored faille, with a floating mist of white tulle,
caught here and there by rosebuds that might have grown in
Chrimhild's garden. The airy figure, so graceful in every
motion, the well-poised head with its flutter of shining curls,
the wonderful dark eyes, the perfect eyebrows, the delicious
little mouth where love seemed to nestle—when she had
vanished "it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music."
Madame la comtesse congratulated me on her appearance, and
afterward on her success. The emperor had distinguished her in
a very flattering manner, and Eugénie, looking earnestly
at her, said to the comtesse, "Nothing is so beautiful as
youth," perhaps beginning to regret her own. No one had made so
decided a sensation.
At Madame Le Fort's next reception there was a sudden influx
of new guests—a young Belgian baron of old historic name,
slim and stiff as a poker; a brisk French viscount, who told me
that he had been connected with the embassy at Washington, and
had quite fallen in love with our institutions; an Italian
chevalier, a Russian prince.
Ugliness has its compensations, thought I. Nobody makes such
a fuss over a pretty girl
at home (they are not so uncommon), and I will never bring one
to Paris again. Thank Heaven! we are going to Italy soon.
The piercing Tramontane came down upon us in the Bay of
Naples with so fierce a blast that we doubted if we were not in
Iceland, and were glad to make our escape to Rome, where we
found an asylum in the Hôtel de Minerve, not far from the
Pantheon. Many of the old palaces and convents of Italy have
been transformed into hotels. This was the ancient palace of
the princes of Conti. I was so captivated by the superb
dining-room that the quality of the dinners made but a faint
impression. What! eat in the presence of all those marble
goddesses, looking down upon us, serene and cold, as if from
their thrones on the starry Olympus! Or if I turned my eyes
resolutely away from Juno, Ceres and Minerva, they were sure to
be snared by the dancing-girls of Pompeii stepping out from the
frescoed walls, or inextricably entangled in the lovely
garlands of fruit and flowers that wound their mazy way along
One evening, while we were waiting for one of the endless
courses of a table-d'hôte dinner, my wandering eyes were
caught by the most perfect human head I had ever seen. It
seemed that of the youthful Lord Byron, so well known in busts
and engravings—the same small head with high forehead and
clustering dark-brown curls, the perfectly-moulded chin, the
full, ripe beauty of the lips. The eyes were a deep blue, but I
thought them black at first, they were so darkly shaded by the
thick black lashes. I am convinced that Byron must have had
just such eyes, for some of his biographers describe them as
black and others as blue. When he rose from the table I saw a
slight, well-knit figure of exquisite proportions, like the
Greek god of love. (Not Cupid with his vulgar arrows, but the
true heavenly Eros. I saw him once in the Museum at Naples, and
again in the Vatican. Is it Love, or Death, or Immortality? I
queried, and then I knew it was the three in one.) I soon
learned that the youth whose ideal beauty had impressed me so
strongly was the Count Francisco de Alvala of Toledo in Spain.
I fancy that his eyes were as easily attracted to beauty as
mine, for the next day he was my vis-à-vis at
table; not for the sake of looking at me, I was well aware, but
on account of my beautiful neighbor. However, he sought my
acquaintance with the grave courtesy becoming a grandee of
Spain, and naturally gained that of Miss St. Clair also.
It is the most natural thing in the world to make
acquaintances in Rome. People talk together of the things they
have seen or wish to see: they go to the same places by day,
and in the evening they meet in the ladies' parlor to compare
their impressions. The young count never failed to join us in
the evening. He had always something to show us—prints of
his home in Spain, articles of virtù that he had
bought, sketches that he had made, for he was a good amateur
A group of young people of different nations generally
collected on these occasions, and the conversation often turned
on the usages peculiar to their respective countries.
"In Spain I could not greet a lady with a simple
good-evening," said the count. "I should say, 'Permit the
humblest of your servants to lay himself at your feet,' or
something like that."
"Why do you not say it to us?" asked a bright-eyed Canadian
"Well, it might be a little awkward if you should happen to
take it literally. In Spain it is the merest commonplace."
"If such exaggerated phrases are frittered into
commonplaces, and the most impassioned words grow meaningless,
what can a Spanish gentleman find to say when his heart is
really touched?" I inquired.
"I fancy we should find some very simple words to say it
in," said the boy, flushing like a girl. "But I do not
know—I have never learned."
"Talk some more," commanded the little princess.
"If a pretty young lady is walking in our streets a mantle
is often flung suddenly in
her way, and proud and happy is its owner if she deigns to set
her dainty foot upon it."
"What do they do that for? Because the streets are so
muddy?" inquired an obtuse young woman. But nobody volunteered
to enlighten her.
"Cannot we go to Spain?" asked Miss St. Clair. "I should
like to see a modern Sir Walter Raleigh."
"If the señorita should appear in our streets they
would be strewn with mantles," said the young count
"Would you throw down yours for me to step upon?"
"I'll come, then. It must be of velvet, mind."
"Yes, studded with jewels."
I loved the beautiful youth. His presence was like a poem in
my life, and if it ever occurred to me that the familiar
intercourse of the young people might not be altogether
prudent, I dismissed it with the thought, He is only a boy.
There was to be an illumination of the Coliseum. We were
going of course, and Count Alvala begged that I would honor him
by making use of his carriage on this occasion. "Thank you, but
I have already spoken to Piero to come for us."
"Oh, but we can send him away. You will find my carriage
more comfortable, and it will be in every way pleasanter," he
urged beseechingly; but my negative was peremptory.
Eight o'clock came. Miss St. Clair and I descended to the
court of the hotel, but where was Piero? "It is singular. He
was never late before, but I am confident that he will be here
presently. We have only to wait a little."
The minutes went by, and they were long minutes. It was
awkward waiting in so public a place. The count had joined us
with his friend, an Italian marquis some thirty years of age,
with whom we had a slight acquaintance. The count's handsome
equipage was drawn up near us. There was no Piero.
"I really think you had better accept my young friend's
carriage. It would be a pity to miss so grand a spectacle,"
said the marquis.
We entered the carriage. The count wrapped us in a
magnificent feather robe, such as the Montezumas wore, for the
April nights in Rome are chill, however hot the sunshine. It
was strange to see the Forum, ordinarily solitary and desolate,
now thronged with an eager multitude on foot and with numerous
open carriages, in which were seated ladies in full dress as at
the opera with us. Arriving at the Coliseum, we left the
carriage and passed through the huge portal. The gloomy arches
were obscurely seen in the dusky Roman twilight, when suddenly,
as if by magic, every arch and crevice of the gigantic ruin
glowed, incarnadined, as if dyed with the blood of the martyrs
that had drenched its soil. There were salvos of artillery,
bursts of military music and a few vivas from the multitude. A
brilliant spectacle, but the tender beauty of moonlight
harmonizes better with the solemnity of ruins.
Rapt in the memories that the scene awakened, I paid little
attention to the monologue of my Italian friend, when I was
suddenly roused by the question, "Did you ever see a prettier
"Who?" I asked absently.
"There," he rejoined, pointing to the count and Miss St.
Clair, who preceded us.
"He is too young," I replied, but the question was asked so
significantly that it disturbed me a little, and I resolved to
be more cautious than heretofore.
The next morning Piero appeared with his carriage to take us
to the Baths of Caracalla. He hoped madame did not lose the
illumination. He was wretched to disappoint madame: he begged a
thousand pardons. His little boy was taken violently ill: he
was forced to go for the doctor; madame was so good.
The truth flashed upon me: "Piero, how much did the count
give you to stay away last night?"
A gleam of humor twinkled in his black eyes, but it was
speedily quenched: "I do not understand what madame wishes to
It happened that a friend and country-woman at our hotel was
taken ill with typhoid fever, and amid the anxieties of
her sick room the
incipient love-affair was almost forgotten. I no longer spent
the evenings in the parlor. One day Miss St. Clair showed me a
tiny satin bag beautifully embroidered, with a soft silken
chain to pass around the neck. "What can it be for?" she
"Why, Helen, it is an amulet. Where did you get it?"
"The count gave it to me. He had the loveliest set of
Byzantine mosaics and pearls which he wished to give me; and
when I would not accept them he seemed so hurt that I did not
like to refuse this trifle. What do you suppose is in it."
"A relic of some saint, without doubt. He thinks it will
protect you from fever perhaps."
Like most Americans, we were desirous of seeing the pope,
and Count Alvala obtained for us the necessary permission. We
were to be received on a Saturday at eleven. We went in the
prescribed costume, black silk, with the picturesque Roman veil
thrown over the head. From the foot of the Scala Regia, (Royal
Staircase) one of the papal guard, in a motley suit which
seemed one glare of black and yellow, escorted us to the door
of a long corridor, known as the Loggia of Raphael, where we
were received by a higher official in rich array of crimson
velvet. About seventy persons were seated in rows, facing each
other, along this gallery, nearly all laden with rosaries to be
blessed by the Holy Father. We waited till my neck ached with
looking up at the exquisite frescoes, fresh and tender in
coloring as if new from the hand of the master, when the pope
appeared, attended by a cardinal on each hand. We fell on our
knees instantly, but not till I had seen an old man's face so
sweet and venerable as to make this act of etiquette a
spontaneous homage. He passed slowly down the line, saying a
word or two to each, and extending his hand, white and soft
like a woman's, to be kissed.
Pausing by the young count, who was kneeling beside me, he
said impressively, "Courage and faith have always been
attributes of the house of Alvala. Your fathers were good
children of the Church, and you, my son, will not be wanting in
any of the qualities of your race."
When he had passed us we rose from our knees, and I could
observe him more closely. He wore a close-fitting white cap on
his finely-shaped head; a long robe of white woolen cloth
buttoned up in front, with a small cape of the same material; a
white sash, gold-embroidered at the end; a long gold chain
around his neck, to which was attached a large golden cross; a
seal ring on the third finger of his right hand; and red
slippers. Soft snowy locks fell from under the white skull-cap
over a noble forehead, which years and trials had left
unwrinkled. Black eyebrows and the soft dark eyes made a
pleasant contrast to the whiteness of hair and brow, and his
smile was so sweet and winning that I scarcely wondered to see
two Catholic ladies prostrate themselves and kiss his feet and
the hem of his white garment with a rapture of devotion from
which his attendants with difficulty rescued him. He lingered
longest by a pretty boy four or five years old, and there was a
pathos in the caressing, clinging touch of his hand as it
rested on the child's head that called to mind an old
love-story of the handsome Count Mastai Ferretti when he wore
the uniform of an officer of the guards, and had not yet
thought of priestly robe or papal crown. I wonder if he
remembers the fair English girl now?
Having completed the round, he made a brief address, the
purport of which was that he was about to give us his blessing,
and he wished that it might be diffused to all our families and
friends, and be not for the present moment only, but extend
through our whole lives and abide with us in the hour of death;
"But remember," said he with a kind of paternal benignity,
"that the gates of paradise open rarely to any who are without
the communion of the Holy Catholic Church. Sometimes
perhaps—sometimes—but with great difficulty." He
extended his hands. We dropped on our knees and received the
blessing of this benign old man, whom the larger part of
Christendom revere as the earthly head of the Church. As we were making our way
through the stately columns of the colonnade which forms the
approach to the Vatican I saw the count glance at the amulet
which Helen wore. "What is in it?" I asked.
"A relic of the blessed Saint Francis, my patron," he
"It will lose its efficacy on the neck of a little heretic
like Miss St. Clair," said I with a purpose.
"It will do her no harm," said he coldly.
Monday I was at the table d'hôte the first time for a
week. I found the count seated next to Miss St. Clair. It was
very simple, she explained to me afterward. A lady occupied his
seat one day, and he came round to the only vacant one, which
happened to be next hers. I am a very guileless person, but I
think Vincenzo had an excellent reason for letting it happen.
Helen was on my left hand as usual, and the Italian marquis on
"I am sorry for that boy," said he to me: "he is very
"The young count? What is the matter?"
"Don't you see? He is madly in love with your bewitching
little American. It is his first impression, and he takes it
hard. Well, he will have to learn like the rest of us."
"I hope you are mistaken;" and I glanced uneasily at my
young neighbors, who were too much absorbed in their own
conversation to heed that between the marquis and myself.
"That is impossible. He raves to me about her. It is very
pretty too—a perfect idyl, all poetry and
romance—eternal, unchangeable, and all that boyish
nonsense. We older men know better. But monsignore will be here
soon, and he will look after him."
"Who is monsignore?"
"The archbishop of Toledo, his guardian. He has been here,
but some diocesan matter called him home. He will be back anon,
and then the count will dine at home. As to that, he does now,
and delicious dinners they are, too. He only makes a pretence
of eating here, just to have a chance to see his little
"He was here when we came."
"True, but only for a day or two while his house was put in
order. The house is well worth seeing—one of the finest
on the Corso. It is not open to strangers, but if you would
like to see it—"
"Certainly not," I interrupted, a little irritably, the more
so from the consciousness of having been a somewhat careless
chaperone. I was coming sharply up to the line of duty now, at
"Helen," said I when we rose from the dinner-table, "do not
go into the parlor now. Come into my room a little while,
please.—Well, Helen," I resumed when we were seated by
the pleasant window, "I have seen so little of you for a week
past that you must have a great deal to tell me."
"I do not know," she replied. "I have been out every day
with the Glenns, just as you arranged for me, and I have been
in the parlor in the evenings, and sometimes I sang, and one
night there was a French gentleman—"
"How about the young count? The Italian says he is very much
in love with you. Do you know it?"
"He has told me so often enough, if that is knowing it,"
with a quick, impatient toss of the small, graceful head.
"Oh, Helen!" I cried in real distress, "and what did you say
"Why, what could I say in that great parlor, with
everybody looking on? I just hushed him up as well as I could.
There is the tall English girl and that sharp-eyed Miss
Donaldson, who are watching us the whole time. It is real mean
in them," excitedly. "And the count doesn't mind letting
everybody know how much he admires me. In fact, he is proud of
it, like one of the old knights, who used to wear their ladies'
favors as openly and proudly as they bore their knightly
"This will never do, Helen. Don't you see that this boy is
not like the gay Frenchman that you danced with last winter?
René Vergniaud was a man of the world: he could take
care of himself. But this beautiful boy, with his intensity of feeling, his ideal
passionate love—You must not play with him," I exclaimed
"I am not playing with him: I never do anything to make him
like me. He comes and talks to me, and I just make myself as
agreeable to him as I can, that is all."
That is all, is it, you little mischief? thought I. As if
that were not the very refinement of coquetry! But I prudently
refrained from saying it, for a tempest of hot tears began to
fall, and she sobbed, "Oh, Madame Fleming, I did not think I
was going to forfeit your good opinion. What can I do? I can't
help his liking me. I like him too, and that makes me feel so
"Do you like him better than Mr. Denham?"
"Better than Fred?" in a tone of surprise. "Why no, of
course not: I have known Fred always."
"The best thing will be to tell him of Mr. Denham."
"Oh no, I never can."
"I will, then."
"Don't, I beseech you. We shall go away soon, and that will
be the end of it. Promise me you will not. I would rather tell
him myself if I ever have a chance."
I looked in to see my invalid friend, and then descended to
the parlor, where I found the young count almost alone. He
looked up eagerly as I entered: "I thought Miss St. Clair was
with you. I have been waiting for her all the evening."
"I told her at table that I wished to see her particularly
"Perhaps she did not understand you."
"Oh yes, she did. You would not let her come?" with a sudden
lighting up of the expressive face.
"I did not forbid her coming: I did not know that you were
waiting for her."
Then with sudden boyish candor and a happy smile on his
animated countenance "I thought you might have observed that I
come here so often because I like to talk with Miss St. Clair.
But you never can know how dearly I love her."
"I am sorry."
"Why?" with a naïve surprise.
"She is older than you."
"How old is she?"
"She will be twenty in May."
"And I am nineteen this very week. What is one poor little
year?—not a year," gleefully.
"But the difference in religion?"
"An obstacle, I grant, but not an insuperable one. My uncle
married an English lady, a Protestant, and they have been very
"But I think there is another man," I stammered, surprised
at finding my outposts carried so easily.
"You do not mean to say that she is compromised with any
man?" almost fiercely.
"I do not know what meaning you attach to that word," for
the count's imperfect French was not always intelligible.
"There is a young man, the son of a neighbor, who has admired
her a long time."
"Oh, he admires her?" with a curl of the exquisite lips, as
if to say, "Who does not?"
"But I think she may like him a little."
"Why do you torture me so? Tell me at once that they are
betrothed," cried he, pale with concentrated anger.
He thought she had trifled with him, I knew instantly, but
quietly said, "I cannot tell you exactly in what relation they
stand to each other, but I think Miss St. Clair would if she
found an opportunity to speak with you."
"You do not know how I have tried to make opportunities. I
go everywhere, hoping to see you, and I have never met
you—not once. Won't you ask her to come down to-night?"
coaxingly, like a child.
"Not to-night: it is too late."
"I must see Miss St. Clair to-night."
"I must see Miss St. Clair. Find out for me when I
can see her. I will go with you," in a white heat of passion.
(We had been alone for some little time.)
I took the arm which he held out, not a little agitated by
the excess of emotion which thrilled and quivered through his
youthful frame, as he
hurried me up the broad stone staircase and along the wide
corridors that led to our rooms. What business had I to meddle?
How should an old fogy like me know anything of the
love-affairs of this generation? The girl would have managed
more wisely than I, I reflected, by no means jubilant over the
"Wait here;" and I walked on to Miss St. Clair's door,
opened it, and there sat Helen in her pretty white wrapper,
bathed in the moonlight, serene as a star, as if there were no
passionate young heart breaking in waves of anguish at her
feet. "Helen, the count is in the corridor, and he will not go
till I have told him when you will see him."
"How can I? You must think for me."
A hasty consultation. The count was standing where I had
left him: "We shall be at the Sistine Chapel to-morrow at two
He bowed and was gone.
I did not sleep well that night. A pretty person I am to
take charge of a young girl! I wonder what Mr. St. Clair would
think if he knew I had made an appointment for his daughter to
meet a young Spaniard? On the way, however, I admonished Helen,
as if no misgiving of my own wisdom had ever crossed my mind:
"You must be firm with him. Tell him so decidedly that he
cannot doubt you really mean it."
"Yes," said she, "but I do dread it so. I can't bear his
thinking that I encouraged him."
"Then you did?"
"I didn't mean to, but I do like him; and I didn't think of
his taking it so to heart. Men are so strange! You think you
have a charming friend, and then they will go on just
so, boys and all, and you have to take them or lose them; and
you can't take them. It is too bad!"
We were at the door. The keeper opened it, and there stood
the count waiting for us. It was not the first time we had been
in the wonderful chapel. Fortunately, there were very few
persons there on this afternoon—none that we knew. I sat
down to look at the grand frescoes: Helen and the count walked
on to the farthest corner. I looked at the Cumæan Sibyl,
the impersonation of age and wisdom, and wished, as I glanced
at the youthful figures talking so earnestly in the distance,
but not a murmur of whose voices reached my ear, that she would
impart to me her far-reaching vision of futurity. I gazed on
the image of the Eternal Father sweeping in majestic flight
through the air, bearing the angels on His floating garment as
He divides the light from the darkness. I saw Adam, glad with
new life, rising from the earth, because the outstretched
finger of his Creator gave him a conscious strength. I looked
at "The Last Judgment," grown dim with years, till every figure
started out in intensity of life, and it seemed as if the faces
would haunt me for ever.
And yonder still progressed the old, ever-new drama of love
and anguish, with its two actors, who seemed scarcely to have
changed their position or taken their eyes from each other. At
length they walked slowly toward me with more serenity of
aspect than I had dared to hope.
"Shall we go into the picture-gallery?" asked the count.
"I think we may have time to walk through it," I answered.
"It is half-past three."
"Is it possible that we have kept you waiting so long?" they
"An hour and a half is a short time in a place like the
Sistine Chapel," I remarked sententiously.
As soon as we were alone I drew Helen to the confessional:
"Did you tell him about Mr. Denham?"
"Yes, everything, and he was so noble. I am so sorry. The
tears stood in his eyes, and he said, 'I suffer, but I am a
man. I can bear it.' Then he thanked me for dealing so openly
with him. He never once hinted a reproach. And I deserved it,"
she said with unwonted humility. "I never felt before how
wicked it is to flirt just a little. He is not selfish, like
some people that I know;" and my thought followed hers. "I
don't know but I am a
little goose to let him go so. If he were only twenty-three
years old, and I were free—"
The next day we saw nothing of the count, but early Thursday
morning Vincenzo knocked at my door with a note, in which Count
Alvala informed me that he was my son, and begged earnestly to
see the beautiful Miss St. Clair once more: he would never
trouble me again. It was the only day on which we could see the
Palace of the Cæsars, and would I be so good as to permit
him to meet us there? I hastily penciled a few words: "I am
waiting for Dr. Valery. I shall probably stay with my sick
friend to-day, and Miss St. Clair will not go out without me,"
and sent the line by Vincenzo, happy to be rid of the
importunate boy for this time.
Two hours later, when the doctor had pronounced my friend
better, and I had promised Helen a walk amid the ruins of the
Palatine, which I did not like to leave Rome without seeing, I
went down to the roll, coffee and eggs which constitute an
Italian breakfast, and there sat the count as vigilant as a
sentinel. "You will go?" said he with a smile.
"I think we may," curtly.
"I shall perhaps meet you there."
When we reached the Farnese gate he was waiting there, which
made the "perhaps" superfluous. We had a long ramble over the
lonely hill, stretching out like a green New England pasture,
but where from time to time we came unexpectedly upon flights
of steps which led to massive substructures of stone,
foundations of ancient palaces, and to excavated halls paved
with mosaics and lined with frescoes more beautiful than those
of Pompeii. There were many statues, more or less mutilated,
and stately brick arches laden with a wealth of flowering
shrubs, and here and there thickets of tall dark cypress trees,
harmonious with ruins. My young companions were rather silent,
but I fancy their thoughts were not engrossed with old historic
lore. I made a conscientious effort to force mine into the ruts
of association which I had supposed to be inevitable in such a
spot, but the bright sunshine, the delicate blue of the distant
Campagna, the living gladness of earth and air were too strong
for me, and I inwardly applauded a lively American girl who
interrupted her droning guide with the incisive "I don't care a
snap for Cæsar."
On reaching the gate after our three hours' ramble I
consigned Miss St. Clair to some friends who were waiting for
her, and stepped into the count's carriage. He seemed to feel
bound in honor not to speak of love to Miss St. Clair since the
revelation of the Sistine Chapel, but he must have a little
solace in talking to me about it. "It would be easy," said he,
"if she were not fiancée, but that makes it
difficult—very difficult indeed. I am glad it is not
going to be for three years: that is a long time, a very long
time." Then, with a sudden illumination of face and a delicious
intonation of the musical voice, "Perhaps they will never
marry: perhaps it will be another man—I." (Blessed
infatuation of youth, with its wonderful perhapses,
which never come to maturer years!)
"One of these years I shall hope to hear that you are
married to a beautiful lady of your own country and your own
"You never will."
"Oh yes, you will be astonished to find how easy it is to
"I come of a constant race," said he proudly. "My father
loved my mother, and they sent him all over the world to forget
her, but he came home in five years and married her."
"Even if it were otherwise possible (which it is not), the
difference in religion ought to prevent it. How could so good a
Catholic as you distress your family by marrying a
"Perhaps she would be a Catholic." (I noticed that he did
not say, "Perhaps I shall become a Protestant.") "Don't you
think her father would let her marry a Catholic?"
"No," I replied stoically.
He was silent and dejected.
"You must forget her," said I kindly. "It is only a little
while since you first saw her."
"A little while! It is my whole life!"
"Only a few weeks," I
continued. "We shall soon be across the ocean, and you will see
"There is only one Miss St. Clair."
"I beg your pardon—there are three of them." But the
boy was too miserable to notice this poor little sally.
We were approaching the hotel. "I shall not see you again at
present," said he. "Monsignore will arrive this evening, and I
must be at home to receive him. But I shall be in Paris by the
middle of May, and I shall see you there: farewell till
The next morning Miss St. Clair and I were on our way to
Florence. A week later, on our return from the convent of San
Marco, where we had seen the cell of Savonarola and many lovely
but faded frescoes of Fra Angelico and Fra Bartolommeo, whom
should we find waiting for us in our temporary home on the Via
Pandolfini but Count Alvala? I felt annoyed, and my face must
have revealed it, for he said deprecatingly, "You ought to be
glad to see your boy, Madame Fleming, for I have come this long
journey only for a day, expressly to see you."
"Well," said I, "you took me so by surprise that I had not
my welcome ready. I did not expect the pleasure of seeing you
till after our arrival in Paris."
"That is why I am here. I shall not be able to go to Paris.
I am bitterly disappointed, but monsignore has made other plans
for me. I am to go to Vienna to visit my aunt, whose husband is
our ambassador there. The tour to Paris is postponed till the
Evidently monsignore had heard of the little heretic maiden,
and he was going to remove his ward from temptation. I was
infinitely obliged to him.
A desultory conversation followed, carried on principally by
the young people, and then the count said, "Miss St. Clair
tells me that you have visited the Uffizi and Pitti galleries.
May I not go with you somewhere to-morrow?—to La Certose
or San Miniato, for instance?"
"Thank you," I replied: "we are so exhausted with
sight-seeing, Miss St. Clair and I, that we shall stay in all
day to-morrow, and we shall be happy to see you once in
the afternoon or evening, as may be most convenient for
I did not like to be hard and cross to the dear boy whom my
heart yearned over, but I felt as much bound to "make an
effort" as if I had been a veritable Dombey.
The call lasted afternoon and evening: it was only
the change of a particle. I could not reproduce the innocent
talk, half gay, half sad, of this long interview, but before he
went away the count drew me aside: "Will you give this to Miss
St. Clair when I am gone?"
I unfolded the package: it contained a photograph of himself
and a small painting which he had executed of the Coliseum on
the night of the illumination. "Yes."
"And will you send me her photograph from Paris? I will have
it copied by the best miniature-painter in Rome and put in a
locket set with diamonds," said the boy enthusiastically.
"I cannot promise."
"Do you think I could be of any use to her father? Not to
win his favor, you understand, but I should be so happy to do
anything to serve her or her friends. Can't you tell me
"No. Mr. St. Clair does not need assistance in any way that
In spite of the boy's earnestness, the idea of his offering
patronage to the mature and independent American struck me as
"But you will tell him all about me."
"I shall learn to speak English—I have begun
already—and in a year I shall be in America. Will you
write your address for me on this card?"
I did so.
"If you ever come to Spain, remember that my house and all
that is in it are yours."
"I shall never go to Spain."
"Perhaps you will one day to see Miss St. Clair," looking up
in my face with a bright smile of inextinguishable hope.
"Good-bye for a year."
A few more days in Florence, a week in Venice, a day or two
in Milan, and we bade
adieu to Italy. Land of beauty and mystery! when I recall thy
many forms of loveliness, the glorious shapes of gods and
heroes, serene and passionless in their white majesty of
marble, the blessed sweetness of saints and Madonnas shining
down into my soul, I seem to have been once in heaven and
afterward shut out.
We were once more at home. Almost the first news that came
to us from abroad was of the terrible war between France and
Germany. During the protracted siege of Paris we were full of
anxieties, but at its close we received long letters from
Madame Le Fort, giving many details of the sufferings and
privations of the siege, sorrowful enough for the most part,
but enlivened here and there with touches of the gay French
humor that nothing can subdue. There was a lively sketch of a
Christmas dinner ingeniously got up of several courses of
donkey-meat. At New Year's the choicest gift that a gentleman
could make a lady was a piece of wheaten bread. Afterward there
was nothing in the house but rice and chocolate bonbons, which
they chewed sparingly, a little at a time. But they kept up
their courage—they were even gay. Hardships were nothing,
but that Paris should be surrendered at last—that was a
humiliation which nothing could compensate. Many of the gay
dancers whom we had known had fallen in battle, among them,
René Vergniaud. He was shot in the heart in an
engagement with the Prussians in the environs of Paris.
I spent my next summer vacation with Miss St. Clair in
"When is Mr. Denham coming home?" I asked one evening when
we were alone together.
"I do not know: he does not speak of coming home. I am a
little puzzled about Fred. He has written me a great deal
lately about a certain Fräulein Teresa, the daughter of
one of his professors, who takes such excellent care of her
younger brothers and sisters, and who is such a wonderfully
economical, housewifely little body—just a new edition of
Werther's Charlotte. I do not think that he really likes her,"
she continued after musing a little: "he just holds her up as a
model for me to copy. I shouldn't wonder if she was only
imaginary, to make me feel how far I come short of his ideal.
Fred says that he worships the very ground I tread
on—slightly hyperbolical and very original, you
perceive," with a satirical curve of her pretty lips—"but
he never seems half satisfied with me. He ought to know by this
time that I must be just my own little self, and not a
second-hand imitation of somebody else."
The next day came a letter with a German postmark, which was
so eloquent on the subject of Fräulein Teresa that it
elicited the following reply:
"DETROIT, August 5, 1871.
"DEAR FRED: I despair of emulating Fräulein Teresa's
many excellencies. You know what a useless little thing I
am. Happily, it is not too late to make another choice.
Thinking it may please you, I hereby release you from all
your promises to me. We may never be anything more to each
other perhaps, but I hope that we shall always be dear
friends. I shall never forget that we grew up together, and
I wish you all possible happiness.
In due time this answer came:
"HEIDELBERG, August 27, 1871.
"MISS ST. CLAIR: Your somewhat singular letter of August
5th was duly received. If I believed that you had written
it, or ever could or would do anything, with proper
deliberation, I should accept your decision at once. But as
I have good reason to know your habit of acting from sudden
impulses which you afterward regret, I give you three
months to reconsider this hasty step.
"I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
Helen held to me the open sheet, with kindling eyes and
glowing cheeks: "Three months! I don't need three minutes: I
wouldn't change in three centuries. I am so glad to be free!"
she cried, sobbing and
laughing at the same moment. "He has worried me so—a poor
little thing like me!"
The next morning I started on my return to Boston.
Early in October a servant handed me a card bearing the name
Francisco Alvala. I had ceased to think of the boy, not having
heard a word from him; but here he was, looking very manly,
browned with the sun and sea, and beautiful as Endymion when
Diana stooped to kiss him and all the green leaves in the white
moonshine were tremulous with sympathy.
After the first greeting he asked, "How is Miss St. Clair?
and when did you see her last?"
I told him of my recent visit.
"She is not married, then?"
"On the contrary, she is free. The engagement with Mr.
Denham has been broken."
"What did I tell you? Did I not say it would be I?"
in a burst of triumph.
As a good Boston woman I am chagrined to record that Bunker
Hill and all the local lions, which I was at some pains to
impress on his memory, did not prove so attractive as the
earliest Western train.
Why make a long story of what every one foresees? In the
course of the autumn and winter the count made flying visits to
Washington, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and even San Francisco,
but it was noticeable that the way to all these places lay
through Detroit. He spoke English marvelously well now, and so
won upon the hearts of Mr. and Mrs. St. Clair that on the 23d
of April, being his twenty-first birthday, the marriage of the
conde de Alvala and Helen St. Clair was duly celebrated. I
could not leave my school to be present at the wedding, but the
young couple came to Boston to take leave of me before sailing
for Europe. They were radiant with happiness, and I could
hardly tell which I loved best, my boy or my girl; but if the
Italian had been there to ask if I ever saw a more beautiful
couple, I should have answered no with great emphasis.
I will copy Helen's first letter in order to prove that a
château en Espagne is not always a castle in the air:
"ALVALA, near Toledo, June 20, 1872.
"DEAR MADAME FLEMING: You have heard from mother of our
voyage and safe arrival. We are now at home, Francisco and
I, if I can ever learn to feel at home in such a grand
place, where I can hardly find my way round. It is like one
of the old palaces at Rome, the Borghese or Colonna, that
we used to admire so much, with vast halls opening into one
another, hangings of tapestry and Cordovan leather, marble
statues and old paintings—family portraits by Titian
and Velasquez, one or two Murillos, and—but I cannot
write a catalogue. You must come to see us and the
pictures. I am not sure which you will like the best.
Francisco is very good to me, and so are all his friends.
His sister and her husband were here to welcome us.
"One of the first things we did was to go down the
rose-tree walk, along the banks of the Tagus, for more than
a mile—white and delicate pink and deep-red roses
blossoming above our heads and dropping their petals at our
feet all the way. Francisco said he would make my life like
that walk among the roses, all sweetness and beauty, but
that he cannot tell.
"There is the old cathedral, with a wonderful head of
Saint Francis and a whole forest of columns; and when you
come we will bribe the sacristan not to lock you in, as
they did at St. Roch. I shall never be a Roman Catholic,
but I go to mass sometimes, for there is no Protestant
service here, and one cannot be quite a heathen where
everybody is so devout. What I dislike most is to have a
chaplain in the house, walking about in his black
petticoat, but of course I never say a word to
"By and by we are going to our house in Madrid. Our
house in Madrid! does not that sound very strange? It
all seems so unreal that I am afraid of waking up and
finding it a dream.
"Do, dear Madame Fleming, give up slaving in that old
school and come and
live with Francisco
and me. He says he wishes you would, and it would make
everything seem more real if I had you here. Think of it,
now. You will, won't you? As ever, your dear child,
This true story suggests a little sermon in two heads: 1st.
To all possible and probable lovers: It was not the count's
rank or wealth, but the fervor and constancy of ideal love and
his whole-souled, exclusive devotion, that won the heart of the
American girl. 2d. To all sensible American parents: Do not
permit your pretty young daughters to make a tour in Europe
unless you are willing to leave them there.