Isaline and I by Grant Allen
"Well, Mademoiselle Isaline," I said, strolling out into the garden,
"and who is the young cavalier with the black moustache?"
"What, monsieur," answered Isaline; "you have seen him? You have been
watching from your window? We did not know you had returned from the
"Oh, yes, I've been back for more than an hour," I replied; "the snow
was so deep on the Col that I gave it up at last, and made up my mind
not to try it without a guide."
"I am so glad," Isaline said demurely. "I had such fears for monsieur.
The Aiguille is dangerous, though it isn't very high, and I had been
very distractedly anxious till monsieur returned."
"Thanks, mademoiselle," I answered, with a little bow. "Your solicitude
for my safety flatters me immensely. But you haven't told me yet who is
the gentleman with the black moustache."
Isaline smiled. "His name is M. Claude," she said; "M. Claude Tirard,
you know; but we don't use surnames much among ourselves in the Pays de
Vaud. He is the schoolmaster of the commune."
"M. Claude is a very happy man, then," I put in. "I envy his good
Isaline blushed a pretty blush. "On the contrary," she answered, "he has
just been declaring himself the most miserable of all mankind. He says
his life is not worth having."
"They always say that under those peculiar circumstances," I said.
"Believe me, mademoiselle, there are a great many men who would be glad
to exchange their own indifferently tolerable lot for M. Claude's
Isaline said nothing, but she looked at me with a peculiar inquiring
look, as if she would very much like to know exactly what I meant by it,
and how much I meant it.
And what did I mean by it? Not very much after all, I imagine; for
when it comes to retrospect, which one of us is any good at analyzing
his own motives? The fact is, Isaline was a very pretty little girl, and
I had nothing else to do, and I might just as well make myself agreeable
to her as gain the reputation of being a bear of an Englishman. Besides,
if there was the safeguard of M. Claude, a real indigenous suitor, in
the background, there wasn't much danger of my polite attentions being
However, I haven't yet told you how I came to find myself on the farm at
Les Pentes at all. This, then, is how it all came about. I was sick of
the Temple; I had spent four or five briefless years in lounging about
Brick Court and dropping in casually at important cases, just to let the
world see I was the proud possessor of a well-curled wig; but even a wig
(which suits my complexion admirably) palls after five years, and I said
to myself that I would really cut London altogether, and live upon my
means somewhere on the Continent. Very small means, to be sure, but
still enough to pull through upon in Switzerland or the Black Forest.
So, just by way of experiment as to how I liked it, I packed up my
fishing-rod and my portmanteau (the first the most important), took the
7.18 express from the Gare de Lyon for Geneva, and found myself next
afternoon comfortably seated on the verandah of my favourite hotel at
Vevay. The lake is delightful, that we all know; but I wanted to get
somewhere where there was a little fishing; so I struck back at once
into the mountain country round Château d'Oex and Les Avants, and came
soon upon the exact thing I wanted at Les Pentes.
Picture to yourself a great amphitheatre of open alp or mountain pasture
in the foreground, with peaks covered by vivid green pines in the middle
distance, and a background of pretty aiguilles, naked at their base, but
clad near the summit with frozen masses of sparkling ice. Put into the
midst of the amphitheatre a clear green-and-white torrent, with a church
surrounded by a few wooden farmhouses on its slope, and there you have
the commune of Les Pentes. But what was most delightful of all was this,
that there was no hotel, no pension, not even a regular lodging-house.
I was the first stranger to discover the capabilities of the village,
and I was free to exploit them for my own private advantage. By a stroke
of luck, it so happened that M. Clairon, the richest farmer of the
place, with a pretty old-fashioned Vaudois farmhouse, and a pretty,
dainty little Vaudoise daughter, was actually willing to take me in for
a mere song per week. I jumped at the chance; and the same day saw me
duly installed in a pretty little room, under the eaves of the pretty
little farmhouse, and with the pretty little daughter politely attending
to all my wants.
Do you know those old-fashioned Vaudois houses, with their big
gable-ends, their deep-thatched roofs, their cobs of maize, and smoked
hams, and other rural wealth, hanging out ostentatiously under the
protecting ledges? If you don't, you can't imagine what a delightful
time I had of it at Les Pentes. The farm was a large one for the Pays
de Vaud, and M. Clairon actually kept two servants; but madame would
have been scandalized at the idea of letting "that Sara" or "that
Lisette" wait upon the English voyager; and the consequence was that
Mademoiselle Isaline herself always came to answer my little tinkling
hand-bell. It was a trifle awkward, for Mademoiselle Isaline was too
much of a young lady not to be treated with deferential politeness; and
yet there is a certain difficulty in being deferentially polite to the
person who lays your table for dinner. However, I made the best of it,
and I'm bound to say I managed to get along very comfortably.
Isaline was one of those pretty, plump, laughing-eyed, dimple-cheeked,
dark little girls that you hardly ever see anywhere outside the Pays de
Vaud. It was almost impossible to look at her without smiling; I'm sure
it was quite impossible for her to look at any one else and not smile at
them. She wore the prettiest little Vaudois caps you ever saw in your
life; and she looked so coquettish in them that you must have been very
hard-hearted indeed if you did not straightway fall head over ears in
love with her at first sight. Besides, she had been to school at
Lausanne, and spoke such pretty, delicate, musical French. Now, my good
mother thought badly of my French accent; and when I told her I meant to
spend a summer month or two in western Switzerland, she said to me, "I
do hope, Charlie dear, you will miss no opportunity of conversing with
the people, and improving yourself in colloquial French a little." I am
certainly the most dutiful of sons, and I solemnly assure you that
whenever I was not fishing or climbing I missed no opportunity
whatsoever of conversing with pretty little Isaline.
"Mademoiselle Isaline," I said on this particular afternoon, "I should
much like a cup of tea; can Sara bring me one out here in the garden?"
"Perfectly, monsieur; I will bring you out the little table on to the
grass plot," said Isaline. "That will arrange things for you much more
"Not for worlds," I said, running in to get it myself; but Isaline had
darted into the house before me, and brought it out with her own white
little hands on to the tiny lawn. Then she went in again, and soon
reappeared with a Japanese tray—bought at Montreux specially in my
honour—and a set of the funniest little old China tea-things ever
beheld in a London bric-à-brac cabinet.
"Won't you sit and take a cup with me, mademoiselle?" I asked.
"Ma foi, monsieur," answered Isaline, blushing again, "I have never
tasted any except as pthisane. But you other English drink it so,
don't you? I will try it, for the rest: one learns always."
I poured her out a cup, and creamed it with some of that delicious
Vaudois cream (no cream in the world so good as what you get in the Pays
de Vaud—you see I am an enthusiast for my adopted country—but that is
anticipating matters), and handed it over to her for her approval. She
tasted it with a little moue. English-women don't make the moue, so,
though I like sticking to my mother tongue, I confess my inability to
translate the word. "Brrrr," she said. "Do you English like that stuff!
Well, one must accommodate one's self to it, I suppose;" and to do her
justice, she proceeded to accommodate herself to it with such
distinguished success that she asked me soon for another cup, and drank
it off without even a murmur.
"And this M. Claude, then," I asked; "he is a friend of yours? Eh?"
"Passably," she answered, colouring slightly. "You see, we have not much
society at Les Pontes. He comes from the Normal School at Geneva. He is
instructed, a man of education. We see few such here. What would you
have?" She said it apologetically, as though she thought she was bound
to excuse herself for having made M. Claude's acquaintance.
"But you like him very much?"
"Like him? Well, yes; I liked him always well enough. Bat he is too
haughty. He gives himself airs. To-day he is angry with me. He has no
right to be angry with me."
"Mademoiselle," I said, "have you ever read our Shakespeare?"
"Oh, yes, in English I have read him. I can read English well enough,
though I speak but a little."
"And have you read the 'Tempest'?"
"How? Ariel, Ferdinand, Miranda, Caliban? Oh, yes. It is beautiful."
"Well, mademoiselle," I said, "do you remember how Miranda first saw
She smiled and blushed again—she was such a little blusher. "I know
what you would say," she said. "You English are blunt. You talk to young
ladies so strangely."
"Well, Mademoiselle Isaline, it seems to me that you at Les Pentes are
like Miranda on the island. You see nobody, and there is nobody here to
see you. You must not go and fall in love, like Miranda, with the very
first man you happen to meet with, because he comes from the Normal
School at Geneva. There are plenty of men in the world, believe me,
beside M. Claude."
"Ah, but Miranda and Ferdinand both loved one another," said Isaline
archly; "and they were married, and both lived happily ever afterward."
I saw at once she was trying to pique me.
"How do you know that?" I asked. "It doesn't say so in the play. For all
I know, Ferdinand lost the crown of Naples through a revolution, and
went and settled down at a country school in Savoy or somewhere, and
took to drinking, and became brutally unsociable, and made Miranda's
life a toil and a burden to her. At any rate, I'm sure of one thing; he
wasn't worthy of her."
What made me go on in this stupid way? I'm sure I don't know. I
certainly didn't mean to marry Isaline myself: ... at least, not
definitely: and yet when you are sitting down at tea on a rustic garden
seat, with a pretty girl in a charming white crimped cap beside you, and
you get a chance of insinuating that other fellows don't think quite as
much of her as you do, it isn't human nature to let slip the opportunity
of insinuating it.
"But you don't know M. Claude," said Isaline practically, "and so you
can't tell whether he is worthy of me or not."
"I'm perfectly certain," I answered, "that he can't be, even though he
were a very paragon of virtue, learning, and manly beauty."
"If monsieur talks in that way," said Isaline, "I shall have to go back
at once to mamma."
"Wait a moment," I said, "and I will talk however you wish me. You know,
you agree to give me instruction in conversational French. That
naturally includes lessons in conversation with ladies of exceptional
personal attractions. I must practise for every possible circumstance of
life.... So you have read Shakespeare, then. And any other English
"Oh, many. Scott, and Dickens, and all, except Byron. My papa says a
young lady must not read Byron. But I have read what he has said of our
lake, in a book of extracts. It is a great pleasure to me to look down
among the vines and chestnuts, there, and to think that our lake, which
gleams so blue and beautiful below, is the most famous in poetry of all
lakes. You know, Jean Jacques says, 'Mon lac est le premier,' and so it
"Then you have read Jean Jacques too?"
"Oh, mon Dieu, no. My papa says a young lady must especially not read
Jean Jacques. But I know something about him—so much as is
convenable. Hold here! do you see that clump of trees down there by
the lake, just above Clarens? That is Julie's grove—'le bosquet de
Julie' we call it. There isn't a spot along the lake that is not thus
famous, that has not its memories and its associations. It is for that
that I could not choose ever to leave the dear old Pays de Vaud."
"You would not like to live in England, then?" I asked. (What a fool I
was, to be sure.)
"Oh, ma foi, no. That would make one too much shiver, with your chills,
and your fogs, and your winters. I could not stand it. It is cold here,
but at any rate it is sunny.... Well, at least, it would not be
pleasant.... But, after all, that depends.... You have the sun, too,
sometimes, don't you?"
"Isaline!" cried madame from the window. "I want you to come and help me
pick over the gooseberries!" And, to say the truth, I thought it quite
time she should go.
A week later, I met M. Claude again. He was a very nice young fellow,
there was not a doubt of that. He was intelligent, well educated, manly,
with all the honest, sturdy, independent Swiss nature clearly visible in
his frank, bright, open face. I have seldom met a man whom I liked
better at first sight than M. Claude, and after he had gone away I felt
more than a little ashamed of myself to think I had been half trying to
steal away Isaline's heart from this good fellow, without really having
any deliberate design upon it myself. It began to strike me that I had
been doing a very dirty, shabby thing.
"Charlie, my boy," I said to myself, as I sat fishing with bottom bait
and dangling my legs over the edge of a pool, "you've been flirting with
this pretty little Swiss girl; and what's worse, you've been flirting in
a very bad sort of way. She's got a lover of her own; and you've been
trying to make her feel dissatisfied with him, for no earthly reason.
You've taken advantage of your position and your fancied London airs and
graces to run down by implication a good fellow who really loves her and
would probably make her an excellent husband. Don't let this occur
again, sir." And having thus virtuously resolved, of course I went away
and flirted with Isaline next morning as vigorously as ever.
During the following fortnight, M. Claude came often, and I could not
disguise from myself the fact that M. Claude did not quite like me. This
was odd, for I liked him very much. I suppose he took me for a potential
rival: men are so jealous when they are in love. Besides, I observed
that Isaline tried not to be thrown too much with him alone; tried to
include me in the party wherever she went with him. Also, I will freely
confess that I felt myself every day more fond of Isaline's society, and
I half fancied I caught myself trepidating a little inwardly now and
then when she happened to come up to me. Absurd to be so susceptible;
but such is man.
One lovely day about this time I set out once more to try my hand (or
rather my feet) alone upon the Aiguille. Isaline put me up a nice little
light lunch in my knapsack, and insisted upon seeing that my alpenstock
was firmly shod, and my pedestrian boots in due climbing order. In fact,
she loudly lamented my perversity in attempting to make the ascent
without a guide; and she must even needs walk with me as far as the
little bridge over the torrent beside the snow line, to point me out the
road the guides generally took to the platform at the summit. For
myself, I was a practised mountaineer, and felt no fear for the result.
As I left her for the ice, she stood a long time looking and waving me
the right road with her little pocket-handkerchief; while as long as I
could hear her voice she kept on exhorting me to be very careful. "Ah,
if monsieur would only have taken a guide! You don't know how dangerous
that little Aiguille really is."
The sun was shining brightly on the snow; the view across the valley of
the Rhone towards the snowy Alps beyond was exquisite; and the giants of
the Bernese Oberland stood out in gloriously brilliant outline on the
other side against the clear blue summer sky. I went on alone, enjoying
myself hugely in my own quiet fashion, and watching Isaline as she made
her way slowly along the green path, looking round often and again, till
she disappeared in the shadow of the pinewood that girt round the tiny
village. On, farther still, up and up and up, over soft snow for the
most part; with very little ice, till at last, after three hours' hard
climbing, I stood on the very summit of the pretty Aiguille. It was not
very high, but it commanded a magnificent view over either side—the
Alps on one hand, the counterchain of the Oberland on the other, and the
blue lake gleaming and glowing through all its length in its green
valley between them. There I sat down on the pure snow in the glittering
sunlight, and ate the lunch that Isaline had provided for me, with much
gusto. Unfortunately, I also drank the pint of white wine from the head
of the lake—Yvorne, we call it, and I grow it now in my own vineyard at
Pic de la Baume—but that is anticipating again: as good a light wine as
you will get anywhere in Europe in these depressing days of blight and
phylloxera. Now, a pint of vin du pays is not too much under ordinary
circumstances for a strong young man in vigorous health, doing a hard
day's muscular work with legs, arms, and sinews: but mountain air is
thin and exhilarating in itself, and it lends a point to a half-bottle
of Yvorne which the wine's own body does not by any means usually
possess. I don't mean to say so much light wine does one any positive
harm; but it makes one more careless and easy-going; gives one a false
sense of security, and entices one into paying less heed to one's
footsteps or to suspicious-looking bits of doubtful ice.
Well, after lunch I took a good look at the view with my field-glass;
and when I turned it towards Les Pentes I could make out our farmhouse
distinctly, and even saw Isaline standing on the balcony looking towards
the Aiguille. My heart jumped a little when I thought that she was
probably looking for me. Then I wound my way down again, not by
retracing my steps, but by trying a new path, which seemed to me a more
practicable one. It was not the one Isaline had pointed out, but it
appeared to go more directly, and to avoid one or two of the very worst
I was making my way back, merrily enough, when suddenly I happened to
step on a little bit of loose ice, which slid beneath my feet in a very
uncomfortable manner. Before I knew where I was, I felt myself sliding
rapidly on, with the ice clinging to my heel; and while I was vainly
trying to dig my alpenstock into a firm snowbank, I became conscious for
a moment of a sort of dim indefinite blank. It was followed by a
sensation of empty space; and then I knew I was falling over the edge of
Whrrr, whrrr, whrrr, went the air at my ear for a moment; and the next
thing I knew was a jar of pain, and a consciousness of being enveloped
in something very soft. The jar took away all other feeling for a few
seconds; I only knew I was stunned and badly hurt. After a time, I began
to be capable of trying to realize the position; and when I opened my
eyes and looked around me, I recognized that I was lying on my back, and
that there was a pervading sensation of whiteness everywhere about. In
point of fact, I was buried in snow. I tried to move, and to get on my
legs again, but two things very effectually prevented me. In the first
place, I could not stir my legs without giving myself the most intense
pain in my spine; and in the second place, when I did stir them I
brought them into contact on the one hand with a solid wall of rock, and
on the other hand with vacant space, or at least with very soft snow
unsupported by a rocky bottom. Gradually, by feeling about with my arms,
I began exactly to realize the gravity of the position. I had fallen
over a precipice, and had lighted on a snow-covered ledge half-way down.
My back was very badly hurt, and I dared not struggle up on to my legs
for fear of falling off the ledge again on the other side. Besides, I
was half smothered in the snow, and even if anybody ever came to look
for me (which they would not probably do till to-morrow) they would not
be able to see me, because of the deep-covering drifts. If I was not
extricated that night, I should probably freeze to death before morning,
especially after my pint of wine. "Confound that Yvorne!" I said to
myself savagely. "If ever I get out of this scrape I'll never touch a
drop of the stuff again as long as I live." I regret to say that I have
since broken that solemn promise twice daily for the past three years.
My one hope was that Isaline might possibly be surprised at my delay in
returning, and might send out one of the guides to find me.
So there I lay a long time, unable even to get out of the snow, and with
every movement causing me a horrid pain in my injured back. Still, I
kept on moving my legs every now and then to make the pain shoot, and so
prevent myself from feeling drowsy. The snow half suffocated me, and I
could only breathe with difficulty. At last, slowly, I began to lose
consciousness, and presently I suppose I fell asleep. To fall asleep in
the snow is the first stage of freezing to death.
Noises above me, I think, on the edge of the precipice. Something coming
down, oh, how slowly. Something comes, and fumbles about a yard or so
away. Then I cry out feebly, and the something approaches. M. Claude's
hearty voice calls out cheerily, "Enfin, le voilà!" and I am saved.
They let down ropes and pulled me up to the top of the little crag,
clumsily, so as to cause me great pain: and then three men carried me
home to the farmhouse on a stretcher. M. Claude was one of the three,
the others were labourers from the village.
"How did you know I was lost, M. Claude?" I asked feebly, as they
carried me along on the level.
He did not answer for a moment; then he said, rather gloomily, in
German, "The Fräulein was watching you with a telescope from Les
Pentes." He did not say Fräulein Isaline, and I knew why at once: he did
not wish the other carriers to know what he was talking about.
"And she told you?" I said, in German too.
"She sent me. I did not come of my own accord. I came under orders." He
spoke sternly, hissing out his gutturals in an angry voice.
"M. Claude," I said, "I have done very wrong, and I ask your
forgiveness. You have saved my life, and I owe you a debt of gratitude
for it. I will leave Les Pentes and the Fräulein to-morrow, or at least
as soon as I can safely be moved."
He shook his head bitterly. "It is no use now," he answered, with a
sigh; "the Fräulein does not wish for me. I have asked her, and she has
refused me. And she has been watching you up and down the Aiguille the
whole day with a telescope. When she saw you had fallen, she rushed out
like one distracted, and came to tell me at the school in the village.
It is no use, you have beaten me."
"M. Claude," I said, "I will plead for you. I have done you wrong, and I
ask your forgiveness."
"I owe you no ill-will," he replied, in his honest, straightforward,
Swiss manner. "It is not your fault if you too have fallen in love with
her. How could any man help it? Living in the same house with her, too!
Allons," he went on in French, resuming his alternative tongue (for he
spoke both equally), "we must get on quick and send for the doctor from
Glion to see you."
By the time we reached the farmhouse, I had satisfied myself that there
was nothing very serious the matter with me after all. The soft snow had
broken the force of the concussion. I had strained my spine a good deal,
and hurt the tendons of the thighs and back, but had not broken any
bones, nor injured any vital organ. So when they laid me on the
old-fashioned sofa in my little sitting-room, lighted a fire in the wide
hearth, and covered me over with a few rugs, I felt comparatively happy
and comfortable under the circumstances. The doctor was sent for in hot
haste; but on his arrival, he confirmed my own view of the case, and
declared I only needed rest and quiet and a little arnica.
I was rather distressed, however, when madame came up to see me an hour
later, and assured me that she and monsieur thought I ought to be moved
down as soon as possible into more comfortable apartments at Lausanne,
where I could secure better attendance. I saw in a moment what that
meant: they wanted to get me away from Isaline. "There are no more
comfortable quarters in all Switzerland, I am sure, madame," I said: but
madame was inflexible. There was an English doctor at Lausanne, and to
Lausanne accordingly I must go. Evidently, it had just begun to strike
those two good simple people that Isaline and I could just conceivably
manage to fall in love with one another.
Might I ask for Mademoiselle Isaline to bring me up a cup of tea? Yes,
Isaline would bring it in a minute. And when she came in, those usually
laughing black eyes obviously red with crying, I felt my heart sink
within me when I thought of my promise to M. Claude; while I began to be
vaguely conscious that I was really and truly very much in love with
pretty little Isaline on my own account.
She laid the tray on the small table by the sofa, and was going to leave
the room immediately. "Mademoiselle Isaline," I said, trying to raise
myself, and falling back again in pain, "won't you sit with me a little
while? I want to talk with you."
"My mamma said I must come away at once," Isaline replied demurely. "She
is without doubt busy and wants my aid." And she turned to go towards
"Oh, do come back, mademoiselle," I cried, raising myself again, and
giving myself, oh, such a wrench in the spine: "don't you see how much
it hurts me to sit up?"
She turned back, indecisively, and sat down in the big chair just beyond
the table, handing me the cup, and helping me to cream and sugar. I
plunged at once in medias res.
"You have been crying, mademoiselle," I said, "and I think I can guess
the reason. M. Claude has told me something about it. He has asked you
for your hand, and you have refused him. Is it not so?" This was a
little bit of hypocrisy on my part, I confess, for I knew what she had
been crying about perfectly: but I wished to be loyal to M. Claude.
Isaline blushed and laughed. "I do not cry for M. Claude," she said. "I
may have other matters of my own to cry about. But M. Claude is very
free with his confidences, if he tells such things to a stranger."
"Listen to me, Mademoiselle Isaline," I said. "Your father and mother
have asked me to leave here to-morrow and go down to Lausanne. I shall
probably never see you again. But before I go, I want to plead with you
for M. Claude. He has saved my life, and I owe him much gratitude. He
loves you; he is a brave man, a good man, a true and earnest man; why
will you not marry him? I feel sure he is a noble fellow, and he will
make you a tender husband. Will you not think better of your decision? I
cannot bear to leave Les Pentes till I know that you have made him
"And you go away to-morrow?"
There isn't much in those two words; but they may be pronounced with a
good deal of difference in the intonation; and Isaline's intonation did
not leave one in much doubt as to how she used them. Her eyes filled
again with tears, and she half started up to go. Ingrate and wretch that
I was, forgetful of my promise to M. Claude, my eyes filled
responsively, and I jumped to catch her and keep her from going, of
course at the expense of another dreadful wrench to my poor back.
"Isaline," I cried, unconsciously dropping the mademoiselle, and letting
her see my brimming eyelids far too obviously, "Isaline, do wait awhile,
I implore you, I beseech you! I have something to say to you."
She seated herself once more in the big chair. "Well, mon pauvre
monsieur," she cried, "what is it?"
"Isaline," I began, trying it over again; "why won't you marry M.
"Oh, that again. Well," answered Isaline boldly, "because I do not love
him, and I love somebody else. You should not ask a young lady about
these matters. In Switzerland, we do not think it comme il faut."
"But," I went on, "why do you not love M. Claude? He has every good
"Every good quality, and—he bores me," answered Isaline. "Monsieur,"
she went on archly, "you were asking me the other day what books I had
read in English. Well, I have read Longfellow. Do you remember Miles
I saw what she was driving at, and laughed in spite of myself. "Yes," I
said, "I know what you mean. When John Alden is pleading with Priscilla
on behalf of Miles Standish, Priscilla cuts him short by saying——"
Isaline finished the quotation herself in her own pretty clipped
English, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"
I laughed. She laughed. We both looked at one another; and the next
thing I remember was that I had drawn down Isaline's plump little face
close to mine, and was kissing it vigorously, in spite of an acute
darting pain at each kiss all along my spine and into my marrow-bones.
Poor M. Claude was utterly forgotten.
In twenty minutes I had explained my whole position to Isaline: and in
twenty minutes more, I had monsieur and madame up to explain it all to
them in their turn. Monsieur listened carefully while I told him that I
was an English advocate in no practice to speak of; that I had a few
hundreds a year of my own, partly dependent upon my mother; that I had
thoughts of settling down permanently in Switzerland; and that Isaline
was willing, with her parents' consent, to share my modest competence.
Monsieur replied with true Swiss caution that he would inquire into my
statements, and that if they proved to be as represented, and if I
obtained in turn my mother's consent, he would be happy to hand me over
Isaline. "Toutefois," he added quietly, "it will be perhaps better to
rescind your journey to Lausanne. The Glion doctor is, after all, a
sufficiently skilful one." So I waited on in peace at Les Pontes.
Madame had insisted upon telegraphing the news of my accident to my
mother, lest it should reach her first in the papers ("Je suis mère
moi-même, monsieur," she said, in justification of her conduct). And
next morning we got a telegram in reply from my mother, who evidently
imagined she must hurry over at once if she wished to see her son alive,
or at least must nurse him through a long and dangerous illness.
Considering the injuries were a matter of about three days' sofa, in all
probability, this haste was a little overdone. However, she would arrive
by the very first rapide from Paris; and on the whole I was not sorry,
for I was half afraid she might set her face against my marrying "a
foreigner," but I felt quite sure any one who once saw Isaline could
never resist her.
That afternoon, when school was over, M. Claude dropped in to see how I
was getting on. I felt more like a thief at that moment than I ever felt
in my whole life before or since. I knew I must tell him the simple
truth; but I didn't know how to face it. However, as soon as I began, he
saved me the trouble by saying, "You need not mind explaining.
Mademoiselle Isaline has told me all. Yon did your best for me, I feel
sure; but she loves you, and she does not love me. We cannot help these
things; they come and go without our being able to govern them. I am
sorry, more than sorry; but I thank you for your kind offices.
Mademoiselle Isaline tells me you said all you could on my behalf, and
nothing on your own. Accept my congratulations on having secured the
love of the sweetest girl in all Switzerland." And he shook my hand with
an honest heartiness that cost me several more twinges both in the spine
and the half-guilty conscience. Yet, after all, it was not my fault.
"Monsieur Claude," I said, "you are an honest fellow, and a noble
fellow, and I trust you will still let me be your friend."
"Naturally," answered M. Claude, in his frank way. "I have only done my
duty. You have been the lucky one, but I must not bear you a grudge for
that; though it has cost my heart a hard struggle;" and, as he spoke,
the tears came for a moment in his honest blue eyes, though he tried to
brush them away unseen.
"Monsieur Claude," I said, "you are too generous to me. I can never
forgive myself for this."
Before many days my mother came to hand duly; and though her social
prejudices were just a trifle shocked, at first, by the farmhouse, with
its hams and maize, which I had found so picturesque, I judged rightly
that Isaline would soon make an easy conquest of her. My mother readily
admitted that my accent had improved audibly to the naked ear; that
Isaline's manners were simply perfect; that she was a dear, pretty,
captivating little thing; and that on the whole she saw no objections,
save one possible one, to my marriage. "Of course, Charlie," she said,
"the Clairons are Protestants; because, otherwise, I could never think
of giving my consent."
This was a poser in its way; for though I knew the village lay just on
the borderland, and some of the people were Catholics while others were
Reformed, I had not the remotest notion to which of the two churches
Isaline belonged. "Upon my soul, mother dear," I said, "it has never
struck me to inquire into Isaline's private abstract opinion on the
subject of the Pope's infallibility or the Geneva Confession. You see,
after all, it could hardly be regarded as an important or authoritative
one. However, I'll go at once and find out."
Happily, as it turned out, the Clairons were Reformed, and so my
mother's one objection fell to the ground immediately. M. Clairon's
inquiries were also satisfactory; and the final result was that Isaline
and I were to be quietly married before the end of the summer. The good
father had a nice little vineyard estate at Pic de la Baume, which he
proposed I should undertake to cultivate; and my mother waited to see
us installed in one of the prettiest little toy châlets to be seen
anywhere at the Villeneuve end of the lovely lake. A happier or sweeter
bride than Isaline I defy the whole world, now or ever, to produce.
From the day of our wedding, almost, Isaline made it the business of her
life to discover a fitting wife for good M. Claude; and in the end she
succeeded in discovering, I will freely admit (since Isaline is not
jealous), the second prettiest and second nicest girl in the whole Pays
de Vaud. And what is more, she succeeded also in getting M. Claude to
fall head over ears in love with her at first sight; to propose to her
at the end of a week; and to be accepted with effusion by Annette
herself, and with coldness by her papa, who thought the question of
means a trifle unsatisfactory. But Isaline and I arranged that Claude
should come into partnership in our vineyard business on easy terms, and
give up schoolmastering for ever; and the consequence is that he and his
wife have now got the companion châlet to ours, and between our two
local connections, in Switzerland and England, we are doing one of the
best trades in the new export wine traffic of any firm along the lake.
Of course we have given up growing Yvorne, except for our own use,
confining ourselves entirely to a high-priced vintage-wine, with very
careful culture, for our English business: and I take this opportunity
of recommending our famous phylloxera-proof white Pic de la Baume,
London Agents ——. But Isaline says that looks too much like an
advertisement, so I leave off. Still, I can't help saying that a dearer
little wife than Isaline, or a better partner than Claude, never yet
fell to any man's lot. They certainly are an excellent people, these
Vaudois, and I think you would say so too if only you knew them as well
as I do.