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PAGE 5

Coming Home
by [?]

III

The day before we started for Rechamp his spirits flew up again, and that night he became confidential. “You’ve been such a friend to me that there are certain things–seeing what’s ahead of us–that I should like to explain”; and, noticing my surprise, he went on: “I mean about my people. The state of mind in my milieu must be so remote from anything you’re used to in your happy country…. But perhaps I can make you understand….”

I saw that what he wanted was to talk to me of the girl he was engaged to. Mlle. Malo, left an orphan at ten, had been the ward of a neighbour of the Rechamps’, a chap with an old name and a starred chateau, who had lost almost everything else at baccarat before he was forty, and had repented, had the gout and studied agriculture for the rest of his life. The girl’s father was a rather brilliant painter, who died young, and her mother, who followed him in a year or two, was a Pole: you may fancy that, with such antecedents, the girl was just the mixture to shake down quietly into French country life with a gouty and repentant guardian. The Marquis de Corvenaire–that was his name–brought her down to his place, got an old maid sister to come and stay, and really, as far as one knows, brought his ward up rather decently.

Now and then she used to be driven over to play with the young Rechamps, and Jean remembered her as an ugly little girl in a plaid frock, who used to invent wonderful games and get tired of playing them just as the other children were beginning to learn how. But her domineering ways and searching questions did not meet with his mother’s approval, and her visits were not encouraged. When she was seventeen her guardian died and left her a little money. The maiden sister had gone dotty, there was nobody to look after Yvonne, and she went to Paris, to an aunt, broke loose from the aunt when she came of age, set up her studio, travelled, painted, played the violin, knew lots of people; and never laid eyes on Jean de Rechamp till about a year before the war, when her guardian’s place was sold, and she had to go down there to see about her interest in the property.

The old Rechamps heard she was coming, but didn’t ask her to stay. Jean drove over to the shut-up chateau, however, and found Mlle. Malo lunching on a corner of the kitchen table. She exclaimed: “My little Jean!” flew to him with a kiss for each cheek, and made him sit down and share her omelet…. The ugly little girl had shed her chrysalis–and you may fancy if he went back once or twice!

Mlle. Malo was staying at the chateau all alone, with the farmer’s wife to come in and cook her dinner: not a soul in the house at night but herself and her brindled sheep dog. She had to be there a week, and Jean suggested to his people to ask her to Rechamp. But at Rechamp they hesitated, coughed, looked away, said the sparerooms were all upside down, and the valet-de-chambre laid up with the mumps, and the cook short-handed–till finally the irrepressible grandmother broke out: “A young girl who chooses to live alone–probably prefers to live alone!”

There was a deadly silence, and Jean did not raise the question again; but I can imagine his blue eyes getting obstinate.

Soon after Mlle. Malo’s return to Paris he followed her and began to frequent the Passy studio. The life there was unlike anything he had ever seen–or conceived as possible, short of the prairies. He had sampled the usual varieties of French womankind, and explored most of the social layers; but he had missed the newest, that of the artistic-emancipated. I don’t know much about that set myself, but from his descriptions I should say they were a good deal like intelligent Americans, except that they don’t seem to keep art and life in such water-tight compartments. But his great discovery was the new girl. Apparently he had never before known any but the traditional type, which predominates in the provinces, and still persists, he tells me, in the last fastnesses of the Faubourg St. Germain. The girl who comes and goes as she pleases, reads what she likes, has opinions about what she reads, who talks, looks, behaves with the independence of a married woman–and yet has kept the Diana-freshness–think how she must have shaken up such a man’s inherited view of things! Mlle. Malo did far more than make Rechamp fall in love with her: she turned his world topsy-turvey, and prevented his ever again squeezing himself into his little old pigeon-hole of prejudices.