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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

229 Sidenote La Chambre Bleue


restraint in her own house,

as wife and widow, for the term of her life. Her son, however, shows no overt symptoms of anything wrong except fits of melancholy and seclusion, being in other respects a gentleman of most excellent "havings"--handsome, brave, sportsmanlike, familiar with the best European society, and even something of a scholar. He entertains a German minister and professor, whose special forte is Lithuanian, in order that the pundit may study some rare books and MSS. in his library; and his guest, being a great traveller, a good rider, and, though simple in his ways, not at all unlike a man of this world, makes a friend of him. It so happens, too, that they have a common acquaintance--a neighbour, and, as is soon seen, an idol of the Count's, Mademoiselle Julie Ivinska, very pretty, very merry, and, if not very wise, clever enough to take in the scholar, on his own ground, with a vernacular ("jmoude") version of one of Mickiewitz's poems. All goes well in a way, except for occasional apparitions of the poor mad Countess; but there is a rather threatening episode of a ride into a great forest, which is popularly supposed to contain a "sanctuary of the beasts," impenetrable by any hunter, and in which they actually meet a local sorceress, with a basket of poisonous mushrooms and a tame snake in it. Another episode gives us odd comments, and a sort of nightmare afterwards, of the Count, when his guest happens to mention the blood-drinking habits of the South American gauchos, in which the professor
himself has been forced to take part.

But these things and other "lights" of the catastrophe are very artistically kept down, and you are never nudged or winked at in the offensive "please note" manner. The guest goes away, but, not much to anybody's surprise, is very soon asked to return and celebrate the wedding of the Count and Mlle. Ivinska, who are both Lutherans. He goes, and finds a great semi-pagan feast of the local peasantry (which does not much please him) and one or two bad omens, including an appearance of the mad old Countess with evil words, which please him still less. But the feast ends at last and the newly married couple retire, there being, of course, no "going away." Early in the morning the pastor is waked by the sound of a heavy body (a sound which he had noticed before but never interpreted) clambering down a tree just outside his window. A little later, as the bridal pair do not appear, their door is broken open, and the new Countess is found alone, dead, drenched in blood, and her throat, not cut, but _bitten_ through.

The whole story is told by the minister himself to an otherwise unidentified Theodore and Adelaide (who may be anybody, but who adroitly soften the conclusion), and with that consummate management of the difficult part of actor-narrator which has been noted. In every respect but the purely sentimental one it seems to me beyond reproach and almost beyond praise.[229]

[Sidenote: _La Chambre Bleue._]

There could not, as has been said, be a greater contrast than _La Chambre Bleue_ in everything but craftsmanship. Two lovers (being French they have to be unlawful lovers, but the story would be neither injured nor improved, as a story, if the relation were taken quite out of the reach of the Divorce and Admiralty


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