25. The Little Countess
Cheerful as my godmother naturally was, and entertaining as, for our sakes she made a
point of being, there was no true enjoyment that evening at La Terrasse, till, through the
wild howl of the winter night, were heard the signal sounds of arrival. How often, while
women and girls sit warm at snug firesides their hearts and imaginations are doomed to
divorce from the comfort surrounding their persons, forced out by night to wander
through dark ways, to dare stress of weather, to contend with the snow blast, to wait at
lovely gates and stiles in wildest storms, watching and listening to see and hear the father,
the son, the husband coming home.
Father and son came at last to the château: the Count de Bassompierre that night
accompanied Dr. Bretton. I know not which of our trio heard the horses first; the asperity,
the violence of the weather warranted our running down into the hall to meet and greet
the two riders as they came in; but they warned us to keep our distance: both were white -
two mountains of snow; and indeed Mrs. Bretton, seeing their condition, ordered them
instantly to the kitchen, prohibiting them, at their peril, from setting foot on her carpeted
staircase till they had severally put off that mask of Old Christmas they now affected.
Into the kitchen, however, we could not help following them: it was a large old Dutch
kitchen, picturesque and pleasant. The little white Countess danced in a circle about her
equally white sire, clapping her hands and crying,
'Papa, papa, you look like an enormous Polar bear.'
The bear shook himself and the little sprite fled far from the frozen shower. Back she
came, however, laughing, and eager to aid in removing the arctic disguise. The Count, at
last issuing from his dreadnought, threatened to overwhelm her with it as with an
'Come, then,' said she, bending to invite the fall, and when it was playfully advanced
above her head, bounding out of reach like some little chamois.
Her movements had the supple softness, the velvet grace of a kitten; her laugh was
clearer than the ring of silver and crystal; as she took her sire's cold hands and rubbed
them, and stood on tiptoe to reach his lips for a kiss, there seemed to shine round her a
halo of loving delight. The grave and reverend signior looked down on her as men do
look on what is the apple of their eye.
'Mrs. Bretton,' said he: 'what am I to do with this daughter or daughterling of mine? She
neither grows in wisdom nor in stature. Don't you find her pretty nearly as much the child
as she was ten years ago?'
'She cannot be more the child than this great boy of mine,' said Mrs. Bretton who was in
conflict with her son about some change of dress she deemed advisable, and which he