Page images

it was made solely with a view to his happiness. He was an honest man; we have not said that he was a saint. There was in him a passion which was to maintain a fearful conflict with the insinuations of Madame de Vaubert. Thus not unfrequently we encounter, in otherwise gentle natures, to be moulded and formed at will, a hard point, reluctant and unyielding, which no effort can subdue-a link of steel in a chain of gold. Stamply was avaricious after his manner; he had a passion for prosperity. He loved it for its own sake, as others love power. All his income was regularly appropriated to the acquisition of new lands, and in this way had he been enabled, by successive additions, to restore the domains of La Seigliere to their integrity. It was but a short time since he had united to it two or three small farms, which had been alienated more than a century. To have done all this only to do homage to Monsieur le Marquis would certainly be something to tell of, but Stamply, as he himself had said, made no pretension to setting his contemporaries so brilliant an example of abnegation and disinterested self-sacrifice. He thought Madame de Vaubert spoke quite too much at her ease, and with too much freedom, and determined that, before deciding upon the matter, he would take time for further consideration. He had by this time reached home, and entered his castle resigned to the loss of a friendship which could only be retained at such a price.

Resignation at first was easy. Wounded affection, offended self-love, the fear of having been duped, aroused in the old man what there was left of warmth and energy. All his old instincts of independence and equality were re-awakened, and for a moment took the ascendency. But this kind of artificial excitement soon subsided, like fire in the stubble. In his frequent visits at the castle of Vaubert, he had contracted the habit of familiar conversation, and the most intimate and confidential relations. Suddenly reduced to solitude, he soon began to be tortured by ennui. But few days had passed before it was perceptible that the inward peace and mild serenity which had been the result of his intimacy, were gone. Deprived of his only support, his conscience be


gan to disturb him, and vanity did its share among the antagonists of the old man's rest. His expulsion from the castle of Vaubert was no longer a mystery; it was generally noised abroad, that the baroness had dismissed the old beggar in an ignominious manner, and his enemies were feasting upon his fall. Stamply would, perhaps, have remained ignorant of what was said abroad about the matter, had he not, one evening, while walking in the park, overheard his servants, who were not aware of his proximity, chuckling over his misadventure. farmers, with whom in times past he had lived on terms of particular friendship, now affected to inquire after Madame de Vaubert. If he remained in the house, and walked from apartment to apartment with an air of dejection, his domestics would run to him, now one and now another, and with affected concern inquire why their master did not go and make a call on Madame la Baronne. If he resolved to leave the house and beguile the heavy hours in his fields, the valets would observe, apparently as a matter of information among themselves, but in a tone sufficiently loud for the old man to hear it: "There goes our master to spend an hour or two with Madame de Vaubert." Stamply could endure a great deal, but such expressions more than once tempted him to evince his displeasure by the use of his cane on their backs.

The words "Madame la Baronne" in

cessantly rang in his ears. The sight of the castle of Vaubert kept him in constant melancholy. He remained, frequently, whole hours, silent and fixed, in contemplating his lost and regretted Eden. Even his love of property, which we have just mentioned, was no longer sufficient. Madame de Vaubert had developed in him other appetites, other necessities not less imperious. Besides, this love-all that he had left to him here below-was poisoned in its source. He recalled to mind the frightful end of his wife; her scruples, her terrors, her remorse, her last words. He thought of them by day and dreamed of them by night. Kindled by his utter abandonment, his imagination peopled his dreams with lugubrious images. Now he saw the flitting and restless spectre of his wife; now the imploring shade of the marchio

[ocr errors]

Thereupon, after some inquiries as to the health of her old friend, and how he spent his time, Madame de Vaubert politely gave him to understand that he could retire, which he did, marvelling much at the elevated sentiments which he had just heard her express. He accused himself of having calumniated intentions so disinterested, and, although he found it a little difficult to understand how the marquis was to be the benefactor, and himself the beneficiary in this transaction, he went the next day and surrendered himself body and soul to the direction of the baroness. She, however, appeared neither pleased nor surprised; indeed, she even affected a repugnance to meddle with the matter again, for fear, as she alleged, of offending the susceptibilities of her friends. But Stamply fol

ness. After a week or two of an existence | I have proposed. Indeed, if you should thus tortured, he began to think of escape, adopt it, and the marquis should consent, and turned his thought towards the pro- in my opinion he would be the benefactor. position of the baroness. At first it was Keep your property; we do not want it. only a luminous point, twinkling through Poverty, they say, is bitter to those who the mist, in the distant horizon. Insensi- have once been rich; but the world is debly it grew larger, drew nearer, and ceived; we have known what it was to live gleamed like a Pharos; and after examin- in abundance, and poverty is dear to us.' ing it in every point of view, of which he was capable, he ended by seizing the poetic side; Stamply was suspicious, but simple, honest and credulous. He asked himself if, in fact, Madame de Vaubert had not revealed to him the secret of happiness. Admitting that she had reasoned in view of the marquis and his daughter, was he not obliged to admit, that so far as he himself was concerned it was the best thing that could be done. The perspective of felicity which she had opened up to him, cleared up by degrees of its murky clouds, now presented itself in a most enchanting light. He pictured to himself the presence, within the castle, of the young and lovely Helen; he saw himself introduced again, by the gratitude of the marquis, into the world which now repulsed him; a concert of praises follow-lowed up as she retreated; the simple ed his steps; he almost believed that he could see Madame de La Seigliére, the good Madame Stamply and his little Bernard already smiling upon him from the depths of the skies. Nevertheless, Stamply was distrustful, and his distrust held him still wavering between his avarice and his better nature. "By what title can the marquis and his daughter pretend to return to this castle and its domains? To resign a fortune so laboriously acquired, would this not be to admit that it was dishonestly usurped? Instead of confounding any would it not lend it new usurpers?" Before coming to any conclusion, Stamply determined on another consultation with Madame de Vaubert; but scarcely had he uttered a few words upon the subject, when she interrupted him in the most peremptory manner:

"I desire," said she, "that there be no further mention of this matter between us. It is a subject about which I feel no personal interest. I have, I repeat it, in all that I have said and done, looked only to your welfare. The marquis and his daughter have not entered into my thoughts as to be benefitted by the course

heart had been duped by the wily intellect; craft had won a signal victory over a kind nature; and it was amusing to see Stamply beseeching the reluctant baroness to intercede in his behalf, and persuade the marquis to deign to accept his immense possessions.

"If they will love the old beggar a little," said he; "if he shall see at the end of his days happy countenances smiling upon him; if some gentle hand shall close his eyes, and some friend shall drop a tear when he is gone-here below, and there above, Stamply will be content."


It will readily be believed that Madame de Vaubert finally yielded to these touching entreaties; but it is not so easy to believe the joy which the old man felt at having prepared his destruction. seized both the hands of the baroness, and pressed them to his heart with a feeling of ineffable gratitude. "For it is you," he sobbed, tears of joy meanwhile rolling down his cheeks, "it is you, Madame, who have shown me the way to heaven."

Madame de Vaubert felt that it was cruel to sport with such a soul; but now, as always, she quickly appeased the mur

murs of conscience by reasoning that Stamp-| going to the palace for our proofs, we ly was interested in the success of her shall find them, perhaps, in humbler life, enterprise, and that she should not have on the banks of the Clain. undertaken it but to secure his happiness, and that in all things the end justifies the


It now remained for her to cheat the pride of the marquis, whom she well knew was too inveterate in his original prejudices readily to condescend to accept a boon from the hand of his former vassal. The baroness wrote him these few words: "Tormented with remorse, without children, without family, without friends, John Stamply only awaits your return to restore you your goods. Come then. As the price of his tardy probity, the unfortunate demands only a little of our love. He shall have much of it."

A month from this time M. de La Seigliére returned, without noise or ceremony. Stamply received him at the gate of the park and presented him with the keys upon a silver plate, an act of donation drawn up in the most touching terms, and in which the donor with exquisite delicacy acknowledges himself to be the obligee. "Monsieur le Marquis, you are at home," said he.

The harangue was a brief one, and much to the satisfaction of the marquis. He thrust the act which restored him to his former possessions into his pocket, embraced Stamply, took his arm, and followed by his daughter, who was under the escort of Madame de Vaubert and her son, entered the castle as young in spirit as when he departed from it, and with no more parade than if he had just returned from an agreeable promenade.

And now, to return to the supposition of Madame de Vaubert, if Napoleon, reducing the grandeur of the part which he was to play, to the moderate proportions of a subject's ambition, had consented to become merely the minister of the Bourbons; if, after having won the crown of France with his sword, instead of placing it upon his own brow he had restored it to the head of the descendant of St. Louis, it is not to be doubted that at this day another chapter would have been added to the great volume of royal ingratitude. We mean no offense to royalty; we speak generally, and predicate our opinion upon a principle of human nature. Without


At first all went well; and the first months realized all the predictions of happiness which Madame de Vaubert had lavished upon Stamply. We may even say that the reality much exceeded the hopes of the old man. On the 25th of August, the anniversary of the king's birthday, M. de La Seigliére having invited several gentlemen of the city and its environs to dine, Stamply was honored with a seat at the table between the marquis and his daughter, and his health was enthusiastically drank immediately after that of Louis le Désiré. He dined thus every day at the table of the marquis, usually in company with Madame de Vaubert and her son; for, as formerly in exile, the two families, properly speaking, now formed only one. They received but little company, and passed their evenings at home. At all the family parties Stamply was present, honored as a patriarch and caressed like a child. The marquis had insisted that he should occupy the finest apartment of the castle. His people, who served him reluctantly and respected him no longer, were discharged, and replaced by others more diligent and submissive, who watched over his needs and anticipated his desires. He was surrounded with all the attentions which render old age happy; they received his orders in all matters, and did nothing without consulting him. To all these seductions is to be added the frequent presence of the innocent and lovely Helen. Stamply's cup of happiness was full; and for ten miles round were said and sung the praises of the most honest of farmers.

But a few months had hardly elapsed before life at the castle had changed its face and its attractions. As vigorous and as active as at twenty, M. de La Seigliére was not a man to content himself long with the joys of the fireside and the delights of the domestic circle. He had resumed his fortune as a garment which had for a time been laid aside, and thought of the past only as a storm whose fury was spent. Brisk, gay, nimble, healthy, he

came out of his exile as bright as a cowslip from the snow. Twenty-five years had rolled away, but he was not a day the older. He had found the triple secret which makes one young at a hundredegotism, carelessness and frivolity; for the rest he was the most amiable and charming of marquises. No one would have believed, at the end of a few months, that a revolution had passed. They had regilded the ceiling and the panels, renewed the furniture and the hangings, restored the plates and the numbers, and by dint of washing and rubbing obliterated every trace of the barbarous invasion. To use the charitable expression of Madame de Vaubert, who already began to indulge in a little mischievous pleasantry at the expense of Stamply, they had cleansed the Augean stables. Soon nothing was talked of but fêtes and galas, receptions and royal hunts. From morning to evening, and of tentimes from evening to morning, emblazoned carriages crowded the court and the avenues. The castle of La Seigliére had become the resort of the noblesse of the country. An army of lackeys and scullions had invaded the kitchen and antechamber. Ten horses pranced in the equery; the kennels were crowded with dogs; the huntsman's horn resounded throughout the day. Stamply had reckoned upon a home more quiet than thisupon manners more simple and tastes more moderate. He was not yet at the end of his deceptions.

In the first intoxication of return they had found him charming in all respectsin his costume, his gestures, his language, even in his fustian vest. The marquis and Madame Vaubert openly and out loud, called him their old friend. They listened to, and applauded all he said. His was a true Gallic spirit in the flower; a biblical heart, a patriarchal soul. When matters at the castle had become fully re-established, and life had taken its brilliant and regular course, Stamply began to be a weed in the garden, a blotch upon the picture. But nothing was expressly said to this effect, and he was still with the marquis and the baroness, only the good, the dear, the excellent Monsieur Stamply, with only now and then a slight addition or qualification. The tide of their affection, however, had begun to ebb, and they

proceeded from step to step, from reservation to reservation, until they mutually declared that the Gallic spirit was a blockhead, and the biblical heart was a butcher. They were now annoyed by the familiarities which they had but a short time before encouraged, and whatever passed for the good nature of a patriarch, was now the coarseness of a clown. So long as they lived at home, and matters were confined within the family circle, all went well; but in the midst of the luxury and splendor of aristocratic life the honest old farmer became intolerable. Both the marquis and the baroness owed him too much to be at ease in his presence, and the presence of those who were cognizant of the facts of the case. Like the Alpine flower, which flourishes upon the mountaintop, but droops and dies in the softer valley, gratitude springs only from elevated natures. It is like that mental liquor which can only be kept in vases of gold. It perfumes the breath of a noble soul; it sours and dies in the mean one. The presence of Stamply recalled to the marquis his importunate obligations, and the part which the baroness had played returned to her, with no pleasant reminiscences, as often as the image of the old man recurred. To remove this source of disquietude, was the object of their common solicitude; and to effect it they pressed into service all the arts and all the manœuvres of an elegant and practiced hypocrisy. Under pretense that the comfortable apartment which he had hitherto occupied, in the heart of the castle, was too much exposed to the cold north winds, they removed his quarters into a remote wing. One day, having observed with affected solicitude, that their boisterous festivities and sumptuous repasts were suited neither to his taste nor his years; that they were repugnant to his habits, and injurious to his health; the marquis begged him not to do violence to his own feelings, and ordered that for the future he should be served apart. In vain did Stamply object; and though he protested that the ordinary of M. le Marquis was all that he could desire, the latter would not believe him, and generously declared that his old friend should not suffer all this inconvenience out of complaisance to his hosts. "This is your

house," said he, "make yourself at home; live as you like." And for the future Stamply was obliged to eat alone, like a friar in his cell. Thus matters went on. By insensible transitions they began to treat him with exaggerated politeness; the marquis was formal and pompous, and the baroness forced him to beat a retreat under the cross-fire of her magnificent airs and extravagant obsequiousness. As soon as he appeared with his iron-shod shoes, his blue woolen hose, and flowered breeches, the conversation would be directed to the fashion at court. Poor Stamply, confounded, humiliated, not knowing what to say or how to demean himself, was compelled to retire. Thus the mud wall which had for a long time separated him from the world, was gradually changed into one of crystal ice-a transparent barrier, but as insurmountable as the first; only the good man had the satisfaction of being a spectator at the scene a witness of the prodigal extravagance by which the beautiful domain which had rewarded his twenty-five years of toil and privation was daily impoverished. In the evening, after his solitary repast, as he passed under the windows of the castle, he heard the joyous shouts of mirthful conversation mingled with the tinkling of glasses and the rattling of porcelain. By wandering, sad and solitary, over those fields which he had so dearly loved, but of which he was no longer the master, he saw in the distance noble horses and splendid equipages, accompanied by their huntsmen and hounds, rush over the plain, and plunge into the neighboring forest. By night he was often awakened from his sleep by the noise and tumult of revelling-he paid for the music. Yet he wanted nothing. His table was abundantly served; once a week the marquis sent to inquire after his health, and whenever Madame de Vaubert met him, she saluted him with a friendly and charming recognition.

By the end of a year there was no more mention of Stamply than if no such person had ever existed. Silence and forgetfulness had succeeded to the parade and attention which he had at first received. It seemed to be no longer remembered that he had ever possessed the castle, its park, and its lands. From caresses and feastings he had passed to

[ocr errors]

neglect and abhorrence. The faithful dog was now a dirty cur. The unfortunate old man did not enjoy even the poor consideration which he had fondly dreamed might be the result of his generosity. They believed, or pretended to believe, that in recalling the La Seigliéres, he had yielded only to the demands of public opinion. They put his generosity upon the ground of a forced probity-a sense of justice too tardy to be entitled to any credit. Finally, his old farmers, proud of again finding themselves in the service of a grand seignior, vented their spleen by frequent and emphatic expressions of hu miliation that they had ever lived under the fraternal government of a countryman like themselves. All this was gradually effected without any violent heart-rendings, without shocks, almost without calculation; it was the natural progress of things here below. Stamply himself was a long time in awakening to a full apprehension of his real position. And when, at length, the scales dropped from his eyes, and he saw clearly the meaning of the hitherto mysterious change, he uttered no complaint. An angel watched at his side, and looked upon him with a smile.

Mademoiselle de La Seigliére had received from her mother, whom she had never known, and from the poverty in the bosom of which she had been reared, a disposition peculiarly grave, retiring, and meditative. By a contrast not altogether unusual in families, her development had been in a direction contrary to the examples she had received. Her father's peculiarities had left no impress upon her, though she loved him tenderly, and was loved so in return. But Helen loved with a double affection, as if she thought to be not only the dutiful daughter, but, so far as was in her power, to compensate for the bereavement of her father; while the love of the marquis was characterized by all the puerilities of childhood. She had been nurtured in solitude, and was, in fact, only a serious child. Her mother had transmitted to her, with the pure blood of her ancestors, that regal beauty which loves, like the lily and the swan, to sport in the shades of the castle and in the depths of the silent park. Tall, slender, and somewhat frail, she had the waving and flexible grace of the fox-tail in flower,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »