Page images

swayed by the wind. Her locks were | luxuriant, neither golden nor raven; they were a compromise between the two, wherein, as the light favored either, each had alternately the mastery; and by a rare privilege, from beneath an auburn brow, beamed, like two stars of ebony in a sky of alabaster, her sparkling eyes, which, while they heightened the expression of her countenance, did not disturb its angelic repose. Her step was slow and stately; her look, pensive and sweet, calm, serene, and half smiling. A poet would have taken her for one of those beautiful angels whose office it is to gather and bear to heaven the sighs of the earth; or, perhaps, for one of those white apparitions which flit upon the borders of our lakes in the silver mist of the moonlight. Knowing little of life or the world, save what she had learned from her father, the sudden change which had just taken place in her existence was far from joyful. Home and country, for her, were where she was born, in that retired corner of the earth where her mother had died and was buried. France, which she had known only by the misfortunes of her family and by the stories which she had heard during the emigration, had no attraction for her; there was no charm in opulence. The conversation of the marquis had not developed in her, as in Raoul, the spirit of pride and of caste; she had rather drawn from them a love for the humble lot to which she was born. Never had her dreams or her ambition gone beyond the little garden which she herself had cultivated; never had the marquis been able to awaken in her young bosom any other feeling than that of contentment with respect to her lot. She had no anxious desires, no sterile regrets. As often as he sought to disturb her equanimity, she would reply with a smile full of sweetness; if he came to talk, in the bitterness of his heart, of his lost estates, she would draw him into the garden, show him the flowers of her borders, and innocently ask if he thought they could be more fresh or more beautiful in France. The day of departure from this home of her youth was therefore, for her, the day of exile, and it was marked with tears. In touching the soil of France-that trembling soil which she had seen in the distance,

only as some stormy sea-Helen could not avoid a feeling of sadness, mingled with fear; and in entering her hereditary home, her heart was heavy, and her eyes were moistened with far other tears than those of joy. Nevertheless, these first impressions dissipated, Mademoiselle de La Seigliére accommodated herself to her new position without much effort. Hers was


one of those choice natures which fortune
never surprises, and which, bearing with
the same cheerfulness the most opposite
circumstances, always finds itself, without
apparently being aware of it, on a level
with prosperity. She retained all her
native grace and simplicity, and so natu-
rally did her youth and beauty conform to
the luxury of her ancestors, and with such
ease and freedom did she wear her new
honors and discharge her new duties, that
no one, ignorant of her history, would
have supposed that she had been rocked
in a far different cradle, and grew up un-
der the influences of a far different atmo-
sphere. She continued to love Raoul, as
she had done, with the tenderness of a
sister, yet without the least suspicion that
there could be a sentiment of more depth
and fervor than that which she felt towards
him. She knew nothing of love.
few books she had read were rather calcu-
lated to lull the young imagination to sleep
than to arouse it into activity. The per-
sonages whom the recitals of her father
had always represented to her as types of
distinction, grace, and elegance, all more
or less resembled M. de Vaubert, who,
though by no means particularly distin-
guished in either of these respects, thus
found no difficulty in representing tolerably
well Helen's ideas of a husband. They
had played together upon the same door-
step; they had grown up together under
the same roof. Helen's mother had rocked
the cradle of Raoul, and Raoul's mother
had watched over the infancy of Helen.
They were both handsome, and both in
the flower of life. The prospect of being
one day united, could not reasonably,
therefore, excite the alarm or repugnance
of either. They loved with that measured
affection very common between lovers
affianced before the age or the passion
comes which alone can make them such in
reality. Marriage is an end worthy to be
sought; but by beholding constantly and

every opportunity to escape with Stamply to the park or into the fields, and in the long conversations which they then had together, he would recount the glorious deeds of the republic and the empire. Helen listened to his simple stories with eager astonishment; she had heard nothing like them ever before; sometimes Stamply gave her some of Bernard's letters to read

from too great a distance, there is much danger the pleasure of the journey will suffer by the prospect. A stranger to all the acts and interests of practical life; right at heart, but having upon most matters only confused, false, or incomplete notions; and nourished, from her tenderest years, in the idea that her father had been dispossessed by one of his farmers; Helen ingenuously believed that in the restora--they were his only earthly treasure— tion of the property, Stamply had done no more than his duty. Still, though she did not think herself indebted to his generosity, she was taken, from the first, with the smile of the good old man; who, in his turn, regarded her with a sentiment of respect and admiration, as though he already perceived that, of all the affection of which he was the object, that of this beautiful girl alone was true, disinterested, and sincere.

and her heart exulted like the proud courser's when the sound of the bugle strikes his ear. At other times he spoke of her mother, of her beauty and her kindness, which were still green in his memory. His language was simple, and oftentimes Helen heard with a tearful eye. Then he spoke of Bernard; for it was to this dear object of his affection that he loved constantly to return. He spoke of his turbulent boyhood, his impetuous youth, his heroic death. The timid dove loves the lion heart, and Helen hung delighted upon his lips and learned to speak of the young man as of a friend whom she had lost. Thus they would talk together; and what shows how much of genuine goodness there was in old Stamply's nature, is the fact that in all their conversations he never suffered himself to utter a complaint against the ingrates who had abandoned him, and that Helen continued in the belief that in divesting himself of his property he had been guided solely by a sense of duty. Perhaps, also, it added to his happiness to believe that he was loved for himself alone. He knew that Helen was destined for Raoul; he was not ignorant that they were long since affianced in accordance with the wishes of their parents. He held in his hand the thread which had directed Madame de Vaubert; he now comprehended the whole. If he mourned in his own heart, he suffered no escaping sign to trouble hers; he concealed his grief like a gaping wound-the sad spectacle of human ingratitude. If Helen, as she sometimes would, ventured to express her concern lest his retirement was too exclusive and too irksome :

In truth, M'lle de La Seigliére realized, without being aware of it, all the promises of Madame de Vaubert; she acquitted, without knowing it, all the debts of the marquis. In proportion as they kept themselves aloof from Stamply, Helen felt herself more and more attracted towards him. She herself was lonely in the midst of a tumultuous crowd, and of necessity, mysterious sympathies must soon be awakened between two such spirits, one of whom repulsed the world, while the other was repulsed by it. This lovely girl became, so to speak, the Antigone of this new Edipus-the Cordelia of this new King Lear. She enlivened his heavy hours and peopled his dreary solitude. She was a pearl at the bottom of his bitter cup-a star in the darkness of his night a blossom upon his withered boughs. At first her feeling towards him had been one of mingled reverence and pity, but she soon found in the presence of her companion, more aliment for her heart, more food for her soul, than she had known in the sounding and brilliant, but empty and frivolous society in which she was obliged for the most part to spend her time. Strange as it may seem, it was this poor old man who gave the first direc- "How would you have it?" he would tion to her young intelligence, who sound-reply, with an air of dejection. "The ed its first alarum. In the morning, while every one else in the castle was still slumbering, and in the evening when the lights were lit for the feast, Helen would improve

world was not made for old Stamply, nor old Stamply for the world. Since M. le Marquis has the goodness to suffer me to live in my corner I will profit by it. I

have always lived in silence and solitude. Your father knows well that one cannot be reformed at my age. It is your presence and your smiles, my dear child, that enliven my retirement. They are my feasts, and they are more delightful than old Stamply ever dared to hope."

[ocr errors]

chamber and in the heart of Helen. For two or three days afterwards he was occasionally mentioned in the castle.

"Poor Stamply!" said the marquis; "on the whole he was a worthy man." "Very tedious," sighed Madame de Vaubert.

"Very ignorant," added Raoul.

[ocr errors]

Very kind," murmured Helen.

This was all his funeral oration. Helen alone followed him, with the tears which had been promised, to his tomb. It may

In process of time Stamply was seized with a desire to visit-and it proved to be the last time-the farm where his father had died; where his son was born, and where he himself had parted with his happiness. Broken in health, and bend-be well, nevertheless, to add that the end ing under the weight of years and sorrows, he betook himself thither alone, with no support but his cornel cane. He found the farm-house deserted; all its tenants were at work in the fields. After having entered the rustic mansion, where nothing seemed to have been changed; after having seen the old oaken chest, the old turnup bedstead with its green serge curtains, the image of the Holy Virgin before which his wife had been accustomed to kneel morning and evening for ten years, and after having inhaled the sweet perfume of the milk in the pantry and the new bread which was piled in huge loaves upon the shelf, he went out and sat down upon a stone seat in the yard. It was just before sunset on a cool summer's evening. He heard in the distance the merry songs of the hay-makers, the barking of the dogs and the lowing of the cattle. The air was freighted with the odor of new-mown hay. In front of Stamply, upon the mossy roof, was a flock of cooing and bustling doves.

[ocr errors]

My poor wife was right," sighed the old man, as he turned from the scene of his early joys; "it was an unlucky daythe day when we quit our farm."

Worn out less by years than sadness, he died two years after the return of the marquis, with no other assistance or solace than that of Helen, who closed his eyes. Just before breathing his last he turned himself towards her, and placing in her hands the letters of his son

"Take them," said he; "they are all that has been left me, all that remains for me to give."

Life had but little attraction for him, and he left it without regret, but full of joyful hope of soon rejoining his wife, and, as he loved to call him, his little Bernard. His death left no void save in his own

of the old beggar aroused in the country the indignation of a party which was then just beginning to dawn in the political horizon, to use the beautiful expression of that period. Hypocritical, envious, and possessed of anything else than that liberality which its name would seem to announce, this party, which in the provinces. was composed of noisy third-rate lawyers, and of citizens much more remarkable for their pretensions than their worth, made a hero of the dead Stamply whom they so much abused and outraged while living. Not that they cared for him the least in the world, but they hated the noblesse. They mounted him upon a pedestal, and decreed to him the laurels of a martyr, without stopping to think whether the poor man merited them or not. In short, they openly accused Madame de Vaubert of captation, and the marquis of ingratitude. Thus do petty passions and petty quarrels sometimes, by hazard, arrive at

the truth.

Meanwhile the period fixed for the marriage of Helen and Raoul was approaching. This period, still too remote to suit the wishes of Madame de Vaubert, was neither welcomed nor dreaded by Helen ; she looked upon its approach without impatience, but also without repugnance. Whatever it might cost, it may even be said, that she awaited it with less of sadness than of joy. Her conversations with Stamply the reading of the letters, in which she had been more than once surprised since the death of her old comrade, had, indeed, drawn her into some vague comparisons which were not precisely to the advantage of our young baron; but all this was too confused in her own mind to allow her to seek for herself any explanation. Her heart, moreover, was too

loyal ever to entertain the idea that she could interrupt an engagement founded upon her plighted word. Affianced to Raoul from the day when she first comprehended the meaning of the word, the noble girl had since regarded herself, before God, as his spouse. The marriage also was in accordance with the wishes of the marquis; Raoul concealed his nullity under a brilliant varnish of grace and eloquence; was deficient neither in the seductions which belong to his age, nor the chivalrous qualities of his race; and, to say the truth, Madame de Vaubert, whose watchful eye never lost sight of her interest, was always ready, when occasion required, to lend him the intelligence and vivacity which he himself had not. All was going smoothly on, and nothing seemed to disturb the current of their prosperity, when an unexpected event broke in upon their happiness.


They were celebrating on the same day, at the castle, the king's birthday, the third anniversary of the marquis' return to his lands, and the espousals of Raoul and Helen. This triple celebration had brought thither all the higher nobility of the city and the surrounding neighborhood. At nightfall the castle and the park were brilliantly illuminated, and fireworks were sent up from the top of the hill; then followed the dance in the saloons, while without, the villagers, swains and damsels, hopped merrily to the sound of the bagpipe underneath the green boughs. Madame de Vaubert, who now touched the end of her ambition, made no effort to conceal the satisfaction which she at this moment experienced. presence alone of her daughter sufficiently justified the pride and pleasure which, like a double halo, beamed from the brow of Raoul. As to the marquis, the cup of his joy was full and unadulterated. Whenever he presented himself on the balcony, his vassals made the air resound with grateful and boisterous vivats, a thousand times repeated, and with an energetic earnestness that proved their sincerity. Stamply had been dead some months. Who thought of him? Nobody -but Helen; she had piously guarded his memory; she had sincerely loved him. This evening she was distracted, dreamy, pre-occupied. Why? She could not tell herself. She loved Raoul—at least,

she thought she did. She had grace and beauty, love and youth, nobility and fortune; all around her seemed charmed with sweet looks and fresh smiles. Life promised only caresses and enchant


Why was her young heart heavy? Why her beaming eyes veiled with sadness? Like the delicate and sensitive flower at the approach of the storm, did she shudder under the presentiment of her destiny?

That same evening a cavalier of whom no one thought, was following the right bank of the Clain. Arrived at Poitiers less than an hour before, he had only delayed long enough for a fresh horse to be saddled, and then departed at full gallop, up the river. The night was dark, without moon or stars. At a turn of the path, on discovering the castle of La Seigliére, whose illuminated front lay in gleaming lines along the sombre ground of the heavens, he suddenly checked his horse by a strong pull at the bit. At this instant a sheaf of fire shot into the heavens, burst in the clouds, and fell in golden rain, in amethyst and emeralds, upon the towers and belfries. Like a bewildered traveller who had lost his way, our cavalier threw around him an unquiet look; then, as if reassured upon his route, he gently pulled at his bridle and proceeded. He soon dismounted at the gate of the park, and, leaving his horse, entered just at the moment when the rustic revellers, in a paroxysm of enthusiasm, were mingling their shouts of "vive le roi !" with those of "vive le marquis!" All the windows were encased with foliage and decorated with transparencies-the most remarkable, a chefd'oeuvre which had exhausted all the artistic skill of the castle, offered to the ravished eyes the august head of Louis XVIII., surmounted by two allegoric divinities who were wreathing his brow with olive branches. At the foot of the steps leading to the portico, the band of the regiment in garrison at Poitiers were vigorously playing the national air of Vive Henri Quatre. Doubting whether he was awake, observing all and comprehending nothing, impatient to know and fearing to ask, the stranger lost himself in the crowd without being remarked. After having wandered about for some

[blocks in formation]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »