The Orphan of the Rhine
by Eleanor Sleath
Thou art indeed ill-fated;
Snatch'd, when an infant, from thy nurse's arms,
And borne we known not whither.
Near that long tract of hills, known by the name of Mount Jura, was situated, in the year 1605, the cottage of Julie de Rubine; commanding on one side a view of Geneva and its Lake, lying north of the town, and on the other an extensive plain, covered with pine-woods and pasturage: beyond which arose, in various forms and directions, that vast range of Alps which divide Italy from Savoy, forming a natural barrier to Geneva and its little territory.
The owner of this secluded retreat, having met with some peculiar misfortunes, originating from the depravity of those with whom she was unhappily connected, had disengaged herself from the world at that period of existence when it usually presents the most alluring prospects; and accompanied by her infant son and one faithful domestic, had taken refuge in retirement.
After having passed some years in uninterrupted solitude, she was one evening returning from a monastery, near Ripaille, which formerly belonged to the hermits of St Maurice, whither she had been at confession, and was pursuing her way through a large forest, whose vistas terminated upon the Lake, when she observed a cabriolet move along at some distance before her, which afterwards stopped at her door.
Before Julie de Rubine arrived at her cottage, the traveller, who was a female, had alighted, and on hearing her name, advanced some paces to receive her. She was a tall thin woman, of a pale, healthy appearance. Her dress bespoke her of the middle rank of life, and an infant that she held in her arms, which was entirely obscured in a mantle, intimated that she acted in the capacity of nurse.
After having unfolded the occasion of her visit, the stranger presented the recluse with a letter, which she informed her was from the Marchese de Montferrat. Julie de Rubine started, and appeared much affected. The messenger observed these emotions with concern, and endeavoured to remove the cause by introducing a new subject of conversation. She discoursed upon the temperature of the climate, the fineness of the weather, and related many little adventures they had met with upon the road, not forgetting to recite the difficulties they had encountered as they journeyed over the rocky steeps of Mount Cennis, on their way from Turin thither, which she assured her had cost them much labour and fatigue. Julie, who perceived the kindness of the intention, attempted to subdue the acuteness of those feelings, which had prevented her from welcoming the stranger with her accustomed courtesy, and, having in some measure succeeded, ventured to turn aside the mantle with which the infant was covered, and beheld a very beautiful female child, apparently about four months old. Having expressed her astonishment that the stranger should travel so far with so young a companion, she ordered Dorothée, her servant, to prepare some refreshment; and taking the Marchesse's letter, with trembling hand she opened it, and read as follows:
The Marchese de Montferrat having, after many unsuccessful inquiries, discovered the abode of Julie de Rubine, and wishing in some measure to compensate for the misfortunes he has occasioned, is willing to offer his protection to her, and also to her son, for whom he will hereafter amply provide, on condition that she will take into her care a young female infant, and perform, in every respect, the part of a mother. She is also requested not to make any inquiries relative to the child, but to rest satisfied that there are reasons, which, if known, would be deemed sufficient for the justification of his conduct, however mysterious it may appear. If Julie de Rubine agrees to these proposals, the Marchese will provide for her an asylum, in which she will find every accommodation suitable to her rank; he will also send a person to convey her to her new habitation, and will settle upon her a handsome annual sum as a provision for herself and the children. He also considers that, to avoid the effects of an impertinent curiosity, it will be at once prudent and necessary to take another name and to assume the character of a widow. If Julie De Rubine acquits herself in this affair with that uniform propriety of conduct which she has hitherto never failed to support, she and her child have every thing to hope from his patronage; but on the contrary, if she refuses to comply with his desires, and presumes to disclose the most unimportant incident respecting this circumstance to any individual living, she has everything to fear from his displeasure.
Amazement for the moment almost deprived the agitated Julie of reason! That the Marchese should select her from the rest of the world, to act as a mother to the orphan; her whom he had so materially injured, and that this child should be conveyed to her under circumstances so peculiar, was equally surprising and inexplicable! That it was deprived of maternal attention was beyond a doubt, or why send it to her, to perform the part of so tender a relation? It might yet have a father living, and who could that father be? An universal trembling seized her as the idea occurred -- an idea which the whole of the proceeding apparently justified, that it was no other than the Marchese. She knew that he had not been long united to a woman of high rank and considerable fortune, to whom he had offered himself on an early and superficial acquaintance, when resident in the neighbourhood of Padua, whither he had spent some time in the society of a friend to whom he had been long attached. His love of gallantry was too generally known to allow the probability of his affections being long in the possession of any one; she, by melancholy experience, was convinced of the truth of this assertion: the child could then be no other than the offspring of an illicit amour. She knew that, previous to his marriage, he had seduced the affections of a young Neapolitan beauty, the daughter of a merchant, whose name was Di Capigna, less celebrated for external charms than for those seductive and elegant accomplishments, 'that take the reason prisoner'.
Her father, she had been informed, did not long survive the loss of his daughter's reputation, which event so seriously affected the Signora that she suddenly left the Marchese, some believing that she was dead, and others that she had thrown herself into a convent; but the truth of this singular affair was not known.
Every circumstance seemed to favour the opinion that this might be the child of the Signora Di Capigna, whose birth, added to her own distresses, probably occasioned her death. She had not indeed heard of an infant; but this, considering the secrecy with which affairs of this nature are usually conducted, was not a matter of surprise, particularly as the marriage of the Marchese must have taken place before the birth of the child. Every thing being thus collected, there no longer remained a doubt in the breast of Julie de Rubine, but that this was indeed the daughter of the Marchese, and consequently of the Signora Di Capigna.
The conclusion of the letter contained a threat, if she refused to comply with his desires; yet the pride of conscious innocence revolted at the idea of receiving pecuniary support from a man, who had stooped to the most humiliating and degrading falsehoods, merely to tarnish the brightest of all gems, a stainless reputation. But when she considered the unprotected situation of her child, her Enrîco, who would find a bitter enemy, where from the ties of nature he might reasonably expect the tenderest of friends, her own inability to provide for him, the hardships to which he might be exposed, pleaded powerfully the cause of the Marchese, and staggered her accustomed firmness. This little innocent too, sent to solicit her protection - what sorrows, what distresses, might it have to encounter, what treatment might it experience from the harsh and the mercenary! These reflections, excited by the unexampled generosity of her nature, sunk deep into her heart, and elevated her above every ignoble and selfish consideration. For herself she would have been contented to have lived and died in obscurity, and would have endured without murmuring the severest penury rather than have thrown herself upon the liberality of one, for whom she now felt no softer sentiment than horror and resentment But her son had no doubt a claim to his protection; on his part it might be considered as a debt, not as a bounty; and as to the infant, a handsome allowance might certainly be demanded for such a charge, without incurring an obligation; but the matter was too important to be immediately determined. Silent and deliberating she quitted her apartment, and returned into the room, where she had left the nurse and child.
The latter was now awake, and as Julie de Rubine pressed its cheek gently to her lips, it smiled; she took its hand; it grasped her finger and she imagined looked as if imploring her protection Agatha, Which was the name of the messenger, sent by the Marchese observed these maternal attentions with apparent satisfaction. And discovering much humanity and softness in the deportment of the recluse endeavoured to direct these amiable traits of character to the advantage of her employer by dwelling with a. Tender concern upon the beauty and innocence of the child, from whom she lamented she was so soon to be separated. She expatiated also on the generosity of the Marchese, extolling the benevolent solicitude he had displayed in the cause of the infant, who but for him, she added, might have perished for want, as few were at once invested with power and inclination to patronize the unfortunate Madame de Rubine, after having complimented the stranger upon her sensibility, inquired how long the infant had remain under her protection, and was informed ever since it was born That it was consigned to her care by Paoli, her husband, at the desire of the Marchese, with whom he had resided some years in the capacity of steward; but that whose it was, or from whence it came, she was incapable of ascertaining, though she had sometimes ventured to interrogate Paoli upon the subject; his answers being always short, undecisive, and frequently uttered with hesitation and displeasure.
She then demanded whether she herself saw the Marchese, and if any time was fixed for her return? The former part of the question was answered with a negative; the message respecting her embassy was also conveyed by her husband, who had intimated a desire that the affair should be speedily determined as his Lord had some thoughts of removing from the Castello St Aubin, his present residence in the environs of Turin, to another estate to which he had recently succeeded, in consequence of the death of a near relation, who, having suddenly disappeared, was supposed to have been slain by banditti, as he was returning from a remote province to his paternal seat; which mournful event had, she added, so serious an effect upon his lady, that she scarcely survived the intelligence; and during her illness the affectionate attentions of the Marchese and Marchesa, who were sent for to assist and administer consolation, so excited her gratitude, that she bequeathed them all her valuables.
Julie then inquired if she was acquainted with the name of the nobleman whose life had been terminated by this fatal disaster, and whether he was also an Italian, and an inhabitant of Turin. But with these particulars Agatha was totally unacquainted; she had, she said, endeavoured to gain some information upon the subject, but her exertions had been at present unsuccessful, as a variety of reports had been circulated in the neighbourhood, few of which assumed the appearance of truth. She then modestly reminded Madame de Rubine of the necessity of entering into a speedy determination concerning the child; as if the proposals conveyed in the letter were rejected, she had orders to return without further delay, that it might be committed to the protection of some other, who would not scruple, in consideration of the terms proposed, to undertake the important charge.
Julie, having assured her that she would re-examine these proposals, and adopt, as soon as possible, a final resolution concerning them, observed, that the infant was again fallen asleep, and requested that it might be put to bed. Agatha, being much fatigued, agreed to the proposition; and, after having laid the little innocent to rest, and partaken of some refreshment with Dorothée, retired herself to repose. But Madame de Rubine's mind was too much agitated and perplexed with the strange occurrences of the day, to feel the least inclination to sleep. The Marchese's letter, which contained such promises of protection to her son, was flattering to the hopes of a fond and affectionate mother. But could a man of his character be relied upon? Might he not, from caprice, if not from a more reasonable motive, be induced at some future time suddenly to withdraw that protection and might not this be more severely felt, than if it had never been afforded? But could she with justice suppose this possible? From his former conduct, without departing, in the smallest instance from the native candour of her mind, he was unable to form a judgment upon his conduct decisively to his advantage. To her she was sensible he had not acquitted himself as a man of principle or of honour; but maturer years she considered might have corrected the errors of youth, and her misfortunes, united with those of the Signora Di Capigna, might have led to repentance and reformation. There had been instances of many who had entirely forsaken their offspring, exposing them without pity all the hardships of poverty and oppression; but crimes of this nature were not become familiar to him; he seemed interested in their unprotected situations, and was anxious to defend them from the insults and cruelty of an unfeeling world.
The threat which the letter contained, appeared to have been made use of merely for the purpose of conquering those little scrupulous delicacies which might eventually stand in the way of her son's advancement. If he was not concerned in their welfare, why not have sent the infant to the care of some other; for doubtless many would have received such proposals with transport. She was pleased to find some traits of virtue in a character which resentment had for some time placed in an unfavourable light; and being accustomed to behold every circumstance with an eye of candour, she began to hope, at least, that the Marchese was become a convert.
Weary and irresolute, she retired to her apartment; but to sleep she found was impossible. Enrîco lay in a small bed by the side of her's; his slumbers were undisturbed, though a smile occasionally played upon his cherub lip. Julie, with all the fondness of parental affection, stood and gazed anxiously upon him as he slept. A tear fell upon her cheek when she reflected how soon the serenity of that angel countenance might be disturbed-at some future time what might be his suffering ! A thousand mournful presages now arose in her mind; and willing to divert her thoughts from so painful a subject, she walked pensively towards the window.
It was a calm and serene night; the moon slept upon the brow of the hill, and the whole face of nature wore an appearance of gentleness and tranquillity. She thought of the days of childhood, when she used to ramble with her father in the stillness of evening, to hear the song of the nightingale. What vicissitudes had she known since then! Could her parents have foreseen her misfortunes, what would have been their anguish; and what was now their situation! Her imagination then wandered to distant worlds; she raised her eyes towards the stars of heaven; their number, the immensity of their distance, excited her adoration and wonder! 'Possibly the spirits of the departed,' cried she, 'may inhabit those glorious luminaries! How enviable is their situation; now how far are they placed beyond the reach of misfortune; their griefs, their inquietudes are now no more!' Full of these reflections she retired to her bed; but it was long before she forgot in sleep the strange occurrences of the day.
In the morning she arose early, and again perused the Marchese's letter. He had mentioned nothing of the melancholy story which Agatha had imperfectly related, nor of the large estates he had succeeded to in consequence of it. But this being an event in which she was not immediately concerned, any information on this subject might be deemed unnecessary.
As soon as the nurse and child arose, Madame de Rubine again took the infant into her arms, whose complexional delicacy and beauty equally attracted her admiration and astonishment. Whilst she continued to gaze upon its sweet innocent countenance, it appeared conscious of her attention; the soft sentiment of pity was already ripening into affection, and she perceived, if she parted with it, it would be with reluctance. She considered likewise it would a companion for Enrîco, and that much domestic comfort might reasonably expected from this lovely object of her compassion, the stillness of uninterrupted retirement, particularly during the time of her separation from Enrîco; which, however painful the reflection was, she was convinced in the present state of affairs indispensably requisite, as he must endeavour, by every necessary exertion, to secure promotion and independence in that department, which would eventually prove the least repugnant to his feelings and inclinations. These suggestions determined her to accept the proposals made to her by the Marchese; and, having acquainted Agatha with her intention, she addressed a few lines to him in return, in which she expressed her astonishment at this singular and unexpected adventure; at the same time assuring him that, having consented to take the child under her care, she was resolved to fulfil, in every respect, the part of a parent; that he might also depend upon her secrecy in the affair, and as he had offered her an asylum, which nothing but the welfare of the children could have induced her to accept, she must desire that he would never attempt visit them in their retirement, as she should consider an interview of that kind as highly improper.
Agatha, being impatient to return from her embassy, besought permission to depart; which being granted, the carriage that had conveyed her hither, and was left at a small inn near the cottage, was immediately ordered. She then took an affectionate leave of the infant; and, after many tender adieus and good wishes to Madame de Rubine, set forwards on her journey.
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort,
As if he mock'd himself, and scorn d' his spirit,
That could be mov'd to smile at any thing.
Nothing material happened at the cottage till near a fortnight after the departure of Agatha, when Paoli, her husband, and the distinguished favourite of the Marchese, came to conduct Julie and the children to their destined abode. He also brought a letter from his lord, in which he expressed his entire approbation of her conduct; assuring her, at the same time, that if the secret, with which she was partially entrusted, remained inviolable, she might depend upon his friendship and protection, and expect on his part the most scrupulous attention to her desire, concerning his not visiting the retreat he had chosen for her, which was a castle on a German estate, beautifully situated near the Rhine. He also informed her, that he had given orders for every necessary preparation to be made against her arrival; and that he intended to remit her a considerable sum quarterly, which would be more than sufficient to defray every expence; and requested, that she would acquaint him, at the return of Paoli, if any part of the arrangement, which he had formed for her establishment, should not be agreeable to her wishes. He also desired that, immediately on her arrival in Germany, she would name the infant, which name he left entirely to her decision, and as to her son, she might depend upon his honour to fulfil the promises already made.
When Madame de Rubine had perused this epistle, she questioned the steward respecting her new situation, and inquired whether any servants were sent thither by the Marchese, or whether he expected her to provide them.
Paoli assured her that every thing was in readiness for their reception; that two servants were already there, an elderly woman and a man, who had been some years in the service of his lord, at the castello St Aubin, and who were either to remain or to return, as she thought proper. The appearance of Paoli did not prejudice his fair auditress much in his favour. His deportment was stern, harsh, and forbidding, and she thought in the character of his brow she read determined villainy. He seemed to behold, with the most scrutinizing eye, her every look and action, forming in the whole of his behaviour a striking contrast with the tenderness and artless simplicity of his wife. She felt uneasy in his presence, and earnestly longed for the time of his dismission to arrive. The consequence he assumed, from the known partiality of the Marchese, bordered on rudeness, and he frequently obtruded himself into her presence contrary to the rules of good breeding, which, however, he affected to understand. He seemed to possess an infinite deal of cunning, and to be every way formed for intrigue and dark design. Being unwilling to resent this want of address, she endeavoured, as much as possible, to divert her mind from the uneasiness his unpleasant society occasioned, by nursing her little charge, and listening to the childish simplicity of Enrîco.
The ensuing week was now fixed for their departure, and Madame de Rubine and Dorothée were busily employed in making every necessary arrangement for their journey. The few household goods she possessed, which were of the simplest kind, were divided among the neighbouring poor, by whom she was tenderly beloved.
After a residence of near four years in this beautiful retreat, the amiable Julie found she could not bid it adieu without extreme reluctance. In these calm and peaceful shades she had taken refuge from the censure of a rash unfeeling world; and had in some degree gained a tranquillity and composure of mind, which she once believed it impossible ever to recover. She had endeavoured to reconcile herself to her misfortunes, and to check, as much as in her power, the natural sensibility of her disposition, which she was convinced was too acute to admit of lasting comfort.
She knew that true happiness was only to be found in the bosom of religion and virtue, and the warmth of her affection led her to indulge in that glow of religious enthusiasm, which elevates the soul beyond every earthly pursuit, and renders it susceptible of the most worthy impressions. On the evening preceding their departure, she wandered once more along that beautiful valley she was now soon to quit for ever; and casting her eyes over the clear expanse of waters, heaved a sigh at the recollection that she might probably, in that situation, never behold it more. To part from these scenes, to which she had been long inured, was like parting from a beloved friend, which, though only known in the moments of sorrow, were still dear to her. The sun had long sunk beneath the horizon, yet she still continued her walk. It was now the gay season of the vintage, but the rural sports were over, the shepherd's pipe was silent, and nothing was heard from the mountains but the distant sound of the mournful sheep-bell, and at intervals the rustling of the leaves, that faintly sighed in the evening gale. Every object on which she gazed, wore that soft and tender melancholy so congenial to her feelings, and impelled her with an irresistible charm to linger in her favourite walks. The large plane-tree, which had so often afforded her shelter, the bank on which she used to sit selecting flowers for the playful Enrîco, were objects of regret; and it was not till the shades of night were perceptibly stealing upon the meek grey of the twilight, that she recollected the impropriety of wandering so far from her cottage alone, and at so late an hour. The danger to which this imprudent conduct had exposed her, precipitated her steps, and she was surprised on finding she had strayed so much farther from her little retreat, than she had at first imagined. As she advanced, it became so much darker that she was irresolute whether to proceed, or to call at one of the huts of the peasants to procure a guide; but recollecting that there were several others on the road leading to her home, she ventured to continue on her way. On arriving at the side of the wood, near to which the cottage was situated, the moon, bursting from a cloud in its meridian splendour, partly dissipated her fears; and the melodious song of the nightingale, who was concealed in the inmost recesses of the wood, again arrested her steps. As she listened, the strain swelled still louder, and more plaintive; and she thought there was a pathos in the note she never remembered to have heard before. It seemed the language of complaint, and the frame of mind she was then in heightened the tender sensation of pity that the lay inspired. Sitting down on a bench, which she had formed under the shade of a chestnut, she took out her pencil, and wrote the following lines, which have certainly but little poetical merit, yet sufficiently evince that her griefs, though softened by time and the comforts of religion, had made an impression too great ever to be perfectly erased.
SONNET TO THE NIGHTINGALE
Hail, chantress sweet, who lov'st in woodlands drear,
And shades unseen beneath the pale moon's ray,
To pour thy sorrows in eve's listening ear,
And charm the nightly wanderer's lonely way;
Say, is it love that wakes the melting song?
Or pity's tender throe, or wan despair?
If such thy woes, ah! yet the strain prolong,
Still let thy wild notes float upon the air;
Yet spring's next visit shall, sweet bird, restore
Those ravag'd joys that wake the thrilling lay,
Sad mem'ry's open'd wounds shall bleed no more,
And happier love adorn the future day:
But not on me can spring one charm bestow,
Or make this pensive breast with her wild raptures glow.
Madame de Rubine had been absent on her evening walk so much longer than usual, that Dorothée, beginning to be alarmed, was going in search of her; but was agreeably surprised on seeing her safely seated under her favourite tree. Having again reminded her of the lateness of the hour, which she had recently ceased to recollect, she thanked the affectionate girl for her attention, and returned to the cottage.
After a night spent in broken slumbers she arose, and every thing being in readiness for their journey, and Paoli impatiently waiting with the mules, they prepared to depart.
At first she was much alarmed at the necessity of the children travelling without a carriage; but the steep and craggy mountains they had to ascend rendered that mode of conveyance impossible. The mule on which Dorothée and the infant were seated, was led by a peasant; Julie guided her own, and poor Enrîco was reluctantly left to the care of Paoli.
Having slowly descended the hill, on which the cottage was situated, they travelled along the beautiful and picturesque borders of the lake, and without any material occurrence, arrived at Lausanne, where the party was compelled to stop for a few days, being fatigued with the ruggedness of the road, and the unpleasant motion of the animals destined to convey them to their new abode. After this salutary revival, they recommenced their journey along the finely cultivated mountains between Lausanne and Vevay. The scenery of this country, which perhaps is scarcely to be equalled, the mildness of the season, and the wild harmony of the birds that inhabited the branches of the pines, withdrew the attention of Madame de Rubine from the unpleasant conversation of Paoli, which was gloomy, morose, and artful. Chagrined at his behaviour, she avoided mentioning any thing relative to the Marchese, and interrogated him as little as possible as to their future residence. Dorothée and Enrîco were less disposed to silence; they saw much in the novelty of the objects presented to them to attract their admiration, and expressed it with all the simplicity of youth and nature. In the evening they arrived at a small post-house on the road, which was merely a cottage, though from its casual situation it had acquired some importance. As soon as the host appeared, Paoli inquired of him whether he could accommodate a party of travellers and mules with lodgings for the night. The good man seemed doubtful, and, after some minutes' conversation with his wife, informed them, that they had but two beds fit for the reception of strangers, and that one was already in use. 'This is unfortunate, indeed,' cried Julie, perplexed at this unexpected disaster, 'as it is impossible to proceed any further tonight with two children, and one an infant.' 'I am heartily sorry,' replied the host, with much apparent concern; 'but what can be done in the affair? There is a gentleman in the best bed, who is so ill that my heart has ached for him ever since he has been here; and as to his daughter, poor young creature! She has taken no rest night or day since their arrival; and if he dies, which will probably be the case, she will certainly die with him!' 'It is no matter who is ill,' interrupted Paoli, haughtily, 'we have no leisure to hear affecting stories; if we cannot procure beds here we must go on.' 'For heaven's sake,' cried Julie, 'do, if possible, contrive somewhere for the children to sleep; as to Dorothée and myself, we will submit to any thing if you will endeavour to accommodate them.' The host, pleased with the gentle manners of Madame de Rubine, which derived no inconsiderable advantage from being contrasted with the callous moroseness of the steward, assured her, that he and his wife would sit up themselves rather than they should suffer such an inconvenience; and if she would accept of their bed, which was indeed a very common one, in addition to that reserved for the use of their guests, it would give him pleasure to have it in his power to oblige them. This proposal Paoli would willingly have accepted; but Julie's delicacy objected to making this temporary disarrangement, observing that a night's rest was too valuable to those who were condemned to arduous employment, to be sacrificed to the service of strangers. Her arguments were, however, powerfully overruled by the host, who did not fail to convince her, that his wife and himself were better able to sustain the loss of a nights repose than they who had undergone the fatigue of a long and tedious journey. After a little gentle reluctance, which the countenance of Paoli sternly reproved, she ventured to dismount, and was conducted into a small but decent room, enlightened with a blazened fire, which the hostess had just kindled for their reception, made of the dried stalks of the vine. The appearance of neatness and cheerfulness, which reigned throughout this humble dwelling, animated the drooping spirits of Madame de Rubine, who was now relieved from apprehension respecting the children, for whom she experienced the most tender concern and solicitude Paoli himself seemed to lose something of his natural gloom; he even condescended to converse with the landlord on the manners of the country, its verdure, and of the mode of cultivating the mountains. The hostess now appeared; who, spreading a clean coarse cloth upon the table, assured her quests, that had she known of their arrival, she would have prepared them a more comfortable meal. Their daughter, a pretty looking girl, apparently about eighteen, then entered with a small number of boiled eggs, some bread, chiefly composed of rye, and the vin du coté, which was all the house afforded The bloom of Madelina, which was the name of the host's daughter, could not fail to attract the attention of our travellers. She was not tall, but elegantly shaped; her eyes possessed all the vivacity and fire which is chiefly ascribed to the Gallic brunette, mingled with a certain expression of softness and sensibility, which added much to her native loveliness. Her fine fair hair, which was remarkably luxuriant, fell in curls about her neck, and shaded a forehead of the finest proportion, which was simply ornamented with a neat straw hat and black ribbons; the mode of dress which prevails, without individual exception, among the mountain nymphs of Switzerland. As soon as Dorothée had conveyed her young charges to bed, Julia questioned the landlady about the gentleman her husband mentioned, in terms so replete with compassion, being desirous of knowing whether he was indeed so ill as he had been represented, and if he had received any assistance from medicine. Alas! Madame,' replied the hostess, 'he seems to care for no advice but that of his ghostly confessor; and as to Mademoiselle his daughter, she has scarcely partaken of any refreshment since she has been here, and weeps continually. There is none but herself to attend upon her father; and though I have frequently offered my assistance, she has seldom accepted the proposal.' 'What a comfortless situation!' cried Madame de Rubine, much affected by the landlady's simple eloquence. 'Ill from home, and without assistance, a young woman too, his only attendant! Can you not inform me from whence they came, and whither they are going and is it not possible we may be of service to them? The unfortunate have an irresistible claim on our protection, and may we not obey the impulses of inclination when they, are consistent with duty?' The hostess replied, 'that she knew nothing more of them than that their names were La Roque; that they arrived at the inn about four days ago, since which time the poor gentleman had been so ill, that, though his disorder was somewhat abated, his recovery was still very doubtful. That his daughter seldom quitted his apartment except it was to prepare something of refreshment for her father, and seemed herself to be sinking under the calamity!' 'This is very singular,' cried Madame de Rubine, 'that a gentleman, and an invalid, should travel into a distant country attended only by his daughter! There must be something in this circumstance of a very peculiar nature; I wish it was possible to know more of it. Do commend me to the lady, and tell her, though a stranger, I feel interested in her distresses, and should be happy to have it in my power to alleviate them. Surely ceremony in an affair of this nature may be dispensed with.' 'I will go to her instantly,' returned the hostess, 'poor young lady! I am sure so kind a message will comfort her. But would it not be better, Madame, if you was to take a night's rest before you visit them? You seem weary, and such a scene will, I fear, be too much for you.' 'We must not selfishly consider our own ease,' replied Julie, 'when with a little exertion we may render ourselves useful to others; besides, I have heard too much already to be able to sleep, and, as we are travelling in haste, we must pursue our journey to-morrow at an early hour.' Whilst this conversation passed concerning the unfortunate La Roque, Paoli was silent; but his looks sufficiently expressed his disapprobation of her conduct. The luxury of doing good was a luxury unknown to him. Totally devoid of benevolence himself, he did not believe it really existed in the heart of another; and whilst Madame de Rubine was indulging the fond and not delusive hope, that she might soften with her tenderness the pang of misfortune, he was revolving in his mind what secret purpose of her's this was to answer, and reflecting whether it was not possible that treachery might not be concealed under the veil of humanity. From the infamy of his own conduct he formed his opinion of others; and when he could not make the intentions and actions of the greater part of the world wear a colour dark as his own, he believed himself outdone in cunning, and gave them credit for a superior degree of duplicity. In a few minutes the hostess returned with the warmest acknowledgments of gratitude from the gentleman and his daughter, with an earnest desire of thanking her personally for her attention. 'Monsieur,' added she, 'has just awaked from a fine refreshing sleep, and seems better; if you will permit me, I will shew you the room.' She then conducted Julie up stairs, and having led her into the interior of the apartment, introduced her as the kind stranger, and withdrew. The young lady, who, notwithstanding the paleness of her looks, and the disorder of her dress, appeared extremely lovely, stepped forward to receive her, closing at the same time her missal, having been recently engaged in devotion, which she replaced by a small image of the Virgin, that adorned one of the angles. As her fair visitor began to unfold the reasons that had actuated her to this singular mode of procedure, she endeavoured to express the high sense she had of the obligation; but an impulse of gratitude stifled her utterance, and the words she would have articulated died upon her lips. She then gently undrew the curtain and having removed a stool, on which was placed a lamp and a crucifix, led her to the side of the bed. As she advanced, the invalid, attempting to raise himself, held out his hand to receive her; then gazing upon one of the most affecting Countenances he had ever seen with mingled surprise and admiration 'May I ask, Madame,' cried he, 'to whom I am indebted for this unexampled benevolence, and what angel has directed you to sooth with your kindness the most forlorn and unhappy of men?' Julie having returned this compliment to her sensibility with her usual grace, apologized for the liberty she had taken; to which she assured him she was not instigated by a principle of idle curiosity, but from having cherished the idea that she might possibly have it in her power to alleviate his sufferings. She had been informed, she added, that he had at present no medical assistance; and as business of a peculiar nature rendered it necessary for her to quit the post-house early on the following day, she intended, with his permission to send a physician to attend him, from the nearest town. 'You are too, too good, Madame,' cried the amiable young stranger speaking through her tears; 'but my father, I fear, will never consent to it. I have urged the necessity of it without ceasing; yet he is deaf to my entreaties.' 'Why, my child,' interrupted La Roque, 'should I endeavour to prolong a life only productive of evil? Have I not been an unnatural parent, a cruel husband? Yes,' resumed he, fixing his hollow eyes upon a small picture, which was fastened round his neck with a black ribbon, 'my Helena! My much injured Helena! I was thy murderer!' Then heaving a profound, convulsive sigh, he sunk again upon the pillow. 'Oh! my father,' replied Mademoiselle, in a voice rendered tremulous by emotion, 'how unjust, how cruel are these self-accusations! And why will you thus aggravate affliction by remorse? Reflect how conducive to health is serenity of mind, and for my sake, if not for our own, embrace the means of recovery: for though retched at present from circumstances not in our power to prevent, let us look forwards with comfort and hope to better days.' Madame de Rubine, who, during these pathetic exclamations had regarded Mademoiselle La Roque with a gaze of earnest inquiry, endeavoured, by the most forcible arguments she could summon to her aid, to reconcile him to the application of means to accelerate his recovery, not only for the sake of his child, who would feel so severely his loss, but from a principle of duty; assuring him, at the same time, that, if he absolutely rejected her proposal, she should depart with extreme reluctance. Finding, from the expressive looks of the invalid, that what she had advanced was not totally disregarded, she ventured to ask, why they travelled without a servant? and requested permission to inquire in the village for a suitable person to attend them. 'Your generosity, Madame,' returned La Roque, 'is unbounded; and language can but feebly express the warmth of my feelings on this occasion. The servant who attended us from home was murdered by a party of banditti about nine leagues from this place, whilst we narrowly escaped with our lives! I was then ill, and the grief and apprehension this melancholy accident excited, increased my fever, which, I have some reason to hope, is now abating. Was your residence at the inn to be prolonged, I might possibly be induced to venture upon a story long and mournful; but thus much I will unfold: My real name is not La Roque; we are taking refuge from the vilest, the most infamous of men-a wretch, who has been long resolutely determined to accomplish my destruction!' 'May I ask,' cried Julie, with apparent astonishment, 'who is this persecutor, and what are his intentions?' 'His intentions are,' returned La Roque, 'to the murder of a son to add that of a father; and was there a greater fiend than himself, I would address him by that name, it is the Marchese de Montferrat.' As he uttered these last words, Julie started, and turned pale. She had, however, presence of mind to conceal her emotion, and bade him proceed. 'It would detain you too long, Madame,' replied La Roque, 'and my spirits are unequal to the task; but should we ever meet again you shall be thoroughly acquainted with the history of my misfortunes.' 'That we should ever meet again is, I fear, too improbable to be depended upon,' cried Madame de Rubine, hesitatingly; 'yet I feel much interested in your narrative. May I ask where is your intended residence?' 'In one of the convents on the borders of Germany,' returned Mademoiselle La Roque, 'when my father's health will allow us to travel. 'Then it is not impossible, as I am myself going to reside in Germany, and may be fortunate enough to succeed in my inquiries.' 'If then,' cried the invalid, 'you will so far honour me as to visit the convent, the name I mean to take is Father Francisco; and should my disorder prove fatal, my daughter will be there as sister Maria.' Mademoiselle La Roque, who was sitting by the side of the bed attending earnestly to this discourse, wept as he reverted to the danger of his situation. The idea of parting was not become familiar to her, and covering her face with her handkerchief, she sobbed aloud. Madame de Rubine, whose heart 'was so finely tuned, and harmonized by nature', that it vibrated at the slightest touch of human calamity, endeavoured to console her young friend, by a assurance that her fears were ill-founded respecting her father, who was visibly in a state of convalescence; signifying also her intention of sending a physician and a servant to attend him. Having removed some slight objections that were offered by invalid, in opposition to her benevolent proposal, she arose to depart; and taking the hand of Mademoiselle with the tenderness and familiarity of an old acquaintance, she informed her, that she would join in her prayers for the recovery of Monsieur La Roque, and would spare no effort to discover the convent to which they were retiring. After many grateful adieus on the part of the strangers, his daughter following Julie out of the apartment, requested the favour of her name, that by mutual inquiries they might hasten second meeting. Not immediately prepared to reply, she hesitated, blushed, and was silent. The impropriety of mentioning a name she was soon to disown, was too evident; to be absent from her thoughts, and the embarrassment she had already discovered, filled her with new confusion. Yet aware of the necessity of framing a reply, she evaded the question, by informing her, that she would avail herself of every possible means of learning their place of abode, and would then take the earliest opportunity of acquainting her with every circumstance she was permitted to disclose. Though harassed and fatigued with traversing the mountains, Julie's mind was too much discomposed by this strange unexpected adventure to allow her to hope for repose. The story she had heard was imperfect, yet the villainy of the Marchese was evident; and she reflected with terror on the certainty that she had thrown herself upon the protection of a man capable of the most deliberate cruelty. She wished that her curiosity had either been gratified or unexcited; but was resolved to commence her inquiries immediately on her arrival in Germany. La Roque had mentioned their having fallen into the hands of banditti, who had murdered his servant, and that his daughter and himself had escaped with difficulty: consequently they must have been plundered by these lawless wretches, and probably had nothing left to defray their expenses, which accounted in some measure for his having no person to attend upon him. With sensation of exalted pleasure, peculiar to the noble and disinterested mind, she recollected she was empowered to assist them; but this was an affair that required to be conducted with the greatest delicacy imaginable, and she was for some time irresolute in what manner to proceed. At last, however, she thought of a expedient which would prevent every unpleasant consequence that might otherwise arise from her benevolent intention -- She had lately received fifty ducats, the quarterly portion of her income; which, on mature deliberation, she determined to inclose in a paper and leave to be delivered by the hostess after her departure from the inn. Then advancing slowly towards the stairs, she paused for a moment to listen if Paoli was yet retired. Finding all was silent, and remembering the lateness of the hour, and that he was probably in bed, she ventured to proceed towards the kitchen, where she discovered the host, his wife, and Dorothée, sitting by a cheerful fire. Having asked for a pen and ink, which was instantly procured, she returned to her room, and framing an elegant apology, in which she folded up the ducats, gave it to the landlady, with orders to deliver it to Mademoiselle immediately on her quitting the inn. In the morning she arose early, and having satisfied the kind host for his civility, put another piece of gold into the hands of his wife, desiring her to provide a servant to attend upon La Roque and his amiable daughter, and then hastened to join the rest of the party, who had already mounted their mules. After they had each taken leave of the hospitable cottagers, they pursued their journey towards the Castle of Elfinbach which was the name of the mansion selected for them by the Marchese de Montferrat.
Yes, let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
These simple blessings of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm than all the gloss of art:
Spontaneous joys, here nature has its play,
The soul adopts, and owns its first-born sway;
Lightly they frolic o'er the vacant mind,
Unenvied, unmolested, unconfin'd.
As they advanced, the most picturesque objects of nature were presented to their view; mountains crowned with the oak, the beech, and the pine, and the most beautiful woods, groves, and lakes, interspersed with vineyards and fertile fields! To behold such a combination of beauties rivalling each other in grace, yet improving by contrast the effect of the whole, without experiencing the most pleasurable emotions, would have been scarcely possible; even Paoli appeared not to be entirely insensible of the power of sylvan attraction, for his features lost much of their accustomed austerity.
He praised the rich verdure of the landscape, listened with apparent satisfaction to the responses of the birds, which were concealed in the pine-forests, and was for the moment, or affected to be, pleased. He inquired about the strangers at the inn, what were their names, and whither they were going; and whether the melancholy account of the invalid, as delivered by the host, had not been exaggerated.
Julie in this instance mistook curiosity for humanity; from the uncontaminated purity of her own heart she formed the most liberal opinion of others, and was not a little gratified on finding in the character of Paoli, at least one trait that bore the semblance of a virtue.
But when he found that some of his interrogatories were evaded, and others answered undecisively, the look of gentleness which he had assumed, vanished, and his brow wore the cloud of disappointment and of anger.
The conversation, which this transient good-humour had animated, now sunk into silence. Madame de Rubine, who found no difficulty in ascertaining the cause, lamented that she had been deceived, though she had the internal satisfaction of knowing that it was candour, not childish credulity, that had thus momentarily obscured her better judgment.
Her spirits were, however, both soothed and invigorated by the glowing landscape before her; and she felt refreshed by the soft salute of the zephyr that wafted the perfume of the flowers which adorned the valleys.
The peasant girls were busily employed in carrying baskets of grapes from the vineyards; the chamoix, who during the extreme heat of the day had secluded themselves in the rocky glens of the precipices, or in the darkest recesses of the woods, were now skipping about them; while the loud laugh, the jest, and the song, accompanied their labours, and sometimes the wild harmony of the shepherd's pipe, attuned to the notes of the Kuhreihen, (The herdsman's song) echoed from the mountains that simple fascinating air, which is indiscriminately used by the inhabitants of the Alps, when they drive their cattle from the valleys to the cultivated tops of the eminences. As the evening advanced, the rural dance, beneath the deep shade of the trees, began, and the voices of merriment and delight were every-where heard. Those who were too ancient to join themselves in the sports, were pleased spectators of those juvenile delights, which many of them had, perhaps, reluctantly resigned, who appeared to catch something of the spirit of youth as they contemplated the happy groups before them. Uncorrupted simplicity was never more forcibly expressed, nor was ever the charm of content more successfully delineated; for the peasantry of these beautiful regions seemed to have forgotten all the cares and anxieties inseparable from humanity, in the unrestrained enjoyment of mirth and festivity.
Julie sighed as she surveyed these innocent pastimes, but it was a sigh not of envy, but regret. She recalled to her recollection days long past, which memory had too faithfully treasured among her stores, when she also was gay, sportive, and animated as those who were now blissfully partaking of pastoral amusement. The road being less rugged than on the preceding day, and the mountains they had to ascend less rocky, they were enabled to proceed farther than they at first intended, and in the evening arrived at a small hotel, or post-house, finely situated near the much-admired Lake of Murat, which is so justly celebrated for its crystal surface. -- Here they remained during the night, and in the morning continued leisurely on their way; Paoli still silent, Madame de Rubine thoughtful, and Dorothée and Enrîco gay and talkative.
After having previously passed through a number of those rich and beautiful fir-woods, for which this country is deservedly eminent, the travellers arrived at the town of Bern, where it was deemed necessary for them to remain resident at least for a few days in order to recruit their strength and spirits, in which time they had an opportunity of surveying that master-piece of Gothic architecture, the cathedral, which, for taste and greatness of design, scarcely to be equalled in Switzerland, and of beholding those beautiful walks that run along its side, commanding, from their elevated situation, one of the most finished prospects in the world. The large number of handsome fountains too, which were variously disposed throughout the principal streets, came in for their share of admiration, as they united beauty with convenience, and gave an air of coolness and cleanliness to the appearance of the whole.
Julie recollecting that she was to take another name immediately on her arrival in Germany, after much revolving in her mind, fixed upon Chamont, and bestowed upon the infant that of Laurette. She also engaged the most skilful physician to attend La Roque; and several days having elapsed during their continuance at Bern, they proceeded on their journey.
High o'er the pines that, with their darkening shade,
Surround yon craggy bank, the castle rears
Its crumbling turrets; still its tow'ring head,
A warlike mien, a sullen grandeur wears.
It was at a late hour when the party arrived at their destined abode, and the shades of evening had conspired, with the solitude of its situation, to give an air of gloomy magnificence to the scene. The castle, which was seated upon an eminence, about a quarter of a league from the bed of the river, seemed to have been separated by nature from the habitable world by deep and impenetrable woods. Two of the towers, which were all that remained entire, were half secreted in a forest; the others, which were mouldering into ruins, opened into a narrow, uncultivated plain, terminating in a rocky declivity, at the bottom of which flowed the Rhine, wide, deep, and silent. Paoli, having dismounted, conveyed them through the principal portal to the door of the great hall; when heaving a massy knocker, which returned a deep-toned hollow sound, he waited for some time in visible impatience, and no one approaching, again repeated the alarm. In a few moments, the bolts being undrawn with a suspicious caution, the heavy doors were unfolded by an aged domestic, who came forwards to welcome them, and to lead them into the interior of the mansion. They were then conducted through a spacious hall into a room newly fitted up for their reception, which seemed, from the many vestiges of ancient grandeur which remained, to have been formerly the grand saloon of the castle. The antique furniture, consisting of many articles long fallen into disuse, and the dark wainscot composed of larch-wood, which was overhung with a number of grotesque figures, aided the gloom of its appearance, and might have awakened unpleasant sensations, had not the effect been counteracted by the cheerful blaze of a fire, which animated the sinking spirits of the travellers till the hour that called them to repose. Julie, having enquired if necessary accommodations were made for the children, which was answered in the affirmative, partook of some refreshment; and, after lingering for a few minutes to examine the figures upon the walls, expressed a wish to retire, and was conducted by Margaritte, the old female domestic, to her room. As she passed along the hall, which was feebly enlightened with the expiring ray of a dim and solitary lamp, she shuddered involuntarily at the gloom of its appearance, and followed her guide in pensive silence. Having ascended the stairs, and passed through the corridor, into which opened several apartments, Margaritte informed her of the one designed for herself, and wishing her a good night, left her to repose. Thoughtful and dejected, she retired to her bed. The desolate aspect of the mansion had already affected her spirits, and as the wind howled in hollow murmurs round the turret, in which her chamber was situated, and sometimes in hollow gusts agitated the decayed tapestry with which it was hung, she looked fearfully around, and shrunk with a superstitious dread entirely new to her. It seemed as if the dreary abode, to which she was consigned, had long been forsaken by humanity, and was now become the asylum of supernatural agents; but reproving herself for this momentary weakness, and turning her thoughts towards Laurette and Enrîco, her mind dwelt with something like comfort upon the future, and she sunk into a tranquil slumber. The sun shone in full splendour when she awoke, and reminded her that she had slept past her usual hour. Hastily arising, she endeavoured to ring the bell, that she might inquire of Dorothée how the children had rested; but from long neglect it seemed to have forgot its office, and it was some time before she succeeded. In a few minutes her faithful servant attended with the infant and Enrîco; whilst the innocent smiles of the former, and prattling simplicity of the latter, contributed to chase away every melancholy impression which her new situation had occasioned. Having pressed them to her bosom with maternal tenderness, she desired breakfast to be instantly prepared, and dressed herself in haste. The day, which was chiefly devoted to domestic arrangements, passed with unusual rapidity. The attention of Madame de Rubine was now chiefly divided between her children, and the cares of her household, which two material concerns so entirely occupied her thoughts, that she did not revert so frequently as before to the primary cause of her inquietudes. The family, which was stationary before their arrival, consisted of Margaritte, an old female servant, the same who had directed her to her apartment on the preceding night; Lisette, who was her granddaughter, and Ambrose, a man who had been long resident in the family of the Marchese, to whom she was introduced by the name of Chamont. The countenance of Paoli still wore the same forbidding expression; and though Julie found it necessary to consult with him on some subjects relative to her present establishment, she still retained an unconquerable aversion to his general conversation and deportment, which gave an air of reserve to her manners, that not escaping his penetration, excited an equal degree of distrust in his breast, which he endeavoured to smother in silence. As it was necessary, both from the desire of the Marchese, and from the age of the child committed to her care, that the baptismal rites should be performed, a friar, from a neighbouring monastery, of the Carthusian order, was applied to, who, according to the usual ceremonies of the Romish church, gave her the name of Laurette. When this was concluded, Julie, who had not yet examined the different apartments in the castle, wandered for some time in uninterrupted silence through a long extent of desolated chambers, some of which were hung with old arras, and others wainscotted with cedar and Spanish oak. The furniture, which seemed to be nearly coeval with the building, being formed of the most durable materials, had long resisted the attacks of time; but was now, with the damps and with age, falling fast into decay. She then proceeded through a gallery to a suite of rooms that communicated with the eastern turret, the last of which opened into the oriel. Here she observed several portraits, which appeared to have been the workmanship of some of the best Italian masters. Two of them which were apparently more modern than the rest, chiefly engaged her attention; though even these were so covered with dust, and so injured with the damps, as to have lost much of their former beauty. The first was the figure of a young warrior, who was supposed to have been mortally wounded in an engagement. He was supported by two grey-haired veterans; an allegorical figure of Death approached with a dart, which Valour, accoutred as Mars, opposed with his shield. The other was the figure of a female leaning upon a tomb; it possessed uncommon beauty and expression; the hands were clasped as if in prayer; the eyes, which were dark, were directed towards heaven with peculiar sweetness, and spoke, in a language the most eloquent, the extreme sensibility of the mind. Having gazed for some time upon these pictures with silent admiration, she proceeded through a gallery which led to the western side of the structure; in which were also several spacious and forsaken apartments that received additional gloom from the evening twilight, and made her shrink with fearful apprehension. She wondered why the Marchese had placed her and the children in this comfortless abode; or, if this was indispensable, why he had not made it more habitable? It seemed as if he was uninterested in her happiness, and careless of her fate: -the words of La Roque returned forcibly upon her mind; he had pronounced him a murderer; she shuddered at the thought, and reproved herself for not prevailing upon Mademoiselle when she led her from the room, to give her the outlines of the story; though she entertained the hope that in a short time she should be able to discover their residence, and might then be informed of the whole. Wrapped in silent meditation, she rambled for some time through the long winding passages, without being able to find the marble staircase which she had first ascended; but was relieved from this incertitude on reaching the corridor, which she descended in haste, leaving the greater part of the mansion to be explored at some future time. Though an air of melancholy distinguished every object around, there was much of the sublime and the beautiful in the appearance of the castle, and also in the surrounding scenery. Julie, having again crossed the hall, proceeded towards the portico, being resolved to examine more minutely the awful grandeur of its external aspect, which she had never attempted before, having been engaged in the duties of her family the greater part of the day. Walking into the inner court, which was wild and grass-grown, she stopped to observe a figure, which haste and the darkness of the evening had prevented her from perceiving on her arrival. It was a column of the Corinthian order, on whose summit was erected an equestrian statue of black marble, representing a young hero in complete armour, which, on examination, she found was designed for the same as the portrait she had observed in the oriel. It seemed to aid the solemnity of the scene, and acquired additional character from the loneliness of its situation; surrounded by lofty walls, which were overgrown with wild weeds, and the deadly night-shade, whilst the thread moss encrusted the fragments of the fallen ramparts which lay scattered at the base of the pillar, it seemed to stand as if exulting in its strength, and triumphing amid the desolation and ruin it surveyed. She now proceeded through a gate into the outer court, which was still more wild than the former one, leading to the principal portal. The grey mist of the twilight, which now deepened and reflected upon every object a dusky hue, made her fearful of venturing through the avenues at that lonely hour, and occasioned her to return again towards the castle. As she surveyed that lofty edifice, which seemed to shrink from observation in the deep recesses of the wood, her imagination dwelt with horror upon the miseries of war, which rendered necessary those impenetrable fortresses, those massy walls that spoke of murder and imprisonment, in which the proud possessor, wrapped in selfish security, listened to the cry of anguish and the groan of death with sullen apathy. She was roused from these reflections by the appearance of Paoli, who had just emerged from the wood, and with his arms folded upon his breast, in the attitude of musing, was crossing the inner court. As soon as the gloom permitted him to distinguish her, he started and retreated, as a person who, conscious of guilt, recedes from the eye of observation, lest his secret designs should be displayed; but, anxious to learn for whom the statue was designed, and the pictures she had seen in the oriel, she followed him into the hall, and interrogated him concerning them. He seemed, however, averse to gratifying her curiosity; but whether this proceeded from his ignorance of the subject, or his own uncommunicative disposition, he was too great a master of dissimulation for her to discover; but though he did not give her the information she immediately desired, he indulged her with a piece of intelligence of a more interesting nature, which was, that he intended to quit the mansion on the following day. This intimation was received with pleasure not only by Julie, but also by the rest of the family, who all acknowledged themselves weary of his unprepossessing deportment and manners. When the morning arrived, whilst Paoli was preparing to depart she wrote a few lines to the Marchese, to acquaint him, that, agreeable to his former request, she had named the infant; and from his not having signified any desire of fixing upon it himself, previous to her residence in the castle, she had ventured to give it that of Laurette. She concluded this concise epistle with informing him, that she considered herself as strictly bound to fulfil the promises already made, and depended upon his honour for a future provision for Enrîco. This being folded up, and delivered to the steward, he repeated his formal adieus, and set forwards towards Italy. Julie, whose time was now uniformly devoted to the service of her little favourites, and other laudable occupations, became gradually reconciled to her new situation; and habit so powerfully prevailed, as to render scenes, which were at first beheld with an unconquerable emotion of terror, interesting and even charming. She frequently rambled in the woods, which were beautiful and wild, and sometimes on the banks of the Rhine; where, taking her pencil or her lute, she would oftentimes linger till the close of the day, till the sun having sunk beneath the horizon, was lost beyond the distant hills. A long acquaintance with sorrow had given strength and elasticity to her mind. She had acquired by effort an advantage which Nature, though in other respects liberal, had withheld; an advantage which enabled her at once to endure misfortune, and to triumph over it. -- She knew that a state of uninterrupted happiness was never intended to be the lot of mortality, and that to suffer with uniform fortitude was true dignity. This lesson, which her mother had inculcated in youth, she had cherished in maturity. The meek and unaffected piety of that excellent parent was never absent from her thoughts, and she exerted her most strenuous endeavours to emulate her virtues. Time, though it had thrown a veil over the acute sorrow which her loss had excited, had awakened a more tender, if a less melancholy sensation, when her imagination reverted with more than filial affection to the past; and as in rural scenes the mind is more abstracted from worldly pursuits, it is also more susceptible of amiable impressions. This directed her to the recollection of every estimable precept delivered by her deceased and much-lamented parent, which had been hitherto the established rule of her conduct. As no material incident occurred at the castle of Elfinbach for a considerable time after the arrival of the family, it may here be proper to introduce the story of Julie de Rubine, that the reader may be acquainted with the nature of these misfortunes which had occasioned her to embrace, in early youth, a life of almost total seclusion.
Canst thou not minister to minds diseas'd,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the foul bosom of that perilous stuff
That weighs upon the heart
Julie de Rubine was descended from an ancient and illustrious family, long resident in the southern part of France. Her father's name was Gerard, who was the only son of St Herbert de Rubine. He had entered at an early period of life into the service of his country, and signalized himself in the victorious battles of Henry the Third; but not receiving from this Monarch those honours which he considered as the just reward of his valour, he abandoned the Court and the sword together, and retired, with an amiable wife and his only daughter, to a chateau on a small paternal estate in the province of Artois.
Nothing could be more congenial to the disposition of Madame de Rubine than the sequestered situation of this beautiful retreat. The chateau was of Gothic construction, and seemed to have withstood the attacks of ages; but the northern side of the edifice was now visibly falling to decay, and St Gerard's mind was entirely occupied by endeavouring to make this part of the structure habitable, without destroying that appearance of ancient simplicity which formed its most striking beauty; but when this was completed, and the ardour of pursuit was over, he again experienced all that chagrin and restless dissatisfaction, which is too often the consequence of disappointed ambition.
This change Madame de Rubine beheld with extreme regret, and attempted to remove the cause with all the tenderness of a refined and inviolable affection, hoping, by the example of her own exemplary piety, she might be enabled to elevate his mind above the trifling consideration of worldly dignities; but she knew not all the distresses of the unfortunate Gerard. Previous to his seclusion from the gay circles of life he had contracted debts, that the narrowness of his annual income, which he had long vainly hoped to increase, rendered impossible to discharge; and the solicitude he felt in behalf of his amiable wife, had imprudently confined the secret to his own bosom.
He had no sooner quitted Paris than he received a letter from his principal creditor, demanding the immediate payment of a large sum. This event determined him to write to Madame Laronne, his only sister, who had been some years a widow, and was left in affluent circumstances, to acquaint her with the embarrassed situation of his affairs, and also to request the loan of a sum sufficient to discharge the debt.
But here his too sanguine expectations were again deceived Madame Laronne assured him, that had it been possible, nothing would have contributed more to her happiness than to have given him a proof of her regard by affording pecuniary assistance; but the stile of elegance, to which she had been accustomed, was now become necessary to her happiness; and her expenses were lately so considerably increased, that she was sorry to add she must endure the painful sensation which refusing his request would inevitably excite.
Grief and resentment, the natural consequence of unexpected ingratitude, now agitated the mind of the astonished Gerard. He knew that Madame Laronne's rank in life, and also her ambition, required the ostentatious display of wealth and grandeur; but he was also convinced that, without materially injuring herself, she had it sufficiently in her power immediately to relieve his necessities. When the mingled emotions of indignation and anguish had, in some measure, subsided, he seemed to have lost all his energy of soul; nothing bestowed even a transitory pleasure, and he sunk into the most alarming melancholy! Not even the conversation of Madame de Rubine, nor the undeviating gentleness of her manners, could for a moment withdraw his thoughts from the painful contemplation of his real and imaginary distresses. That smile of affection, and that look of sentiment, which once cherished his vivacity, and rewarded her tenderness, was now lost in the gloom of disappointment, disgust, and anguish.
Julie, having now entered upon her thirteenth year, was remarkably tall of her age, and elegant in her person. Her disposition was mild, frank, and benevolent; and she united, with admirable discretion the unadorned graces of youth, with the uniform sedateness of maturer years. In obedience to the will of her father she had learned to play upon the lute, and her voice, which was exquisitely sweet, was perfectly adapted to the soft and plaintive tones of that charming instrument. During the few first months of their residence at the chateau, St Gerard frequently rambled with her by moon-light through the beautiful woods, and sometimes over the fine range of hills which appeared so picturesque from the chateau; where he would desire her to play one of his favourite airs, selected from the sonnets of Ariosto, or expressing the melting sorrows of Petrarch.
The look of settled despondency which was so strongly portrayed on the features of the unfortunate veteran, when his new situation no longer afforded amusement and variety, did not remain unobserved by his amiable daughter, who exerted herself unceasingly to remove it by the sprightliness of her wit, the melody of her voice, or the soft pathos of her lute; but his mind, enervated by sorrow, was no longer alive to the fine touches of harmony; and frequently, in the midst of one of his favourite songs, to which he had formerly listened with all the rapture of enthusiasm, he would start as from a dream, and hasten from the room as if agitated by the appearance of some frightful demon.
His constitution, which in the early part of his life had suffered much from the severity of military discipline, now became visibly impaired; the disorder of his mind daily increased; melancholy became habitual to him, and so rapid was the progress it made in undermining his health, that Madame de Rubine began to be seriously alarmed. Advice was immediately procured, and change of air prescribed; but not to quit the chateau was the unalterable determination of Gerard. A nervous fever was the consequence of this resolution, which in a short time terminated his existence.
This shock Madame de Rubine supported with that true dignity of soul, which gave a peculiar grace and energy to every sentiment and action. She felt severely her loss, but she felt it with the resignation of a Christian; she mingled patience with sorrow, and was enabled, through the most pure and elevated piety, to triumph over the repeated attacks of calamity. But the lovely Julie possessed not at this early period of life that exalted strength of mind, which she admired, without being able to imitate, in the character of her mother. That exquisite sensibility, which glowed upon her cheek, and spoke, in the fine language of her eyes, the tenderness of a father, she had cherished as a grace, without reflecting that, if indulged, it would degenerate into weakness, and cease to be a virtue.
Soon after the remains of St Gerard were deposited in the chapel of the chateau, Madame de Rubine, whose health was much injured by her unceasing attention to her husband, was advised by the physician who attended her, to try the effect of a softer climate.
About this time she received a consolatory letter from Madame Laronne, with a pressing invitation to visit her at her seat near Turin; which proposal would have been accepted with gratitude, had not the coldness, bordering upon contempt, which marked her behaviour towards her brother, lessened her in the estimation of his affectionate widow. For the sake of Julie, however, she was un willing to refuse this offered kindness; she considered that her illness might possibly prove fatal, and in that case it would be right to secure a friend for her child, though she ardently wished that friend had been any other than Madame Laronne.
Every thing was now properly arranged for the intended journey, and the time fixed for their departure, when Madame de Rubine as attacked by a malignant disorder, which threatened a speedy dissolution. It was her mind only that was masculine; for her frame being excessively slight, and delicately formed, was incapable of sustaining unusual fatigue.
Julie, who had not yet recovered from the shock occasioned by the death of her father, now felt her former loss was small, when compared with what she should experience in being parted from her beloved mother; and when she reflected upon the probability of this event, the dreadful presentiment worked so powerfully upon her feelings, as almost to deprive her of reason.
Madame de Rubine beheld the anguish of her daughter with extreme concern, which was augmented by the mournful idea of a separation, as the dangerous symptoms of her disease hourly increased; this she believed was inevitable, and being fully apprized of her situation, with that calm dignity which accompanied every action of her life, she desired that a friar from a neighbouring monastery, who was her confessor, might attend with the consecrated water, and read the service for the dying.
This customary ceremony being over, and the extreme unction administered, she appeared for some moments unusually agitated; but after a second interview with the monk, became more serene and tranquil. Being firmly persuaded that the awful hour was approaching that was to remove her from, and dissolve all her earthly connexions, she requested that Julie might be instantly called.
Pale and trembling, she entered the apartment, leaning upon the arm of a servant, and without attending to the common forms by addressing the holy visitor, who had just risen from a small altar erected near the window, threw herself by the side of the bed, and fixing her languid eyes upon the faded, yet interesting, countenance of her mother, burst into a flood of tears!
The venerable friar regarding her with an aspect on which pity and affection were strikingly depicted, endeavoured to console her with the comforts of religion, by reminding her of the gracious promises of protection which the doctrines of Christianity afforded, in a stile replete with simple and unaffected eloquence; but finding that her feelings were too acute to admit of premature consolation, with an air of tenderness mingled with sorrow, he withdrew.
Madame de Rubine, who beheld these emotions of severe distress with inexpressible concern, besought her to receive, and consider with gratitude, the salutary and valuable advice of the holy father. 'Remember, my child,' added she, with the look and accents of a departing saint, 'that this separation, though to us mournful and afflictive, is the will of the Most High God, and that we ought to submit without a murmur to his unerring Providence! Let us then, instead of arrogating to ourselves the right of disputing his mercy and equity, prove, by the most implicit obedience to his divine decrees, that we are not unworthy to be called his servants; and give me reason to believe, my Julie, that the lessons of fortitude, which I have so frequently given you, have not been delivered in vain.
'I leave you, my darling alone and, almost unfriended, in a world in which you will find much occasion for the exercise of this estimable virtue, The only relation you will have left is Madame Laronne; and though for many reasons she is not the person I should have selected from all others as the guardian of my child, yet as she is the only surviving sister of your father, it cannot easily be dispensed with. Let me then endeavour, if possible by timely advice, to prevent the evils which might otherwise ensue from the precepts and example of one who may probably have some virtues, but who I fear, has many follies. I must now, my love, enter upon a subject that appears at this crisis more than usually important: I must demand from you, my Julie, before I leave you for ever, a solemn promise, upon the performance of which depends both your temporal and eternal welfare.'
Here the meek sufferer paused, as if unable to proceed, whilst her daughter, with an assumed resignation, that shaded but imperfectly the emotions of her soul, assured her, that whatever was the nature of the request, she was prepared to comply with it, and would instantly ratify her resolve with the most solemn vow.
'You are not, my dear, sufficiently aware,' resumed Madame de Rubine, 'of the little respect that is paid to the religious, and even the moral, duties of life, amid the dissipation and gaiety of the world. Madame Laronne is a woman of rank, and undoubtedly from a motive of kindness, but, I fear, a mistaken one, will introduce you into the most brilliant and fashionable circles. She will also desire, in the common acceptation of the term, to see you advantageously married; but, though desirous of leading you to happiness, she may unfortunately mistake the way. In her choice of a husband for you, religion, I am convinced, will be only a secondary consideration, and a disagreement of sentiment in this important affair has been the occasion of innumerable evils. Promise me then, my Julie, that whatever arguments may be employed to dissuade you from your purpose, never to unite yourself to a man, however estimable in point of morals, and however splendid in situation, who does not exactly agree with you in all the articles of the Catholic Faith. Say then, my child, that whatever trials and temporal distresses this resolution may involve you in, that nothing shall prevail upon you to marry a Protestant.'
Julie, who equally revered with her mother the doctrines of the Church of Rome, and whose zeal in the cause of her persuasion was not less animated, readily acquiesced in the proposal; and, having assured her dying parent in a manner the most solemn and impressive that she should consider this promise as sacred and inviolable, an exquisite expression of joy irradiated for a moment the features of Madame de Rubine, who, having uttered a few words as in prayer, sunk upon the pillow, and her spirits being greatly exhausted, fell into a slumber, from which she awoke unrefreshed and in a few hours breathed her last!
Immediately on the decease of Madame de Rubine, the friar, who had attended her as confessor, came with a consolatory message and invitation to Julie from the prioress of an adjacent convent; but this nothing could prevail upon her to accept till the funereal rites were over, and she had paid every possible respect to the memory of her lamented relative.
In a few days the body of the deceased was entombed by the side of St Gerard, in the chapel of the chateau, which was accompanied to the place of interment by a few of the domestics, and Julie, who attended as chief mourner.
Mindful of the lesson of resignation that her mother had so recently delivered, she attempted to appear tranquil; but the effort was ineffectual, and the service, which was pronounced with peculiar solemnity, was frequently interrupted with her convulsive sobs.
The next day, at the request of Father Austin, the confessor, she was conducted to the convent of St Catherine, and introduced to the superior of the order, who received her with much apparent tenderness and concern, which Julie attempted to repay with the modest effusions of her gratitude.
The prioress, having been informed by the monk of the forlorn situation in which she was left, and also of the losses she had lately sustained, took the earliest opportunity of offering her an asylum until she could be more eligibly accommodated; and when she beheld her, endeavoured, with the most affecting gentleness of demeanour, to alleviate her affliction.
There was an air of solemnity in the manners of the superior, but it was tempered with mildness; and though the language of her countenance was expressive of sorrow, it was sorrow softened by resignation, reflection, and piety.
After a week's residence in the convent, Mademoiselle de Rubine, by the desire of her new friend, wrote to Madame Laronne, her aunt, to acquaint her with the death of her mother, and to inform her under whose care she was placed; requesting likewise to know, whether she was to remain under the maternal protection of the prioress, or to repair to Italy.
In a few weeks she received an answer from her aunt, in which she expressed her concern for the death of her sister, and also declared her intention of visiting the Netherlands for the purpose of conveying her into Italy, which address was concluded with many affectionate acknowledgments of unalterable regard.
The promises of support which this letter afforded, were thankfully and cordially received by the lovely Julie; yet the idea of being launched into a world, which she had been taught to believe was pregnant with vice and immorality, filled her with apprehension and uneasiness; and made her ardently wish that, instead of attending her aunt into Italy, she might be permitted to remain in the cloister, sheltered in the bosom of Religion and Virtue from the evils that threatened her in the world.
Soon after her admission into the convent, she attached herself to one of the sisters, whose name was Ursula. She was much older than herself, and from her many estimable qualities, had been recommended to her as a companion by the superior. In the society of this amiable nun, and that of her noble protectress, Julie became composed, and at times somewhat animated. Attentively observing the rules of the order, she arose early to matins, and as regularly attended at vespers, whilst the intermediate hours were chiefly engaged in assisting the prioress in embroidery, or other elegant employments, who expressed herself much gratified with her performance, and complimented her highly on the evident superiority of her taste.
After some time had elapsed in this calm, uninterrupted retirement, whose solitude was so entirely congenial to her present frame of spirits, a carriage and splendid retinue appeared at the gate, and announced the arrival of Madame Laronne.
Julie was walking in the shrubbery with sister Ursula and another lady, who was a novice, when she received an order to attend upon her aunt in the apartment of the superior.
Madame Laronne met her with many flattering appellations; but there was nothing of that genuine sensibility in her demeanour which communicates itself to the heart. When she condescended to listen to the plaint of misery, and to wipe away the tear from the cheek of the unfortunate, it was evidently more to display her own fancied superiority, than for the sake of experiencing that pure and heartfelt satisfaction, which in amiable minds accompanies the performance of a generous action.
After having continued a few weeks in the convent, which time was employed in settling the affairs of St Gerard, she desired her niece to prepare for the intended journey, whom she rallied on her partiality to that sequestered retreat, and her strict adherence to the rules of the institution. Julie, having obtained permission to visit once more the grave of her beloved parents, which she again watered with her tears, took an affectionate leave of the prioress, her favourite Ursula, and the rest of the sisterhood; and placing herself in the carriage with Madame Laronne, they were driven from the gate.
It was in vain that Julie attempted to conceal her emotions when she cast her eyes, for the last time, upon that hospitable mansion, which had so humanely afforded her shelter; she, however, exerted her most strenuous endeavours to appear cheerful; but these efforts were painful, and sometimes ineffectual; and Madame Laronne condemned that sensibility, which having never felt, she knew not how to compassionate.
Far to the right where Apennine ascends,
Bright as the summer Italy extends,
Its upland sloping decks the mountains side,
Woods over woods in gay theatric pride,
While oft some temple's mould'ring top between,
With venerable grandeur marks the scene.
The rich and variegated landscape that every way presented itself, had a happy but transient effect upon the spirits of Julie, and for some time diverted her mind from the painful contemplation of her own misfortunes. Amidst the vast and magnificent scenery arose mountains crested with pines, in high cultivation and verdure, some of which seemed retiring, and to have formed themselves into the most picturesque lines, whose slopes were decorated with mosses, tinted with a variety of hues, which gave a sylvan richness to their surface.
The rapidity of their motion occasioned a hasty succession of beautiful imagery; sometimes a venerable abbey, half mouldering into ruins, reared its majestic head above the thick foliage of the wood, and sometimes in the meek hour of evening, or before the sun had risen upon the eminences, the shepherd-boy, as he led his flock from the valleys, would lean upon his staff, and listen to the chaunted hymn, or early matins, as the sound floated upon the gale along the surface of the water.
As they arrived near the mansion of Madame Laronne, the magical influence of the picturesque scenery was at an end; and as Julie fixed her eyes upon the turrets of the chateau, which were gilded with the last rays of the retiring sun, a thousand melancholy presages arose in her mind, and awakened sensations of grief and terror.
The chateau was situated on an extensive lawn between two mountains, which opened to a clear and beautiful lake; the banks of the river, the lawn, and the hills, were clothed in the finest and richest verdure, whilst the whole of the scenery appeared capable of the highest improvement; but nothing like taste was displayed in the design. The mansion, which was lofty and extensive, had been formerly a fortified castle, but was now modernized with the addition of two large wings; but neither the building nor the grounds surrounding it discovered any traces of taste or judgment. The walks were gloomy and ill contrived, no elevations or windings displayed to advantage the grandeur of the mountains; nor did this appear to have been the intention of the artist, as they seemed to have been originally designed to lead as avenues to some fanciful but inelegant structures, which terminated their prospect.
When Madame Laronne and Julie had alighted, they were conducted into a spacious saloon, which was richly ornamented with the most costly furniture and valuable paintings. The ostentatious magnificence of every thing around formed a striking contrast with that unadorned and charming simplicity which characterized the former dwelling of Julie, so congenial to her feelings, and that of her mother.
Madame Laronne, anxiously displaying all the grandeur that surrounded her, expected from her niece that tribute of applause which she considered she had a right to demand; but was evidently mortified when Julie's countenance discovered nothing of either pleasure or surprise as she contemplated the splendour of her new abode.
After partaking of a slight collation with her aunt, Julie gained permission to retire to her chamber; and a servant having conducted her up a winding staircase, and through a long suite of rooms, informed her which was her apartment.
It was a large half-furnished room, situated in the ancient part of the edifice, hung with tapestry, and ornamented with the ancient portraits of the family; she was, however, too much fatigued, and too spiritless to examine them, and hastily undressing, retired to her bed.
In the morning she arose much earlier than the rest of the family, and amused herself for some time with observing the pictures. The greater part of them were allegorical, but in general ill-designed and executed, much damaged by neglect, and the colouring so materially injured by time, that the figures were scarcely perceptible.
When she had gazed for a considerable time upon these relics of ancient greatness, she opened the high Gothic casement of her window, which was adorned, on the upper part, with a variety of saints, crucifixes, and other holy devices, and cast her eyes over the fine extent of landscape with the most pleasurable emotions. The sun was just rising, but had not yet power sufficient to entirely dissipate the mists that had veiled the summits of the mountains; yet some parts of them were tinged with its faint radiance, which shed an effusion of the most soft and delicate tints.
Cheered and animated by the objects that were presented to her view, she wished to ramble through the grounds that she might examine more attentively the fine features of nature, and enjoy the first charms of the morning. Having unclosed the door, she listened for a few moments to hear if any of the family were stirring; but finding all was silent, and believing that none of the servants were at present arisen, she closed it, and taking a small volume of Metastasio from her pocket, sat down to read.
In about an hour she again opened the door, and hearing footsteps upon the stairs, ventured to proceed. It was Madame Laronne's woman, who, having conducted her to the outward gate, informed her which was the avenue that led to the principal part of the gardens. After walking slowly and thoughtfully through rows of pine and chestnut, the scene opened into a circular plain, which was decorated with a collection of statues and vases, neither of which possessed a sufficient degree of merit to invite observation.
Having taken an extensive ramble through the most considerable part of the grounds, she began to fear she had been absent too long, and returning rapidly to the chateau, found Madame Laronne in the breakfast-room impatiently awaiting her arrival.
After much uninteresting conversation on subjects little calculated to bestow pleasure on a refined and cultivated mind, which were introduced by the lady of the mansion at once to impress her niece with an idea of her importance, and to make her feel more forcibly her own dependant situation, Julie now, more than ever inclined to seek for consolation in solitude, retired to her room, and having indulged in a flood of tears, which she found it impossible to restrain, endeavoured, by serious reflection, to arm herself with courage to endure the evils of her destiny with becoming firmness. The example of her excellent mother, and the precepts she had delivered with her dying breath, recurred continually to her thoughts, tending to reassure and strengthen her mind, so as to prepare it to withstand the attacks of misfortune.
Having regained, in some measure, that enviable serenity of soul, which never long abandons the virtuous, she left her retirement, and was proceeding leisurely through the gallery, when the stopping of a carriage, announcing the arrival of visitors, arrested her steps, and determined her to return again to her apartment, and await their dismission, lest she should be obliged to attend them in the saloon.
In about an hour, on hearing the carriage roll from the door, she ventured to descend, and found Madame Laronne alone, and in high spirits, having been honoured with a visit from the Contessa di Romilini, from whom she had received an invitation for that day in the next week to a fete; which condescension, she informed Julie, was politely extended to herself, at the same time observing that all the nobility in the neighbourhood were to be present on the occasion, and that it would be necessary to prepare habits immediately suitable to the nature of the entertainment, and the company of which it was to be composed.
'But let me tell you, niece,' resumed Madame Laronne, 'that you must not indulge yourself in these imaginary distresses when you are introduced to circles of fashion; that pensiveness of demeanour, which you believe to be so fascinating, will be thought not only unseasonable but ridiculous, and will be considered in a young woman as a piece of unpardonable affectation. Besides, this extreme languor which you fancy so becoming and so amiable, if allowed to become habitual, will render you unfit for the society of those who may be a means of advancing your fortunes. Who do you suppose will think of addressing a girl who can do nothing but weep and sigh? Men in general are not partial to people of this cast, and indeed they are only fit to be the companions of groves and fountains.'
'If my misfortunes, Madame,' replied Julie, meekly, 'have, as you have justly observed, rendered me unfit for the society of the fashionable part of the world, I must solicit you to dispense with my attendance, as there is but little probability of my being able to conduct myself either to your satisfaction or my own.'
'I am sorry to find, niece,' continued Madame Laronne, 'a degree of obstinacy in your disposition, which I was not prepared to expect; but so long as you are under my protection, I am in some measure answerable for your conduct: I therefore think it right to inform you, that I shall expect, on your part, the most implicit obedience. Though your ideas of propriety and mine may not exactly accord, not to accept the invitation of the Contessa, an honour you could not reasonably expect from a person of her rank, particularly as you was not present at the time, would be considered not only as a deviation from the laws of politeness, but a breach of gratitude~an error of which I thought you people of sentiment were never to be accused.'
Finding that no powers of persuasion were likely to prove effectual, Julie silently acquiesced, and the intermediate time was chiefly employed in preparing dresses suitable to the occasion.
When the expected evening arrived, which was so fondly anticipated by Madame Laronne, they were conveyed to the chateau of the Contessa di Romilini. It was a large magnificent structure, situated on the brow of a hill, which commanded a rich and extensive prospect. The architecture was a mixture of the Tuscan and Composite; the pillars, which were remarkably lofty, were finely polished and ornamented with a number of lamps of various colours, which being formed into the most beautiful wreaths, had an unspeakably fine effect. The trees that surrounded the lawn and the walks, which were long and winding, were also fancifully adorned with a profusion of lights, and garlands of flowers elegantly and artfully disposed, were carelessly hung upon the branches of the larch and the laburnum. Seats were placed in the gardens and baskets of fruits, the finest that Italy could produce, were held by a number of beautiful girls, habited as wood-nymphs in a style equally simple and alluring.
The assembly was large and brilliant; all the fashion of Turin and its environs were present. Julie, being personally unknown to the lady who presided, was introduced first to the Contessa, and then to the rest of the company, who were already seated on the lawn. Nothing could be more lovely, more interesting, than her appearance. Her hair, which was somewhat darker than flaxen, waved upon her neck in the most charming profusion, decorated only with pearls formed into a garland of jessamine, which gave an air of lightness and grace perfectly correspondent with the rest of her figure. Her long mourning robe, which displayed to advantage the fine symmetry of her shape, was clasped and fastened with a cestus of the same, and the whole of her form and demeanour displayed that irresistible grace and sweetness which the utmost eloquence of language can but feebly describe. Every eye was fixed upon the beautiful stranger, who, unconscious of her powers of attraction, averted her blushing cheek from the gaze of admiration with evident distress.
All the company being assembled, and the music in readiness, the dance began. Julie was led out by Signor Vescolini, the only son of the Conte della Croisse, and Madame Laronne by the Marchese de Montferrat.
In a few hours, the evening being far advanced, they repaired to the saloon, where a banquet was prepared, chiefly composed of dried fruits, cream, and sweetmeats.
Elated beyond measure at the preference shewn her by the Marchese, and anxious to cultivate an acquaintance so flattering to her ambition, Madame Laronne gave him a general invitation to visit her at her chateau, in which his relation, Signor Vescolini, was included, whose marked attentions to her niece were beheld with secret satisfaction.
It was late when the party separated for the night; yet she left with regret an entertainment which had, as was seldom the case, more than answered her most sanguine expectations. The solicitude of her partner, aided by her own vanity, had deluded her into a thousand inconsistences. She reflected upon her beauty with triumph, without considering that, though once fascinating, it was beauty in the wane, and was in idea already a Marchesa.
Her captivating niece, who had formed no very flattering hopes of the evening's amusement, experienced more satisfaction than she believed it could produce, and felt gratified with the attention she received, without one spark of vanity being excited in her bosom.
On the morrow, by mutual agreement, the Marchese de Montferrat and the Signor Viscolini waited upon the ladies at their chateau, to inquire into the state of their healths after the fatigue of the preceding evening. As the Signor addressed himself to Mademoiselle de Rubine, there was an air of respectful tenderness in his deportment which did not elude the observation of her aunt, who would probably have felt somewhat mortified at the preference thus evidently shewn to her dependant, had not the conversation of the Marchese been chiefly directed to herself.
The remains of a fine person were still visible in Madame Laronne, notwithstanding the form which Nature had bestowed upon her, was continually distorted with unpardonable affectation. Having but just entered her fortieth year, she still retained a sufficient portion of beauty to attract regard, though the pains she employed to display and improve it, too frequently counteracted its effects.
Dress was her favourite occupation, which she studied as a science; but a false taste was perceptible in her choice of attire a dazzling and ill judged finery, which ever renders less lovely the most delicate forms, being usually substituted in the room of that attractive simplicity which indicates a refined and elegant mind.
As the morning was fine, a walk in the gardens was proposed and acceded to, during which ramble Julie was compelled, with a slight degree of uneasiness, to endure the increasing attentions of Signor Vescolini, which she feared would not escape the penetration of her aunt, who would probably on her return rally her upon a subject, which the present tone of her spirits would render insupportable; and which determined her to absent herself on his next visit.
It was late in the day before the Marchese and the Signor arose to depart, when Madame Laronne, who in their presence had exhausted all the graces of her eloquence, again reminded them of her former invitation, which she desired them to consider as a general one; and having, with a gracious smile particularly directed to the Marchese, repeated her adieus, attended them to the gate.
Glad to be thus released from the society of her new acquaintance, Julie hastened from the room, that by this means she might escape the scrutinizing glances of her aunt, which beamed nothing of feminine tenderness, and indulge the sadness of her feelings in the solitude of her closet. In spite of every effort to the contrary, she too often reverted to the past; and when she compared her former felicity, when blessed with the counsel and society of her parents with the forlornness of her present situation, the poignancy of her affliction was scarcely supportable, and tears, that refused to be suppressed, fell fast upon her cheek. Once nurtured, protected, and caressed in the bosom of maternal affection, now consigned to the care of a haughty relation, who, notwithstanding her former professions, seemed to feel nothing of genuine regard, nor even the sentiment of pity for her misfortunes, she was lost in these melancholy reflections, when the loud tone of the dinner-bell summoned her into the dining-parlour, where Madame Laronne, with more than her accustomed dignity, was seated to receive her. As soon as the cloth was withdrawn, and the servants dismissed, she began, after a short preparatory address, to congratulate her niece upon the conquest she had made over the young Signor Vescolini. Julie blushed, but remained silent.
'His family and connexions,' resumed Madame Laronne, 'are unexceptionable; and though sanguine expectations are too frequently founded on error, we may sometimes innocently indulge them. At present his attentions may be directed to no other object than that of momentary amusement; but if you receive them with due gratitude and humility, it is possible it may terminate fortunately.'
Disconcerted at these hasty and indelicate effusions, Julie was at first unprepared for a reply, whilst her aunt, who construed this silent embarrassment into joy for such unexpected good fortune, began to enlarge upon the subject, endeavouring at the same time to contaminate the pure principles of her heart with the precepts which had infected her own.
As soon as Mademoiselle de Rubine could command courage enough to answer, she assured Madame Laronne that, however eligible such a connexion might appear in the eyes of the world, she was convinced she could never descend to the meanness of accepting an alliance in which her heart had no interest, merely for the sake of attaining that elevation of rank and precedence which she had been taught to consider as unimportant, and which was only to be obtained by the humiliating circumstances she had mentioned; not omitting to observe, that, however the attentions of the Signor might appear to be directed to herself, those enviable distinctions to which she had recurred must eventually preclude every idea of the kind. 'Can I, Madame,' resumed she, raising her soft blue eyes from the ground, which were half obscured with her tears, 'submit to the meanness of dissimulation for the sake of ripening into affection what may be nothing more than momentary admiration? Can I throw myself upon the generosity of a family who, from motives of ambition, may reject me, and doubly despise me for my presumption in entering it? Rather let me endure the severest mortification that neglect and penury can inflict, than lessen myself in my own estimation, and by yielding to the erroneous prejudices of the multitude, justly incur the censure of the most worthy and discerning.'
'I little thought, niece,' resumed Madame Laronne, 'that when, in consideration of your unprotected youth, I condescended to take you under my care, of the difficulty attending so important a charge, or that obstinacy and caprice were so strongly featured in your character. Had the assiduities of the Signor been displeasing to me you would have been eloquent in his praise, and would have discovered a thousand amiable qualities which have now escaped unnoticed.'
'I hope, Madame,' continued Julie, mildly, 'that you have had no reason to pass this severe censure upon my conduct, as, should I ever form an attachment, my happiness will be materially augmented by your approbation of my choice.'
'But this is not an affair,' replied Madame Laronne, raising her voice still higher, 'in which we are likely to agree. You have, or pretend to have, an aversion to those things which only make marriage desirable, at least in the opinion of the reasonable part of the world; but I am sorry to add, niece, that you are a very romantic girl, and when it is too late, may possibly repent your error. Your mother had many strange prejudices as well as yourself, and it would have been much to her advantage if she had been enabled to conquer them.'
'If I imitate her example, Madame,' returned Julie, wiping an obtruding tear from her cheek, 'which I hope will ever be the rule of my conduct, I shall not prove myself unworthy of your protection.'
Madame Laronne was preparing to reply, but her lovely dependant, being willing to escape from so unpleasant a conference, precipitately withdrew, leaving her offended relation to vent her anger in secret. The reflection cast upon the character of her mother, whom she considered as the brightest pattern of female excellence, Mademoiselle de Rubine could but ill support. She had, indeed, formed no very high opinion of Madame Laronne's tenderness, or of the delicacy of her sentiments; but to mention this revered parent in terms of disapprobation, convinced her that she was not only destitute of sensibility, but of candour.
Not a day passed in which the Marchese de Montserrat and the Signor Vescolini did not visit the chateau. The assiduities of the latter increased; but, though Julie admired his person, which was cast in the finest mould, and was by no means insensible to his numerous accomplishments, he was unable to interest her affections. His continual solicitude displeased her, and the levity with which he treated the articles of the Romish Church, from whose tenets he had recently dissented, determined her to preserve an apparent indifference of deportment towards him, which she hoped, by offending his pride, would eventually terminate his visits.
Signor Vescolini, having received his education in Germany, had embraced the Reformed Religion through the doctrines of Luther; and Julie, after having been for some time deceived by the artifice of Madame Laronne respecting his religious opinions, was convinced, by a conversation with the Marchese, that he had relinquished what he termed his former errors; and owing to the native pliability of his disposition, had been prevailed upon, by the adherents of this celebrated reformer, to embrace Protestantism.
A few days after this discovery she was summoned into the apartment of her aunt, who informed her, to her inexpressible uneasiness, that the Signor had made a formal declaration of his passion, and moreover had solicited her interference in his behalf. Perfectly aware of the consequence of this sudden and indiscrete avowal, Julie started, and appeared much agitated.
'You have certainly been peculiarly fortunate,' continued Madame Laronne, regarding her attentively as she spoke; 'and, notwithstanding the unjustifiable caprice and insensibility you discovered on a former conversation, I cannot believe you mean seriously to reject such honourable proposals. I would feign not imagine it possible you could hesitate for a moment. How many young women have been obliged to accept of inferior alliances, who may boast of an equal share of beauty and discretion!'
'I am sorry to affirm, Madame,' replied Julie, hesitatingly, 'that there are reasons which must subject me to the painful necessity of refusing my obedience to your and the Signor's requests. The religious opinions of the person you have proposed to me as a husband are repugnant to my own, and a want of concord in that important article must ever prove hostile to domestic happiness.'
'So you would actually decline a connexion with one of the first families in Italy,' returned Madame Laronne, indignantly, 'because the person who addresses you, happens not to be so bigoted and so ridiculous as yourself?'
Julie observing that he might be equally bigoted, even though his principles were erroneous, ventured to disclose the motive which had instigated her to this sudden rejection of a suit, she candidly acknowledged a mind less unambitious than her own, unbiassed by more weighty arguments, might have acceded to with pleasure; not doubting but when her aunt was thoroughly acquainted with the whole of the circumstance, that she would finally applaud her conduct.
A promise, administered in so solemn a manner to her last and dearest friend, in the moment of approaching dissolution, appeared to the reflecting mind of the dutiful Julie as an unsurmountable obstacle; and she could scarcely conceive it possible that Madame Laronne, however destitute of religion herself, would presume to descant upon the subject with her accustomed levity.
But she soon discovered that this fondly cherished hope was delusive, and that little was to be expected from the lenity of her offended relation, who perceiving that the gentle measures, as she termed them, which had hitherto been adopted, were not likely to avail, threatened to have recourse to more violent ones; not neglecting to assure her, that more misfortunes would inevitably ensue from a strict adherence to so ridiculous a vow, than from an actual breach of it. She then expatiated with equal success upon the consequences of indulged superstition, and the indispensable necessity of endeavouring to liberate the mind from the shackles of vulgar prejudices, which, she concluded with remarking, was considered by the discerning as the irrefragable testimony of an exalted mind.
Fearful of irritating her pride by a continued avowal of sentiments so dissimilar to her own, Julie did not meditate a reply; but remained with her eyes fastened upon the ground, whilst her cheek was one moment suffused with vermilion, and the next faded into the paleness of the lily, as actuated by the revolving passions of her mind.
Madame Laronne, flattering herself that her niece was reconsidering the subject, and that the arguments she had employed in defence of her favourite hypothesis, were recalling her to rationality, pursued the discourse; and to add more weight to what she had before advanced, stated the possibility of the Signor's reformation being effected, should he fail in making her a convert to his own creed, providing his attachment survived the matrimonial engagement; intimating that whatever persuasion they embraced, it was unimportant, so long as it was mutual.
Julie, finding her aunt was falling into a new error, which, if not timely prevented, might be productive of fresh evils, declared, that her resolution, however singular, was unalterable, and that she desired nothing more ardently than to have an opportunity of verbally convincing the Signor of her determination.
Astonished at the firmness of character this avowal exhibited, and mortified that her niece remained unsubdued by her arguments, and unmoved by her eloquence, Madame Laronne descended from persuasion to invective, threatening her with the most arbitrary proceedings if gentle ones continued inefficacious: then informing her, that if she consented to what would contribute to her own happiness, she was fortunate in having a relation who would guide her to the attainment of it; but if she refused, that relation would compel her to accept the only conditions which would eventually secure it. She darted an indignant look at the affrighted Julie, and withdrew.
Such fate to suffering worth is given,
Who long with wants and woes has striven,
By human pride or cunning driven,
To misery's brink.
The severity which Julie experienced from Madame Laronne, and the unceasing visits of Vescolini, who seemed determined to persevere in his addresses, had a visible effect upon her health; yet believing that he was not thoroughly acquainted with her resolution, she anxiously awaited an opportunity of convincing him that she meant positively to reject the alliance, hoping that, when he was able to ascertain the primary cause of this conduct, he would be less disposed to continue his persecutions. But she knew not sufficiently the character of her lover when she cherished this delusive idea. Young, sanguine, and enterprising, every new obstacle increased his ardour, and, regardless of the consequences of such a proceeding, he was secretly persuaded that nothing but death should prevent the accomplishment of his design.
Finding that all hopes, founded on his generosity of sentiment, were likely to prove abortive, since no honourable motive could instigate him to abandon the pursuit, she began to lose all esteem for his character, and to reflect upon this authoritative mode of procedure with mingled disgust and aversion.
The Marchese, whose attentions to Madame Laronne were less marked than on the commencement of their acquaintance, was still a constant visitor at the chateau; and Julie observed that he was now become unusually thoughtful without in the least suspecting the cause, though in conversation he was visibly abstracted from the subject in which he had engaged, and he frequently gazed upon her with a degree of silent and tender earnestness that heightened her distress. This change, though it might have been easily penetrated by an uninterested spectator, was unmarked by Madame Laronne, who was too much blinded by an excess of unprecedented vanity to imagine that the Marchese could behold any other than herself with an eye of approbation.
As Julie's indisposition now daily increased, she spent many hours in her apartment, which was one of the most substantial comforts allowed her under her augmenting afflictions. She was sometimes fortunately excused from attending upon her aunt's parties, which were frequent and uninteresting, and declined, as much as possible, all visits of ceremony.
One evening, Madame Laronne being engaged at a route, to which the Marchese was also invited, Julie was left alone in her absence to meditate upon her own misfortunes, as well as to endeavour to arm her mind as much as she was able against the accumulating adversities of her fate.
As soon as her haughty protectress had left the chateau, she took a long and solitary walk along the margin of the lake. It was a still and beautiful evening; every object seemed to repose in uninterrupted silence and tranquillity. The sun, retiring from the horizon, was setting beyond the distant hills. Not a bird broke the stillness of the night; not a breeze disturbed the universal calm of nature; not a sound was borne upon the air, save a bell from an adjacent convent, which was solemnly tolling for vespers, 'that the day, which had been ushered in with blessings, might be closed with the effusions of gratitude'.
As she gazed upon that venerable pile, which was tinged with the last ray of the retiring orb, she lamented she had not been consigned to a similar abode, and reverted with tender regret to that in which she had found so hospitable an asylum. Having yielded to a flood of tears, she endeavoured to recall her mind from these painful contemplations; but the attempt was inefficacious; the cruelty of her aunt, the perseverance of Vescolini, and her own defenceless situation, were invincible bars to returning peace.
The moon, now sailing majestically through the concave, was shedding her mildest light upon the surface of the water, which warned her of the approach of night, and precipitated her steps towards the mansion; but not without an intention of extending her walk along the gardens in this serene hour of moon-light.
Having reached the chateau, she took her lute, which had lain neglected in one corner of her apartment, and repairing to a grotto that terminated one of the principal avenues, played her service to the virgin.
As the last notes, which were warbled with a peculiar taste and sweetness, died into cadence, she fancied she distinguished the sound of advancing footsteps, and willing to discover the intruder, hastily arose from the place; but not being able to discern any one, and finding all was again silent, she believed it to be only an illusion, and again resumed her seat. The moon, now shining with redoubled lustre, deepened the contrasting gloom of the walks, which were so effectually shaded from its benign influence by the protuberant branches of the chestnut, that her beams could only play on the tops of the boughs. Again she thought she heard the approach of footsteps, and a faint rustling among the leaves, and starting from her seat, hurried to the door of the grotto, where she beheld, in the same instant, the shadow of plumes waving upon the grass. Believing it could be no other than Vescolini, an emotion of terror took possession of her frame, and, without waiting to be assured whether she was right or not in the conjecture, she quitted the recess.
It was the Marchese de Montferrat, who, having learned from Madame Laronne that Julie was prevented by indisposition from joining the party, to which he had repaired in the hope of meeting with her, had suddenly retreated from this scene of splendour and gaiety soon after its commencement, and had wandered about in pursuit of her. Finding she was not at the chateau, he had rambled for a considerable time along the grounds; and being still unsuccessful in his undertaking, was alarmed lest any thing had happened, till he was at once relieved from the anguish of fear and suspense by the wild harmony of her song, to which he had listened attentively with the most pleasurable emotions till the sound died away upon the air, and was succeeded by a mournful silence.
Julie, being assured that the Marchese was of Madame Laronne's party, was not less surprised than agitated at this intrusion; and supposing that some material occurrence had occasioned it, eagerly demanded if any thing had happened to her aunt.
Having dissipated her apprehensions, and made an inquiry concerning her health, he began, in a stile at once the most seductive and impressive, to assure her, that he had long sedulously sought for an opportunity of soliciting her attention on a subject the most serious and important.
After this preparatory address, he proceeded to inform her that Vescolini, contrary to the nice dictates of honour, intended to have recourse to the most infamous mode of conduct, if she refused to yield to his entreaties; and that Madame Laronne was so earnestly engaged in his interest, that every thing was to be dreaded without timely interference. This, he added, had influenced him to quit rather precipitately the society into which he had entered, as the probability of her being sacrificed to a man who had proved himself not only destitute of religion, but of honour, was insupportable and dreadful.
He then endeavoured, with all the eloquence he could command. to prevail upon her to accept his protection, since the means of preventing the machinations of her enemies could only be accomplished by instant flight; which arguments he attempted to enforce by an avowal of his regard, and a declaration that his life would be joyfully hazarded in her defence.
Julie, who had listened to this discourse with mingled confusion and astonishment, replied with more warmth than was natural to her disposition, but with the firmness inseparable from rectitude, and the delicacy peculiar to her sex; which tended to convince the Marchese that nothing could induce her to rush voluntarily into an act of imprudence, which might hereafter be attended with the severest remorse; and, though she acknowledged the high sense she entertained of the honour he was anxious to confer, desired, if he valued her esteem, he would desist from farther solicitation. She was then hastening towards the chateau, when the Marchese, throwing himself at her feet, again besought her attention.
'Say but that you pity me,' continued he, respectfully taking her hand, which she instantly withdrew, 'that you forgive this premature declaration, and promise that no arguments shall persuade you to bestow yourself upon a man who has proved himself unworthy of your favour.'
Julie, having given him an answer sufficiently satisfactory concerning Vescolini, whom she now began to reflect upon with increasing indignation, quickened her steps towards the mansion, and had just reached the edge of the lawn, pursued by the Marchese, when Madame Laronne 's carriage appeared at the gate.
Alarmed at her unexpected arrival, she ran to the side of the carriage, and inquired if she was indisposed, or what had occasioned her return, with that affectionate tenderness of deportment natural to her character, whilst the Marchese endeavoured to escape unobserved through the vista, which opened on the lawn, till perceiving he was already discovered by the person whose notice he was visibly anxious to elude, he was compelled to emerge from his obscurity.
Madame Laronne, having observed an alteration in the looks of her imaginary lover, when she had mentioned the indisposition of Mademoiselle de Rubine, and having also remarked that soon afterwards he had suddenly disappeared, began to feel herself neglected by the only individual in the company whose attention she was anxious to secure, and by comparing the present with the past, and reverting to some little occurrences which her vanity had prevented her from considering before, suspected her niece as the cause. She had a presentiment that he was with her during her continuance at the route, and being determined to ascertain the truth of the surmise, had pleaded a sudden indisposition as an excuse to return to her chateau.
Confused and chagrined at this discovery, the Marchese, though not often off his guard, was unable to acquit himself with his accustomed address; and after inquiring into the state of her health as he led her from the carriage, which was answered with an air of unusual formality, an awkward silence ensued. Conscious of the integrity and purity of her conduct, Julie met the angry glances of her aunt with patient firmness, who exerted herself to conceal her mortification whilst in the presence of the Marchese.
As soon as he had retired, Julie perceiving from the countenance of Madame Laronne, that she had but little to expect from the candour and clemency of her offended relative, sat for some moments in silent dread. 'Your taste for solitude is at last well accounted for,' cried the irritated lady, darting a look of severity at her innocent niece; 'I little thought when I consented to take you under my protection, that my kindness would have been repaid with such flagrant ingratitude; but since the liberty I have allowed you in the disposal of your time has induced you to form assignations which may lead to the most dangerous consequences, I am resolved to prevent the bad effects of a conduct which prudence would blush to reflect upon, to hasten your marriage with the Signor; granting you a month only to conquer your ridiculous scruples, during which interval I shall insist upon you confining yourself to your chamber, excepting the evenings when you will be permitted to have a private conference with your lover.'
Finding that no powers of persuasion were likely to soften the invincible cruelty of Madame Laronne, Julie retired from her presence, and, after some time spent in devotion with more than usual earnestness, she endeavoured to find comfort in repose. But the subject of her dreams had a reference to the past; her sleep was transient and disturbed, for fearful and uneasy visions fleeted before her fancy.
In the morning she arose long before her accustomed hour, and cast her eyes over her ancient and gloomy apartment, which was now become her prison, with a painful sensation, though even this was felicity when compared with the prospects of the future.
Several days were passed by Mademoiselle de Rubine in this dreary confinement, in which time she received no message or visit from Madame Laronne, who avoided giving her any opportunity of repeating her entreaties. Dorothée, one of the inferior domestics, who had received orders to convey her food into the chamber, glanced upon her a look of tender concern as she was performing her office, which Julie, long unused to the language of sympathy, did not fail to return.
'This is a poor forlorn looking place, Mademoiselle,' cried the simple-hearted girl, looking fearfully around as she spread the cloth upon the table for supper; 'I little thought Madame would have fixed upon this for your apartment, that looks for all the world as if it was haunted by spirits, when there are so many handsome ones in the chateau!'
Julie, being awakened from her reverie by these words, which were uttered in an accent of condolence, was going to reply, when a message from her aunt summoned her into the saloon.
Weak and trembling she descended the stairs, and a glow of resentment crimsoned her cheek, when on entering the room she beheld, instead of Madame Laronne, the Signor Vescolini. Amazed and disconcerted, she was hastily retreating, when he caught her hand to prevent her retiring, and closing the door, led her to a chair. As soon as she was seated, he repeated his former professions, lamenting at the same time that measures, seemingly so arbitrary, could not be dispensed with; assuring her, that when he had attained the completion of his happiness, he would endeavour to insure her's by the most unremitting attention to her desires; and, though he could not so far divest himself of every thing repugnant to her inclinations as to embrace the tenets of the Romish Church, he would allow her the free exercise of her religion, and would engage a confessor to attend her.
Julie, who rejected his proposals with dignity and energy, informed him, that if he desired to make any alteration in her sentiments respecting himself, that this could only be accomplished by his desisting from further persecution, which, as her resolution was irrevocably fixed, would be at once conducive to his honour and her peace.
Pacing the room for some minutes with a perturbed air, and then gazing wildly upon her face, he declared that nothing on earth should alter his determination; and, though he had much rather use persuasion than force, if one would not prove effectual, the other must.
'In a fortnight from this time,' resumed he, emphatically, 'you become my wife; and as business of a peculiar nature will detain me from this place during the interval, I must request you will employ it in attempting to reconcile yourself to a destiny that is unavoidable. Madame Laronne will see you no more till the ceremony is performed.'
The truth of the Marchese's assertion being now proved, Julie was unable for the moment to utter a reply. She endeavoured to arise, but could not; her limbs trembled her voice failed an ashy paleness overspread her face and she sunk into a state of insensibility!
Vescolini, having caught her in his arms, rang the bell for some water, which soon acted as a restorative; and wiping a tear from his eye, uttered some incoherent expressions as he pressed her hand to his breast, and suffered her to be conveyed from the room.
The next morning, her agitation being in some measure subsided, she began to reflect seriously upon her situation, and to consider if by any means she could prevent the success of the Signor's designs. Her first resolve was, to send a note to Madame Laronne, to desire she would indulge her with an interview, which intention was speedily executed. To this an answer was returned, which was perfectly consistent with her former conduct; it contained an assurance of the request being granted, on her promise of acceding to the proposals of Signor Vescolini, but on no other conditions, and a conviction that, if she still continued to decline the alliance, she had nothing to expect from her compassion.
Several days had elapsed after this event, in which time Julie was not permitted to see any of the family except Dorothée. During this period of suspense, the extreme agitation of her mind so seriously affected her health, that the rose had forsaken her cheek, though without considerably impairing her beauty, having left in its stead a bewitching softness of complexion, a kind of interesting dejection, which was infinitely more charming and attractive than the most striking animation of colour.
One week of that fortnight which was to seal her inevitable doom, was now past, and still no probable means of preventing the success of these authoritative measures appeared. To escape unassisted from the chateau was impracticable, and to stay (in the present situation of affairs) would be attended with unavoidable misery; yet, possessing much sanguineness of disposition, she did not yield, without reflection, to the despondency of the moment. Some unexpected assistance she still hoped might be administered, though no object was presented to her imagination to justify and confirm the supposition.
This comfort, however delusive in its consequences, was cherished as a divine emanation, and with spirits more tranquillized than before, she partook of the evening's repast, whilst Dorothée, availing herself of her permission, kindled a fire in the apartment, as the night was unusually chill; and the hollow gusts of wind, penetrating through the crevices of the walls, which were but partially covered with the faded and decayed tapestry, made her shrink with cold.
Having drawn close to the fire, whose cheerful blaze enlivened the gloominess of her extensive apartment, she thought in the pauses of the wind she perceived the whispering of voices on the stairs. The sound was indistinct; but on advancing towards the door, she easily distinguished that of the Marchese, who, before she had time for resistance, entered the room.
Alarmed at this intrusion, she uttered an involuntary scream, and attempted to retire; but this he so resolutely opposed, that she was compelled to desist. When he had in some degree quieted her apprehensions, he acquainted her with the purport of his visit, which was to convey some important and necessary intelligence respecting the intentions of Signor Vescolini, who had determined, with the assistance of Madame Laronne, to remove her either by force or stratagem from the chateau at the expiration of three days, and to oblige her to assent to the nuptials. How he had obtained this information he seemed unwilling to disclose; but from what had already occurred, the intimation was too probable to admit of a doubt as to the truth of it; and the shortness of the intervening time appeared to preclude all possibility of escape.
The Marchese, who beheld every movement of her soul in the expression of her countenance, so tenderly interested himself in her concerns, and applauded so warmly that uniform piety and rectitude of mind which had hitherto withstood the attacks of severity and artifice, that, though Julie continually besought him to resign her to her destiny, she was not insensitive to the sympathy he discovered, which she assured him would be ever gratefully retained in her memory.
He then ventured to repeat his former proposals, urging the necessity of the measure with all the arts of persuasion he could summon to his aid, which, he added, would insure his happiness, and, he presumed to flatter himself, her own. That, if she would consent to accept of his protection, a carriage should be stationed at a convenient distance from the chateau, which would convey her with all imaginable speed to the Castello St Aubin, where the ceremony, which was to complete his felicity, might be instantly performed.
Though Julie at first strenuously opposed a proceeding which, on a cursory survey, appeared rash and imprudent, she was finally influenced by a mode of behaviour, which, but for the circumstance of his having forced himself into her room, was at once amiable and respectful; and ventured to promise, if he would immediately quit the apartment, she would reconsider his proposals, and acquaint him with the result of her reflections on the ensuing day.
As soon as the Marchese had retired, Mademoiselle de Rubine being again alone, began to ruminate in silence upon this singular adventure. The person who was solicitous to obtain her regard, had hitherto conducted himself in her presence with the strictest propriety and decorum. In respect to religion he was decidedly of that persuasion in which she had been educated, and early taught to believe was essential both to her temporal and eternal interests. His figure was rather agreeable to her than otherwise; in manners he was peculiarly elegant and alluring, whilst in point of rank, which was only a secondary consideration, it was a match which she imagined as far transcended her merit as expectations. To escape unassisted from the power of Vescolini was impossible, and even could it be effected, without a protector to act in her defence, she was still liable to insult and persecution.
These arguments determined her to accept the offers of the Marchese, could she be so fortunate as to prevail upon her favourite domestic to attend her. This being easily accomplished, she awaited the evening, when she was to deliver her final answer to him agreeable to her promise, with a kind of fearful impatience.
Madame Laronne had so carefully concealed from Mademoiselle de Rubine her extraordinary prepossession in favour of the Marchese, that the most distant suspicion of this partiality never occurred to her thoughts, or she might have concluded, from the present as well as the past, that jealousy was the foundation of this arbitrary conduct.
When the time, in which her final decision was to be conveyed to the Marchese, arrived, being anxious to spare herself the confusion of another interview, Julie wrote a note to acquaint him with the whole of her determination, which was carefully delivered by Dorothée. Another was instantly returned, informing her that a carriage would be in readiness to receive them beyond the walls of the mansion, at an appointed hour, on the succeeding evening.
The intervening time was passed by Mademoiselle de Rubine in extreme agitation of mind; she, however, endeavoured to combat her fears, and when the hour of their departure approached, had reasoned herself into some degree of composure.
Having with much difficulty escaped from the chateau, she ran, attended by Dorothée, to the appointed spot; and the Marchese, after placing them in the carriage, seated himself by their side, and commanded the postillion to proceed.
In a few hours they reached the Castello St Aubin, the residence of the Marchese, and a priest being in readiness, the nuptials were solemnized.
As soon as this ceremony was performed, he acquainted Julie, that, owing to his not having at present informed his friends of the connexion, it was necessary for them to remove to another of his seats till the affair should be unfolded. To this proposition Julie readily assented, and was soon afterwards conveyed to a hunting villa, in a very remote situation, half concealed in a wood.
Here the augmenting tenderness of the Marchese, aided by his amiable and polished manners, soon ripened what was only esteem into the most lasting affection; but the happiness of Mademoiselle de Rubine was always of a transient nature. After the few first months had elapsed, his attentions visibly declined; he was continually forming excuses to absent himself, and at last nearly forsook the retreat. He was forever engaged in parties of pleasure, in gaming, and expensive diversions; and when he visited the villa, conducted himself towards Julie with a chilling indifference of demeanour, which was perceived with inexpressive uneasiness.
Yet still she retained some hopes that when the tender interest of a father was united with that of a husband, his former affection might be awakened, and his home endeared; but in this she was also deceived ; he still pleaded engagements; nor could the infantine innocence of Enrîco withdraw him from folly and dissipation.
Unable to endure the pressure of this severe and unexpected calamity, she at last ventured to inquire of the Marchese in what way she had been so unfortunate as to forfeit his regard, and if there was no possible means of regaining it? But what was her grief and astonishment when he informed her that their nuptials were not solemnized by a priest, and that the marriage was consequently illegal!
For a considerable time after she had received this intelligence Julie was too ill to bear a removal; but as soon as her health was sufficiently re-established, she took an eternal adieu of the Marchese, and with the child and Dorothée, after much fatigue and many difficulties, repaired to the cottage on the borders of the Lake of Geneva.
I care not, Fortune, what you from me take,
You cannot rob me of free Nature's grace;
You cannot shut the windows of the sky,
Thro' which Aurora shews her brightening face;
You cannot bar my constant feet to trace
The woods and lawns by living streams at eve;
Let health my nerves and finer fibres brace,
Of Fancy, Reason, Virtue, nought can me bereave.
Several years passed in an uninterrupted tranquillity at the castle of Elfinbach, and its peaceful inhabitants, being perfectly reconciled to their situation, had not a wish ungratified. No visitor, except Paoli, broke in upon their solitude, and his visits being those of business and necessity, were hastily terminated.
The amiable manners of Julie, whose real name will hereafter be disguised under that of Chamont, and the uniform sweetness of her disposition, so endeared her to her dependants, that the domestics were cheerful and assiduous to oblige; and as she contemplated the happy countenances around her, she felt that delightful sensation arising from the performance of duty, which is frequently the only temporal reward of virtue; but is, notwithstanding, a reward so considerable, that the mind, which has once experienced its effects, would not exchange it for every other advantage independent of it.
Ambrose, who had been long tutored in the family of the Marchese, did not possess that openness of character which distinguished the rest of the household. A mixture of selfishness and cunning was evident in his disposition, which could not elude the penetration of an accurate observer, though upon the whole he appeared quiet and inoffensive; and, if he did not secure the esteem of his associates, he managed so as to escape their censure.
Nothing could be more simple, more innocent, than the life of Madame Chamont, which was occupied in the education of her children, in family arrangements, and every other worthy employment which her station required.
Both Enrîco and Laurette displayed early in life quickness of parts and gracefulness of demeanour, which were united with the most amiable inclinations of which the human mind is susceptible. It was impossible for any thing to exceed their mutual affection; one was never to be seen without the other; in play, or in study, they were equally inseparable; nor could one taste of any enjoyment, of which the other might not partake.
Enrîco possessed spirit, and energy of soul, sufficient to encounter the greatest difficulties. He was sometimes impatient of controul, and impetuous in his replies; but a fault was scarcely committed before it was followed by repentance, and an earnest desire of removing the consequent uneasiness of his mother by the most endearing caresses.
Laurette was blessed with an equal share of sensibility, but was gentle and timid. Her manners were so invariably amiable, that she never excited anger; when she did fall into an error, which was seldom the case, a look of disapprobation was sufficient to recall her to a sense of her duty, and an acknowledgment of her fault. Her charming instructress had never imposed herself upon her as her mother, neither had she intimated anything relative to the mysterious manner in which she had been conveyed to her; but had taught her to believe that she was an orphan, protected by the Marchese de Montferrat, to whom she was under infinite obligations, and whose kindness she must repay with the obedience of a child.
Nor was Enrîco informed of the circumstances of his birth, his affectionate parent having concealed from him, with equal discretion, what she did not cease to reflect upon with unutterable anguish; though sometimes in infantine simplicity he would touch upon the subject, and ask some questions respecting his father, his innocent interrogatories being only answered by tears and blushes, he had soon penetration enough to discover they had awakened mournful recollections, and a sufficient degree of prudence to discontinue the inquiry.
Father Benedicta, a friar, who belonged to a monastery of Carthusians, not far from the castle of Elfinbach, and who was Madame Chamont's confessor, assisted her in the education of the children. He was a man that had spent the early part of his life in the bustle and gaiety of the world, in which he was supposed to have suffered much from disappointment; but what were the misfortunes that had occasioned this almost total seclusion from society, and from which he had taken refuge in the gloom of a cloister, were unknown even to the fraternity; but they were thought to be of a peculiar and mournful nature. Yet, though removed from the pleasures, he was sensible to the charities of life. To the unfortunate, the afflicted, or the dying, he was a never failing source of support and assistance; he never heard of a calamity in which he did not take an interest, or a request, if virtuous, that he did not immediately grant. But the uniform austerities of his own life were beyond the strictest rules of his order, and it was only from the tender concern that he discovered for the welfare of others, that he was supposed to feel any 'touch of humanity'.
He overlooked the conduct of Enrîco and Laurette with the mild benignity of a saint; instructed them in the principles of religion, as well as in the classics, and watched the unfolding of each infant virtue with parental tenderness.
From the instructive conversation of this holy Father, Madame Chamont reaped many advantages; he was her friend and adviser, as well as her confessor, acquitting himself always to her satisfaction in every undertaking; though his increasing affection for his pupils, exclusively considered, was of itself sufficient to secure her esteem.
Of this Monk she made an inquiry concerning La Roque; but no Friar of the name of Francisco had arrived at his monastery. At her request he wrote to the Superiors of several others, but every attempt of gaining intelligence upon the subject proved ineffectual, which made her apprehend that either his illness had proved fatal, or that he had fallen into the hands of his persecutors. His mournful, his interesting expressions, the stingings of remorse that attended the recollection of his sufferings, excited her Compassion whenever she reflected upon them, and awakened new curiosity to be acquainted with the sequel.
The undisturbed felicity which was experienced by Madame Chamont in the bosom of her family, and in the exercise of religion and virtue, was of a more pure and animated nature than any she had enjoyed since the death of her parents. No society was to her like that of her children, no hours passed so pleasantly as those dedicated to their improvement and amusement; whilst on their part affection was so entirely divested of fear, that they were never so happy as when in her presence.
The mornings were chiefly devoted to study, and the evenings to beautiful rambles in the woods, or along the margin of the river, and sometimes to the adjacent villages, where they were enabled to feel that tranquil delight arising from the practice of benevolence the luxury of succouring the unfortunate, and of giving an expression of joy to the face long accustomed to sadness.
The study of botany was one of Madame Chamont's favourite employments, in which she had made some proficiency, which occasioned her to spend many hours in the fields, improving herself in this useful and elegant science. On these expeditions her young pupils were ever ready to attend her, and taking an osier basket on her arm, she would frequently wander with them in the stillness of the evening amid scenes the most romantic and picturesque, where, seated upon a hillock, or under the broad shade of a chestnut, she would weave a garland for Enrîco, or a chaplet to adorn the beautiful hair of Laurette; and frequently they would exchange the fertile and cultivated charms of Nature for her unadorned and more majestic works; sometimes they would ascend the steep crags of the mountains, where all was wild, waste, and rude, yet in its naked simplicity grand, stupendous, and sublime. Here they would contemplate the awful beauty of the scene, the retiring hills half lost in the distant horizon, and the spires of some neighbouring abbeys just appearing amid the deep gloom of the woods, and hearken to the faint sound of the vesper bell, borne at intervals upon the wing of the breeze; and sometimes, when not a breath of air disturbed the universal calm, or shook the light foliage of the leaves, the distant chaunt of the Nuns would be heard, now swelling into holy rapture, and now sinking into sweet and mournful cadence, till softened by distance, or lost in the rising flutter of the gale, it died away upon the ear.
To the admirer of Nature every object she presents becomes interesting; the variety of her charms relieves the mind from satiety, and, in the enjoyment of her beauties, the soul of the enthusiast becomes elevated above the narrow boundaries of the world: he sees the Creator in his works, and adores in silence the perfection of the whole. At times a disposition of this cast will be inclined to melancholy; but it is a sublime and tender melancholy, which he would not resign for all the pleasures which gaiety could bestow, or wealth procure. To such impressions as these the mind of Madame Chamont was peculiarly susceptible, and she perceived this pensive sensation steal upon her spirits, at that season above all others, when the rich bloom of the landscape begins to fade, when the glow of vegetation and the flush of maturity are past, and the whole scenery exhibits a more saddened, but a more interesting appearance.
To these simple and innocent delights Enrîco and Laurette discovered an early attachment, which their amiable protectress beheld with satisfaction. She knew the necessity of employment, being well aware of the danger attending inactivity and indolence. She taught them to value every moment of their existence, not allowing them to pass without due improvement. Reading was a favourite occupation, and Madame Chamont did not neglect the selecting such books for their perusal as were capable of conveying both instruction and amusement, the reading of which might be considered not so much a task as a recreation. Enrîco was partial to historical writings, and having been permitted to examine, at an early age, the most eminent authors in that species of composition, was soon well acquainted with the works of the most celebrated Grecian and Latin historians. He was also an ardent lover of ancient poetry, particularly of the epic kind. Homer, Lucan, and Virgil, were perused with juvenile transport; nor was the much admired Gerusalemme of Tasso disregarded: his soul was fired with the illustrious atchievements of Rinaldo, and he burned with an irresistible desire of attaining military honours. Madame Chamont, who discovered his inclinations before he was conscious of having betrayed them, endeavoured at first to check a propensity which she had not a sufficient portion of fortitude to reflect upon with calmness: but finding that his happiness depended upon the success of his hopes, opposition appeared like cruelty; and having heard from Paoli that the Marchese wished to provide for him in the army, where his interest could not fail of being successful, she began to reason herself into compliance. She considered that if his disposition had a strong bias to a military life, he would not have an equal chance of rising to eminence in any other profession; and that this disposition, aided by the powerful interest of the Marchese, would doubtless raise him to high preferment. Thus the fondness overcame the fears of the mother, and she acquiesced in the proposition.
When this affair was determined upon, the Marchese being apprized of Enrîco's wishes, procured him a commission in the army of Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, and Paoli attending to conduct him from the castle, he took an affectionate adieu of his mother and Laurette, and proceeded on his journey.
For some time after the departure of Enrîco every countenance expressed concern and inquietude. Dorothée, who had been his nurse from his infancy, was inconsolable for his loss, and continued to weep incessantly; but being gradually reconciled to what was unavoidable, the family regained their serenity.
In a short time Madame Chamont received a letter from him, which contained the most pleasing intelligence, that he was well and happy. He spoke tenderly of his dear companion, his little Laurette, and desired she might be told that he would never forget her. This account of the health and welfare of Enrîco was received by his excellent parent with the most lively rapture; and though sometimes this temporary absence would cast a shade of sorrow upon her countenance, which all her firmness could not enable her to subdue, she would anticipate the future glory of her son; her sanguine imagination would follow him through all the intricacies of his destiny, and represent him covered with honours, and glowing in the pride of martial glory.
With redoubled attention Madame Chamont now devoted herself to the education of her lovely charge. She instructed her without any assistance in the French and Italian languages, as well as in drawing and music. She also cultivated her taste for poetry, of which she was passionately fond.
The songs of Laurette were generally of the plaintive kind, which she accompanied with her lute with exquisite taste and judgment; though she sometimes exerted herself in a lively air to dissipate the tender dejection which was perceptible in the demeanour of Madame Chamont, when her thoughts reverted too anxiously to her son, who felt she was amply repaid for all the attention she had bestowed upon her orphan charge, by her undeviating assiduity to please, and the sweetness of disposition she displayed.
The absence of Enrîco had for some time affected the spirits of Laurette. She could ill support the loss of him who had been the companion of her infancy, the sharer in her amusements and her studies, and for whom she felt more than a sisterly affection.
Laurette in person was at the age of fourteen, in which time she had nearly completed her growth, rather above the middle size. Her form was of the most perfect symmetry, her complexion rather delicate than blooming; her eyes were dark, sparkling, and tender, and when directed upwards had an expression of sweetness, and sometimes of melancholy, that was at once charming and interesting. When silent, there was a certain softness in her countenance that was infinitely fascinating; and when animated by the expression that her conversation diffused, it was equally captivating and alluring. Though her cheek did not always display the full and glowing tint of the rose, yet exercise, or an emotion of surprise, awakened the most delicate bloom, and gave a dazzling lustre to her beauty.
Whene'er with soft serenity she smil'd,
Or caught the orient blush of quick surprise,
How sweetly mutable, how brightly wild,
The liquid lustre darted from her eyes!
One of the rooms in the eastern part of the building, which was entirely appropriated to herself, contained her music, books, drawing implements, and embroidery. The windows of this room opened upon a lawn, that was terminated by groves of laurel, fir, and flowering ash. Here she spent many hours in the morning, improving herself, with the assistance of Madame Chamont, in useful and elegant employments. She usually arose early, and rambled for some time unattended through wild and unfrequented walks, where too frequently the image of Enrîco would recur to her imagination, and melt her into tears. These rambles were inexpressibly grateful to her at that charming season when all Nature is rising as from her grave into perfect vegetation and verdure, when the embryo leaves are just unfolding their beauties to the sun, and all breathe harmony, delight, and rapture! It was after one of these little romantic excursions that she penned the following lines, which was the first effort of her muse: blended with the harsher lines of calamity, each uniting to soften what could not be eradicated.
SONNET TO SPRING
Come, lovely nymph, with all thy flow'ry train,
And let thy herald gem these mountains hoar;
With fragrant violets deck this lonely plain,
And bid rude Winter's whirlwind howl no more.
Thy soft approach the hawthorn buds declare,
That scent, with odours sweet, the passing gale,
And, clad in snowy vest, the lily fair,
Hides her meek beauties in the humid vale.
Oh! come, thou nymph divine, delightful Spring!
With all thy graces, all thy melting lays,
And mild Content, thy sweet companion, bring,
She that in sylvan shades and woodlands strays:
Whose angel form, health's blushing sweets disclose,
And on whose beauteous lip the eastern ruby glows.
Laurette's time was not so entirely devoted to music, reading, or the study of languages, as to preclude the duties of society, nor the tender and benevolent offices of charity. She frequently visited the sick, the infirm, and the aged, and to work for the peasantry that inhabited the border of the river, was a favourite occupation.
In one of these cottages was a poor widow, who was left with a numerous family, without any other means of support than what was afforded by her own industry. Here Madame Chamont and Laurette oftentimes resorted to soften the acuteness of distress, and to relieve the hardships of poverty. By their hands the younger part of the family were entirely clothed, who no sooner beheld their benefactresses, than they flocked around them with the most endearing tenderness; their presence diffused universal pleasure, and never was the sentiment of gratitude more eloquently expressed than in the countenance of the widow. Those who have experienced the luxurious sensation of contributing to the happiness of their fellow-creatures will form some estimate of that heartfelt satisfaction, which animated the amiable visiters as they contemplated the objects of their benevolence; and will allow, that it is a luxury too pure, and too refined, to exist in the midst of folly and dissipation, and, like other virtues, usually retires from the bustle of the world to the silent walks of domestic life.
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot,
The world forgetting, by the world forgot;
Eternal sun-shine of the spotless mind,
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resign'd;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep,
Obedient slumbers, that can wake and weep;
Desires composed, affections ever even,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to heaven.
The only female acquaintance cultivated by Madame Chamont in her retirement was the Superior of a convent of penitent Nuns, of the order of St Francis, to whom she was recommended by Father Benedicta. This Abbess was a woman of high birth and education. Her aspect was entirely divested of that stately reserve, which usually accompanies undisputed authority. Her conduct was irreproachable, and she blended judiciously all the elegances of refinement with maternal tenderness. She loved the Nuns as her children, entering into all their concerns and distresses with the lively interest of a friend, extending her sympathy to all that were in need of it, her charity to the friendless, and her succour to the oppressed. Her looks, her words, were those of comfort and compassion, and her precepts, being delivered with plainness and energy, never failed to persuade. Misfortune had given pensiveness to her demeanour without throwing any thing of gloom around. The whole of her countenance was expressive of the most fervent piety; no appearance of bigotry disgraced it, for her religion was that of the heart, that of sentiment rather than of theory, which taught her to cherish every virtue that dignifies the human mind, to instigate by example, and to reward with affection.
To such perfections as these Madame Chamont could not be insensible; and on a first interview there was nothing she more ardently desired than to be included amongst the number of her friends. She was not long denied this enviable privilege; for the holy Benedicta had advanced much in her favour, and her own insinuating address had done more. The lady Abbess found in the graceful ease of her manners, a charm every way congenial to her mind. She saw she had suffered, for time and reflection had not yet erased the mark of sorrow from her countenance; yet this was not its only character gentleness, meekness, and resignation, were blended with the harsher lines of calamity, each uniting to soften what could not be eradicated.
She was soon admitted into the cloister as an intimate, and spent many hours in the society of her new acquaintance, who received her with inexpressible tenderness, never allowing her to depart without a promise to shorten her next absence. The difference of their years did not preclude the advances of friendship of the most noble and interesting kind, though in this the Abbess had considerably the advantage. But age had given nothing of gloom to her deportment, having rather added to, than detracted from, its natural grace. She soon loved Madame Chamont as her daughter, cherished her as a friend, and felt unusually animated in her presence. Some of the Nuns beheld her with no symptoms of pleasure; the attentions of their noble protectress, which had hitherto been confined to themselves, were, they imagined, transferred to a stranger; and though respect for their much-revered lady prevented them from murmuring, they could not entirely conceal the cause of their chagrin.
At every meeting the two friends were more delighted with each other than before, and this attachment led them to indulge in the luxury of mutual confidence. The lady Abbess related to Madame Chamont the most memorable events of her past life; they were melancholy, but not uninteresting, and her gentle auditress, who listened to her with the most lively concern, shed many tears at the recital; the substance of which was as follows:
THE STORY OF THE ABBESS
The Superior of the convent of the penitent Nuns, of the order of St Francis, was of Gallic extraction, being the only daughter of the Compte de Vendome, who was a General Officer in the service of the Prince of Conde, when that renowned warrior fought the famous battle of Jarnac with the Duke of Anjon.
His valour was the boast of his country, the admiration of Europe, making him revered as an ally, and equally dreaded as an enemy! After being celebrated, and almost idolized in France for the signal victories he had gained, his hitherto successful armies were routed by an attack from an unexpected quarter, and the enemy being joined by numbers too powerful for resistance, they were called upon to surrender.
The Compte, unwilling to lessen his former fame by what he termed a shameful acquiescence, resolutely refused to obey, chusing rather to die in the field than to tarnish his spotless reputation by relinquishing his arms. Some of the soldiers preferring captivity to death, consented to the proposition, whilst others, who had caught somewhat of that martial ardour that animated the invincible soul of their leader, persisted in a refusal. The fight now became more desperate; the enemy was joined by a detachment coveniently ambushed near the place; the field was soon covered with the dead and the wounded, and the father of the amiable Abbess, after having defended himself bravely for a long time, was at last overpowered and slain!
This melancholy news was soon communicated to the Comptessa with all imaginable delicacy, but she did not long survive the recital. She had been for some time in a weak state, and this was a shock she was unable to sustain. Immediately on her decease, Adela, her only surviving child, was consigned to the care of her guardian, Monsieur de Santong, who resided in a distant part of the province. He was a widower, of reduced fortunes; with one son, who was finishing his education at one of the public seminaries in Paris.
Monsieur was a man of stern and severe deportment, in disposition at once haughty and morose, and his manners were so little calculated to please, that Adela, having never since her birth left the side of her mother, shrunk with terror from his gaze.
Before the Comte de Vendome quitted his beloved home, to undertake his last fatal expedition, he settled all his temporal affairs, leaving his daughter to the protection of this his only surviving relative, on the death of her mother, should this event take place before she was disposed of in marriage.
Monsieur de Santong, having been long disgusted with the world, had retired from the haunts of society to a small estate that he possessed in a remote and dreary situation, where he lived as peaceful and undisturbed as if consigned to his grave. Previous to his seclusion, he had mixed occasionally with people of various descriptions, but without being able to select any one with whom he could remain in habits of intimacy. He was a man of parts, without gaining the respect that usually adheres to science, because he expected undue regard; and in spite of the gravity of his appearance, the eccentricities of his conduct frequently made him the sport of witticism: by the learned he was rejected for his obstinacy, by the gay for his severity, and by the candid for his misanthropy. Thus, after the death of his wife, and the departure of his son, who was educated under the eye of one of his mother's relatives in the metropolis, he was left a lonely and solitary being, in whom no one was interested; few gave themselves the trouble to inquire whether he was still in existence, and those who did, lamented, when answered in the affirmative, that the useless were permitted to survive the worthy.
His relation, the Compte de Vendome, was, perhaps, the only person of his acquaintance by whom he was not thoroughly despised, though the sentiments and disposition of this justly esteemed nobleman were so diametrically opposite to his. The application and activity inseparable from a military capacity, had indeed prevented a continual intercourse, and the connexion subsisting between the families had silenced many out of respect to the much-revered Compte, who might otherwise have uttered much to Monsieur de Santong's disadvantage. He had more than once visited Monsieur before he took refuge in retirement; and, from the observations he was enabled to make, was convinced that his knowledge was profound, though obscured by caprice; and finding nothing to alledge against him but his inordinate love of praise, and his eccentric indulgences, he fixed upon him as the guardian of his Adela, should she be deprived of her parents before that sacred trust should devolve to another.
The fair orphan, being not more than seven years of age, received from Monsieur de Santong the first rudiments of her education. She was not allowed, for reasons never to be penetrated, to receive it in its usual form, in the shades of a cloister, though the mansion in which she resided was equally dreary and secluded. Society, or unexpected events, never retarded her progress, which enabled her soon to become conversant in every branch of elegant literature, and to be well acquainted with the classics, without being compelled to receive their beauties through the medium of her mother tongue.
Monsieur de Santong, who, next to his own son, loved her as much as he was capable of loving any one, beheld the proficiency she made with surprise and pleasure; and when in conversation with her, relaxed so much from his accustomed severity, that she became imperceptibly more at ease in his presence; yet her youthful imagination would frequently wander beyond the walls of the chateau, and portray scenes of gaiety and happiness in the world, which the original would not have equalled.
But, upon the whole, the life of Adela passed less unpleasantly than might have been imagined. A lively French woman, who was the director of the domestic affairs, interested herself much in her happiness, and saved her from many moments of despondency. Her name was Agnes; she had received a respectable education at Moulines under the care of an aunt, and after meeting with some misfortunes in life, respecting pecuniary affairs, had accepted a superior kind of service in the family of Monsieur de Santong.
In the society of this young woman, who possessed much genuine good humour, she frequently rambled a considerable distance from the mansion when the occupations of the day were over, and amused herself with surveying the landscape which her secluded situation commanded. But books were her chief amusements, and these were never denied her. Those selected by her guardian for her instruction and entertainment were mostly of the learned kind, though she was sometimes supplied with lighter works by the assistance of Agnes, from which she reaped less solid advantage.
Several years were passed in this manner without any material incident, till the arrival of the younger Santong, who had just completed his studies, occasioned an alteration in affairs.
He came attended by a schoolfellow, his principal companion, who was introduced by the name of Clairville to Monsieur, who received him with an air of coldness bordering upon rudeness. The young chevalier, who did not fail to remark the unpleasant consequence of his visit, appeared chagrined and uneasy, which Adela perceiving, endeavoured to remove by every attention she was empowered to bestow. In this she succeeded. His thoughts were soon abstracted from this slight cause of distress, but were directed to a subject more dangerous to his peace. He loved Adela the moment he beheld her, and without asking permission of his reason for doing so: well aware of the distance at which fortune had thrown him, he would have submitted, for the first time, to have solicited her favours, could wealth have secured the possession of his wishes.
Every interview increased his regard; he soon lived but for Adela, who was by no means insensible to his merit; and from the native openness of her disposition, felt no inclination to conceal from the observation of others the sentiment she indulged in his favour.
The young Santong, who was evidently as much inferior to his friend in mind as in person, beheld the decided preference shewn to him by his fair relation with a degree of dissatisfaction and displeasure, which he sometimes failed to disguise. He had bestowed upon the person and accomplishments of Adela no common attention; but her birth and splendid possessions were still more alluring in his eyes. His father had intimated his intention of uniting him with his ward, whose early seclusion from the world must have prevented the possibility of any other attachment. He had acceded with rapture to the proposal before he was introduced to her, and no sooner beheld her than lie considered her as his future bride. Had his own vanity been less, he would have avoided throwing a handsome young chevalier in her way, whose mind was not less perfect than his person, and whose soul was formed for all the delicacies and refinements of the tender passions.
Adela, being a stranger to disguise, would frequently, in the absence of Clairville, speak eloquently in his praise in the presence of Monsieur and the younger Santong, and perceived, not without astonishment, the apparent coldness with which her guardian repressed her innocent encomiums, and the flashes of anger that occasionally darted from the eyes of his offended son. But unsuspicious of the cause, she still continued to talk of him with that ardour of friendship, which declared to the more experienced observer how tenderly she was attached to the object of her commendation. Clairville, who felt the awkwardness of his situation, endeavoured to reconcile himself to the thoughts of quitting the chateau; but the idea of never again beholding her, in whose fate he was so strongly interested, and of the probability of her being soon disposed of to his more fortunate rival, sunk upon his heart, and he became pensive and disconsolate. Every day brought with it fresh proof that the affections of his friend were estranged from him, and that common courtesy only prevented him from accelerating his departure. Conscious of this, he began internally to despise himself for having so long yielded to the weakness of his feelings, and resolved to regain his own esteem by naming an early day for his return to the metropolis. Having once determined upon this mode of conduct, he hastened to fulfil his intentions, and on the following morning, seeing his friend walking alone in the shrubbery, he joined him with the resolution of executing his purpose.
The young Santong did not immediately observe him, being lost in musing, till the voice of the once-respected chevalier roused him from his stupor; and turning towards him, he accosted him with an expression of kindness that overcame him with surprise and pleasure.
Contrary to his original determination, he did not instantly make known his intention; and being soon afterwards joined by Adela and Monsieur de Santong, he continued to defer it.
The conversation now became general, and more than usually lively; the young Comptessa discoursed with her accustomed sprightliness, whilst the eyes of her lover, announcing every feeling of his soul, conveyed a tender and earnest expression as they became riveted upon her's. Not far from the mansion was an extensive wood; and Santong having heard that it contained a large quantity of game, proposed to de Clairville, as the morning was fine, to spend a few hours in the diversion of shooting. His friend agreed to the proposal, though not without some reluctance, as it would deprive him of the society of Adela, and they began their excursion.
As soon as they were gone, the fair recluse retired pensively to her library, willing to beguile the moments of absence with her books, her usual resources in the moments of uneasiness. She felt, without knowing why, an unusual depression of spirits, which she made many efforts to dissipate, but without success. She reflected, with dissatisfaction, on the solicitous attentions of Santong, who, she easily perceived, was designed by her guardian for her future husband. She compared him with the noble, the insinuating stranger, and for the first time discovered the partiality which the merit of the latter had inspired. He had never openly declared his passion for her; but his expressive manners could not be misconstrued, and he was apparently withheld, only by respectful diffidence, from making a verbal confession.
Nothing appeared so dreadful to her as a marriage with Santong; yet how was it to be avoided, if her guardian insisted upon her compliance? How could she presume to oppose him, to whose will she had hitherto yielded the most implicit obedience? She knew that he was severe in his disposition, terrible in his displeasure, and capable of adopting the most resolute measures, and of performing the most daring actions. As to the younger Santong, he appeared to her somewhat prejudiced mind to be deficient in every amiable qualification of the heart. She wondered why the Chevalier de Clairville, who seemed to possess every moral and elevated virtue, had enlisted him among the number of his intimates, since there was certainly no reciprocity of sentiment to unite them in the bonds of affection.
The young sportsmen, having been absent some hours, and nothing happening to break the train of her reflections, she took a walk towards the skirts of the wood, and having reached a heathy mountain, seated herself upon a piece of broken rock, and continued to muse on the subject which had so recently occupied her thoughts. She had not been long in this situation before the report of a gun, proceeding from the wood, convinced her they were returning from the excursion. She started from her place without knowing whither she was going, and advancing rapidly towards the spot from whence the sound was heard, a dreadful scream alarmed her, and in the next moment she beheld young Santong and the servant, who had attended them in their expedition, bearing the bleeding, and apparently almost lifeless form of the Chevalier de Clairville!
What a sight was this for Adela, the tender, the adoring Adela, to sustain! But surprise and anguish soon depriving her of sensation, she sunk into a state of insensibility. The cries of the servant (for Santong, transfixed in horror, was unable to utter a sound) reached the chateau, and the domestics, with anxious and terrified looks, crowded around them. Adela, who was long before she discovered any symptom of returning life, was conveyed to her room, where every method was employed to restore and console her; but a fever and delirium were the consequence of this dreadful alarm, which threatened to terminate her existence. The physician that attended de Clairville was called in to her assistance, who pronounced her to be in a state of danger; at the same time desired that she might be kept as tranquil as possible, as the only chance of success depended upon the recomposing of her spirits. This induced her attendants to delude her, in the intervals of reason, with the most flattering information respecting the chevalier. The physician was also from necessity compelled to aid the deception, by assuring her that his wounds were not mortal, and that from their favourable appearance every thing was to be hoped.
This joyful intelligence tended to accelerate her recovery, and as soon as she was enabled to bear a repetition of the subject, inquired how the accident had happened? But of this she could hear no satisfactory account. The young Santong was alone acquainted with the particulars, and he being in a state little short of distraction, was not in a situation to answer inquiries.
As soon as Adela was sufficiently recovered from her illness to endure the sight of de Clairville, he requested permission to see her. What they might mutually suffer from so trying an interview, induced the worthy physician to deny him the privilege; but as the necessity of refusing a dying request is, perhaps, one of the severest inflictions that benevolence can endure, he at last yielded, though not unreluctantly, to his wishes.
As soon as Adela was informed of his desire, she quitted her room, for the first time since she entered it, and proceeded, supported by Agnes, to the side of his bed.
But what were her feelings when, instead of finding him in a state of convalescence as she had been taught to expect, she beheld him with the image of death stamped upon his countenance, saw his lips quivering as if on the eve of closing for ever, and heard his short convulsive breathings, with every other symptom of approaching dissolution! The moment she fixed her eyes on the faded form before her, a cold trembling seized her: she had but just power to repress the scream that was escaping her, and afraid she should relapse into insensibility before she should catch the last accents of his voice, clung still closer to Agnes. The dying chevalier, though unable to articulate, extended his feeble hand to grasp her's, with a look so tender, so mournful, so touching, that her grief arose to agony!
Incapable of moving, she still continued by his side, with her eyes fixed wildly upon his face, with such an expression of anguish, that none present could refrain from tears! At last the wan countenance on which she gazed assumed a more ghastly paleness, the films obscured his sight, the pulse that had long beat, feebly fluttered, and then ceased for ever, and that captivating, that once graceful form, became stiffened in death! Adela's distress was now too acute to be suppressed, and disengaging herself from Agnes, who could no longer restrain her, she fell breathless on the bed! A deep silence, as of the grave, ensued, which was only interrupted occasionally by the loud sobs of Monsieur de Santong, who had remained in speechless sorrow at the farther end of the room during this pathetic scene, unobserved by the unfortunate sufferers. It was too much for human nature to endure with firmness, and the stern, and before impenetrable, heart of the misanthropist melted at the touches of sympathy!
As soon as the account of de Clairville's dissolution reached the ears of his son, he flew into the room with the desperation of a maniac, declaring himself his murderer. His cries recalled Adela to existence, who, regarding him with speechless horror as he uttered the dreadful truth, threw herself into the arms of her attendant, and was conveyed to her apartment.
It was several days after this mournful event before she was in a situation to see any one except her physician and confessor, and during that period the remorse and distraction of Santong portended the loss of his senses! He raved continually of Adela, besought his father to plead for his forgiveness, and then resign him as a murderer to the laws of his country. He acknowledged that it was jealousy alone that had instigated him to the horrid deed, having observed the attachment that had subsisted between his friend and the young Comptessa ever since its commencement, particularly the tender looks they had exchanged on the morning that had witnessed his guilt, which, he added, had given fresh fuel to that unbridled resentment, which was before too violent to be concealed or subdued.
Though Adela had been brought by this trying calamity nearly to the brink of the grave, youth, united to a good constitution, finally triumphed, and in a few weeks she was enabled to sit up in her room, and to converse with her confessor.
Monsieur de Santong, who had made daily inquiries concerning his unhappy ward ever since the death of de Clairville, ventured, at the request of his son, to solicit an audience. Having gained the permission he desired, he was ushered into the room, and, with an aspect on which pity and distress were strikingly depicted, placed himself on a chair by her side. Adela received him with a placid and sorrowful air; but when he began to plead for his son, the assassin of the noble chevalier, a slight blush of resentment tinged her cheek, and she surveyed him with a look of mingled astonishment and displeasure. But when he assured her that his son did not aspire to her love, but only besought her forgiveness, and had convinced her that the atrocious crime his unfortunate child had committed was not the effect of deliberate and premeditated cruelty, the expression of her countenance changed, and compassion gave new softness to its character. A heart that could deny its pardon to a wretch, suffering all the agonies of guilt and remorse, must have been made of sterner materials than was that of Adela; and she bestowed it in accents so gentle, that, though the younger Santong never presumed to obtrude himself into her presence, when he received an account of it from his father, he became more tranquil.
The wretched culprit did not continue much longer at the chateau; and though despondency had prompted the request concerning a resignation to the civil laws of his country, other considerations determined him to purchase a dispensation from the Pope, and to close his existence in some religious retirement. Monsieur de Santong did not oppose his inclinations; this heavy calamity, inflicted upon him by the violence of unregulated passions, had an effect upon his mind as powerful as it was instantaneous. He was now no longer proud, vain, or inaccessible; his favourite project, that of uniting his son to the heiress of the noble house of Vendome, was at an end, and every earthly pursuit seemed to have expired with it. Grief had the happy effect of convincing him that he was not beyond the reach of misfortune, and by teaching him the insufficiency of immoderate acquirements, had conveyed a lesson of humility and wisdom. When the chevalier was first introduced to him, he imagined, in his fine person and insinuating address, he discovered a formidable rival for his son. He saw his perfections with dissatisfaction, because he believed they could not fail to attract the regard of the youthful and blooming Adela; but now that he had paid so dear for his rivalship, he felt nothing of prejudice lingering at his heart, and cherished a kind of melancholy esteem for his memory. This sudden transition, from moroseness to kindness, indicated that his former misanthropy was rather the effect of circumstance than a natural inclination of the mind; for from this time he became the mild guardian, the compassionate and tender father; and could he have prevailed upon himself to have returned to society, might have become the estimable friend.
As soon as Adela was recovered, she formed a resolution of secluding herself in a convent, and took an early opportunity of informing Monsieur de Santong of her design. Amazed at her intention, he offered some slight objections, which she speedily removed, and then consented to inquire for a situation suitable to her wishes.
About a week after she had made known her determination, the unhappy Santong repaired to his monastery, which was somewhere in the southern part of France; and on the succeeding day the Comptessa de Vendome was conducted by her guardian to the convent, which, in obedience to her former desire, he had selected for her residence: it contained a society of Carmelite Nuns of one of the strictest orders in the country. Here she was admitted as a boarder; but owing to its not meeting with her entire approbation, did not continue her abode in this place. There was not one among the sisterhood with whom she could connect herself; for the Lady of the convent was reserved, haughty, and mercenary, and the Nuns seemed invariably to emulate her example.
This influenced her intentions of not remaining in so unpleasant a society during life, and led her to adopt a resolution of quitting it as soon as she could inform herself of another more congenial to her taste. Having executed her design, she left France, and removing into Germany, entered into a convent of Penitent Nuns, of the order of St Francis. Here she spent several years as a sister; and after the death of the Abbess, having endowed this religious asylum with her vast possessions, was preferred to the honour of succeeding her as Supenor. When this little affecting narrative was concluded, which was illustrated with many elevated sentiments and tender incidents, which, unless recited with the grace and eloquence of the amiable narrator, might fail to interest the reader, she drew a small gem from her bosom, which contained the name of the chevalier, wrought with his hair: it was suspended by a small string of rubies, and was worn continually round her neck. As she gazed upon this precious relic, a throbbing emotion disturbed her usually serene features; she sighed, pressed it mournfully to her heart, and seemed to be insensible to every thing for the moment but the recollection of her long-indulged sorrows.
Madame Chamont, who had listened to her with a painful interest, bent over the arm of the chair on which her friend was sitting, and mingled her tears with her's, till their attention was recalled from melancholy reflection by the appearance of a Nun who came to present a piece of embroidery to the Abbess, which she had newly finished. As she advanced towards the Superior with a pensive and dignified air, she bent gracefully to Madame Chamont, and drawing aside her veil, discovered to her one of the most lovely faces she had ever seen. It was pale, and marked with sorrow; but there was a certain expression of softness and resignation in her fine Grecian features an air of meek, corrected sadness, that could not be perused without pity and affection. As soon as she had delivered her work, and had received the grateful commendation of the Abbess, she drew her veil again over her face, and retired.
As soon as she was gone, Madame Chamont, willing to withdraw her revered friend from the luxury of too tender remembrances, praised the singular beauty of the sister, and requested to be informed of her name. 'It is sister Cecilia,' returned the Superior, 'one of the most devout Nuns of the order. She never enters into any of our amusements, except at the holy festivals, and seems to dedicate the whole of her life to prayer and religious exercises. She confines herself almost entirely to her cell, seldom enters into conversation with any other than her confessor, and preserves a life of uniform reserve and austerity.
'She is the only one of the sisterhood with whose story I am unacquainted, though she has been in the society upwards of fourteen years; nor have any of the Nuns, not even those for whom she possesses the most decided regard, been able to gain admission into her confidence. Yet, though she has preserved this invariable reserve, none of the inhabitants of the cloister are more tenderly, more universally beloved. She is the first to shew consolation and kindness to all who are in need of it; her breast is the temple of benevolence, the seat of truth and of virtue. Her charity is as unbounded as her other excellencies, and she seems capable of no other enjoyment than what she derives from the source of religion, and the happiness of her fellow-creatures. Besides these solid and estimable virtues, she possesses many charming accomplishments, which, but for their being connected with the stable principles, the intrinsic excellencies of the mind, might be justly deemed of little value. Nature has bestowed upon her, amongst her other gifts, a rich and excursive fancy; the devout pieces, which are used not unfrequently on the most solemn occasions, attuned to the notes of the organ, are chiefly of her composing; and for grace, delicacy, and energy of thought, may be said to be nearly unequalled. In music she is an avowed proficient, and the needle-work she has just brought for my inspection,' resumed the Abbess, 'is an indisputable proof of her taste in that elegant department.'
There was something in this account, united with the exalted, yet meek devotion, that characterized the appearance of the Nun, so affecting to Madame Chamont, that, when the Superior had finished, she still listened, in hopes of hearing a farther account of her. But her informer had related all that she knew of her, except that she was a Neapolitan, and that it was believed she had suffered some severe irremediable calamity previous to her retirement from the world.
Madame Chamont's curiosity was now more than ever awakened; she thought of the Signora di Capigna, the supposed mother of Laurette, and anxiety to be informed of the truth of this surmise arose to the most painful impatience. The more she mused upon the subject, the more probable it appeared, that the devout Cecilia was no other than the once celebrated Neapolitan, the fair unfortunate victim of early seduction, who, after the death of her father, was believed either to have died of grief, or to have sought a remedy for it in some religious seclusion. When she considered every thing the Abbess had uttered, her grief, her silence respecting her family and name, her penitential devotions, the length of time since she had entered into the convent answering so nearly to the age of Laurette, her Italian origin every circumstance seemed to convince her that the conjecture was not founded on error, which determined her, if possible, to gain further intelligence; but the difficulty of accomplishing her design repressed the energy of the enterprize; was it likely that the fair Nun, who had denied her confidence to so many with whom she was in habits of intimacy, and even to the Superior herself, should impart it to a stranger, one whom she had scarcely seen, and who had no possible claim on her regard or attention?
As soon as she had quitted the convent, she returned silently towards the castle, meditating as she went upon this new incident. If this was really the Signora de Capigna, and her idea concerning Laurette was a just one, she was doubtless ignorant respecting her offspring, who had probably been conveyed from her without her consent or knowledge. The actions of the Marchese were so veiled in mystery, that it was impossible to comprehend, or to account for them. But the propriety of acquainting sister Cecilia with the situation of her child, if by any means Laurette could be proved to be her's, appeared, every time she reflected upon it, more striking. After much consideration, she formed the resolution of sending a few lines to the Nun by Father Benedicta, who was confessor of the convent.
Some days passed before she had an opportunity of accomplishing her design, not being able to gain an interview with him in private; but having written a letter to be in readiness, in which she avoided mentioning any thing of herself or her charge, merely asking if she ever had a daughter, and was ignorant of her fate, she committed it to the care of the Father. The holy Benedicta eyed the direction, which was written in Italian, with a look expressive of surprise; and then placing it silently in the folds of his habit, bowed meekly, and withdrew. It was not long before the Monk returned again to the castle, and as soon as he was admitted into the presence of Madame Chamont, presented her with an answer to her epistle, which she instantly opened. It contained many grateful acknowledgments, elegantly and delicately expressed, and, without any reference to her own peculiar misfortunes, informed her she never had a daughter. The conclusion, expressive of the devout spirit of the writer, breathed a solemn benediction, commending her with impressive fervency to the protection of Heaven. The signature, which bore no other name than that of Cecilia, a penitent Nun of the order of St Francis, seemed to have been written with a disordered hand, and to have been watered with her tears.
Satisfied that this either was not Signora di Capigna, or that Laurette was not the daughter of that unfortunate beauty, she made no further attempt to investigate the subject; and whether from chance or design she was unable to ascertain, the Nun never more entered the apartment of the Abbess when Madame Chamont was there.
Down many a winding step, mid dungeons dank,
Where anguish wails aloud, and fetters clank
To caves bestrew'd with many a mouldering bone,
And cells, whose echos only learn to groan,
Where no kind bars a whispering friend disclose,
No sun-beam enters, and no zephyr blows,
A considerable time had elapsed since the departure of Enrîco, and no recent account of him having arrived at the castle, a thousand mournful conjectures destroyed the repose of Madame Chamont and Laurette, who began to believe that he was either taken captive, or was slain by his more fortunate foes, while bravely fighting the cause of the great Maximilian. These dreadful apprehensions drew tears incessantly from the eyes of his affectionate mother, whilst her beautiful pupil, who endeavoured to appear cheerful in the presence of her protectress, often retired to her apartment, or into the secret recesses of the woods, to weep and suffer in silence.
The imagined fate of the young warrior was yet undecided, when Paoli once more arrived at the mansion. From him they indulged a hope of gaining some information respecting the Bavarian armies; but this proving delusive, the family again sunk into sorrow and deep dejection.
Madame Chamont's mind was so extremely agitated with these distressing surmises, that, unable to sleep, she frequently forsook her bed before the sun had risen upon the mountains, and wandered for some hours unattended in the solitudes of the forest; hoping, in the contemplation of external objects, that she might be able to divert her thoughts from a subject that was attended with the severest anguish.
One morning, having extended her walk much longer than usual, she found herself in a part of the domain which she had never visited before. It was more wild and picturesque than any thing she had ever seen; an appearance of uncultivated grandeur was delineated in the prospect it commanded, an air of desolation that was in unison with her feelings, and to the frame of mind she was then in, was infinitely more grateful than the more soft and glowing landscape.
As she continued her ramble through the most woody part of the grounds, one object above all others engaged her attention, and excited her surprise.
This was a small square tower that once belonged to the fortification wall of the castle, which had formerly spread along a vast extent of ground, including the principal part of the forest; the design of which was evidently that, in case of a siege, a sufficient quantity of cattle might be pastured to supply the inhabitants during the attack. This solitary turret, which, with the aid of a buttress, had strengthened one of the angles of the exterior polygon, was all that remained of the out work, and even this was falling to decay. It was overtopped with long grass, briery, and the enchanter's nightshade; and being almost immersed in the deep gloom of the woods, seemed to have become the residence of birds of prey.
Curiosity impelling her to examine the inside of the fabric, she entered what had once been a door, and was proceeding through the arch on the opposite side, when the sound of voices issuing from below struck her with terror and dismay. The first idea that presented itself, which the extreme solitude of the situation seemed to favour, was, that it was the resort of a party of banditti, which made her irresolute whether to stop for a few minutes to be convinced if she was right in her conjecture, or to hasten from a place which threatened her with danger, and return towards the mansion. Whilst she was thus hesitating, she perceived, at the most remote part of the structure, a small iron door, and on one side of it, nearly at the bottom, a narrow grated aperture. An irresistible impulse impelled her to kneel down, that she might be able to observe to what part of the building this entrance led; but the light this window admitted was so feeble, that she could but just distinguish a small extent of passage, which apparently terminated in a flight of stone steps.
In a state of inconceivable dread she listened for some moments to be assured from whence the voices proceeded; but the deep sighing of the wind among the trees prevented her from discriminating any other sound. Anxious to be assured who were the people thus strangely secluded in the subterranean recesses of this gloomy abode, and to be acquainted with the purpose of their concealment, she advanced fearfully towards the door, and examining it attentively, endeavoured to discover some way of opening it; but no visible means appearing, she pressed forcibly against it, and to her utter astonishment it unclosed. Thus enabled to gratify a curiosity which was augmented by the small prospect of gratification the first view of it had presented, she walked slowly through the passage, and was within a few paces of the stairs when a deep groan, which was instantly succeeded by the clinking of a chain, overcame her with horror and amazement. Fear having suspended her faculties, she stood for a few seconds motionless as a statue, totally unable either to proceed or to return, till a loud voice, elevated as in anger, recovered her from her stupor, which being answered in the low, mournful accents of entreaty, convinced her that some unhappy being was suffering in that unfrequented and dreary solitude; but, as the turret belonged immediately to the castle, who could be the tyrant, and who the prisoner, was strange beyond conjecture.
As soon as she was enabled to conquer the terror this incident had occasioned, she again advanced towards the stairs, and in the pauses of the wind heard these words distinctly pronounced, in a voice which she immediately knew to be Paoli's: --
'You have had a sufficient time allowed you, and as death is inevitable, and nothing can procure even a temporary respite, you have only to chuse the means. I leave this place to-day. The moments are precious, therefore be hasty in your determination.'
These incoherent expressions were enough to assure her that some person was confined in that place for the purpose of being murdered. Almost fainting with apprehension, she receded as far as the entrance, and holding the iron door with her hand, was irresolute whether to return again towards the steps, or to hurry from the spot. As she stood for a few moments endeavouring to overcome the agony that this strange adventure had excited, as well as to consider if it was not possible, by timely interference, to avert the fate that awaited this victim of perhaps unjust resentment, she heard a noise like the undrawing of rusty bolts, which was followed by the sound of footsteps, apparently proceeding towards her.
Knowing this could be no other than Paoli, she closed the door that led into the passage, and rapidly retreating, concealed herself in the thick foliage of the trees that surrounded the lonely turret; but in such a situation, that she must unavoidably see him pass.
In a few minutes he quitted the tower; and having turned into the glade, was hastily putting something into his pocket, when the rustling of the trees, under which Madame Chamont had secreted herself to elude being noticed by him, made him start involuntarily, and what he was attempting to secure fell upon the ground. The grass preventing any noise, he was unconscious of his loss, and, seemingly satisfied with being undiscovered, walked speedily away.
Paoli having reached a considerable distance, Madame Chamont emerged from her obscurity, and on gaining the spot the steward had recently left, beheld, to her unutterable joy, a small rusty key, which she had no doubt belonged to the dungeon where the sufferer was confined.
For some time she was undetermined whether immediately to release the unfortunate captive from his state of misery and perplexity, or to return to the castle, and to perform that office of humanity as soon as Paoli had quitted it, who had just intimated an intention of commencing his journey without further delay. On mature deliberation the latter plan was adopted; as, should the careful steward be aware of his loss before his arrival at the mansion, he would probably return in hopes of being able to recover it, in which case her generous designs would not only be frustrated, but instant death, or new and unheard-of torture might be inflicted upon the ill-fated object of her compassion.
This being resolved upon, she returned towards the castle elated at the thoughts of being able to release a fellow-creature from the grasp of inflexible tyranny, and secretly determining not to acquaint Laurette with the adventure, as it was impossible that an affair of that kind could be executed without the knowledge and consent of the Marchese; consequently, was she to be informed of this singular circumstance, she would reflect upon him, whom she had every reason to believe was the author of her being, with horror and aversion.
As soon as she had reached the outer court, she beheld her beautiful charge, with the airy lightness of a sylph, advancing to meet her; an emotion of joy played upon her features, and the usual salutations being over, she presented her with a letter from Enrîco.
Madame Chamont's feelings on this occasion can better be imagined than described. The intelligence the epistle conveyed was of the most pleasing kind; he spoke highly of his Colonel, the Marchese de Martilini, and rapturously of the way of life in which he had engaged. He also informed them that, as his regiment, at the close of the year, was likely to be stationed in a less remote province, he entertained some hopes of being permitted to pay his respects to his beloved mother and his dear Laurette, at the expiration of a few months.
Thus effectually relieved from a painful inquietude, Madame Chamont, though she could not forbear slightly censuring the negligence that had given rise to it, felt a degree of tranquillity and animation which she had been long unused to.
As soon as she arrived at the castle, she found Paoli was already returned; and being assured, from his manner, that he had not seen her in the forest, scrupulously avoided mentioning any thing in his presence relative to her excursion.
Immediately on his departure she resolved, though enervated with the terror this occurrence had excited, to visit the solitary tower, and to liberate the unfortunate captive. The more she considered this singular incident, the more mysterious it appeared. If the Marchese had received any material injury from the prisoner, why not resign him to the laws of his country? Or, if the offence was of too venial a nature for justice to punish with death, or sufferance, why confine him at so vast a distance from his own residence, when assassination, or torture, might have been inflicted with equal secrecy and success in the dungeons of the Castello St Aubin? What Paoli had uttered before he quitted his victim was expressive of the most arbitrary conduct; for though it allowed him the choice of means, this affected clemency was counteracted by a repetition of threats, which could not fail to appal the most resolute mind. He mentioned, during this conference, his intention of leaving the castle immediately, and the necessity of a hasty determination respecting the method of accomplishing the design; yet the matter seemed not to have been decided; no violent measures had at present been adopted, no screams of terror, or of agonizing torture, had pierced the deep solitude of the woods. The unfortunate being was then assuredly alive, though probably left to perish by poison, or the pining miseries of famine. More than once it occurred to her thoughts that it might possibly be La Roque; yet the length of time that had elapsed since her meeting with him at the post house, did not justify the opinion, as, had he so long escaped falling into the hands of his enemy, he would surely, before this time, have placed himself beyond the reach of his malice. The clinking of a chain, so distinctly heard from the place, convinced her of the difficulty of her enterprize; but recollecting that amongst a quantity of old lumber, in one of the chambers in the northern buildings, she had observed several files, and other instruments, which might be useful in the undertaking, she hastened to find them.
Having obtained the means of admission, she entered this range of apartments, which, from superstition, or some more rational motive, were kept constantly fastened, and in one of the most desolate-looking rooms, discovered the objects of her search. They were thrown into a remote corner, with a considerable number of broken helmets, shields, corselets, and other military accoutrements, with some fragments of different kinds of tapestry, and a large heap of rusty keys, which seemed to have remained in a state of inactivity for many years. After availing herself of these treasures, whilst Laurette was employed in her morning amusements and exercises, with a hurried step and palpitating heart she bent her way towards the tower.
When she arrived at the entrance, she looked fearfully round, lest any one should observe her; but no one approaching, and no sound, not even the flutter of the breeze, disturbing the awful stillness of the place, she ventured to proceed. The iron door, as on a former occasion, gave way to a forcible pressure, and having reached the passage, that only admitted the light of a small grated aperture, she distinguished the flight of steps which she had perceived before.
Beyond this all was dark; but having with much difficulty groped her way till she had obtained the bottom of the stairs, she proceeded through a vast extent of passage, and was then enabled to observe, by the feeble ray of a lamp that glimmered through a crevice in the wall, a door which, from the appearance of the light, seemed to be that leading into the dungeon. As she paused for a moment, to find the key, a deep sigh, that might be said to breathe the language of despair, broke the sepulchral kind of stillness that had hitherto prevailed.
Having, with much difficulty, applied the key to the door, she withdrew the bolts, which the wretched inhabitant of this dark abyss supposing to be a prelude to death, or some new calamity, answered with a scream. 'Whoever you are,' cried Madame Chamont, in a low disordered voice, 'whom guilt or misfortune have brought to this miserable abode, I beseech you to be comforted.' Having uttered these words, she listened for a moment, but all was again silent; no sound was returned, which made it probable that her words were unheard, or disregarded. Much strength was requisite in the accomplishment of her purpose, for the lock was so rusted by time and neglect, that it was impossible for so feeble and delicate a hand to make it (without painful exertion) perform its long-forgotten office. By repeated efforts she was, however, enabled to put her designs in execution, and opening the door, which turned sullenly on its grating hinges, she beheld, in one corner of the dungeon, a pale, emaciated figure seated upon straw. An emotion of terror seemed to have deprived him of reason, which prevented him from attending to the compassionate exclamation of his deliverer; and having covered his face with his hands, he did not perceive her approach till she was within a few steps of the place where he was sitting. A second address, however, uttered in the plaintive accents of pity, roused him from his stupor, and discovered to Madame Chamont the features of La Roque, who, instead of the messenger of death which his affrighted imagination had portrayed, beheld the still beautiful form of his former benefactress.
After quieting his apprehensions, by convincing him of the possibility of effecting an escape, she raised the lamp from the ground and having used many ineffectual efforts to release him from his fetters, finally succeeded in her design.
The effusions of his gratitude for some time deprived the astonished La Roque of utterance; but his feelings being now too violent to be restrained, he burst into a flood of tears. Joy and compassion operated as powerfully in the mind of Madame Chamont, who having, after many arduous endeavours, entirely accomplished his deliverance, assisted in raising him from the ground, and led him from the dungeon.
Those who have been long secluded from the beauties of Nature in a miserable subterranean abode, can only form an adequate conception of the raptures experienced by La Roque on his sudden emancipation from captivity. A few minutes before, he was in continual expectation of a miserable death, hopeless, and, as he believed, beyond the reach of compassion; now he was restored to a world from which he imagined himself separated for ever, was permitted to behold the beautiful face of Nature, to hear again the melody of the birds, and to feel the enlivening breath of the zephyr; yet so much was he enervated by confinement, and his ancles were so weakened by manacles, that he was unable to walk without support.
Madame Chamont, who at first thought only of the means of deliverance, now foresaw difficulties which her mind had not been collected enough to have contemplated before. She had now conducted La Roque from his dreadful abode, but in what manner he was to be disposed of was an idea that never occurred to her before. After having suffered much from the dark vapours of a dungeon, from the miserable confinement of chains and fetters, with the addition of spare and meagre diet, he wanted assistance and support. This rendered it impossible for him to prosecute his journey without needful rest and refreshment; yet how was this to be procured, since it could not be accomplished without assistance, and this would be attended not only with difficulty, but with danger? She was resolved, however, to procure him some food without further delay, and having seated him upon a projection of stone in the turret, gave him a promise that she would speedily return, and hurried towards the castle.
As she went, she began to reflect upon the necessity of coming to a speedy resolution in this important affair, as to the manner of proceeding in it; for should the loss of the key be discovered, it might occasion the return of Paoli, which would render abortive every scheme she had devised for the preservation of the prisoner.
After much consideration, she found it would be impossible to convey La Roque to his place of destination without some one to assist her in the enterprise; and knowing the prudence and secrecy of the faithful Dorothée, resolved to make her a confidante in the undertaking. This matter being settled, she proceeded towards the mansion with redoubled alacrity; and having acquainted her servant with the adventure, desired that she would take some food and wine to La Roque in the turret of the forest. The good woman, whose tenderness and compassion were equally awakened, cheerfully obeyed the summons, whilst Madame Chamont retired to her apartment to consider the most effectual way of rendering herself serviceable to the much-injured La Roque, that he might be immediately placed in security, and herself avoid detection. She saw the policy of a hasty removal, yet was anxious that he should first recover from that state of weakness and indisposition, to which grief and imprisonment had reduced him.
Whilst she still continued to muse upon this affecting incident, without being able to adopt any plan for her future conduct, the arrival of Father Benedicta, her confessor, broke in upon her reflections.
As she surveyed the placid countenance of this holy Father, lighted up by the smile of benevolence, and glowing with universal philanthropy, the idea of soliciting his protection instantly occurred to her. With his assistance La Roque might take refuge in the monastery till he was in a condition to travel, and in the habit of a Friar, which could easily be procured, might be secure from the possibility of discovery.
This plan appeared so much more eligible than any she had before conceived, that she was resolved to put it into execution. As soon as the Monk was seated, having first expatiated upon the duties of charity, she informed him that an unfortunate stranger, whom she had lately met with under peculiar circumstances, which were at present somewhat veiled in mystery, had much interested her compassion. That there were reasons, with which she was herself partly unacquainted, why he must be secluded from observation till he could prosecute the remaining part of his journey without farther injury to his health; and from the exemplary piety and general benevolence of her revered Father, she had flattered herself that he would, if possible, offer him an asylum till that period arrived. She forbore mentioning any thing of the Marchese, and even of Paoli, and entirely avoided the subject of his imprisonment.
Father Benedicta, who regarded her, during this discourse, with a look of tenderness and admiration that encouraged her to proceed, easily discovered, from the timid hesitation of her manner, that she was not only much concerned in the fate of the stranger, but that there was something connected with the affair which prudence forbade her to reveal.
Having desisted from any inquiry that might tend to heighten her anxiety, he readily assented to her desire of affording him a place of security, appointing an hour in which he would meet them at the end of the eastern rampart, for the purpose of conducting him to the cloister.
As soon as the Friar was departed, Madame Chamont formed an excuse to Laurette for her absence, and then returned towards the tower, where she found La Roque considerably revived by the salutary relief which the castle had afforded, and anxious to assure her of the extent of his gratitude.
Having seated herself by his side, she informed him of her newly concerted scheme of placing him in the monastery under the patronage and protection of Father Benedicta, whose benevolent acquiescence had delivered her, she added, from much apprehension and perplexity on his account, from which place he might escape in the dress of the order; and should his flight be discovered by the return of the steward, he might be easily defended from the vigilance of his pursuers in so holy a disguise.
This proposal, that promised at once secrecy and security, was accepted with transport; and La Roque being evidently much recovered by the attentions bestowed upon him since his confinement, Madame Chamont made some inquiries concerning his daughter, who she learned was consigned to the care of a generous protector; and then reminded him of the promise made to her at the post-house of relating his story, at the same time desiring him to desist if he found himself unequal to the task.
Having acknowledged the justice of the claim, and given his assent to the proposition, he hesitated for a few moments, as if to acquire additional fortitude; and then checking a tear, the obtrusion of which seemed to have been occasioned by the recollection of some recent calamity, he thus began his narration.