« PreviousContinue »
"I won't go with you," said the boy, resolute
"Then, where will you go, pray?"
"Return to the chateau-to my good Seraphinka-the only friend I have left in the world—she 'll take care of me."
terview that morning at the chateau, she had not | tramping-or would you that we spend the night yet got over the shock; nor could she find any in this uncomfortable spot? Ugh! it is combalm of consolation to pour on the fresh wound. fortless-but sorrow makes one peevish-when At last the poor abandoned boy yielded to his you 've known as much of it as I have, you will despair, and, flinging himself down on the stones, be tougher than you are now! What will you howled and shrieked in the very convulsion of do?-remain here-well-I am willing-not that agony. It was awful to behold the anguish of I like it, but on a day like this, how can I refuse the untrained mind. Not for a second did he you anything?" grasp the notion that the object of his fantastic terror was connected with him in the way the count had described; but the idea that her malignant sorcery had prevailed at last, and that now she had got possession of him, she would transform him into something horrible, or make the world believe that he was her son, force him to toil and carry weights-vague and wild notions, in short, drawn from the "Arabian Night," struggled with the still more appalling reality, as a nightmare contends with our waking senses. The misery of childhood is more exquisite, though less lasting, than that of after years; because the tender mind has not the power to encompass its sense of misfortune; the child is overwhelmed by its incapacity for action-the feeling of its utter helplessness of its being, as it were, but a mere ball in the hands of others.
Jakubska suffered this crisis of nature to have full play. She sat herself on the stone steps, and soon became absorbed in thought; so absorbed, indeed, that she was not aware how swiftly time sped. The very excess of the boy's passion soon exhausted it, and he sat at as great a distance as he conveniently could from her he so much dreaded, with his face buried in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees, hoping, poor child, that the weariness, the sickness of heart that weighed him down, was the harbinger of that repose to which his best friend had been consigned a few days ago —the first sorrow is a thing so new; and this was worse than grief, it was a catastrophe!
"Now," said the woman, rising and shaking the rain from her cloak, as if it had been but morning dew, so light did she seem to make of her wetting--" now, Pavel, we must move forward, or we shall not arrive to-night where we must go, though we are not expected-but we 'll make our own welcome. Come," she continued, "do not look so wild-you must go with me-it's true, though you are my own flesh and flood, I can't expect you to feel for me what I feel for you; and I am not astonished that poverty frightens you -that you'd rather be a lord than a serf. I had myself destined you for another fate, but Heaven would not permit it—however, I shall take care my brave boy is not lowered down to work like a common peasant. I'll beg, or, for that matter, steal, before it comes to such a pass. No, no; you need not be afraid-be of good cheer, my son. Your fall has been great; but comfort yourself, yours is not the only heavy heart to-day-yon proud man does not bear a light one in his bosom ! I say, Pavel-for I must tell you you are christened Pavel, and not by that French name they used to call you by up there in the castle-we must be
"You have yet to learn the ways of the world, my boy. Seraphinka would no sooner know you to be what you are than all her boasted friendship were at once forfeited; her kindness was for the heir of Count Stanoiki-to her future lord, and not to the son of the despised Jakubska! If you return to the castle in that character, the very stable boys will hoot at, and set the dogs on you! No, no; you have yet to learn a lesson or twobut those lessons will come fast enough now." "I'll not move a step with you!"
'Well, then, I'll spend the night here with you."
"I'll appeal to the protection of the first passerby—don't think I am afraid of you, old witchfor I am sure you are a witch. I will not go with you, I tell you. I will not cease to be a count. I will not be a churl-so you may just say and do what you please."
Jakubska at a single glance perceived the difficulty of her situation, but she was keenly alive to the consequences of neglecting the count's injunctions, and felt, for the child's sake as well as for her own, she must find means to conquer his obstinacy; suddenly a bright thought occurred to her.
"You say truly, my son, I am a mighty witch; and if you do not obey me, I will utter a spell so potent that you will be bound to that stone on which you sit, and the murdered man who lies beneath, and the murderers gibbeted above, shall come and howl throughout the night around you! Now, choose if you will stay. Nay, I see in your eyes you think of running back to the castle in spite of me; but if you attempt to stir, I shall first make you halt of one foot; if you persist, I'll make you blind of one eye-nay, if you move but one inch," she added, with flashing eye, "look here!" and she drew forth a long knife from her girdle.
Leon was as brave as most children of his years; but he was barely eleven. His nerves had received a shock, and he had been bred in the midst of superstition; not, indeed, but the count was quite free, and the countess slightly affected by such considerations, but the servants generally, and Seraphinka in particular, were deeply imbued with all sorts of delusions; and the latter, as we have seen, had imparted much of her way of thinking to Leon. So, terrified at last by the woman's energy and alleged power, he rose and followed her.
BY THE COUNTESS D'ARBOUVILLE.
[For the translation of this story we are indebted to the Boston Atlas. There are some phrases in it which will not be approved of by our readers, but they are not the less natural because they are wrong, and because they are so French.]
I AM simply going to relate an event, of which I was a spectator. It is one of the melancholy reminiscences of my life-one of those impressions to which the soul looks back with gentle sorrow in the hour of discouragement. It diffuses an indescribable renunciation of the too vain hopes of this world-a self-denial, which appeases the murmurings within us, and summons us to silent resignation.
whether the sky was clear or clouded. They seemed to forget what they never had. But, as to myself, on entering this gloomy and smoke-covered place, I invoked the remembrance of all the days of sunshine in which my life had been passed
of hours spent in the open air, with a clear sky above me, and unbounded space before me. this moment, I thought with thankfulness of what I had, until then, regarded as the common gifts to all mankind—light, air, the horizon!
I had resided eighteen months in this town, and perhaps was about to murmur at my long captivity, when what I am now going to relate occurred.
To gain one of the gates of the fortifications, I found it necessary, when taking my daily promenade, to go down a small alley, the ground of If ever these pages are read, I do not wish it to which, being dug in the form of steps, to render be by those who are happy, quite happy. There its ascent more easy, gave it the resemblance of a is nothing here for them; neither invention nor staircase. Passing through this narrow and obevents. But there are hearts that have known scure alley very frequently, my reflections far in affliction, that have dreamed of joys that are gone, advance of my steps, I thought only of the fields I and are prone to a quick-coming sadness; who if, was going to find; but one day, by chance, my in passing, they catch but a glimpse of a sorrow- eyes fell upon a small house which alone appeared er, or a sound of suffering meets their ear, they to be occupied. It was only one story high, with stop, listen, and pity. To such, I can speak-two windows; between those windows a door, almost at random-and tell a history, simple, like all that is true; touching, like all that is simple.
In the North of France, near the Belgian frontier, is a very small, obscure, unknown town. The casualties of war have caused it to be surrounded with high fortifications, which seem to crush the wretchedly constructed houses within their enclosure. Never, since the erection of this line of walls, has a single hut been built upon the green lawn beyond them; and, as the population of the place increased, they built upon the public squares, or blocked up their streets. Space, regularity, comfort, all had been sacrificed. The houses, thus huddled together, and hemmed in by high walls, presented to the view, at a short distance, the appearance of a large prison.
The climate of the North of France, without being extremely cold, is very gloomy. Humidity, fog, clouds and snow, obscure the sky, and cover the earth with ice, during six months of the year. A dense and black smoke, rising above each habitation, added still more to the gloomy aspect of this small northern town.
above them a loft. The walls of the house were painted a dull gray color. The windows were composed of a thousand small squares of a thick and greenish glass. Daylight could never penetrate them, to brighten with its rays the interior of the dwelling. The alley was so extremely narrow, too, that the sun never appeared there. A perpetual shadow hung over it, making the atmosphere always cold there, even when it was quite warm elsewhere.
In the winter, when the snow was frozen upon the steps of the alley, it was impossible to make a single movement without danger of falling. Thus it had become a deserted way, which I alone traversed daily. I do not remember ever to have met any person in it, or to have seen a bird alight, even for an instant, upon the crevices in the walls. I hope, I said to myself, that this sad-looking abode is inhabited only by persons who have almost arrived at the term of life, and whose withered bodies can no longer know sorrow or regret. It would be frightful indeed to be young there!
The small house remained in silence. No sound escaped from it; no movement could be perceived in it! It was as quiet as the tomb ! And every day I asked myself, Who in the world can live so?
Never will I forget the chilling impression of sorrow that I felt when crossing the drawbridge which served as an entrance to it. I asked my self, with a shudder, if it were possible that there could be beings who were born, and might die there, without knowing anything of the rest of the world! There were, in fact, those whose destiny was such. But Providence, whose bounties are concealed even in the privations which he imposes, had made it necessary for the inhabitants of this place to labor-to labor to acquire even comfort; and, by this means, took away from these poor, disinherited children, the time which Toward the month of June I was taking, as might otherwise have been occupied in regarding customary, my daily walk, when I beheld (excuse
Spring came. The ice in the alley was changed to dampness; dampness was succeeded by a dry soil; and then a few blades of grass sprung up near the base of the walls. The small corner of the sky, of which you could just catch a glimpse, became more clear. In fact, even in this obscure passage, spring let fall a shadow of life. But the small house still remained quiet and motionless.
the expression) with heartfelt sadness, a small bo- | saddened, might have seemed to possess a charm quet of violets in a glass, upon the sill of one of beside the dense blackness of her hair. She inthe windows in the house. clined over her work. She was thin, or attenu
Ah! I exclaimed to myself, there is some one ated. Her hands were white, but rather bony here a sufferer!
To love flowers we must either be young, or we must have preserved some sweet remembrances of youthful days; we cannot be completely absorbed by the material world; we must possess that sweet faculty of doing nothing without being idle; to muse; to call to mind things passed away; to hope. In the enjoyment which the perfume of a flower gives, there is a peculiar refinement of the mind. It is something ideal; a fragment of poetry gliding in the midst of the realities of life. When in a humble and laborious existence I find a fondness for flowers, I always suspect that there must be a struggle between the necessities of life and the instincts of the soul. It seems to me that I know how to address, that I could almost gossip with any one who cultivates a simple flower near her cottage door. But now this boquet of flowers saddened me. It said, here dwells one grieving for the air, and the sun, and happiness; one who feels all that is denied her; one so poor in enjoyment that I, a poor boquet of violets, am a joy in her life!
I regarded these flowers with melancholy. asked myself if the darkness and the cold which pervaded the narrow alley would not make them fade quickly away-if the wind would not blight them? I felt an interest for them. I would have been happy to have preserved them a long time to the person, whoever it was, that loved them.
The next day I returned. The flowers showed a day's additional existence. They were withered, and their colorless petals curled back upon themselves. Yet they still retained a faint perfume, and they had been taken care of. Advancing, I saw that the window was partly open. A ray, I will not say of sunshine, but of light, penetrated the house, and left a luminous trail upon the chamber floor; but on either side of it the obscurity was even more intense, and I could distinguish nothing.
and long. She had on a brown dress, a black apron, a small white collar-all plain-and the bouquet, which had bloomed two days at the window, almost hidden in a fold of her corsage, was there, that not even a breath of its last perfume might be lost.
She lifted up her eyes, and saluted me. I saw her better. She was still young; but she had approached so near to that moment when we cease to be so, that this last adieu to youth was sad to look upon. She had evidently endured muchbut probably without a struggle or a murmuralmost without tears. Her countenance wore the expression of peace, of resignation and calmness; but it was the calmness which follows death! I imagined that she had never known any very severe shock, but that her soul had languished a long while, and her hopes had died away; that she was not broken-hearted, but dejected-bent down-then levelled to the earth, noiselessly and without pain.
Yes, her appearance, her expression, her attitude, said all this. There are some persons who look at you without saying a word, and whom you never forget to have met.
Each day I found her at the same place. She saluted me; and, in time, she added a sad but sweet smile to her salutation. This was the only glimpse I could catch of the existence of the female whom I constantly saw seated at the window.
She never worked on Sunday. I believed she then walked out, for on Monday there was always a small bouquet of violets at the window. But they drooped with the following days, and were not replaced until after the end of the week. I thought, moreover, that she was poor, and that she worked in secret for her livelihood; for she embroidered most beautiful and rich muslins, and I never observed any change from the most humble simplicity in her dress. In fact, she was not
The next day, again, I passed. This was al-alone in the house, for one day a rather imperious most a summer's morning. The birds were singing; the trees were covered with buds; a thousand insects were buzzing in the air. Everything was dancing in the sunshine. Joy was almost everywhere. Life was in all.
voice called out, "Ursule!" and she rose hurriedly. The voice was not that of a master's. Ursule had not obeyed as a servant obeys. There was an indescribable sort of willingness of heart in the precipitation with which she rose; and yet
One of the windows of the small house was the voice had no expression of affection! I thought thrown wide open.
I approached, and saw a female seated at work near the window. The first glance I cast upon her added to the sadness with which the aspect of this dwelling had already inspired me. I could not guess her age. She was no longer young; she was not handsome, or she was no longer so. She was pale, from sickness or sorrow-I could not divine which. It is certain, however, that her features wore a sweet expression, and that the absence of bloom might arise from grief as well as from years; that her pallor, if her heart was not
that Ursule, perhaps, was not loved by those with whom she lived; that she was even treated harshly-while her sad and gentle nature was attached to them, without receiving any kindly return.
Time passed on, and each day I initiated myself deeper into the existence of poor Ursule. Yet I possessed no other means of divining ber secrets than passing once a day before her open window.
I have already said that she smiled when she saw me. A short time after, during my walk, I commenced to gather a few flowers; and one
morning, timidly, and with some little embarrass-which might have been absorbed in the occupaBut in this house He ment, I deposited them on Ursule's window. Ur- tions of the day, excited by trifles, and talking for sule blushed, and then smiled even more sweetly the love of talk!than usual. Each day after that Ursule had a had forgotten a melancholy, a dreaming, and exHe had bouquet. In a short time, among the wild flowers alted maiden; one divining life, imagining its in the fields, I mixed a few from my own garden. joys, and loving it even in its sadness! Then there were bunches of flowers in the win-made her heart an instrument capable of yielding In fact, it was a the most delightful tones, and had then condemned dow, and in Ursule's belt. spring-time, a summer, for the small gray house. it to an eternal silence! It happened, when returning home one evening, that a shower of rain began to fall just as I was passing this narrow alley. Ursule flew to the door of her dwelling, opened it, took my hand, and, when we were in made me enter the passage which adjoined the chamber that she habitually occupied, the poor girl seized both my hands, and with tears starting into her eyes, she said to me: "Thank you!".
This was the first time that we had spoken to each other. I went in.
The room in which Ursule worked was the parlor. The floor was made of red tiles, which A few straw chairs were almost froze your feet. the only seats there; and two old pier-tables ornaThis long, narmented either end of the room. row room, being lighted only by the small window that opened on the alley, was dark, cold, and damp!
Alas! the fate of Ursule was still more sad than I had supposed it, when, seeing her paleness She had never been unwell in her and dejection, I believed she was suffering from some disease.
Not once! She had seen time carry off, day by day, her youth, her beauty, her hopes, her life; and still there was nothing to look back on, nothing to hope for, only silence and forgetfulness!
I often returned to see Ursule; and, one day, seated with her near the window, she gave me almost in the following words, her history:
"I was born in this house; I have never left it; but my family do not belong to this country. W are strangers here, without relations or friends My parents were not young when they married; and, when I first remember them, they were quite old. My mother became blind. This misfortune had a great effect upon her character, and conseNo person was ever quently my father's house was always very ausI never sang in it! tere. It was happy here. My childhood was passed in silence, My parents for the slightest noise was prohibited. rarely that I ever received a caress.
Oh! but Ursule was right to sit near the window, seeking a little air and a little light to live on ! I now understood the cause of the poor girl's paleness. It was not from her bloom that had faded, for her bloom had never existed.She was etiolated, like a plant that has sprung up loved me, however, but they never expressed their in the shade.
In an obscure corner of the room, in two arm-
It may often be remarked, when life is much
All this was hidden, in the small gray house,
feelings to me; I judged their hearts after my
"I had a sister, older than myself. rather silent, like our mother; but she was comWe We shared with each other passionate, gentle, and affectionate to me. loved each other.the attention that our parents required. We never had the joy of walking together, below there, in the woods or up on the hill-side. One of us always remained at home to take care of our old father; but the one that went out always brought home to the other a few branches of hawthorn, gathered from the hedges, and spoke to her sister of the sunshine, the trees, and the air! The listener would fancy that she had also We could not left the house; and then, in the evening, we worked together near the lamp. talk to each other, for our parents were asleep We beside us; but when we raised our eyes we met, on the face of the other, a gentle smile. then went up to bed, in the same chamber; but we never went to sleep until an affectionate voice often repeated:-'Good night! go to sleep,
Yet Providence might have given Ursule a
"Do not believe that I at once accepted this bitter destiny resignedly. No; there were whole days when my heart revolted at the idea of growing old without loving. Not to be loved may be endured; but not to love, is death! Shall I avow it to you? I murmured at Providence! My guilty thoughts revolted against and reproached him!
"But this inner strife has passed away, like my hopes. I think of Marthe's gentle words: We will meet again, my sister!' and no
some time after she drooped that I could prevail | feeling remains in my breast, but of passive resigupon my sister to call in a physician. nation, of an humble abnegation of self. I often weep but rarely. And yourself, are you
"But there was nothing more to do. pined a short time, and died.
She pray; I
"The evening before her death she made sit down near her bed-side, and took one of my hands in her own trembling hands: Adieu! my poor Ursule!' she said to me. 'My only regret is to part from you. Have courage; take good care of mother and father. They are good, Ursule; they love us, although they do not always tell us so. Take care of your health, for them. You must not die until after they do. Adieu! my good sister; do not weep much for me; pray to God often and we will meet again, Ursule!'
"Three days after, Marthe was carried from here, laid in her coffin, and I remained alone with my parents.
"When I informed my poor blind mother of my sister's death, she gave one loud scream, made a few steps at hazard about the room, and then fell full upon her knees. I went to her, assisted her to rise, and carried her back to her arm-chair. Since then she has either complained nor wept; only she has become even more silent than before, and I observe more often than formerly the beads of her rosary pass through her fingers.
"I have scarcely anything more to tell you. My father became completely childish. We lost some of the little fortune which was our only comfort. I was desirous that my parents might not perceive it. To deceive them was easy. One could comprehend nothing; the other could not see. I commenced to embroider, and sold my work secretly. I had no longer any one to talk with since my sister's death. I am fond of reading; and I can never read; I have to work; I never go out except on Sundays, and I do not go far then, for I am alone.
"A few years ago, when I was younger, I used to muse a great deal, seated at this window, looking at the sky! I peopled my solitude with a thousand fancies, which lessened the tedious length of the day. Now a sort of lethargy seems to deaden my thoughts; I muse no more.
"As I was young and rather pretty, I had hoped, at random, for some, I scarcely knew what, change in my destiny. Now I am twentynine years old. Sorrow, even more than years, has withered my appearance!- -all is told! -I expect nothing; I hope no more; and I will finish here my isolated days.
I did not reply to Ursule's question. To speak of happiness to her, would have been like speak ing of an ungrateful friend before those he had forgotten.
On a lovely morning in autumn, a few months later, I was about leaving my home for a visit to Ursule, when a young lieutenant belonging to the regiment which at that time garrisoned the small town I lived in, came to see me. Finding me about to depart he offered me his arm, and we directed our steps toward the narrow little alley in which Ursule resided. Chance made me speak of her; of the interest I felt for her; and, as the young officer, whom I shall call Maurice d'Erval, appeared to take pleasure in the conversation, I walked more slowly. When we reached the little gray house, I had related to him all Ursule's history. He looked at her with interest and pity; bowed to her, and left us. Ursule, embarrassed by the presence of a stranger, when she only expected to see me, had faintly blushed. I know not whether it was caused by the momentary animation of her complexion, or whether it was only the interest I felt in her, but the poor girl certainly seemed almost handsome.
I could not describe the vague thoughts which crossed my mind. I regarded Ursule for a long time; and then, absorbed by my reflections, without speaking to her I arose; I passed my hands over the bands of her hair, and brought it down lower over her pale cheeks. I unfastened a narrow black velvet ribband, which I wore round my neck, tied it round hers, and took up a few flowers and placed them in her belt. Ursule smiled, without comprehending. Ursule's smile always pained me. There is nothing so mournful as the smile of an unhappy person! They seem to smile for the pleasure of others, not of themselves.
Many days passed before I again saw Maurice d'Erval; many more before chance led me with him toward the gray house. But it did happen. It was while returning from a gay promenade, in which quite a little party of us had been engaged. Entering the town, we dispersed in different directions; and I took Maurice d'Erval's arm, to make a visit to Ursule's. It was done thoughtlessly; but it occasioned me an involuntary, keen emotion, and I spoke no more, my mind being filled with a thousand fancies. It seemed impossible that the