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. After the salutations usual on such occasions, the doctor made a sign to Susan to offer her arm to the marchioness, who accepted it courteously. The doctor carried off Raoul, and, under the pretence of banishing all formality, seized his hand, and took the opportunity of feeling his pulse, which he discovered to be perfectly regular; and, although he had been for more than two hours at sea, his respiration was as free as if he had just quitted his room-nothing about him indicated the invalid. All these symptoms, in conjunction with the duke's letter, created a world of conjecture in the doctor's mind. Twilight, in the climate of Hyères, is very short, and, by the time they had reached Dr. Assandri's pretty residence, the shades of evening had completely overtaken them.
Immediately on arriving, Dr. Assandri conducted the marchioness to her room, where she found a bright fire awaiting her, and where, in a few minutes, Jeannette appeared, bringing in a simple but substantial supper, to which our new-comers did ample justice. Dr. Assandri then rose to take his leave, saying, as he did so, " that his first prescription to every patient was a 'Good night.'" At the foot of the stairs he met Susau.
“ How do you like the marchioness ?" inquired the doctor.
* Very much," was the reply; "for her manner has all the kind cordiality of that of an old acquaintance. But what, papa, do you think of Monsieur Raoul ?" added Susan, in a lower tone. .
" That he is a very handsome fellow," answered her father, rather abruptly. “Rely upon it, there's some mystery connected with him, for in all my long thirty years' practice I have never been requested to prescribe for a patient in such sound health !"
II. The sun had not long risen on the following morning, when Raoul d'Aurebonne got up and threw open his casement to gaze upon the splendid panorama that lay before him, but which the previous evening's darkness bad obscured ; and scarcely had he cast on it an admiring glance ere he was spell-bound by the beauty of a young girl playing with a gazelle on the lawn beneath his window. The forms of both were so symmetrical, and their every movement and attitude so full of ease and grace, that they constituted just such a picture as an artist would delight in transferring to his canvas. “How lovely! how lovely !" muttered Raoul; and then, as if suddenly pierced by some torturing thought, hastily closed the window, and flung himself into an arm-chair, where, covering his face with both his hands, he exclaimed, in a tone of heart-rending agony, “Of what avail is anything to me? What is Nature and all her splendour, woman and all her grace, to one who has but two years to live ?”.
In the meantime, the doctor and the marchioness were strolling in some shady and secluded walk, enjoying the early freshness of a lovely morning, whilst the lady was telling her story.
It was as follows:
The Marquis d'Aurebonne (the marchioness's husband) had died of consumption at the early age of twenty-four. The marquis's father had also died at the same age, of the same malady; and, indeed, for many and successive generations had one or more of Raoul's ancestors in the male line died of a pulmonary disease : it invariably developed itself at the same age, and as surely terminated fatally. Madame d'Aurebonne, as a girl, had acted like many others, and had become engaged to the marquis, without giving a thought either to the past or the future. The marquis was of noble lineage, and enormously rich, whilst she belonged to an impoverished family, but one as ancient as her husband's. Her parents, dazzled by the worldly advantages such an alliance offered, had never disclosed to her the secret of the marquis's fatal inheritance, which, even during his courtship, had cast its shade on his pallid brow. She had not the slightest suspicion of it until within a few hours of her marriage, and it was then too late to retreat. She felt it was impossible to break off the match, almost at the last minute, without giving her reason for so doing, and this would have been to wound his feelings too deeply, too cruelly. So she resolved on this union, and on devoting her beauty, youth, and health to one on whom Death had already set his seal.
Thus an existence of self-immolation had commenced for the marchioness. Raoul d'Aurebonne was completely the reverse of his father, for he was as active and vigorous as the marquis had been languid and inert. The marchioness exhausted every device that a mother's tenderest love could suggest, to hide from her son the melancholy auspices under which he had been born. But if there is a family secret, one which every member strives to conceal, some imprudent person is sure to reveal it on the first fitting opportunity. Raoul was barely a youth before he knew all. The disclosure had no effect on his health-it laid hold of his imagination, and one of his chief sources of delight was to listen to some old and garrulous domestic, who related every circumstance, even the most trivial, connected with his father's and grandfather's death.
In a short time, Raoul convinced himself that his own days were numbered, and that, like his ancestors, he was doomed to die, at the age of twenty-four. This terrible idea daily gained ground, and, acting on an ardent nature, completely paralysed his mind : instead of pursuing his studies with all the eagerness and perseverance of former days, he was easily discouraged, and soon he abandoned what had most delighted him. A sort of moral malady seized on him; this malady seemed to be the forerunner of one still more fatal! Raoul loved his mother passionately, and she idolized him. The strong affection that unites, in such close and tender bonds, mothers left widows at an early age, and only sons, was to the marchioness but another, and a very fertile, source of grief. She spared Do expense to amuse and occupy her son's mind, and to banish from his imagination its dark foreboding. But, unhappily, she was herself keenly pursued by the same dread, and, despite of every endeavour, she occasionally betrayed it.
We must all, more or less, have observed how powerful suspicion is in the breasts of those who believe themselves afflicted with some fatal malady; and how painfully apt they are in seizing upon every one's look or word that may tend in any way to confirm their apprehensions. Thus all the poor mother's efforts to destroy her son's fearful conviction entirely failed. Wherever Raoul expressed a desire to go, he went, and Madame d'Aurebonne accompanied him. They had resided in every capital in Europe; they had drunk the waters of all the most celebrated spas; and the marchioness had left no means untried to divert her son's mind, and calm his imagination. But all was vain. She had neither succeeded in recovering her own tranquillity, nor in restoring that of Raoul.
Dr. Assandri listened to this recital with the deepest attention, and, after a long pause, asked Madame d'Aurebonne the age of her son.
“Twenty-two and a few months,” she replied.
" Have you ever had occasion to remark, within the last two or three years, any of those symptoms that preceded the death of his father and grandfather ?”
“Never ; but, on the contrary, from his childhood he has always given every proof of health, vigour, and life. Indeed, there have been occasions when, borne away by the impulse of the moment into gay forgetfulness, he has performed prodigies of strength. But, if he caught my eye watching him with a look expressive of either joy or hope, he would start, as if suddenly remembering that
there was no hope for bim. He is incessantly reminding me, by some unpitying word, look, or gesture, of this one rooted fancy. It seems to create another bond of union between us; but a fatal bond, similar to the chain whose galling links bind two felons to the same labour and the same sorrow.”
“Unhappy mother !" exclaimed the doctor, deeply touched.
“Ah! unhappy, indeed !" returned Madame d'Aurebonne, with gloomy energy. “Unhappy beyond all conception ! Each time that I meet my son's eyes, a secret anguish passes from his heart to inine; this belies the few frivolous words that we exchange. I know every thought of his soul, and he can read the inmost recesses
of mine; what is torture to him, is anguish to me; what is consuming me, is killing him. We frequently endeavour to deceive each other; he affects an exuberant gaiety, in which I force myself to join. But each is aware what lurks beneath this mirth ; and sometimes, whilst even we are smiling, tears will force themselves into the eyes of both of us. Oh! I am, indeed, an unhappy mother! Is there no one that can restore my son ?-no one, who will be to me the visible representative of God's mercy and goodness ?”
There was a pause the doctor was too much moved to speak, but, conquering his emotion, he said, “Madame, may I ask if it was you that nursed your son ?"
“Most assuredly," replied the marchioness, with a flash of maternal pride.
“Well, I don't speak with any positive certainty, for I would not raise your hopes to destroy them afterwards ; but, as far as one may trust to the most speculative of all sciences, I believe-I sincerely believe that your son is not, and that he never will be, consumptive."
“Oh, doctor!" interrupted the marchioness, but with such a frantic burst of joy that Monsieur Assandri stood aghast. But, recovering himself, the doctor promptly continued
“Don't be too hasty. All that you have just told me entirely coincides with my own observations, and confirms my hopes regarding your son. Heaven has blessed you with an excellent constitution, so let us trust that His mercy will allow you to transmit it unimpaired to Monsieur Raoul. I know of families, who, from generation to generation, have fallen victims to this hereditary disease, yet its ravages have been suddenly checked by an alliance with strength, vigour, and purity. Your union, madame, with the Aurebonnes may have produced this change. But, instead of the danger that now occupies your mind, and which I believe to be imaginary, there is another more imminent. It is the one ever-haunting dread, and which is likely to engender, instead of the evil that he fears, but has not, another that will destroy his reason, and make life a misery."
"Mad !” exclaimed Madame d'Aurebonne, in a voice choking as if with tears.
“One important point," quietly resumed the doctor, “will be to cure this diseased imagination ; but the thing most essential of all is, that he attains the age of twenty-four, without sustaining, in the interim, any great physical or mental shock, which might be fatal. Once beyond this boundary, each day that passes will be a delightful contradiction to all his fears and presentiments ; every week, every month, that he gains on this invisible foe will restore to him by degrees that calm, which, it appears to me, is his only chance of salvation. Only get rid of the impression that now fills his mind, and you will see his brow brighten, bis mien become erect, and his eye again sparkling with hope and gladness."
"But what must I do to effect this ?" said Madame d'Aurebonne, with her hands clasped, and with a supplicating look, as if speaking to one endowed with superhuman power.
“Alas! madame," replier Dr. Assandri, “ were I a charlatan, I could imme. diately prescribe for you a dozen infallible remedies; but I am only a simple doctor -which, spite of calumny, is not quite the same thing--and can, therefore, only give ordinary prescriptions. It is absolutely necessary that Monsieur Raoul should have some engrossing occupation---studies that will interest, or, what would be better still, something to excite in him tastes that will divert his mind, and make the dreaded interval glide imperceptibly by, during which we have much to fear, but after it everything to hope."
“ Havo I not told you,”. replied the marchioness," that there is nothing I have left undone to obtain this result? My son likes travelling. I have accompanied him to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and to Scotland, and, indeed, to every place where I fancied that the scenery might give a turn to his thoughts. Sometimes I have flattered myself that I had succeeded, for I have seen him in raptures when gazing on some beautiful view, monument, or ruin ; but such feelings were transitory. The first impulse of delight and admiration over, he had a sort of nervous impatience and silent irritation, as if he felt angry with Nature for being so beautiful, and with man for having left such traces of strength and life.”
“ But what as regards the sciences, the arts, the pleasures of society ?”
“The same endeavours, and the same fruitless results! His colossal fortune, distinguished name, and personal advantages made society welcome him with open arms, and in company I have seen him enjoy some moments of forgetfulness and delight. At such periods he was gay, delightful, irresistible; sometimes holding animated discussions with the most brilliant and talented men of the day; at others, waltzing with all the grace of a practised dancer. A minute after, and he would retire to the darkest corner of the room, where I should find him, morose, with his head between his hands. On my approach he would immediately rise and say, “Let us go; I feel suffocated here. The arts, usually such a delightful source of recreation, were to him only interpreters of grief and instruments of torture. Seeing him passionately fond of music, I induced Chopin, as a great favour, to give him a few lessons. At first I was amazed at his progress, and, from the pleasure he derived from its study, I congratulated myself on having at last discovered a sufficiently powerful attraction to fill his imagination. I was deceived : instead of driving away the fatal idea, it only increased it. My son and Chopin were drawn towards each other by a species of painful magnetism, which seems, by some mystic power, to unite those sickly organizations endowed with a dangerous susceptibility. The master and disciple produced a mutually distressing effect upon each other. To be convinced of this, it was only necessary to listen as they played together music that seemed the plaintive or impassioned dream of an invalid, and into which they had thrown the whole suffering of their tortured spirits. I succeeded no better with poetry. Raoul perused, and ardently re-perused, Byron, Goethe, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo. But in the works of these poets he always sought for passages in accordance with his own gloomy fancy, and thus he would converse in harmonious language with the phantom that pursued him. I remarked that he carried a volume, as if it had been some treasure, into his room, and kept it there for some time; when I regained it, I found one particular page almost effaced by constant reading. It was 'The Young Invalid' ('La Jeune Malade'), by André Chénier."
“But in this charming work," answered the doctor, almost smiling, “if remember right, the young invalid does not die-means are discovered for her recovery."
As the doctor uttered these words, and before Madame d'Aurebonne could reply, Susan came forward to embrace her father. She looked so fresh and lovely in her morning dress, amidst flowers which seemed her companions and ber subjects, that at one and the same minute the same thought thrilled through the breast of the doctor and the marchioness. But, vague and indistinct as this thought was, for the father it was a fear, for the mother a hope.