Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Raoul and myself, as a dark shadow, his father, his grandfather, all his fated ancestry, and who appear to my imagination to be beckoning him to the tomb. The remembrance of their death is the torture of each day, the spectre of each night. This perpetual terror is so interwoven with my love for my son, that, do what I will, I cannot divest myself of it. Could you suppose that, with a heart so overflowing with anguisb, I should either have time or inclination for such trivial thoughts as either birth or fortune? Did you think that I, a mother, who ask

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]

myself, every morning and evening, if my son will be spared to medid you think that I should care whether he married a rich and noble heiress, or the daughter of a medical man, wealthy in every good work, and noble by his many virtues ? When you informed me that, to save my child, I needed for him but some engrossi ng pursuit, some absorbing feeling, that would aid me in triumphing over his funei cal fears, and enable him to pass over the fatal period, I listened to your counsel, and I hoped that your daughter, by her great beauty and grace, was predestined for this work of salvation ; whilst you imagined that I, an honourable woman, who bave never harmed any one, was planning, calculating, mancuvring

-what?-a sentimental flirtation, just to amuse and distract my son! Oh, doctor! you have been unkind, very unkind! I fancied you more just and discerning."

"I have wronged you very much,” replied the doctor; " but your ladyship will forgive me."

“The rank and fortune of which you speak," resumed the marchioness, "I hate and detest. This heritage of wealth is also a heritage of woe! What am I? A mother-nothing else! To preserve my son is everything to me. That Raoul may be tranquil and happy—that a reciprocated affection will induce him to hope, and, consequently, to live is all I desire. I want nothing more. Did you suppose, doctor, that I did not deem Susan werthy to marry! my son ? Ah! were Raoul to love a peasant's daughter, and did he wish to marry lber, and requested my consent, so that she were good, and able to make him happy, I should love her, take her to my heart, and bless her from the depths of my soi ul.".

At this warm and decided language, a very natural idea as fose in Dr. Assandri's mind, and he replied

“I believe you ; but then why- "

“Ah!" continued Madame d'Aurebonne, eagerly interrup ting him; "I know what you mean. If it is, as I say, that I find no obstacle between Susan and Raoul, why not come to the point at once-why not for pally request your daughter's hand for my son ? That is what you would say."

“Yes," answered the doctor, timidly.

“You are right. I ought sooner to have told you the fresh sorrow that has come upon me."

“Raoul does not love Susan !"

“He loves her devotedly–with an ardour that terrifies me. He loves her as scarcely man ever loved woman before with a depth of affectia i all the more strong on account of his feelings having hitherto been kept und er such severe restraint. His very efforts to struggle against this love make it more profound; like the arrows in a poor wounded lion's breast, which only pierce deeper in its endeavours to shake them off. The idea of making himself beloved by Susan-of obtaining from her a promise of marriage--causes him to recoil as before some great misfortune, or the commission of some dreadful crime. I baje frequently tried to make him speak on the subject to request my consent but of which he must already be certain, both from my looks, conduct, and words; and as frequently I have refrained, from the knowledge of the terrible feeling, th: inexorable thought, which induces Raoul to relinquish all love, all hope, all I jappiness. He would resist my prayers, and even reject Susan, beautiful as she is.”

“And what is the idea ?" anxiously inquired the doctor, who only too well understood it.

“Cannot you guess, doctor? Raoul believes that in a yease he will die! Between this and then he drags on existence as a felon does his fettes », in counting the minutes and the hours. He would bitterly accuse himself if he attempted to link to his own joyless heart another heart that was overflowing with youth and hope, and to fling the dark shadows of his approaching death on a life that is now fresh and lovely as spring."

“You do not deceive me?" said the doctor, at the same time fixing on the marchioness his scrutinising eye.

" I never deceive," she replied.

“Alas!" said the doctor, in a voice scarcely articulate from emotion, “I, who came to accuse, can only pity. Give me your hand-you are even more unfortupate than myself.”

" Why so ?" said Madame d'Aurebonne.

“If," continued he, “your son, who cares still less than yourself for rank and fortune, is so passionately in love with Susan, and who cannot but feel almost certain of her affection, and of gaining your consent and mine—if he thus repulses his love, and drives away happiness, it can only be because he is the slave to his morbid imagination. By it he is persuaded that his end is close at hand, and, therefore, he imposes silence on his feelings, preferring rather any suffering than giving vent to them. The evil is greater than I imagined—it is, I fear, irreparable."

“And he will die !" almost shrieked the marchioness.

Yes; but not of the malady by which he fancies himself attacked, but of that strange, mysterious, fatal disease which is the result of a morbid imagination ---marasmus, madness, whatever name you like to give it—both his reason and life must succumb to this incessant haunting of one idea."

“I recollect you told me the same thing when first I spoke to you of Raoul,” murmured the marchioness, whose countenance betrayed her mental agony.

“Yes, I did do so. But then I had hope-now I have none. For this illness I know of no remedy."

“But I know of one," quite screamed the marchioness. “You know of one?” exclaimed the doctor, amazed.

“Yes, I do," answered the marchioness, with increasing excitement; “but neither you nor Susan can be told what it is. I must speak to Raoul, and alone. Will you and Susan wait for us in the garden ?”

Dr. Assandri looked anxiously at Madame d'Aurebonne, as if he feared that sorrow upon sorrow had affected her intellect. He left her, and heard her ascend the stairs.

Madame d'Aurebonde, in her room, threw herself on her knees, and, with clasped hands, and her eyes raised towards Heaven, said —

“Great God! forgive me. Thou who punishest falsehood, have pity on me. If chastisement must come, let it fall on me alone. Take my life, but spare my child's."

Then, hastening to the door, she called “Raoul! Raoul !" in a voice that resounded through the house.

Raoul was still in his own room. He quickly obeyed the summons, and mother and son stood face to face.

" Raoul," said his mother, in a calm tone--but which calmness the trembling of her lips belied—“I rejoice with you on the happy result of our stay at Hyères. Unless you willingly torment yourself, it is impossible to deny that your present state of health is such as to remove all anxiety. The nearer you advance to the fatal and dreaded time the stronger you seem to become. God, perhaps, has granted my ceaseless prayers for your safety, and you will be spared to me."

“You think so ?” replied Raoul, gloomily and ironically.

“It is the doctor's opinion equally with mine. To live, Raoul, you have only the wish to do so! What is wanting to your happiness? Only a little stronger

faith in the future, a little more confidence in your mother. For some months a new feeling has been taking possession of your heart-why not have told me of it? Why not have spoken to me as to a friend or companion ? Perhaps you feared from me objections on the score of inequality of birth and fortune. Don't think that; all can be easily arranged."

“I don't understand you," replied Raoul.

“Forgive me, Raoul, but you understand me very well," answered the marchioness, the calmness of whose manner was rapidly forsaking her. “You know that I would speak of Susan Assandri : you love her, and she loves you. Can you deny it?"

“No."

“Well," resumed Madame d'Aurebonne, endeavouring to smile, "on similar occasions it is usual, when a young man of large fortune and noble birth falls in love with a young girl, his inferior in a social position—it is usual for him to request his parents to consent to his marrying her. We have now exchanged parts. It is I that ask you to place no obstacle between you and the happiness that awaits you, and to marry Susan." • A ray of joy and gratitude flashed from the eyes of Raoul, but, resuming his gloomy and resolute look, he replied

“Mother, it is impossible.”

“Impossible !" exclaimed the marchioness, in a tone that ill concealed her feelings" why? Am I wrong in supposing that you love Susan ?”

“Since you fathom me so well," replied her son, with a frightful smile, "you must know with what ardour and devotion I adore her. You must also be aware that to be beloved by her and to give her my name would be the dearest wish of my heart, the greatest hope of my life.”

“ Then why this silence? Why conceal this wish? why not obtain this treasure ?"

“Ah, you know," answered Raoul, in a tone of great bitterness" you that understand me so well cannot but be aware of my reason."

“Why? Because you are certain of dying at the age of twenty-four, and of leading a life of misery until then ?"

“ Yes."

“But if you are deceived," continued the marchioness, the pallor of whose cheek betrayed some powerful emotion—“if it could be proved to you that all your anxiety was founded upon nothing—that the blood which flows in your veins is untainted by any hereditary disease would you marry her?”

“Would I marry her!" replied Raoul, in a heart-rending accent of mingled love and despair. “Ask of the doomed whether they would follow the angel who suddenly showed them the path to heaven! Would I marry her! From the first day that I beheld her divine loveliness I have vainly struggled against the invincible feeling that has drawn me towards her. Although certain of dying at a fixed time, and although this certainty is always presenting itself before me as my death-warrant, yet twenty times have I been at the point of falling at Susan's feet, and saying to her, with tears which might perhaps have solaced me, Will you marry me? My life will be but a short one—but when I am gone you will be rich, and you will bear a noble name; as the widow of Raoul d'Aurebonne you will ever be welcome in the gay and fashionable world. I only ask that you will

not quite forget me--that you will bestow on me a small place in your heart, so that your remembrance of me may neither lessen your happiness nor disturb your peace.' I might have said and done all this had I loved less, or had Susan been another woman. But with her I could not. I know her. I should carry her along with me in my murderous fate. Her loving and devoted heart would break by the same blow that struck me, and the same stone would mark the tomb of both."

Instead of replying, the marchioness knelt before her son. “Good God! what are you doing?” exclaimed Raoul.

In a tone of great energy, and which seemed the result of great grief, Madame d'Aurebonne replied

“I kneel to you, Raoul, because I am about to make a revelation which will at once alter your determination. I ought to have made this revelation to you before, and spared you all the suffering you have endured. If, Raoul, there does not exist between you and Susan any other obstacle than that of the hereditary disease which you suppose has already numbered your days, you may marry Susan without fear. You are neither my child, nor that of the Marquis d'Aurebonne !"

" What do you say?" exclaimed Raoul, so thunderstruck that he scarcely understood all his mother had uttered.

“You were bequeathed to me by a sister who died in giving you birth. The marquis, my husband, loved you as his child, and left you all his wealth, together with the landed property in right of which you bear his name and title. No woman's heart ever beat more devotedly for the child of her bosom than mine for you. You soon learned to lisp the name of mother, and I never had courage to tell you that I had no claim to the title. Forgive mo, Raoul--forgive me this deception !"

But Raoul no longer listened. As the meaning of his mother's words clearly developed itself to his mind, a feverish joy brightened his features. By a sign he told his mother to say nothing further, and, giving one bound to the window, he flung it open,

“Ohl" exclaimed he, “ now, for the first time in my life, I see, I feel, I breathe, I live. This existence, which I thought was receding from me, has returned with vigour and delight. The air, which used to stifle me, now brings in its breath the sweetest perfume of flowers. I can scarcely recognise either sky, trees, hills, land, or sea. All hitherto has appeared to me through a dark veil—the veil has fallen off, and Nature looks beautiful. I used to admire her with a feeling of bitterness, as if her loveliness were an insult to my sorrow. I can now find my rank amongst created beings. I am no longer marked with a curse, outlawed from my fellowmen, and, as it were, dying each day. I am young, I am strong, I am happy. Mother, I feel grateful for what you have told me."

Madame d'Aurebonne raised herself from her knees, and, with a tottering step, advanced towards the window. She threw one arm around her son, as if better to participate in his intoxicating delight with the other she pointed to the bottom of the garden, where a large tree half-concealed the doctor and his daughter.

“Will you call to them ?" said Raon), in that coaxing tone so graceful in the young and happy.

The marchioness beckoned to them. They approached, and in a few instants they were in the room,

« НазадПродовжити »