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Chapter 18

RECOGNITION.


Oh! my mother!
You do not know the heart that you have pierced!
I—I—thy son—thine Arthur—I avenge?
Never on thee.

Live happy—love my brother—
Forget that I was born.
Here, here—these proofs—
These—these!

Oh! see you where the words are blistered
With my hot tears?
I wept—it was for joy—
I did not think of lands, of name, of birthright—
I did but think these arms should clasp a' mother.
--Bulwer.—The Sea Captain.

The marchioness closed the door as soon as they had withdrawn, advanced into the middle of the room, and went without looking at Paul, and leaning upon the arm-chair in which the marquis had the night before been seated to sign the contract. There she remained standing, with her eyes cast upon the ground. Paul for a moment experienced the desire to throw himself upon his knees before her, but there was upon the features of the marchioness such an expression of severity, that he repressed the yearnings of his heart, and stood motionless awaiting her commands. After a few moments of ice-like silence, the marchioness addressed him. "You desired to see me, sir, and I have come to know your will—you wished to speak to me—I am listening."

These words were uttered without the marchioness making the least movement—her lips trembled, rather than opened—it seemed a marble statue that was speaking.

"Yes, madam," replied Paul, in a tone of intense feeling, "yes, yes, I desired to speak with you; it is long since first this desire was cherished in my heart, and it has never left me. Recollections of infancy preyed upon the mind of the grown man. I remembered a woman who would formerly glide to my cradle, and in my youthful dreams, I thought her the guardian angel of my infancy. Since that time, still so fresh in my memory, although so distant, more than once, believe me, I have awakened with a start, imagining that I had felt upon my forehead the impression of a maternal kiss: and then seeing that there was no one near me, I would call that person, hoping she would, perhaps, return. It is now twenty years since first I thus had called, and this is the first time she has replied to me. Can it have been as I have often fearfully imagined, that you would have trembled at again beholding me? Can it be true, as I at this moment fear, that you have naught to say to me?"

"And had I feared your return," said the marchioness, in a hollow tone, "should I have been to blame? You appeared before me only yesterday, sir, and now the mystery which ought to have been concealed to all but God and myself, is known to both my children."

"Is it my fault that God has been pleased to reveal the secret to them? Was it I that conducted Marguerite, despairing and in tears, to the bedside of her dying father, whose protection she had gone to ask, and whose confession she was compelled to hear? Was it I that led her to Achard, and was it not you, madam, that followed her thither? As to Emanuel, the report you heard, and that shattered glass, attest, that I would have preferred death rather than to have saved my life at the expense of your secret. No, no, believe me, madam, I am the instrument, and not the hand; the effect, and not the cause. No, madam, it is God who has brought about all this, that you might see at your feet, as you have just now seen them, your two children whom you have so long banished from your arms!"

"But there is a third," said the marchioness, in a voice in which emotion began to evince itself, "and I know not what I have to expect from him."

"Let me accomplish a last duty, madam, and that once fulfilled, he will on his knees await your orders."

"And of what nature is this duty?"

"It is to restore his brother to the rank to which he is entitled, his sister to that happiness which she has lost—to his mother that tranquillity of mind, which she has so long sought in vain."

"And yet, thanks to you," replied the marchioness, "M. de Maurepas refused to M. de Lectoure the regiment he had solicited for my son."

"Because," replied Paul, taking the commission from his pocket and laying it on the table, "because the king had already granted it to me, for the brother of Marguerite."

The marchioness cast her eyes upon the commission, and saw that it was made out in the name of Emanuel d'Auray.

"And yet you would give the hand of Marguerite to a man without name, without fortune—and what is more, to a man who is banished."

"You are mistaken, madam; I would give Marguerite to the man she loves. I would give Marguerite not to the banished Lusignan, but to the Baron Anatole de Lusignan, his majesty's governor of the Island of Gaudaloupe—there is his commission also." The marchioness looked at the parchment, and saw that in this instance, as in the former one, Paul had uttered but the truth.

"Yes, I acknowledge it," she replied, "these will satisfy the ambition of Emanuel, and confer happiness on Marguerite."

"And at the same time, secures your tranquillity madam; for Emanuel will join his regiment, and Marguerite will follow her husband. You will then remain here alone, as you have, alas! so frequently desired."

The marchioness sighed.

"Is not this all you desire, or have I deceived myself," continued Paul.

"But," said the marchioness, "how can I recall the promise given to the Baron de Lectoure?"

"The marquis is dead, madam," replied Paul; "is not the death of a husband and a father a sufficient cause for the adjournment of a marriage?"

The marchioness, without replying, seated herself in the arm-chair, took a pen and paper, wrote a few lines, folded the letter, and putting on the address the name of the Baron de Lectoure, she rang the bell for the servant. After waiting a few moments, during which time, both Paul and herself remained silent, a servant came into the room.

"In two hours from this time, you will deliver this to the Baron de Lectoure," said the Marchioness. The servant took the letter and withdrew.

"And now," continued the marchioness, looking at Paul, "now sir, that you have done justice to the innocent, it remains to you to pardon the guilty. You have papers which prove your birth, you are the elder—at all events, in the eyes of the law. The fortunes of Emanuel and Marguerite are yours by right. What do you require in exchange for these papers?"

Paul took them from his pocket, and showing them to the marchioness, said, "Here are the documents, look at them—they are the letters you wrote to my poor father—look here, they are moistened by my tears, for I read them last night, while watching by Achard's corpse." Then approaching the fire-place, he held them over the flaming wood, saying, "permit me even but once to call you mother! call me but once your son, and——"

"Can it be possible!" exclaimed the marchioness, rising.

"You speak of name, of fortune," continued Paul, with an expression of profound melancholy; "what need have I of them. I have by my own sword gained a rank which few men of my age have ever attained—I have acquired a name which is pronounced with blessings by one nation, andi with terror by another. I could, did it so please me, amass a fortune, worthy of being bequeathed to a king. What, then, are your name your fortune, and your rank, to me, if you have nothing else to offer me—if you do not give me that which I have incessantly, and in every position of my life most yearned for—that which I have not the power to create—which God had granted to me, but which misfortune wrested from me—that which you alone can restore to me—a mother!"

"My son!" exclaimed the marchioness, overcome at length, by his tears, and supplicating accent, "my son! my son! my son!"

"Ah!" exclaimed Paul, letting the papers fall into the flames, which speedily consumed them, "ah! that missed appellation has at length escaped your lips—that tender name so long desired, and which I have so unceasingly prayed to hear addressed to me. Merciful heaven! I thank thee."

The marchioness had fallen back into her chair, and Paul had thrown himself upon his knees, his head leaning upon her bosom. At length the marchioness gently raised him.

"Look at me!" she said; "for twenty years, this is the first tear that has ever escaped my eyelids, give me your hand!"—she placed it upon her heart—"for twenty years this is the first feeling of happiness with which my heart has palpitated. Come to my arms! For twenty years this is the first caress I have either given or received. These twenty years have doubtless been my expiation, since God now pardons me, for he has restored to me the power of weeping, of feeling joy, and has permitted me to embrace my son. Thanks to G-od! and thanks to thee, my son!"

"My mother!" cried Paul, "my beloved mother!"

"And I trembled at the thoughts of seeing you again—I trembled when I did see you—I knew not—I could not have imagined that such feelings still existed in my heart. Oh! I bless thee! I bless thee!"

At that moment, the tolling of the chapel bell was heard: the marchioness shuddered. The funeral hour had arrived. The bodies of the noble Marquis d'Auray and that of the poor man Achard, were about to be returned to earth at the same moment.

"This hour must be consecrated to prayer," said the marchioness: "I must now leave you."

"I must sail to-morrow, my mother," said Paul; "shall I not once more see you?"

"Oh! yes, yes," replied the marchioness, "we must meet again."

"Well, then, my mother, this evening I shall be at the park gate. There is a spot which is sacred to me, and to which I must pay a last visit. I shall expect to meet you there. It is on that spot, my mother, that we should say farewell."

"I will be there," said the marchioness.

"Here, my mother, here," said Paul, "take these commissions: the one for Emanuel, and the other for the husband of Marguerite. Let the happiness of your children be conferred by yourself. Believe me, mother, you have bestowed more on me than I on them."

The marchioness retired to shut herself up in her oratory. Paul left the castle, and proceeded toward the hut of the fisherman.



Alexandre Dumas pere

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