Hark! she has bless'd her son—I bid ye witness, Ye listening heavens—thou circumambient air; The ocean sighs it back—and with the murmur Bustle the happy leaves. All nature breathes Aloud—-aloft—to the Great Parent's ear, The blessing of the mother on her child.
ON approaching the fisherman's hut, the place appointed with Lectoure, Paul perceived Lusignan and Walter, who were waiting for him.
Precisely at the hour agreed, Lectoure appeared on horseback; he had been obliged to find his way as he best could, for he had no guide, and his own servant was as much a stranger as himself in that part of the country. On seeing him at a distance the young men came out of the hut. The baron instantly put his horse into a gallop, to hasten to them. When within a few paces of them he alighted from his horse, and threw the rein to his servant.
"I trust you will pardon me, gentlemen," said he, "that I should have approached you thus alone, like a forsaken orphan; but the hour selected by that gentleman," he added, raising his hat to Paul, who returned the salutation, "was precisely that fixed upon for the funeral obsequies of the marquis; I have therefore left Emanuel to fulfil the duties of a son, and have come here without a second, trusting that I had to deal with an adversary generous enough to procure some friend of his own to aid me in this dilemma."
"We are entirely at your service, baron," replied Paul; "here are two friends of mine. Select which you please, and he who shall be honored by your choice, will instantly become yours."
"I have no preference, I swear to you," said Lectoure; "please to designate which of these two gentlemen you may desire should reader me this service."
"Walter," said Paul, "be so good as to officiate as second to the baron."
The lieutenant assented; the two adversaries again bowed to each other.
"And now, sir," continued Paul, "permit me, before our respective seconds, to address a few words to you, not of apology, but explanation."
"At your own pleasure, sir, replied Lectoure.
"When I uttered the words which have been the cause of your coming hither, the events which have since occurred at the castle were hidden in the womb of time, and these events might have entailed the misery of a whole family. You, sir, had on your side Madame d'Auray, Emanuel, and the Marquis—Marguerite had but me alone. Every chance was, therefore, in your favor. It was for this reason that I addressed myself directly to you, for had I fallen by your hand from circumstances which must for ever remain hidden to you, Marguerite could not have married you. If I had killed you, the case would have been still more simplified, and requires no commentary.
"This exordium is really most logical, sir," replied the baron, smiling, and tapping his boots with his riding-whip; "let us proceed, if you please, to the main body of the discourse." |
"Now," continued Paul, bowing in sign of acquiescence, "every circumstance has changed; the marquis is dead, Emanuel has received his commission, the marchioness renounces your alliance, honorable as it may be, and Marguerite marries the Baron Anatole de Lusignan, who, for that reason, I did not name your second."
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed Lectoure, "then that is the true meaning of the note which a servant delivered to me at the moment I was about to leave the castle. I had the simplicity to imagine that it was merely an adjournment. It appears that it was a dismissal in due form. 'Tis well, sir, and now to the peroration."
"It will be as simple and frank as the explanation, sir. I did not know you—I had no desire to know you; chance threw us in presence of each other, and with opposing interests—hence our collision. Then, as I have before told you, mistrusting fate, I wished in some measure to make sure of a result. But now affairs have become so altered that either my death or yours would be altogether useless, and would merely add bloodshed to the winding up of this drama; and tell me candidly, sir, do you thank it would be worth while to risk our lives to so little purpose?"
"I might, perhaps, agree with you in opinion, sir, had I not performed so long a journey," replied Lectoure: "Not having the honor to espouse Mademoiselle Marguerite d'Auray, I should desire, at least, to have the honor of crossing swords with you. It shall not be said that I have travelled all the way from Paris into Brittany for nothing. I am at your orders, sir," continued Lectoure, drawing his sword, and with it saluting his adversary.
"At your good pleasure, sir," replied Paul, and replying to the salutation in the same manner.
The two young men then advanced towards each other—their swords crossed—at the third parry Lectoure's sword was twisted from his hand, and flew to a distance of twenty yards.
"Before taking sword in hand," said Paul, "I had offered an explanation, and now, sir, I trust you will be pleased to accept my apology."
"And this time I will accept it, sir," said Lectoure, in the same careless and easy manner, as if nothing particular had occurred. "Pick up my sword, Dick."
His servant ran to fetch it, handed it to his master, who very tranquilly put it into the scabbard.
"Now," continued he, "if either of you, gentlemen, have any orders for Paris, I am about to return there, and from this spot."
"Tell the king, sir," replied Paul, bowing, and in his turn sheathing his sword, "that I feel happy that the sword he gave me to be employed against the English, has remained unstained by the blood of one of my own countrymen."
And then the two young men again bowed to each other. Lectoure remounted his horse, and at about a hundred paces from the sea shore, got into the high road leading to Vannes, and galloped off; while his servant went to the castle to get his travelling carriage, with which Lectoure had ordered him to rejoin him speedily.
"And now, Mr. Walter," said Paul, "you must send the long-boat to the nearest creek to Auray castle, and have every thing in readiness to set sail tonight."
The lieutenant immediately set out for Port Louis, and Paul and Lusignan returned into the fisherman's hut.
During this time Emanuel and Marguerite had fulfilled the mournful duty to which they had been summoned by the chapel bell. The body of the marquis had been deposited in the emblazoned tomb of his ancestors, and Achard's in the humble cemetery outside the chapel, and then the brother and sister repaired to their mother's apartment. The marchioness delivered to Emanuel the commission which he so anxiously coveted, and gave to Marguerite her unexpected consent to her marriage with Lusignan. She then handed to Marguerite the king's sign manual appointing Lusignan governor of Guadaloupe. And then, in order that the emotions which they experienced should not be renewed, and which were the more poignant, because they were concealed within their own breasts, for neither of them made any allusion to past events, the mother and the children embraced each other for the last time, each feeling the innate conviction that they should never meet again.
The remainder of the day was occupied in the necessary preparations for departure. Toward the evening the marchioness left the castle, to meet Paul at the place which he had appointed. When passing through the court-yard she perceived a carriage, with horses already attached to it, standing on one side of it, and the young midshipman, Arthur, with four sailors, on the other. Her heart was oppressed by the sight of this two-fold preparation. She, however, passed on, and went into the park, without giving way to her emotions, so much had her long-continued restraint upon natural feelings given her the power of self-command.
However, when she had reached a small clearing, from which she could see Achard's house, she paused, for her knees trembled beneath her, and she was obliged to lean for support against a tree, while she pressed her hand to her breast to restrain the violent beatings of her heart. For there are souls which present danger, however imminent, cannot cause to quail, but which tremble at the remembrance of perils past; and the marchioness recalled to mind the agonizing fears and emotions to which she had been for twenty years a prey, and during which time she had daily visited that house, now closed never again to be opened. She, however, soon overcame this weakness, and reached the park gate.
There she again paused. Above all the trees rose the summit of a gigantic oak, whose wide spreading branches could be discerned from many places in the park. Often had the eyes of the marchioness remained riveted for hours upon its verdant dome: but never had she dared to seek repose beneath its shade. It was there, however, that she had promised to meet Paul, and there Paul was awaiting her. At length she made a last effort, and entered the forest.
From a distance she perceived a man kneeling upon the ground in the attitude of prayer. She slowly approached him, and kneeling down by his side, prayed also. When the prayer was concluded, they both rose, and without uttering a word, the marchioness placed her arm around Paul's neck, and leaned her head upon his shoulder. After some moments' silence, they heard the noise of the wheels of a carriage at a distance. The marchioness shuddered, and made a sign to Paul to listen; it was Emanuel setting out to join his regiment. Shortly afterwards Paul pointed in a direction opposite to that in which they had heard the noise, and showed the marchioness a boat gliding rapidly and silently upon the surface of the ocean; it was Marguerite going on board the frigate.
The marchioness listened to the noise of the receding wheels as long as she could hear it, and followed with anxious eyes the movements of the boat, as long as she could distinguish it; then she turned toward Paul, and raising her eyes to heaven, for she felt that the moment was approaching, when he, whom she was leaning upon, would, in his turn, leave her, she exclaimed—
"May God bless, as I now bless, the duteous son, who was the last to leave his mother."
Saying these words, she threw her arms around his neck, pressed him convulsively to her heart, and kissed him; then gazing at him intently, she seemed to be scanning every outline of his face, and then, again, rapturously embraced him.
"Yes," she cried, "in every feature he is the living resemblance of my poor lost Morlaix," then for some moments she seemed to be absorbed in thought; at last after a seemingly violent struggle, she continued, "Paul, you have refused to accept any portion of that fortune to which you are legally entitled, although you know the wealth of the Auray family is unbounded—and that the fortune which I inherit in my own right, from the family of Sablé, is very large." Paul shook his head. "Well, then, there is one thing that you must receive from your mother, as her parting gift. It is twenty years since I have dared to look upon it, and yet I have clung to its possession—it is your father's portrait, presented to me when I was authorized to receive it—when, by the assent of both our families, he was to have become my husband—take it, my dear son, for although it tears my heart to part with it, yet I feel that I shall be more tranquil when it is in your possession—to no one but yourself would I have given it. You will sometimes look upon it, and you will think of your mother, who must now remain for ever isolated from the world. But it is better that it should be so—henceforward all my moments shall be spent in making my peace with Heaven."
While saying these words, she had drawn from her pocket a case, which she put into Paul's hands, and which he had eagerly opened, and gazed with intense interest at the features of his father. The miniature was richly set in diamonds of great value.
Then summoning all her fortitude, the marchioness for the last time kissed her son, who was kneeling before her, and tearing herself from his arms, she returned alone to the castle.
The next morning the inhabitants of Port Louis vainly sought the frigate they had seen only the evening before, and which for fifteen days had remained at anchor in the outer roads of Lorient. As on the former occasion, she had disappeared without their being able to comprehend the cause of her arrival, or the motive of her so sudden departure.