Last scene of all That ends this strange, eventful history.
Five years had elapsed since the occurrence of the events we have related. The independence of the United States had been recognized; New York, the last strong-hold of the English, had been evacuated. The roar of cannon,-which had resounded in the Indian seas, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, had ceased to thunder. Washington, in the solemn meeting of Congress of the 28th December, 1783, had resigned his commission as general-in-chief, and had retired to Mount Vernon, his parental estate, without any other recompence than that of being allowed to receive and send letters free of charge; and the tranquillity which America had begun to enjoy, had extended to the French colonies in the West Indies; for the mother country having espoused the American cause, they had been several times exposed to the hostile attempts of Great Britain. Among these islands, Guadaloupe had been more particularly threatened, in consequence of its military and commercial importance; but, thanks to the vigilance of its new governor, the attempts of the enemy to land there had always failed, and France had not to mourn over any serious discomfiture in this important position, so that at the commencement of the year 1784, the island, without being altogether denuded of warlike appearance, which was maintained in it more from custom than from necessity, the inhabitants generally had applied themselves anew to the cultivation of the numerous products which form its riches.
If our readers will be pleased by a last effort of their complaisance, to accompany us to the other side of the Atlantic, and land with us at the port of Basseterre, we will conduct them amidst fountains which jet on every side, through the street which leads to the promenade, called Champ d'Arbaud; then, after having availed ourselves of the cool shade of the tamarind trees, planted on each side of it, till we have proceeded about two-thirds of its length, we will turn upon the left up a small beaten road, which conducts to the gate of a garden, the upper part of which commands a view of the whole town.
When we have arrived there, we will allow them for a few moments to inhale the evening breeze, so refreshingly sweet after the mid-day heat of the month of May, and they can cast a glance with us over the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics.
With our backs turned to the woody and volcanic mountains, which divide the western part of the island, and amid which arise, crowned with their plumes of smoke and sparks, the two calcined pinnacles of the sulphur mountain, we have at our feet, sheltered by the hills, which have been named Bellevue, Mont-Désir, Beau Soliel, Espérance and Saint Charles, the city gracefully descending towards the sea, the waves of which sparkling with the last rays of the setting sun, laves its white walls. The horizon, formed by the ocean, lying like a vast and limpid mirror, and to the right and left, the most beautiful and richest plantation of the island; large square fields of coffee trees, transplanted originally from Arabia, with their knotty and flexible branches, covered with dark green glossy leaves, of an oblong and pointed form, and bearing clusters of flowers as white as snow; long rows of cotton plants, covering with a rich carpet of verdure, the dry and stony soil, on which they thrive best, and among which we see, like so many colossal ants, negroes occupied in reducing to two or three, the thousand shoots which sprout out from each stalk. And then again, but in more level and well sheltered spots, in which the soil is richer and more argillaceous, we see plantations of cocoa trees, first introduced into the West Indies by the Jew, Benjamin Dacosta, with their lofty trunks and porous branches, covered with fawn colored bark, from which large oblong leaves are pending, among which we see fresh shoots of a soft rose color, which contrast strongly with the long, curved and yellow fruit, which bends the branches with its weight. And further off, whole fields of the plant, discovered at Tabaco, first brought to France by the Ambassador of Francis II., who presented it to Catherine de Medicis, from which circumstance it derived its name of Herbe-a-là-reine.* This did not, however, prevent it from being, like every popular thing, in the first instance, excommunicated and proscribed, in Europe and Asia, by the two powers who then divided the world, proscribed by the Grand Duke of Muscovy, Michael Fedorowich, by the Turkish Sultan Amurath IV., by the Emperor of Persia, and excommunicated by Pope Urban VIII. Here and there, we see springing up to a height of forty or fifty feet above all the shrubs and plants, by which it is surrounded, the banana tree of Paradise, of which, according to tradition, the oval leaves, seven or eight feet in length, served to form the first garment of the first created woman. And finally, elevated above all the rest, and standing forth pre-eminent, whether hacked by the azure of the Heavens, or by the dark green tea, the cocoa-nut and the palm-tree, those two giants of the Western Archipelago graceful and prodigal, as is everything that is powerful. Figure to yourselves, then these beautiful hills, intersected by seventy rivers, eased in beds, ninety feet in depth; these mountains illuminated during the day by a tropical sun, at night, by the volcano of the sulphur mountain; that vegetation, which never is arrested, the new leaves of which succeed the leaves which fall; this soil so salubrious, and air so pure, that notwithstanding the insensate experiments that man, the real enemy of himself, has made by transporting serpents from Martinique, and Saint Lucie, it was found that they could neither live nor reproduce there, and then judge after the sufferings they had endured in Europe, of the happiness which Antole de Lusignan and Marguerite d'Auray must have enjoyed there.
* Queen's Grass.
To a life agitated by the passions, to that struggle of natural rights against legal power, to that succession of scenes in which all earthly pains, from childbirth even to death, had played their part, had succeeded a life of pure delights, each day of which had passed on calmly and tranquilly; the only clouds that darkened it, arose from that vague uneasiness for distant friends, which as if borne upon the air, and which contracts the heart like a painful presentiment. However, from time to time, whether by newspapers, or by vessels, touching at the island, Anatole and Marguerite had obtained some intelligence of the generous being who had so powerfully served them as a protector; they had heard of his victories; that after he had left them, he had been appointed to the command of a small squadron, and had destroyed the English establishments on the coast of Acadia, which had gained for him the title of commodore; that, in an engagement with the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, after a combat yard-arm to yard-arm, which lasted four hours, he had obliged the two frigates to strike to him, and that finally, as a reward for the services he had rendered to the cause of American Independence, he had received the public thanks of Congress, who had voted him a gold medal, and had selected him to command the frigate America, to which that name had been given as being the finest in the service, and the command of which had been conferred on him as the bravest of its officers; but this splendid ship had been presented by Congress to the King of France, to replace the Magnifique, which had been lost at Boston. Paul Jones, after conducting this frigate to Havre, had joined the fleet of the Count de Vaudreuil, who had projected an attack upon Jamaica. This last intelligence had overjoyed the hearts of Lusignan and Marguerite, for this enterprize would bring Paul into their latitude, and they hoped at last they should soon see their brother and their friend; but peace, as we have before said, had intervened, and from that time, they had heard no more of the adventurous seaman.
In the evening of the day on which we have transported our readers from the wild shores of Brittany to the fertile coast of Guadaloupe, the young family were assembled in the very garden which we have entered, and which commands a view of the immense panorama we have described; the foreground of which is formed by the city, at its feet the ocean, studded with islands in the distance.
Marguerite had promptly habituated herself to the soft listlessness of Creole life; and her mind now tranquil and full of happiness, she gave herself up to the dolce far niente, which renders the sensual existence of the colonies a half sleep, the incidents of which appear as dreams.
She was lying with her daughter in a Peruvian hammock, netted with the silken fibres of the aloe, and ornamented with the most brilliant colored plumes of the rarest tropical birds; her son was swinging her with a soft and regular motion, and Lusignan was holding one of her hands between both his. She was still pale, but delicate and graceful as a wild lily. Her looks were vacantly wandering over the immense extent of ocean lying before her, and she felt her soul and senses enraptured by all the bliss which heaven can promise, and all the enjoyments which this earth can offer. At that moment, and as if everything concurred to complete the magic spectacle which every evening she came there to contemplate, and which every succeeding evening she found still more marvellously beautiful, there suddenly appeared, doubling the cape Trois Pointes, and looking like an ocean king, a large vessel, gliding along the surface of the sea without more apparent effort than a swan playing upon the tranquil bosom of a lake. Marguerite was the first to perceive it, and without speaking, for every action is a fatigue under that burning clime, she made a sign with her head to Lusignan, who directed his looks to the spot she had indicated, and then, like her, silently followed with his eyes the rapid and graceful movements of the vessel. By degrees as she approached, and as the elegant and delicate proportions of her masts amidst the mass of sails which they sustained, could be discerned, which, in the first instance, had seemed a cloud floating upon the horizon—they began to discover in one corner of her flag the stars of America, equal in number to the States they represent. One same idea shot instantly through their minds, and they exchanged a glance, radiant with hope that they were, perhaps, about to receive some news of Paul. Lusignan immediately ordered a negro to bring a telescope: but before he had returned, a hope still more delightful pervaded both their hearts. It appeared to Lusignan and Marguerite that they recognized an old friend in the frigate that was approaching. To persons, however, unaccustomed, it is so difficult to distinguish, at a great distance, signs which speak at once to the eye of an experienced seaman, that they did not yet dare to have faith in this hope, and which, indeed, was more an instinctive presentiment than positive reality. At last the negro brought the so much longed for telescope. Lusignan uttered a cry of joy, and then handed it to Marguerite: he had recognized the sculpture of Guillaume Costou, upon the prow of the vessel, and it was really the Indienne which was advancing towards Basseterre.
Lusignan raised Marguerite from the hammock and placed her on her feet, for their first impulse was to hasten to the harbour; but then they reflected that Paul had left the Indienne nearly five years, at the time that his promotion entitled him to the command of a larger vessel, and that she might now be under the orders of another captain, and they paused with palpitating hearts and trembling limbs. During this time, their son Hector had taken up the telescope, and placing it to his eye, looked through it, and soon after exclaimed,—"Father, see there,—upon the deck stands an officer, dressed in a black coat, embroidered with gold, just like the one in the picture of my dear friend, Paul!" Lusignan hastily snatched the glass from his son's hands, looked through it for a few moments, then again passed it to Marguerite, who, after directing it toward the vessel, let it fall, and then they threw themselves into each other's arms; they had recognized their friend, who, as he was about to visit them, had put on the dress which we have before said he had generally worn. At this instant the frigate passed the fort, which it saluted with three guns, and the fort returned the salute with an equal number.
From the moment that Lusignan and Marguerite had acquired the certitude that their friend and brother was actually on board the Indienne, they had hastened down the mountain, followed by young Hector, towards the port, leaving their little Blanche in the hammock. The captain had also recognized them, so that at the moment they left the garden he had ordered a boat to be lowered, and, thanks to the united strength of ten vigorous oarsmen, he had rapidly glided over the distance between the anchorage ground and the port, and had sprung upon the jetty at the instant that his friends arrived there. Such sensations as then filled their breasts cannot be expressed in words; tears are their only interpreter. And thus their joy more closely resembled grief, for they all wept, even to the child, who wept because he saw them weep.
After giving some orders relating to the vessel, the young commodore, with his delighted friends, slowly ascended the hill down which they had rushed so rapidly to meet him. Paul told them that the expedition of Admiral Vaudreuil having failed, he had returned to Philadelphia, and peace having been signed, as we have before mentioned, with England, the Congress, as a token of gratitude, had presented him with the first ship he had commanded as captain.
Upon hearing this, Lusignan and Marguerite experienced the most lively joy, for they hoped that their brother had come with the intention of taking up his abode with them; but the character of the young seaman was too adventurous, and stood too much in need of excitement, to sink quietly down into the monotonous and unvaried dulness of a life on shore. He informed his friends that he had but eight days to remain with them, after which he should seek in another quarter of the globe, to follow the profession he had adopted.
These eight days passed by as rapidly as a dream, and notwithstanding the reiterated entreaties of both Lusignan and Marguerite, Paul would not consent to delay his departure even for twenty-four hours. He was still the same ardent determined being, considering the execution of a resolution he had once formed as a positive duty, and more austere with regard to himself than toward others.
The hour of separation had arrived. Marguerite and Lusignan wished to accompany the young commodore on board his ship; but Paul wished not to prolong the grief of this leave-taking. When they reached the jetty he embraced them for the last time, then jumped into his boat, which was rowed away as swiftly as an arrow. Marguerite and Lusignan followed him with their eyes until his boat had disappeared on the leeward side of the frigate, and they sorrowfully reascended the hill to watch the ship's departure, from the same terrace from which they had before discerned its arrival.
At the moment they reached it, they observed that activity and bustle on board the frigate which always precede the departure of a vessel. The sailors had surrounded the capstan, and were employed in getting up the anchor, and thanks to the pureness of the atmosphere, the sonorous and lively cries of the seamen reached the ears of Lusignan and Marguerite; the anchor was soon apeak, and they saw it rising slowly under the ship's bows; then the sails dropped successively from the yards, from the royals to the courses, and the ship, seemingly endowed with an instinctive and animated feeling, gracefully turned her prow toward the harbour's mouth, and beginning to move, cut through the waves with an easy motion, as if merely gliding upon their surface. Then, as if the frigate might be abandoned to her own will, they saw the young commodore spring upon the stern rails, and devote all his attention to the land he was thus leaving. Lusignan took out his handkerchief and made a signal, to which Paul replied. And then, when they could no longer perceive each other with the naked eye, they had recourse to their telescopes, and, thanks to this ingenious invention, they retarded the separation for another hour. They all felt a presentiment that this separation would be eternal.
The vessel gradually diminished upon the horizon, and darkness was about to cover the heavens, when Lusignan ordered a quantity of wood to be brought upon the terrace, to form a beacon fire, which was instantly ignited, in order that Paul, whose vessel was nearly enshrouded in the darkness, might continue to fix his eyes upon that spot until he had doubled Cape Trois Pointes. Lusignan and Marguerite had for an hour lost sight of the ship, while Paul, thanks to their large brilliant fire, might still perceive them, when a bright flame, like to a flash of lightning, appeared on the horizon, and in a few seconds the report of a gun, similar to the prolonged sound of distant thunder, reached their ears, and all again was silent. Lusignan and Marguerite had received Paul's last farewell.
And now, although the domestic drama which we had undertook to relate, has, in fact, terminated here, some of our readers may, perhaps, have felt sufficient interest in the young adventurer, of whom we have made the hero of this story, to follow him in the second part of his career; to these then, after thanking them for the kind attention they have been pleased to grant to us, we are about to recount truly and plainly, facts which a most minute research have enabled us to lay before them.
At the period we have reached, that is to say, in the month of May, 1784, the whole of Europe had fallen into that state of torpor, which unthinking men imagined to be tranquillity, but which minds more profound, regarded as the dull and momentary calm that precedes the tempest. America, by obtaining her independence, had prepared France for her revolution. Kings and people, mistrustful of each other, were upon their guard. Peter III., who had become odious to the Russians, in consequence of his ignoble character, the narrowness of his political views, and above all, for his excessive leaning to Prussian manners, and Prussian discipline, had been deposed without opposition, and strangled without a struggle. Catherine had thus found herself, at the age of thirty-two, mistress of an empire which extended over one-seventh part of the globe; her first care was to compel the neighbouring powers to accept her as a mediatrix in their quarrel, and thus become do-pendent upon her. Thus, had she obliged the people of Courland to drive from them their new Duke, Charles of Saxony, and to recall Biren; she had sent her ambassadors and her armies to Warsaw, there to have crowned by the name of Stanislaus Augustus, her former lover, Poniatowski; she had formed an alliance with England; she had associated to her policy the Courts of Vienna and Berlin; and notwithstanding all these great projects of foreign policy, she had not neglected the internal government of her own country, and in the interval of her amours, so fickle and so various, she still found time to reward industry, to encourage agriculture, to reform the laws, to raise a navy, to send Pallas into provinces the productions of which were till then unknown—Blumager into the northern Archipelago, and Bel-lings into the Indian ocean; in fine, jealous of the literary reputation of her brother, the King of Prussia, she wrote with the same hand that had ordered the erection of a new city, signed the order for the execution of young Ivan, and the dismemberment of Poland, The Refutation of the Journey into Siberia, by the Abbé Chappe, a romance of the Czarowich Chlose, several plays, among which was a translation into French of Oleg, a drama, written by the Russian poet, Dersehawin, so that Voltaire proclaimed her the Semiraris of the North, and the King of Prussia, in his letters, classed her between Solon and Lycurgus.
The effect produced amid this voluptuous and chivalric court by the arrival of such a man, as our adventurous seaman, can readily be imagined. The reputation for courage, which had rendered him the terror of the enemies of France and America, had preceded him to the court of Russia, and in exchange for his frigate, which he presented to Catherine, he received the rank of Rear-Admiral. Then the flag of Russia, after having navigated round one-half the old world, appeared in the Grecian seas, and beneath the ruins of Lacedemon and the Parthenon, he, who had assisted in establishing the independence of America, dreamt of the re-establishment of the Republics of Sparta and of Athens. The old Ottoman empire was shaken to its foundations, the defeated Turks signed a treaty of peace at Kainardji. Catherine retained Azof, Taganrog, and Kenburr, and Kenburn, compelled the Turks to grant to her the free navigation of the Black Sea, and the independence of the Crimea; she then desired to visit her new possessions. Paul, recalled to St. Petersburgh, accompanied her on this journey, the route of which had been drawn up by Potemkin. During the whole of it, all the attributes of triumph were offered to the conquering Empress and her suite; bonfires were lighted all along the road, cities were illuminated with the most fairy-like brilliancy, magnificent palaces erected, as if by magic, for one day, amid desert countries, and which the next morning disappeared; villages, rising as if beneath the wand of an enchanter, in solitudes, in which eight days before the Tartars fed their flocks; towns appearing on the horizon of which there existed but the exterior walls; in every direction, homage, and songs of welcome, and dances of the people: during the day, a numerous population crowded the road, and at night, while the Empress was sleeping, they would run to station themselves in the way she was to proceed on waking the following morning: a king and emperor rode by her side, calling themselves not her brothers, not her equals, but her courtiers; finally, a triumphal arch was erected at the last halt she was to make on her journey southward, bearing the inscription—"This is the road to Byzantium," which if it did not reveal the ambition of Catherine, demonstrated at least, the policy of Potemkin. Then Russia became strengthened in her tyranny, as America had in her independence. Catherine offered to her Admiral places which would have more than satisfied the rapacity of a courtier, honors which would have overwhelmed the ambitious, estates which would have consoled a deposed king for the loss of his dominions; but it was the deck of his ship, it was the sea with its combats and its tempests, it was the boundless immensity of ocean for which yearned the heart of our adventurous and poetic seaman. He, therefore, left the brilliant court of Catherine, as he had left the austere Congress of America, and returned to France to seek that, which he could not find elsewhere, that is to say, a life of excitement, enemies to combat, a people to defend. Paul arrived in Paris in the midst of our European wars and civil struggles; while, with one hand, we were seizing a foreign enemy by the throat, with the other, we were tearing our own entrails. That king, whom he had seen ten years before, beloved, honored, powerful, was then a captive, despised and strengthless. All that had been exalted was abased, and great names fell as did high-born heads.—It was the reign of equality, and the guillotine was the levelling instrument. Paul inquired after Emanuel, and was told that he was proscribed. He asked what had become of his mother, and was informed that she was dead. Then he felt an irresistible longing to revisit once again, before he himself might die, the spot on which, twelve years before, he had experienced emotions at once so sweet and terrible. He set out for Brittany, left his carriage at Vannes, and mounted on horseback, as he had done on the first day he had seen Marguerite; but he was no longer the young and enthusiastic seaman, whose desires and hopes had no horizon; he was a man bereft of all those, brilliant illusions, for he had tasted of all, whether weet or bitter, had learnt to appreciate all, both men and things; had known all, glory and oblivion. Therefore, did he not come to search a family, but to visit tombs.
When he came within sight of the castle, he turned his eyes toward Achard's house, and not being able to discover it, he thought he would go into the forest, but the forest seemed to have vanished as by enchantment. It had been sold as national property to twenty-five or thirty farmers of the neighbourhood, who had cleared off the timber, and transformed it into a large plain. The gigantic oak had disappeared, and the plough had passed over the unknown grave of the Count de Morlaix, and the eyes of his son even, could no longer recognize the spot.
Then he returned through the park toward the castle, now become even more gloomy and desolate than when he had last seen it. In it he found only an old man, a living ruin amidst these ruins of the past; it was at first intended to have pulled down the mansion, but the reputation for holiness which the marchioness had left behind her, was regarded with such religious veneration throughout the country, that the old walls, which for four centuries had been the abode of her ancestors, remained undesecrated. Paul went through the apartments, which for three years had remained closed, and which were now open for him. He walked through the portrait gallery; it was in the same state as he had formerly seen it; no pious hand had added to the portrait either of the marquis or the marchioness. He went into the study in which he had been concealed—found a book lying in it which he had opened and placed upon the very spot on which he found it, and read the same passages which he had read so many years before. He then pushed open the door which communicated with the contract chamber, where had passed the chief scenes of that drama in which he was the principal actor. The table was still in the same place and the Venetian looking-glass over the chimney-piece was there, shattered as it had been by the ball of Emanuels pistol.
Paul advanced to the fire-place, and placing his elbow on the marble mantle-piece, questioned the servant as to the last years of the Marchioness.
The account he received shewed that she had remained austere and melancholy, as was her wont. Remaining secluded and alone at the castle, her hours were uniformly spent in three different places: her oratory, the vault in which the body of her husband had been buried, and the spot sheltered by the oak tree, at the foot of which her lover had been interred. For eight years after the evening on which Paul had taken leave of her, she had been seen to wander amid the old corridors of the castle, and in the gloomy avenues of the Park, slow and pale as a spectre; then a disease of the heart, engendered by the agonies she had suffered, declared itself, and she daily became weaker. At length, one evening, when her failing strength no longer permitted her to walk, she had ordered the servants to carry her to the foot of the oak tree, her favorite walk, that she might once more see, she said, the sun setting in the ocean. When they had reached the spot, she desired the servants to withdraw, and to come back to her in half an hour. On their return they found her lying fainting on the ground. They immediately bore her to the castle, but having recovered her senses on the way, she ordered them, instead of conducting her to her own room, which they usually did, to take her down into the family vault. There she had still strength enough to kneel upon the tomb of her husband, and made a sign that she desired to be left alone. However imprudent their doing so might be, the servants elbow on the marble withdrew, for she had accustomed them to obey her in every thing at the first intimation of her will. They, however, remained at a short distance, concealed behind the corner of a tomb, that they might be ready to render her assistance, should it be necessary. In a few minutes they saw her fall down upon the stone on which she had been praying; they rushed forward, imagining that she had again fainted. She was dead.
Paul requested the old servant to conduct him into the vault, and slowly entered it with uncovered head; and when he had reached the stone which covered the grave of his mother, he knelt down and prayed. On the monumental stone were inscribed the following words, and which may still be seen in one of the chapels of the church of the small town of Auray, to which it has since been removed. The inscription had been written by the marchioness herself, and she had desired that it should be placed upon her tomb.
"Here lies the very noble and very puissant lady Marguerite Blanche de Sablé, Marchioness of Auray; born the 2nd of August 1729—died the 3rd September, 1788.
"Pray for her and for her children."
Paul raised his eyes to heaven, with an expression of infinite gratitude, His mother, who during her life, had for so long a time forgotten him, had remembered him in her funeral inscription.
Six months after this visit, the National Convention decreed, in solemn sitting, that they would attend in a body the funeral procession of Paul Jones, formerly a commodore in the American navy, and whose burial was to take place in the cemetery of Pere La Chaise.
They had come to this decision, said the decree, in order to consecrate the establishment of religious freedom throughout France.