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Chapter 5


Woman's love
Once given, may break the heart that holds—but never
Melts into air save with her latest sigh.--Bulwer.—The Sea Captain,

The name, as well as the appearance of the person thus announced, awakened in their turn in the mind of Emanuel a confused recollection of which he could not affix either date or event. The person, preceded by the servant, entered the room by a door opposite the one through which the marchioness had retired. Although the moment was ill-timed for a visit, and though the young count, pre-occupied by his projects for the future, would have preferred meditating upon and ripening them, he was compelled, by the rules of etiquette, so severe in those days between well-bred people, to receive the visitor with courtesy and politeness. The deportment of the latter bespoke the man of distinction. After the usual salutations, Emanuel, by a gesture, invited the stranger to be seated, who bowed and took a chair, and then the conversation commenced with some common-place polite observation.

"I am delighted to meet you, count," said the stranger.

"Chance has favored me, sir," replied Emanuel; "an hour sooner you would not have found me here: I have just arrived from Paris."

"I am aware of that, count, for we have been travelling the same road. I set out an hour after you, and all along the road I heard of you, by means of the postillions who had the honor of driving you."

"May I be bold enough to ask," said Emanuel, in a tone which began to evince a certain degree of dissatisfaction, "to what circumstance I owe the interest you appear to evince concerning me."

"This interest is perfectly natural between old acquaintance, and perhaps. I might have reason to complain that it does not appear to be reciprocal."

"In fact, sir, it does appear to me," replied Emanuel, "that I have met you somewhere; but my recollection serves me but confusedly; will you be kind enough to assist it?"

"If what you say be the case, count, your memory must indeed be rather fugitive, for within the last six months, on three separate occasions, I have the honor of exchanging compliments with you."

"Even should I expose myself to further reproach, I am compelled to say that I still remain in the same state of uncertainty with regard to your person. Pray, therefore, have the goodness to fix my memory, by aid of more precise dates, on some event, and remind me under what circumstances I had the honor of meeting you for the first time."

"The first time, count? it was on the jetty of Port Louis. You desired to obtain some information with regard to a certain frigate, which I was so fortunate as to be able to furnish you. I believe, even, that I accompanied you on board. Upon that occasion I wore the uniform of a lieutenant in the royal navy, and you that of a mousquetaire."

"I now well recollect it, sir, and I was obliged to leave the vessel without offering the thanks I owed you."

"You are mistaken, count; I received those thanks during our second interview."

"And where did that take place?"

"On board the very vessel to which I had conducted you—in the cabin. I then wore the uniform of the captain of the ship: blue coat, red waistcoat and breeches, with grey stockings, a three-cornered hat, and curled hair. Only the captain appeared to you some thirty years older than the lieutenant, and it was not without motive that I had made myself appear so much older, for you would perhaps, not have chosen to confide to a young man a secret of such importance as you then communicated to me."

"What you now say is incredible, sir; and yet something tells me that it was really so. Yes, yes; I now remember that in the shade in which you remained half concealed, I saw eyes sparkling similar to yours. I have not forgotten them; but this was only the time before the last, you say, that I had the honor of seeing you. Continue, sir, I beg, to assist my memory, for I cannot recollect our third interview."

"The last, count, was only a week since, at Paris—at a fencing match, at Saint-George's, in the rue Chanterecin. You remember, do you not, an English gentleman, with his hair so red that his powder could scarcely conceal its brilliant color—a scarlet coat, and tightly fitting pantaloons. I even had the honor of trying a bout with you, and I was fortunate enough to hit you three times, while, on the contrary, you were not lucky enough to touch me once. On that occasion I called myself Jones."

"It is most singular—it was certainly the same look, but it could not be the same man."

"The will of God has directed that the look should be the only thing which cannot be disguised, and this is why he has thrown into the look a spark of his own light. Well, then, the lieutenant, the captain, the Englishman, were one and the same person."

"At the present moment, sir, what are you if you please? For, with a man who can so perfectly disguise himself, that question you must admit, is not altogether unnecessary."

"At the present moment, count, as you see, I have no motive for concealment, and, therefore, I have come to you in the simple costume of the young nobility, when they visit each other as neighbors in the country. I am whatever you may please to consider me; French, English, Spanish, or even an American. In which of these languages would you wish our conversation to be continued?"

"Although some of these languages may be as familiar to me as they are to you, sir, I prefer the French language; it is that of a plain and concise explanations."

"Be it so," replied Paul, with an expression of profound melancholy; "the French is also the language I prefer; I first saw the day upon French ground, for the sun of France was that which gladdened my eyes; and although I have often seen more fertile climes, and a more brilliant sun, there has never been for me but one country and one sun, the sun and the country of Franco!"

"Your national enthusiasm," said Emanuel, interrupting him ironically, "causes you to forget the motive to which I am indebted for the honor of this visit."

"You are right, sir, and I will return to it. It was, then, about six months ago, while walking on the jetty of Port Louis, you saw in the outer roads a fine sharp frigate, with tall masts and square yards, and you said to yourself: 'the captain of that ship must have some motive known only to himself, for carrying so much canvas, on masts so slight,'—and from that sprung to your mind that he must be some buccaneer, a pirate, a corsair"——

"And was I mistaken?"

"I thought I had already expressed to you, count," replied Paul, with a slight tone of irony, "my admiration of the perspicacity with which, at the first glance, you sound the depths of men and circumstances"——

"A truce to compliments, if you please, sir, and let us to facts."

"It was under this persuasion that you caused yourself to be conducted on board the frigate, by a certain lieutenant, and that you found a certain captain in the cabin. You were the bearer of a letter from the Minister of Marine, ordering any officer, upon your requisition, and whose ship was under the French flag and bound for the Gulf of Mexico, to conduct to Cayenne a person named Lusignan, guilty of a crime against the state."

"That is true."

"I obeyed that order, for I was then ignorant that this great culprit, thus transported, had committed no other crime than that of being the lover of your sister."

"Sir," cried Emanuel, starting up.

"These are very fine pistols, count," carelessly continued Paul, playing with the weapons which the Count d'Auray had placed upon the table, on alighting from his carriage.

"And they are ready loaded," said Emanuel, in a tone which was not to be mistaken.

"Are they so?" returned Paul, with affected indifference.

"That is a matter of which you can assure yourself, if you will take a turn in the park with me."

"There is no necessity for going out to do that," replied Paul, without pretending to understand Emanuel's proposal in the sense which he meant to give to it; "here is a mark which is well placed, and at a proper distance."

Saying these words, the captain cocked the pistol, and pointed it through the open window towards the top of a small tree. A goldfinch was rocking himself on the highest branch, singing forth his shrill and joyful notes. Paul fired, and the poor bird, cut in two, fell at the foot of the tree. Paul coolly replaced the pistol on the table.

"You were perfectly right, count," said he, "they are excellent weapons, and I advise you not to part with them."

"You have just given me an extraordinary proof of it," replied Emanuel; "and I feel bound to acknowledge that you have a steady hand."

"There is nothing extraordinary in that," rejoined Paul, in that melancholy tone which was peculiar to him. "During those long days, when not a breath passes over that mirror of the Supreme Being, which is called the ocean, we seamen are compelled to seek for amusements to which you landsmen are daily accustomed. Then we try our skill upon the sea-gulls, which hover over the crest of a wave; or the fish-hawks, which dart down upon the imprudent tenant of the deep that rise to its surface; or, again, upon the swallows which, fatigued with a long flight, alight upon the royal mast-head or on the yards or rigging. It is thus, count, that we acquire some dexterity in exercises which may appear so incompatible with our profession."

"Go on, sir; and if it be possible, let us return to the subject of our conversation."

"He was a handsome, brave young man, this Lusignan; he related his whole history to me. That being the son of an old friend of your father's, who had died poor, he had been adopted by him some two years before the unknown accident occurred which deprived him of his reason. That having been brought up with you, he had inspired you with hatred—your sister with affection. He told me that, during the long years they passed together in the same solitude, they never perceived the isolation from the world in which they lived, excepting when they were absent from each other. He recounted to me all the details of their youthful love, and how Marguerite had one day said to him, in the words of the tender maiden of Verona—

"'I will be thine, or else I'll be the tomb's.'"

"She has but too truly kept her word."

"Yes—has she not? And you virtuous people call that shame and dishonour, when a poor child, lost through her own innocence, is carried away by love. Your mother, whose duties estranged her from her daughter, and perpetually confined her to your father's room—(for I know the virtues of your mother, sir, as well as I know your sister's weakness: she is an austere woman, more severe than one of God's creatures ought to be, whose only advantage over others is, that of never having fallen)—your mother, I say, one night heard some stifled cries; she entered your sister's chamber, walked pale and silently up to her bed, and coldly snatched from her arms a child which had just been born, and left the room without addressing even a reproach to her daughter, but only paler and more silent than when she entered it. As to poor Marguerite, she did not utter even a cry—she made no complaint. She had fainted away immediately on perceiving her mother. Was it so, sir? Have I been rightly informed, and is the whole of this dreadful story true?"

"You seem to be acquainted with every detail of it!" exclaimed Emanuel, with amazement.

"It is because the whole of these details are given in these letters signed by your sister," replied Paul, opening a pocket-book, "and which Lusignan, at the time he was about to be thrown amid robbers and assassins, through your instrumentality, confided to me, that I might restore them to her who had written them."

"Give them to me, then," said Emanuel, stretching forth his hand towards the pocket-book, "and they shall be faithfully delivered to her who has had the imprudence"—

"To complain to the only person who loved her in this world—is it not so?" said Paul, withdrawing the letters and the pocket-book. "Imprudent daughter, whose own mother snatched the child from her heart, and who poured her bitter tears into the bosom of the father of her child! Imprudent sister, who, not finding any protection from this tyranny in her brother, has compromised his noble name by signing with the name he bears, letters, which, in the stupid and prejudiced eye of the world, may—how is it you term this in your noble class—dishonour her family, is it not?"

"Then," cried Emanuel, reddening with impatience, "since you are aware of the terrible tendency of these papers, fulfil the mission which you have been charged, by delivering them either to me, to my mother, or my sister."

"This was my intention when I landed at Lorient; but about ten or twelve days ago, on entering a church—"

"A church!"

"Yes, sir."

"And for what purpose?"

"To pray there."

"Ah! Captain Paul believes in God, then!"

"Did I not believe in him, whom should I invoke during the raging of the tempest?"

"And in this church, then?"

"In that church, sir, I heard a priest announce the approaching marriage of the noble Marguerite d'Auray with the very high and very potent Baron de Lectoure. I immediately inquired for you, and was informed you were at Paris, where I was myself compelled to go, to give an account of my mission to the king."

"To the king!"

"Yes, sir, to the king—Louis XVI.; to his majesty, in person. I immediately set out, intending to return here as soon as you did. I met you in Saint George's rooms, and was informed of your approaching departure. I arranged mine in consequence, in order that we might arrive here at about the same time, and here I am, sir, with a very different resolution to that I had formed before landing in Brittany."

"And what is this new determination? Let me hear it, for we must come to some conclusion."

"Well, then, I think that as all the world, and even his mother, seem to have forgotten the poor orphan, it is highly necessary that I should remember it. In the position in which you are placed, sir, and with the disposition you have evinced of becoming allied to the Baron de Lectoure (who in your view, is the only person who can assist the realization of your ambitious projects), these letters are well worth a hundred thousand francs, are they not? and will make but a very trifling breach in the income of two hundred thousand francs which your estates afford you."

"But who will prove to me that this hundred thousand francs—"

"You are right, sir, and therefore it will be in exchange for a contract for an annuity upon the young Hector de Lusignan, that I will deliver up these letters."

"Is that all, sir?"

"I will also ask, that the child be confided to me, and I will have him brought up, thanks to his little fortune, far from the mother who has forgotten him, and far from his father whom you caused to be banished."

"'Tis well, sir; had I known that it was for so small a sum, and so trifling an interest that you had come, I should not have experienced so much anxiety. You will, however, permit me to speak to my mother on the subject."

"Monsieur le Comte," said a servant, opening the door.

"I am not at home to any one. Leave the room." replied Emanuel, impatiently.

"It is your sister, sir, who wishes to see you."

"Tell her to come by and by."

"She desires to speak to you this instant."

"Do not put yourself out of the way on my account," said Paul.

"But my sister must not see you, sir,—you comprehend it is important that she should not see you."

"As you please; but as it is important, also, that I should not leave the castle before concluding the affair which brought me here, permit me to go into this side room."

"That will do," said Emanuel, himself opening the door; "but be quick, I beg of you."

Paul went into the small room, and Emanuel hastily closed the door upon him, which was hardly done when Marguerite appeared.

Alexandre Dumas pere

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