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Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII.—THE FAITHFUL SERVANT.


O good old man; how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world
When service sweat for duty, not for need!
Thou art not for the fashion of these times
Where none will sweat but for promotion;
And having that, do choice their service up
Even with the having: it is not so with thee.--Shakespeare.

Although our readers must readily comprehend, after that which we have just related to them, all that had passed in the six months during which we had lost sight of our heroes, some details are, however, necessary, in order that they should fully understand the new events about to be accomplished.

On the evening after the combat between the Indienne and the Drake, and which, notwithstanding our ignorance in naval matters, we have attempted to describe to our readers, Lusignan had related to Paul the history of his whole life. It was a very simple one, and contained but few incidents. Love had formed the principal event in it, and after having been its only joy, it had become its greatest grief. The adventurous and independent life of Paul, his station, which had placed him beyond the trammels of society, his caprice which was superior to all laws, his habit of supreme command on board his own ship, had inspired him with too just a sense of natural rights to obey the order he had received with regard to Lusignan. Moreover, although he had anchored under the French flag, Paul, as we have seen, belonged to the navy of America, whose cause he had enthusiastically espoused. He continued, therefore, his cruise along the shores of England; but finding there was nothing to be done on the sea he landed at Whitehaven, a small port in Cumberland, at the head of twenty men, among whom was Lusignan, took the fort, spiked the guns, and put to sea again, after having burnt the merchant vessels in the roads. Thence he sailed for the coast of Scotland, with the intention of carrying off the Earl of Selkirk and taking him as a hostage to the United States; but this project had miscarried from an unforeseen circumstance, that nobleman having unexpectedly gone to London. In this enterprise, as in the other, Lusignan had seconded him with the courage we have seen him exhibit in the battle between the Indienne and the Drake; so that Paul congratulated himself more than ever upon the chance which had enabled him to oppose an injustice. But it was not enough that he had saved Lusignan from transportation, it was necessary to restore his honor, and to our young adventurer, in whom our readers will doubtless have recognised the celebrated privateersman, Paul Jones, it was a more easy matter than to any other person; for having letters of marque from Louis XVI., against the English, he had to repair to Versailles to give an account of his cruize.

Paul determined upon running into Lorient, and for the second time cast anchor there, that he might be within a short distance of the Chateau d'Auray. The first answer which the young men received to their enquiries regarding that family, was that Marguerite d'Auray was about to be married to M. do Lectoure. Lusignan thought himself' forgotten, and in the first paroxysm of his despair, insisted, even at the risk of falling into the hands of his former persecutors, on once more seeing Marguerite, if it were only to reproach her for infidelity; but Paul, more calm and less credulous, made him pledge his word that he would not land until he had heard from him; then, being assured that the marriage would not take place in less than fifteen days, he set out for Paris, and was received by the king, who presented him with a sword, the hilt of which was of gold, and decorated him with the order of military merit. Paul had availed himself of the kindness of the king towards him to relate to him Lusignan's adventures, and had obtained not only his pardon, but also as a reward for his late services, the appointment of Governor of Guadaloupe. All these cares had not prevented him from keeping sight of Emanuel. Being informed of the count's intended departure, he left Paris, and having written to Lusignan, appointing a place of meeting, he arrived at Auray an hour after the young count.

After their joyful meeting, Paul and Lusignan remained together until nearly twilight. Then Paul, who, as he had told Emanuel, had a personal revelation to receive, left his friend and again took the road to Auray. But this time he was on foot, and did not enter the castle, but going along the park wall, he directed his steps toward an iron gate which opened into a wood belonging to the domains of Auray.

About an hour before Paul left the fisherman's hut, where he had found Lusignan, a person had preceded him on the road toward the cottage at which he was to ask the revelation of the secret of his birth; that person was the Marchioness d'Auray, the haughty heiress of the name of Sable. She was attired in her usual mourning garments with the addition of a long black veil, which enveloped her from head to foot. Moreover, the habitation which our young adventurer, with the hesitation of ignorance, was seeking for, was to her familiar. It was a sort of keeper's house, situated at a few paces from the entrance to the park, and inhabited by an old man, in whose behalf the Marchioness d'Auray had for twenty years fulfilled one of those acts of sedulous benevolence which had gained for her in that part of Lower Brittany, the reputation of rigid holiness which she enjoyed. These attentions to age were given, it is true, with the same gloomy and solemn face which we have observed in her, and which the tender emotions of pity never softened; but they were nevertheless afforded, and all knew it, with careful punctuality.

The face of the Marchioness d'Auray was even more grave than it was wont to be, while she crossed the park to repair to the dwelling of a man who was said to be an old servant of the family. The door was standing open as if to allow the last rays of the setting sun to penetrate into the house, so sweet and balmy to old people in the month of May. The house was however empty. The Marchioness d'Auray entered it, looked around her, and then as if certain that the person she was in search of would not be long absent, she resolved to await his return. She sat down. She had remained there about half an hour, motionless and absorbed in her reflections, when she saw, between her and the declining daylight, a shadow cast before the door. She slowly raised her eyes and recognised the person she had been expecting. They both started as though they had met by chance, and were not in the habit of seeing each other every day.

"It is you, Achard," said the marchioness, who was the first to speak. "I have been waiting for you half an hour. Where can you have been?"

"Had your ladyship walked fifty paces farther, you would have found me under the large oak, on the edge of the forest."

"You know I never walk that way," said the marchioness, with a visible shudder.

"And you are wrong, madam; there is one in heaven who has a right to our joint prayers, and who, perhaps, is astonished to hear only those of old Achard."

"And how know you that I do not also pray?" said the marchioness, with a certain degree of feverish agitation. "Do you believe that the dead require we should be constantly kneeling on their tombs?"

"No," replied the old man, with a feeling of profound sorrow; "no, I do not believe that the dead are so exacting, madam; but I believe if any part of us lives under ground, it would thrill at the noise caused by the steps of those whom we have loved during our life."

"But," said the marchioness, in a low and hollow tone, "if that love were a guilty passion?"

"However guilty it may have been, madam," replied the old man, also lowering his voice, "do you not believe that blood and tears have expatiated it? God was then, believe me, too severe a judge, not to have now become an indulgent father."

"Yes, God has perhaps pardoned it," murmured the marchioness, "but did the world know that which God knows, would it pardon as God has done?"

"The world!" exclaimed the old man; "the world! Yes, there is the great word which has again escaped your lips! The world! It is to it, to that phantom you have sacrificed everything, madam; your feelings as a lover, your feelings as a wife, your feelings as a mother! your own happiness, the happiness of others! The world! It is the fear of the world which has clothed you in perpetual mourning, beneath which you hope to conceal remorse! And in that you are right, for you have succeeded in deceiving it, for it has taken your remorse for virtue!"

The marchioness raised her head with some degree of agitation, and putting aside her veil that she might look upon the person who addressed her in such extraordinary language; then, after a momentary silence, not being able to discover any sinister expression in the calm features of the old man.

"You speak to me," she said to him, "with a bitterness which would lead me to believe you have some personal reason for reproaching me. Have I failed in any promise I have made? The persons who attend on you by my orders, are they wanting in that respect which I have desired them to observe? You know, if this should be the case, you have only to say a word."

"Forgive me, madam, it is in sorrow that I speak, not bitterness; it is the effect of solitude and of age. You must well know what it is to have sorrows that you cannot speak of—tears which we dare not shed, and which fall back, drop by drop, upon the heart! No, I have not to complain of any one, madam, since first, from a feeling for which I am truly grateful, without seeking to know whence it emanated, you have been pleased to see personally that my wants were all supplied, and you have not for a single day forgotten your promise, but like the old prophet, I have sometimes seen an angel come as your messenger."

"Yes," replied the marchioness, "I know that Marguerite often accompanies the servant who is charged to wait upon you; and I have seen with pleasure the attentions she has paid you, and the friendship she feels for you."

"But in my turn, I have not failed either, I trust, in the promises I made. For twenty years I have lived far from the habitations of men, I have kept away every living being from this dwelling; so much did I fear on your account, the delirium of my waking hours, or the indiscretion of my dreams."

"Undoubtedly! undoubtedly! and happily the secret has been well preserved," said the marchioness, placing her hand upon Achard's arm; "but this is a stronger incentive in my mind not to lose in a single day the fruit of twenty years, all more gloomy, more isolated, and more terrible than yours have been."

"Yes, I understand you perfectly; and you have shuddered more than once upon suddenly remembering that there is roaming about the world, a man who may one day call upon me to reveal that secret, and that I have not the right to conceal it from that man. Ah! you tremble at the bare idea, do you not? But, tranquilise yourself; that man, when but a boy, fled from the school at which we had placed him in Scotland, and for ten years past nothing has been heard of him. In short, destined to obscurity, he himself rushed forward to meet his fate. He is now lost amid the millions that crowd this populous world, and not a soul knows where to find him; this poor unit, without a name, is lost for ever. He must have lost his father's letter, have mislaid the token by which I was to recognise him; or, better still, perhaps he exists no longer."

"It is cruel of you, Achard," replied the marchioness, "to utter such words to a mother. You cannot appreciate the strange feelings and singular contradictions contained in the heart of woman. For, in fine, can I not be tranquil unless my child be dead! Consider, my old friend; this secret, of which he has been ignorant five and twenty years, has it become at the age of twenty-five, so necessary to his existence that he cannot live, unless it be revealed to him? Believe me, Achard, for himself even it would be better he should still remain ignorant of it, as he has been to this day. I feel assured that to this day he has been happy—old man, do not mar this happiness—do not inspire his mind with thoughts which may induce him to commit an evil action. No—tell him, in lieu of the dreadful tale you were desired to communicate, that his mother has gone to rejoin his father in heaven; and, would to God that it were so! but that when dying (for I must see him whatever you may say to the contrary, I will even if it be but once, press him to my heart), when dying, as I said, his mother had bequeathed him to her friend the Marchioness d'Auray, in whom he will find a second mother."

"I understand you, madam," said Achard, smiling. "It is not the first time you have pointed out this path, in which you wish to lead me astray. Only to-day, you speak more openly, and if you dared to do so, or if you knew me less, you would offer me some reward to induce me to disobey the last injunctions of him who sleeps by us."

The marchioness made a gesture as if about to interrupt him.

"Listen to me, madam," hastily said the old man, stretching forth his hand, "and let my words be considered by you as holy and irrevocable. As faithful as I have been to the promise which I made to the Marchioness d'Auray, so faithful will I be to that I made to the Count de Morlaix, on the day when his son, or your son, shall present himself before me with the token of recognition, and shall demand to know the secret. I shall reveal it to him, madam. As to the papers which attest it, you are aware that they are to be delivered to him only after the death of the Marquis d'Auray. The secret is here," said the old man, placing his hand upon his heart; "no human power could have extracted it before the time; no human power, that time having arrived, can prevent me from revealing it. The papers are there in that closet, the key of which I always have about me, and it is only by robbery or by assassination that I can be deprived of them."

"But," said the marchioness, half rising and supporting herself on the arm of her chair, "you might die before my husband, old man; for although he is more dangerously ill than you are, you are older than he is, and then what would become of those papers?"

"The priest who shall attend my last moments will receive them under the seal of confession."

"Ah! it is that!" cried the marchioness, rising, "and thus this chain of fears will be prolonged until my death! and the last link of it will be to all eternity rivetted to my tomb. There is in this world a man, the only one perhaps, who is as immoveable as a rock; and God has placed him in my path, not only as a remorse,' but as a vengeance also. My secret is in your hands, old man,—tis well!—do with it as you will!—you are the master, and I am your slave—farewell!"

So saying, the marchioness left the cottage, and returned towards the chateau.



Alexandre Dumas pere

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