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Chapter 20


Another physician was called in. But, instead of assisting nature and leaving it to act in a young person whose organs recalled the vital stream, he applied himself solely to counteract the effects of his brother's prescription. The disorder, in two days, became mortal. The brain, which is thought to be the seat of the mind, was as violently affected as the heart, which, we are told, is the seat of the passions. By what incomprehensible mechanism are our organs held in subjection to sentiment and thought? How is it that a single melancholy idea shall disturb the whole course of the blood; and that the blood should in turn communicate irregularities to the human understanding? What is that unknown fluid which certainly exists and which, quicker and more active than light, flies in less than the twinkling of an eye into all the channels of life,—produces sensations, memory, joy or grief, reason or frenzy,—recalls with horror what we would choose to forget; and renders a thinking animal, either a subject of admiration, or an object of pity and compassion?

These were the reflections of the good old Gordon; and these observations, so natural, which men seldom make, did not prevent his feeling upon this occasion; for he was not of the number of those gloomy philosophers who pique themselves upon being insensible.

He was affected at the fate of this young woman, like a father who sees his dear child yielding to a slow death. The Abbé de St. Yves was desperate; the prior and his sister shed floods of tears; but who could describe the situation of her lover? All expression falls far short of the intensity of his affliction.

His aunt, almost lifeless, supported the head of the departing fair in her feeble arms; her brother was upon his knees at the foot of the bed; her lover squeezed her hand, which he bathed in tears; his groans rent the air, whilst he called her his guardian angel, his life, his hope, his better half, his mistress, his wife. At the word wife, a sigh escaped her, whilst she looked upon him with inexpressible tenderness, and then abruptly gave a horrid scream. Presently in one of those intervals when grief, the oppression of the senses, and pain subside and leave the soul its liberty and powers, she cried out:

"I your wife? Ah! dear lover, this name, this happiness, this felicity, were not destined for me! I die, and I deserve it. O idol of my heart! O you, whom I sacrificed to infernal demons—it is done—I am punished—live and be happy!"

These tender but dreadful expressions were incomprehensible; yet they melted and terrified every heart. She had the courage to explain herself, and her auditors quaked with astonishment, grief, and pity. They with one voice detested the man in power, who repaired a shocking act of injustice only by his crimes, and who had forced the most amiable innocence to be his accomplice.

"Who? you guilty?" said her lover, "no, you are not. Guilt can only be in the heart;—yours is devoted solely to virtue and to me."

This opinion he corroborated by such expressions as seemed to recall the beautiful Miss St. Yves back to life. She felt some consolation from them and was astonished at being still beloved. The aged Gordon would have condemned her at the time he was only a Jansenist; but having attained wisdom, he esteemed her, and wept.

In the midst of these lamentations and fears, whilst the dangerous situation of this worthy girl engrossed every breast, and all were in the greatest consternation, a courier arrived from court.

"A courier? from whom, and upon what account?"

He was sent by the king's confessor to the Prior of the Mountain. It was not Father de la Chaise who wrote, but brother Vadbled, his valet de chambre, a man of great consequence at that time, who acquainted the archbishops with the reverend Father's pleasure, who gave audiences, promised benefices, and sometimes issued lettres de cachet.

He wrote to the Abbé of the Mountain, "that his reverence had been informed of his nephew's exploits: that his being sent to prison was through mistake; that such little accidents frequently happened, and should therefore not be attended to; and, in fine, it behoved him, the prior, to come and present his nephew the next day: that he was to bring with him that good man Gordon; and that he, brother Vadbled, should introduce them to his reverence and M. de Louvois, who would say a word to them in his anti-chamber."

To which he added, "that the history of the Huron, and his combat against the English, had been related to the king; that doubtless the king would deign to take notice of him in passing through the gallery, and perhaps he might even nod his head to him."

The letter concluded by flattering him with hopes that all the ladies of the court would show their eagerness to recognize his nephew; and that several among them would say to him, "Good day, Mr. Huron;" and that he would certainly be talked of at the king's supper.

The letter was signed, "Your affectionate brother Jesuit, Vadbled."

The prior having read the letter aloud, his furious nephew for an instant suppressed his rage, and said nothing to the bearer: but turning toward the companion of his misfortunes, asked him, what he thought of that communication? Gordon replied:

"This, then, is the way that men are treated! They are first beaten and then, like monkeys, they dance."

The Huron resuming his character, which always returned in the great emotions of his soul, tore the letter to bits, and threw them in the courier's face:

"There is my answer," said he.

Death of Miss St. Ives.—"When the fatal moment came, all around her most feelingly expressed their grief by incessant tears and lamentations. The Huron was senseless. Great souls feel more violent sensations than those of less tender dispositions."

His uncle was in terror, and fancied he saw thunderbolts, and twenty lettres de cachet at once fall upon him. He immediately wrote the best excuse he could for these transports of passion in a young man, which he considered as the ebullition of a great soul.

But a solicitude of a more melancholy stamp now seized every heart. The beautiful and unfortunate Miss St. Yves was already sensible of her approaching end; she was serene, but it was that kind of shocking serenity, the result of exhausted nature being no longer able to withstand the conflict.

"Oh, my dear lover!" said she, in a faltering voice, "death punishes me for my weakness; but I expire with the consolation of knowing you are free. I adored you whilst I betrayed you, and I adore you in bidding you an eternal adieu."

She did not make a parade of a ridiculous fortitude; she did not understand that miserable glory of having some of her neighbors say, "she died with courage." Who, at twenty, can be at once torn from her lover, from life, and what is called honor, without regret, without some pangs? She felt all the horror of her situation, and made it felt by those expiring looks and accents which speak with so much energy. In a word, she shed tears like other people at those intervals that she was capable of giving vent to them.

Let others strive to celebrate the pompous deaths of those who insensibly rush into destruction. This is the lot of all animals. We die like them only when age or disorders make us resemble them by the paralysis of our organs. Whoever suffers a great loss must feel great regrets. If they are stifled, it is nothing but vanity that is pursued, even in the arms of death.

When the fatal moment came, all around her most feelingly expressed their grief by incessant tears and lamentations. The Huron was senseless. Great souls feel more violent sensations than those of less tender dispositions. The good old Gordon knew enough of his companion to dread that when he came to himself he would be guilty of suicide. All kinds of arms were put out of his way, which the unfortunate young man perceived. He said to his relations and Gordon, without shedding any tears, without a groan, or the least emotion:

"Do you then think that any one upon earth hath the right and power to prevent my putting an end to my life?"

Gordon took care to avoid making a parade of those commonplace declamations and arguments which are relied on to prove that we are not allowed to exercise our liberty in ceasing to be when we are in a wretched situation; that we should not leave the house when we can no longer remain in it; that a man is like a soldier at his post; as if it signified to the Being of beings whether the conjunction of the particles of matter were in one spot or another. Impotent reasons, to which a firm and concentrated despair disdains to listen, and to which Cato replied only with the use of a poniard.

The Huron's sullen and dreadful silence, his doleful aspect, his trembling lips, and the shivering of his whole frame, communicated to every spectator's soul that mixture of compassion and terror, which fetters all our powers, precludes discourse, or compels us to speak only in faltering accents. The hostess and her family were excited. They trembled to behold the state of his desperation, yet all kept their eyes upon him, and attended to all his motions. The ice-cold corpse of the beautiful Miss St. Yves had already been carried into a lower hall out of the sight of her lover, who seemed still in search of it, though incapable of observing any object.

In the midst of this spectacle of death, whilst the dead body was exposed at the door of the house; whilst two priests by the side of the holy water-pot were repeating prayers with an air of distraction; whilst some passengers, through idleness, sprinkled the bier with some drops of holy water, and others went their ways quite indifferent; whilst her relations were drowned in tears, and every one thought the lover would not survive his loss;—in this situation St. Pouange arrived with his female Versailles friend.

He alighted from his coach; and the first object that presented itself was a bier: he turned away his eyes with that simple distaste of a man bred up in pleasures, and who thinks he should avoid a spectacle which might recall him to the contemplation of human misery. He is inclined to go up stairs, whilst his female friend enquires through curiosity whose funeral it is. The name of Miss St. Yves is pronounced. At this name she turned, and gave a piercing shriek. St. Pouange now returns, whilst surprise and grief possess his soul. The good old Gordon stood with streaming eyes. He for a moment ceased his lamentations, to acquaint the courtier with all the circumstances of this melancholy catastrophe. He spoke with that authority which is the companion to sorrow and virtue. St. Pouange was not naturally wicked. The torrent of business and amusements had hurried away his soul, which was not yet acquainted with itself. He did not border upon that grey age which usually hardens the hearts of ministers. He listened to Gordon with a downcast look, and some tears escaped him, which he was surprised to shed. In a word, he repented.

"I will," said he, "absolutely see this extraordinary man you have mentioned to me. He affects me almost as much as this innocent victim, whose death I have occasioned."

Gordon followed him as far as the chamber in which the Prior Kerkabon, the Abbé St. Yves, and some neighbors, were striving to recall to life the young man, who had again fainted.

"I have been the cause of your misfortunes," said the deputy minister, when the Huron had regained consciousness, "and my whole life shall be employed in making reparation for my error."

The first idea that struck the Huron was to kill him and then destroy himself. But he was without arms, and closely watched. St. Pouange was not repulsed with refusals accompanied with reproach, contempt, and the insults he deserved, which were lavished upon him. Time softens everything. Mons. de Louvois at length succeeded in making an excellent officer of the Huron, who has appeared under another name at Paris and in the army, respected by all honest men, being at once a warrior and an intrepid philosopher.

He never mentioned this adventure without being greatly affected, and yet his greatest consolation was to speak of it. He cherished the memory of his beloved Miss St. Yves to the last moment of his life.[1]

The Abbé St. Yves and the Prior were each provided with good livings. The good Kerkabon rather chose to see his nephew invested with military honors than in the sub-deaconry. The devotee of Versailles kept the diamond earrings, and received besides a handsome present. Father Tout-à-tous had presents of chocolate, coffee, and confectionery, with the Meditations of the Reverend Father Croiset, and the Flower of the Saints, bound in Morocco. Good old Gordon lived with the Huron till his death, in the most friendly intimacy: he had also a benefice, and forgot, forever, essential grace, and the concomitant concourse. He took for his motto, "Misfortunes are of some use." How many worthy people are there in the world who may justly say, "Misfortunes are good for nothing?"

[1] In the Play, Civilization, the Huron musingly soliloquizes:

"And what is love to man? An only gift
Too precious to be idly thrown away!
For is it not as precious as our land,
Which, heeding not another's golden sky—
Soft airs, sweet flowers, hill and dale conjoin'd
By nature's cunning past comparison—
Is still our land; and, as our land, surpasses
Far such fairy worlds?

"There are some dreams that last a life—mine
Is one of these. I shall dream on till death
Shall end the vision!

"It is not hard to die! And life is but
A shadow on the wall—a falling leaf
Toy'd with by autumn winds—a flower—a star
Among the infinite, infinitesimal!
We are but breath whispering against the wind,—
Sand in the desert!—dew upon the sea!"—E.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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