THE POOR GENTLEMAN.
Author of The Curse of the Village, The Happiness of Being Rich, Veva, The Lion of Flanders, Count Hugo of Craenhove, Wooden Clara, Ricketicketack, The Demon of Gold, The Village Inn-Keeper, The Conscript, Blind Rosa, The Amulet, The Miser, The Fisherman's Daughter, etc.
Translated Expressly for this Edition.
Preface to the American Edition.
The story of "THE POOR GENTLEMAN," now given in our language for the first time, is one of the series in which M. Conscience has delineated various grades of female character in positions of trial. In "The Village Innkeeper" he has shown the weaker traits of woman distracted between an inborn sense of propriety and a foolish ambition for high, life. In the "Conscript" his heroine displays the nobler virtues of uncorrupted humble life; and, with few characters, taken from the lowest walks, he shows the triumph of honest, straightforward earnestness and pertinacious courage, even when they are brought in conflict with authority. "The Poor Gentleman" closes the series; and, selecting a heroine from the educated classes of his country-people M. Conscience has demonstrated how superior a genuine woman becomes to all the mishaps of fortune, and how successfully she subdues that imaginary fate before which so many are seen to fall.
It would be difficult to describe this remarkable work without analyzing the tale and criticizing its personages. This would anticipate the author and mar the interest of his story. We must confine ourselves, therefore, to general remarks on its structure and characteristics.
Pontmartin, the distinguished French feuilletonist, says, in one of his "Literary Chats," that these simple stories are "pearls set in Flemish gold,—a gold which alchemysts seek for in alembics and furnaces, but which Conscience has found in the inexhaustible veins of nature." "The Poor Gentleman," he remarks, "is a tale of not more than a hundred and fifty pages; but I would not give its shortest chapter for all the romances I ever read. The perplexed De Vlierbeck—who ought to have had Caleb Balderstone for a servant—is one of those characters that engrave themselves indelibly on our memory." In every trait and detail the author has attained a photographic minuteness; which, while it is distinct and sharp, never interferes with that motion, breadth, and picturesque effect that impart life and reality to a story. Nor can we doubt that it will be read and re-read as long as there is a particle of that feeling among us which installed the Vicar of Wakefield, Paul and Virginia, the Crock of Gold, the Sketch-book, and the Tales of a Traveller, among the heirlooms of every tasteful household. The "Tales of Flemish Life" are additions to that rare stock of home-literature which is at once amiable and gentle, simple and affectionate, familiar and tender, and which meets a quick response from every honest heart and earnest spirit.
If it be objected that the stories are too short and sketchy for the praise that has been bestowed on them, it may be answered that in their translation we have had the best opportunity to observe the skill, power, and perception of character which constitute their real merit. Simple as they seem, they are written with masterly art. In design, elaborateness, tone, and finish, they resemble the works of the Flemish School which have made us familiar with the Low Countries and their people through the pictures of Ruysdael, Teniers, and Ostade. There is scarcely a leaf that does not display some of those recondite or evanescent secrets of human nature which either escape ordinary writers, or, when found by them, are spread out over volume instead of being condensed into a page.
Baltimore, August, 1856.
Near the end of July, 1842, an open caleche might have been seen rolling along one of the three highways that lead from the frontiers of Holland toward Antwerp. Although the vehicle had evidently been cleaned with the utmost care, every thing about it betokened decay. Its joints were open, discolored, and weather-beaten, and it swung from side to side on its springs like a rickety skeleton. Its patched leathers shone in the sunshine with the oil that had been used to freshen them, but the borrowed lustre could not hide the cracks and repairs with which they were defaced. The door-handles and other parts of the vehicle that were made of copper had been carefully polished, and the vestiges of silver-plating, still visible in the creases of the ornaments, denoted a former richness which had been almost entirely worn out by time and use.
The caleche was drawn by a stout, heavy horse, whose short and lumbering gait intimated very clearly that he was oftener employed in the plough and cart than in carrying his owner toward the capital.
A peasant-boy of seventeen or eighteen was perched on the driver's seat. He was in livery; a tarnished gold band adorned his hat, and brass buttons glistened on his coat; but the hat fell over his ears, and the coat was so large that the driver seemed lost in it as in a bag. The garments had been worn by many of the lackey's predecessors on the box, and, in a long series of years, had doubtless passed from coachman to coachman till they descended to their present possessor.
The only person in the vehicle was a man about fifty years old. He was unquestionably the master of both servant and cabriolet, for his look and deportment commanded respect and consideration. With head depressed and moody air, he sat motionless and dreamy in his seat till he heard the approach of other vehicles, when, suddenly lifting his eyes, he would salute the strangers graciously and then instantly relapse into his former attitude. A moment's glance at this person was sufficient to excite an interest in him. His face, though hard and wrinkled, was so regular and noble in its contour, his look so mild and yet so earnest and penetrating, his broad brow so clear and lofty, that the most careless observer could not doubt that he was endowed with the best qualities of human nature. Besides this, there were unquestionable indications that he had been a sufferer. If a simple glance at his features did not impress one with a conviction of this fact, it was confirmed by the fringe of silvery hair that straggled over his temples, and the sombre, melancholy fire that glimmered in his eyes like the last rays of expiring hope.
His dress was in perfect keeping with his physiognomy. It was of that neat and simple style which always characterizes a man of the world who is governed by refined and elegant tastes. His linen was spotlessly white, his cloth extremely fine, and his well-brushed hat shone smartly in the sunshine. Occasionally, as some one passed on the road, he might be seen to draw forth a handsome gold snuff-box and inhale a pinch with so graceful an air that an observer would be convinced he belonged to the highest classes of society. A malicious eye, it is true, might have discovered by close inspection that the brush had been too familiar with his coat and worn it threadbare, that his silk hat had been doctored to preserve its lustre and smoothness, and that his gloves were elaborately darned. If an inquisitive critic could have pried into the bottom of the vehicle, he would have detected a large crack in the side of the left boot, beneath which a gray stocking had been carefully masked with ink. Still, all these signs of poverty were so artfully concealed, and his dress worn with so careless an air of opulence and ease, that every body might have supposed the traveller did not put on better clothes only because he had a whim for bad ones.
The caleche had rolled along rapidly for about two hours, when the driver suddenly drew up at a small inn on the dike outside of the city of Antwerp. The landlady and groom instantly sallied forth, and by their profound salutations and civility exhibited their marked respect for a well-known stranger.
"It's a fine day, Monsieur Vlierbeck, isn't it?" said the dame; "yet it's a trifle warm, however. Don't you think it would be well for the high-grounds if we had a sprinkle more of rain, Monsieur Vlierbeck? Shall we give the horse some hay, Monsieur Vlierbeck? But stay: I see, now, your coachman has brought his hay with him. Will you take anything, Monsieur Vlierbeck?"
While the hostess was pouring forth this torrent of questions, Monsieur De Vlierbeck got out of the vehicle, and, entering the house, addressed the most flattering compliments to the dame about her good looks, inquired as to the health of each of her children, and finished by apprizing her that he was obliged to be in town instantly. Thereupon, shaking her cordially by the hand, yet with a condescending air that marked and preserved the distance between them, he gave his orders to his lackey, and, with a farewell bow, walked toward the bridge leading into the city.
At a solitary spot on the outer rampart Monsieur De Vlierbeck stopped, looked round as if to see if any one was observing him, dusted his garments, brushed his hat with a handkerchief, and then passed on through the Porte Rouge into the city of Antwerp.
As he entered a town where he was likely to find himself constantly an object of notice, he assumed a lofty carriage and self-satisfied air, which might have deceived any one into the belief that he was the happiest man on earth. And yet—alas, poor gentleman!—he was a prey to the profoundest agony! He was, perhaps, about to suffer humiliation,—a humiliation that would cut him to the very heart! But there was a being in the world whom he loved better than his life or honor,—his only child, his daughter! For her—how frequently had he already sacrificed his pride, how frequently had he suffered the pangs of martyrdom! Still, so great a slave was he to this passionate love that every new endurance, every new trial, raised him in his own estimation and exalted his pain into something that ennobled and sanctified his very nature!
His heart beat violently as he entered deeper and deeper into the heart of the city and approached the house he was about to visit. Soon after he stopped at a door, and, as he pulled the bell, his hand trembled violently in spite of extraordinary self-control; but as soon as a servant answered the summons he became master of himself again.
"Is the notary in?" inquired the old gentleman. The servant replied affirmatively, and, showing the visitor into a small room, went to apprize his master.
As soon as Monsieur De Vlierbeck was alone, he put his right foot over the left to hide the rent in his boot, drew forth the gold snuff-box, and made ready to take a pinch.
The notary came in. He was a spare, business-looking man, and was preparing to salute his guest graciously, but no sooner did he perceive who it was than his face grew dark and assumed that reserved air with which a cautious man arms himself when he expects a request which he is predetermined to refuse. Instead, therefore, of lavishing on Monsieur De Vlierbeck the compliments with which he habitually welcomed his visitors, the notary confined himself to a few cold words of recognition and then sat down silently in front of him.
Wounded and humbled by this ungracious reception, poor De Vlierbeck was seized with a chill and became slightly pale; still, he managed to rally his nerves, as he remarked, affably,—"Pray excuse me, sir; but, pressed by imperious necessity, I have come once more to appeal to your kindness for a small service."
"What is it you wish of me?" answered the notary, tartly.
"I wish you to find another loan of a thousand francs for me,—or even less,—secured by a mortgage on my property. I do not want all the money at once, but I have especial need of two hundred francs, which I must ask the favor of you to lend me to-day. I trust you will not deny me this trifling loan, which will extricate me from the deepest embarrassment."
"A thousand francs, on mortgage?" growled the notary; "and who, pray, will guarantee the interest? Your property is already mortgaged for more than it is worth."
"Oh! you are mistaken, sir," exclaimed Monsieur De Vlierbeck, anxiously.
"Not the least in the world! By order of the persons who have already accommodated you with money, I caused your property to be appraised at the very highest rates; and the consequence is that your creditors will not get back their loans unless it shall sell for an extraordinary price. Permit me to say, sir, that you have acted very foolishly: had I been in your place, I would not have sacrificed all my fortune, and my wife's too, to save a worthless fellow, even though he had been my brother!"
De Vlierbeck frowned, as a painful recollection shot through his mind, but said nothing, though his hand grasped the golden snuff-box as if he would have crushed it.
"By that imprudent act," continued the notary, "you have plunged yourself and your child into absolute want; for you can no longer disguise it. For ten years—and God knows at what cost—you have been able to keep the secret of your ruin; but the inevitable hour is approaching, Monsieur De Vlierbeck, when you will be forced to surrender every thing!"
De Vlierbeck riveted a look of doubt and agony on the notary as the latter continued:—
"I must tell you frankly the condition of your affairs. Monsieur de Hoogebaen died during his journey in Germany; his heirs found your bond for four thousand francs, and have directed me not to renew it. If Monsieur Hoogebaen was your friend his heirs certainly are not. During ten years you have failed to cancel this debt, and have paid two thousand francs interest; so that, for your own sake, it is time the transaction should be closed. Four months are still left, Monsieur Vlierbeck, before the expiration of—"
"Only four months!" interrupted the poor gentleman, in a distressed tone; "only four months, and then—oh, God!"
"Then your property will be sold according to law," said the notary, dryly, finishing the sentence. "I can well understand, sir, that this is a painful prospect; but, as it is a decree of fate that no one can control, you have nothing to do but prepare to receive the blow. Let me offer to sell your estate as if you 'were leaving the country.' By that means you will escape the mortification of a forced sale."
For several moments Monsieur De Vlierbeck remained silent, his face buried in his hands, as if crushed by the notary's advice and callousness. At length he replied, calmly but humbly,—
"Your counsel is, perhaps, wise and generous; yet I will not follow it. You know that all my sacrifices, my painful life, my constant agony, have been patiently endured for the sake of my only child. You alone know that all I do has but, one purpose,—a purpose which I hold sacred. I have reason to believe that God is about granting the earnest prayer I have daily offered for ten years. My daughter is beloved by a rich gentleman, whose character I think I may confide in, and his family appears to sympathize in all his views. Four months! it is but a short time, alas! yet, ought I, by anticipating the legal period of a sale, to destroy all my fond hopes? Ought I instantly to welcome misery for myself and my child when I see the chance of sure relief from all we have suffered?"
"Then you want to deceive these people, whoever they may be? Do you not suppose that by such a course of conduct you may make your daughter still more wretched?"
At the word "deceive" the poor gentleman winced as if stung by an adder, while a nervous thrill ran through his limbs and suffused his face with a blush of shame.
"Deceive!" echoed he, bitterly; "oh, no! but I dare not, by a rash avowal of my want, stifle the love that is growing up mutually. Whenever it becomes necessary to be decided, I will make a loyal disclosure of my condition. If the declaration ruin my hopes I will follow your advice. I will sell all I have; I will quit the country and seek in some foreign land to maintain myself and my beloved child by teaching." He stopped for a moment, as if swallowing his grief, and then continued, in a lower tone, half speaking to himself, "And, yet, did I not promise my dear wife on her death-bed—did I not promise it on the holy cross—that our child should not undergo such a fate? Ten years of suffering—ten abject years—have not sufficed to realize my promise; and now, at last, a feeble ray of hope struggles into my sombre future—" He grasped the notary's hand, looked wildly but earnestly into his eyes, and added, in suppliant tones, "Oh, my friend, help me! help me in this last and trying effort; do not prolong my torture; grant my prayer, and as long as I live I will bless my benefactor, the savior of my child!"
The notary withdrew his hand as he answered, with some embarrassment, "Yet, Monsieur De Vlierbeck, I cannot comprehend what all this has to do with the loan of a thousand francs!"
De Vlierbeck thrust his rejected hand into his pocket as he replied, "Yes, sir, it is ridiculous, is it not, to fall so low and to see one's happiness or misery depend on things about which other persons may laugh? And yet, alas! so it is! The young gentleman of whom I spoke to you is to dine with us to-morrow in company with his uncle,—the uncle invited himself,—and we have absolutely nothing to give them! Besides this, my child needs some trifles to appear decently before the guests, and it is probable that the civility will be returned by an invitation from them. Our isolation cannot long conceal our want. Sacrifices of all kinds have already been made to prevent our being overwhelmed with mortification." As he uttered these last words he drew forth his hand from his pocket with about two francs in small change, which he held exposed on his palm before the notary. "And now, behold," continued he, with a bitter smile,—"behold every cent I have in the world; and to-morrow rich people are to dine at my house! If my poverty is betrayed by any thing, farewell to my child's prospects! For God's sake, my good friend, be generous, and help me!"
"A thousand francs!" muttered the notary, shaking his head; "I can't deceive my clients, sir. What pledge can you give to secure the loan? You possess nothing which is not already mortgaged beyond its value."
"A thousand! five hundred! two hundred!" cried De Vlierbeck. "Lend me, at least, something to relieve me from this cruel difficulty!"
"I have no disposable funds," replied the notary, coldly. "In a fortnight perhaps I may have some; but even then I could promise nothing positively."
"Then, for the sake of friendship, I beseech you, lend me some money yourself!"
"I could never expect that you would return what I might lend," said the notary, contemptuously; "and so it is an alms you ask of me?"
Poor De Vlierbeck trembled on his chair and became pale as ashes; his eyes flashed wildly and his brow knotted with frowns. Yet he quickly curbed the unwonted agitation, bowed his head, and sighed, resignedly, "ALMS! Alas! so be it! let me drink the very dregs of this bitter cup: it is for my child!"
The notary went to a drawer and took from it some five-franc-pieces, which he offered to his visitor. It is difficult to say whether the poor gentleman was wounded by the actual receipt of charity, or whether the sum was too small to be useful; but, without touching the money, he glanced angrily at the silver and fell back in his chair, covering his face with his hands.
Just at this moment a servant entered, announcing another visitor; and, as soon as the lackey left the apartment, Monsieur De Vlierbeck sprang from his chair, dashing away the tears that had gathered in his eyes. The notary pointed to the money, which he laid on the corner of the table; but the mortified guest turned away his head with a gesture of repugnant refusal.
"Pardon my boldness, sir," said he, "but I have now only one favor to ask of you"
"And it is—?"
"That you will keep my secret for my daughter's sake."
'Oh, as to that, make yourself easy. You know me well enough to be aware of my discretion. Do you decline this trifling aid?"
"Thanks! thanks!" cried the gentleman, pushing away the notary's hand; and, trembling as if seized by a sudden chill, he rushed from the room and the house without waiting for the servant to open the door.
Utterly overcome by the terrible blow to his hopes, beside himself with mortification, with his head hanging on his bosom and his eyes bent staringly on the ground, the poor fellow ran about the streets for a considerable length of time without knowing what he was about or whither he was going. At length the stern conviction of want and duty partially aroused him from his feverish dream, and he walked on rapidly in the direction of the gate of Borgenhout, till he found himself entirely alone among the fortifications.
He had no sooner reached this solitary quarter than a terrible conflict seemed to begin within him; his lips quivered and muttered incoherently, while his face exhibited a thousand different expressions of suffering, shame, and hope. After a while he drew forth from his pocket the golden snuff-box, looked long and sadly on the armorial engravings that adorned it, and then fell into a reverie, from which he suddenly aroused himself as if about taking a solemn resolution. With his eyes intently fixed on the box, he began to obliterate the arms with his knife, as he murmured, in a voice of tremulous emotion,—
"Remembrancer of my dear and excellent mother, protecting talisman that has so long concealed my misery and which I invoked as a sacred shield whenever poverty was on the eve of betraying me, last fragment of my ancestry, I must bid thee farewell; and—alas! alas!—my own hand must profane and destroy thee! God grant that the last service thou wilt ever render me may save us from overwhelming humiliation!"
A tear trickled down his wan cheek as his voice became still; but he went on with his task of obliteration till every trace of the crest and shield disappeared from the emblazoned lid. After this he returned to the heart of the town and passed through a number of small and lonely streets, glancing eagerly, but askance, at the signs as he passed onward in his agitation.
An hour had certainly elapsed in this bootless wandering, when he entered a narrow lane in the quarter of Saint Andre and uttered a sudden cry of joy as he caught a glimpse of the object for which he was in search. His eye lighted on a sign which bore the simple but ominous inscription—"SWORN PAWNBROKER." He passed by the door and walked rapidly to the end of the lane; then, turning hastily, he retraced his steps, hastening or lingering as he noticed any one passing in his neighborhood, till at length he crept along the wall to the door, and, seeing the thoroughfare almost empty, rushed into the house and disappeared.
After a considerable time De Vlierbeck came forth from the money-lender's and quickly gained another street. There was a slight expression of satisfaction in his eyes; but the bright blush that suffused his haggard cheeks gave token of the new humiliation through which the sufferer had passed. Walking rapidly from street to street, he soon reached a pastry-cook's, where he filled a basket with a stuffed turkey, a pie, preserves, and various other smaller equipments for the table, and, paying for his purchases, told the cook that he would send his servant for the packages. Farther on he bought a couple of silver spoons and a pair of ear-rings from a jeweller, and then proceeded on his way, probably to make additional acquisitions for the proposed entertainment.
In our wild and thorny region of the North a brave and toilsome peasantry have long been engaged in victorious conflict with the barren sleep to which nature seemed to have condemned the soil. They have stirred up the sterile depths and watered them with their sweat; they have summoned science and industry to their aid, drained marshes, diverted the streamlets that descended toward the Meuse from the highlands and put them in circulation through innumerable arteries to fatten and enrich the land. What a glorious fight it was of man against matter! What a magnificent triumph it has been to convert the unthrifty Campine[A] into a fruitful and luxurious region! Indeed, our descendants will hardly believe their own eyes when in future times they shall behold grass-covered plains, flowery meadows, and fields waving with grain, where the lingering patriarchs of our day may point out the sites of burning sand-pits and barren moors!
[Footnote A: The Flemings have given the name of Campine to the vast uncultivated spaces extending in the north of Belgium from the vicinity of Antwerp to Venloo. The improvement of the Campine, undertaken on a large scale within some years, has already produced the happiest results.]
North of the city of Antwerp, toward the frontiers of Holland, there are but few traces of this gradual improvement. It is only along highroads that the traveller begins to observe the effect of liberal agriculture on the sandy soil, while, farther on toward the heart of the region, every thing is still bare and uncultivated. As far as the eye can penetrate, nothing is to be seen in that quarter but arid plains thinly covered with stunted vegetation, while the horizon is bounded by that blue and cloudy line which always marks the limit of a desert. Yet, as we journey over these vast spaces, it is impossible not to observe, from time to time, that a clear and slender rivulet meanders here and there over the moor, and that its verdant banks are studded with vigorous plants and thrifty trees; while in many places the hardy sons of toil who took advantage of the neighboring water, have opened their lonely farms, built comfortable houses, and frequently gathered themselves together in neat and thrifty villages.
In one of these spots, where meadow-land and pasturage have made agriculture profitable, and by the side of an unfrequented road, there is a farm of considerable size and value. The massive trees which spread their thick shade on every side attest that the spot has been occupied and cultivated for several generations. Besides, the ditches which surround it, and the stone bridge that leads to the principal gate, justify the belief that the estate has some right to be considered a lordly demesne. In the neighborhood it is known as GRINSELHOF. The entire front of the property is covered by the homestead of the farmer, comprising his stables and granges; so that, in fact, every thing in their rear is concealed by these edifices as well as by dense thickets and hedges which are growing in all the wild luxuriance of nature. Indeed, the dwelling of the proprietor was a mystery even to the farmer who worked the soil; for its surrounding copses were an impenetrable veil to his eyes, beyond which neither he nor his family were ever allowed to pass without special permission.
Within this lonely and sacred precinct, buried in foliage, was a large house, called THE CHATEAU, inhabited by a gentleman and his daughter, who, without a single servant, companion, or attendant, led the lonely lives of hermits. The neighbors said that it was avarice or ill-humor that induced a person possessed of so beautiful an estate to bury himself in such a solitude. The farmer who worked on the property carefully avoided all explanations as to the conduct or purpose of the proprietor, and sedulously respected the mysterious habits and fancies of his master. His business prospered; for the soil was fertile and the rent low. Indeed, he was grateful to his landlord, and, every Sunday, lent him a horse, which carried him and his daughter, in their weather-beaten caleche, to the village church. On great occasions the farmer's son performed the duty of lackey for the proprietor.
It is an afternoon of one of the last days of July. The sun has nearly finished his daily course, and is declining rapidly toward the horizon; still, his rays, though less ardent than at noontide, are hot enough to make the air close and stifling. At Grinselhof the last beams of the setting luminary play gayly over the foliage, gilding the tree-tops with sparkling light, while, on the eastern side of the dense foliage, the long, broad shadows begin to fall athwart the sward, and prepare the groves for the gentle and refreshing breeze that springs up at twilight.
Sadness and gloom hang over the sombre chateau and its grounds; a deathlike silence weighs like a gravestone on the desolate scene; the birds are songless; the wind is still; not a leaf stirs; and light alone seems to be living in that dreary solitude. No one could observe the entire absence of noise, motion, and vitality, without being impressed with the idea that nature had been suddenly plunged in a deep and magic sleep.
Suddenly the foliage at the end of a thicket in the distance is seen to stir, while a cloud of twittering birds, frightened from the herbage, flies rapidly across the little path, which is immediately occupied by a young female dressed entirely in white, who dashes from between the branches with a silken net in pursuit of a butterfly. The beautiful apparition, with loose and streaming hair, seemed rather to fly than run, as her light and rapid steps, full of eagerness and animation, scarcely touched the earth while darting after the gaudy insect. How graceful she is, as, halting for an instant beneath the coquettish moth, she looks up to behold its gold-and-purple wings dancing round her head, mocking and playing with its gay pursuer! She thinks she has caught it; but, alas! the edge of her net only touched the butterfly's wings, and away it dashes, over hedge and copse, far, far beyond her reach! How beautiful she is, as, in that golden light, warmed with exercise and excitement, her eyes glistening, her lips parted, her graceful arms stretched upward, she stands gazing, half pleased, half disappointed, after the departing insect, till it is lost in the evening sky! Wind and sunshine have slightly tanned her delicate cheeks, but their roses are only heightened into the glow of perfect health. Beneath her high and polished brow, coal-black eyes shine through long and silken fringes, while a chiselled mouth discloses rows of faultless pearls between lips which shame the coral! Her stately head is framed in masses of long, curling hair; and, as the locks are floated over her ivory shoulders by rapid motion, the proud and arching lines of her swan-like neck are fully displayed in all their splendor. Her form is lithe and supple, and its graceful contour is modestly marked by a snowy dress. As she lifts her head and gazes at the sky, a poet might easily fancy her to be some fanciful "being of the air," and convert her into the fairy queen of the solitary realm!
For a long while this beautiful woman wandered about the paths of the lonely garden, seemingly absorbed in reveries of various kinds. At times she was gay, at times sad. At length she approached a bed of violets, which, from the training of the plants, had evidently, been carefully tended, and, observing that they languished under the intense heat of the past day, began to grieve over them.
"Alas! my dear little flowers, why did I neglect to water you yesterday? You are very thirsty, are you not, my charming pets?"
For a moment or two she was quiet, still gazing at the violets, and then continued, in the same dreamy tone:—
"But then, alas! since yesterday my mind has been so disturbed, so happy, so—" Her eyes fell, and a blush crimsoned her cheeks, as she murmured, softly, "GUSTAVE!"
Motionless as a statue, and absorbed in her enchanting dream, she forgot the poor little violets, and, probably, the whole world.
"His image ever, ever before me! his voice ever ringing in my ears! Why try to escape their fascination? Oh, God! what is this that is passing within me? My heart trembles; sometimes my blood bounds wildly through my veins, and then again it creeps and freezes; and yet how happy I am! what inexpressible joy fills my very soul!"
She was silent; then, seeming suddenly to rouse herself, she raised her head and threw back the thick curls, as if anxious to disembarrass her mind of a haunting thought.
"Wait, my dear flowers," said she, smiling, to the violets; "wait a moment: I will comfort and refresh you."
With this she disappeared in the grove, and, in a short time, brought from it a few twigs and leaves, which she arranged in a little trellis over the flower-beds, so as to shadow the violets completely from the sun. After this she took a small watering-pot and ran across the grass to a basin or tank in the middle of the garden, around which a number of weeping-willows drooped their branches into the water. On her arrival its surface was perfectly smooth; but hardly had her image been reflected in the tank when it appeared to swarm with living creatures. Hundreds of gold-fishes, of all colors, swam toward her with their mouths gaping from the water, as if the poor little animals were trying to speak to her. Holding on by the trunk of the nearest willow, she bent gracefully over the pond and tried to fill her watering-pot without touching the gold-fish.
"Come, come; let me alone just now," said she, as she carefully avoided them; "I haven't time to play with you; I will bring you your dinner after a while."
But the fish fluttered around the watering-pot until she withdrew it from the tank; and, even after her departure, continued to crowd toward the bank she had touched with her foot.
The young lady watered her flowers and replaced the pot gently on the ground; then, retiring slowly to the solitary house, she returned after a while at the same slow pace, and, throwing some crumbs to the fish, began to saunter slowly about the garden-paths, inattentive to every thing but her own absorbing thoughts. At length she reached a spot where a gigantic catalpa-tree overarched the garden and bent its branches almost to the earth. A table and a couple of chairs stood beneath the fresh and fragrant shade, and a book, inkstand, and embroidery-frame, gave token that the retreat had not long been abandoned by the lady herself. She seated herself in one of the chairs, took up the book, then the embroidery, let them fall one after another, and finally leaned her beautiful head on her hand, like one who is weary in spirit and anxious for rest.
For a while her large dreamy eyes were vaguely fixed, as if gazing into space; at intervals a smile played around her mouth, and her lips moved as if talking with a friend. Occasionally her drooping eyelids closed entirely; but the lashes quickly reopened, only to fall more heavily than before, till at last a profound sleep or intense reverie seemed to get possession of her mind and body.
But did she sleep? There is no doubt that her spirit watched and was happy; for a pleasant expression constantly played over her features, and, if sometimes it became serious, the joyous look quickly returned with all its radiance. She had long been plunged by this happy dream into complete forgetfulness of real life, when a noise of wheels and the neigh of a horse was heard at the gateway, disturbing the silence of Grinselhof. Still the maiden was not aroused.
The old caleche returned from the city, drew up near the stable, and the farmer and his wife ran out to salute their master and put up the horse. While they were thus engaged, Monsieur De Vlierbeck got out of the vehicle and spoke to them kindly, but in a voice so full of sadness that both looked at him with astonishment. In fact, the gravity of this singular person never abandoned him even in his most affable moods; but at that moment his physiognomy indicated a degree of intense depression which was by no means habitual. He seemed altogether worn out with fatigue, and his eyes, which were commonly so vivacious, drooped, dull and languishing, beneath their heavy lids.
The horse was quickly put in the stable, and the young lackey, who had already divested himself of his livery, took several baskets and packets from the vehicle, carried them into the farm-house, and placed them on the table of the antechamber.
"And now, Master John," said De Vlierbeck, approaching the farmer, "I shall have need of you. There will be company to-morrow at Grinselhof. Monsieur Denecker and his nephew dine here."
The farmer, perfectly stupefied by the announcement and scarcely able to believe his own ears, looked at his master with staring eyes and gaping mouth, and, after a moment's hesitation, stammered forth,—
"That large, rich gentleman, sir, who sits near you every Sunday at high mass?"
"The same, John. Is there any thing surprising in it?"
"And young Monsieur Gustave, who spoke to mademoiselle in the churchyard when church was over?"
"Oh, sir, they are such rich people! They have bought all the land around Echelpoel. They have at least ten horses in the stable at their chateau, without counting those they have in town. Their carriage is silver from top to bottom."
"I know it; and it is exactly on that account that I desire to receive them in a becoming manner. You must be ready; your wife and your son also. I shall call you to-morrow morning very early. You will willingly lend a hand to help me, won't you?"
"Certainly, certainly, sir; a word from you is enough. I am always happy to be able to serve you in any way."
"Thank you for your kindness, John. We understand one another, my worthy fellow; and so farewell till to-morrow."
Monsieur De Vlierbeck entered the farm-house, gave some orders to the young man in relation to the things he had taken from the vehicle, and, passing through the screening grove, walked on to Grinselhof.
As soon as he was out of the farmer's sight his physiognomy assumed a more serene expression, and there was a smile on his lips as he cast his eyes around in search of some one in the solitude of the garden At a turn of the path his eye fell suddenly on the sleeping girl. How beautiful she was in her calm repose! The golden twilight covered her with its bright reflection, and threw a rosy tint on every thing about her. Thick curls strayed in beautiful disorder over her cheeks, and snowy flowers, shaken from the catalpa's branches by the evening breeze, had fallen around her in profusion. She still dreamed, and the happy smile yet rested on her features. De Vlierbeck gazed earnestly at his sleeping child, and raised his eyes to heaven as he said, tremulously,—"Thanks, Almighty Father! she is happy! Let my martyrdom be prolonged; but may all my sufferings render thee compassionate for her!"
After this short and ardent ejaculation he threw himself into a chair, leaned his arm carefully on the table, and, resting his hand on it, remained still as a statue. For a long time he watched his sleeping child, while his face seemed to reflect each emotion that flitted across the delicate features of the maiden. Suddenly a modest blush overspread her brow, and her lips began to articulate. The old gentleman watched her narrowly, and, although she had not spoken in connected sentences, he caught one of those stray words which often betoken what is passing in a dreamer's mind.
"'GUSTAVE!' She dreams of Gustave. May God be propitious to us! Ah, yes, my child," exclaimed her father, "open thy heart to hope! Dream, dream; for who knows what is in store for us? Yet, no!—let us not destroy these happy moments by cold reality! Sleep, sleep! let thy soul enjoy the heavenly enchantment of love which it is awakening!"
Monsieur De Vlierbeck continued for a while his quiet observation of the sleeper, and then, rising, passed behind her chair and imprinted a long kiss on her forehead.
Still half-dreaming, the sleeper slowly opened her eyes; and, the moment she perceived who had awakened her, she sprang into her father's arms with a bound, and, hanging round his neck, overwhelmed him with questions and kisses.
Vlierbeck gently disengaged himself from his daughter's embrace, as he remarked, in a tone of raillery,—
"It seems altogether unnecessary, Lenora, to inquire what new beauties you have discovered in Vondel's 'Lucifer.' You have not had time, I take it for granted, to begin the comparison between this masterpiece of our native tongue and Milton's 'Paradise Lost'?"
"Ah! father," murmured Lenora, "my mind is indeed strangely troubled. I do not know what is the matter with me; I cannot even read with attention."
"Come, Lenora, my child, don't be sad. Sit down: I have something of importance to tell you. You do not know why I went to town to-day, do you? It was because we are to have company to dinner to-morrow!"
Lenora gazed at her father with an earnest and questioning look.
"It is Monsieur Denecker," continued he:—"the wealthy merchant, you know, who sits near me at church and lives at the chateau of Echelpoel."
"Oh, yes! I remember him, father; he always speaks to me so kindly, and never fails to help me from the carriage when we go to church."
"But your eyes ask, I see, Lenora, whether he is coming alone. Another person will accompany him, my girl!"
"Gustave!" exclaimed the maiden, involuntarily and blushing.
"Exactly! Gustave will be here," replied Monsieur De Vlierbeck. "Don't tremble on that account, Lenora; and don't become frightened because your innocent heart may find itself opening to the dawn of new sensations. Between us, my child, there can be no secret that my love will not discover."
His daughter's eyes looked inquiringly into his own, as if asking an explanation of the enigma. But all of a sudden, as if a ray had darted unexpectedly into her soul, she threw her arms around the old man's neck and hid her face in his bosom.
"Oh, father! beloved father," murmured she, "your kindness is unbounded!"
For some moments the old gentleman did not put aside the affectionate caresses of his child; but by degrees his expression became gloomy; tears started into his eyes, and he said, in broken tones,—
"Lenora, whatever may happen to us in life, thou wilt always love thy father thus, wilt thou not?"
"Always, always, father!'
"Lenora, my child," continued he, with a sigh, "thy tender affection is my only recompense and happiness here below: never deprive my soul of its consolation!"
The sad tone in which these words were uttered touched the maiden's heart so deeply that she took her father's hands, without saying a syllable, and wept in silence with her head in his bosom.
For a long time they remained thus motionless, absorbed by a feeling which was neither joy nor sorrow but seemed to acquire its power and mastery by the mingling of these opposite sentiments.
Monsieur De Vlierbeck's expression was the first to change. His features became severe as he bent his head downward reproachfully. In truth, the strange words that started the tears into his daughter's eyes had excited the reflection in his own mind that another person was, perhaps, about to share his Lenora's love and probably to separate him from her forever. He was ready for every sacrifice, were it even infinitely greater, provided it contributed to the happiness of his child; yet the very idea of separation caused his heart to bleed at every pore. By degrees he stifled this selfish anxiety, and, striving to control himself, raised his daughter with a kiss.
"Come, Lenora," said he, "be gay again! Isn't it a happy thing that our hearts can sometimes get into the shade after they have been too much in the sunshine? Let us go into the house. We have many arrangements to make in order to receive our guests becomingly."
Lenora obeyed her father in silence, and followed him slowly, while the tears still dropped from her beautiful eyes.
Some hours afterward Monsieur De Vlierbeck might have been seen seated in the principal saloon of Grinselhof, near a little lamp, with his elbows on the table. The apartment was dark and dreary, for the feeble rushlight illuminated but a single spot and cast the distant and lofty ceiling into vague obscurity. The flickering flame threw long and sombre shadows over the wall, while a line of old portraits in the panels seemed to fix their stern and immovable eyes on the table. Amid the gloom nothing came out with distinctness but the calm and noble face of the poor old gentleman, who sat there, absorbed in his reflections, fixed as a statue.
At length, rising from his chair and cautiously walking on tiptoe to the end of the room, he stopped and listened at the closed door. "She sleeps," said he, in a low voice; and, raising his eyes to heaven, added, with a sigh, "may God protect her rest!" Then, returning to the table, he took the lamp, and, opening a large safe which was imbedded in the wall, he went down on his knees and drew forth some napkins and a table-cloth, which he unfolded carefully to see whether they were torn or stained. As he refolded the articles one after the other, a smile betokened that he was pleased with his examination. Rising from this task, he went back to the table, from the drawer of which he took a piece of buckskin and whiting. Mashing the latter with a knife-handle, he began to rub and polish several silver forks and spoons which were in a basket. The salt-cellars and other small articles of table-service, which were mostly of the same metal, were all subjected to a similar process, and soon glittered brightly in the feeble lamplight.
While he was engaged in this strange work, the soul of the poor old man was busy with a thousand conflicting thoughts and recollections. He was constantly muttering to himself; and many a tear escaped from his lids as he dreamed over the past and repeated the names of the loved and lost!
"Poor brother!" ejaculated he; "but one man alone in the world knows what I have done for thee, and yet that man accuses me of bad faith and ingratitude! And thou, poor brother, art wandering in the icy solitudes of America, a prey perhaps to sickness and suffering, while for months no kindly look is fixed upon thee in that wilderness where thou earnest thy miserable wages! Son of a noble race! thou hast become a slave to the stranger, and thy toil serves to amass the fortunes which others are to enjoy! My love for thee has made me suffer martyrdom; but, as God is my judge, my affection has remained entire,—untouched! May thy soul, O brother, feel this aspiration of mine even in the isolation where thou art suffering; and may the consciousness of my love be a balm for thy misery!"
The poor gentleman was absorbed for some time in painful meditation; but after a while his dream seemed over, and he betook himself again to work. He placed all the silver utensils side by side on the table, and, after carefully counting and examining them, resumed his soliloquy:—
"Six forks! eight spoons! We shall be four at table: it will be necessary to be careful; else it will easily be seen something is wanting. I think, however, it will do. I must give very precise instructions to John's wife, for she is a clever woman, and knows what she is about!"
As be uttered the last words he replaced the silver in the basket and locked it in the safe; after which he took the lamp, and, leaving the saloon on tiptoe, descended through a little door into a large vaulted cellar. Here he hunted about for a considerable time amid stacks of empty bottles, and at last succeeded in finding what he was in search of; but his face became extremely pale as he drew three bottles from the sand.
"Good heavens! only three bottles!" exclaimed he; "three bottles of table-wine! and Monsieur Denecker is such a connoisseur of vintages! What shall I do if they ask for more when these three bottles are empty? I have it! I do not drink, and Lenora drinks very little; so there will be two bottles for Monsieur Denecker and one for his nephew! But, even at the worst, what is the use of anxiety? Let luck settle it!"
With this De Vlierbeck went into the corners of the cellar, where he gathered from the walls a quantity of cobwebs, which he wound artistically around the bottles and covered with dust and sand.
On reaching the saloon he went to work with paste and paper to mend some rents in the tapestry on the wall; and then, after passing nearly half an hour in brushing his clothes and disguising their threadbare spots with water and ink, he came back to the table and made preparations for a task which was still more singular than any he had hitherto been engaged in. Taking from the drawer a silk thread, an awl, and a bit of wax, he put his boot on his knees and began to mend the rents in the leather with the skill of a cobbler! It will readily be supposed that this odd occupation stirred a variety of emotions in the heart of the poor gentleman; violent twitches and spasms passed over his face; his cheeks became red, then deadly pale; till at last, yielding to a passionate impulse, he cut the silk, threw it on the table, and, with his hands stretched toward the portraits, cried out, with struggling passion,—
"Yes! behold me,—behold me,—ye whose noble blood runs in my veins! You, brave captain, who, fighting at the side of Egmont, at St. Quentin, gave your life for your country,—you, statesman and ambassador, who, after the battle of Pavia, rendered such eminent services to the Emperor Charles,—you, benefactor of your race, who endowed so many hospitals and churches,—you, proud bishop, who, as priest and scholar, defended so bravely your faith and your God,—behold me, all of you, not only from that senseless canvas, but from the bosom of God where you are at rest! He whom you have seen at the wretched task of mending his boots, and who devotes his life to the concealment of his poverty,—he is your descendant, your son! If the gaze of his fellow-men tortures him, before you at least he is not ashamed of debasing toil! glorious ancestry! you have fought the foes of your native land with sword and pen; but I,—I have to contend with unmerited shame and mockery, without a hope of ultimate triumph or glory; my weary soul sinks under its burden, and the world has nothing in store for me but scorn and contempt! And, yet, have I ever stained your noble escutcheon? All that I have done is generous and honest in the sight of God;—nay, the very fountain-head of my wo is love and compassion! Yes, yes!—fix your glittering eyes on me; contemplate me in the abyss of poverty where I am fallen! From the bottom of that pit I lift my brow boldly toward you, and your silent glance does not force me to grovel in the earth with shame! Here, in the presence of your noble images, I am alone with my soul, with my conscience;—hero, no mortification can touch the being who, as gentleman, Christian, brother, and father, has sacrificed himself to duty!"
His voice ceased; and for a few moments he stood still in the midnight silence, looking at the antique portraits as the last echoes died away in the lofty apartment, with his arms stretched toward the pictures as if invoking the beings they represented.
"Poor, senseless creature," continued he, after a while, clasping his hands and lifting them anew to heaven, "thy soul seeks deliverance in dreams! Yes; it is, perhaps, a dream, an illusion! Yet, thanks, thanks to the Almighty that allows even a dream to fortify me with courage and endurance! Enough: reality once more stares me in the face; and yet I defy the mocking spectre which points to ruin and misery!"
"And then to-morrow,—to-morrow!" continued he; "wilt thou not tremble beneath the glance of those who seek the secret of thy life? Yes; study well thy part; have ready thy mask; go on bravely with thy cowardly farce! And now begone; thy nightly task is done;—beg, beg from sleep the oblivion of what thou art and of thy threatening future! Sleep! I tremble at the very thought of it! Father in heaven, have mercy on us!"
At daybreak next morning everybody was busy at Grinselhof. John's wife and her serving-maid scoured the corridor and staircase; the farmer cleaned his stable; his son weeded the grass from the garden-walks. Very early in the day Lenora set matters in order in the dining-room and arranged with artistic taste all the pretty things she could find on the mantel-piece and tables. There was a degree of life and activity about Grinselhof that had not been seen in that solitude for many a year, and everybody went to work with alacrity, as if anxious to dispel the gloom that hung so long over the lonely dwelling. In the midst of the industrious crowd Monsieur De Vlierbeck might be seen moving about with words of encouragement and expressions of satisfaction; nor did he manifest the slightest symptom of the anxiety that was secretly gnawing his heart. A pleasant smile flattered his humble dependants, as he gave them to understand that their labors would be greatly honored by the approval of his expected guests.
The farmer and his spouse had never seen De Vlierbeck so pleasant and so gay; and, as they sincerely loved their master, they were as much delighted by his joy as if they had been preparing for a village fair in which they were to take part. They never dreamed of pay for their generous toil, but derived their most grateful recompense from the pleasure they imparted to the hermit and his child.
As soon as the principal preparations were completed, De Vlierbeck called his daughter and gave the necessary instructions for the dinner. Lenora was to confine herself to drilling the farmer's wife in serving the dishes with which she was not familiar. The old cooking-apparatus was lighted; wood kindled and crackled in the chimney; coals glistened in the grate; and high above the roof-tree, clouds of smoke betokened the good cheer that was to adorn the tables. Baskets of game were opened; stuffed poultry, savory pasties, and choice viands, were brought forth; dishes of green peas, beans, and other vegetables, appeared; and the women were speedily in a turmoil of stringing, shelling, cutting, washing, and stewing.
Lenora herself did not shun her part in these humble duties, and amused her companions by the pleasant chat with which she whiled away the hours. The rustics, who had rarely enjoyed an opportunity of seeing her so closely or of enjoying a familiar conversation with the beauty, were of course delighted with her gay and affable manners; nor could they avoid expressing their pleasure when a few notes of a popular song happened to drop from Lenora's lips.
The servant-maid instantly rose, and whispered, loud enough to be heard by Lenora,—
"Oh, pray, do beg mademoiselle to sing a verse or two of that song! I heard it at a distance the other day; and it was so beautiful that, fool as I am, I blubbered like a baby for half an hour behind the rose-bushes. And yet I think it was rather her sweet voice than the words that made me cry."
"Oh, yes! do sing it for us; it would give us so much pleasure! Your voice is like a nightingale's; and I remember too, that my poor mother—alas! she is long ago in heaven—used to sing me to sleep with that blessed song. Pray, sing it for us, mademoiselle.
"It's very long,"' said Lenora, smiling.
"But if you only sing averse or two; it is a holiday with us, you know, mademoiselle!"
"Well," returned Lenora, musingly, "if it will make you happy why should I refuse? Listen:—
"Beside a deep and rapid stream A lonely maiden sat; With sighs her snowy bosom heaved, And tears bedewed the ground!
"A noble walked along the bank And saw her bitter grief; And, as her tears overflowed his heart, It melted for the maid!"
'Speak, maiden, speak!' the wanderer cried! 'Why moan you here alone?'— 'Ah, sir, an orphan-child am I, Whom God alone can save!
'Ah! seest thou not yon grassy mound There sleeps my mother dear. Behold yon rock, above the flood; There fell my father down!
'The whirling torrent bore him on; He struggled long in vain; My brother leaped to help his sire, And both together sank!
'And now I fly our silent hut, Where desolation dwells, To mourn upon this dreary bank, And watch the wave and grave!'
'No longer grieve,' the stranger said, 'Thy heart shall ache no more; A father and a brother too To thee, poor lonely girl, I'll be!'
"He took her hand; he led her off; In garments rich he clad the maid; Before the altar promised love, And blessed her life in happy home!"[A]
[Footnote A: This simple and popular ballad, known in the Campine as The Orphan, is sung by all classes to an air which is full of touching melody.]
As Lenora was about beginning the last verse of her song De Vlierbeck appeared on the sill of the kitchen door, and the peasants instantly rose in alarm at the freedom with which they were sitting in the presence of their young mistress, listening to her songs; but the poor gentleman at once understood the meaning of her action, and with a gesture of approval signaled them to be quiet. As the last words died on his ear,—"I'm glad to see you amusing yourselves," said he; "but, now that the song is ended, I want your services in another quarter, my good woman."
Followed by Bess, the farmer's wife, he ascended to the dining-room, where the table-cloth was already laid and every thing in order for the reception of the dishes. Bessy's son was already there in livery, with a napkin over his arm; and De Vlierbeck immediately began to assign them their several tasks during the service of dinner, and to repeat and drill them in their tasks till he was perfectly satisfied with their performances.
The hour for dinner was at length near at hand. Every thing was ready in the kitchen, and all were at their posts. Lenora, in full dress and with a palpitating heart, lingered in her chamber; while her father, with a book which he appeared to be reading, sat beneath the catalpa in the garden.
It was about two o'clock when a splendid equipage, drawn by a pair of superb English horses, entered the demesne of Grinselhof and drew up in front of the portal. De Vlierbeck welcomed his guests courteously, and Monsieur Denecker gave orders to the coachman to return precisely at five o'clock, as matters of importance required his presence in Antwerp before nightfall.
Denecker was a large, stout person, dressed rather extravagantly, but in a style of studied carelessness which he evidently regarded as stylish. The expression of his face, it must be owned, was rather vulgar, and exhibited a compound of cunning and good-nature tempered by indifference. But Gustave, his nephew, belonged to an entirely different class of persons. His tall figure was graceful and easy, his countenance frank and manly, and his whole demeanor denoted refined manners and high cultivation. Blue eyes and blonde hair imparted a poetic air to his head; but an energetic glance and lofty brow took from it every expression of sentimental weakness.
No sooner had De Vlierbeck presented his guests to Lenora, in the saloon, than Denecker broke forth in exclamations of undisguised admiration—
"How charming, how beautiful she is! and yet so hidden in this Grinselhof of yours, Monsieur de Vlierbeck! What a shame, sir! what a shame!"
In the mean time Gustave and Lenora had moved off to a short distance from the old gentlemen, and were busy in a chat of their own, inaudible to the rest but evidently interesting to themselves, for they were observed not only to blush but tremble. Denecker, in fact, could not help observing the young people's emotion; and, as De Vlierbeck passed down the saloon with him, remarked that the young beauty was evidently turning his nephew's head. "He talks of her constantly," said he, "and I don't know what may come of it; but I give you fair warning, Monsieur De Vlierbeck, if you are unwilling to see something more than compliments between these children you had better take time by the forelock. It will soon be too late to reason with them; for my nephew, with all his calm gentleness, is not the man to retreat before difficulties."
De Vlierbeck was secretly delighted by the merchant's counsels, but was too wise to display anxiety.
"You are joking, Monsieur Denecker," said he: "I can't think there is a particle of danger. They are both young, and there is nothing surprising in mutual attraction under such circumstances. There can hardly be any thing serious in their intercourse. But, come," added he, aloud; "I perceive that dinner is served; and so let us adjourn to the table!" Gustave led in the blushing girl, and the elders followed admiringly in their rear, while the merchant shook his finger coquettishly at his gallant nephew. De Vlierbeck placed Monsieur Denecker opposite him at table, and made Gustave the vis-a-vis of Lenora.
Bess brought in the dishes, while her son waited on the guests. The viands were prepared with considerable skill, and Denecker took frequent occasion to express his satisfaction with their exquisite flavor. In truth, he was rather surprised at the sumptuousness of the repast; for he had been prepared to expect lenten fare in a household which was renowned throughout the neighborhood for its austere economy.
In a short time the conversation became general; and Lenora astonished Monsieur Denecker by the extent of her information and the admirable style in which she expressed herself and did the honors of the table. But, notwithstanding her ease and freedom while conversing with the uncle, an observer could not help detecting that she was shy, if not absolutely embarrassed, when obliged to reply to some casual remark of the nephew. Nor was Gustave more at ease than the maiden. In fact, they were both happy at heart because fate had thrown them together; but they would have been quite willing to enjoy that delicious silence which in love is often more eloquent than in language.
In the mean while De Vlierbeck rattled away, with the ease of a man of the world, on all subjects that might interest his guests; yet he listened, with equal good manners, to Denecker's conversation, and now and then adroitly threw in such hints as allowed him to speak learnedly upon commercial matters. The merchant was gratified by his deferential civility, and was drawn toward his entertainer by a stronger bond than that of mere social politeness.
Indeed, all went on swimmingly, and all were pleased with themselves. De Vlierbeck was especially gratified to find that Bess and her boy performed their tasks so well, and that the spoons and plates were so quickly washed and brought back that it was impossible to notice the deficiency of their number. One thing alone began to worry him. He saw with pain that while Denecker was busy with his food and chat he was equally busy with the wine, and that glass after glass disappeared with more rapidity than was agreeable to his supply. Besides this, Gustave, who was probably anxious for some excuse to have a word with Lenora upon any pretext, constantly asked permission to fill her glass; so that, very soon after the soup and meat had been disposed of, the first bottle was entirely emptied.
Civility required that it should be immediately replaced; and, as De Vlierbeck observed that the more Monsieur Denecker talked the more he drank, he thought he might try whether less conversation would not moderate the merchant's thirst. But, alas! he was disappointed; for at that moment Denecker introduced the topic of wine, and, lauding the generous juice of the grape, expressed surprise at the extraordinary sobriety of his host. With this he redoubled his attack on the bottle, and was in some degree, though less vigorously, seconded by Gustave. De Vlierbeck's agony became more and more intense as he saw the rosy fluid sink and sink in the second bottle, until at length the last drop was drained into the merchant's glass.
"Yes," said Denecker, "your wine is both old and good; but I have always found, in tasting liquors, that if we don't change them we lose their flavor. I take it for granted that you have a first-rate cellar, if I may judge by your first samples; so I propose that we now try a bottle of your Chateau-margaux; and, if we have time, we can finish with a bottle of hochheimer. I never drink champagne: it is a bad liquor for wine-drinkers."
As the last words fell from Denecker, poor De Vlierbeck grew deadly pale, as his frightened spirit went rummaging through the cracks and crannies of his brain for some inspiration or expedient which might extricate him from his deep perplexity.
"Chateau-margaux?" inquired he, with a calm smile. "Certainly, sir, if you wish it." And then, turning to the lackey,—"John," said he, "bring a bottle of Chateau-margaux: you will find it in the third cellar on the left-hand side."
But the rustic stared at his master with gaping mouth, as if he had been addressed in one of the dead languages. Seeing the predicament, and mastering it rapidly,—
"Excuse me," said De Vlierbeck, rising; "he would not find it, I fear. I will be back in a moment."
Rushing into the kitchen, he seized the third and last bottle and descended to the cellar, where he stopped to draw breath and compose himself.
"Chateau-margaux! hochheimer! champagne!" exclaimed poor De Vlierbeck, "and not another drop of wine in my house but what is in this last bottle of claret! What shall I do? what can I do?" continued he, as he held the cobwebbed bottle in one hand and stroked his chin with the other. "But no matter: there's no time for reflection: the die is cast, and may God help me in my need!"
He ascended the stair, entered the dining-room with the corkscrew in the last cork, and found that during his absence Lenora had ordered fresh glasses on the table.
"This wine," said De Vlierbeck, holding the bottle knowingly to the light, "is at least twenty years old, Monsieur Denecker, and I sincerely hope it will please your palate." So saying, he filled the glasses of uncle and nephew, and gazed anxiously in their faces for the verdict.
Denecker tasted the wine, drop by drop, like an epicure, and, shaking his head disappointedly,—
"There's a mistake, doubtless," said he; "for it's the identical wine we had before."
De Vlierbeck feigned surprise admirably, tasted the wine in turn, and replied,—
"I believe you are right, and that I have made a mistake; yet, as the bottle is opened and not bad, suppose we drink it before I make another descent to the cellar' There's abundance of time."
"I've no objection," answered the merchant, "provided you help us, so as to get through it the quicker." And so the column in the third and last bottle diminished more rapidly than its predecessors, till two or three glasses alone remained at the bottom to crown the festival.
Poor De Vlierbeck could no longer conceal his agitation. He tried to keep his eyes off the fatal bottle; but a sort of fascination drew him back to it, and each time with increased anxiety. That dreadful word 'Chateau-margaux' rang in his ears. His face blushed and grew pale, and a cold, clammy sweat stood in big beads on his forehead. Yet he felt that he had not entirely exhausted his resources, and resolved to fight the battle of humiliation to the end. He wiped his brow and cheeks, coughed, and turned aside as if about to sneeze. By dint of these manoeuvres he continued to conceal his nervousness till Denecker grasped the bottle to pour out its last drop. As he clasped the neck, a chill seized the hysterical frame of the poor gentleman, a deadly paleness overspread his features, and his head fell with a groan against the tall back of the chair. Was it in truth a fainting-fit, or did the sufferer take advantage of his emotion to play a part and escape the embarrassment of his situation?
In a moment the whole party were on their feet, while Lenora screamed and ran to her father.
"It's nothing," said De Vlierbeck, striving, after a minute or two, to rally himself. "I am faint; the confined air of this room overcame me. Let me walk a while in the garden and I will soon be better."
As he said this he staggered to his feet, and, supported by Lenora and Gustave, moved toward the garden, followed by Denecker with an expression of the deepest concern. A short rest in the open air beneath the shade of a noble chestnut-tree quickly restored a faint color to De Vlierbeck's cheek and enabled him to tranquillize their anxiety about his sudden attack.
"I will rest here a while out of doors," said he, "for fear the fit might return; and perhaps a slow walk in the garden might hasten my recovery."
"It will do both of us good," answered Denecker; "and, besides, as I have to quit you at five o'clock, I don't want to leave Grinselhof without seeing its garden. Let us take a turn through your walks, and afterward we shall have time enough to finish another bottle."
As he said this he passed Lenora's arm within his own, and, casting a coquettish glance at Gustave, began their promenade. By degrees De Vlierbeck rallied sufficiently to take part in the chat; and gardening, agriculture, sporting, and a hundred different country topics, were fully discussed. Lenora recovered her spirits and charmed their commercial guest by the mingled charms of her intellectual cleverness and innocent gayety. Wild as a deer, she dared him to run a race with her, and danced along the paths by his side full of mirth and sportiveness. In truth, Denecker was altogether captivated by the ingenuous girl, and, as he looked on her radiant face, could not help thinking that the future had some happy days in store for his gallant nephew. After a while Lenora strayed off in advance with Gustave, while the two elders lingered lazily along the path. Gustave was charmed with the flowers, the plants, the gold-fish, which Lenora pointed out to him; nor was he at all desirous to shorten their delicious flirtation by returning to the table. This chimed precisely with the anxiety of De Vlierbeck, who employed every stratagem he could conceive to keep his guest in the open air. He told stories, repeated jokes, appealed to Denecker's commercial knowledge, and even quizzed him a little when he found their conversation beginning to flag. In fact, he was rejoicing that five o'clock, and, of course, the carriage, were rapidly approaching, when Denecker suddenly recalled his nephew from a distant quarter of the garden where he was strolling with Lenora.
"Come, Gustave; come," said he; "if you wish to drink a parting glass with us let us get in, for the coach will be here in a moment."
De Vlierbeck instantly became pale as a sheet, and, trembling from head to foot, stared silently at Denecker, who could no longer restrain his surprise at these exhibitions.
"Are you ill, sir?" said he.
"My stomach is a singular one, Monsieur Denecker, and I suffer spasms if you even mention wine! It is a strange malady; but—Oh, I hear your coach, Monsieur Denecker; and there it is, drawing up, I see, at the gateway."
Of course Denecker spoke no more of wine; but, as he could not help noticing the alacrity with which De Vlierbeck hailed the prospect of his departure, he would have been deeply mortified, if not offended, had not the previous hospitality of his host satisfied him of their welcome. He thought, perhaps, that he ought to attribute his entertainer's conduct to some singular nervous disease which he masked under an antipathy for wine; and accordingly he took leave with a warm and friendly farewell.
"I have passed a delightful afternoon with you, Monsieur De Vlierbeck," said he. "We have found ourselves, I am sure, extremely happy in your and your daughter's charming society. It is a pleasure added to my life to have made your acquaintance; and I hope that further intimacy may assure me your friendship. In the mean while, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind reception."
As he finished the sentence, Lenora and Gustave joined them.
"My nephew," continued Denecker, "will confess, as I have done, that he has spent few happier hours than those that are just gone. I hope, Monsieur de Vlierbeck, that you and your charming daughter will return our visit and dine with us. Yet I shall have to ask your pardon for postponing the pleasure it will afford us till I return from Frankfort, where I am summoned, the day after to-morrow, on urgent business. It is probable I may be detained away a couple of months; but if my nephew should be allowed to visit you in my absence let me hope he will be welcome."
De Vlierbeck reiterated his professions of delight at the new acquaintance; Lenora was silent; and Denecker moved off toward the coach.
"But the parting glass, uncle!" exclaimed Gustave. "Let us go in for a moment and drink it."
"No, no," said Denecker, interrupting him tartly. "I believe we would never get hence at all if we listened to you. It is time to be off, and I can delay no longer. Adieu!"
Gustave and Lenora exchanged a long and anxious look, full of regret at separation and of hope for speedy reunion. In a moment the uncle and nephew were in the vehicle and the spirited horses in motion; but, as long as the group was in sight at the gate, a couple of white-gloved hands might have been seen waving farewells from the coach-window.
A few days after the departure of his uncle, Gustave paid a visit to Grinselhof. He was received by Monsieur De Vlierbeck and his daughter with their usual kindness, passed the greater part of an afternoon with them, and went home at nightfall to the chateau of Echelpoel full of delightful recollections and hopes. Either from a fear of disturbing the reserved habits of the old gentleman, or from a sense of politeness, Gustave did not at first repeat his visits too frequently; but after a couple of weeks the extreme cordiality of Vlierbeck dispelled all his scruples. The ardent youth no longer resisted an impulse that drew him toward the bewitching girl, nor did he allow a single day to roll by without passing the afternoon at Grinselhof. The happy hours flew rapidly on the wings of love. He strolled with Lenora through the shady walks of the old garden, listened to her father's observations on science and art, drank in the delicious notes of his loved one's voice as it was breathed forth in song, or, seated beneath the flowery and spreading catalpa, dreamed the dream of happiness that was in store for him with her who was probably soon to become his betrothed.
If the noble and beautiful face of the maiden had won his eye and enlisted his feelings the moment he first beheld her in the village churchyard, now, that he had become familiar with her character, his love grew so ardently absorbing that the world seemed sad and dead if she were not present to shed the light of her joyous spirit upon every thing around him. Neither religion nor poetry could conjure up an angel more fascinating than his beloved. Indeed, though God had endowed her person with all those feminine graces that adorned the first woman in Paradise, he had also lavished on her a heart whose crystalline purity was never clouded, and whose generosity burst forth with every emotion like a limpid spring.
But in all his interviews, Gustave had never yet been alone with Lenora. When he visited her she never left the apartment where she commonly sat with her father, unless the old gentleman expressed a wish that they should unite in a walk through the garden; and, of course, he had never enjoyed an opportunity to breathe the love that was rising to his lips. Still, he felt that it was altogether useless to express by words what was passing in their hearts; for the kindness, the respect, the affection, that shone in everybody's eyes, betokened the feeling which united them in a mingled sentiment of attachment and hope.
Though Gustave entertained profound veneration for Lenora's father and really loved him as a son, there was something which at times came like a cloud betwixt himself and the old gentleman. What he heard outside of Grinselhof of De Vlierbeck's extraordinary avarice had been fully realized since he became intimate at the house. No one ever offered him a glass of wine or beer; he never received an invitation to dinner or supper; and he frequently observed the trouble that was taken by the master of the house to disguise his inhospitable economy.
Avarice is a passion which excites no other emotion than that of aversion or contempt, because it is natural to believe that when so degrading a vice takes possession of one's soul it destroys every spark of generosity and fills it with meanness. Accordingly, Gustave had a long and fearful conflict with himself in order to subdue this instinctive feeling and to convince his judgment that De Vlierbeck's conduct was only a caprice which did not detract from the native dignity of his character. And yet, had the young man known the truth, he would have seen that a pang was hidden beneath every smile that flitted over the old man's face, and that the nervous shudders which at times shook his frame were the results of a suppressed agony that almost destroyed him. As he gazed on the happy face of Lenora and steeped his soul in the intoxication of her love, he never dreamed that her father's life was a prolonged punishment; that, day and night, a terrible future opened its vista before him; and that each moment of his existence brought him nearer and nearer to a dreadful catastrophe. He had not heard the inexorable sentence of the notary:—"Four months more and your bond expires, when all you possess in this world will be sold by the officers of justice to satisfy your creditors!"
Two of those fatal months had already expired!
If Monsieur De Vlierbeck appeared to encourage the young man's love, it was not alone in consequence of his sympathy with his feelings. No: the denouement of his painful trial was to be developed within a defined period; and, if it proved inauspicious, there was nothing but dishonor and moral death for himself and child! Destiny was about to decide forever whether he was to come out victorious from this ten years' conflict with poverty, or whether he was to fall into the abyss of public contempt! These were the feelings that induced him to conceal his true position more carefully than ever, and, while he watched over the lovers like a guardian spirit, made him do nothing to check the rapid progress of their passion.
As the time of his uncle's return approached, the two months seemed to Gustave to have flown by like a pleasant dream; and, although he felt sure that his relative would not oppose the union, he foresaw that he would not be allowed hereafter to spend so much of his time away from business. Indeed, the very idea that he might be obliged to pass considerable periods without seeing Lenora made him look for his uncle's return with any thing but delight.
One day he contrived to whisper his fears and anticipations to Lenora, and, for the first time since their acquaintance, saw tears gathering in her eyes. The girl's emotion touched his heart so sensibly that he ventured timidly to take her hand, and held it in his for a long time without uttering a word. De Vlierbeck, who had overheard the remark, tried to comfort him, but his words did not seem to produce the desired effect; and, after a short time, Gustave rose abruptly and took leave, though his usual time of departure had not yet arrived. Lenora read in his expression that some sudden revolution had occurred in her lover's mind, for his eyes glistened with extraordinary animation. She strove eagerly to retain him by her side; but he resisted her appeal pleasantly, and declared that nothing should unveil his secret till the following day, when he would return to Grinselhof. De Vlierbeck, however, was more familiar with the world than his daughter; and, imagining that lie had penetrated the mystery of Gustave's conduct, many a pleasant dream hovered that night around his pillow.
As the usual hour of Gustave's visit approached next day, De Vlierbeck's heart beat high with hope; and when the visitor appeared, clad with unusual neatness and care, the old gentleman welcomed him with more than ordinary warmth. After the compliments of the day had been paid to his ladylove, Gustave expressed a desire for a few moments' conversation with her father, who led him into an adjoining cabinet and seated himself by his side.
"What is it you wish of me, my young friend?" said he, kindly.
Gustave was silent for a moment, as if endeavoring to rally his ideas, and then spoke out in a manly way:—
"I am about, my dear sir, to speak to you in regard to a matter that concerns my happiness; and, no matter what may be your decision, I am sure, from your kindness upon all occasions, that you will pardon my boldness. I can hardly imagine that the feeling—the irresistible feeling—I have entertained for Lenora from the first moment I saw her, has escaped your penetrating eye. I ought probably to have asked your consent long ago, before she obtained so complete a dominion over my heart; but I have always secretly encouraged the belief that you read my soul and wore not displeased with my motives."
Gustave was silent, awaiting the hoped-for words of encouragement; but De Vlierbeck only looked at him with a gentle smile, and gave no other indication of his pleasure. A motion of the hand, as if he wished the lover to go on with his conversation, was the only sign he made in reply,
Gustave's resolution began to ebb at this discouraging by-play; but, summoning all his energy for another attack, he continued:—
"Yes, sir, I have loved Lenora from my first sight of her; but what was then a spark is now a flame. Don't think it is her loveliness alone that bewitched me. She might indeed enchant the most insensible of mankind; but I found a far more glorious treasure in the angelic heart of your daughter. Her virtue, the immaculate purity of her soul, her gentle and magnanimous sentiments,—in a word, the prodigal gifts of mind and body which God has lavished on her,—have increased my admiration to love, my love to absolute idolatry! How dare I conceal my emotion from you any longer? I cannot live without Lenora; the very thought of even a short temporary separation from her overwhelms me with despair. I long to be with her every day, every hour; I long to hear her voice and read my happiness in her eloquent eyes! I know not what may be your decision; but, believe me, if it shall be adverse to my hopes, I shall not long survive the blow. If your decree separate, me from my beloved Lenora, life will no longer have a charm for me!"
Gustave uttered his romantic rhapsody—the rhapsody of most lovers—with that genuine emotion which bespoke his sincerity, and touched the heart of De Vlierbeck so deeply that he grasped his hand and implored him to be calm.
"Don't tremble so, my young friend," said the old gentleman. "I know very well that you love Lenora, and that she is not insensible to your affection for her. But what have you to propose to me?"
Gustave replied, dejectedly,—"If I still doubt your approval, after all the marks of esteem you have given me, it is because I fear you do not consider me worthy the happiness I have sought. I have no ancestral tree whose roots are buried in the past; the good deeds of my forefathers do not shine in history; the blood that runs in my veins comes from a common stock."
"Do you think," said De Vlierbeck, interrupting him, "that I was ignorant of all this from the first day of our acquaintance? No Gustave; no matter what your lineage may be, your own heart is generous and noble; and, had it not been so, I would never have esteemed and treated you as my son."
"And so," exclaimed Gustave, catching at the last words with a burst of joyous impatience, "you don't refuse me Lenora's hand?—you will interpose no objection, provided my uncle gives his consent?"
"No," replied De Vlierbeck; "I shall not refuse it to you. On the contrary, it will give me unbounded happiness to intrust the fate of my only child to your keeping. And yet there is an obstacle of which you have no idea."
"An obstacle!" exclaimed Gustave, growing pale;—"an obstacle between Lenora and me?"
"Be silent a moment," said De Vlierbeck, "and listen to the explanation I shall give you. You think, Gustave, I suppose, that Grinselhof and all its dependencies belong to us? It is not so: we are penniless. We are poorer far than the peasant who rents our farming-land and lives yonder at the gate!"
Gustave looked doubtingly at De Vlierbeck, with so incredulous a smile that the poor gentleman blushed, and trembled like an aspen.
"I see you do not believe me," continued he; "I see it in your smile and look. Like the rest of them, you think me a miser, hiding my wealth and starving my child and myself to amass riches,—a wretch who sacrifices every thing for money,—a vagabond whom all ought to fear and despise!"
"Oh, pardon me, pardon me, sir!" interrupted Gustave, moved by the excitement of the old man "I think nothing of the kind! My veneration for you is unbounded!"
"Nay, don't be frightened at my words, young man," continued De Vlierbeck, in a calmer tone. "I make no accusations against you, Gustave. I only saw in your incredulous smile that I had succeeded in masking my poverty even from you, and in making you suppose that my economy was avarice. But it is needless for me to give you any further explanation just now. Let it suffice you to know that what I say is strictly, honestly true. I possess nothing,—nothing!"
"And now," added he, after a moment's silence on both sides, "let me give you a piece of advice. Go home to-day without seeing Lenora; examine your soul calmly, and see whether there are no secret emotions that may make you change your present views; let a night pass, and if, to-morrow, Lenora, poor as you now know her to be, is still dear to you,—if you still think you can be happy with her and can make her happy,—seek your uncle and ask his consent. Here is my hand: if the day shall ever come when I can offer it as a father's, it will be the happiest of my life!"
Although the revelation made by Monsieur De Vlierbeck was astonishing to Gustave, the solemn tone in which he announced it convinced the lover of its truth. He was silent for a moment; but soon a spark of enthusiasm began to glisten in his eye and light up his face, as he exclaimed,—
"How can you ask me if I shall continue to love Lenora now that I know her to be poor? It will be happiness enough for me to receive her as a wife, to be bound to her by the eternal bonds of love, to be forever within her reach, and to receive my happiness from her look and voice! What delight it will be for me to protect her and know that I have the privilege of working for her! Palace or hovel; riches or poverty, all are equally indifferent to me, provided her presence animates the spot! A night's reflection, Monsieur De Vlierbeck, cannot change my resolution. Grant me Lenora's hand, and I will thank you on my knees for the priceless gift!"
"And suppose I do," replied the old gentleman; "generosity and constancy are natural to the ardent character of youth:—but your uncle?"
"My uncle!" murmured Gustave, with evident grief; "that is true; I need his consent. All I possess or ever shall possess in the world depends on his affection for me. I am the orphan son of his brother. He adopted me as his child and has overwhelmed me with kindness. He has the right to decide my lot in life, and I must obey him."
"And do you think that he, a merchant, who probably places a very high value on money, because experience has taught him its value, will say, like you, 'Palace or hovel, poverty or wealth, it makes no difference'?"
"Alas! I know not, Monsieur De Vlierbeck," said Gustave, droopingly. "But my uncle is so good to me—so extraordinarily good—that I may rightly hope for his consent. He will return to-morrow. When I embrace him I will declare all my wishes. I will say my comfort, my happiness, my life, depend on his consent. I know that he loves Lenora sincerely; for, before his departure, he even seemed to encourage my pretensions to her hand. Your disclosures will undoubtedly surprise him; but my prayers will conquer: believe it!"
Monsieur De Vlierbeck rose, to put an end to the conversation.
"Well, ask your uncle's consent," said he; "and, if your hopes are realized, let him come here and consult about the marriage. Whatever may be the issue of this affair, Gustave, you at least have always behaved toward us with the delicacy of a generous youth. My esteem and friendship shall always be yours. Go now; quit Grinselhof this time without seeing Lenora, for you ought not to meet her until this affair is settled. I will tell her myself whatever I think proper for her to know."
Half pleased, half sad,—his heart divided between joy and anxiety,—Gustave bade farewell to Lenora's father and returned to Echelpoel.
On the afternoon of the following day Monsieur De Vlierbeck was seated in his parlor, his head resting on his hand. He seemed plunged in profound thought, for his eyes were fixed on vacancy and his face exhibited by turns contentment and hope, inquietude and anxiety.
Occasionally Lenora came into the apartment, and, seeming unusually restless, wandered about from spot to spot, arranging and rearranging the little fancy articles upon the tables, looking out of the window into the garden, and at last running down-stairs suddenly as if she were pursued. No one who saw her could doubt that she was nervously anxious about something; yet her expression was one of joy and hope. Had she been able to penetrate her father's mind and behold the various emotions that excited it, she would not perhaps have been so gay and blithesome; but poor De Vlierbeck restrained himself with his habitual care in her presence, and smiled at her impatience as if he too were confident of approaching happiness.
At length, tired of running about, Lenora seated herself by her father and fixed her clear and questioning gaze on his face.
"Don't be so excited, my good child," said he. "We shall know nothing to-day; but we may, perhaps, to-morrow. Moderate your joy, my daughter; if it please Heaven to decide against your hope in this matter your grief will be more easily conquered."
"Oh, no, father!" stammered Lenora; "God will grant my prayer; I feel it in my heart. Don't be astonished, father, that I am full of joy, for I think I see Gustave speaking to his uncle. I hear what he says, and Monsieur Denecker's replies; I see him embrace Gustave and give his consent! Who can doubt, father, that I ought to hope, when I know that Monsieur Denecker loved me and was always kind?"
"Would you be very happy, Lenora," asked De Vlierbeck, with a smile, "if Gustave were betrothed to you?"
"Never to leave him!" cried Lenora,—"to love him,—to be the happiness of his life, his consolation, his joy,—to enliven the solitude of Grinselhof by our love!—ah! that, father, would be delight indeed; for then there would be two of us to contribute to the pleasures of your life! Gustave would have more skill than I to chase away the grief that sometimes clouds your brow; you could walk, talk, or hunt with him; he would venerate and love you as a son and watch you with the tenderest care; his only thought on earth would be to make you happy, because he knows that your happiness is mine; and I—I, father, will recompense him for his devotion by the gratitude of my heart, and love. Oh, yes, dear father! we shall live together in a paradise of contentment!"
"Ingenuous girl!" exclaimed De Vlierbeck, with a sigh; "may the Lord hear your prayer! But the world, my child, is governed by laws and customs of which you are altogether ignorant. A wife must follow her husband wherever he goes. If Gustave shall select another residence you must follow him and console yourself gradually at the separation from your father. Under other circumstances, parting might be painful; but solitude will not sadden me if I know you are happy, my child."
The startled maiden looked at her father with surprise as he uttered these words; and, as he finished, her head fell heavily on her breast and tears streamed silently from her eyes. Monsieur De Vlierbeck took her hand tenderly as he said, in faltering words,—
"I feared, Lenora, that I would make you sad; but you must become accustomed to the idea of our separation."
Lenora raised her head quickly as she replied, in a firm and resolute manner, "What! could Gustave ever dream of our separation? To leave you at Grinselhof passing your days in seclusion while I and my husband were in the world in the midst of festivity? I should not have an instant's rest, wherever I might be; conscience would cry aloud in my heart, 'Ungrateful and insensible child, thy father is abandoned to suffering and solitude!' Yes, I love Gustave; he is dearer to me than life itself, and I receive his hand as a blessing from God; but if he should say to me, 'Abandon your father!'—if he left me no choice except you or him,—I would close my eyes and reject him! I should be sad; I should suffer; perhaps even I should die; but, father dear, I would die in your arms!"
She bent down her head for a moment as if oppressed by a dreadful thought; but, raising her large eyes, liquid with tears, she fixed them on her father, as she added,—
"You doubt Gustave's affection for you; you imagine him capable of filling your life with sorrow,—of separating me from you! Oh, father, you do not know him; you do not know how much he respects and loves you; you do not comprehend the warmth of his generous and loving heart!"