Part 4 out of 4
impatient to reach their native land again, with wealth acquired by
long years of toil and perilous adventures in Venezuela and Mexico.
One of the passengers, a man who looked aged by trouble rather than by
years, was leaning against the bulwark netting, apparently quite
unaffected by the sight to be seen from the upper deck. The bright
day, the sense that the voyage was safely over, had brought all the
passengers above to greet their land. The larger number of them
insisted that they could see, far off in the distance, the houses and
lighthouses on the coast of Gascony and the Tower of Cardouan, melting
into the fantastic erections of white cloud along the horizon. But for
the silver fringe that played about their bows, and the long furrow
swiftly effaced in their wake, they might have been perfectly still in
mid-ocean, so calm was the sea. The sky was magically clear, the dark
blue of the vault above paled by imperceptible gradations, until it
blended with the bluish water, a gleaming line that sparkled like
stars marking the dividing line of sea. The sunlight caught myriads of
facets over the wide surface of the ocean, in such a sort that the
vast plains of salt water looked perhaps more full of light than the
fields of sky.
The brig had set all her canvas. The snowy sails, swelled by the
strangely soft wind, the labyrinth of cordage, and the yellow flags
flying at the masthead, all stood out sharp and uncompromisingly clear
against the vivid background of space, sky, and sea; there was nothing
to alter the color but the shadow cast by the great cloudlike sails.
A glorious day, a fair wind, and the fatherland in sight, a sea like a
mill-pond, the melancholy sound of the ripples, a fair, solitary
vessel, gliding across the surface of the water like a woman stealing
out to a tryst--it was a picture full of harmony. That mere speck full
of movement was a starting-point whence the soul of man could descry
the immutable vast of space. Solitude and bustling life, silence and
sound, were all brought together in strange abrupt contrast; you could
not tell where life, or sound, or silence, and nothingness lay, and no
human voice broke the divine spell.
The Spanish captain, the crew, and the French passengers sat or stood,
in a mood of devout ecstasy, in which many memories blended. There was
idleness in the air. The beaming faces told of complete forgetfulness
of past hardships, the men were rocked on the fair vessel as in a
golden dream. Yet, from time to time the elderly passenger, leaning
over the bulwark nettings, looked with something like uneasiness at
the horizon. Distrust of the ways of Fate could be read in his whole
face; he seemed to fear that he should not reach the coast of France
in time. This was the Marquis. Fortune had not been deaf to his
despairing cry and struggles. After five years of endeavor and painful
toil, he was a wealthy man once more. In his impatience to reach his
home again and to bring the good news to his family, he had followed
the example set by some French merchants in Havana, and embarked with
them on a Spanish vessel with a cargo for Bordeaux. And now, grown
tired of evil forebodings, his fancy was tracing out for him the most
delicious pictures of past happiness. In that far-off brown line of
land he seemed to see his wife and children. He sat in his place by
the fireside; they were crowding about him; he felt their caresses.
Moina had grown to be a young girl; she was beautiful, and tall, and
striking. The fancied picture had grown almost real, when the tears
filled his eyes, and, to hide his emotion, he turned his face towards
the sea-line, opposite the hazy streak that meant land.
"There she is again. . . . She is following us!" he said.
"What?" cried the Spanish captain.
"There is a vessel," muttered the General.
"I saw her yesterday," answered Captain Gomez. He looked at his
interlocutor as if to ask what he thought; then he added in the
General's ear, "She has been chasing us all along."
"Then why she has not come up with us, I do not know," said the
General, "for she is a faster sailor than your damned /Saint-
"She will have damaged herself, sprung a leak--"
"She is gaining on us!" the General broke in.
"She is a Columbian privateer," the captain said in his ear, "and we
are still six leagues from land, and the wind is dropping."
"She is not /going/ ahead, she is flying, as if she knew that in two
hours' time her prey would escape her. What audacity!"
"Audacity!" cried the captain. "Oh! she is not called the /Othello/
for nothing. Not so long back she sank a Spanish frigate that carried
thirty guns! This is the one thing I was afraid of, for I had a notion
that she was cruising about somewhere off the Antilles.--Aha!" he
added after a pause, as he watched the sails of his own vessel, "the
wind is rising; we are making way. Get through we must, for 'the
Parisian' will show us no mercy."
"She is making way too!" returned the General.
The /Othello/ was scarce three leagues away by this time; and although
the conversation between the Marquis and Captain Gomez had taken place
apart, passengers and crew, attracted by the sudden appearance of a
sail, came to that side of the vessel. With scarcely an exception,
however, they took the privateer for a merchantman, and watched her
course with interest, till all at once a sailor shouted with some
energy of language:
"By Saint-James, it is all up with us! Yonder is the Parisian
At that terrible name dismay, and a panic impossible to describe,
spread through the brig. The Spanish captain's orders put energy into
the crew for a while; and in his resolute determination to make land
at all costs, he set all the studding sails, and crowded on every
stitch of canvas on board. But all this was not the work of a moment;
and naturally the men did not work together with that wonderful
unanimity so fascinating to watch on board a man-of-war. The /Othello/
meanwhile, thanks to the trimming of her sails, flew over the water
like a swallow; but she was making, to all appearance, so little
headway, that the unlucky Frenchmen began to entertain sweet delusive
hopes. At last, after unheard-of efforts, the /Saint-Ferdinand/ sprang
forward, Gomez himself directing the shifting of the sheets with voice
and gesture, when all at once the man at the tiller, steering at
random (purposely, no doubt), swung the vessel round. The wind
striking athwart the beam, the sails shivered so unexpectedly that the
brig heeled to one side, the booms were carried away, and the vessel
was completely out of hand. The captain's face grew whiter than his
sails with unutterable rage. He sprang upon the man at the tiller,
drove his dagger at him in such blind fury, that he missed him, and
hurled the weapon overboard. Gomez took the helm himself, and strove
to right the gallant vessel. Tears of despair rose to his eyes, for it
is harder to lose the result of our carefully-laid plans through
treachery than to face imminent death. But the more the captain swore,
the less the men worked, and it was he himself who fired the alarm-
gun, hoping to be heard on shore. The privateer, now gaining
hopelessly upon them, replied with a cannon-shot, which struck the
water ten fathoms away from the /Saint-Ferdinand/.
"Thunder of heaven!" cried the General, "that was a close shave! They
must have guns made on purpose."
"Oh! when that one yonder speaks, look you, you have to hold your
tongue," said a sailor. "The Parisian would not be afraid to meet an
"It is all over with us," the captain cried in desperation; he had
pointed his telescope landwards, and saw not a sign from the shore.
"We are further from the coast than I thought."
"Why do you despair?" asked the General. "All your passengers are
Frenchmen; they have chartered your vessel. The privateer is a
Parisian, you say? Well and good, run up the white flag, and--"
"And he would run us down," retorted the captain. "He can be anything
he likes when he has a mind to seize on a rich booty!"
"Oh! if he is a pirate--"
"Pirate!" said the ferocious looking sailor. "Oh! he always has the
law on his side, or he knows how to be on the same side as the law."
"Very well," said the General, raising his eyes, "let us make up our
minds to it," and his remaining fortitude was still sufficient to keep
back the tears.
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a second cannon-shot,
better aimed, came crashing through the hull of the /Saint-Ferdinand/.
"Heave to!" cried the captain gloomily.
The sailor who had commended the Parisian's law-abiding proclivities
showed himself a clever hand at working a ship after this desperate
order was given. The crew waited for half an hour in an agony of
suspense and the deepest dismay. The /Saint-Ferdinand/ had four
millions of piastres on board, the whole fortunes of the five
passengers, and the General's eleven hundred thousand francs. At
length the /Othello/ lay not ten gunshots away, so that those on the
/Saint-Ferdinand/ could look into the muzzles of her loaded guns. The
vessel seemed to be borne along by a breeze sent by the Devil himself,
but the eyes of an expert would have discovered the secret of her
speed at once. You had but to look for a moment at the rake of her
stern, her long, narrow keel, her tall masts, to see the cut of her
sails, the wonderful lightness of her rigging, and the ease and
perfect seamanship with which her crew trimmed her sails to the wind.
Everything about her gave the impression of the security of power in
this delicately curved inanimate creature, swift and intelligent as a
greyhound or some bird of prey. The privateer crew stood silent, ready
in case of resistance to shatter the wretched merchantman, which,
luckily for her, remained motionless, like a schoolboy caught in
flagrant delict by a master.
"We have guns on board!" cried the General, clutching the Spanish
captain's hand. But the courage in Gomez's eyes was the courage of
"Have we men?" he said.
The Marquis looked round at the crew of the /Saint-Ferdinand/, and a
cold chill ran through him. There stood the four merchants, pale and
quaking for fear, while the crew gathered about some of their own
number who appeared to be arranging to go over in a body to the enemy.
They watched the /Othello/ with greed and curiosity in their faces.
The captain, the Marquis, and the mate exchanged glances; they were
the only three who had a thought for any but themselves.
"Ah! Captain Gomez, when I left my home and country, my heart was half
dead with the bitterness of parting, and now must I bid it good-bye
once more when I am bringing back happiness and ease for my children?"
The General turned his head away towards the sea, with tears of rage
in his eyes--and saw the steersman swimming out to the privateer.
"This time it will be good-bye for good," said the captain by way of
answer, and the dazed look in the Frenchman's eyes startled the
By this time the two vessels were almost alongside, and at the first
sight of the enemy's crew the General saw that Gomez's gloomy prophecy
was only too true. The three men at each gun might have been bronze
statues, standing like athletes, with their rugged features, their
bare sinewy arms, men whom Death himself had scarcely thrown off their
The rest of the crew, well armed, active, light, and vigorous, also
stood motionless. Toil had hardened, and the sun had deeply tanned,
those energetic faces; their eyes glittered like sparks of fire with
infernal glee and clear-sighted courage. Perfect silence on the upper
deck, now black with men, bore abundant testimony to the rigorous
discipline and strong will which held these fiends incarnate in check.
The captain of the /Othello/ stood with folded arms at the foot of the
main mast; he carried no weapons, but an axe lay on the deck beside
him. His face was hidden by the shadow of a broad felt hat. The men
looked like dogs crouching before their master. Gunners, soldiers, and
ship's crew turned their eyes first on his face, and then on the
The two brigs came up alongside, and the shock of contact roused the
privateer captain from his musings; he spoke a word in the ear of the
lieutenant who stood beside him.
"Grappling-irons!" shouted the latter, and the /Othello/ grappled the
/Saint-Ferdinand/ with miraculous quickness. The captain of the
privateer gave his orders in a low voice to the lieutenant, who
repeated them; the men, told off in succession for each duty, went on
the upper deck of the /Saint-Ferdinand/, like seminarists going to
mass. They bound crew and passengers hand and foot and seized the
booty. In the twinkling of an eye, provisions and barrels full of
piastres were transferred to the /Othello/; the General thought that
he must be dreaming when he himself, likewise bound, was flung down on
a bale of goods as if he had been part of the cargo.
A brief conference took place between the captain of the privateer and
his lieutenant and a sailor, who seemed to be the mate of the vessel;
then the mate gave a whistle, and the men jumped on board the /Saint-
Ferdinand/, and completely dismantled her with the nimble dexterity of
a soldier who strips a dead comrade of a coveted overcoat and shoes.
"It is all over with us," said the Spanish captain coolly. He had eyed
the three chiefs during their confabulation, and saw that the sailors
were proceeding to pull his vessel to pieces.
"Why so?" asked the General.
"What would you have them do with us?" returned the Spaniard. "They
have just come to the conclusion that they will scarcely sell the
/Saint-Ferdinand/ in any French or Spanish port, so they are going to
sink her to be rid of her. As for us, do you suppose that they will
put themselves to the expense of feeding us, when they don't know what
port they are to put into?"
The words were scarcely out of the captain's mouth before a hideous
outcry went up, followed by a dull splashing sound, as several bodies
were thrown overboard. He turned, the four merchants were no longer to
be seen, but eight ferocious-looking gunners were still standing with
their arms raised above their heads. He shuddered.
"What did I tell you?" the Spanish captain asked coolly.
The Marquis rose to his feet with a spring. The surface of the sea was
quite smooth again; he could not so much as see the place where his
unhappy fellow-passengers had disappeared. By this time they were
sinking down, bound hand and foot, below the waves, if, indeed, the
fish had not devoured them already.
Only a few paces away, the treacherous steersman and the sailor who
had boasted of the Parisian's power were fraternizing with the crew of
the /Othello/, and pointing out those among their own number, who, in
their opinion, were worthy to join the crew of the privateer. Then the
boys tied the rest together by the feet in spite of frightful oaths.
It was soon over; the eight gunners seized the doomed men and flung
them overboard without more ado, watching the different ways in which
the drowning victims met their death, their contortions, their last
agony, with a sort of malignant curiosity, but with no sign of
amusement, surprise, or pity. For them it was an ordinary event to
which seemingly they were quite accustomed. The older men looked
instead with grim, set smiles at the casks of piastres about the main
The General and Captain Gomez, left seated on a bale of goods,
consulted each other with well-nigh hopeless looks; they were, in a
sense, the sole survivors of the /Saint-Ferdinand/, for the seven men
pointed out by the spies were transformed amid rejoicings into
"What atrocious villains!" the General cried. Loyal and generous
indignation silenced prudence and pain on his own account.
"They do it because they must," Gomez answered coolly. "If you came
across one of those fellows, you would run him through the body, would
The lieutenant now came up to the Spaniard.
"Captain," said he, "the Parisian has heard of you. He says that you
are the only man who really knows the passages of the Antilles and the
Brazilian coast. Will you--"
The captain cut him short with a scornful exclamation.
"I shall die like a sailor," he said, "and a loyal Spaniard and a
Christian. Do you hear?"
"Heave him overboard!" shouted the lieutenant, and a couple of gunners
seized on Gomez.
"You cowards!" roared the General, seizing hold of the men.
"Don't get too excited, old boy," said the lieutenant. "If your red
ribbon has made some impression upon our captain, I myself do not care
a rap for it.--You and I will have our little bit of talk together
A smothered sound, with no accompanying cry, told the General that the
gallant captain had died "like a sailor," as he had said.
"My money or death!" cried the Marquis, in a fit of rage terrible to
"Ah! now you talk sensibly!" sneered the lieutenant. "That is the way
to get something out of us----"
Two of the men came up at a sign and hastened to bind the Frenchmen's
feet, but with unlooked-for boldness he snatched the lieutenant's
cutlass and laid about him like a cavalry officer who knows his
"Brigands that you are! You shall not chuck one of Napoleon's troopers
over a ship's side like an oyster!"
At the sound of pistol shots fired point blank at the Frenchman, "the
Parisian" looked round from his occupation of superintending the
transfer of the rigging from the /Saint-Ferdinand/. He came up behind
the brave General, seized him, dragged him to the side, and was about
to fling him over with no more concern than if the man had been a
broken spar. They were at the very edge when the General looked into
the tawny eyes of the man who had stolen his daughter. The recognition
The captain of the privateer, his arm still upraised, suddenly swung
it in the contrary direction as if his victim was but a feather
weight, and set him down at the foot of the main mast. A murmur rose
on the upper deck, but the captain glanced round, and there was a
"This is Helene's father," said the captain in a clear, firm voice.
"Woe to any one who meddles with him!"
A hurrah of joy went up at the words, a shout rising to the sky like a
prayer of the church; a cry like the first high notes of the /Te
Deum/. The lads swung aloft in the rigging, the men below flung up
their caps, the gunners pounded away on the deck, there was a general
thrill of excitement, an outburst of oaths, yells, and shrill cries in
voluble chorus. The men cheered like fanatics, the General's
misgivings deepened, and he grew uneasy; it seemed to him that there
was some horrible mystery in such wild transports.
"My daughter!" he cried, as soon as he could speak. "Where is my
For all answer, the captain of the privateer gave him a searching
glance, one of those glances which throw the bravest man into a
confusion which no theory can explain. The General was mute, not a
little to the satisfaction of the crew; it pleased them to see their
leader exercise the strange power which he possessed over all with
whom he came in contact. Then the captain led the way down a staircase
and flung open the door of a cabin.
"There she is," he said, and disappeared, leaving the General in a
stupor of bewilderment at the scene before his eyes.
Helene cried out at the sight of him, and sprang up from the sofa on
which she was lying when the door flew open. So changed was she that
none but a father's eyes could have recognized her. The sun of the
tropics had brought warmer tones into the once pale face, and
something of Oriental charm with that wonderful coloring; there was a
certain grandeur about her, a majestic firmness, a profound sentiment
which impresses itself upon the coarsest nature. Her long, thick hair,
falling in large curls about her queenly throat, gave an added idea of
power to the proud face. The consciousness of that power shone out
from every movement, every line of Helene's form. The rose-tinted
nostrils were dilated slightly with the joy of triumph; the serene
happiness of her life had left its plain tokens in the full
development of her beauty. A certain indefinable virginal grace met in
her with the pride of a woman who is loved. This was a slave and a
queen, a queen who would fain obey that she might reign.
Her dress was magnificent and elegant in its richness; India muslin
was the sole material, but her sofa and cushions were of cashmere. A
Persian carpet covered the floor in the large cabin, and her four
children playing at her feet were building castles of gems and pearl
necklaces and jewels of price. The air was full of the scent of rare
flowers in Sevres porcelain vases painted by Madame Jacotot; tiny
South American birds, like living rubies, sapphires, and gold, hovered
among the Mexican jessamines and camellias. A pianoforte had been
fitted into the room, and here and there on the paneled walls, covered
with red silk, hung small pictures by great painters--a /Sunset/ by
Hippolyte Schinner beside a Terburg, one of Raphael's Madonnas
scarcely yielded in charm to a sketch by Gericault, while a Gerard Dow
eclipsed the painters of the Empire. On a lacquered table stood a
golden plate full of delicious fruit. Indeed, Helene might have been
the sovereign lady of some great country, and this cabin of hers a
boudoir in which her crowned lover had brought together all earth's
treasure to please his consort. The children gazed with bright, keen
eyes at their grandfather. Accustomed as they were to a life of
battle, storm, and tumult, they recalled the Roman children in David's
/Brutus/, watching the fighting and bloodshed with curious interest.
"What! is it possible?" cried Helene, catching her father's arm as if
to assure herself that this was no vision.
They fell into each other's arms, and the old man's embrace was not so
close and warm as Helene's.
"Were you on board that vessel?"
"Yes," he answered sadly, and looking at the little ones, who gathered
about him and gazed with wide open eyes.
"I was about to perish, but--"
"But for my husband," she broke in. "I see how it was."
"Ah!" cried the General, "why must I find you again like this, Helene?
After all the many tears that I have shed, must I still groan for your
"And why?" she asked, smiling. "Why should you be sorry to learn that
I am the happiest woman under the sun?"
"/Happy/?" he cried with a start of surprise.
"Yes, happy, my kind father," and she caught his hands in hers and
covered them with kisses, and pressed them to her throbbing heart. Her
caresses, and a something in the carriage of her head, were
interpreted yet more plainly by the joy sparkling in her eyes.
"And how is this?" he asked, wondering at his daughter's life,
forgetful now of everything but the bright glowing face before him.
"Listen, father; I have for lover, husband, servant, and master one
whose soul is as great as the boundless sea, as infinite in his
kindness as heaven, a god on earth! Never during these seven years has
a chance look, or word, or gesture jarred in the divine harmony of his
talk, his love, his caresses. His eyes have never met mine without a
gleam of happiness in them; there has always been a bright smile on
his lips for me. On deck, his voice rises above the thunder of storms
and the tumult of battle; but here below it is soft and melodious as
Rossini's music--for he has Rossini's music sent for me. I have
everything that woman's caprice can imagine. My wishes are more than
fulfilled. In short, I am a queen on the seas; I am obeyed here as
perhaps a queen may be obeyed.--Ah!" she cried, interrupting herself,
"/happy/ did I say? Happiness is no word to express such bliss as
mine. All the happiness that should have fallen to all the women in
the world has been my share. Knowing one's own great love and self-
devotion, to find in /his/ heart an infinite love in which a woman's
soul is lost, and lost for ever--tell me, is this happiness? I have
lived through a thousand lives even now. Here, I am alone; here, I
command. No other woman has set foot on this noble vessel, and Victor
is never more than a few paces distant from me,--he cannot wander
further from me than from stern to prow," she added, with a shade of
mischief in her manner. "Seven years! A love that outlasts seven years
of continual joy, that endures all the tests brought by all the
moments that make up seven years--is this love? Oh, no, no! it is
something better than all that I know of life . . . human language
fails to express the bliss of heaven."
A sudden torrent of tears fell from her burning eyes. The four little
ones raised a piteous cry at this, and flocked like chickens about
their mother. The oldest boy struck the General with a threatening
"Abel, darling," said Helene, "I am crying for joy."
Helene took him on her knee, and the child fondled her, putting his
arms about her queenly neck, as a lion's whelp might play with the
"Do you never weary of your life?" asked the General, bewildered by
his daughter's enthusiastic language.
"Yes," she said, "sometimes, when we are on land, yet even then I have
never parted from my husband."
"But you need to be fond of music and balls and fetes."
"His voice is music for me; and for fetes, I devise new toilettes for
him to see. When he likes my dress, it is as if all the world admired
me. Simply for that reason I keep the diamonds and jewels, the
precious things, the flowers and masterpieces of art that he heaps
upon me, saying, 'Helene, as you live out of the world, I will have
the world come to you.' But for that I would fling them all
"But there are others on board, wild, reckless men whose passions--"
"I understand, father," she said smiling. "Do not fear for me. Never
was empress encompassed with more observance than I. The men are very
superstitious; they look upon me as a sort of tutelary genius, the
luck of the vessel. But /he/ is their god; they worship him. Once, and
once only, one of the crew showed disrespect, mere words," she added,
laughing; "but before Victor knew of it, the others flung the offender
overboard, although I forgave him. They love me as their good angel; I
nurse them when they are ill; several times I have been so fortunate
as to save a life, by constant care such as a woman can give. Poor
fellows, they are giants, but they are children at the same time."
"And when there is fighting overhead?"
"I am used to it now; I quaked for fear during the first engagement,
but never since.--I am used to such peril, and--I am your daughter,"
she said; "I love it."
"But how if he should fall?"
"I should die with him."
"And your children?"
"They are children of the sea and of danger; they share the life of
their parents. We have but one life, and we do not flinch from it. We
have but one life, our names are written on the same page of the book
of Fate, one skiff bears us and our fortunes, and we know it."
"Do you so love him that he is more to you than all beside?"
"All beside?" echoed she. "Let us leave that mystery alone. Yet stay!
there is this dear little one--well, this too is /he/," and straining
Abel to her in a tight clasp, she set eager kisses on his cheeks and
"But I can never forget that he has just drowned nine men!" exclaimed
"There was no help for it, doubtless," she said, "for he is generous
and humane. He sheds as little blood as may be, and only in the
interests of the little world which he defends, and the sacred cause
for which he is fighting. Talk to him about anything that seems to you
to be wrong, and he will convince you, you will see."
"There was that crime of his," muttered the General to himself.
"But how if that crime was a virtue?" she asked, with cold dignity.
"How if man's justice had failed to avenge a great wrong?"
"But a private revenge!" exclaimed her father.
"But what is hell," she cried, "but a revenge through all eternity for
the wrong done in a little day?"
"Ah! you are lost! He has bewitched and perverted you. You are talking
"Stay with us one day, father, and if you will but listen to him, and
see him, you will love him."
"Helene, France lies only a few leagues away," he said gravely.
Helene trembled; then she went to the porthole and pointed to the
savannas of green water spreading far and wide.
"There lies my country," she said, tapping the carpet with her foot.
"But are you not coming with me to see your mother and your sister and
"Oh! yes," she cried, with tears in her voice, "if /he/ is willing, if
he will come with me."
"So," the General said sternly, "you have neither country nor kin now,
"I am his wife," she answered proudly, and there was something very
noble in her tone. "This is the first happiness in seven years that
has not come to me through him," she said--then, as she caught her
father's hand and kissed it--"and this is the first word of reproach
that I have heard."
"And your conscience?"
"My conscience; he is my conscience!" she cried, trembling from head
to foot. "Here he is! Even in the thick of a fight I can tell his
footstep among all the others on deck," she cried.
A sudden crimson flushed her cheeks and glowed in her features, her
eyes lighted up, her complexion changed to velvet whiteness, there was
joy and love in every fibre, in the blue veins, in the unconscious
trembling of her whole frame. That quiver of the sensitive plant
softened the General.
It was as she had said. The captain came in, sat down in an easy-
chair, took up his oldest boy, and began to play with him. There was a
moment's silence, for the General's deep musing had grown vague and
dreamy, and the daintily furnished cabin and the playing children
seemed like a nest of halcyons, floating on the waves, between sky and
sea, safe in the protection of this man who steered his way amid the
perils of war and tempest, as other heads of household guide those in
their care among the hazards of common life. He gazed admiringly at
Helene--a dreamlike vision of some sea goddess, gracious in her
loveliness, rich in happiness; all the treasures about her grown poor
in comparison with the wealth of her nature, paling before the
brightness of her eyes, the indefinable romance expressed in her and
The strangeness of the situation took the General by surprise; the
ideas of ordinary life were thrown into confusion by this lofty
passion and reasoning. Chill and narrow social conventions faded away
before this picture. All these things the old soldier felt, and saw no
less how impossible it was that his daughter should give up so wide a
life, a life so variously rich, filled to the full with such
passionate love. And Helene had tasted danger without shrinking; how
could she return to the pretty stage, the superficial circumscribed
life of society?
It was the captain who broke the silence at last.
"Am I in the way?" he asked, looking at his wife.
"No," said the General, answering for her. "Helene has told me all. I
see that she is lost to us--"
"No," the captain put in quickly; "in a few years' time the statute of
limitations will allow me to go back to France. When the conscience is
clear, and a man has broken the law in obedience to----" he stopped
short, as if scorning to justify himself.
"How can you commit new murders, such as I have seen with my own eyes,
"We had no provisions," the privateer captain retorted calmly.
"But if you had set the men ashore--"
"They would have given the alarm and sent a man-of-war after us, and
we should never have seen Chili again."
"Before France would have given warning to the Spanish admiralty--"
began the General.
"But France might take it amiss that a man, with a warrant still out
against him, should seize a brig chartered by Bordeaux merchants. And
for that matter, have you never fired a shot or so too many in
The General shrank under the other's eyes. He said no more, and his
daughter looked at him half sadly, half triumphant.
"General," the privateer continued, in a deep voice, "I have made it a
rule to abstract nothing from booty. But even so, my share will be
beyond a doubt far larger than your fortune. Permit me to return it to
you in another form--"
He drew a pile of banknotes from the piano, and without counting the
packets handed a million of francs to the Marquis.
"You can understand," he said, "that I cannot spend my time in
watching vessels pass by to Bordeaux. So unless the dangers of this
Bohemian life of ours have some attraction for you, unless you care to
see South America and the nights of the tropics, and a bit of fighting
now and again for the pleasure of helping to win a triumph for a young
nation, or for the name of Simon Bolivar, we must part. The long boat
manned with a trustworthy crew is ready for you. And now let us hope
that our third meeting will be completely happy."
"Victor," said Helene in a dissatisfied tone, "I should like to see a
little more of my father."
"Ten minutes more or less may bring up a French frigate. However, so
be it, we shall have a little fun. The men find things dull."
"Oh, father, go!" cried Helene, "and take these keepsakes from me to
my sister and brothers and--mother," she added. She caught up a
handful of jewels and precious stones, folded them in an Indian shawl,
and timidly held it out.
"But what shall I say to them from you?" asked he. Her hesitation on
the word "mother" seemed to have struck him.
"Oh! can you doubt me? I pray for their happiness every day."
"Helene," he began, as he watched her closely, "how if we should not
meet again? Shall I never know why you left us?"
"That secret is not mine," she answered gravely. "Even if I had the
right to tell it, perhaps I should not. For ten years I was more
miserable than words can say--"
She broke off, and gave her father the presents for her family. The
General had acquired tolerably easy views as to booty in the course of
a soldier's career, so he took Helene's gifts and comforted himself
with the reflection that the Parisian captain was sure to wage war
against the Spaniards as an honorable man, under the influence of
Helene's pure and high-minded nature. His passion for courage carried
all before it. It was ridiculous, he thought, to be squeamish in the
matter; so he shook hands cordially with his captor, and kissed
Helene, his only daughter, with a soldier's expansiveness; letting
fall a tear on the face with the proud, strong look that once he had
loved to see. "The Parisian," deeply moved, brought the children for
his blessing. The parting was over, the last good-bye was a long
farewell look, with something of tender regret on either side.
A strange sight to seaward met the General's eyes. The /Saint-
Ferdinand/ was blazing like a huge bonfire. The men told off to sink
the Spanish brig had found a cargo of rum on board; and as the
/Othello/ was already amply supplied, had lighted a floating bowl of
punch on the high seas, by way of a joke; a pleasantry pardonable
enough in sailors, who hail any chance excitement as a relief from the
apparent monotony of life at sea. As the General went over the side
into the long-boat of the /Saint-Ferdinand/, manned by six vigorous
rowers, he could not help looking at the burning vessel, as well as at
the daughter who stood by her husband's side on the stern of the
/Othello/. He saw Helene's white dress flutter like one more sail in
the breeze; he saw the tall, noble figure against a background of sea,
queenly still even in the presence of Ocean; and so many memories
crowded up in his mind, that, with a soldier's recklessness of life,
he forgot that he was being borne over the grave of the brave Gomez.
A vast column of smoke rising spread like a brown cloud, pierced here
and there by fantastic shafts of sunlight. It was a second sky, a
murky dome reflecting the glow of the fire as if the under surface had
been burnished; but above it soared the unchanging blue of the
firmament, a thousand times fairer for the short-lived contrast. The
strange hues of the smoke cloud, black and red, tawny and pale by
turns, blurred and blending into each other, shrouded the burning
vessel as it flared, crackled and groaned; the hissing tongues of
flame licked up the rigging, and flashed across the hull, like a rumor
of riot flashing along the streets of a city. The burning rum sent up
blue flitting lights. Some sea god might have been stirring the
furious liquor as a student stirs the joyous flames of punch in an
orgy. But in the overpowering sunlight, jealous of the insolent blaze,
the colors were scarcely visible, and the smoke was but a film
fluttering like a thin scarf in the noonday torrent of light and heat.
The /Othello/ made the most of the little wind she could gain to fly
on her new course. Swaying first to one side, then to the other, like
a stag beetle on the wing, the fair vessel beat to windward on her
zigzag flight to the south. Sometimes she was hidden from sight by the
straight column of smoke that flung fantastic shadows across the
water, then gracefully she shot out clear of it, and Helene, catching
sight of her father, waved her handkerchief for yet one more farewell
A few more minutes, and the /Saint-Ferdinand/ went down with a
bubbling turmoil, at once effaced by the ocean. Nothing of all that
had been was left but a smoke cloud hanging in the breeze. The
/Othello/ was far away, the long-boat had almost reached land, the
cloud came between the frail skiff and the brig, and it was through a
break in the swaying smoke that the General caught the last glimpse of
Helene. A prophetic vision! Her dress and her white handkerchief stood
out against the murky background. Then the brig was not even visible
between the green water and the blue sky, and Helene was nothing but
an imperceptible speck, a faint graceful line, an angel in heaven, a
mental image, a memory.
The Marquis had retrieved his fortunes, when he died, worn out with
toil. A few months after his death, in 1833, the Marquise was obliged
to take Moina to a watering-place in the Pyrenees, for the capricious
child had a wish to see the beautiful mountain scenery. They left the
baths, and the following tragical incident occurred on their way home.
"Dear me, mother," said Moina, "it was very foolish of us not to stay
among the mountains a few days longer. It was much nicer there. Did
you hear that horrid child moaning all night, and that wretched woman,
gabbling away in patois no doubt, for I could not understand a single
word she said. What kind of people can they have put in the next room
to ours? This is one of the horridest nights I have ever spent in my
"I heard nothing," said the Marquise, "but I will see the landlady,
darling, and engage the next room, and then we shall have the whole
suite of rooms to ourselves, and there will be no more noise. How do
you feel this morning? Are you tired?"
As she spoke, the Marquise rose and went to Moina's bedside.
"Let us see," she said, feeling for the girl's hand.
"Oh! let me alone, mother," said Moina; "your fingers are cold."
She turned her head round on the pillow as she spoke, pettishly, but
with such engaging grace, that a mother could scarcely have taken it
amiss. Just then a wailing cry echoed through the next room, a faint
prolonged cry, that must surely have gone to the heart of any woman
who heard it.
"Why, if you heard /that/ all night long, why did you not wake me? We
A deeper moan than any that had gone before it interrupted the
"Some one is dying there," she cried, and hurried out of the room.
"Send Pauline to me!" called Moina. "I shall get up and dress."
The Marquise hastened downstairs, and found the landlady in the
courtyard with a little group about her, apparently much interested in
something that she was telling them.
"Madame, you have put some one in the next room who seems to be very
"Oh! don't talk to me about it!" cried the mistress of the house. "I
have just sent some one for the mayor. Just imagine it; it is a woman,
a poor unfortunate creature that came here last night on foot. She
comes from Spain; she has no passport and no money; she was carrying
her baby on her back, and the child was dying. I could not refuse to
take her in. I went up to see her this morning myself; for when she
turned up yesterday, it made me feel dreadfully bad to look at her.
Poor soul! she and the child were lying in bed, and both of them at
death's door. 'Madame,' says she, pulling a gold ring off her finger,
'this is all that I have left; take it in payment, it will be enough;
I shall not stay here long. Poor little one! we shall die together
soon!' she said, looking at the child. I took her ring, and I asked
her who she was, but she never would tell me her name. . . . I have
just sent for the doctor and M. le Maire."
"Why, you must do all that can be done for her," cried the Marquise.
"Good heavens! perhaps it is not too late! I will pay for everything
that is necessary----"
"Ah! my lady, she looks to me uncommonly proud, and I don't know that
she would allow it."
"I will go to see her at once."
The Marquise went up forthwith to the stranger's room, without
thinking of the shock that the sight of her widow's weeds might give
to a woman who was said to be dying. At the sight of that dying woman
the Marquise turned pale. In spite of the changes wrought by fearful
suffering in Helene's beautiful face, she recognized her eldest
But Helene, when she saw a woman dressed in black, sat upright in bed
with a shriek of horror. Then she sank back; she knew her mother.
"My daughter," said Mme. d'Aiglemont, "what is to be done?
Pauline! . . . Moina! . . ."
"Nothing now for me," said Helene faintly. "I had hoped to see my
father once more, but your mourning--" she broke off, clutched her
child to her heart as if to give it warmth, and kissed its forehead.
Then she turned her eyes on her mother, and the Marquise met the old
reproach in them, tempered with forgiveness, it is true, but still
reproach. She saw it, and would not see it. She forgot that Helene was
the child conceived amid tears and despair, the child of duty, the
cause of one of the greatest sorrows in her life. She stole to her
eldest daughter's side, remembering nothing but that Helene was her
firstborn, the child who had taught her to know the joys of
motherhood. The mother's eyes were full of tears. "Helene, my
child! . . ." she cried, with her arms about her daughter.
Helene was silent. Her own babe had just drawn its last breath on her
Moina came into the room with Pauline, her maid, and the landlady and
the doctor. The Marquise was holding her daughter's ice-cold hand in
both of hers, and gazing at her in despair; but the widowed woman, who
had escaped shipwreck with but one of all her fair band of children,
spoke in a voice that was dreadful to hear. "All this is your work,"
she said. "If you had but been for me all that--"
"Moina, go! Go out of the room, all of you!" cried Mme. d'Aiglemont,
her shrill tones drowning Helene's voice.--"For pity's sake," she
continued, "let us not begin these miserable quarrels again now----"
"I will be silent," Helene answered with a preternatural effort. "I am
a mother; I know that Moina ought not . . . Where is my child?"
Moina came back, impelled by curiosity.
"Sister," said the spoiled child, "the doctor--"
"It is all of no use," said Helene. "Oh! why did I not die as a girl
of sixteen when I meant to take my own life? There is no happiness
outside the laws. Moina . . . you . . ."
Her head sank till her face lay against the face of the little one; in
her agony she strained her babe to her breast, and died.
"Your sister, Moina," said Mme. d'Aiglemont, bursting into tears when
she reached her room, "your sister meant no doubt to tell you that a
girl will never find happiness in a romantic life, in living as nobody
else does, and, above all things, far away from her mother."
THE OLD AGE OF A GUILTY MOTHER
It was one of the earliest June days of the year 1844. A lady of fifty
or thereabouts, for she looked older than her actual age, was pacing
up and down one of the sunny paths in the garden of a great mansion in
the Rue Plument in Paris. It was noon. The lady took two or three
turns along the gently winding garden walk, careful never to lose
sight of a certain row of windows, to which she seemed to give her
whole attention; then she sat down on a bench, a piece of elegant
semi-rusticity made of branches with the bark left on the wood. From
the place where she sat she could look through the garden railings
along the inner boulevards to the wonderful dome of the Invalides
rising above the crests of a forest of elm-trees, and see the less
striking view of her own grounds terminating in the gray stone front
of one of the finest hotels in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
Silence lay over the neighboring gardens, and the boulevards
stretching away to the Invalides. Day scarcely begins at noon in that
aristocratic quarter, and masters and servants are all alike asleep,
or just awakening, unless some young lady takes it into her head to go
for an early ride, or a gray-headed diplomatist rises betimes to
redraft a protocol.
The elderly lady stirring abroad at that hour was the Marquise
d'Aiglemont, the mother of Mme. de Saint-Hereen, to whom the great
house belonged. The Marquise had made over the mansion and almost her
whole fortune to her daughter, reserving only an annuity for herself.
The Comtesse Moina de Saint-Hereen was Mme. d'Aiglemont's youngest
child. The Marquise had made every sacrifice to marry her daughter to
the eldest son of one of the greatest houses of France; and this was
only what might have been expected, for the lady had lost her sons,
first one and then the other. Gustave, Marquis d'Aiglemont, had died
of the cholera; Abel, the second, had fallen in Algeria. Gustave had
left a widow and children, but the dowager's affection for her sons
had been only moderately warm, and for the next generation it was
decidedly tepid. She was always civil to her daughter-in-law, but her
feeling towards the young Marquise was the distinctly conventional
affection which good taste and good manners require us to feel for our
relatives. The fortunes of her dead children having been settled, she
could devote her savings and her own property to her darling Moina.
Moina, beautiful and fascinating from childhood, was Mme.
d'Aiglemont's favorite; loved beyond all the others with an
instinctive or involuntary love, a fatal drawing of the heart, which
sometimes seems inexplicable, sometimes, and to a close observer, only
too easy to explain. Her darling's pretty face, the sound of Moina's
voice, her ways, her manner, her looks and gestures, roused all the
deepest emotions that can stir a mother's heart with trouble, rapture,
or delight. The springs of the Marquise's life, of yesterday,
to-morrow, and to-day, lay in that young heart. Moina, with better
fortune, had survived four older children. As a matter of fact, Mme.
d'Aiglemont had lost her eldest daughter, a charming girl, in a most
unfortunate manner, said gossip, nobody knew exactly what became of
her; and then she lost a little boy of five by a dreadful accident.
The child of her affections had, however, been spared to her, and
doubtless the Marquise saw the will of Heaven in that fact; for those
who had died, she kept but very shadowy recollections in some far-off
corner of her heart; her memories of her dead children were like the
headstones on a battlefield, you can scarcely see them for the flowers
that have sprung up about them since. Of course, if the world had
chosen, it might have said some hard truths about the Marquise, might
have taken her to task for shallowness and an overweening preference
for one child at the expense of the rest; but the world of Paris is
swept along by the full flood of new events, new ideas, and new
fashions, and it was inevitable the Mme. d'Aiglemont should be in some
sort allowed to drop out of sight. So nobody thought of blaming her
for coldness or neglect which concerned no one, whereas her quick,
apprehensive tenderness for Moina was found highly interesting by not
a few who respected it as a sort of superstition. Besides, the
Marquise scarcely went into society at all; and the few families who
knew her thought of her as a kindly, gentle, indulgent woman, wholly
devoted to her family. What but a curiosity, keen indeed, would seek
to pry beneath the surface with which the world is quite satisfied?
And what would we not pardon to old people, if only they will efface
themselves like shadows, and consent to be regarded as memories and
Indeed, Mme. d'Aiglemont became a kind of example complacently held up
by the younger generation to fathers of families, and frequently cited
to mothers-in-law. She had made over her property to Moina in her own
lifetime; the young Countess' happiness was enough for her, she only
lived in her daughter. If some cautious old person or morose uncle
here and there condemned the course with--"Perhaps Mme. d'Aiglemont
may be sorry some day that she gave up her fortune to her daughter;
she may be sure of Moina, but how can she be equally sure of her son-
in-law?"--these prophets were cried down on all sides, and from all
sides a chorus of praise went up for Moina.
"It ought to be said, in justice to Mme. de Saint-Hereen, that her
mother cannot feel the slightest difference," remarked a young married
woman. "Mme. d'Aiglemont is admirably well housed. She has a carriage
at her disposal, and can go everywhere just as she used to do--"
"Except to the Italiens," remarked a low voice. (This was an elderly
parasite, one of those persons who show their independence--as they
think--by riddling their friends with epigrams.) "Except to the
Italiens. And if the dowager cares for anything on this earth but her
daughter--it is music. Such a good performer she was in her time! But
the Countess' box is always full of young butterflies, and the
Countess' mother would be in the way; the young lady is talked about
already as a great flirt. So the poor mother never goes to the
"Mme. de Saint-Hereen has delightful 'At Homes' for her mother," said
a rosebud. "All Paris goes to her salon.
"And no one pays any attention to the Marquise," returned the
"The fact is that Mme. d'Aiglemont is never alone," remarked a
coxcomb, siding with the young women.
"In the morning," the old observer continued in a discreet voice, "in
the morning dear Moina is asleep. At four o'clock dear Moina drives in
the Bois. In the evening dear Moina goes to a ball or to the Bouffes.
--Still, it is certainly true that Mme. d'Aiglemont has the privilege
of seeing her dear daughter while she dresses, and again at dinner, if
dear Moina happens to dine with her mother. Not a week ago, sir,"
continued the elderly person, laying his hand on the arm of the shy
tutor, a new arrival in the house, "not a week ago, I saw the poor
mother, solitary and sad, by her own fireside.--'What is the matter?'
I asked. The Marquise looked up smiling, but I am quite sure that she
had been crying.--'I was thinking that it is a strange thing that I
should be left alone when I have had five children,' she said, 'but
that is our destiny! And besides, I am happy when I know that Moina is
enjoying herself.'--She could say that to me, for I knew her husband
when he was alive. A poor stick he was, and uncommonly lucky to have
such a wife; it was certainly owing to her that he was made a peer of
France, and had a place at Court under Charles X."
Yet such mistaken ideas get about in social gossip, and such mischief
is done by it, that the historian of manners is bound to exercise his
discretion, and weigh the assertions so recklessly made. After all,
who is to say that either mother or daughter was right or wrong? There
is but One who can read and judge their hearts! And how often does He
wreak His vengeance in the family circle, using throughout all time
children as His instruments against their mothers, and fathers against
their sons, raising up peoples against kings, and princes against
peoples, sowing strife and division everywhere? And in the world of
ideas, are not opinions and feelings expelled by new feelings and
opinions, much as withered leaves are thrust forth by the young leaf-
buds in the spring?--all in obedience to the immutable Scheme; all to
some end which God alone knows. Yet, surely, all things proceed to
Him, or rather, to Him all things return.
Such thoughts of religion, the natural thoughts of age, floated up now
and again on the current of Mme. d'Aiglemont's thoughts; they were
always dimly present in her mind, but sometimes they shone out
clearly, sometimes they were carried under, like flowers tossed on the
vexed surface of a stormy sea.
She sat on a garden-seat, tired with walking, exhausted with much
thinking--with the long thoughts in which a whole lifetime rises up
before the mind, and is spread out like a scroll before the eyes of
those who feel that Death is near.
If a poet had chanced to pass along the boulevard, he would have found
an interesting picture in the face of this woman, grown old before her
time. As she sat under the dotted shadow of the acacia, the shadow the
acacia casts at noon, a thousand thoughts were written for all the
world to see on her features, pale and cold even in the hot, bright
sunlight. There was something sadder than the sense of waning life in
that expressive face, some trouble that went deeper than the weariness
of experience. It was a face of a type that fixes you in a moment
among a host of characterless faces that fail to draw a second glance,
a face to set you thinking. Among a thousand pictures in a gallery,
you are strongly impressed by the sublime anguish on the face of some
Madonna of Murillo's; by some /Beatrice Cenci/ in which Guido's art
portrays the most touching innocence against a background of horror
and crime; by the awe and majesty that should encircle a king, caught
once and for ever by Velasquez in the sombre face of a Philip II., and
so is it with some living human faces; they are tyrannous pictures
which speak to you, submit you to searching scrutiny, and give
response to your inmost thoughts, nay, there are faces that set forth
a whole drama, and Mme. d'Aiglemont's stony face was one of these
awful tragedies, one of such faces as Dante Alighieri saw by thousands
in his vision.
For the little season that a woman's beauty is in flower it serves her
admirably well in the dissimulation to which her natural weakness and
our social laws condemn her. A young face and rich color, and eyes
that glow with light, a gracious maze of such subtle, manifold lines
and curves, flawless and perfectly traced, is a screen that hides
everything that stirs the woman within. A flush tells nothing, it only
heightens the coloring so brilliant already; all the fires that burn
within can add little light to the flame of life in eyes which only
seem the brighter for the flash of a passing pain. Nothing is so
discreet as a young face, for nothing is less mobile; it has the
serenity, the surface smoothness, and the freshness of a lake. There
is not character in women's faces before the age of thirty. The
painter discovers nothing there but pink and white, and the smile and
expression that repeat the same thought in the same way--a thought of
youth and love that goes no further than youth and love. But the face
of an old woman has expressed all that lay in her nature; passion has
carved lines on her features; love and wifehood and motherhood, and
extremes of joy and anguish, having wrung them, and left their traces
in a thousand wrinkles, all of which speak a language of their own;
then it is that a woman's face becomes sublime in its horror,
beautiful in its melancholy, grand in its calm. If it is permissible
to carry the strange metaphor still further, it might be said that in
the dried-up lake you can see the traces of all the torrents that once
poured into it and made it what it is. An old face is nothing to the
frivolous world; the frivolous world is shocked by the sight of the
destruction of such comeliness as it can understand; a commonplace
artist sees nothing there. An old face is the province of the poets
among poets of those who can recognize that something which is called
Beauty, apart from all the conventions underlying so many
superstitions in art and taste.
Though Mme. d'Aiglemont wore a fashionable bonnet, it was easy to see
that her once black hair had been bleached by cruel sorrows; yet her
good taste and the gracious acquired instincts of a woman of fashion
could be seen in the way she wore it, divided into two /bandeaux/,
following the outlines of a forehead that still retained some traces
of former dazzling beauty, worn and lined though it was. The contours
of her face, the regularity of her features, gave some idea, faint in
truth, of that beauty of which surely she had once been proud; but
those traces spoke still more plainly of the anguish which had laid it
waste, of sharp pain that had withered the temples, and made those
hollows in her cheeks, and empurpled the eyelids, and robbed them of
their lashes, and the eyes of their charm. She was in every way so
noiseless; she moved with a slow, self-contained gravity that showed
itself in her whole bearing, and struck a certain awe into others. Her
diffident manner had changed to positive shyness, due apparently to a
habit now of some years' growth, of effacing herself in her daughter's
presence. She spoke very seldom, and in the low tones used by those
who perforce must live within themselves a life of reflection and
concentration. This demeanor led others to regard her with an
indefinable feeling which was neither awe nor compassion, but a
mysterious blending of the many ideas awakened in us by compassion and
awe. Finally, there was something in her wrinkles, in the lines of her
face, in the look of pain in those wan eyes of hers, that bore
eloquent testimony to tears that never had fallen, tears that had been
absorbed by her heart. Unhappy creatures, accustomed to raise their
eyes to heaven, in mute appeal against the bitterness of their lot,
would have seen at once from her eyes that she was broken in to the
cruel discipline of ceaseless prayer, would have discerned the almost
imperceptible symptoms of the secret bruises which destroy all the
flowers of the soul, even the sentiment of motherhood.
Painters have colors for these portraits, but words, and the mental
images called up by words, fail to reproduce such impressions
faithfully; there are mysterious signs and tokens in the tones of the
coloring and in the look of human faces, which the mind only seizes
through the sense of sight; and the poet is fain to record the tale of
the events which wrought the havoc to make their terrible ravages
The face spoke of cold and steady storm, an inward conflict between a
mother's long-suffering and the limitations of our nature, for our
human affections are bounded by our humanity, and the infinite has no
place in finite creatures. Sorrow endured in silence had at last
produced an indefinable morbid something in this woman. Doubtless
mental anguish had reacted on the physical frame, and some disease,
perhaps an aneurism, was undermining Julie's life. Deep-seated grief
lies to all appearance very quietly in the depths where it is
conceived, yet, so still and apparently dormant as it is, it
ceaselessly corrodes the soul, like the terrible acid which eats away
Two tears made their way down the Marquise's cheeks; she rose to her
feet as if some thought more poignant than any that preceded it had
cut her to the quick. She had doubtless come to a conclusion as to
Moina's future; and now, foreseeing clearly all the troubles in store
for her child, the sorrows of her own unhappy life had begun to weigh
once more upon her. The key of her position must be sought in her
The Comte de Saint-Hereen had been away for nearly six months on a
political mission. The Countess, whether from sheer giddiness, or in
obedience to the countless instincts of woman's coquetry, or to essay
its power--with all the vanity of a frivolous fine lady, all the
capricious waywardness of a child--was amusing herself, during her
husband's absence, by playing with the passion of a clever but
heartless man, distracted (so he said) with love, the love that
combines readily with every petty social ambition of a self-conceited
coxcomb. Mme. d'Aiglemont, whose long experience had given her a
knowledge of life, and taught her to judge of men and to dread the
world, watched the course of this flirtation, and saw that it could
only end in one way, if her daughter should fall into the hands of an
utterly unscrupulous intriguer. How could it be other than a terrible
thought for her that her daughter listened willingly to this /roue/?
Her darling stood on the brink of a precipice, she felt horribly sure
of it, yet dared not hold her back. She was afraid of the Countess.
She knew too that Moina would not listen to her wise warnings; she
knew that she had no influence over that nature--iron for her, silken-
soft for all others. Her mother's tenderness might have led her to
sympathize with the troubles of a passion called forth by the nobler
qualities of a lover, but this was no passion--it was coquetry, and
the Marquise despised Alfred de Vandenesse, knowing that he had
entered upon this flirtation with Moina as if it were a game of chess.
But if Alfred de Vandenesse made her shudder with disgust, she was
obliged--unhappy mother!--to conceal the strongest reason for her
loathing in the deepest recesses of her heart. She was on terms of
intimate friendship with the Marquis de Vandenesse, the young man's
father; and this friendship, a respectable one in the eyes of the
world, excused the son's constant presence in the house, he professing
an old attachment, dating from childhood, for Mme. de Saint-Hereen.
More than this, in vain did Mme. d'Aiglemont nerve herself to come
between Moina and Alfred de Vandenesse with a terrible word, knowing
beforehand that she should not succeed; knowing that the strong reason
which ought to separate them would carry no weight; that she should
humiliate herself vainly in her daughter's eyes. Alfred was too
corrupt; Moina too clever to believe the revelation; the young
Countess would turn it off and treat it as a piece of maternal
strategy. Mme. d'Aiglemont had built her prison walls with her own
hands; she had immured herself only to see Moina's happiness ruined
thence before she died; she was to look on helplessly at the ruin of
the young life which had been her pride and joy and comfort, a life a
thousand times dearer to her than her own. What words can describe
anguish so hideous beyond belief, such unfathomed depths of pain?
She waited for Moina to rise, with the impatience and sickening dread
of a doomed man, who longs to have done with life, and turns cold at
the thought of the headsman. She had braced herself for a last effort,
but perhaps the prospect of the certain failure of the attempt was
less dreadful to her than the fear of receiving yet again one of those
thrusts that went to her very heart--before that fear her courage
ebbed away. Her mother's love had come to this. To love her child, to
be afraid of her, to shrink from the thought of the stab, yet to go
forward. So great is a mother's affection in a loving nature, that
before it can fade away into indifference the mother herself must die
or find support in some great power without her, in religion or
another love. Since the Marquise rose that morning, her fatal memory
had called up before her some of those things, so slight to all
appearance, that make landmarks in a life. Sometimes, indeed, a whole
tragedy grows out of a single gesture; the tone in which a few words
were spoken rends a whole life in two; a glance into indifferent eyes
is the deathblow of the gladdest love; and, unhappily, such gestures
and such words were only too familiar to Mme. d'Aiglemont--she had met
so many glances that wound the soul. No, there was nothing in those
memories to bid her hope. On the contrary, everything went to show
that Alfred had destroyed her hold on her daughter's heart, that the
thought of her was now associated with duty--not with gladness. In
ways innumerable, in things that were mere trifles in themselves, the
Countess' detestable conduct rose up before her mother; and the
Marquise, it may be, looked on Moina's undutifulness as a punishment,
and found excuses for her daughter in the will of Heaven, that so she
still might adore the hand that smote her.
All these things passed through her memory that morning, and each
recollection wounded her afresh so sorely, that with a very little
additional pain her brimming cup of bitterness must have overflowed. A
cold look might kill her.
The little details of domestic life are difficult to paint; but one or
two perhaps will suffice to give an idea of the rest.
The Marquise d'Aiglemont, for instance, had grown rather deaf, but she
could never induce Moina to raise her voice for her. Once, with the
naivete of suffering, she had begged Moina to repeat some remark which
she had failed to catch, and Moina obeyed, but with so bad a grace,
the Mme. d'Aiglemont had never permitted herself to make her modest
request again. Ever since that day when Moina was talking or retailing
a piece of news, her mother was careful to come near to listen; but
this infirmity of deafness appeared to put the Countess out of
patience, and she would grumble thoughtlessly about it. This instance
is one from among very many that must have gone to the mother's heart;
and yet nearly all of them might have escaped a close observer, they
consisted in faint shades of manner invisible to any but a woman's
eyes. Take another example. Mme. d'Aiglemont happened to say one day
that the Princesse de Cadignan had called upon her. "Did she come to
see /you/!" Moina exclaimed. That was all, but the Countess' voice and
manner expressed surprise and well-bred contempt in semitones. Any
heart, still young and sensitive, might well have applauded the
philanthropy of savage tribes who kill off their old people when they
grow too feeble to cling to a strongly shaken bough. Mme. d'Aiglemont
rose smiling, and went away to weep alone.
Well-bred people, and women especially, only betray their feelings by
imperceptible touches; but those who can look back over their own
experience on such bruises as this mother's heart received, know also
how the heart-strings vibrate to these light touches. Overcome by her
memories, Mme. d'Aiglemont recollected one of those microscopically
small things, so stinging and so painful was it that never till this
moment had she felt all the heartless contempt that lurked beneath
At the sound of shutters thrown back at her daughter's windows, she
dried her tears, and hastened up the pathway by the railings. As she
went, it struck her that the gardener had been unusually careful to
rake the sand along the walk which had been neglected for some little
time. As she stood under her daughter's windows, the shutters were
"Moina, is it you?" she asked.
The Marquise went on into the house.
"Mme. la Comtesse is in the little drawing-room," said the maid, when
the Marquise asked whether Mme. de Saint-Hereen had finished dressing.
Mme. d'Aiglemont hurried to the little drawing-room; her heart was too
full, her brain too busy to notice matters so slight; but there on the
sofa sat the Countess in her loose morning-gown, her hair in disorder
under the cap tossed carelessly on he head, her feet thrust into
slippers. The key of her bedroom hung at her girdle. Her face, aglow
with color, bore traces of almost stormy thought.
"What makes people come in!" she cried, crossly. "Oh! it is you,
mother," she interrupted herself, with a preoccupied look.
"Yes, child; it is your mother----"
Something in her tone turned those words into an outpouring of the
heart, the cry of some deep inward feeling, only to be described by
the word "holy." So thoroughly in truth had she rehabilitated the
sacred character of a mother, that her daughter was impressed, and
turned towards her, with something of awe, uneasiness, and remorse in
her manner. The room was the furthest of a suite, and safe from
indiscreet intrusion, for no one could enter it without giving warning
of approach through the previous apartments. The Marquise closed the
"It is my duty, my child, to warn you in one of the most serious
crises in the lives of us women; you have perhaps reached it
unconsciously, and I am come to speak to you as a friend rather than
as a mother. When you married, you acquired freedom of action; you are
only accountable to your husband now; but I asserted my authority so
little (perhaps I was wrong), that I think I have a right to expect
you to listen to me, for once at least, in a critical position when
you must need counsel. Bear in mind, Moina that you are married to a
man of high ability, a man of whom you may well be proud, a man who--"
"I know what you are going to say, mother!" Moina broke in pettishly.
"I am to be lectured about Alfred--"
"Moina," the Marquise said gravely, as she struggled with her tears,
"you would not guess at once if you did not feel--"
"What?" asked Moina, almost haughtily. "Why, really, mother--"
Mme. d'Aiglemont summoned up all her strength. "Moina," she said, "you
must attend carefully to this that I ought to tell you--"
"I am attending," returned the Countess, folding her arms, and
affecting insolent submission. "Permit me, mother, to ring for
Pauline," she added with incredible self-possession; "I will send her
She rang the bell.
"My dear child, Pauline cannot possibly hear--"
"Mamma," interrupted the Countess, with a gravity which must have
struck her mother as something unusual, "I must--"
She stopped short, for the woman was in the room.
"Pauline, go /yourself/ to Baudran's, and ask why my hat has not yet
Then the Countess reseated herself and scrutinized her mother. The
Marquise, with a swelling heart and dry eyes, in painful agitation,
which none but a mother can fully understand, began to open Moina's
eyes to the risk that she was running. But either the Countess felt
hurt and indignant at her mother's suspicions of a son of the Marquis
de Vandenesse, or she was seized with a sudden fit of inexplicable
levity caused by the inexperience of youth. She took advantage of a
"Mamma, I thought you were only jealous of /the father/--" she said,
with a forced laugh.
Mme. d'Aiglemont shut her eyes and bent her head at the words, with a
very faint, almost inaudible sigh. She looked up and out into space,
as if she felt the common overmastering impulse to appeal to God at
the great crises of our lives; then she looked at her daughter, and
her eyes were full of awful majesty and the expression of profound
"My child," she said, and her voice was hardly recognizable, "you have
been less merciful to your mother than he against whom she sinned;
less merciful than perhaps God Himself will be!"
Mme. d'Aiglemont rose; at the door she turned; but she saw nothing but
surprise in her daughter's face. She went out. Scarcely had she
reached the garden when her strength failed her. There was a violent
pain at her heart, and she sank down on a bench. As her eyes wandered
over the path, she saw fresh marks on the path, a man's footprints
were distinctly recognizable. It was too late, then, beyond a doubt.
Now she began to understand the reason for that order given to
Pauline, and with these torturing thoughts came a revelation more
hateful than any that had gone before it. She drew her own
inferences--the son of the Marquis de Vandenesse had destroyed all
feeling of respect for her in her daughter's mind. The physical pain
grew worse; by degrees she lost consciousness, and sat like one asleep
upon the garden-seat.
The Countess de Saint-Hereen, left to herself, thought that her mother
had given her a somewhat shrewd home-thrust, but a kiss and a few
attentions that evening would make all right again.
A shrill cry came from the garden. She leaned carelessly out, as
Pauline, not yet departed on her errand, called out for help, holding
the Marquise in her arms.
"Do not frighten my daughter!" those were the last words the mother
Moina saw them carry in a pale and lifeless form that struggled for
breath, and arms moving restlessly as in protest or effort to speak;
and overcome by the sight, Moina followed in silence, and helped to
undress her mother and lay her on her bed. The burden of her fault was
greater than she could bear. In that supreme hour she learned to know
her mother--too late, she could make no reparation now. She would have
them leave her alone with her mother; and when there was no one else
in the room, when she felt that the hand which had always been so
tender for her was now grown cold to her touch, she broke out into
weeping. Her tears aroused the Marquise; she could still look at her
darling Moina; and at the sound of sobbing, that seemed as if it must
rend the delicate, disheveled breast, could smile back at her
daughter. That smile taught the unnatural child that forgiveness is
always to be found in the great deep of a mother's heart.
Servants on horseback had been dispatched at once for the physician
and surgeon and for Mme. d'Aiglemont's grandchildren. Mme. d'Aiglemont
the younger and her little sons arrived with the medical men, a
sufficiently impressive, silent, and anxious little group, which the
servants of the house came to join. The young Marquise, hearing no
sound, tapped gently at the door. That signal, doubtless, roused Moina
from her grief, for she flung open the doors and stood before them. No
words could have spoken more plainly than that disheveled figure
looking out with haggard eyes upon the assembled family. Before that
living picture of Remorse the rest were dumb. It was easy to see that
the Marquise's feet were stretched out stark and stiff with the agony
of death; and Moina, leaning against the door-frame, looking into
their faces, spoke in a hollow voice:
"I have lost my mother!"
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Aiglemont, General, Marquis Victor d'
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
The Firm of Nucingen
The Gondreville Mystery
The Seamy Side of History
Camps, Madame Octave de (nee Cadignan)
The Government Clerks
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
A Start in Life
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
The Commission in Lunacy
The Government Clerks
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes
The Gondreville Mystery
Ronquerolles, Marquis de
The Imaginary Mistress
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis
Saint-Hereen, Comtesse Moina de
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
Serizy, Comtesse de
A Start in Life
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Imaginary Mistress
Vandenesse, Marquis Charles de
A Start in Life
A Daughter of Eve