Part 10 out of 10
"At Montlhery!" I exclaimed, suddenly recovering the lost link in my
"The Sainte Aulaires," continued the lady, without pausing to notice my
interruption, "were sufficiently wealthy to keep up their social
position, and to contract alliances with many of the best families in
the south of France. Towards the early part of the reign of Louis XIII.
they began to be conspicuous at court, and continued to reside in and
near Paris up to the period of the Revolution. Marshals of France,
Envoys, and Ministers of State during a period of nearly a century and a
half, the Sainte Aulaires had enjoyed too many honors not to be among
the first of those who fell in the Reign of Terror. My grandfather, who,
as I have already said, was the last Marquis bearing the title, was
seized with his wife and daughter at his Chateau near Montlhery in the
spring-time of 1793, and carried to La Force. Thence, after a mock
trial, they were all three conveyed to execution, and publicly
guillotined on the sixth of June in the same year. Do you follow me?"
"One survivor, however, remained in the person of Charles Armand, Prevot
de Sainte Aulaire, only son of the Marquis, then a youth of seventeen
years of age, and pursuing his studies in the seclusion of an old family
seat in Vaucluse. He fled into Italy. In the meantime, his inheritance
was confiscated; and the last representative of the race, reduced to
exile and beggary, assumed another name. It were idle to attempt to map
out his life through the years that followed. He wandered from land to
land; lived none knew how; became a tutor, a miniature-painter, a
volunteer at Naples under General Pepe, a teacher of languages in
London, corrector of the press to a publishing house in
Brussels--everything or anything, in short, by which he could honorably
earn his bread. During these years of toil and poverty, he married. The
lady was an orphan, of Scotch extraction, poor and proud as himself, and
governess in a school near Brussels. She died in the third year of their
union, and left him with one little daughter. This child became
henceforth his only care and happiness. While she was yet a mere infant,
he placed her in the school where her mother had been teacher. There she
remained, first as pupil, by-and-by as governess, for more than sixteen
years. The child was called by an old family name that had been her
grandmother's and her great-grandmother's in the high and palmy days of
the Sainte Aulaires--Hortense."
"Hortense!" I cried, rising from my chair.
"It is not an uncommon name," said the lady. "Does it surprise you?"
"I--I beg your pardon, madam," I stammered, resuming my seat. "I once
had a dear friend of that name. Pray, go on."
"For ten years the refugee contrived to keep his little Hortense in the
safe and pleasant shelter of her Flemish home. He led a wandering life,
no one knew where; and earned his money, no one knew how. Travel-worn
and careworn, he was prematurely aged, and at fifty might well have been
mistaken for a man of sixty-five or seventy. Poor and broken as he was,
however, Monsieur de Sainte Aulaire was every inch a gentleman of the
old school; and his little girl was proud of him, when he came to the
school to see her. This, however, was very seldom--never oftener than
twice or three times in the year. When she saw him for the last time,
Hortense was about thirteen years of age. He looked paler, and thinner,
and poorer than ever; and when he bade her farewell, it was as if under
the presentiment that they might meet no more. He then told her, for the
first time, something of his story, and left with her at parting a small
coffer containing his decorations, a few trinkets that had been his
mother's, and his sword--the badge of his nobility."
The lady's voice faltered. I neither spoke nor stirred, but sat like a
man of stone.
Then she went on again:--
"The father never came again. The child, finding herself after a certain
length of time thrown upon the charity of her former instructors, was
glad to become under-teacher in their school. The rest of her history
may be told in a few words. From under-teacher she became head-teacher,
and at eighteen passed as governess into a private family. At twenty she
removed to Paris, and set foot for the first time in the land of her
fathers. All was now changed in France. The Bourbons reigned again, and
her father, had he reappeared, might have reclaimed his lost estates.
She sought him far and near. She employed agents to discover him. She
could not believe that he was dead. To be once again clasped in his
arms--to bring him back to his native country---to see him resume his
name and station--this was the bright dream of her life. To accomplish
these things she labored in many ways, teaching and writing; for
Hortense also was proud--too proud to put forward an unsupported claim.
For with her father were lost the title-deeds and papers that might have
made the daughter wealthy, and she had no means of proving her identity.
Still she labored heartily, lived poorly, and earned enough to push her
inquiries far and wide--even to journey hither and thither, whenever she
fancied, alas! that a clue had been found. Twice she travelled into
Switzerland, and once into Italy, but always in vain. The exile had too
well concealed, even from her, his _sobriquet_ and his calling, and
Hortense at last grew weary of failure. One fact, however, she succeeded
in discovering, and only one--namely, that her father had, many years
before, made some attempt to establish his claims to the estates, but
that he had failed for want either of sufficient proof, or of means to
carry on the _proces_. Of even this circumstance only a meagre
law-record remained, and she could succeed in learning no more. Since
then, a claim has been advanced by a remote branch of the Sainte Aulaire
family, and the cause is, even now, in course of litigation."
She paused, as if fatigued by so long talking; but, seeing me about to
speak, prevented me with a gesture of the hand, and resumed:--
"Hortense de Ste. Aulaire continued to live in Paris for nearly five
years, at the end of which time she left it to seek out the members of
her mother's family. Finding them kindly disposed towards her, she took
up her abode amongst them in the calm seclusion of a remote Scotch town.
There, even there, she still hoped, still employed agents; still yearned
to discover, if not her father, at least her father's grave. Several
years passed thus. She continued to earn a modest subsistence by her
pen, till at length the death of one of those Scotch relatives left her
mistress of a small inheritance. Money was welcome, since it enabled
her to pursue her task with renewed vigor. She searched farther and
deeper. A trivial circumstance eagerly followed up brought a train of
other circumstances to light. She discovered that her father had assumed
a certain name; she found that the bearer of this name was a wandering
man, a conjuror by trade; she pursued the vague traces of his progress
from town to town, from county to county, sometimes losing, sometimes
regaining the scattered links. Sir, he was my father--I am that
Hortense. I have spent my life seeking him--I have lived for this one
hope. I have traced his footsteps here to Saxonholme, and here the last
clue fails. If you know anything--if you can remember anything---"
Calm and collected as she had been at first, she was trembling now, and
her voice died away in sobs. The firelight fell upon her face--upon the
face of my lost love!
I also was profoundly agitated.
"Hortense," I said, "do you not know, that he who stood beside your
father in his last hour, and he who so loved you years ago, are one and
the same? Alas! why did you not tell me these things long since?"
"Did _you_ stand beside my father's deathbed?" she asked brokenly.
She clasped her hands over her eyes and shuddered, as if beneath the
pressure of a great physical pain.
"O God!" she murmured, "so many years of denial and suffering! so many
years of darkness that might have been dispelled by a word!"
We were both silent for a long time. Then I told her all that I
remembered of her father; how he came to Saxonholme--how he fell
ill--how he died, and was buried. It was a melancholy recital; painful
for me to relate--painful for her to hear--and interrupted over and over
again by questions and tears, and bursts of unavailing sorrow.
"We will visit his grave to-morrow," I said, when all was told.
She bent her head.
"To-morrow, then," said she, "I end the pilgrimage of years."
"And--and afterwards?" I faltered.
"Afterwards? Alas! friend, when the hopes of years fall suddenly to dust
and ashes, one feels as if there were no future to follow?"
"It is true," I said gloomily. "I know it too well."
"You know it?" she exclaimed, looking up.
"I know it, Hortense. There was a moment in which all the hope, and the
fulness, and the glory of my life went down at a blow. Have you not
heard of ships that have gone to the bottom in fair weather, suddenly,
with all sail set, and every hand on board?"
She looked at me with a strange earnestness in her eyes, and sighed
"What have you been doing all this time, fellow-student?" she asked,
after a pause.
The old name sounded very sweet upon her lips!
"But you are a surgeon, are you not?"
"No. I never even went up for examination. I gave up all idea of
medicine as a profession when my father died."
"What are you, then?"
"An idler upon the great highway--a book-dreamer--a library fixture."
Hortense looked at me thoughtfully, with her cheek resting on her hand.
"Have you done nothing but read and dream?"
"Not quite. I have travelled."
"With what object?"
"A purely personal one. I was alone and unhappy, and--"
"And fancied that purposeless wandering was better for you than healthy
labor. Well, you have travelled, and you have read books. What more?"
"Nothing more, except--"
I chanced to have one of the papers in my pocket, and so drew it out,
and placed it before her.
"I have been a rhymer as well as a dreamer," I said, shyly. "Perhaps the
rhymes grew out of the dreams, as the dreams themselves grew out of
something else which has been underlying my life this many a year. At
all events I have hewn a few of them into shape, and trusted them to
paper and type--and here is a critique which came to me this morning
with some three or four others."
She took the paper with a smile half of wonder, half of kindness, and,
glancing quickly through it, said:--
"This is well. This is very well. I must read the book. Will you lend it
"I will give it to you," I replied; "if I can give you that which is
"Yes, as the poet in me, however worthless, is all and only yours! Do
you suppose, Hortense, that I have ever ceased to love you? As my songs
are born of my sorrow, so my sorrow was born of my love; and love, and
sorrow, and song, such as they are, are of your making."
"Hush!" she said, with something of her old gay indifference. "Your
literary sins must not be charged upon me, fellow-student! I have enough
of my own to answer for. Besides, I am not going to acquit you so
easily. Granted that you have written a little book of poetry--what
then? Have you done nothing else? Nothing active? Nothing manly?
"If by usefulness and activity you mean manual labor, I certainly have
neither felled a tree, nor ploughed a field, nor hammered a horse-shoe.
I have lived by thought alone."
"Then I fear you have lived a very idle life," said Hortense, smiling.
"Are you married?"
"Married!" I echoed, indignantly. "How can you ask the question?"
"You are not a magistrate?"
"In short, then, you are perfectly useless. You play no part, domestic
or public. You serve neither the state nor the community. You are a mere
cypher--a make-weight in the social scale--an article of no value to any
one except the owner."
"Not even the latter, mademoiselle," I replied, bitterly. "It is long
since I have ceased to value my own life."
She smiled again, but her eyes this time were full of tears.
"Nay," said she, softly, "am I not the owner?"
* * * * *
Great joys at first affect us like great griefs. We are stunned by them,
and know not how deep they are till the night comes with its solemn
stillness, and we are alone with our own hearts. Then comes the season
of thankfulness, and wonder and joy. Then our souls rise up within us,
and chant a hymn of praise; and the great vault of Heaven is as the roof
of a mighty cathedral studded with mosaics of golden stars, and the
night winds join in with the bass of their mighty organ-pipes; and the
poplars rustle, like the leaves of the hymn-books in the hands of the
So it was with me that evening when I went forth into the quiet fields
where the summer moon was shining, and knew that Hortense was mine at
last--mine now and for ever. Overjoyed and restless, I wandered about
for hours. I could not go home. I felt I must breathe the open air of
the hills, and tread the dewy grass, and sing my hymn of praise and
thanksgiving after my own fashion. At length, as the dawning light came
widening up the east, I turned my steps homewards, and before the sun
had risen above the farthest pine-ridge, I was sleeping the sweetest
sleep that had been mine for years.
The conjuror's grave was green with grass and purple with wild thyme
when Hortense knelt beside it, and there consummated the weary
pilgrimage of half a life. The sapling willow had spread its arms above
him in a pleasant canopy, leaning farther and reaching higher, year
"And lo! the twig to which they laid his head had now become a tree!"
Hortense found nothing of her father but this grave. Papers and
title-deeds there were none.
I well remembered the anxious search made thirteen years ago, when not
even a card was found to indicate the whereabouts of his friends or
family. Not to lose the vestige of a chance, we pushed inquiry farther;
but in vain. Our rector, now a very old man, remembered nothing of the
wandering lecturer. Mine host and hostess of the Red Lion were both
dead. The Red Lion itself had disappeared, and become a thing of
tradition. All was lost and forgotten; and of all her hereditary wealth,
station, and honors, Hortense de Sainte Aulaire retained nothing but her
father's sword and her ancestral name.
--Not even the latter for many weeks, O discerning reader! for before
the golden harvest was gathered in, we two were wedded.
BRINGETH THIS TRUE STORY TO AN END.
Ye who have traced the pilgrim to the scene
Which is his last, if in your memories dwell
A thought that once was his, if on ye swell
A single recollection, not in vain
He wore his sandal shoon and scallop-shell.
Having related the story of my life as it happened, incident by
incident, and brought it down to that point at which stories are wont to
end, I find that I have little to add respecting others. My narrative
from first to last has been purely personal. The one love of my life was
Hortense--the one friend of my life, Oscar Dalrymple. The catalogue of
my acquaintances would scarcely number so many names as I have fingers
on one hand. The two first are still mine; the latter, having been
brought forward only in so far as they re-acted upon my feelings or
modified my experiences, have become, for the most part, mere memories,
and so vanish, ghost-like, from the page. Franz Mueller is studying in
Rome, having carried off a prize at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which
entitles him to three years at the Villa Medici, that Ultima Thule of
the French art-student's ambition. I hear that he is as full of whim and
jest as ever, and the very life of the Cafe Greco. May I some day hear
his pleasant laugh again! Dr. Cheron, I believe, is still practising in
Paris; and Monsieur de Simoncourt, I have no doubt, continues to
exercise the profession of Chevalier d'Industrie, with such failures and
successes as are incidental to that career.
As for my early _amourettes_, they have disappeared from my path as
utterly as though they had never crossed it. Of Madame de Marignan, I
have neither heard, nor desired to hear, more. Even Josephine's pretty
face is fast fading from my memory. It is ever thus with the transient
passions of _our premiere jeunesse._ We believe in them for the moment,
and waste laughter and tears, chaplets and sackcloth, upon them.
Presently the delusion passes; the earnest heart within us is awakened;
and we know that till now we have been mere actors in "a masquerade of
dreams." The chaplets were woven of artificial flowers. The funeral was
a mock funeral--the banquet a stage feast of painted fruits and empty
goblets! Alas! we cannot undo that foolish past. We may only hope to
blot it out with after records of high, and wise, and tender things.
Thus it is that the young man's heart is like the precious palimpsest of
old. He first of all defiles it with idle anacreontics in praise of love
and wine; but, erasing these by-and-by with his own pious hand, he
writes it over afresh with chronicles of a pure and holy passion, and
dedicates it to the fair saint of all his orisons.
Dalrymple and his wife are now settled in Italy, having purchased a
villa in the neighborhood of Spezzia, where they live in great
retirement. In their choice of such retirement they are influenced by
more than one good reason. In the first place, the death of the Vicomte
de Caylus was an event likely to be productive of many unpleasant
consequences to one who had deprived the French government of so
distinguished an officer. In the next, Dalrymple is a poor man, and his
wife is no longer rich; so that Italy agrees with their means as well as
with their tastes. Lastly, they love each other so well that they never
weary of their solitude, nor care to barter away their blue Italian
skies and solemn pine-woods for the glittering unrest of society.
Fascinated by Dalrymple's description of his villa and the life he led
in it, Hortense and I made up our minds some few weeks after our
marriage, to visit that part of Italy--perhaps, in case we were much
pleased with it, to settle there, for at least a few years. So I
prepared once more to leave my father's house; this time to let it, for
I knew that I should never live in it again.
It took some weeks to clear the old place out. The thing was necessary;
yet I felt as if it were a kind of sacrilege. To disturb the old dust
upon the library-shelves and select such books as I cared to keep; to
sort and destroy all kinds of hoarded papers; to ransack desks that had
never been unlocked since the hands that last closed them were laid to
rest for ever, constituted my share of the work. Hortense superintended
the rest. As for the household goods, we resolved to keep nothing, save
a few old family portraits and my father's plate, some of which had
descended to us through two or three centuries.
While yet in this unsettled state, with the house all in confusion and
the time appointed for our journey drawing nearer and nearer day by day,
a strange thing happened.
At the end of the garden, encroaching partly upon a corner of it, and
opening into the lane that bounded it on the other side of the hedge,
stood the stable belonging to the house.
It had been put to no use since my father's time, and was now so
thoroughly out of repair that I resolved to have it pulled down and
rebuilt before letting it to strangers. In the meantime, I went down
there one morning with a workman before the work of demolition
We had some difficulty to get in, for the lock and hinges were rusted,
and the floor within was choked with fallen rubbish. At length we
forced an entrance. I thought I had never seen a more dreary interior.
My father's old chaise was yet standing there, with both wheels off. The
mouldy harness was dropping to pieces on the walls. The beams were
festooned with cobwebs. The very ladder leading to the loft above was so
rotten that I scarcely dared trust to it for a footing.
Having trusted to it, however, I found myself in a still more ruinous
and dreary hole. The posts supporting the roof were insecure; the tiles
were all displaced overhead; and the rafters showed black and bare
against the sky in many places. In one corner lay a heap of mouldy
straw, and at the farther end, seen dimly through the darkness, a pile
of old lumber, and--by Heaven! the pagoda-canopy of many colors, and the
little Chevalier's Conjuring Table!
I could scarcely believe my eyes. My poor Hortense! Here, at last, were
some relics of her father; but found in how strange a place, and by how
strange a chance!
I had them dragged out into the light, all mildewed and cob-webbed as
they were; whereupon an army of spiders rushed out in every direction, a
bat rose up, shrieking, and whirled in blind circles overhead. In a
corner of the pagoda we found an empty bird's-nest. The table was small,
and could be got out without much difficulty; so I helped the workman to
carry it down the ladder, and sending it on before me to the house,
sauntered back through the glancing shadows of the acacia-leaves, musing
upon the way in which these long-forgotten things had been brought to
light, and wondering how they came to be stored away in my own stable.
"Do you know anything about it, Collins?" I said, coming up suddenly
behind him in the hall.
"About what, sir?" asked that respectable servant, looking round with
some perplexity, as if in search of the nominative.
I pointed to the table, now being carried into the dismantled
Collins smiled--he had a remarkably civil, apologetic way of smiling
behind his hand, as if it were a yawn or a liberty.
"Oh, sir," said he, "don't you remember? To be sure, you were quite a
young gentleman at that time--but---"
"But what?" I interrupted, impatiently.
"Why, sir, that table once belonged to a poor little conjuring chap who
called himself Almond Pudding, and died...."
I checked him with a gesture.
"I know all that," I said, hastily. "I remember it perfectly; but how
came the things into my stable?"
"Your respected father and my honored master, sir, had them conveyed
there when the Red Lion was sold off," said Collins, with a sidelong
glance at the dining-room door. "He was of opinion, sir, that they might
some day identify the poor man to his relatives, in case of inquiry."
I heard the sound of a suppressed sob, and, brushing past him without
another word, went in and closed the door.
"My own Hortense!" I said, taking her into my arms. "My wife!"
Pale and tearful, she lifted her face from my shoulder, and pointed to
"I know what it is," she faltered. "You need not tell me. My heart tells
I led her to a chair, and explained how and where it had been found. I
even told her of the little empty nest from which the young birds had
long since flown away. In this tiny incident there was something
pathetic that soothed her; so, presently, when she left off weeping, we
examined the table together.
It was a quaint, fragile, ricketty thing, with slender twisted legs of
black wood, and a cloth-covered top that had once been green, but now
retained no vestige of its original color. This cloth top was covered
with slender slits of various shapes and sizes, round, square,
sexagonal, and so forth, which, being pressed with the finger, fell
inwards and disclosed little hiding-places sunk in the well of the
table; but which, as soon as the pressure was removed, flew up again by
means of concealed springs, and closed as neatly as before.
"This is strange," said Hortense, peering into one of the recesses. "I
have found something in the table! Look--it is a watch!"
I snatched it from her, and carried it to the window. Blackened and
discolored as it was, I recognised it instantly.
It was my own watch--my own watch of which I was so boyishly vain years
and years ago, and which I had lost so unaccountably on the night of the
Chevalier's performance! There were my initials engraved on the back,
amid a forest of flourishes, and there on the dial was that identical
little Cupid with the cornucopia of flowers, which I once thought such a
miracle of workmanship! Alas! what a mighty march old Time had stolen
upon me, while that little watch was standing still!
"Oh, Heaven!--oh, husband!"
Startled from my reverie more by the tone than the words, I turned and
saw Hortense with a packet of papers in her hand--old, yellow, dusty
papers, tied together with a piece of black ribbon.
"I found them there--there--there!" she faltered, pointing to a drawer
in the table which I now saw for the first time. "I chanced to press
that little knob, and the drawer flew out. Oh, my dear father!--see,
Basil, here are his patents of nobility--here is the certificate of my
birth--here are the title-deeds of the manor of Sainte Aulaire! This
alone was wanted to complete our happiness!"
"We will keep the table, Hortense, all our lives!" I explained, when the
first agitation was past.
"As sacredly," replied she, "as it kept this precious secret!"
* * * * *
My task is done. Here on my desk lies the piled-up manuscript which has
been my companion through so many pleasant hours. Those hours are over
now. I may lay down my pen, and put aside the whispering vine-leaves
from my casement, and lean out into the sweet Italian afternoon, as idly
as though I wore to the climate and the manner born.
The world to-day is only half awake. The little white town, crouched
down by the "beached margent" of the bay, winks with its glittering
windows and dozes in the sunshine. The very cicalas are silent. The
fishermen's barques, with their wing-like sails all folded to rest, rock
lazily at anchor, like sea-birds asleep. The cork-trees nod languidly to
each other; and not even yonder far-away marble peaks are more
motionless than that cloud which hangs like a white banner in the sky.
Hush! I can almost believe that I hear the drowsy washing of the tide
against the ruined tower on the beach.
And this is the bay of Spezzia--the lovely, treacherous bay of Spezzia,
where our English Shelley lost his gentle life! How blue those cruel
waters are to-day! Bluer, by Heaven! than the sky, with scarce a ripple
setting to the shore.
We are very happy in our remote Italian home. It stands high upon a
hill-side, and looks down over a slope of silvery olives to the sea.
Vineyard and orange grove, white town, blue bay, and amber sands lie
mapped out beneath our feet. Not a felucca "to Spezzia bound from Cape
Circella" can sail past without our observation.
"Not a sun can die, nor yet be born, unseen
By dwellers at my villa."
Nay, from this very window, one might almost pitch an orange into the
empty vettura standing in the courtyard of the Croce di Malta!
Then we have a garden--a wild, uncultured place, where figs and lemons,
olives "blackening sullen ripe," and prickly aloes flourish in rank
profusion, side by side; and a loggia, where we sit at twilight drinking
our Chianti wine and listening to the nightingales; and a study looking
out on the bay through a trellis of vine-leaves, where we read and write
together, surrounded by our books. Here, also, just opposite my desk,
hangs Mueller's copy of that portrait of the Marquise de Sainte Aulaire,
which I once gave to Hortense, and which is now my own again. How often
I pause upon the unturned page, how often lay my pen aside, to look from
the painting to the dear, living face beneath it! For there she sits,
day after day, my wife! my poet! with the side-light falling on her
hair, and the warm sea-breezes stirring the soft folds of her dress.
Sometimes she lifts her eyes, those wondrous eyes, luminous from within
"with the light of the rising soul"--and then we talk awhile of our
work, or of our love, believing ever that
"Our work shall still be better for our love,
And still our love be sweeter for our work."
Perhaps the original of that same painting in the study may yet be ours
some day, with the old chateau in which it hangs, and all the broad
lands belonging thereunto. Our claim has been put forward some time now,
and our lawyers are confident of success. Shall we be happier, if that
success is ours? Can rank add one grace, or wealth one pleasure, to a
life which is already so perfect? I think not, and there are moments
when I almost wish that we may never have it in our power to test
But stay! the hours fly past. The sun is low, and the tender Italian
twilight will soon close in. Then, when the moon rises, we shall sail
out upon the bay in our own tiny felucca; or perhaps go down through the
town to that white villa gleaming out above the dark tops of yonder
cypresses, and spend some pleasant hours with Dalrymple and his wife.
They, too, are very happy; but their happiness is of an older date than
ours, and tends to other ends. They have bought lands in the
neighborhood, which they cultivate; and they have children whom they
adore. To educate these little ones for the wide world lying beyond that
blue bay and the far-off mountains, is the one joy, the one care of
their lives. Truly has it been said that
"A happy family
Is but an earlier heaven."