To: The Lucile Project (of which this page is a part)... This work is a translation of George Sand's novelette Lavinia (1834), the source of Owen Meredith's plot (and many of the incidents described).
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THE THEME FROM WHICH
TOOK HIS FAMOUS POEM OF
"Perchance 'twas the fault of the life that they led;
Perchance 'twas the fault of the novels they read."
G. W. Carleton & Co., Publishers.
The Story opens with a Letter from Lady Blake, at Saint Savior (a little Watering Place in the Pyrenees) to Sir Lionel Bridgeport, at Bagneres (sometimes called Bigore) asking him to return her Picture and Letters, and referring to their broken engagement.
“Take hands and part with laughter,
Touch lips and part with tears;
Once more and no more after,
Whatever coma with years.
* * * * * *
Remembrance may recover,
And time bring back to time
The name of your first lover,
The ring of my first rhyme.”
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Translated from the French by Page McCarty.
THE THEME FROM WHICH
TOOK HIS FAMOUS POEM OF
"Perchance 'twas the fault of the life that they led;
Perchance 'twas the fault of the novels they read."
COPYRIGHT, 1884, By
G. W. Carleton & Co., Publishers.
LONDON: S. LOW & Co.
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"Would I lose you now? would I take you then,
If I lose you now that my heart has need?
And come what may after death to men,
What thing worth this will the dead years breed?
Lose life, lose all; but at last I know,
O sweet life's love, having loved you so,
Had I reached you on earth, I should lose not again,
In death nor life, nor in dream or deed."
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LADY BLAKE'S LOVE LETTERS.
FROM LADY LAVINIA BLAKE TO SIR LIONEL BRIDGEPORT.
"Since you are about to be married, Lionel, would it not be proper for us to return each other's letters and pictures?
This is very easy, since chance brings us in the same neighborhood, and after ten years spent under different skies, places us to-day within a few leagues of each other.
They tell me you come sometimes to Saint Savior; I remain here only eight days, and hope, therefore, that sometime during the week you will come with the package of letters which I claim.
I occupy the house, Estabanette, just below the Falls. You can send there a person entrusted with the mission, who would return to you a similar package which I have ready for you in exchange."
SIR LIONEL TO LADY LAVINIA.
"The package which you order me to return to you is sealed and bearing your address. I should, perhaps, be grateful to see that you have not doubted that it would be ready to be returned to you at any time and place you might designate.
But is it necessary, madam, for me to go to Saint Savior in person only to confide it to a third person to be given to you? Since you do not accord me the honor of seeing you, is it not more simple for me to avoid the emotion and embarrassment incident to being near you again? May I not more properly entrust the letters to a reliable messenger who will carry them safely from Bagneres to Saint Savior?
I await your orders, and whatever they may be I submit to them blindly."
LADY LAVINIA TO LIONEL.
“I knew, Lionel, that my letters happened to be in your hands just now, because Henry, my cousin, told me he had seen you at Bagneres and learned the fact from you. I am glad that Henry, who is much of a gossip, was not mistaken.
I begged you to bring the letters yourself because such things should not run the risk of the smugglers who infest the road and steal everything that they can get a chance at. As I know you to be a man who would bravely defend a trust, I could not do better than to make you the guarantee and safe guard of what was valuable to me. I did not offer you an interview for fear of rendering disagreeable to you what was already painful to me. But since you attach regret to this omission I owe you and accord you with all my heart the indemnification. I will, therefore, fix the day in order that you may not find me absent. Be at Saint Savior, then, on the fifteenth, at nine o'clock in the evening. You may await me at my house and inform me of your arrival by my servant. The package will be ready. Adieu."
Sir Lionel was disagreeably affected by the second note, for it surprised him in the midst of a proposed trip to Luchon, in which the beautiful Miss Ellis, his intended wife, expected him to be her escort. At these summer watering places pleasure parties always succeed because they are surprises, and life moves rapidly on the wing with the constant improvisation of new people and fresh features of pleasure. Sir Lionel was amusing himself in the Pyrenees as thoroughly as an Englishman can when he tries. He was passably in love with the beauty and fortune of Miss Ellis, and his desertion of this important excursion (the lady had procured from Tarbes a beautiful nag which she intended to ride at the head of the cavalcade) might be fatal to his project of marriage and finance.
His position was embarrassing, for he was a man of the most delicate sense of honor; so he proceeded to find his friend, Sir Henry, to consult him on the point of duty. But to force that jovial Briton to a serious consideration of the question he began by quarrelling with him.
“You thoughtless gossip," he cried, as he entered Sir Henry's apartment, "why the deuce did you tell your cousin that I had her letters with me? You never could keep a dangerous word to yourself a single moment. You are the brook that rises with every drop you receive, an open vase that ornaments the statues of Naiads, where the water entering doesn't take time to stop."
"Good!" said Sir Henry, "I like to see you mad, Lionel; it makes you poetic. At such moments you are a brook, a stream of metaphors, a torrent of eloquence, a reservoir of allegories."
"Ah, you laugh, do you?" cried Lionel. “Well, we do not go to Luchon."
"Who says so?" asked Sir Henry, calmly.
"I say so."
"Speak for yourself," said the other, “I shall not go,"cried Lionel, "and therefore, you shall not. You have committed a wrong and shall expiate it. You have gotten me into a horrible scrape and your conscience orders you to get me out of it. Come and dine with me at Saint Savior."
"May the devil take me if I do," answered Henry; "I suddenly discover that I love the little girl who smiled at me yesterday, and I must go to Luchon where she will be. She shall ride my horse and make your Miss Ellis die of jealousy."
"Listen, Henry," said Lionel, gravely, “you are my friend."
"Doubtless, but don't soften so suddenly on friendship; you alarm me."
"Listen, I tell you, you are my friend, and applaud the happy event of my life and my good fortune. You certainly would not like to cause me trouble."
"No, on my honor; but what is it?"
"Well, Henry," said Lionel, "you will break off my marriage with Miss Ellis."
"Pshaw! Because I told my cousin Lavinia that you have her letters? What influence can Lady Lavinia have over you after ten years of reciprocal neglect? Are you silly enough to suppose that she was inconsolable? Too much remorse, my dear boy; the evil has doubtless been long since remedied, believe me."In saying which Henry complacently regarded his handsome face in the opposite mirror, an action which, as they say in the pantomime, is easily understood. And this little lesson in modesty naturally irritates Lionel.
"Make no reflection," said he, with scorn, "on the reputation of Lady Lavinia. No sentiment of vanity would permit me to harm her reputation even if I had never loved her."
It is the same case with me," said Henry, bluntly. "I never loved her and was never jealous of those she preferred, nor have I any thing to hint against the immaculate virtue of my glorious cousin Lavinia."
"You are kind, and she should be grateful."
"Oh, Lionel," cried Henry, "what are you talking about and what are you after? You seem to have grown religious over the memory of your loves. You were on your knees before the adorable Ellis, and all at once you talk of going to see Lavinia at Saint Savior instead of Ellis at Luchon. Come, now; which one do you love and which one are you going to marry?”
"Miss Ellis, if heaven wills it.''
"And what am I to do?" asked Henry.
"You can save me. First read this letter. You see, I must decide between a women to conquer and one to console."
"Halt there, O vanity," cried Henry. "Didn't I tell you my cousin Lavinia's heart was fresh and unsullied as a lily, coquettish as a kitten? And if she needs any consolation I will agree to groan all my days in similar misery."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Lionel. "But if this is all true why does she invite me to an interview?"
“Most stupid chum," said Henry, "don't you see that it was all your fault? Lavinia did not want this interview, for when I spoke to her of you and demanded to know if her heart did not beat at the sound of your name, she replied with a yawn, that it would doubtless beat if she met you. Don't get mad, Lionel; it was a musical, long-drawn yawn with which polite women can show profound apathy and cordial indifference. But instead of profiting by this good disposition you must rush to make pretty phrases, and faithful to the eternal pathos of disgraceful lovers, you affect a sorrowful tone of eulogy and seem to weep over the impossibility of ever seeing her again, instead of saying frankly that you are devilish glad to get the chance."
"How could I foresee that she would take seriously a few conventional words shaped to smooth the awkwardness of the situation."
"Oh," said Henry, "I know Lavinia. It was a little piece of malice."
"No," replied Lionel, "Lavinia is the sweetest and frankest woman in the world, and I am sure that is an affectation. My dear Henry, save us both from this interview. Take the package, go to Saint Savior, arrange it all and make her understand that I ought not under the circumstances to -----"
"To quit Miss Ellis on the eve of your marriage; a good reason to give a rival. Impossible, my dear boy; you have committed a folly and must take the consequences. Having had the idiocy to keep a woman's letters and picture for ten years, and perhaps to boast of it as a gossip like me would do, and having performed the ceremony by a cold and formal rupture with her, you can refuse her nothing while you held those letters, and whatever method of returning them she prescribes is law to you as a gentleman. Have your horse saddled and I will accompany you. I have part of the wrong to repair, and you see I no longer laugh when duty calls me."
Lionel had hoped that Henry would find another method of escape, and he remained irresolute before the demands of the situation. At last, however, he rose, sad and resigned, and crossed his arms on his breast Lionel was, in fact, a hero. If his heart had been more than once false to his vows his conduct had, nevertheless, been chivalrous, and no woman could reproach him with an action lacking in honor and generosity; and faithful to his rules this handsome gallant forgave himself the vain gratification of being too fondly admired by the fair sex.
"Here is a way to get out of it," suddenly cried Henry, jumping up. "Let the coterie of ladies decide it. Miss Ella and her sister Anna are the chief powers of the council of Amazons. We will obtain a decree postponing the excursion one day. Invent some excuse and off we go to Saint Savior, reach there in the afternoon, rest till evening, have your interview with Lavinia at nine o'clock, to horse again at ten, ride all night, and we are here at sunrise ready for the other lady and the excursion, and my pretty friend Madame Bernos carricoling on my English nag. We change our boots, take fresh horses, and pale, tired and interesting we follow our dulcineas by hill and vale without giving a suspicion of the proceedings of the night. Are you ready?"
Lionel rewarded his friend's genius with a. warm embrace. In an hour Henry returned. All was prepared; the Luchon excursion was postponed sixteen hours. "But," said Henry, Miss Ellis has her suspicions; she knows that Lavinia is at Saint Savior and she also is familiar with your former love and folly for that lady, so I swore you were sick in bed."
"A new folly to ruin me."
"No; for Dick will fix a bolster with a night cap on in your bed and stand sentinel outside with a long face and orders to knock down anybody who attempts to come in. Out we go by the back door. Jack takes the horses out as if for exercise and we join him at the bridge. Off we go, and may cupid guard us."
Travelling the distance which separates the two chains of mountains without drawing rein, the two horsemen entered the narrow and sombre gorge which extends from Pierrefitte to Luz.
It is one of the austere and peculiar scenes of the Pyrenees, the mountains drawing together in a narrow pass, through which the wind groans and thunders as it rushes under the arcades of rock clad with vines and creepers that crawl up the black walls, becoming gray and blue as they go upward and catch the reflection of the sky. The water of the torrents is at times limpid and blue, then sombre and dark as the sea. Great bridges of rock span the chasm, and nothing can be more imposing than these immense arches thrown into space and suspended in the clear, humid air, as if ready to fall into the abyss.
Seven times in four leagues the road crosses the gorge, and as our two cavaliers crossed the seventh time they beheld before them the lonely valley of the Luz, inundated with the glow of the rising sun, while around them in the gorge all was still dark. The foaming waters threw up masses of spray and fog, and up in the heights the standing rays of the sun kindled on the peaks, and bathed the valley beyond in living gold, a picture set in the dark frame of black marble.
"How beautiful," cried Henry, "and how I do pity a man in love. Lionel, you are in sensible to the sublime. You think yon ray of the sun not worth a smile from Miss Ellis."
"Henry, Margaret Ellis is the loveliest woman in the three kingdoms."
"'Theoretically, her beauty is above criticism, and that's what I object to in her. I should like her less beautiful, less majestic, less perfect; I should prefer my cousin Lavinia if heaven decreed that I should choose between the two."
"The pride of the woman blinds you," said Lionel, with a smile. "I knew Lavinia in the freshness of her first youth, and I assure you that there is no comparison."
Perhaps; but what grace and gentleness. What glorious hair and little feet."
Lionel amused himself combatting Henry's admiration for his cousin, but a scant sentiment of self-love gave him pleasure to hear the praises of the woman he had once loved. For the rest, it was only a moment of vanity, for never had the fair Ellis reigned so supreme in the heart which long success with the fair sex had so thoroughly spoiled.
It is doubless [sic] a great misfortune for a man to find himself too early in life placed in such circumstances as to excite the admiration of women and the ,jealousy of vulgar rivals, for these are enough to shake the mind of any novice. Lionel, from having experienced too much good fortune, had expended his enthusiasm of soul, and his worn-out passions rendered him incapable of profound emotion. Under a handsome and manly form, with features young and strong, were hidden the cold feelings and worn heart of an old man.
"Come, Lionel," demanded Henry, "let us hear why you did not marry Lavinia. Buenafé, at present Lady Blake, all by your fault. Though I respect the royal privileges of our sex I hardly know how to find an excuse for your conduct. After having courted her for two years, and compromised her as far as it is possible to compromise an English miss, and making her reject a score of good offers, you leave her to run after an Italian cantatrice who was all unworthy of such a forfeit. Was not Lavinia pretty and spirituelle, the daughter of a rich Portuguese banker, and finally, was she not in love with you?"
"Ah, my friend," replied Lionel, philosophically, "that is just what I had to complain of. She loved me much too deeply to be a convenient wife. All clever men know that a wife should be a sweet and pleasant companion, English in indifference, incapable of love or jealousy, and so dissipated in tea drinking as to prefer home to a grand fête. With her warm Southern heart, accustomed to the habits of a woman of the world, Lavinia would have been the prettiest of wives, I the most miserable of husbands. I was young then, only twenty-two years of age, but at last I awoke to my better self and discovered that I was about to marry a woman who loved me. I stopped on the brink of the precipice, and fled to save myself from my own weakness."
"Hypocrite!" cried Henry.” Lavinia told me the story differently, and it appeared that long before your campaign after the fair Rosamonda, you showed Lavinia by constant ennui that you were getting tired of her. She is a very frank woman, though coquettish, and if you could hear her tell the story in her sad tones you would feel remorse for your cruelty."
"I do," said Lionel, “and let me tell you one of the things which disgusts us most with women is what one suffers after leaving them, the vexation of memory, the voice of the vulgar bourgeois world calling vengeance on your head, the reproaches of one's conscience and the more reasonable accusations of the lady herself. In fact, Henry, I know nothing more fraught with ennui than the life of a man successful with women."
"Need you tell me that!" exclaimed the other, ironically.
Lionel rode on slowly, letting the reins fall on the neck of his horse, and contemplating lazily the beautiful picture which the widening valley slowly unfolded before them.
Luz is a pretty village a league from Saint Savior, and there our travellers alighted, for nothing could persuade Lionel to penetrate to the spot where Lady Lavinia resided; so establishing himself at an inn he threw himself on a bed and awaited the hour of the rendezvous. Though the climate is cooler here than at Bigorre, the ride had been hot and dusty, and Sir Lionel, stretched on the ricketty bed, tossed and blasphemed amidst the hum of numerous insects, in vain trying to sleep, while his livelier companion traversed the valley, paying visits and watching the cavalcades on the road to Gavarni, saluting the ladies at the windows and flirting with the pretty French girls, for whom he had a great weakness. Finally, at dusk, he returned, and, opening the bed curtains, called aloud to the sleeping Lionel:
“Up, up, the hour has struck."
"Already? What time is it?" asked the sluggard, waking up lazily.
Henry quoted the couplet of the English bard
“At the close of the day when the hamlet is still,
And naught but the torrent is heard on the hill."
"Mercy!" besought Lionel; "I know all about your torrents and hamlet, night and silence; but Lady Lavinia expects me at nine o'clock, not sooner, and I can sleep till then."
"Not a moment more, Lionel, for we must walk to Saint Savior. Our tired horses must rest. Come, get up and dress, and at ten o'clock I shall be at Lady Lavinia's gate holding your palfrey like great Shakespeare when he was reduced to play jockey. Here is your portmanteau, a white cravat and a piece of wax for your beautiful moustache. Come, give the occasion a matchless toilet in honor of the woman you no longer love that's the law and the fashion for a gentleman. Arrange your hair with more care than you would for a ball which you were going to open with Miss Ellis. Let me brush your coat. What, have you forgotten a vial of essence of tube roses to perfume your handkerchief of India silk? No, here it is, thank Heaven. Remember that you should shed at least one tear the evening you appear for the last time on the horizon of Lady Lavinia."
The street of the town was quiet, and the two gentlemen were surprised not to see some elegantly attired people, until presently the music of an orchestra from a small hotel gave indications of the ball.
In a modest hall, decorated with wreaths of flowers and evergreens, all the elegance of Spain and France gathered this season at the little watering-place was engaged in dancing to the detestable charivari of the violin, clarionet, cornet and other instruments which seemed thrown together with mutual antipathy, so thoroughly did they disagree in sound.
Some of the bathers -- that is, the invalids visiting the place for the waters -- were at the windows contemplating the scene, looking over each other's shoulders and exchanging remarks of praise or malice. As our two travellers passed along there was a movement and a hum in the crowd, and Lionel heard one critical invalid say to another:
“That's the beautiful Lavinia Blake who is about to dance now, and they say she is the most perfect dancer in all Europe."
"Come, Lionel," said Henry, taking his friend's arm, “let us see how Lady Lavinia dances."
"Pshaw!" said the other with disdain, "I did not come here to see dancing."
But he could not get away before hearing another remark from the coterie of invalids:
“Ah, It is the handsome Count Morangy who dances with her." "And," said an other, "they say he is madly in love with her."
Self-love is a strange counsellor, for it generally disagrees with reason, and as often carries the day. Sir Lionel was charmed to hear that Lavinia was so placed as to secure their mutual indifference, but the publicity of the triumph that could make this jilted belle forget the past was a sort of affront that made him wince. Henry took him to the end of the village where his cousin lived, and left him there to await her return from the ball.
The house was isolated from the others, one side facing the mountain and the other a deep ravine. At three steps from the balcony a torrent descended and plunged into the abyss below, filling the house with its savage but musical clamor.
The site was wild and picturesque, making the cottage look like a bird's nest built on the verge of the waterfall and perched there at the mercy of the elements. An old negress opened the door in answer to Lionel's summons, and he recognized the features of Lavinia s nurse, Pepa, whom for two years he had been accustomed to see in the house of his betrothed. He was so flooded with the memories and associations of the past that he was about to greet the old creature with the gay familiarity of his boyish years, but Pepa recoiled. She did not recognize bim.
“Alas!" he thought, "I must be changed. Has not Lady Lavinia told you she expected a visitor? I am he."
"Yes, milord; milady is at the ball, and she ordered us to bring her fan when the gentleman came. Wait a moment and she will be here."
Lionel took the fan from the mantel and handed it to the old woman. It left on his senses the delicious perfume so familiar as Lavinia's favorite long ago, and recalled the past like a withered flower given as a token by a beloved hand. This Patchouly represented to Lionel the first woman he had loved. It seemed that a cloud obscured the present, and in it stood a graceful, beautiful girl of sixteen. Ashamed of his weakness the cold man of the world cast a retrospective glance over the ten years that separated him from the age of love and poetry, and he invoked the parliamentary fame which represented his alliance with Miss Ellis. Then he cast a critical regard around the apartment.
People live simply at the watering places of the Pyrenees, but thanks to the floods and avalanches that devastate the country, the spring renovates the dwellings in many respects. The little house which Lavinia had rented was built of rough marble panelled in the interior with resinous wood as white as plaster. A mat of rushes woven in Spain and variegated with many colors served for a carpet, and white dimity curtains received the shadows of the larches that shook their dark, humid trepes in the night wind under the pale light of the moon. Little buckets of olive wood held the rarest flowers of the mountains.
Lavinia herself had gathered in the loveliest valleys and on the highest cliffs the red breasted Belladonna and the blue crested Aconite, with many other delicate petaled flowers, the pale Saponaire and the transparent bell flower folded like muslin, the purple Valerian, and the wild daughters of the forest so dewy and fresh that the chamois in his rapid course fears to wither them with the wind of his flight and the waterfall dreads to molten them with its light spray.
This little chamber had, in fact, the look of a place of rendezvous, but it also seemed the sanctuary of pure and virginal love. The candles shed a timid light, and the flowers folded their bosoms with maiden modesty. No woman's garment, or any evidence of coquetry was to be seen on the furniture, and only a bouquet of withered roses and a white glove lingered on the mantel. Lionel took the glove and pressed it in his hand, where it felt like the cold clasp of the vanished hand, and he cast aside the bouquet wherein the dead perfume seemed to typify a lost hope. Approaching the window he contemplated the night scene which was strikingly in harmony with the feelings that grew on him. The view was peculiar and beautiful. The house, planted on the rock, seemed a bastion tower whose base was beaten by the torrent; on the right the cataract, descending with a furious noise, to the left a mass of drooping larches bending their branches over the abyss, and in the distance the valley stretching out vague and uncertain in the moonlight. In a cleft of the rocks a wild laurel grew, and its limbs blowing against the window seemed to be muttering mysterious words.
Lady Lavinia entered while Lionel was plunged in his reverie, but the noise of the waterfall prevented him from hearing her steps, and she remained standing behind him in silence, doubtless trying to collect herself, and wondeing if this could be the man whom she had do deeply loved; for it seemed the conjuration of a dream as she recalled the time when she would have fallen dead with grief at beholding him. And now there she stood, calm, and perhaps indifferent.
Lionel turned mechanically and saw her. A cry escaped him, and then ashamed of his confusion, he made a violent effort to address her with a correct and proper greeting. Then a sudden and deep emotion thrilled his very soul, and he seemed overpowered with the presence of the woman before him. It was because he had not expected to see her so radiant and beautiful -- he had left her so pale and suffering. Tears had withered her cheeks and sorrow marred her figure, her eyes were dull and her dress careless. She had grown homely, then, without knowing that grief beautifies only the soul, an element in women that most men deny entirely.
Now she was in all the brilliancy of that second beauty which returns to women who have not received fatal wounds in the first encounters of youthful love.
But still it was the same spiritual woman, slender in figure, somewhat severe in profile, but with the grace and charm of a French woman. Her clear dark slain showed the flush of perfect health, her suple [sic] form the strength of youth, and her hair in rich luxuriance gathered in thick curls over a smooth forehead. Her toilet was composed of a robe of India muslin and a bunch of white heather gathered in the valley mingled in her hair. There is no more graceful plant than the white heather, and one would have said to see its oscillating clusters in Lavinia's hair that it looked like grapes of pearl.
This exquisite dress bespoke a woman whose coquetry developed itself to the imagination by the subtle device of being hidden. Never had Lionel beheld Lavinia so attractive, and he felt like falling on his knees to implore pardon for his cruelty, but her calmness restored to him the coolness which he felt to be necessary to the trying occasion.
He drew from his bosom a package carefully sealed, and placed it on the table as he said
"Madam, you see that I have obeyed like a slave. May I suppose, then, that from today my liberty is granted?"
"It seems to me," said the lady, with a sort of gay melancholy, "that up to the present your liberty has not been questioned. Is it possible that I could still hold you in my chains? I should be too highly flattered."
"In the name of Heaven, madam, do not mock me," cried Lionel. ”Is not this a sad moment?"
“It is the old story," she answered with a smile, "and a situation inevitable in such affairs. If when we write we felt that it might be necessary to recover our love letters, as if --. But we will not speak of that. At twenty years of age we write with profound trust, and smile at the results of passions that seem eternal, for we think with pride that at least there is one exception to the common rule. Noble error, from which are born delightful delusions of youth. Is it not so, Lionel?"
Lionel was stupefied at this sadly philosophical language, which, though natural to Lavinia, seemed to impart a monstrous contradiction, for he had never before seen her in this mood. He had known her a weak and beautiful child, blindly abandoned to the passions, and when he had left her broken with despair he remembered her still vowing eternal constancy to the author of her misery. To hear her now pronounce the death warrant in all the illusions of the past was frightful.
This woman who had survived herself and did not fear to deliver her own obituary was a picture he could not regard without the deepest pain.
He knew well enough what he might say on such an occasion, but had not the courage to help the woman in her suicide.
As he still held the package of letters she said:
"You know me well enough, or rather, you remember me well enough to be aware that I claim these letters from none of the notions that actuate women generally in such cases, when they have ceased to love. They have remained in your hands for ten years, and it is only the consideration for the security of another that prompted me to reclaim them."
Lionel regarded Lavinia keenly to detect a sign of jealousy at the reference to Margaret Ellis, but it was impossible to perceive the slightest change in her look or voice.
"Has this woman changed to a diamond or to ice?" he asked himself inwardly.
"You are generous," he said, aloud, "if that is your only motive."
"What other could I have, Lionel?"
“I might have thought, madam, that personal motives could have prompted you to recall these pledges of confidence."
"That would be rather late," she answered, laughing. "If I had said I had waited ten years to entertain personal motives you would certainly have cause for remorse."
"Madam," answered Lionel, "you embarrass and pain me." In saying which he recovered his graceful nonchalance, for he had expected reproaches and was prepared. But the enemy changed front in a second.
“Come, my dear Lionel," said Lavinia with off-hand good nature, "I do not intend to abuse the occasion. With age I gained reason, and long since I discovered that you had not been culpable toward me. It was myself who was at fault, for between lovers so young it is the woman who should be the man's guide. Instead of losing him in an impossible destiny she should keep him for the world by drawing it to her. I knew nothing of this, and was the involuntary cause of long cries of disapprobation that pursued you. I was the torment instead of the hope, of your youth. Forgive me."
Lionel went from one surprise to another. He had come to be accused and he found himself treated as the judge. He was a man of noble heart, and it was only the vanity of the world that had withered his freshness. The generosity of Lavinia brought forth a rush of tenderness, and dominated by her beauty he bent his knee as he exclaimed:
"I have never compromised you by a breath, and I blush to own how unworthy of you I was."
"Do not say so," answered Lavinia, extending her hand frankly. "When I knew you I was not what I am now. If to-day I received the homage of a man placed as you are in the world ----"
"Hypocrite!" thought Lionel. "She is loved by the Count Morangy, the handsomest of grand seignors."
“If I had to decide on the happiness and on the career of such a man instead of ruining him ---"
"Can this be an overture?" thought Lionel, and he kissed the hand he held. And casting a critical look at it he discovered that it was wonderfully white, slender and pretty, as often happens with women in their second youth who in girlhood have round, red hands. Then regarding Lavinia as he listened to her, he was astonished to see the enchanting changes in her.
She spoke English with a perfect accent. Her exterior in no respect betrayed the slightly wild and savage nature of her soul, which had marred her charms in early youth. Less poetic, she was, nevertheless, ten times as attractive.
At the end of an hour he had forgotten the ten years of separation, or rather, he felt himself beside another woman whom he loved for the first time.
They told each other the incidents that had happened to each during the separation, and the lady questioned him about his loves with the frankness of a sister. She asked bout the beauty of Miss Ellis, and recounted her own travels, friendships and marriage, her widowhood and the use she intended to make of her future. More than an hour had passed, and Lionel no longer counted the minutes as he abandoned himself to a, sudden passion which is generally the last feeling left in a wornout heart. He tried in a thousand ways to animate the conversation with some of the old fire, and to bring Lavinia to speak of the real state of her own heart, but all in vain, for the woman was more adroit, than himself.
When he thought he had found a chord of her heart he discovered that it was only web, and attempting to take hold of a reality only found in his grasp a fleeting phantom. All at once there was a knock, loud and imperative, as if meant to defy the clamor the cataract or the interest of the inmates of the house. Lavinia trembled.
"It is Henry who comes to warn me of the appointed hour for our departure," said Lionel. “But deign to accord me yet a few minutes and I will ask him to wait. May I obtain this favor, madam?" and Lionel was about to urge his request ardently, when Pepa entered hastily.
“Monsieur, the Count de Morangy wishes to enter in spite of the orders," she said in Portuguese; "he is there and will listen to thing."
"Heavens," cried Lavinia, "he is so jealous. What shall I do with you, Lionel?"
Lionel felt thunderstruck.
"Let him enter," said Lavinia, suddenly. “And you, Lionel, walk out on the balcony. You can wait five minutes to do me a service." And she pushed him out on the balcony. And, drawing the dimity curtains, as the Count entered, she asked, quietly:
"What means this noise? It looks like an invasion."
"Forgive me, madam," cried the Count. "I implore your pardon on my knees, but seeing you leave the ball suddenly with Pepa I thought you were ill, as you have been indisposed for several days. Ah, my God, Lavinia, forgive me, I am a rash fool, but I love you so that I know not what I do."
Lionel on the balcony became a prey to a spasm of anger.
"Impertinent woman," he thought to himself, to make me the witness to her tete a tete with her lover; and if it is premeditated it is a voluntary insult. Let her beware. But what folly, for if I show anger she will triumph. Come, let me overhear this love no with the indifference of a philosopher." And he bent over the embrasure of the window, and even drew the curtains so as to see well as hear.
The Count de Morangy was a handsome blond man, tall, well-made, and in all respects elegant. His voice was soft and musical, his eyes large and expressive, and his mouth clean cut and aristocratic. To the eyes of Lionel he was the most formidable rival he had ever met, and one in all respects worthy of him. The Count spoke in French, as did also Lavinia, and she listened to him with strange complacency. The Count ventured in several impassioned speeches, which the lady seemed to take as a matter of course. She pressed him, however, to return to the ball alone, as it way not altogether proper that they should return together. But he was bent on accompanying her to the door, at least, stipulating that he should not enter for a quarter of an hour later. In speaking he took Lady Blake's hands, which she permitted him to hold with lazy indifference.
Lionel lost patience, "I am an imbecile to assist at this tete a tete," he muttered, “when I can escape, "and he walked to the extremity of the balustrade, and perceived that it was closed, but, discovering something like a path in the rocks, climbed over the balustrade and made several steps in advance. In a moment, however, he was forced to stop, for the path came to the edge of the precipice with such slight footholds that a chamois would have hesitated to make another step, and the moon, almost overhead, showed him the depths of the abyss from which only a few steps separated him. Lionel had to close his eyes to overcome the vertigo that attacked him, and it was with difficulty that he could regain the balcony, where, having once more put that frail defence of balustrade between himself and the danger, he felt happy to purchase safety even at the price of witnessing a rival's triumph. And he resigned himself to hear Count de Morangy's sentimental story.
"Madam," said that gentleman, "this is too long to play a part with me. It is impossible that you do not know how I love you, and I think you cruel in treating my devotion as if it were the mere fancy of a day. My love is the sentiment of a lifetime, and if you do not accept my vows, you see, that as a man of the world, I may lose respect for customs and retire upon cold reason. Do not force me to despair, or fear the consequences."
"You wish me to explain myself definitely? Very well, I will do it. Do you know my history, monsieur?"
“Yes, madam, I know that a wretch whom I regard as the most despicable of men deceived and deserted you. The pity that your misfortune inspires increases my devotion. Only noble souls can be the victims of men and of opinion."
"Well," replied Lavinia, "know that I have learned to profit by the lessons of experience, and that to-day I am guard against my own heart, for I know that it is not always in the power of men to keep their faith, and also that they may abuse their triumphs. After this do not hope to bend my resolution, and if you are speaking seriously, this is my answer: I am invulnerable. This woman, so much taunted with the fault of her youth, is now fortified with a rampart stronger than virtue itself -- mistrust."
"Ah!" cried the Count, on his knees “you misunderstand me. May I be cursed forever if I ever had a thought that could wound your pride and honor."
"Are you quite sure of never having entertained such designs?" demanded the lady.
"I will be frank," he replied, with an accent of truth, in which the manner of the grand seignor disappeared entirely. "Perhaps before knowing you I may have entertained a thought which I now repel with remorse. Deception is impossible with you, Lavinia, for you overcome the will and compel homage. Ever since I have really known, you I swear that my devotion is worthy of you. Listen, and then let me hear the decree of my fate. It is a noble name and a brilliant fortune that I lay at your feet, a heart and soul that beat and live but for you."
"A marriage that you propose?" said Lavinia, quickly. "Then, Count, I thank you heartily for the compliment," and she extended her hand cordially.
“Thank Heaven for such happiness," cried the Count. "She accepts," and he kissed the hand rapturously.
"No, monsieur, I ask the time to reflect."
"Alas! But may I hope?"
"I hardly know, but count on my gratitude. And now return to the ball. I insist on it. I shall be there in a few minutes."
The Count kissed the end of the scarf and departed, and Lionel, opening the curtains, awaited Lady Blake's permission to enter; but she remained seated on the sofa, and he could see her face reflected in the mirror.
Pensive and absorbed in deep reflection she had absolutely forgotten Lionel, and she started with surprise when he rushed into the middle of the chamber, pale with anger, but self-controlled.
"You will agree, madam, that I have respected your last love affair," he said; “but I needed profound disinterestedness to prevent me from feeling the insult so designedly given."
"Designedly!" cried Lavinia."What do you dare to think of me, monsieur? If such are your thoughts, begone."
“No, no," said Lionel, in great agitation, walking up and taking hold of her arm, "those are not my thoughts. Take no note of my words, for I am very much troubled. It is time you counted on my reason in allowing me to witness this scene."
"On your reason," Lionel. [sic] "You should say on your indifference."
"Mock me," cried Lionel, passionately, "be cruel as you will, you have the right. But I am deeply miserable." He was violently agitated, but Lavinia believed, or feigned to believe, that he was playing a part.
"Come, let us have done," she said, rising. "You may have amused yourself with what you heard me say to the Count, but still let me say that the man does not displease me. Adieu, Lionel, let us part forever, but without scorn. Here are your letters and your picture. There, let go my hand. I must return to the ball."
"You must return to dance with Morangy, cried Lionel, dashing down the picture and crushing it with his heel. [sic]
"Listen, then," said Lavinia, pale but calm. The Count offers me a noble naive and a rehabilitation in the world. My former marriage with an old man never cleared me entirely from the cruel stain which covered a jilted woman, for people know that an old man receives more than he gives. But a young man, noble, courted and rich, it is different. It is worth serious reflection, and I am fortunate to have secured such an offer."
"O woman, vanity never dies in you!" cried Lionel, as she left him, and he went to join Henry at the inn.
"Curses on you, Lionel," said that gentleman. "I have been waiting two hours. Is all that time necessary for such an interview? To horse, and tell me about it as we ride."
"Good night, Henry," said the other. "Go and tell Miss Margaret Ellis that the bolster in my bed is worse. I must remain."
"Heavens and earth, what do I hear? You don't mean to go to Luchon?"
"Another time, but to-night I must stay here."
"Impossible. You are dreaming. You haven't made up with Lady Blake?"
"Not that I know of ; but I'm tired, sick, bothered -- the devil; I must remain."
Henry was astounded. He tried all the powers of his eloquence to persuade his friend to go, then finally threw the reins of his horse to the groom.
"Well, then," he said, "I must remain too. The thing seems so funny that I'll see it out. To the devil with the loves of Bagneres. My friend Sir Lionel Bridgeport gives me comedy, and I will be the audience, appreciative and attentive."
Lionel would have given the world to rid himself of his talkative companion, but it was impossible.
"All right," he said, "if you are determined to follow me, I go to the ball."
“Good. The ball is a remedy for sickness and weariness."
Lavinia was dancing with the Count de Morangy. Lionel had never seen her dance, for in England she only knew the bolero, which was not exactly a fashionable step under the cold sky of Britain. She had since then learned the graceful dances practiced in the highest society, and danced with the luxurious grace of Spain tempered by the spiritual prudery of England. The people got on chairs to admire the lovely Portuguese, and the Count was triumphant. Lionel remained in the crowd unseen.
There is so much vanity in man that Lionel suffered tortures in beholding the woman who was once his slave, proud and admired and surrounded by attentions, each one of which was a revenge for the wrong he had done her. When she returned to her seat as the Count turned away for a moment, Lionel slipped forward and tools up the fan which she had let fall.
She was taken by surprise and uttered a faint cry.
"Heavens," she whispered. "I thought you were on the road to Bagneres."
“Fear nothing," said Lionel, "I will not compromise you with the Count."
However, he returned directly to invite her to dance, and she accepted.
"Is it necessary to ask the permission of the Count?" demanded Lionel.
The ball lasted until morning, for Lady Blake could keep up the féte just as long as she chose to remain, and owing to the disorder which prevails towards the end of such routs Lionel could speak to her often. His head was turned; and, intoxicated with her beauty, excited by the rivalry of the Count and mad at the vulgar attentions of the crowd, he pushed his advantage to the uttermost, bent on awakening in Lavinia's heart the old love for him. And his own vanity whispered such assurances that he went from the ball in a state of delirium.
In vain did Lionel try to sleep. Henry had paid his court to all the pretty women, and tired with his triumphs of the evening, snored in perfect enjoyment.
When he awoke he cried out, as he rubbed his eyes:
"Well, Lionel, this is a piquant story, your reconciliation with Lavinia. I know all. When Lavinia came to the ball she was sad and depressed, but from the moment of your appearance she became radiant and joyous. Happy Lionel! At Luchon a pretty fianceé and a rich dower, at Saint Savior a lovely friend and a brilliant success."
“A truce to your fooling," said Lionel.
Henry being the first dressed, went out for a walk, and returned, giving a Tallyho, as usual, on the stairs.
"Alas, Henry," said his friend, "you will practice that fine voice, always ready, for the chase, and taking your friends for uncoupled hounds."
To horse!" cried the other. "Lady Blake is already in the saddle. She is going with a dozen others to Gedres with the Count de Morangy at the head of the cavalcade. Do you hear that?"
"Silence, clown, and to horse, sure enough."
The cavalcade was in advance on the road to Gedres, a difficult path like a stair cut in the solid rock, skirting the precipice and offering a thousand obstacles to the horseman.
Lionel galloped forward, and though Henry thought he must be crazy, he was obliged to follow. Their arrival caused a sensation, and Lavinia trembled at the rashness of the two dashing cavaliers as they galloped along the edge of the precipice at such a headlong gait. She grew pale at the sight of Lionel, and was so agitated that the Count de Morangy regarded the two with a keen and jealous eye. This was a new spur to Lionel's humor, and all along the route he continued to dispute the possession of the post of honor at her side. The difficulty of speaking to her, and the emotions which the sublime spectacle around them called forth, the lady's adroit resistance, and her courage and grace, all contributed to the exaltation in which Lionel found himself. It was a most trying journey to a woman besieged by two lovers, between whom she was balancing her heart and preference.
So Lavinia received with delight her gay cousin Henry, when he came galloping up and took his place between herself and the two enterprising wooers.
As night came on a cloud appeared in the sky and the cavalcade began to move faster, but it was still a league to Saint Savior when the storm burst. The darkness became complete, the horses got frightened, and the steed of the Count ran away with him. The little troupe of gay ladies and gentlemen was suddenly disbanded, and it required all the efforts of the guides on foot to prevent serious accidents.
Lionel, lost in the darkness and forced to lead his horse by the bridle along the verge of the precipice, was overcome by an uneasiness stronger than any regard for his own safety. He had lost Lavinia and had been vainly searching for her for a quarter of an hour, when a vivid flash of lightning showed him the form of a woman crouching at the foot of a tree just above the road. He stopped, and bending his ear recognized the voice of Lavinia, but a man was at her side, and this could be no other than the Count de Morangy. Cursing his rival from his soul he moved toward the couple, determined to disturb his rival's happiness. But what was his joy to find Henry instead of the Count, and that careless youth with discreet good nature at once yielded his place and went to look for the horses.
Nothing is so solemn and beautiful as a storm in the mountains.
The voice of the thunders rolling through the abyss echoed and echoed in the deep gorges, and the wind beating the long larches and pines trailed them against the abrupt cliffs and howled through their branches like the wailing of the great elements of nature. Lavinia, absorbed in contemplating the scene, awaited the flashes of the lightning to behold the supernatural and startling phenomenon. She trembled at suddenly seeing Lionel in the place of here cousin, and thinking her frightened at the storm, he took her hand, looking with enthusiasm at the grand scene of the elemental battle.
"How grand and imposing," she whispered as if in a reverie. "See how the blue lightning illumines the long broken crags that rise from the glaciers like ghosts in their winding sheets. Behold in the sudden changes from darkness to light, everything seems staggering as if the mountains were about to crumble in wild chaos."
"I see only you, Lavinia," he cried, with rapture; "I hear only your voice and have no thought but that you are near me. Do you know how desperately I love you? Yes, you do know, for you said it yesterday, and perhaps you wish it. Then let it be so; I am at your feet, imploring your pardon for the past by all the hope of the future. Grant it, Lavinia, for I love and I have rights over you."
"Rights?" asked the lady, withdrawing her hand.
"Is it not a right, and a frightful one? If you could endure the wrong can you not give me the chance of repairing it in your happiness and mine?"
We all know what a man can say in such a case. Lionel was eloquent and, recognizing his rival's advantage in the formal offer of marriage made the evening before, he followed the Count's example, and offered his hand, fortune and life.
"Are you thinking of what you do," asked Lavinia, "to renounce Miss Ellis when your marriage has been settled?"
"I will do it," cried Lionel. "I will commit an action that the world will call insolent and dishonorable. Perhaps it may be washed out in my blood, but I will dare anything to win you. The greatest crime of my life was not to have appreciated you, and my duty now is to regain, you. Speak to me, and give me again the happiness which I lost. To-day I can know and appreciate you, for I too have changed. I am no longer the rash, thriftless man led by appearances, but one who knows life and its deceptions. I know that not one of my triumphs is worth a single look from you, for the chimera of happiness which I was pursuing left me miserable until I beheld you once more. Lavinia, come to me again. Who can love you as I can, who else can know the grandeur of your soul'?"
Under this passionate appeal Lavinia remained silent, but her heart beat violently and her hand trembled in Lionel's grasp while her hair was blown by the wind across his face, and he covered the dark tresses with kisses. They no longer felt the rain which still fell in heavy drops.
The storm had lulled and the skies were clearing when the Count de Morangy came up to them as fast as his lame horse, which had fallen and nearly killed him, would allow as he led the animal along. Lavinia, quickly withdrew herself from Lionel's transports, and the latter, furious at the interruption, helped her to the saddle and accompanied her as far as her house. Then she said to him, lowering her voice to a whisper:
“Lionel, you have made me offers of which I appreciate the value. I cannot answer without having seriously reflected."
"Heavens, it is the answer you gave the Count!"
"No," she said earnestly, "it is different. But your presence might cause ridiculous stories. If you love me, Lionel, swear to obey me."
"I swear by Heaven and yourself."
"Then return to Bagneres at once, and in my turn I promise in forty hours that you shall have my answer."
"But what shall I do during this age of doubt?"
"Hope," answered Lavinia, as she suddenly closed the door on him, as if afraid of saying more.
Lionel did hope, for he had Lavinia's word and all his own self love.
"You are wrong to abandon the field," said Henry to him. "Lavinia begins to weaken and I do not recognize you, old boy, when you thus retreat and leave the Count master of the battle-field. Come, you love Miss Ellis more than I thought."
Lionel was too deeply absorbed in his own thoughts to listen to his companion. He passed the period assigned locked in his chamber, and pretending to be sick. At last the letter arrived. Here it is:
"Neither one nor the other. When you receive this letter and Count Morangy, whom I have sent to Tarbes, receives his I shall be far away from you both. I shall depart forever -- lost forever to you both. You offer me rank, name and fortune, thinking eclat in the world a great object with a woman.
“No, not for one who knows the world and despises it as I do.
"But think not, O Lionel, that I despise your offer to sacrifice a brilliant marriage and give yourself to me. You have seen how cruel it is for a woman to be deserted, and how flattering it is to her self love to be able to bring her lover again to her feet. And you would give me this triumph to repair the wrong.
"I give you my esteem and would grant your pardon but that I had long since done so. But know that it is not in your power to repair the wrong, for the blow was mortal, killing in me the capacity to love, and extinguishing all hopes and illusions. Well I do not complain of my destiny. It would have come sooner or later for we all live but to see our joys clouded with disappointment. I was disabused rather early, it is true, and the need of love survived a little my credulity. I have struggled against my youth and have conquered it. And can you believe that this last struggle against you was anything but cruel and hard?
“I can say it now when flight has placed me beyond the danger of yielding. The impress of the first love can never be effaced, and the image of the past will reappear, and we are ready again to bend the knee to the old, never forgotten idol.
"Fly, O false phantom, you are but a shadow leading me to die amidst ruined hopes. Fly, for I mistrust you, knowing that if your tongue can tell the truth to-day it may lie again to-morrow.
"But why do I accuse you? Are we not all weak and fickle? Was I not calm and cold when I met you yesterday, convinced that I did not love you? Had I not encouraged Count de Morangy? But in the evening, when you were at my side, and I heard your voice over the storm, my heart softened and melted again. It was yourself of old days, the impassioned young lover, the first love, my lost, lost youth. But now I feel alone and cold, sad as death, for I have awakened and found that it was only the bright dream of a sad life.
"Adieu, Lionel. Supposing your offer of marriage is sincere, and that it could be maintained to the consummation of your proposal, still, as perhaps you feel already, I should have reasons to refuse you. You would have seen the world, so chary and stingy of its praise, view your conduct in the light of a sacrifice to duty, and it would have refused you the triumph you would have expected. You might have lost the satisfaction with yourself in not obtaining the admiration you deserved.
"Who knows, I might myself have forgotten the bright dream of your return, and accepted your new love as a reparation to your honor. Do not let us spoil that moment of love and confidence. Let us retain the memory and never again seek to recover the reality.
“Have no fear of the Count de Morangy. I have never loved him. He is one of a thousand who, even with my own aid, could never touch my heart. I could not have stood him as a husband, for such a man sells too dearly his protection in making it always felt. Besides, I hate marriage, men, eternal engagements, plans and happiness arranged mechanically according to market values and the steps of destiny bought with settlements.
"I only care for travelling -- solitude, to go through the world to laugh at the poetry of the past and God for the future."
* * * *
Sir Lionel Bridgeport felt at first a great mortification to his self-love, for, be it said to console the reader, that in the last forty hours he had indulged in many and various reflections. First he thought of mounting his horse and following Lady Blake, believing that he could overcome her resistance and conquer her cold reason. Then he thought how she might still be immovable, and how in the meantime Miss Ellis might be offended at his conduct and break off the marriage. He remained.
* * * *
“Come," said Henry the next day, when he saw Lionel kiss the hand of Miss Ellis, a, favor which she accorded in token of forgiveness, after a quarrel about his absence, “next winter we will be in Parliament."
[Rear cover; recto blank]
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