3rd SERIES: FERNANDO – AGNÈS - THE SERIN - THE FOREST CHAPEL
by Canon CHRISTOPHE SCHMID
new edition - 12 woodcuts, after Girardet
Alfred Mame and son, publishers, Tours, 1873.
Fernando - story of a young Spaniard
At the time when the Emperor of Germany was also King of Spain, the powerful Count Alvarès lived in this beautiful and rich region. He was a Grand of Spain, a dignity to which the dukes and nobles of the oldest race alone were elevated. He lived in Madrid, capital of the kingdom, a magnificent palace; in the most beautiful and pleasant provinces of Spain, he possessed several castles and vast estates; he also enjoyed considerable income: in a word, his fortune was immense. But what was worth even more than all these riches, Count Alvarès had an extended and solid mind, and a heart animated with the noblest sentiments. He made use of his credit and his fortune only for the happiness of his fellows.
His wife, Dona Isabelle, was one of the most accomplished women who ever lived. Although she was in rather weak health and excessively pale, her gentleness and kindness gave her face an inexpressible charm. She had in her manners, as in her features and in her whole person, an extremely delicate je ne sais quoi. Looking at it, you thought you saw a beautiful lily about to blossom.
The two spouses spent a very happy life together; but, as on this earth no happiness is perfect, they also had their sorrow. Although they had been married for several years, they did not yet have children who could one day inherit not only their property, but also their virtues. It was especially a real pain for Dona Isabelle. She was afraid of seeing her husband's affection diminish; she envied the happiness of all married women who have children. One day, while walking in the fields with the Count, she met a poor woman carrying on her arm a charming little boy, very neatly dressed and pretty as an angel. The Countess couldn't help but sigh. Gazing at him with pleasure, she said to the mother: "Do you want to sell your beautiful child to me?" I'll give you all you want. 'No, Madame,' cried the poor mother, 'not for all the gold mines of Peru! As she walked away, the Countess said to her husband: “Ah! How rich is this poor woman! she has a son; and how poor I find myself in the midst of our riches, since I am deprived of the happiness of being a mother! »
Finally the fervent prayers of the countess and her ardent wishes were answered: she became the mother of a son. The child was born fresh and healthy; but the mother fell dangerously ill, and soon they lost hope of bringing her back to life. His last moments, touching and sublime, revealed all the power of religion. Full of faith and confidence, she abandoned herself to the will of the Most High; the hope of eternal life made him face death without fear. She even consoled her husband, who was overwhelmed with the deepest grief, and thanked him for the happiness she had tasted with him; then she asked to see her child once more. She sat down on her bed, pressed her son to her heart, gazed at him, smiling at him for the last time, and wetting him with her tears: "Poor child," she said to him, "you look at me, but you don't don't know yet; you don't know that I am your mother; you still don't know how much my heart is full of love for you. You will not be able to greet your mother who will soon be leaving you with your first smile, nor delight her ear with the sweet name of mother. You will never remember my features, for soon I will be nothing more than a heap of dust; you won't even remember seeing me. Deprived of my tender care, you must grow up, God knows how, unless death comes to reunite us in the other world; that God's will be done? Abundant tears prevented her from continuing. She covered the child with kisses, blessed him and gave him back to his father. "I entrust it to God and to you," she said; the Lord will have pity on the poor orphan deprived of his mother, and you will raise him as a tender and faithful father. »
The pain and the effort she had just made to speak had exhausted her. She was silent for a while, and raised her gaze to heaven, praying in silence.
The fever redoubled. Suddenly she asked for her box. The Count thought she was delirious; but she said to him: “I know very well what I want; bring it to me. They brought it to him. “Dear husband,” she said to the Count, “you gave me these finery as a wedding present; I would like to leave them, if you agree, to Sister Dona Blanca, the best, most tender of my friends. It was she herself who adorned my hair with these adornments on my wedding day; may she receive them on the day of my death, as a last testimony of my friendship. Fatigue compelled her to stop for a few moments; then she added: “I have one more wish to express: the first education of children belongs to the mothers; I would therefore like my dear Blanca, this excellent mother of a family, to undertake to bring up my child with hers. May this wish be granted!
"Don't worry, my dear Isabelle," replied the Count. God will arrange everything for your friend to become the adoptive mother of our dear child. Because he already sensed that he would not long survive his adored wife.
The virtuous Isabella bore her sufferings with Christian resignation. But his strength was noticeably diminishing, and his end was approaching.
The Earl, sunk in deep affliction, sat by his deathbed. Little by little all the inhabitants of the castle came to gather around her, with slow steps, hands clasped, eyes filled with tears, and began to pray in pious recollection for their dear and beloved mistress. A gloomy silence reigned in the patient's room; all the assistants were prey to a painful expectation.
The windows of the apartment overlooked the garden, which was even more beautiful on a magnificent spring day. One of the people present said to another quite low, but not yet low enough: “Ah! How painful it is to be thus removed from this world so beautiful, from beings so dear! The Countess, who heard these words, for the dying have very keen hearing, replied: 'No, that is not so painful; because, in leaving this world, I go to a more beautiful world, where my husband and my child, and all those I have loved on earth, will follow me one day. When she spoke these words, her face shone with faith and the hope of going to dwell in the heavenly abode. A few moments later she expired amid the tears and sobs of her husband and all his servants, assisted by the prayers of a pious ecclesiastic from a neighboring monastery. This venerable priest had heard her last confession, and she had received from his hand the bread of life for the long journey of eternity.
The count's pain was inexpressible. Stretching out his hands and shedding burning tears, he fell on his knees before the deathbed of his dear Isabella, and cried out in a heartrending voice: “Lord! Lord ! my soul is broken; but you order it, let your will be accomplished! Then, contemplating once more the icy face of his wife: "Farewell, then," he cried, "angel of goodness, whom Heaven had sent me to be my companion on this earth." You were, indeed, my good angel, my guardian angel; you knew how to calm my irascible character; you spared me many imprudences; you have served me as a guide and counselor on many occasions, and finally you have been able many times to draw my attention to the good that I could do, and that I would not have done without your gentle remonstrances. You were for me a celestial apparition, which vanished before my eyes to descend into the grave, or rather to ascend to heaven. God grant that we will soon see each other again in the abode of the blessed!..." Nothing could prevent him from accompanying the procession of his wife: and as, because of her weak health, she had suffered much on this earth, he joined with fervor in this prayer of the priests: Lord, grant her eternal rest, and enlighten her with your immortal light.
The only consolation left to the count then was his child, who was baptized and named Fernando; this name responds in French to that of Ferdinand. More than ten times a day he approached his son's cradle to contemplate him; he often took him in his arms and walked him in the garden: and whoever saw this unfortunate father, in mourning clothes, holding in his arms a child dressed in swaddling clothes of dazzling whiteness, could not help pouring out tears. The child grew and became more charming every day. It was for the father an unparalleled delight when for the first time his son smiled at him, stretched out his little arms, and thus showed that he recognized him. The count waited impatiently for the moment when his dear Fernando would stammer the sweet name of papa.
But the decrees of Providence did not reserve this happiness for him. A recent fall from a horse had caused him a serious injury and caused a chest disease. His health declined day by day, and he felt that his death was approaching. So he made his will himself; he wrote to his brother to appoint him tutor to Fernando; He also wrote a letter to his sister-in-law, Dona Blanca, asking her to adopt this child and bring him up with her family. One day he had his child brought to him, pressed it to his heart, blessed it, and returned it to the governess with orders to take it immediately to Dona Blanca. A few moments later he closed his eyes forever, surrounded by all the consolations of religion, and in the sweet hope of seeing his adored wife again in heaven.
Dona Blanca lived several leagues away in an ancient castel, the construction of which dated back to the time of the Arabs and the Saracens. bizarre effect, and whoever entered there was seized with a kind of fear at the sight of these dark and winding staircases, these narrow corridors and these apartments with Gothic vaults. This ancient chateau had, however, a very beautiful aspect, charming gardens, in the midst of a rich landscape; that is why Dona Blanca liked to live there with her children when her husband, colonel of a Spanish regiment, was in the army.
She had learned with great joy that Isabelle, with whom she had formed but one heart and one soul since childhood, had had the much-desired happiness of bringing a son into the world. She had sincerely rejoiced; for her soul was so noble, so disinterested, that it never occurred to her for a moment that the birth of this child caused her to lose a rich inheritance.
A few days after this happy news she learned of Isabelle's death. One can easily imagine what was his deep pain. To crown her affliction, and before the period of mourning was over, she received by express the news of the count's death. This news, which did not surprise her, nevertheless reached her sooner than she would have believed; she was at first appalled, then she shed a torrent of tears.
Two days later, at supper time, he was informed of the arrival of the maid who was bringing little Fernando. Then pain and joy disputed his heart: pain, because the arrival of this child renewed his regrets for the recent loss of his parents; and joy, because she felt a sweet satisfaction at seeing this dear child, the only son of her faithful friend, entrusted to her care. The maid entered, dressed in black, carrying in her arms this beautiful child, whose white dress was adorned with mourning ribbons. In a voice broken by sobs, she carried out her commission. She then presented the Count's letter, which begged Dona Blanca and her husband to take the place of father and mother to the poor orphan.
Blanca, moved to tears, took the child in her arms, looked at him tenderly, and said in that touching and sweet voice that was peculiar to her: "Come, come, dear little angel, I will love you as I loved your excellent mother! “The child, who did not understand his words, but who understood very well the tender sweetness of his gaze, held out his little hands to him, smiling. " Oh ! you can't speak yet, she told him; but you answer me enough with your charming smile. She covered him with her kisses and her tears, and continued to speak to him: 'Poor child, you lost your mother before you knew her. Never will the lovely features of her face, nor the sweet names with which she greeted your entrance into the world, come back to your memory. Alas! that charming face and those maternal lips are now nothing but dust, and you don't know, you don't understand the full extent of your misfortune. But don't worry, I undertake to replace her, to be the most tender of mothers for you. God grant that my husband can also replace, by his affection for you, the good, the excellent father whom you have lost! Then, turning to her children, who were crying on seeing her cry: “Well, my children, here is a new little brother that I am giving you; kiss him, and promise to love him well. At these words, the sadness of the children of Blanca dissipated even sooner than their tears dried up, and they resumed their usual gaiety.
Philippe, a little boy of about seven, went to get his flute and began to play a march as best he could to amuse his new little brother. Charles, the younger, with the same intention, accompanied his brother on a drum. All this noise seemed to cheer up Fernando, who was laughing heartily. But the mother, fearing that the uproar would become too loud, said to them: “That is enough; and immediately neither the fife nor the drum was heard, so accustomed were these children to obeying on the spot.
Eugenie, the eldest of the Countess Blanca's children, then said: “Mom, I will use all my weak talents to serve our little brother. I'll sew him some shirts, if you don't mind cutting them for me, and I'll knit him some pretty stockings. I will also be his little cook. Tell me, mom, what should we prepare for him? Clara, who was about four years old, then came to offer chestnuts to the newcomer. “Here, eat,” she told him, not realizing he didn't have teeth yet. All the others began to laugh; the mother, however, warmly praised poor Clara, who was quite confused, and warned her of her mistake.
children; but it is not a great fault when the intention is good. Good intention excuses mistakes and makes the main merit of good deeds. »
First education. - The tutor.
Little Fernando grew and developed marvelously under the care of his second mother, and as soon as he began to speak he gave him that name, like the other children. Every day he became more charming and amiable. Her pretty face, white as a lily, her rosy cheeks, and her lively black eyes, gave her whole face a special charm. He showed a precocious spirit and an excellent heart. His adoptive mother loved him as tenderly as her own children, and they were as sincerely attached to him as if he had been their brother.
This excellent mother enjoyed perfect happiness in the midst of her children, and she knew very well how to bring them up. In the large and magnificent garden of the castle, under the vault of an azure sky, under trees laden with delicious fruit, or in the middle of a flower bed enamelled with a thousand flowers, she liked to speak to them of the goodness of God. and every day she reminded them of it, morning and evening, when they sat down to table, as well as when some unexpected joy happened to her little family. She told them with clarity, and with their own charm, the marvelous stories of the Bible; how, since the creation of the world, God has always shown his paternal solicitude for men; how much he loves the good and rewards them, and what punishments he reserves for the wicked. She liked to see her children put questions to her afterwards, and always answered them with precision and sagacity; so that these stories gave rise to conversations that were as instructive as they were interesting.
It was a great joy for Dona Blanca to hear her children comment on the stories she told them, and little Fernando in particular usually showed a piquant sagacity in them. One day he declared that the earthly paradise could not have been more beautiful than the garden of the castle. "We live there," he cried, "as happy as the first men must have been." "Dear children," replied their mother, "you will always be so as long as you remain pious and innocent, and know how to guard yourselves from sin." »
Fernando was very angry with Eve. "If she hadn't been so stupid," he said, "if she hadn't believed more in the words of that ugly serpent than in those of the good Lord, our good mother, my brothers and my sisters would not die. not. I have only seen snakes yet that are in my picture books; but if ever there came one who wanted to deceive me, I would not listen to him: I would go very quickly to fetch a big stick, and I would crush it. The mother smiled, and replied: 'You will never see a serpent speak to you; the only cause which, nowadays, leads to evil, is the temptation to sin. The mother explained this reasoning with examples.
" Well ! Since temptation is like a poisonous snake to us, I always want to distrust it and be on my guard. »
Fernando also took great pleasure in hearing the account of the sacrifice of the first two brothers who offered to the Lord a young lamb and the fruits of their fields. “That is very fine,” he said; but why don't we erect an altar in our garden to offer lambs and ears of wheat to God? »
Blanca answered: “We have in our church an altar on which an infinitely more admirable sacrifice is offered to God, of which the ancient offerings were only a weak image. You will understand this divine mystery when you are older. The heart of every man must be an altar consecrated to the Lord; it is in our heart that we must offer our sacrifice to him. Then the Countess continued her story, and told them how God had accepted the offering of the pious Abel, and rejected that of the wicked Cain.
"I understand now," said Fernando, "that the piety, the filial love, the candor and the innocence which reigned in the heart of Abel were the true offering which pleased God, while he could not accept the gifts of Cain, because his heart was evil, and he did not love God sincerely. I now know what sacrifice I can always offer to God. I want to be
constantly pious and wise, loving God with all my heart and remaining obedient to him. »
The crime of Cain's fratricide caused him just horror. “That one,” he said, “did not find the viper near a tree, like unhappy Eve; he already carried it in his heart. Jealousy and hatred against his brother are serpents that advised him to commit crime. »
At the same time the fate of the unfortunate Abel inspired him with deep compassion, and in thinking of the grief of Adam and Eve when they found their beloved son bathed in his blood, tears came to his eyes.
“But,” he exclaimed, “how is it possible that the good Lord allowed the virtuous Abel to perish in such a horrible way? Me, in God's place, I wouldn't have suffered it. »
The mother answered him that God had called Abel to him, precisely because he loved him; and that he had placed it in heaven, which is far more beautiful than the earthly paradise had ever been.
Fernando was satisfied with this observation. “So, he said, death is not such a terrible thing as people think. »
He listened with the same attention and interest to the stories that followed this one; the other children took equal pleasure in hearing them, and often said to the countess: "Dear mother, a story, tell us a story." These stories of a good mother made her children love religion, and, laying in their young souls the first foundations of religious belief, they deposited there the seeds of morality which were to bear good fruit during the whole course of their existence. .
Don Alonzo, Blanca's husband, was nothing like the late Count Alvarès, his virtuous brother. He was proud, ambitious, selfish and dissipative. The fine land which had devolved to him as a youngest son could not suffice for his extravagant expenses. This motive had determined him to take service in the army, in order to acquire by his bravery a fortune equal to that of which the birthright of his brother Alvarès had deprived him. He hated the castle of his fathers because of its Gothic structure, and preferred the stay in the capital; he spent most of his time at court. Rarely did he come to see his family; and when this fancy took him, he was always accompanied by a crowd of servants dressed in rich livery, and followed by a good number of carriages and very expensive horses; in a word, he displayed an unheard-of pomp. As soon as he arrived, all the nobility of the neighborhood assembled at his house; then he gave splendid banquets, and caused the most noisy parties to follow the peace of this residence, he only took care of his children to take them away from the sweet conversations of their mother, and to show their brilliant toilet to his guests. . During all this time the poor little ones had to give up their innocent games and their natural gaiety. So they came to want their father to leave, so that they could resume their accustomed life in the garden, on the beautiful carpets of greenery. They preferred their mother's instructive narrations to all the feasts they witnessed. However young they were, they noticed very well that their father had less attachment - for them than their mother.
But it was especially little Fernando who could expect nothing from his affection. Alonzo hated in his heart this amiable child, whose birth had destroyed all the hopes he had founded on the great wealth of his brother, Count Alvarès. Also the sight of this child was for him a torture, and he only looked at him with a feeling of marked aversion; Fernando, for his part, did not feel at ease with his uncle, and was extremely shy in front of him. But Blanca remained the same. When her husband scolded Fernando and reproached him unjustly, she always defended him, and often addressed a few caressing words to console him. Then Alonzo got carried away and reproached him for loving a foreigner more than his own children. “No, answered Blanca, I don't love him more, but just as much. And how could I not love it? isn't he the son of your brother and my best friend? What would become of the poor orphan if we did not have all the tenderness of a father and a mother for him? Do not forget the lesson of our divine Savior: What you do to one of these children, you do to me. Then Alonzo walked away, frowning, without deigning to answer a single word; but his anger increased each time he heard, as often happened, strangers extolling the charming character and grace of his ward. Then Alonzo felt his heart swell with rage, and his hatred against the poor child grew even more poisonous.
One evening when Alonzo was absent, Fernando, who was then in his sixth year, suddenly fell ill. He felt a burning fever, accompanied by violent headaches. The tender Blanca was greatly alarmed. Too far from the town to summon a doctor immediately, she sent for the village frater. This man, named Ambrosio, arrived immediately with his big red coat and his powdered wig; he put on his spectacles, approached the bed, examined the patient, felt his pulse, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, assumed a capable air, and... said nothing.
Fernando was afraid of him; but the oddity of his face and his costume greatly amused the other children. A mischievous little girl even whispered to her brother: "With his big wig, his glasses and his pointed nose, he doesn't look badly like an owl." All the children burst into a burst of laughter; the mother scolded them, and led them into the next room.
This pretended doctor was only a very ordinary barber; but when the peasants wanted to put him in a good mood, they called him Dr. Ambrosio. The Countess, seeing that he made no pronouncement on the nature of the illness, suspected then that he was unaware of it himself; she said to him: "I suppose, however, doctor, that you are a skilful doctor?"
"I believe so," he answered, sniffling; I treated seven fractures in a single year
of leg; unfortunately, since that time, this disease does not give, it spreads only rarely.
-Spread! exclaimed the countess; I would not have guessed that a fracture was a contagious disease. But tell me what's wrong with this child?
“It is good that the disease is still developing somewhat,” replied Ambrosio; for for the moment I defy the most learned physician in Europe to discover properly the condition of the illustrious little malady.
"Well, we'll wait until tomorrow: good evening!..." And she made a sign to him to retire.
As she was about to send a servant on horseback to town to seek the help of a real physician, a richly braided outrider arrived at full gallop, and announced to the astonished Countess the arrival of her husband. She ran with her children to meet him; she saw at first glance that Alonzo was in a bad mood, and that he must have some secret and violent grief. He looked around. “Where is Fernando? he cried; why does he not come to meet his tutor? Does he think he is dispensed from the respect he owes me, because he will one day be the possessor of a vast and rich seigneury?
“Alas! replied the Countess with a sigh, the poor child is very ill.
-Sick ! repeated Alonzo; and her face, so worried a moment before, suddenly cleared up. Well ! send for the village doctor.
“He has already come; but one cannot tell such an ignoramus the days of Fernando.
- Bah ! replied the count, he is not so ignorant as he seems; he knows enough for this child. »
At this moment the steward d'Alonzo brought his master a packet of letters - the count quickly skimmed the addresses, recognized the handwriting, and some of them made him so angry that he stamped his foot violently. crying out: "The accursed importunates, I already know what they want from me. Then seeing a letter sealed with a large seal: "This letter," he said, "is of great importance, I must withdraw to read it immediately." In the meantime, we send for the barber, I have to talk to him. At these words he ran to shut himself up in one of the towers where he had established his cabinet; it was his usual retirement when he had some important business, or else, what happened still more frequently, when he was in a bad mood. He broke the seal of this very important letter, read it avidly, then tore it up in anger, and, letting himself fall into an armchair, cried out in a tone of despair: "Death and hell! ... I am lost. !... »
Alonzo's situation must indeed have terrified him. As long as his brother had had no children, he had looked upon himself in advance as the owner of his immense fortune. As the sufferings of the late Count and his inclinations to philhisy became more and more serious, Alonzo flattered himself that he would soon inherit all his property.
It was in this hope that he borrowed considerable sums. The usurers, believing they would soon see him master of a great fortune, furnished him with as much money as he wanted. He was constantly taking out new loans, at high interest, which he always added to the capital, when, to his great terror and against his expectation, he learned that he had just been born an heir to his brother. He did try to restrain his spending, but not as much as he should have. To dismiss a single one of his people, or to sell a single one of his numerous luxury horses, seemed to him a shame. The death of his brother further aggravated his position; for this generous man had often given him large sums of money, and, while blaming his prodigalities and his ostentation, he had always ended by getting him out of trouble by opening his purse to him.
After the death of Count Alvarès, Alonzo, who had become little Fernando's tutor, had more than once tried to appropriate his ward's fortune, by embezzling this or that capital, in order to appease at least the most pressed of his creditors. But Count Alvarès had wisely guaranteed the interests of his son by good contracts and by the supervision of a skilful and honest man who was added to Don Alonzo, as subrogated guardian, and who would not yield to Alonzo's entreaties. However, the latter's debts had increased to such an extent that he had already been threatened with legal action. Before his last departure from Madrid, he had scarcely been able to obtain from one of his most pitiless creditors, and by dint of entreaties, a delay of fifteen days; on the other hand, he had been forced to give a Jew a year's salary as a colonel to prevent him from filing a complaint. But what was even worse was that he had dipped into the regiment's coffers, hoping to be able to replace the distracted sums in time. The day of settling accounts was approaching, and he saw himself unable to cover this deficit. All these letters he had just received were only threats from his creditors, or refusals from the people he had approached to take out new loans. The one he had just torn up had destroyed his last hope, it came from the deputy guardian. The latter, without whose consent nothing of the estate could be touched, flatly refused to allow the count to dispose of a forthcoming and fairly large inflow of funds, which belonged to their ward. Don Alonzo had framed his request in terms so flattering, so insinuating, that he had no doubts of success, and this capital was enough to get him out of trouble. This refusal enraged Alonzo: he ground his teeth and tore his hair. In vain did he still seek some means of safety. To be ignominiously driven out of the regiment because of the deficit of the fund, and then stripped of all his property to satisfy his numerous creditors, such was the inevitable result of his misconduct.
At this moment Dr. Ambrosio entered, making deep bows, and immediately began, with his intolerable verbiage, a long compliment on the happy return of His Excellency.
"Shut up," cried Alonzo in a brusque and irritated tone; just answer my questions. What do you think of Fernando's illness?
'Monseigneur,' said the doctor, trembling, 'it's a cathedral fever, if Your Lordship allows it.
"Idiot!" you probably mean bluetongue. But you are wrong again; it must be the smallpox, which this year is wreaking havoc among the children of the region similar to that of the plague. Come on, old fool, what do you say?
"Yes, Monseigneur, it is smallpox, or, if Your Excellency wishes, the plague." »
In fact, it suddenly occurred to the poor man that it must be smallpox; he was surprised that this idea had not occurred to him. As, in spite of his ignorance, he was still cunning enough to try to cover up his mistake: "I had noticed," he said, "that the smallpox was approaching; but I dared not confess it to Madame la Comtesse or to Your Excellency, so as not to frighten them; the disease is progressing, and my young lords your children are in the greatest danger of being attacked by the contagion. »
Alonzo saw very well the ignorance and cunning of the pretended doctor, and said to him ironically: “Your reluctance could have brought great misfortunes to my family, and I would have reason to be angry with you; you must not be so reserved in the secrets of your art, prudence requires warning people in time. Go, then, and administer the remedies which you believe to be the most efficacious. »
The cruel Alonzo had no scruple in entrusting the life of this amiable child to this wretch. In his desperate position, his ward's illness came very opportunely, and he desired nothing more ardently than to see this inept physician destroy him by senseless treatment.
Ambrosio, after having visited the little patient, had nothing more in a hurry than to enter hastily into the room of the Countess, and to announce to her that Fernando was going to be stricken with the most malignant smallpox. This news caused great fright to the Countess. She rushed pale and trembling into her husband's apartment, and asked him if the barber was telling the truth.
"I don't doubt it," replied Alonzo coldly, "and the first thing we have to do is protect our children from contagion." We must leave this castle. Let the preparations for departure be made immediately. Now leave me alone; I have important business that requires my full attention. Poor Blanca, very distressed, withdrew, and went to Fernando's room.
Alonzo remained alone in this sinister tower. Evening had come, and all was dark under those gloomy vaults which had once served as a prison; but Alonzo's soul was darker still. Pride and selfishness dug an abyss of horror there; they stifled in him all feeling of humanity. He conceived the dreadful project of mixing a subtle poison with the remedies that his ward was to take. He first had the idea of making this proposal to the barber Ambrosio; but, on reflection, he found it too dangerous to confide such a secret to a foolish and talkative being. He therefore cast his eyes on a young man of his retinue, named Pedro, in whom he had great confidence. Alonzo knew that this young man, vain and ambitious, wanted to marry a noble lady whose charms had seduced him; he wanted to take advantage of all these circumstances. However, the thought of revealing his criminal plan to someone seemed dreadful to him. This barbarous action appeared to him still more horrible when he was on the point of communicating it to another; he himself recoiled from such an idea.
While Alonzo was thus a prey to the most terrible combats with his conscience, his valet de chambre entered, and was astonished to find him in the attitude of a man in despair, his head resting on his hand, and stares dark and fixed on the table. As Alonzo, completely absorbed in his thoughts, had not noticed the presence of this man, the latter ventured to ask him in a low voice if he liked to have supper, that the countess and her children were waiting for him. since one hour. Alonzo stood up in horror like a criminal caught in the act, and answered angrily: “No, I want to be alone; bring some light, a few bottles of wine and two glasses.
- Two glasses! repeated the servant in astonishment, because his master had just told him at the same time that he wanted to be alone.
"Yes, two glasses," cried the Count, giving him a thunderous look; Hurry up, and I don't see you again tonight. »
The servant obeyed, shaking his head, as if he feared his master had lost his mind; then he withdrew.
Pedro the musician. — Horrible conspiracy.
The unfortunate man whom Alonzo had chosen for the execution of his dreadful project was a young musician of rare talent. This is why the count, who, in his love of pomp, regretted no expense and who loved artists, had engaged him in his service. The job of this skilful singer was to make himself heard when his master gave parties and great dinners; it celebrated, accompanied by the lute, the exploits of heroes and ancient Spanish knights in their battles against the Arabs and Saracens. He had a beautiful and resonant voice, and always sang with purity and expression. Above all, he knew how to render with great energy the various passions which formed the subject of his songs: joy and pain, fear and hope, love and hatred.
Besides, Pedro had a cheerful character, a handsome face, and considerate and agreeable manners. He constantly dressed with great taste and research. His mind was adorned, for he had had some schooling; but his talent for music, and the admiration he excited everywhere, had diffused him in all society, and there was no party to which he was not invited. Soon his love for dissipation had made him sacrifice serious studies to his taste for the arts and pleasures; apart from that, he could only be reproached for his levity of character and his penchant for causticity and mockery.
This young man had gained all the confidence of Alonzo. He knew how to bend to his mood, anticipate his least desires, and flatter him in the most skilful way. So he had ended up insinuating himself so much into the count's mind that he had become indispensable to him. He knew how to make himself also agreeable to Alonzo's children. He never came to the chateau without bringing them a few small presents: for the young countesses, ribbons and artificial flowers; to the young counts, small sabers and small muskets of fine workmanship, but incapable of wounding, because they were made of wood. He taught young ladies to do the most fashionable knitwear; he made bows and arrows for their brothers, and showed them how to shoot a pumpkin which he shaped into the shape of an Arab's head. He invented a thousand ways to entertain them. But what gave the children the most pleasure was to hear the heroic songs which he taught them, and which he knew very well how to appropriate to their voice; they always listened to him with great attention and with a thrill mingled with joy; so they rejoiced more at the arrival of the amiable Pedro than at that of their father.
The Count had brought Pedro with him. But Pedro was no longer the singer of old. Pale, defeated and taciturn, he seemed even sadder than his master; he had even forgotten to bring the children the usual presents. He shunned society, and sought the darkest and loneliest alleys. It was there that Alonzo found him, at midnight, seated at the foot of an ancient mausoleum, and making the echo of his plaintive songs.
" How ! you are still here at such a late hour! said the count. What singular pleasure can you find in entrusting the sorrows of your heart only to cold and insensitive rocks? Come with me, let's leave this dismal place like a cemetery. I have things to teach you that will give you a glimpse of a brighter future. Come. He walked away: Pedro followed him in silence with his head bowed.
Don Alonzo, with his companion, crossed the long and narrow corridor which led to the tower, and he carefully closed all the iron doors which guarded the entrance. At last they arrived in the count's study. Two candles placed on the table shed a pale light in the room; Pedro saw with astonishment a naked sword placed between the bottles and the glasses.
“Sit down, my dear Pedro,” said the Count to him, “I need to talk to you, and this hour seemed to me the most suitable. But first see if I have closed the door of the vestibule. I'm so distracted! Also push the lock of this door. I would like that instead of one, there were seven; I would shoot them all. »
Pedro obeyed, sat down beside his master, waited anxiously.
Alonzo poured wine into the glasses, and said, "Let's have a drink first, we both need it to drive away our sad thoughts." Let's toast, dear Pedro. To you, the most intimate and the most faithful of my friends!... » Pedro toasted with surprise; for he had never seen his master speak to him with so much familiarity.
They drank; Alonzo was pouring out many swigs, but still did not explain himself. This mysterious silence terrified Pedro and caused him the most painful apprehensions. Finally Alonzo said to him: “I find myself in a dreadful position, my dear Pedro; you are the first man I have confided in. I'm about to lose my honor in the face of the whole world; I will not be able to survive my shame. I am a ruined man; nothing belongs to me anymore in this chateau, not a stone, not a tree; of all my possessions, I only have left what a horse could cover with its foot... That surprises you, my dear Pedro; but this is true. Until this day you have seen around me only abundance and splendor. Alas! All that glitters is not gold. Before eight days perhaps I shall be expelled from this castle with my wife and my children. What will become of us? Think what my despair must be and how my paternal heart must be torn. »
This confidence so distressed Pedro that tears came to his eyes.
"You are crying, faithful friend," repeated the count. Do you hear the cries of my wife and my children when they see themselves chased from this castle and reduced to the most dreadful misery? Well! that's not all ; a still more horrible misfortune awaits me. I am threatened with a mortal and irreparable insult; and that is above all what causes my dread. No, I will not survive my shame: rather die than lose honor. In this dreadful position I have recourse to you, my good, my dear, my beloved Pedro. You are the only confidant in whom I want to put my trust: you can, you must be my savior.
- Me ! exclaimed Pedro with extreme surprise: is it a dream? My lord ? Has your painful position troubled your mind? I have nothing in the world but my talent and my lute. How could I, poor wretch, be useful to you in such circumstances?
- You can do a lot, a lot, everything! not only for me, but also for you. You can not only be useful to me, but yourself become a rich, respected man, a noble in short. Why are you looking at me like that? Believe me, I'm not kidding; the state of my affairs does not give me any desire to do so; I am speaking seriously. Let us explain ourselves frankly, my dear Pedro. Listen to me. I know perfectly the secrets of your heart, however careful you have taken to hide them from me. It is not without reason that you have become so pale and so melancholy, and that instead of your gay songs you make the rocks resound with your plaintive accents, It is the young and beautiful young lady to whom you gave in Madrid singing and music lessons which is the cause of your torments. You blush, you fear that I will blame you for wanting to raise you to a lady of noble birth. No, I don't blame you, the virtues and excellent qualities of this beautiful and young person justify you. Not only are your secrets known to me, I know even more: the amiable Laura shares your sentiments and would not hesitate for a moment to give you her hand. But the feelings and wishes of her parents are opposed to it: they would not give their daughter to a man who was not noble, even if he had all the gold of the two Indies, and they are irritated to the last degree by the inclination of their daughter for a poor musician. They will never consent to this union. What's more, they are going to confine the charming Laura to a castle located eighty leagues from Madrid, with one of her relatives, where she will be closely watched. So you are sure that you will never see your beloved again. You sigh, good young man; don't grieve. I want to show you the way to become the possessor of a lordship and to obtain letters of nobility, thanks to which you can easily persuade the parents of your beloved to grant you her hand. I polled them, and I know their opinion positively enough in this regard to be able to guarantee it to you. Now, my dear Pedro, it depends on you alone to become owner of a castle, gentleman and husband of the beautiful Laura. Say, what do you think?
“All the things you tell me today are so many riddles to me,” replied Pedro, “and I can't understand you. The hopes you hold out to me are beautiful dreams, but also nothing but dreams. I am and always will be the most unfortunate of mortals.
'Listen, you won't soon be, if you want; Listen, Pedro, I want to tell you this quietly. The Count drew his chair closer to Pedro's and whispered in his ear in a dull, stifled voice: 'This little boy who is ill is the sole cause of my distress and my despair; he must not recover. That is all ; Do you understand me? »
Pedro shook his head; Alonzo continued in an even lower voice: “You will give him a potion that will cure him forever. May this child of misfortune pass into the other world, I am Count of Alvarès, and I abandon this castle to you. »
Pedro jumped up in surprise and exclaimed: “What, me! I will become the assassin of this amiable child, who has never done me the slightest harm! No, it's too awful, no, never!
- In the name of God ! resumed Alonzo, don't shout so loud, and listen to me. Above all, listen to me without interrupting me, and then you will decide. »
Alonzo then exhausted all the sophisms and all the resources of his eloquence to mitigate the horror of this crime and determine Pedro, who still resisted. Then he continued like this:
“Again, I repeat to you, this action is less abominable than you imagine. This child was born in health as weak as that of its parents; it carries in its bosom the germ of an untimely death. If he recovers from this disease, which is hardly probable, how much longer will he live? A year at most, maybe not six months, maybe not just three. »
Pedro answered timidly: “Fernando is of a delicate constitution, it is true; however I cannot believe that it is as weak as you say.
"I am certain of it," resumed the count. Besides, whatever it may be, if he lives a hundred years, if he wants to, I wouldn't care if I were in a less dreadful position. But the necessity is pressing, the moment decisive, and the time and the occasion favor me. No one will find it surprising that a child whom everyone knew to be sickly from birth succumbed to the attacks of a violent fever; the slightest suspicion cannot hang over us. But if he lives another eight days, I'm lost. My honor, the good of my family, everything is at stake. Must a puny child drag out its fragile existence for a few more weeks, or must my honor be irrevocably lost, and my wife and children reduced to the most dreadful misery? In truth, to shorten the life of this child is to shorten his sufferings, it is a benefit rather than a crime. Do you have to design it?
— What I understand very well, said Pedro, is that with fine words one can give the most horrible things a certain deceptive appearance. Hearing you speak like this, some people would be tempted to believe that you are right. But I feel within me a voice that cannot deceive me and that speaks quite differently. My dear master, Heaven is my witness, your misfortune saddens my heart. If, to save you from the misfortune that threatens you, I had to give my blood and my life, I would do it; but do not ask me to burden my conscience with a crime, and to sacrifice to you the salvation of my soul. Oh! no, don't ask; I cannot.
- Well ! said Alonzo, getting up suddenly and furiously grabbing the sword that was on the table, since I can't convince you and get you the favor I'm asking for, I want to put an end to all this. I must die or Fernando perish; you want him to live, so let me die. »
Saying these words, he put the hilt of his sword on the ground and pointed the tip towards his chest.
“Stop, in the name of Heaven! exclaimed Pedro, all trembling; it is better to lose the child and save yourself; I will obey you.
“So swear to me to carry out my orders punctually, whatever they may be!”
Pedro swore it; he was pale as death, and a cold sweat ran down his brow. He had never felt such a feeling of terror before.
When he had repeated the oath that Alonzo dictated to him, one hand on the sword and the other raised towards the sky, Alonzo said to him: “That's good! but if you change your mind, if you become a perjurer, tremble, I will avenge myself. At the same time he brandished his sword above Pedro's head, who recoiled in horror.
Alonzo went back to the table, held out his hand to Pedro, and said to him: “Courage! don't worry, everything will be fine; tomorrow at daybreak I'm leaving for Madrid, and I'm taking my whole family. My wife will make some difficulties to separate from her Benjamin; but luckily that stupid barber has already prepared the way for me by spreading the alarm. She knows that smallpox desolates our regions, and this consideration will no doubt determine her to leave, for fear of compromising the health of her family. If she persists in staying with Fernando, and wants to let the children go with me, I will know how to speak like a master and make myself obeyed. I will reassure her by telling her that I am leaving you here to take care of the little patient, and I will order you in his presence to send for a doctor from Salamanca: which you will be careful not to do.
“I have one more thing to recommend to you,” continued Alonzo. Do not go to bed until the arrival of this telegram, receive it; come and wake me at daybreak, and don't forget to tell the castle that a courier has given me a letter from the king ordering me to go to Madrid immediately. This will be a reason to hasten our departure and that of my people. You stay here alone, with an old servant and the barber, who cannot get in your way. In three days, you will send me a letter sealed in black, very touching, very sentimental, to announce the death of the young count. Take care to write your letter in such a way that I can let everyone read it. If you have anything special to tell me, you will write them on a separate note. what happened. I will make a rich convoy; I will become Grand of Spain; you will be the owner of a castle and the husband of the loveliest woman in the world. Now, farewell! good night."
Departure. - The poison.
Well before daybreak, Pedro came knocking at the count's door to give him the royal missive brought by the orderly. Dona Blanca had woken up at this noise, and her husband said to her: 'I must leave immediately for Madrid; we will leave together, make haste to make your travel arrangements.
"But," objected the Countess, "is it really true that Fernando has smallpox, and can't I stay here with my children?"
- How! cried Alonzo angrily, you want to sacrifice all your children to this stranger! Do you want to see them blind, lame, disfigured by smallpox?
“Well, go with your children. I stay; I cannot leave this poor child here alone in the state in which he is.
"And if our children have already drawn the germ of the contagion from him, and on their arrival in the capital they are attacked by this cruel disease, will they then have to die deprived of their mother's care?"
- So, at the first news, I set off to join them.
'That's enough,' resumed Alonzo irritably, 'don't bother me any more with your objections. In an hour we will be in the car; I want it!... Pedro, who is very attached to this child, and who is loved by him, will stay near him, and he has the order to send for the best doctor in Salamanca: so you can rest easy. . Come on, make your preparations. »
The Countess, who had known for a long time by experience that one could not even try to resist this violent man without aggravating the situation, made no further reply and resigned herself to following his orders.
As soon as the children were dressed, she went with them into the little patient's room. When poor Fernando saw them in traveling clothes, he exclaimed in pain: “Ah! my God, my good mother, you want to leave me! And you too, my brothers, you abandon me and leave me alone, while I am sick! Ah! stay, I beg you; stay here, my good mother, if you don't want me to die.
- Alas! I cannot, my dear Fernando, said the Countess, weeping, I am forced to leave. Fernando began to sob, and so did the children. The excellent Blanca kissed the poor child tenderly and gave him her blessing. “Console yourself,” she said to him, “God remains with you; he will save you. We will all pray for you. »
The children then came to say goodbye to him, shedding abundant tears, but not daring to approach his bed. " Oh ! exclaimed Fernando painfully, is my illness so dangerous that you are afraid to come near me? If so, stay where you are; for everything in the world I would not want you to have to suffer what I extract. The Countess, touched by young Fernando's delicate attention to her brothers and sisters, felt her tears redouble, and she barely had the strength to say to him, turning away to hide her deep emotion: "We will see each other again. Soon.
— No, never, said Fernando in a heartrending voice, we will never see each other again in this world! »
She wanted once more to approach him; but Don Alonzo presented himself at the door and shouted in a voice of thunder: "Is it soon over?" The car is ready. He dared not enter or approach his victim's bed to bid him a final farewell; for, in spite of his depravity, and although he had faced death a hundred times on the field of battle, he had not the dreadful courage to defy the gaze of a weak child whose ruin he had prepared. Despite himself, his conscience felt the power of remorse. The Countess dragged herself from her dear Fernando's bed with difficulty, then dragged her children away. The carriage started, and the poor little invalid heard the sound of the wheels on the castle's drawbridge. When everyone had left and Pedro found himself alone in that ancient castle where he was to commit a crime, he began to feel an inexpressible fear. The silence that reigned around him terrified him; the sound of his footsteps under these dark vaults froze him with terror. He entered Fernando's room trembling.
“Oh! my dear Pedro, said the amiable child, whose eyes were still moist with tears, - you are very good to stay with me; without you, I would be totally abandoned. But what do you have? you seem troubled. Is it the departure of my family that grieves you, or is it my illness that afflicts you so deeply? Oh ! I see it in your eyes, I must resolve to die. But don't worry about it. I shall have ceased to suffer; I will become, as Mama says, a beautiful angel in heaven I will be close to the good Lord, and this thought makes me happy. Tell me, my good Pedro, she makes you happy too, doesn't she? »
Pedro remained silent. The words of this innocent child tore his heart. Alas! the unfortunate man could no longer think of the joys of heaven, and he dared not fix his thoughts on the torments of hell. The idea of killing this child full of candor and innocence made him shiver, and his hair stood on end in horror. But he feared hell even less than Atonio's wrath. His soul was a prey to the most horrible anxiety. He got up, went out and said to himself: No! I shall not have the courage to cut this unfortunate man's throat. Let's try to get some poison first, then we'll see.
He went to find the barber Ambrosio, who was at the same time the doctor and the apothecary of the village.
“Hello, hello, Lord Pedro; you are already up so early! How is our little patient? But yourself, what do you have? You look very pale to me! it seems that you need my ministry; allow me to feel your pulse; how violently it beats! Yes, you definitely have a fever.
- Oh ! no it is nothing ; only I slept very badly last night, there are so many rats and mice in this old chateau! Could you give me some drugs to destroy them?
- Hum! said the barber, I had an excellent composition for correcting these importunate guests, but at this moment I am unprepared.
"You must have some other poison in your shop?"
'No,' replied the barber with visible ill humor. he only left me harmless medicines, with which I can hardly do anything.
"But wouldn't you know how to get me some poison?" I need it badly.
- And why ? Ambrosio asked with a worried look; would you by any chance want to commit suicide? I found you so restless.
— Dear Doctor Ambrosio, replied Pedro with finesse, I see that we must be sincere with you. See, it's all just a bet. A young lord with whom I recently met in a society maintained that to a man of my condition and who is not noble, poison would never be sold, at any price whatsoever. This shocked me, and I bet six louis d'or that in the space of five or six days I would have gotten myself a good dose of poison, liquid or powder, it didn't matter. And so that you can be sure that I am not deceiving you, and that I am telling you the truth, I offer to share with you the amount of the wager. Here, here are the three louis; but find me some poison now or I'll lose my bet. Four days have already passed. »
Ambrosio cast a lustful glance at the gold coins, however conceited and ridiculous he was, he had nevertheless an honest soul, and if he had suspected the use that Pedro wanted to make of this poison, he would not tell him. would not have given for all the treasures in the world.
" Well! he said, since this is only a challenge, it is something else. Although I have no poison and the apothecaries refuse to sell me any, I believe I can get some for you. A few leagues from here, in the mountains, lives an old hermit who, I believe, came from the East, and who is said to be a magician, for he spends whole days climbing the mountains to gather plants and picking up stones; then he spends long nights near a furnace on which there is sometimes a crucible, sometimes an alembic. We also see in his cell a terrestrial globe and a telescope to observe the stars. With his knowledge of plants, I have no doubt that he could prepare a potion for us that would put a man to sleep until the last judgment.
— Go and see your hermit, my dear doctor Ambrosio, said Pedro to him, and hasten your return; Above all, do not come back empty-handed. During this time I will take care of our little patient. Yesterday you provided him with medicine so well that he will have enough for at least eight days. I will follow your prescriptions to the letter, and I will make him take them every half hour. »
Ambrosio took his wig, his three-cornered hat, and his cane, and went to the hermitage, promising to return towards evening, while Pedro, still absorbed in the darkest thoughts, returned to the castle.
He congratulated himself on having thus deceived Ambrosio, he also managed to deceive himself. “Without doubt,” he said, “the death of this child is a great misfortune; but mine and that of Alonzo, who would kill me before I perish, and the ruin of this noble family so interesting, would also be great misfortunes, and one can only avoid these by resigning oneself to this one. there ; besides, I am bound by an oath, and God punishes perjury. He had been taught, however, that an oath which leads to homicide is an outrage to God, who forbids homicide, and that it is not permissible to commit a crime to avoid misfortune; but if Pedro had conscientiously examined the bottom of his heart, he would have recognized that the desire to possess a castle and to marry a noble damsel was the only motive which determined him to undertake a cowardly assassination.
A day of anxiety.
When Pedro returned, Fernando greeted him with friendship and asked him with a chagrin air: “Where have you been, my dear Pedro? I haven't seen you for more than an hour.
“I went to talk to the doctor for you.
— My good Pedro, thank you for your attention: and what did the doctor tell you?
“He hopes you will soon be cured; but he advises you to take exactly all the remedies you are given.
- Well ! bring me the potion; I have to take it every hour, and it's already been almost an hour and a half. »
Pedro presented the medicine to him: Fernando took it courageously, without showing the slightest disgust, and thanked him in the most affable way. Pedro sat down by his bed. The friendship of this charming child, which formerly gave him so much pleasure, today saddened him deeply. Fernando's candid and confident gaze pierced her heart; he could not support him, got up hastily, and left. He wandered, trembling with terror, under the dark vaults of the castle; he went through all the apartments, the courtyard and the vast garden; then he returned to the little patient's room; but there, more than anywhere else, he could not remain quiet.
He found no rest anywhere; he could neither drink nor eat; a ghost seemed to pursue him; his dreadful project annihilated his peace of heart; the day seemed to him hopelessly long. "No, never," he sighed, "I never imagined that I would pass such dreadful moments." And the closer the evening approached, the more he felt his anguish increase. He felt an anxiety similar to that felt by the criminal who sees the moment of execution approaching. He often went to the window, and fixed his eyes on the road by which the barber was to arrive; but he does not see it. He came back and sat down next to Fernando's bed. “Why, my dear Pedro, asked the child, did you take so long to give me the potion? the hour has already passed ten minutes. »
Pedro got up to fetch it. He had placed it in the next room, under the pretext of keeping it cool, but in reality with the intention of mixing the poison more easily without the child being able to notice it. He brought the potion in a porcelain cup. Thinking of the poison he was to present to the innocent child in this same cup, he shuddered to the point of becoming all trembling. Fernando drank and returned the empty cup to him, saying with a sweet smile: “May God reward you for all you do for me! »
These words struck Pedro like a thunderbolt.
Yes, he thought, of everything, consequently also of the murder that I planned. He started, he could not help heaving a deep sigh.
"What's the matter with you today, my dear Pedro?" asked Fernando; since this morning I find you have a singular air, and even now you have a frightening air. To see you like this, you would say a specter or else the death that stands near my bed. You are no longer the same; I'm afraid you're ill, even sicker than me.
"It's quite possible," Pedro replied, turning and hurrying out. “Alas! yes, he cried when he was gone, yet it is the truth what I heard said: There is no poison, however violent, that does in the body of the man the ravages that a wrong action wreaks on his soul. If he who meditates a crime already feels such poignant anguish, what must he not feel when he has consummated it! »
He wiped the cold sweat that bathed his face, and approached the window to breathe a cooler air. He then saw the barber coming, and hastened to meet him; then, pulling him aside: "Give me quickly," he said to him in a low voice, "the poison you brought me."
"I bring nothing," answered Ambrosio; the venerable hermit did not want to get over it.
- Nothing ! exclaimed Pedro with terror; for he feared that the barber's request had aroused some suspicion. Why, then? he continued: what did the hermit say?
- Oh! the hermit told me that he must prepare some, and that he would bring it himself tomorrow.
"It's good," replied Pedro, who didn't know whether to be saddened or to rejoice at this setback. I thank you for your trouble. Farewell, good night. »
But Ambrosio wanted to see the little patient again; he watched her attentively for a long time, felt her pulse with great seriousness and not without, as usual, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders; then he withdrew without saying a word. Pedro accompanied him and asked him: “Well! What do you think ?
"Things are going badly, very badly," replied Ambrosio; there are strong signs of impending death, and I don't believe the child will still be alive tomorrow. »
At these words, Pedro felt relieved of an enormous weight. “If this child dies without my participation, is there a happier man than me? I am dispensed from having recourse to a means which horrifies me, and I shall obtain the promised reward; for I will persuade my master that it was I who shortened his days and procured for him the rich inheritance after which he sighs; then, my commitments being fulfilled, he will keep his word, and this castle is at
He returned and sat down by the bed with more tranquility. Fernando looked at him with a soft smile, and said: “A good hour! you are no longer the same; you don't look sinister like before; now at least you have a human face. Isn't it true that you feel better? As for me, I feel very weak and downcast. »
Pedro wished her good night, and after lighting a small night-light, he went into the next room and threw himself fully dressed on his bed. Since he hadn't slept all the previous night and the anxieties of the day had exhausted his strength, he soon succumbed to the needs of sleep.
Pedro spent a terrible night. Sometimes he dreamed that Fernando, poisoned, expired in horrible convulsions, and that he himself, discovered and condemned, was walking to the scaffold through the indignant crowd who pointed at him and cursed him; sometimes, reaping the fruit of his crime, he showed himself on a shining chariot to the astonished people, or gave a splendid banquet to an adulating crowd, or led his bride sparkling with diamonds to the altar. These flattering dreams eclipsed the severe dreams; he woke up drunk with ambition. Dawn was beginning to appear; he went to examine Fernando. He had his eyes closed, his mouth half-open, his face pale and bathed in sweat. " Good! thought Pedro, it's the sweat of death...; this noisy breathing is the rattle of death; he won't wake up again. »
Having eaten almost nothing the previous day, Pedro was hungry. He brought bread and wine, and sat down to breakfast at the window, looking over all that rich country which was to be his domain; the more he drank, the more his head rose. “All this is mine! he said at last, assuming the attitude of the proudest gentleman in all Spain.
However, this pretended sleep of death was for Fernando a restorative sleep; a happy attack had rid him of his fever, and he had no smallpox. Pedro, emptying his last glass, was turning to go and write to the Count and announce the death of his nephew, when suddenly Fernando, fully dressed, appeared at the door and said to him: "Hello, dear Pedro, I am cured. . »
At first Pedro let out a cry of surprise and rage. “You won't die less! he replied, arming himself with the knife that had remained on the table; and he ran over the child.
“Pedro! dear Peter! Do not kill me ! exclaimed the weak victim, to whom fear gave wings and who fled from room to room.
The large room being closed by a bolt that was too high, Fernando, locked in this room, began to turn around an immense and heavy table which was in the middle. Pedro, weighed down by the wine, flinched at every step, leaning against the table from time to time to catch his breath. But the child, weakened by illness, and succumbing to fatigue, let himself be seized by the hair.
“Pedro! what have I done to you? he repeated in a lamentable voice. He fell on his knees, clasped his hands, and raising his eyes to heaven: "Lord, he added, have mercy on me, come to my aid!..." Pedro struck him three times with an unsteady hand. and turning his head away. "Pedro," continued the child, "my blood flows and demands revenge like Abel's." »
His pale and failing face, his gaze invoking divine justice, the blood which spurted from three wounds, terrified Pedro, who, by an involuntary movement, brought his eyes back to the poor child. Pedro, troubled, dropped his arm ready to strike again, and dropped the knife.
" Do not scream ! do not scream ! he said, I was delirious; I'm coming back to myself, I won't hurt you anymore; I will save you, if I still can. »
Suddenly he thought he heard rumbling thunder; a ray of sunlight piercing the clouds penetrated the apartment, like a look of divine justice; and Pedro trembled. However, the noise redoubled, and this time again he took it for that of lightning; but there was a double knock at the door, and a terrible voice cried: "Open, assassin!" As Pedro remained motionless with terror, a violent shock suddenly pushed the two leaves of the door apart, and a tall man was seen to enter, wearing the short red coat, the lace collar, and the black feathered hat. knights of that time. He was holding a naked sword, with which he was going to pierce Pedro. This one, wanting to escape by another exit, met there another warrior, who presented him the point of his sword. Pedro, taking refuge in a corner of the room, begged for mercy on his knees. "You will be punished," replied the knight, making a sign to his squire to come and guard the culprit; but we must first think of this unfortunate...
" Good Lord! would I have come too late? cried the stranger, lifting Fernando, whose eyes were closed, whose head and arms hung languidly. However, he probed the wounds, they were not mortal: he carried the poor child to his bed, which Pedro indicated, bandaged the three wounds, and managed to revive Fernando, reassured him and promised to save him. Soon came a happy sleep. Then the knight, drawing Pedro aside, said to him: “I know everything; Alonzo, burdened with debt, had his nephew murdered to usurp his inheritance. How could he know this mystery so well hidden? Pedro couldn't imagine it. He was only the more disturbed, and confessed the truth. “But,” he added, “before you arrived I had stopped knocking, I hated my crime, God was speaking to my conscience.
— Race of tigers, said the knight, I will not leave this unfortunate child in your hands; I will know how to protect him! When the squire offered to bind the assassin, Pedro's lamentations awoke his victim.
“Oh! don't hurt him, exclaimed Fernando: he's always been so good to me! he had never caused me the slightest pain; today he has gone mad; it was in a fit of delirium that he struck me; even in his delirium he was sensitive to my tears and my prayers: be sensitive to his, I beg you; he took pity on me, take pity on him; before you came, he had thrown down his knife, he promised to save me. It's not his fault he's gone mad, I don't want a single drop of blood to spill for me; rather try to cure it.
"You are a generous child," replied the chevalier; at your prayer and on your testimony I am willing to forgive him. Tonight I will take you out of this den of assassins. We'll move into the next room, and let you rest a bit. »
When they had left the room of the wounded man, Pedro said to the stranger: “Lord, allow me a word that comes from a repentant heart. Don Alonzo awaits the news of his nephew's death; if he learns that I spared him, that he is in your hands, are you sure to take him out of his
hate ? I don't know your credit; but Alonzo is powerful, cunning, capable of anything. An accusation directed against him would be badly received; without other proof, my testimony would have no value, the child would fall back into his power and would be lost. If you believe me, I am going to write to Alonzo that his nephew is dead; a mock burial will allow you to keep him close to you, and you will wait for a favorable opportunity to assert his rights. »
The knight thought this proposal wise enough. "However, it requires," he said, "a trickery which I do not intend to undertake; you are free, do what you want. »
Pedro went to order dinner. He found in the kitchen the curious and talkative Ambrosio, whom he wanted to put aside out of prudence. “Who is the lord who came here with his servant? Ambrosio asked.
"It's the doctor from Salamanca," Pedro replied negligently.
- Devil ! I do not climb; he could still take the fancy to question me and visit my pharmacy. Ambrosio slipped away and did not reappear at the castle for a fortnight.
When night had come, the knight wrapped the little wounded man in his cloak and carried him away; no one except Pedro saw him leave, nor his squire. No one knew where he had come from or where he was going. It seemed to have fallen from the sky, and disappeared with the same mystery.
Pedro, very happy to get off with fear, and not renouncing the benefit of his guilty bargain, wrote that very night to the count that his nephew had died of smallpox, and, in a private note, he informed his master that, having been unable to procure poison, he had, to his great regret, used the dagger.
The next day, Pedro announced everywhere that Fernando had died during the night of a violent fit. As, according to Ambrosio's statement, the disease was believed to be contagious and even pestilential, no one wished to see his body. The suffocating fumigations of burnt juniper, which filled the chateau, would alone have driven away the most intrepid curious. The ordinary buriers were even grateful to the cunning musician for having taken on their task this time without withholding their salary. A plaster statue wrapped in old linen and covered with a black veil was placed in the coffin, and at nightfall the procession, led by several
ecclesiastics and many torches, went to the burial of the noble family. However light was the character of Pedro, his conscience nevertheless reproached him with profaning by feigned funerals the religious practices of the Church, he who had barely escaped from the hands of justice, and he feared that divine vengeance would come to punish such sacrilege.
The unknown knight who had so suddenly appeared at the castle to snatch the unfortunate child from death was an extraordinary man, endowed with great qualities, but of a bizarre character. Its history is also very remarkable. In his youth he had held high offices; he was to marry a young lady of great birth, called Theolinde, and the wedding was to be celebrated at the chateau where she lived with her parents, twenty leagues from the capital. When the knight arrived there on the day fixed for the wedding, he found her in the coffin. From then on life was forever disenchanted for him: he sought death on the battlefields, and found there only glory. He acquired in the army as much consideration as he had at court; the king even dreamed of raising him to the ducal dignity.
This fortune, his talents, his frankness, made him many enemies; the most dangerous was Don Alonzo. By dint of cabals and calumnies they succeeded in putting his head in danger. Fortunately the knight escaped from his prison, and took refuge in the mountains with a servant who remained the only faithful. After having wandered for a long time from country to country, he stopped in a charming valley, in the middle of which was a chapel, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, abandoned to the ravages of time since the extinction of the family of the founder. ,
Our unfortunate knight entered this building consecrated to the Lord. The silence that reigned there, and the soft light that penetrated through the colored glass windows, awakened in his soul a deep feeling of respect. He knelt down at the foot of the altar and prayed earnestly to God to take him under his holy guard, and to preserve him from the perils with which he was threatened.
After having thus prayed fervently, he felt his soul relieved; he rose, and gazed with admiration at the picture with which the altar was adorned. The painting was indeed very beautiful, and represented the Assumption. The Virgin, carried on clouds of gold and surrounded by angels celebrating the praises of the Lord, ascended to heaven directing towards the abode of the blessed eyes full of the most touching piety. Deeply moved, the knight again fell to his knees. “Blessed Virgin, you always full of graces and mercy, you whom the faithful never implore in vain, deign to cast your eyes on us and be our protectress; so that after having borne with resignation all the miseries of this vale of tears, we may be admitted into your celestial homeland, and that we may enjoy peace and eternal happiness with you and your divine son. »
On leaving he was still praying. “Lord, please guide my steps, and help me find a humble retreat where I can live far from my enemies and consecrate the rest of my days to you. Scarcely had he taken a few steps when he saw a small hermitage situated a short distance from the chapel. As he was knocking at the door, a shepherd who happened to be not far from there approached him and said to him: “This dwelling is deserted; the hermit is long since dead, and no one has yet come forward to replace him. Immediately the idea occurred to the chevalier to take refuge in this asylum. He left the valley, and shortly after his squire and he, returning dressed as hermits, asked for and obtained the abandoned cell, on condition that they take charge of the upkeep of the chapel.
He promised it, and fulfilled his promise beyond all expectation. Despite the confiscation of his property, he had remained, unbeknownst to his enemies, considerable sums. He caused this chapel to be repaired, the hermitage rebuilt, and formed a very convenient, though small, monastery, having a bedroom, a dining-room, a study, and some rooms devoted to hospitality. The furnishings were very simple, and the little library well chosen. Behind the building rose a forest of chestnut trees; in front stretched another abandoned piece of land, which the new hermits peopled with fruit trees and changed into a kitchen garden. A belt of green hills enveloped this charming spot, and beyond the hills rose up to the clouds of the granite mountains, from which the view stretched over a vast horizon.
There, under the name of Father Bernardo, the knight divided his time between prayer, the study of science and the cultivation of his orchard. He collected medicinal plants and minerals, carried out chemical experiments, observed the course of the stars and sang hymns to the accompaniment of the mandolin. His faithful squire, named Frederic, after having accompanied him in battle, wanted to follow him and serve him in this solitude. The fruits of the garden, the milk from their goats, the eggs from their little barnyard, the game and the fish that Frederick brought back from hunting and fishing sufficed for their needs. Their weapons and their war clothes lay in a carefully closed cupboard. The mountaineers called Bernardo their father, submitted all their disputes to him, and considered him a man of high birth who did not want to be known.
It was from Father Bernardo that Ambrosio had asked for poison. The hermit suspected a crime, made the barber doctor drink and talk, who related everything he knew: Fernando's illness, the hasty departure of the count and his family, the devotion of the amiable musician and his mad wager. . Father Bernardo, convinced that the requested poison would provide Alonzo with his nephew's inheritance, dismissed the barber, promising to bring it to him the next day. Shortly afterwards, dressed in his knight's costume and followed by Frederick, he left with the intention of saving Fernando; which he did, as we have just seen.
Bernardo arrived without accident with the child in his hermitage; he took as much care of him as a tender mother could have done: he dressed his wounds every day, and day and night watched over him alternately with his servant. The wounds soon healed, and some time later Fernando, completely cured, reappeared happy and healthy. The only thing that afflicted him was that he no longer saw his mother or his brothers; we know that he called his aunt and his cousins that way. Bernardo consoled him, promising to take him back to them as soon as possible. He also often asked for Pedro. "He must have gone mad again," he said; otherwise he would not forget me thus; that he comes to see me when he is cured, but not before.
"No doubt," replied Bernardo, "he must have been mad to have treated you in such a barbarous manner." »
However Bernardo, in his frequent conversations with Fernando, always evaded his questions about his family, and carefully concealed from him that he was of noble origin and the heir to an immense fortune. His plan was to raise this child with simplicity; he thought that all these details would only serve to inspire him with pride, and thus to render his education more difficult. Little by little the child forgot the place where his first years had passed; he only vaguely remembered his mother and his brothers. Her adoptive father knew how to completely win over her affection; he never gave him any name other than the name of son, Fernando for his part always called him his father. Throughout the country, the child Bernardo had taken into his hermitage was only known after a year; and as it was presumed that he had fled the world in consequence of the violent grief caused him by the death of his wife, a conjecture made probable by the little mausoleum erected in the grove of myrtles, it was thought that the young boy was his son.
Bernardo took all his care to bring up little Fernando well. He instructed her in religion and often spoke to her about God. He began by telling her the most edifying stories of the Old and New Testaments. But what joy the pious old man experienced when he realized that Fernando already knew them by heart, and that he had only to continue Dona Blanca's instructive lessons! He noticed with no less lively pleasure that the child loved to contemplate the beauties of nature down to the smallest details, and to draw from them new proofs of the goodness and greatness of God. So he taught her botany, the art of knowing the
plants and their properties; he taught him the names of the stars, and made him observe and admire the regularity of their course. He thus presented to him all of creation as the work of a Being whose goodness and wisdom are infinite, and all of nature as a ladder which must help us from knowledge to knowledge to raise ourselves up to God.
Bernardo also taught him to read, write, and speak his language correctly; then he taught him Latin, and read the classical authors with him. Recognizing in Fernando the happiest dispositions, he extended the circle of his instruction as the child advanced in age. Thus, little by little he taught him French, Italian and German, geography, mathematics and physics. The child had a strong desire to learn, and Bernardo, seeing him make so much progress in everything he taught him, redoubled his zeal and seemed to become younger himself. After having thus taken all his care to form the mind and the heart of his pupil, he did not neglect the exterior: he accustomed him to put propriety and amenity in his language and in his bearing, and he made him dress as the young Spaniards of quality were then.
Fernando thus reached his fourteenth year. Then came a painful event for him and for his adoptive father. Old and faithful Frederick fell dangerously ill. Bernardo and his son lavished the most assiduous care on her. When his condition became more worrying, they no longer left his bedside, and tears ran down Fernando's cheeks seeing him suffer. The patient was calm, and the hope of a better life sustained his courage. "We have suffered much together, my dear master," he said; we have seen how vain are the goods of this world, and how fragile are its joys. Thank God that after the fleeting dreams of this life we can hope for a happier existence! If God already reveals himself with so much goodness and magnificence on earth, how much greater and more admirable must he appear to us in this heavenly abode! This idea fills my soul with delight. »
Bernardo sent for a priest who lived a few leagues away. He came, and the patient received extreme unction with the most touching piety. However, the good Frederic grew weaker and weaker, and one evening his agony came almost suddenly. Bernardo and his young pupil knelt beside the dying man and prayed for him, not without shedding abundant tears. Both watched at night near the lifeless body of this excellent servant. Fernando had never seen anyone die. "Great God," he said, "how poor Frederic is now pale, motionless, and mute!" Ah! what a frightful thing to behold is death! »
Bernardo took advantage of the opportunity to say to him: “This inanimate body here is no longer our good old friend to whom we were attached: it is only the envelope of his soul; and this soul, this true self, having always been good and virtuous, now enjoys boundless happiness with God. This body, this earthly envelope that we are going to entrust to the earth today, will one day come out of the tomb and will reunite with the spirit. Our friend Frédéric will rise one day as Our Lord Jesus Christ rose. We too will die, and we will be resurrected. Let us therefore try to make ourselves worthy of divine mercy, and let us never forget that of all our actions those alone are truly good, which reassure our conscience at our supreme hour, and those are bad, which trouble us and disturb us. worry in our last moments. »
Deprived of the company and services of the good Frederic, Bernardo felt that he could no longer remain in such absolute solitude: besides, the time for Fernando to follow university studies had come. The good old man, determined to follow his pupil, put on clothes befitting his rank, and conducted him to Salamanca. He could without danger; for due process, by proving his innocence, had restored him to peace and all his possessions.
Before leaving, he had, at his own expense, the chapel changed into a parish church, his hermitage into a charming presbytery, and assigned to the servant a sufficient income for all his needs and to help him help the unfortunate. Until then the herdsmen of this kind of desert had been, so to speak, deprived of the benefits of religion by the excessive distance from the temple, where children and old people could hardly go once a year. This foundation aroused in them a lively gratitude. The arrival of the pastor, the inauguration of the church was a day of joy; but when at the end of the week Bernardo took leave of these good people, a deep sorrow seized their hearts, bitter tears flowed from all their eyes.
Arrived with his adopted son in Salamanca, Bernardo, or, to put it better, the knight, rented in one of the most brilliant districts of this city a beautiful apartment in the house of a rich merchant, and the young Fernando was not long in becoming the joy of his professors and one of the most distinguished students of the university. But scarcely three years had passed when Bernardo was one day suddenly struck down with apoplexy. Deprived of the use of speech, he made a sign to those around him that he wanted to speak, but he could not. The merchant then presented him with a pen and paper; but her hand refused her service, she could not trace any character. So he fixed a pained gaze on Fernando, and motioned to the merchant to take care of him. The brave merchant promised, and kissed the young man in his presence. A few moments later, the friend, the noble benefactor of Fernando had ceased to live. The pain of her adopted son knew no bounds. The loss that Fernando had just suffered was far more extensive than he could yet comprehend at that moment. Bernardo intended to present him to the King as soon as His Majesty, who was then on tour in his Northern States, should have returned to his capital; he wanted to have Fernando recognized as Count of Alvarès, and assert his rights to his father's property. Death had come to surprise him in his plans. Bernardo's considerable assets fell to his parents, and he left Fernando isolated in the world, unaware of his origin and almost destitute.
The poor young man was no longer in a condition to continue his courses at the university, and the merchant, who did not like the sciences, urged him to engage in commerce, and offered to teach him. Fernando gladly accepted, and had little trouble getting to know the affairs. Already knowing German, Italian and French very well, he learned more English, and was able to take charge of the foreign correspondence of this house; his intelligence, his zeal, and above all his unfailing probity, soon won him the entire confidence of his chief.
The merchant took him with him to the principal countries of Europe. One day when he had accompanied him to England at the time when the Count of Gallas was Austrian ambassador to the court of London, this lord sent for the merchant to buy him some jewels; and as Fernando spoke German very well, the merchant sent him to the Comte de Gallas to transact this business. The ambassador was surprised to see this young man, of a distinguished exterior, speak German to him with such ease and purity. "You were doubtless born in Germany," said the count to him affably; I am charmed to see in you one of my compatriots. »
Fernando replied that he was born a Spaniard, and opened his box of jewels. The ambassador called his wife, and begged her to make a choice. This lady also had a lot of fun talking with the young merchant in his mother tongue. After having made a choice, the price was asked, and Fernando answered: “It would be unseemly to tax these objects more dearly than they are worth, and to waste your precious time by forcing you to haggle; so I'm going to tell you clearly the price. »
The count was satisfied with this way of acting, then he told the young merchant to make an invoice and pay it immediately. Fernando wrote it in German with such elegance and correctness that it won new praise. Then Fernando glanced at the jewels in his casket and at those that had been bought by the Countess, and that were still on the table. 'Madam,' he said, 'allow me to point out a small mistake. Here are two diamonds that have a great resemblance. The one that you have just taken in place of the other that you had first chosen, and for which you gave me the price, is much more beautiful and has as much fire; but it is a little less thick, and consequently of less value. If you insist on keeping it in preference to the other, I must reimburse you for what I have received too much. »
The Count and Countess admired the probity of this young man. They understood that he could have kept the six pieces of gold without anyone noticing. Fernando, delighted to have promptly recognized this mistake, gave the Countess back the ring she had chosen. The Count then struck up a conversation with him, and questioned him about his position. I'm just a poor merchant clerk, replied Fernando, and I only went into business because I didn't have the resources to continue my studies.
"It's a pity," said the ambassador; but, listen, you suit me, and I would be delighted to be useful to you; I need a well brought up young man, who knows several languages and on whose fidelity I can count. I offer you near me the place of private secretary, if that suits you. At the same time you will help my butler with his accounts, and for this double charge I will give you a salary with which you will be satisfied. »
Fernando accepted these proposals with joy, and promised the count to do everything in his power to justify his confidence. He hurried home and told the merchant what had happened. The latter saw with regret parting from him; but he did not want to prevent him from taking a course which might lead him to fortune, and Fernando, after taking his leave of him in the most touching manner, immediately took office.
Shortly afterwards the ambassador, at his request, was recalled, and Fernando accompanied him to Vienna. He was not as happy there as he had hoped. In truth, his stay in this capital pleased him very much, and the Count and Countess never ceased to give him the least equivocal testimonies of esteem and confidence; but the other employes and servants of the house, jealous of the favor which he enjoyed near their masters, often made him feel it, and sought every possible means of hurting him. The grief caused by this conduct, and the air of the city, which was not favorable to him, made him fall ill.
While he was held in bed by a violent hare, there was a solemn feast in Vienna. The court and all the nobility went to the cathedral of Saint-Etienne; the whole population was on the move to see the processions and attend the divine service. The servants of the count, even the one who was in charge of taking care of Fernando, ran there, and the patient was left alone, unable to leave his bed, tormented by an ardent thirst. He rang several times without anyone appearing; he tried in vain to get up to fetch water himself, which they had not had the foresight to put within his reach. He was deeply saddened to see himself thus abandoned.
At this same time, a foreign lady, the Comtesse d'Obersdorff, had come to spend a few days with the Comte de Gallas. Her maid, a prayer book in her hand, was coming down the stairs to go to church, just as Fernando had begun to ring loudly again. She went up to his room and asked him with the most touching interest what he wanted.
"Mademoiselle, please," he cried, "have the kindness to get me some lemonade at once, or at least some water, for I am dying of soil."
"I'll get some for you right away," she replied.
She took the empty carafe that was there, hastened to the fountain, filled it with fresh water, came back and gave the sick man a drink, saying to him: "Take this first while you wait, I'll make lemonade. »
She thought that she could no longer attend the service; but she said to herself: To serve a sick person is also to serve God.
She went down to the kitchen, where she found no one. She began looking for lemons and sugar; it was in vain. Distressed, she returned to Fernando to tell him this unfortunate news. "It's shameful," she said, "to abandon you like this in the state you are in!" I will stay with you until your nurse returns. »
And she sat down near the window, took her prayer book and read it with reverence. However, she got up from time to time to give Fernando a drink and go to the fountain to fill the carafe when there was nothing left.
"What gratitude I owe you, Mademoiselle!" Fernando told him. Perhaps I will never be able to recognize what you do for me. But whoever said that each drop of fresh water offered to an impaired unfortunate will find its reward, will know how to take this good deed into account. When I drink, it seems to me that I pour
water on a red-hot stone. Without your generous care, I believe I would have died of thirst. Oh ! Miss, be sure that God will reward you.
The pleasure of being useful to you, replied the young girl, is already the sweetest reward for me. “She went back to the window again, and continued her reading until the negligent servant returned. Then she wished the patient a speedy recovery, and retired. The next day, as she was about to leave with her mistress, she went to pay her one more last visit, inquired after her health, and bade her the most amiable farewell.
When Fernando recovered, the Count took him to Bohemia, where he owned a castle and extensive estates. There Fernando led a pleasant existence for several months: this ancient castle and these spacious gardens pleased him very much: on seeing them he remembered, albeit in a confused way, that he had spent the first years of his childhood in a little house. nearly similar. He felt at ease there. The Count noticed this with pleasure, and, as his steward had just died, he offered him this place, which Fernando accepted with joy; however, he felt a deep and sincere regret at parting with this excellent lord.
As soon as it became known that Fernando had been appointed intendant, the landowners and administrative employees in the area coveted the honor of giving him their daughter in marriage. But Fernando had not forgotten the young person who had been his nurse for a few hours; the interest she showed him, the gentleness of her character, her modesty and her piety were still vividly traced in her memory. As soon as he saw himself in a stable and advantageous position, his first thought was to ask her for his wife - he told the count of his project, who approved it: he wrote to the young girl, and waited impatiently for her answer. .
This young person was called Clara, and was the daughter of a generally esteemed former ranger. She had lost her father early; her mother had first retired with her to one of her relatives. There this virtuous mother used the product of her labor to raise him, send him to school and teach him sewing. Clara, as active and intelligent as she was gentle and good, made progress in everything, and soon became the support of her mother, whose strength was beginning to diminish with age; the young girl undertook to provide herself by her work for their needs.
Among the great houses for which she most usually worked was that of the Countess of Obersdorff. One day Clara brought back to this lady several books that she had ordered from her. The Countess was so pleased with it that, in addition to the agreed price, she gave her an apron filled with a quantity of dresses, fichus, and other toilet articles, which she no longer wore. Clara, very happy, returned home. Unfolding with her mother what the apron contained, they found a diamond ring in a silk glove. Clara hastened to return to the Countess to return the jewel to her.
This lady was very happy. “I looked for a long time on this ring as lost; I would have probably removed it with my glove without realizing it. I am very happy to have found her again, and I am even more happy to meet honest people like you; I will think of ways to reward your honesty. »
Some time later, Clara's mother died: this poor orphan was then about fourteen years old. She came in mourning dress and sobbing to the Countess to announce this painful news; she lamented that she no longer had either father or mother. “I am all alone in the world! she said, crying.
"Console yourself, my child," replied the Countess; I will be your mother. Come stay with me, you won't be treated like a servant, but like my own daughter. »
Clara accepted this generous offer with joy and gratitude. This young girl whom her mother had brought up to piety, hard work and virtue, having always lived in a modest retirement, had not been exposed to the pernicious contact of the world; she had never taken part in those worldly pleasures so dangerous to innocence. She knew how to make herself dearer to the Countess day by day by the gentleness and modesty of her character, by her love of work, the purity of her heart and her sincere piety; nor was she long in loving her benefactress like a second mother. Her heart had been free from all other affections until she met Fernando in Vienna. So she thought she would be happy with a man of that character; but immediately she banished this idea like a chimera: for how could she have imagined that a man such as himself would marry a poor orphan? It was in these dispositions that she received Fernando's letter; and the request for his hand surprised her all the more pleasantly because she had least expected it.
She immediately went to find the Countess, and communicated the letter to her with amiable blushes. “Well,” said this lady with a sweet smile, “I congratulate you with all my heart, my dear child. You are, indeed, a second Rebecca; the first, for having offered a glass of water, merited the love of an honest man. You also resemble in your innocence and kindness that young virgin of the golden age, and Fernando is one of those loyal and honest young men such as there must have been in those fortunate days. Tell him right away what your feelings are.
"But," resumed Clara, "when he learns that I am poor and that I have no other dowry than the little that I have been able to save on my wages, perhaps he will change his mind?"
"You are rich in virtue," replied the Countess, "and the merit which you have acquired before God by your irreproachable conduct, by your piety, your activity and your benevolence towards the poor, is a dowry far more precious than all the gold and silver that you could bring to your husband. Go, my child, you have always served me faithfully; you took part in my sorrows as in my joys with unparalleled tenderness. Our separation is very painful to me; but your happiness is too dear to me not to resign myself to it. I put only one condition on it, which is that the wedding be celebrated in my chateau; I must fulfill the duty of a mother by leading you myself to the altar, and also by preparing your bride's trousseau. Go write all this to your future, and tell him many nice things from me. »
Clara wrote immediately to Fernando, who, full of joy, arrived more promptly than a letter could have done. He reassured her of all the fears she had expressed in his about the utter lack of fortune in which she found herself. After the sweetest outpourings on both sides, the wedding day was fixed. It was a day of celebration and happiness, not only for the inhabitants of the chateau, but also for the whole country; because Clara was loved by everyone. She had known how to bestow considerable alms among the poor; more than one tear had been dried by the charitable orphan; more than one hidden misfortune that would never have come to Mrs.me of Obersdorf, was revealed to him by Clara; and the assistance which the Countess lavished so generously on the unfortunate was transmitted to them by the hand of her adopted daughter.
Half an hour before the time fixed for going to the church, they were not a little surprised to see a brilliant crew arrive, bringing the Count of Gallas and his wife, who had come to attend the feast. After the usual compliments, the Count placed a rich ring on Fernando's finger, which the latter recognized as being one of those he had formerly sold to him in London.
“This ring,” said the Count, “made me know you and admire your probity; I give it to you as a souvenir which will constantly remind you that virtue does not remain without reward, even in this world, while waiting for the Lord to crown it in heaven. »
At the same moment, the Countess of Obersdorf approached the fiancée, took her hand in a friendly way, and said: "And I too have a ring to present to the young wife: it is the one that this poor young orphan and virtuous had found, and which she returned to me with such delicacy. It is to these two rings that M. le Comte de Gallas and I owe the pleasure of knowing two persons so worthy of esteem, and it is also to this sweet circumstance that they owe the happiness of having seen each other. God used it to bring them together; let these two rings therefore be their wedding rings. “The young couple received with unspeakable pleasure these honorable testimonies of esteem and affection; they congratulated themselves again on having known each other and on being henceforth united by indissoluble ties.
After the religious ceremonies and thanksgiving to the Lord, a splendid meal was served; the poor were not forgotten, and everything passed off in the greatest joy. A few days after their union, the young couple left for Bohemia, accompanied by the blessings of their masters and all the inhabitants of the village.
The great of Spain.
While Fernando and his wife led a quiet and happy life in the bosom of the harsh mountains and dark forests of Bohemia, and already saw a friendly family growing around them, Alonzo dragged through the beautiful and rich countries of Spain a a very painful existence, the saddest life imaginable, although the world, which only judges by appearances, regarded him as the happiest of mortals. At the time when he received the news of Fernando's death, which left him a rich inheritance, he had imagined that he would be at the height of happiness. The joy he felt was so intense that he could hardly hide it from his wife and children, who were deeply grieved by this death. He then possessed everything he had so ardently desired: a sumptuous palace in the capital, several castles in the most beautiful regions, vast lands, an immense fortune in capital and the title of Grand of Spain. But he was not long in recognizing that all the treasures of the earth cannot make man happy when he does not enjoy tranquility of soul and peace of conscience.
He acquired this painful conviction the very day after he received the fatal news. Towards evening he was seated in his garden, beside his wife, whose eyes were still moist with tears, and who said to him: “I should not have left that poor child; maybe I would have saved him. All my life I will reproach myself for having abandoned him at such a moment, and for not having yielded to his earnest prayers.
“Stop complaining,” answered Alonzo harshly, “let the dead rest, and think of the living; think above all of the fortune that this death assures to our children.
"No, such a thought had never occurred to me," replied the noble Blanca. Can we rejoice in the death of our fellow man because he leaves us a rich heritage? This child's life was more precious to me than all the treasures of the earth. At these words she rose, and retired to her room.
At the same moment, the two youngest of his children approached Alonzo. Little Bella held in her hands a young dove that had been killed by a bird of prey, and she cried to her father: “Dear papa, look at this poor little creature that a vulture has killed; look at those white feathers covered in blood, his neck and chest are red! The vulture is a very wicked animal to slaughter the innocent dove in this way, which does him no harm!
"So he received the punishment he deserved," cried little Yago, who came up and brought the still struggling vulture. You see, the gardener punished him, and the gardener did well, because he who kills deserves death. »
These words penetrated Alonzo's heart like a sharp arrow. “Go away, you funny fellows,” he cried to his children, “and don't come here to bore me with your chatter. He got up and walked into a dark alley, where he walked for a long time in lively agitation. He always seemed to hear these words resonate: He who kills deserves death. Oh ! he said to himself, how painful it is to hear his sentence thus pronounced from the mouths of his children, although they are unaware of my crime!
A few days later he went to occupy his new palace in Madrid. A brilliant company came to offer him flattering congratulations. The reception room was magnificent and adorned with precious paintings by the most famous artists' brushes. Alonzo, dressed in the costume of his new dignity as a grandee of Spain, presented himself with noble assurance, and received with a grave air the compliments which were addressed to him. Suddenly, his gaze having fallen on one of the paintings, he turned pale, for the painting represented the massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem; and the fierce face of a man who plunged his dagger into the bosom of a young boy made him start.
He quickly looked away, saying to himself: And I too have destroyed innocence.
Fleeing from this accusing painting, his eyes fell on a second painting representing the detachment of Saint John the Baptist. Alonzo still could not look without shuddering at the bloody head of the saint displayed on a platter. This is what I have deserved, he said to himself; if my crime were to be discovered, I too would be taken off. This saint was innocent, and I...
He noticed that his emotion struck everyone; it seemed to him that the eyes fixed on him read in the depths of his heart the horrible crime he had committed; his trembling hand dropped the feathered hat he was holding, his knees gave way, and they were obliged to lead him into an adjoining room and place him on a sofa. There he asked everyone to withdraw. His wife alone remained with him. “In the name of Heaven, what is the matter with you? she asked him worriedly.
'Have those two paintings which are in the great hall removed.
"However, you have seen them a thousand times, and you have even admired them as masterpieces!"
“It is otherwise today; now that I'm the master here, I don't want to leave them in this room anymore. They horrify me. This child being massacred, this bloody head... No, I'm not setting foot in this room again until these paintings are removed. »
The Countess started; for the first time she conceived the horrible presentiment that her husband must have some hidden crime on his conscience. The doctors advised Alonzo to go and breathe the country air; he left for one of his castles. On arriving there, he found gathered in the courtyard all the employees of the estate, as well as the inhabitants of the place; joyful music was heard, and the air resounded with many cheers. But all these demonstrations did not seem sincere to him, and he thought he read the sadness painted on some faces. The public functionaries accompanied him to his study, and the conversation soon fell on Count Alvarès, his brother, whom they had had for lord, and whose only son had died so suddenly. At these sad memories, the eyes of these excellent people filled with tears, especially when an old man, taking the floor, said to Alonzo: "Pardon our sensitivity, Monsignor: the pain that this loss has caused us is still too recent. and too vivid for us to be able to contain it. I have served your late father and your noble brother for fifty years, and always I have heard their praise in every mouth. Recently, on my way to your castle on business, I saw the charming Fernando, our young master. He was full of hope and life, he was fresh as a rose. My grandson, who you see here by my side, accompanied me; the young count conversed with him for a long time; and with what grace, what affability he spoke to her! Lovable child, I said to myself, I have been the servant and the friend of your grandfather and of your father, I dream with pleasure that my grandson will also be your servant.
and your friend. But God ordained otherwise. I hope your lordship and her children will console us for the loss we have suffered.
"I hope so too," replied Alonzo coldly. Then he dismissed the visitors, and remained alone the rest of the day.
The next day he wrapped himself in a very simple, unadorned cloak and went for a walk in the country: he wanted to know what people thought of him. He met a peasant woman dressed in black. He approached her and struck up a conversation with her, and saw that she didn't know him. “Are you in mourning? he asked her: have you perhaps lost your husband or one of your children?
- Oh! replied this woman with a sigh, I have lost someone I loved as much as my own children, our young Count Fernando.
"And is it for him that you mourn?"
— Yes, sir, and this mourning is general throughout the country; because the death of this young lord is a great misfortune for us and our families.
"So do you think your present lord won't equal his nephew?"
“Hum!... that's one of the things we don't like to talk about. See, what we learned of the young count's illness and death did not give us too much pleasure; not one of his relatives had stayed with him! To abandon one's own blood in this way is cruel, it is barbaric, it does not bode well. »
She was silent for a moment, wiped away her tears, and added, "We all believe that if this
child had fallen into better hands, he would still be alive. »
These speeches were for the culprit Alonzo so many stabs. He abruptly left the peasant woman.
Thus, everything he saw, everything he heard, contributed to make him feel more keenly the reproaches of his conscience. He gave to everything that was said to him an interpretation which had often not been thought of; in everything he found distressing allusions; and it seemed to him that he was the aiming-point against which offended humanity directed all its arrows.
Every time he thought of Pedro he felt a sense of dread. Alonzo had written to him: “I abandon to you for the moment the enjoyment of the castle and the lands that I had promised you at the time; but I cannot yet cede them to you in full ownership; because that would arouse suspicion. You will have this good after my death. For the moment avoid seeing me; we must ignore our reports. »
In fact, Pedro never appeared again before Alonzo, who had conceived an invincible aversion for him and despised him as a vile assassin, although it was himself who had pushed him to crime by his threats and his promises. However, Pedro's very silence worried Alonzo, when one day he learned that his accomplice, after having fallen into the blackest melancholy, had disappeared, and that no one knew what had become of him. New subject of alarm for Alonzo, who made fruitless searches; he was overwhelmed. If this unfortunate man, he thought, is like me tormented by his conscience, he may well have gone to deliver himself to justice: we have seen several times criminals who accused themselves and preferred to perish on a scaffold than to endure the tortures of remorse. Yes, yes, he will have delivered himself to the judges, and then... he will drag me to death with him.
It was finally learned that Pedro had drowned, and that they had found on a rock, near the sea, his hat, his coat and his broken mandolin. This news relieved Alonzo of a terrible uneasiness; but soon the torments of his conscience became still more cruel. It was I who caused the death of this young man, he said to himself again; it was I who, after having made him experience on this earth all the torments of remorse, threw him into hell: can I avoid following him there? Ah! I'm lost!...
To drown himself he tried to throw himself into the distractions of the world and the tumult of noisy societies; but his black grief pursued him everywhere. So he went to live in one of his most solitary castles; he shunned men, remained whole days alone in his room, from which he only came out in the evening to walk in the most deserted places, so as not to meet anyone. His walk and his face announced the deepest sadness, and he heard on his way more than one poor workman who said when he saw him pass: "That poor gentleman!" he possesses gold, dignities, castles, everything a man could desire on earth, and yet see how unhappy he looks! Ah! certainly, I would not want to change my fate against his. »
Soon new misfortunes came crashing down on the unfortunate Alonzo and still aggravating the pains of his soul. Her youngest children died almost in quick succession of smallpox in the prime of life. That's not all. Eugénie, his eldest daughter, a young person endowed with the finest qualities, was asked in marriage by a young man of good family and of a noble and generous character. Eugenie would have been at the height of her wishes by uniting herself to this virtuous young man, and the mother would have willingly consented; but her father rejected this choice with disdain, as being neither noble enough nor rich enough, and he forced his daughter to marry an old duke of detestable character and bad morals, but who possessed a brilliant fortune. This young woman, seeing herself so unhappy, succumbed after a few years to the grief which devoured her. This new loss hit Alonzo hard. “It was my pride and my ambition that led her to the grave. I, who killed my brother's only son, am condemned to see all my children die, and my family will be extinguished. That's what happened. Philippe, his first-born, the only one left to him, and whom he had always loved more than the others, was the victim of the principles his father had instilled in him: he taught him to be very touchy on the point of honor. . Honor above all, such is his favorite maxim. The mother, wiser and more Christian, sought to erase these pernicious lessons.
'Honour,' she said, 'is no doubt a beautiful thing; but it is to virtue what luster is to gold. Honor without virtue is but an empty word, a deceptive gilding thrown on bad metal. It is necessary, in order to be truly a man of honor, to avoid not only what can dishonor us in the eyes of men, but what defiles us and dishonours us in the eyes of God. »
But the young man took little account of wise maternal lessons, and took his example from his father, who only wanted to appear a man of honor in front of men. He made more than one extravagance, because honor seemed to demand it of him. One day, believing himself offended by one of his friends, he challenged him to a duel, and inflicted a wound on his adversary, to which the latter succumbed on the spot; but he himself had received three sword thrusts from which he died a few days later. When the unfortunate father heard this sad news, his soul was deeply shaken. "Three wounds," he cried, "three wounds!" Pedro had also stabbed Fernando three times. For three stabs I get three stabs from the sword; for Heaven strikes me in my darling child. His pain, his despair, were at their peak.
Despite the care Alonzo took to concentrate in himself and to hide his sadness and remorse from all eyes, he could not hide them from his wife. Often the tender Blanca, trying to revive his courage, asked him the cause of his ever-increasing melancholy. "Entrust your sorrows to the heart of a faithful wife," she told him, "that will relieve you, and perhaps I will succeed in consoling you." But he maintained the most obstinate silence; for he considered his crime too dreadful to dare to reveal it to anyone.
However, these torments, which during the day he strove to contain in his bosom, escaped from it, without his knowledge, during the night. Often dreadful dreams came to torment him, and he cried out: "Flee, leave me, bloody specter!" why penetrate me, pierce me with your looks? why always show me these three wounds? Thanks, thanks, dear Fernando! I was delirious; I didn't know what I was doing. Forgive me, for you are in heaven, and I, wretch, am suffering all the torments of hell; the flames surround me on all sides, I am burning, I am lost!...”
Blanca often heard similar words coming out of her husband's mouth at night. She also often entered his house without his noticing it, and found him plunged in gloomy thoughts.
“The curse of Heaven has fallen on my house! he said once; I wanted to enrich my children with the inheritance of others, and they did not even have mine. I killed a foreign child, and I lost all mine. I thought I would reflect on them the brilliance of an illustrious house, and I am the last of my race. Fool that I was! I believed by the use of illicit means to create for myself a beautiful existence in the world, and I have made myself the most miserable of men. »
His wife heard this heart-rending confession trembling, and went away unnoticed. This noble lady, already so deeply afflicted by the death of her children, felt her pain increase still more by the state in which she saw her husband. Despite Alonzo's wrongs and crime, she loved him tenderly; for she saw his repentance, and she pitied him; his silence on this subject was a torment to her; for she could neither speak to him of it, nor lavish her consolations upon him. This daily pain exhausted his strength; she fell into a sickness of languor.
One day when she felt even weaker than usual, and her husband was sitting by her bed, she motioned to the maid to go away. So taking her husband's hand and casting an angelic gaze on him, she said to him in a faint voice: “Dear husband, I am going to leave you, I have only a few moments left to live. Listen to my last words; they are words of love, peace and reconciliation. I have known for a long time what weighs so heavily on your conscience, I sensed it even from the start. You killed Fernando, our nephew. This crime is horrible; but do not despair: the mercy of God is infinite; he forgives sincere repentance. Hasten to be reconciled with him; save your soul, save it,
so that we are not separated for eternity, but can meet again in heaven. »
Alonzo, whose eyes had never shed tears, and whose heart had hitherto been inaccessible to all consolation, kissed his wife's almost icy hand with emotion, and said to her in a heartrending and letting out a torrent of tears:
“Dear Blanca, angel from heaven! although you know that I am a demon, you still have pity on me, and your heart has preserved its tenderness for me. Your love gives me courage. Yes, the clemency of God is infinite, and since you forgive me, you to whom I have caused so much sorrow, I still dare to hope that God will also forgive me, that I will find favor before him, and that we will see each other again in the sky. »
She smiled at him, gave him a last look of tenderness, and exhaled. Alonzo then fell on his knees before the deathbed, raised his clasped hands to heaven, and exclaimed: “O God! who has just recalled this angel whom I was not worthy to possess, do me the grace to die one day like her. Extend to me a helping hand and help me to emerge, by sincere and rigorous penance, from the deep abyss which separates me from her and from you. All your works are admirable; but you show yourself a thousand times more admirable still, O God of mercy, by allowing the sinner to return to the way of salvation. »
The reconciled sinner.
After the death of his wife, Alonzo retired to the most isolated of his castles, surrounded on all sides by forests and mountains. He had brought with him only his valet. There he wanted to live away from the whole world. He spent almost all his time locked up in his study and reading the pious books that his wife had left him, and he soon realized that it was a treasure more precious than all the treasures of this world. He found in these books, especially in the New Testament and in the Imitation of Jesus Christ, a crowd of passages which she had underlined, or notes written by her own hand and which contained some of her pious reflections and his uplifting thoughts. These readings poured a balm of consolation into his heart.
However, whatever relief these pious readings brought to his soul, his conscience was not yet tranquilized. His sorrows, though less acute, did not quite subside; his health suffered cruelly, and he fell ill. So he wanted to see a priest to obtain from him the consolations of religion. His servant brought him a monk who lived in a Franciscan convent, five leagues from the chateau.
This monk was called brother Antoni0. he was already on the age, his face was pale and thin and his head bald; his features announced a compassionate soul, and the sound of his voice had something sweet and penetrating about it; however it seemed shy and embarrassed in the presence of the com the very aspect of the state in which Alonzo found himself moved him so much, that he could not help shedding tears. The Count held out his hand to the good Franciscan and said to him: “My venerable father, the part you take in my troubles is very touching to me and inspires me with the highest confidence in you; but I am not worthy of your tears, for I am a great sinner and I dare not confess to you the horrible secret which drives me to despair. What a vile and incomprehensible creature is man, who dares to commit an action he dare not confess! Good Lord ! grant me the strength to confess my faults to your minister.
He fell back exhausted on his pillow, looked up at the sky and was silent. There then reigned in this room, which the flickering light of the lamp barely illuminated, a mournful silence which froze with terror. No other noise was heard than the monotonous movement of the clock, and from moment to moment a painful sick sigh.
The monk, seeing that Alonzo could not make up his mind to speak, finally broke the silence since it is so difficult for you to confess your crime, I will help you. You once ordered a man named Pedro to put your young nephew to death with poison or iron, in order to seize your his fortune.
- My father ! exclaimed Alonzo terrified, and gazing at the monk in amazement, how do you know that? who taught you?
'It doesn't matter who told me, it's enough that I know. But rest assured, no one in the world knows that but me. Now I'm also going to give you the best consolation of all: the crime has not been completed, your nephew is still alive.
- How ! Fernando still lives! In the name of Almighty God, are you telling me the truth? Is it really true?
"Yes," replied the monk calmly. I can affirm it before God. Holy Providence watched over him, and saved him as if by a miracle. The knife which was to kill him was blunted, the arm of the murderer was paralyzed, and his heart, so hard beforehand, softened and suddenly yielded to the voice of pity; the innocent child's blood flowed, but his wounds were not fatal. Fernando still lives.
- Oh! if it could be true, cried Alonzo, quivering with joy, that Fernando were still alive and that I was not a murderer, I myself would be reborn to life. Yes, I would be ready to confess my crime and return his property to its rightful master. But unfortunately ! this hope is only an illusion, I can hardly believe it. Go on, my father, tell me what Pedro did with the child.
— When Pedro, motionless before his victim, did not know what course to take and how to escape your wrath, Heaven sent the child a savior in the person of a noble knight; without this miraculous help, the child was lost. Bernardo del Bio suddenly entered, dressed Fernando's wounds, and carried him off.
"Bernardo del Bio!" exclaimed Alonzo in the height of surprise; my enemy, the one who was banished from the Empire and who was believed to have fled from Spain?
— Himself: this respectable man, so falsely accused, had taken refuge in the mountains and lived there as a hermit. He led young Fernando into retirement, brought him up with care, and then took him to the University of Salamanca, determined to assert young Fernando's rights to the county of Alvarès before the throne. He had in his hands all the evidence necessary to succeed in this project; for Pedro, impelled by repentance and remorse, had informed him of everything when he gave him your letters. These letters, the three wounds of the young count, whose scars are still very visible, the plaster statue placed in the family vault and a host of other circumstances would have sufficed to convince you of your crime and have Fernando reinstated in His belongings. But death took Bernardo away before the execution of this project, and the young Fernando, who was unaware of his illustrious birth, went to London with a merchant; there he won the good graces of the German ambassador, who took him with him to Vienna; at present he lives in Bohemia, and is the father of a charming family. »
Alonzo shuddered at the idea of the misfortune and the opprobrium with which he had been threatened without his realizing it. He clasped his hands and exclaimed full of gratitude: “What thanksgiving do I not owe you, O my God! You have turned for good all that I had imagined of evil. Oh! thanks be to you. I only ask one favor of you now: to save my life until I have been able to reconcile myself to you by expiating my sins through repentance and penance, and to see again this Fernando, my nephew, whom I hated so much, and now love as if he were my own son. Let me get my forgiveness from him, then I'll die in peace. O Lord! grant me this last grace and do not reject my prayer, unworthy as I am of your mercy! Alonzo again questioned the good monk on a host of details to which the latter answered to his satisfaction. We can well imagine that the conversation did not fail to fall on Pedro as well. "The memory of that unfortunate young man pains me greatly," said Alonzo; I have acted very badly towards him. Truly he had not a wicked soul, but only too weak a character, capable of receiving with equal facility the impressions of good and evil. The hopes with which I flattered him and the threats with which I terrified his spirit were alone able to determine him to this horrible crime. Oh ! how grateful I am to him for having spared poor Fernando's life! I forgive him for having deceived me by these fake funerals and by the false news of my nephew's death. But I would not have believed that he was capable of betraying me by revealing this matter to Bernardo and delivering my letters to him. However, I still forgive him with a good heart, and you, venerable father, remember this unfortunate man in your prayers.
- Oh! do not call me venerable, cried the monk with very lively emotion, and throwing himself into the count's arms, I am unworthy of it; I too am a great sinner: you see that Pedro who so happily deceived and betrayed you. »
Imagine, if you can, the extreme surprise of Alonzo; he could not believe his eyes or persuade himself that Pedro was still alive and that he had become a monk. He would never have believed that this old man, with the wrinkled face and the bald head, was the merry singer with the blond hair and the flowery complexion. He took his hands in his, fixed on him a look of pain, and said to him with emotion: "God be praised for having preserved your life and given time to expiate your faults!" We have both grown old, and we have changed a lot. We have recognized the emptiness and the fragility of the goods of this world. I have caused you great sorrow, and the tears I see you shedding still accuse me; forgive me, my dear Pedro! You were young and inexperienced; I was in middle age and I knew the world; instead of serving as your guide in the path of virtue and piety, I have, on the contrary, pushed you to evil. But tell me what happened to you before you found calm and peace of mind in the habit of Saint Francis.
"Lord, since the adventures of an unfortunate man may interest you, I will tell you about them." A few days after my attack on the person of young Fernando, when the first agitation of my soul had calmed down a little, as I was still counting on your promises, the desire to marry Éléonore awoke again in my heart. I went to her house, told her that I had become the proprietor of a considerable estate, and asked her for her hand. But the penetrating mind of this young lady divined all the mystery of this sudden change in my fortune. “What a terrible ray of light! she cried. How ! Don Alonzo has made you a present of this good! What sort of service have you rendered him for that? It is certainly not your talent for singing and for music that he intended to reward so generously. I have a terrible feeling that you have been used as a tool to hasten the death of his young nephew, and you think that I could marry a murderer! No, no, never, you horrify me! »
“As she finished these words, she cast a look of deep pain at heaven: “My God,” she added, “how mistaken I was in loving this man! I blush with shame. Bitter tears streamed from his eyes. I threw myself at his feet; but she pushed me away with horror, and said to me: " Withdraw, cursed serpent, tiger thirsty for human blood, and don't you dare present yourself before my eyes." »
“My conscience, which had never been quite asleep, then awoke with new force: it reproached me with being a poisoner and an assassin; for I would indeed have poisoned the young count if God had not prevented my finding poison. The knife I used also refused to carry out my crime; it is still God who willed it so. I cannot thank the Almighty enough for the grace he gave me to weaken my arm when I was going to cut the poor child's throat. If my crime had been completely consummated, I would have gone mad, or I would have died of despair. I then considered it a duty to help the young count recover his inheritance. Having learned that the noble knight who had saved little Fernando and the pious hermit of the mountain were the same person, I went to find him, I gave him your letters, and I conjured him to do everything possible to bring justice to Fernando.
'That is my intention,' replied this excellent man, 'and you can count on me; when the moment to act has come, I will bring myself highly accusatory against Alonzo, in the event that the ways of gentleness are powerless. In the meantime, I will lock up these formidable letters in a packet which I will give to the prior of the Carthusian convent, who is my friend, asking him to deposit them in the convent's archives and to give them only to myself without have unsealed them. And you also keep silence, and go in peace. »
"Having thus discharged my conscience and learned that Eleanor had taken the veil in the austere order of Saint Clare, I resolved to withdraw from the world and enter a convent. I feared, however, that if you learned that I had betrayed you and that I was still alive, you would use everything to avenge yourself; that is why, in order to escape your pursuits, I thought of breaking my mandolin on the shores of the sea, and of depositing my hat and my coat there, in order to make you believe that I had drowned.
“I then went to a very distant province, and asked to be received into the order of Saint Francis; but it was only after many entreaties and a long novitiate that I was granted this favour. I devoted myself to prayer and meditation, and I faithfully fulfilled the duties imposed on me. Separated from the world, however, I learned by chance, or rather, by divine will, that Bernardo had been dead for a long time, taking with him to the grave the secret of the existence of Fernando, who had left the country. I also learned that you had come to live in this castle and that you were spending a sad and solitary life there. I then felt the need to speak to you, and I begged my superior to designate me to come to you and bring you the help of religion in your illness. This is how, after so much torment and suffering, God allowed us to see ourselves again. »
Pedro continued: “I came to hear your confession, and I made you mine: your accomplice can do nothing for you. I too had lost hope, my crime seemed to me greater than the mercy of God. Finally I dared to reveal my whole soul to a worthy old man, the most pious of the fathers of our convent. He knew how to make me better understand the infinite clemency of our Saviour; he explained to me the infallible efficacy of a sincere repentance and the salutary and consoling effects of a good confession. I have experienced them myself; for from then on my heart was opened to hope, and I ceased to tremble when I thought of the Eternal. Do you want me to send you this pious old man? Alonzo consented. The good father spent three days at the castle, and confessed the count, who with peace of soul promptly recovered the health of his body, and resolved to seek Fernando to restore his inheritance to him.
The iniquity repaired.
As soon as Alonzo felt completely recovered, he left, despite his great age, to go to Bohemia. Antonio accompanied him under the title of chaplain. Passing through Vienna, he took care to procure for Fernando a letter from the Count of Gallas; this letter only said that the personage to whom it was delivered was a Spanish grandee who was traveling in Bohemia, and was to stop some time at the chateau. The intendant was recommended to do him the honors with the respect due to his distinguished rank.
When, after much fatigue through the rough and rugged roads of Bohemia, his carriage reached the summit of a very high mountain, he saw in the distance the ancient castle of the Count of Gallas, Fernando's residence. 'Dear Antonio,' he said to his traveling companion, 'you wouldn't believe how heavy my heart is. When Fernando learns what I wanted to try against him, he can only hate me and look at me like a monster. Oh ! how painful it is for an old man, an uncle, to appear guilty before a young man!
'Don't worry, Monsieur le Comte: Fernando doesn't know, I'm sure, that the attempted murder against him came from you, he only attributes it to the lute player's insanity. However, we will question him, and lock down what he knows of this story, so as not to tell him more than necessary.
"You are right, and by this means we shall acquire the certainty that this steward is truly our Fernando." »
They went down to the bottom of the valley, and came to a village whose houses were low and made of wood. They left the car and walked to the castle. Alonzo had hidden his rich costume of a grandee of Spain under a large cloak, and Antonio, dressed in the vestments of his order, walked with a breviary in his hand.
They entered the garden of the chateau, and went along a fine path which led them to a verge planted with trees of all kinds. A young boy with a ruddy complexion had climbed a ladder leaning against a cherry tree laden with fruit, which he picked and dropped into his little sister's apron. Another little boy was arranging with a smile in a pretty basket the cherries that his sister presented to him. These three children had scarcely seen the two strangers than they immediately left their occupation. The two brothers approached the monk, kissed his hand respectfully and bowed to Alonzo, while their little sister stood timidly aside.
"These gentlemen are no doubt coming to see our garden?" said the eldest. Brother, will you show it to them, while I go get daddy? »
The two children led the travelers through the whole garden, and made them admire in turn, with the simplicity of their age, the paths, the flowerbeds, the cradles, the statues and the large pond, but especially the orangery.
The father of these charming children finally appeared at the end of a long alley. Allonzo went to meet him, and handed him the letter from the Count de Gallas. Fernando read it; he first looked at Alonzo in astonishment, then immediately paid his respects to him, as well as to the Franciscan Father. However, Alonzo felt his knees tremble; he was obliged to sit down, and he asked Fernando to take his place between Antonio and him. After a few customary courtesies, Fernando struck up a conversation.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you come from Spain: that's my country, that's where I spent the good years of my childhood."
- How! you were born in Spain! And who were your parents? How is it that you preferred the forests and mountains of Bohemia to this beautiful and rich country?
— My adventures have something strange and particular about them, my childhood memories are like a confused dream. I was staying in an ancient castle surrounded by a beautiful garden. The lady whom I regarded as my mother, who was not, as I have since learned, was very beautiful, and above all very kind to me. My three older brothers and sisters, wherever I thought I was then, were called Philippe, Eugénie and Carlos; I forgot the names of the little ones. The lord whom I called my father was rarely at home, and did not like children: we all feared him. That's about all I remember. I still remember, however, that one day I was suddenly seized with a serious illness. My mother, my brothers and my sisters left suddenly; the father ordered it so, for he feared that my illness was contagious; he urged them to leave, since then I have not seen them again. Everyone left me, except a young man named Pedro, who was a lute player; he was very amiable and pleased us all. He had often amused us by singing beautiful ballads to us, teaching us all sorts of little games; he also gave us little presents. While I was sick, he stayed with me to take care of me. Suddenly he went mad, and wanted to kill me with a knife. However, he allowed himself to be moved by my prayers and left me alive, but after giving me three wounds whose scars I still bear. »
Alonzo listened to this story with great attention: hearing about his wife and children, he could not hold back his tears. Pedro also turned pale and trembled as he remembered his attack. But both were internally delighted to learn that Fernando attributed this detestable action only to the lute player's insanity, and that he was completely unaware that it was the result of a conspiracy. Fernando then recounted his stay in the hermitage as well as the circumstances which had led him to London, Vienna and finally to Bohemia.
Alonzo no longer doubted that the intendant of the Count of Gallas was, in fact, the son of his brother Alvarès. However, to be even more certain, he said to her: “The story of your life is, indeed, extraordinary; but haven't you learned anything more about your origin?
— Alas! no, never, Fernando answered sadly. Father Bernardo had promised me to reveal to me the mystery that envelopes my birth; but death overtook him before he could fulfill that promise.
'Well,' said Alonzo, 'perhaps I can teach you something; but the question is whether you are indeed that same child that that fool Pedro struck with his knife. Can we still see the traces of your three wounds?
- Certainly yes. At these words, Fernando opened his waistcoat, and showed his scars. Alonzo then rose, opened his arms, and threw himself on Fernando's neck, pressed him against his heart and said to him, shedding tears: “O Fernando! you are my nephew, the son of my excellent brother! you are Count Alvarès, the sole heir to one of the finest counties in Spain. A fatal combination of circumstances has deprived you of this inheritance; you grow up without knowing your illustrious origin; I myself thought you were dead; but as soon as I learned that you still existed, I burned with the desire to press you to my heart, and I left beautiful Spain to come and seek you even in the forests of Bohemia, in order to enjoy the happiness of seeing you again, to repair the injustices you have suffered, to bring you back in triumph to your homeland, and to reinstate you in your property and in your rank. How happy I am to see you again, my dear Fernando! Recognize me as your uncle, grant me your friendship, and I will die happy. »
Fernando was completely surprised; he embraced his uncle, shedding the sweetest tears. Alonzo was also crying with joy; but his happiness was disturbed by this secret thought: Ah! if my nephew knew how guilty I was towards him, he would hate me and reject me with horror. This is how the memory of a sinful action can poison even the most beautiful moments of our lives.
Then Alonzo opened his coat, took off the diamond star which shone on his breast and said to Fernando: “Here is the decoration of a grandee of Spain which, believing you dead, I have brought here; these insignia and this dignity belong to you by right. Come, let me fasten this cross on your chest; may it be a small compensation for the wounds of which this chest still bears the scars.
- Oh ! exclaimed Fernando, when I received these wounds, could I believe that they should one day bring about such a happy discovery and bring me so much happiness? It is thus in this way that God knows how to make our very misfortunes serve our happiness! »
Pride and loyalty.
While Alonzo made himself known to his nephew and decorated him with the insignia of his rank, Clara, Fernando's wife, also came to compliment the strangers; but when, approaching by a little covered alley, she perceived the star which shone on her husband's breast and whom she heard called Count Don Fernando, she turned pale; it seemed to her that an abyss was opening between her and him, and she stopped in horror.
No one had noticed Clara; and Alonzo said to his nephew: "Let's go, my carriage is ready, I am going to present you to the Emperor, so that in his capacity as King of Spain he will confirm you in possession of your property and your titles, as well as than your lovely children and your wife. What family is she from?
“She is the daughter of a ranger named Hermann.
- What ! how ! exclaimed Alonzo; and his face darkened, for his pride was revolted. How ! the daughter of a forester, of a game warden! that is terrible; I wouldn't have expected it. All my joy vanishes, and I no longer see an end to my sorrows. »
Fernando was appalled at these strange words. Alonzo noticed this, and went on: “It is true that you did not know that you came from one of the oldest families in the kingdom; otherwise you would not have had the unfortunate idea of marrying a commoner, the daughter of a simple forester. We must see what there would be to do to repair this fault, because this misalliance would bring me death. »
These words tore Clara's heart; she walked away without being seen.
Alonzo got up and strode around, slapping his forehead; and suddenly stopping in front of Antonio, he said to him: “Try to find a remedy for this misfortune, my father; as far as I think I know, error is a case of divorce: tell me, can we declare that this marriage is the fruit of error, and obtain that it be broken?
— Yes, an error in persons is a case of nullity; but in the present circumstances the case seems to me different: it is a question of a person who was mistaken on his own account. We must have recourse to the ecclesiastical authority, which will provide a solution.
"There's no need for a solution or for so many reflections," exclaimed Fernando warmly. "I'll never part with my wife, not even for the Emperor's two crowns." I will keep to him until the grave the faith that I swore to him at the foot of the altar in the presence of God. Nothing, nothing will separate us but death alone! I first learned with pleasure that I was a count; but it was madness: the brilliance of this title only dazzled me for a moment, this dream passed as quickly as it came. Take back your county, I don't want it. I am delighted to have made the acquaintance of an uncle whose name and existence I did not know; but let there be no further question of separating me from my Clara. Return to your beautiful Spain; as for me, I will stay here, in my dear Bohemia, my second homeland, where I am happy, and where I will end my days, surrounded by my wife and my children. I am even surprised that you have been able to make me a proposal that offends any honest and Christian soul. Now forgive me if I leave you, I feel too moved to continue this conversation. »
Fernando went to find his wife: as she had told him that she would join him in the garden, and that he did not see her coming, he was worried. He found her in her room, surrounded by her children and bursting into tears with them. “Clara, my dear Clara, in the name of Heaven! so what do you have? »
Clara painfully looked up at her husband, and exclaimed upon seeing the decoration that was still attached to his coat, “Oh! this star is for me and my children an omen of misfortune. Now you're a count, and I'm just a poor ranger's daughter. Your uncle will never approve of our union; he's even thinking of separating us, of getting you to marry a high-class lady after having abandoned me; he will even force him to deny your children and forbid them to bear your name. Oh! I will not survive this pain, it will plunge me into the grave.
"Clara, dear Clara," Fernando said to her, hugging her, "how can you think so badly of your husband and believe me capable of repudiating you and ignoring our children?" God forbid! No, I will never part with you. I renounced all my inheritance and made my intentions known to my uncle; and in front of you I tear from my breast this star of diamonds. Go, you alone are for me the star of happiness that the Lord has raised to beautify my days on earth. The bond that unites us is indissoluble and sacred: it is God himself who received our oaths, he alone can release us from them through death. »
He sat down beside her and lavished on her the most tender consolations. Her tears of pain changed to tears of joy. “Dear Fernando, how much I love you! your heart is so noble! Your tenderness, your attachment to me, have been put to the test, like gold going through fire: and now I will be, if that is still possible, happier than ever. »
Fernando was also deeply moved. The two spouses hugged their children in their arms, and the happy father said to them: “Yes, my dear children, I remain with you and your excellent mother. Love, union, will make us happier than all the greatness and riches of the world. »
No sooner had Fernando reassured and consoled his dear Clara than the children were still jumping and shouting with joy when the door opened and Alonzo entered with Antonio; then addressing Fernando, he said to him: “My dear nephew, please be reasonable. It is not a question here of a trifle, but of an immense fortune, the title and the privileges of the old house of Alvarès. Your current wife will never be able to bear the title of countess, being of commoner birth. You could never get her admitted into the societies of the high nobility. Consider the difficulties of your position. Even your children will never be able to inherit your county, it will fall back to the domain of the crown. This loss would be immense. Listen, I will buy for your Clara this castle or some other beautiful estate, at any price, and I will see to it that she can live there happily with her children in the bosom of abundance; and you, you will come with me to Spain to take possession of your goods. I'm sorry for your poor wife, but this separation is absolutely necessary and inevitable. »
Clara and her children uttered new groans and cries of pain; but Fernando rose immediately, and placing himself in front of Alonzo, he said to him with noble firmness: "Uncle, you have heard my last word, I have nothing more to say: it is better to remain poor and faithful to your say than to become rich and perjure. »
Charles, the eldest of the children, approached Alonzo and shouted: “Oh! you are a bad uncle; our other uncle, the forest ranger, is much nicer than you: when he comes to see us, we all rejoice; but you make everyone cry. »
Alonzo was irritated by the frankness of this child. The idea that a ranger was just as good an uncle of this small family as he was wounded his pride. 'Shut up, you little rascal,' he cried to him angrily, 'I don't want to know anything about your relationship. »
He hurried around the room and almost stepped on the star that Fernando had thrown on the floor. "Look at my nephew's insolence," he said to Antonio. »
And his fury was at its peak. But Antonio, deeply moved by the grief of the mother and of the children bursting into tears, took the Count by the hand, led him into the recess of a window at the other end of the room, and spoke to him thus:
“Lord, you will strive in vain to separate these two spouses, and, to speak frankly to you, it is your pride, your boundless ambition, and not a wise reflection, which leads you to act thus. This pride and this ambition have already caused much sorrow in your life and in your family; it is to these two vices that you owe your misfortunes, those of your wife, your children and a great number of other people. Your wife, the excellent Blanca, so sweet, so modest, would perhaps live without the sorrows that your ambitious plots have caused her. The false ideas of a point of honor that you inspired in your son Philippe caused his premature death. And who is the cause that Fernando, from a noble family, was forced to become a merchant clerk, to leave his homeland and to seek asylum in a foreign land? You know it... I don't need to tell you about myself; but how unhappy you have made me by making me the instrument of your ambitious projects! Your own life has been one long series of pains and anxieties that you could have avoided. And no sooner has God granted you the grace to unload the weight that weighed on your conscience by bringing back in your arms this virtuous Fernando, whom you thought was the murderer, than you begin to persecute him, his wife and their children! Oh! no, you have not yet drawn near to God, your conversion has not yet been true or complete. You are far from having the spirit of humility and. charity of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Oh ! think of the good examples he gave us by descending to earth and enduring all human miseries, always humble and charitable, even washing the feet of his apostles, even submitting to the reproach on the cross to redeem us and to earn for us eternal life through his death. If you want to be a true Christian, be humble and charitable above all. Alonzo, his soul deeply shaken, remained for a moment absorbed in his reflections; then he said, “You are right, Father Antonio; if I had always been told the truth as you have just told it to me, I would have been spared a great deal of grief, and I would have become better. Thank you for your good advice, and I will follow it. »
He went to find Fernando, whom his wife and children were holding tightly as if they were afraid he would be taken away from them, and said with a serene look full of benevolence: "Dear Fernando, dear Clara, I ratify your union , live happily ever after. »
Fernando and Clara, transported with joy, fell at their uncle's feet begging him to give them his blessing, and the children followed the example of their parents. 'No, no,' he cried, 'I cannot consent to your kneeling before me. I did not deserve such a tribute. Please stand up.
“Not until you bless us,” Fernando replied.
- Well ! be it, said Alonzo with deep emotion. May the Lord bless your union and pour out his graces on you and on your children! Then he lifted them up and kissed them one after the other, and tears of joy flowed from his eyes, he felt such happiness as he had never experienced before.
This reconciliation was followed by the sweetest conversations, which Clara, like a good housewife, soon avoided to watch over the preparations for a good supper. The whole family sat down at the table, and Alonzo felt a joy, a happiness, an inner contentment that surprised even him. He was amused by the naive babble of the children and begged the parents to let them talk at their ease. My God, he said to himself at the end of the meal, how good you are to me! What a happy life you have prepared for me for my old age! Alone and neglected, I led a sad existence in my magnificent castles; around me there was a silence like that of the tomb. I had survived my wife and my children, and you have just given me back a new family which surrounds me with so much love. My God, I thank you. Yes, my whole life will be devoted to showing you my sincere gratitude for what you have done for me!
Alonzo resolved to spend a few days with this family, in the midst of which he enjoyed such pure happiness, and then to go with them to the residence of the Emperor to present Fernando to him and have him ascertain his titles. During his stay at his castle, the Count of Gallas, his wife, and the Countess of Obersdorf came unexpectedly to visit their estate in Bohemia and to present their congratulations to the newlyweds on the change which had taken place in their position; for Fernando had instructed them. They had been so surprised and enchanted by it that they came to personally express their satisfaction. Alonzo was delighted when he saw the Comte de Gallas not only treat his former steward as his equal in rank, but also show him special esteem and consideration, and the two countesses tenderly embraced the modest Clara. Shortly afterwards he left with Fernando and his family for court.
He asked the Emperor for a private audience, which was granted him on the spot; for Alonzo enjoyed high consideration in society and at court, on account of the services he had rendered to his country. There, without mentioning his crime, he told the Emperor that Bernardo del Rio, his enemy, had seized young Fernando, to whom he had nevertheless given an excellent education; but that, surprised by death, he had not been able to carry out his projects of revenge. Alonzo then recounted the life of this child, his departure for London, for Bohemia, and his marriage to Clara Hermann, daughter of a forest ranger, and he declared his intention of reinstating his nephew Fernando in his father's inheritance.
The Emperor replied that, according to Spanish law, Fernando's children could have no right of succession to the county of Alvarès, because of their mother's lack of nobility, and that he was not in her power to repeal or evade such law; but as Emperor of Germany he was going, out of respect for their uncle, to restore the fortunes of the descendants of the Count d'Alvarès in another way.
Alonzo took care to have his nephew and niece magnificently dressed, to whom he gave the rich ornaments which Fernando's mother had once bequeathed to her friend Dona Blanca, and he presented the two spouses to the Emperor. Poor Clara was quite trembling at appearing before the most powerful monarch in Christendom. The Emperor received them in the most gracious manner, and said: "Fernando d'Alvarès, your uncle has already told you why I cannot promise your children the transmission of the heritage of your ancestors in Spain." But there is at this moment in Silesia a very fine and considerable seigneury for sale. Your uncle once lent me a sum of money equivalent to the value of this property. I return this sum to you, go and buy this seigniory, and be as faithful a subject to me on German soil as your father and your uncle were in Spain. As for you, beautiful Clara, whom your rare qualities have long ennobled, I am going to send you letters of nobility signed by my hand. »
The two spouses threw themselves at the feet of the monarch, whose hand they respectfully kissed, and thanked him for this favour. "Don Fernando and Dona Clara, get up," said the Emperor, "and count on my good will." »
Alonzo, delighted with this dazzling mark of imperial favour, set out with Fernando and his family for Silesia, to see the estate. They found it magnificent, bought it on the spot and settled there. Fernando and Clara, remaining constantly pious and modest, felt at the height of happiness, not because, having become richer, luxury surrounded them, but because they saw themselves better able to do good to their fellows.
Alonzo, who at first intended to return to Spain, soon decided to remain in the midst of his interesting family, who pressed him with the strongest entreaties to give up this project of separation. Moved to tears by all these marks of love and attachment, he yielded and said to them: “No, my dear children, no, I don't have the courage to leave you; I want to stay with you, it is you who will close my eyes. I had in Spain, the most beautiful country in the world, everything a man could desire, rank, honors, riches and all the amenities of life, and with all that I was far from happy: I the essential point was missing, a heart free from passions and where sweet peace reigned. The constant sight of your domestic bliss, of your contentment, of your contempt for all pleasures, of your unostentatious benevolence, which brightens the days of all around you, has taught me where true happiness must be sought in this life. »
He therefore remained; Antonio became chaplain of the castle and ministered to the chapel, which was restored and embellished with a magnificence worthy of divine worship. Alonzo lived in piety; he devoted all his ambition to making himself pleasing to God; he sought his joy and his satisfaction in that which he procured for others. He often said: “The summer of my life was dark and painful, troubled even by dreadful storms; and it was my own fault. I can thank the Lord enough for having granted me, despite my unworthiness and against all my expectations, such a beautiful and serene autumn. I didn't find peace and contentment until I made a complete dedication to God and became humble and kind to everyone. Without the fear of God, without the love of humanity, there is no enjoyment in this world. »
Very often also this worthy old man repeated to his grand-nephews: "Remember all your life, my dear children, that there is no happiness possible without virtue, nor virtue without religion." »
END OF FERNANDO
Agnès or the little lute player
The castle taken by assault.
On one of those dark autumn evenings when the leaves, already yellowing on the trees, begin to be shaken by a harsher wind, the noble Théolinde, holding her only daughter Adelina on her knees, was seated in the apartments of her castle. isolated and almost desert of Haute-Roche. Adelina was at that time a child of about eight years old, and her father, the knight Adelbert, was then in a very distant country. Having left for the war, he had taken with him all his squires and most of his men-at-arms. One of his faithful servants, named Jacques, and a few servants, were at this moment the only defenders of the fort of Haute-Roche, built on an enormous block of granite which crowned a high mountain, and from which this castle had taken its name. . Jacques had first left with the Chevalier Adelbert; but, as the position of the two armies had long prevented the knight from receiving any news of his wife and child, and as he could not leave his post, he had decided to send the faithful Jacques to Haute-Roche. , disguised as a pilgrim, to find out what was going on there.
The war took an unfortunate turn: the enemies invaded the soil of the country, looting, burning, ransacking the cities and the countryside, and a column of these barbarians even approached the castle of Haute-Roche. Under these circumstances, Theolinde, fearing an attack, thought it her duty to keep Jacques with her, in order to increase the number of her defenders. However, the dilapidated fortifications presented little security, and at this time Haute-Roche looked more like a country house than a fortress intended to impose on the enemy, and capable of sustaining a siege. Its architecture and especially the mass of its old towers in ruins alone still reminded us of the high importance of this ancient castle, the perimeter and the immense courtyard of which were planted with age-old oaks and gigantic lime trees.
That evening, then, the icy north wind whistled through the tops of the trees, and the leaves torn from the branches covered the pavement of the yard. Already the sun had disappeared, twilight had passed, and night was beginning to darken the outer walls of this ancient castle, when suddenly it seemed as if one heard dull, tumultuous cries in the valley.
" What is it? asked Theolinde, terrified, of a servant who was bringing candles; would it be the enemies? However, the tumult increased, and the sound of the bugles seemed to approach. A moment later the keeper of the tower sounded his trumpet, and old Jacques, pale as death, rushed into the room. 'Noble lady,' he said, 'do not be alarmed by the sad news which I bring you; in this critical moment let us put our hope in God, who can do everything, and in his divine assistance. It seems that a troop of armed people is advancing towards the castle. We cannot yet distinguish whether they are friends or enemies; but, to tell the truth, I rather believe that they are enemies; for I learned yesterday, and I thought it my duty to hide it from you, that ours were beaten and dispersed.
- Good heaven ! exclaimed Theolinde, if that is so, what will become of us, my poor child and me?
"Reassure yourself, noble lady," said Jacques; You have always shown yourself to be a good Christian, so you have not forgotten this old and beautiful adage:
One who trusts in the Divinity
Contemplate the future with security.
"You are right, my brave Jacques," replied Theolinde; raise the drawbridge. I know only too well that our castle is not in a condition to put up a long resistance. But let us try to gain at least the time necessary to secure my jewels and my most precious effects.
"Your orders will be executed, noble lady," replied Jacques; and he walked away.
The noise of the soldiers' march, which had become quite distinct, announced that they must already have reached the foot of the walls. Theolinde, trembling, approached the balcony of her window, and grew pale with terror, when, in the light of the crescent which shone like a golden sickle in the intervals of the clouds, she perceived a band of warriors covered with breastplates and sparkling helmets, mounted on vigorous steeds, and whose multitude filled all the avenues of the mounted mounted on vigorous steeds, and whose multitude filled all the avenues of the castle. The confused cries they uttered left no doubt of their hostile designs. Théolinde shuddered with terror, and exclaimed: “God! what do I see? Little Adelina, noticing her mother's fright, began to cry and utter lamentable cries. The poor mother tried to console her as best she could, then threw herself on her knees, and, shedding abundant tears, she begged the Lord not to withdraw His help from her at this terrible moment. A little strengthened by her fervent prayer, she hastened to collect her most precious jewels, while the chains of the drawbridge which were being withdrawn made their dull and sinister noise be heard.
It was impossible for the weak garrison of Haute-Roche to offer serious resistance to so many assailants. The castle was surrounded on all sides. Already a strong detachment was erecting ladders in the ditches of the garden, and preparing for the scaling on that side. The lugubrious tocsin of the keep of Haute-Roche, resounding in the surrounding valleys, called to arms the population of the neighborhood; but this last resource of a desperate fortress was of no help. The walls of the garden can be crossed without obstacle; for the little garrison was completely confined behind the drawbridge, and defended itself there to the utmost. The fort was forced to surrender to the enemy, who entered from behind. Théolinde shuddered all over when she heard the drawbridge, suddenly lowered, fall with a crash, and when the sound of warriors ascending the grand staircase with hasty and resounding steps approached the bedroom. She had pushed the bolts well; but it was a very weak barrier. In the twinkling of an eye the door was broken down, and a brutal soldiery invaded his apartment. She took refuge in a second room; but this one, promptly broken in, had no outlet through which the unfortunate chatelaine could escape.
As they entered, the frantic soldiers rushed at the trembling Théolinde, who held her child in her arms, and uttered heartrending cries. "Give, give the keys to your cupboards," cried these madmen; take us to the cellar and the pantry. After the victory it is necessary to feast; let's go, walk, and hurry. »
Théolinde hastened to get a bunch of keys, which she gave to the soldiers. “Here, open everything and seek yourselves what suits you. These looters then opened all the
furniture, and seized all that they could find in linen, effects, money and valuables; others went to the cellar and the pantry, and carried the provisions up to Theolinde's apartments, there to indulge in the most disgusting orgy. One of them, half drunk, took it into his head to knock on the walls to make sure there was no hiding place; suddenly he noticed a place that seemed to him to ring hollow. Everyone then demanded that Theolinde open this secret cupboard. She obeys, despair in her soul; for she thus abandoned to them her last resources. They seized the jewels with fierce joy; then they overwhelmed with the most terrible reproaches the unfortunate Théolinde, who had not immediately taught them this rich hiding-place. Their insatiable greed was only the more excited. They got it into their heads that there were still greater and better hidden treasures. All the furniture was smashed, all the woodwork torn out and the walls almost demolished, in the hope of finding other secret cabinets.
After having exhausted themselves in fruitless searches, they returned in a rage to Théolinde, shouting at her to point out her treasures. In vain did the poor lady tell them and repeat with the most solemn protestations that she had given up all her keys, that there was nothing more hidden in the chateau, they refused to believe it; in their ever-increasing anger, they even went so far as to snatch from her the child she was carrying in her arms, and, crowding around her, threatening her with their naked swords, they still shouted at her to point out the treasures to them. buried. Théolinde, braving the arms raised on her, ran after her child to save him from the hands of these barbarians. Her upturned features and her heartrending voice expressed all the terrors of a mother in despair. Then one of them, with a satanic air, exclaimed: “Oh! Oh ! beautiful lady, so we have found a way to scare you! we are going to see if it is impossible to overcome your obstinacy. At these words he seized little Adelina by the arm, who was crying and crying with all her might; he raised his sword at this innocent creature, and said to him in a ferocious tone: "Your treasure, or I will cut it in two!" »
At this barbarous threat, at this frightful spectacle, the unfortunate Theolinde was so seized with horror and terror, that she fell unconscious on the floor. At this moment, the Chevalier Grimmo de Durcoin, commander-in-chief of this troop, arrived in the apartment. At a glance he saw everything. “Unfortunate! what are you going to do? he cried to his soldiers in a tone that made them tremble. Withdraw, leave at once, or I will make you undergo the fate with which you threatened these unfortunates. The soldiers, terrified at the sudden appearance of their chief, left the lady and her child, and hastened to flee with their booty. Grimmo immediately ordered his servants to pick up poor Theolinda, who was still lying motionless on the floor. He made her lay on a couch, and took little Adelina in his arms. They rubbed the chatelaine with vinegar, they made her breathe essences; but it was only after long efforts that they succeeded in bringing her back to life. When she opened her eyes, her first glances met the foreign knight who had delivered her from the hands of the barbarians.
The Knight Grimmo.
As soon as Theolinde had fully recovered her senses, the Chevalier Grimmo approached her, and said to her in a tone full of interest: "You would not believe, Madame la Comtesse, how sorry I am for the ill treatment that the unruly soldiers of my troop allowed themselves towards you. Let us give thanks to Heaven for having made me come soon enough for me to have the happiness of helping you. Now reassure yourself, Madam, and be convinced that no more harm will happen to you, as long as I am present in these places. But, for this very reason, and in the interest of your personal safety, you will allow me to establish my lodgings in this chateau. I am going to give the order not to touch the cellars or the storerooms any more. I very much regret not being able to make you restore what was taken from you; you are not unaware that the usages of war grant pillage to troops who take a place by assault; if you had made
your castle yourself, you would have avoided this misfortune.
“I thank you, noble knight,” replied Theolinde; I feel the full value of your benevolence; be persuaded that I learned early to esteem a generous heart, even in an enemy. »
Grimmo hastened to take all the necessary measures so that the provisions and other objects still intact were saved. He caused the plunder to cease, and placed a safeguard in the castle, which he ordered to be respected, as being the abode of the Commander-in-Chief.
From that moment Grimmo treated the Countess and her child with the greatest respect; he had for them all kinds of care and kindness, and missed no opportunity of proving to them his benevolent intentions. But through her delicate attentions, the venom of seduction was not long in showing itself. Soon the knight grew bolder to the point of declaring to Theolinde the inclination he felt for her, and even of making culpable proposals to her. But the virtuous Théolinde rejected them; his heart, filled with the most sincere piety, abhorred sin, and never ceased to implore the assistance of God in this new and terrible trial. “O God! she cried sometimes, falling on her knees in her solitary room, take everything away from me, if such is your will, but do not take away from me the support of your grace. Do not allow me to fall into the snares of seduction and sin, and make myself unworthy of your celestial favors. Support me in the course of the trials that your holy Providence has reserved for me, and strengthen my courage in time of danger. »
It was thus that the pious Théolinde often raised her soul to God, and drew from her religious practices the grace and strength necessary to persevere with advantage in her spiritual combats. Thus all the efforts of the enemy knight to make her guilty remained without the slightest success.
However, this pious mother applied herself to instilling in the heart of her young child the first principles of the Christian religion. Adelina listened attentively to the maternal lessons, and retained them in her memory; thanks to the animated pictures which her mother painted for her of the goodness, of the power of God, and of the magnificence of his works, she was not long in feeling her young soul aflame with the most ardent love for her divine Creator.
Théolinde also sought to engender in her daughter's heart Christian charity at the same time as the love of God, of which this virtue must be the inseparable companion. “Learn, my dear child, her mother often told her, learn above all to love God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, because God is infinitely lovable: everything you see in the universe whole, he created it only for the love of us. You too, you owe your existence to him, he placed you in the world so that you serve him there and that you can, after this life, praise him eternally in a better world. So, my child, always remember that, even if we have much to suffer on this earth, an infinitely happy fate awaits us in heaven, if we know how to bear our ills here below with patience, and consoling ourselves with this thought: God wills it so.
“But we must also love our fellow men, not only because they are, like us, children of God, but also because God has expressly commanded us to love them. This love of our neighbour, which is called Christian charity, we must not content ourselves with professing it by mouth, we must above all manifest it by our works. Hence comes the obligation in which we are to help the unfortunate as far as the means allow us, that is to say, to give food to those who are hungry, to drink to those who are thirsty, and to do nothing. neglect to alleviate the misery of others. »
It was by such teachings and such exhortations that Christian charity was early awakened in the soul of Adelina. His supreme pleasure was to help the needy, to give them alms and to distribute to them the remains of his meals. Often she even deprived herself of a part of some delicate or fortifying food, and put it in reserve for her poor. She did the same for her clothes; should she no longer wear one of her dresses, she did not fail to ask her mother's permission to present it to anyone who needed it.
It was thus that Theolinde employed this time of misfortune to bring up her daughter well. However, Grimmo did not cease his importunities with the virtuous chatelaine. Seeing that all his attempts were in vain, he came to offer her his hand. Then Théolinde, rising from her seat, said to him in a grave and solemn tone, “Chevalier, you must not be unaware that I am married; you know my daughter, and here is my wedding ring, isn't that enough to make me respected as a wife and as a mother? »
Grimmo stood dumbfounded; he withdrew, thinking of the means of overcoming the resistance of the beautiful Theolinde, and of assuring the success of his culpable projects.
One evening when she was busy playing the lute, a page from the army corps where Adelbert served came into the apartment and said to her: 'Noble Countess, I have just come from the army with distressing news. Théolinde was frightened by this preamble, and exclaimed: “O Heaven! are you coming to announce some great misfortune to me? What happened? say, say, don't hide anything from me, I want to know everything. My husband, the knight Adelbert, where is he, would he have perished?...
"I don't want to hide anything from you," resumed the page, "and I have reason to believe that you must already have been informed of it by public rumor." Yes, noble lady, your husband no longer exists, he met a glorious death fighting for his country. Sick of a deep wound, he lay on his bed of pain, and I had been placed near him to serve and care for him. He could only address these words to me in a dying voice; “Your cares are useless, my dear Cunibert, I feel that my last hour has come, I am going to leave this world; a few more moments, and I will appear before the throne of my supreme judge; listen to my last recommendations. As soon as my eyes are closed forever, you will take the road to Haute-Roche, and you will announce to my beloved wife Théolinde the news of my death; you will give her my wedding ring here, and you will tell her that I thank her for all the happiness she has made me enjoy during the whole time of our union. As he finished these words, he took the nuptial ring from his finger, gave it to me, said a few more prayers in a low voice, and a quarter of an hour later he gave up his soul to God. »
Having thus finished his report, the page presented Théolinde with a golden ring. The Countess fell fainting in her chair. “O Heaven! she exclaimed, shedding a torrent of tears when she had regained her senses, so these are my sinister presentiments realized; my Adelbert is no more, I am a widow, and my unhappy daughter is no more than a poor orphan! This ring, pledge of the tenderness of my beloved Adelbert, still reminds me of that fortunate moment when, a few days before our wedding, he put it on my finger and said to me: "Dear Théolinde, you who are, after God, what I hold most dear in the world, receive this pledge of my inviolable fidelity until my last breath... O Heaven! O Heaven! my heart breaks with pain. And she fell into a new weakness, and into such despondency that she had to be carried to her bed.
For a long time all efforts to bring her back to life were fruitless, and when she came to herself she found herself dangerously ill.
The unfortunate widow.
As soon as the fever gave the grieving widow a moment's respite, she summoned her daughter Adelina and old Jacques, her faithful servant, to her bed. She announced to them the death of her dear Adelbert: fresh tears flooded her face when she saw the honest old man enter, leading his charming little daughter by the hand. "Alas! she exclaimed painfully, you no longer have a father, you are an orphan, my poor child; and I no longer have a husband!
Adelina, at these words, began to weep bitterly, when the pious mother, suddenly turning her thoughts to heaven, sought to console her child, and said to him: "It is only too true, my dear child, you are not have no more father in this world; but I have every reason to hope that it dwells in heaven today; for, as long as he lived on earth, he was constantly pious and virtuous: he always loved God and Jesus Christ, his divine Son. he faithfully observed the holy commandments and the precepts of religion. He also loved his neighbour, even those who were his enemies, and did them as much good as he depended on him. From time immemorial the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist was the object of his profound and sincere veneration, and he made his greatest happiness consist in frequently approaching the holy table. So he saw fulfilled in his regard this promise of our divine Redeemer "He who eats my body and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him." (S. John, vi, 11.) My Adelbert never stretched out a greedy hand for the good of others, and he considered it an abominable crime to slander his fellow man. Courageous and resigned in days of misfortune, humble and modest in prosperity, accepting all things with equal serenity of soul as coming from the hand of God, he showed himself in all circumstances beneficent and merciful towards the unfortunate, and also indulgent for the faults of others that he was severe with himself. And as he was merciful on earth, Our Lord will also be merciful to him in eternity. »
Just as the sensitive and grateful hearts from whom death has just snatched a relative or a friend cannot ordinarily tire of praising his merits and his qualities, so also our good Théolinde could never praise enough the beautiful virtues of her late husband. She then wanted to tell old Jacques everything she had learned about the last moments and the death of her husband; but the old man prevented him. “Spare yourself this painful tale, noble lady,” he said. ; I know all the details of this misfortune: the page, when he left you, told us everything, and he is at the moment with the Chevalier Grimmo, no doubt to tell him the same story. We are now concerned only with the consequences of this fatal event. I fear that Grimmo, who, as you have informed me, had already made proposals to you earlier, will renew them with still more importunity. Perhaps he really only thinks of dazzling you with the offer of his hand. But, as I am persuaded that you do not love him and that he could never make you happy, you must consider the means of escaping your pursuits. I see no other than flight, and I undertake to prepare everything for this purpose. Just try to save enough time for the necessary preparations. However, as it is very essential to keep the Chevalier Grimmo in complete safety, and to remove from his mind even the slightest suspicion of your project, here is what I would advise you. When he makes you marriage proposals, don't put him off; but ask him for sufficient time to make your reflections, and during that time we will put ourselves in a position to profit by the first opportunity favorable to our designs. Theolinde found Jacques' proposal very wise, and promised to comply with it in every way.
However, she went into mourning and made her little Adelina take it, not only to obey the ancient custom, but rather to satisfy the sincere and deep sorrow in which the loss of a beloved husband had plunged her soul. . She also had a funeral service celebrated in the castle chapel for the soul of the deceased. The whole chapel was hung in black, and on the upper part of the draperies stood out cypresses and wreaths of immortelles. In the middle of the choir rose a magnificent catafalque, surrounded by a multitude of tapers and candelabra. On the coffin covered with a black crape with silver fringes, one saw a beautiful crucifix, a bare sword, and the armor of the knight with his helmet surmounted by a rich plume of ostrich feathers. To the catafalque were attached the coat of arms of the family, admirably painted and surrounded by pyramids of cypresses and candelabra, bearing skulls with tears and bones in saltire. An immense crowd crowded the chapel; they were partly subjects of the Chevalier Adelbert, for he was much loved, and partly Grimmo's squires and men-at-arms. Throughout the time of the offices, Theolinde, dressed in mourning and covered with a long black veil, remained kneeling on a prie-dieu, facing the catafalque, her child beside her: she never ceased to burst into tears. Then, filled with that sublime Christian resignation which religion gives, she commended the soul of her husband to the mercy of the heavenly Father, invoking the merits of our divine Saviour, and assisting at the bloodless sacrifice which he had instituted.
Shortly after the end of the religious ceremony, the Chevalier Grimmo went up to the apartment of the grieving widow, and endeavored to soften by consoling words the excess of her grief; he
I took good care, that day and the following ones, not to let slip a single word which, in these sad circumstances, might have shocked the unfortunate Théolinde. But he had not learned enough to control his passions for it to be possible for him to maintain this moderation for long. At the end of the week he formally offered her his heart and his hand.
The prudent widow replied: “Your proposal, noble knight, does not surprise me. According to what happened between us, after having received the news of my husband's death, I should have expected a renewal of your steps. As a knight and a man of honor, you must not blame me if, in such an important matter, I ask you time to reflect. Besides, you can imagine that it would be quite contrary to the delicacy of my sex to contract a new engagement almost immediately after having received the news of my husband's death; I therefore ask you for a delay of six weeks, during which you will formally undertake not to speak to me of your projects. If you consent to these conditions, and if you observe them faithfully, it would be possible that this affair will be concluded, provided, however, that Heaven does not order otherwise. »
Grimmo was agreeably surprised by these words of Théolinde, for never before had he found her so well disposed; he conceived the firm hope of seeing his proposals of marriage favorably received, and he replied to the widow in a gentle tone: "What you have just demanded, noble countess, is very just and conforms to the rules of propriety. . I therefore gladly grant your request, in the happy hope of leading you soon to the foot of the altars to marry you. »
Believing himself from that moment quite sure of succeeding, he left Théolinde absolutely mistress of herself, paying her only rare visits, during which he took care to behave with all due regard and reserve, and to affect the most seductive exteriors. However Théolinde was positively informed by Jacques that Grimmo had left a wife and children in his country. This revelation would not have failed to change into hatred the estrangement she felt for him, if a sentiment as blameworthy as hatred had been able to enter a gentle and Christian soul like that of Théolinde.
However the faithful Jacques had taken care of the means of escape to remove the lady of the chatelaine and her child from the power of their enemy. One of Grimmo's valets, a man of probity, having given him dishonorable information on the morals and character of this wicked and vicious man, he thought it his duty to hasten the moment of flight, and ordered him to a very early night.
The day after Jacques had decided on his project, Grimmo having gone with some of his people on a tour from which he was not to return until the evening, Jacques took advantage of this temporary absence to call on the Countess. "I have come, noble lady, to confer with you on an important affair," he said. Powerful motives urge me not to delay any longer. George, one of Grimmo's servants, a brave man, has the highest esteem for you, noble lady, and knowing the character and plans of his master, he sincerely pities you. In this state of mind, he confided to me that his master is already sorry for the delay he has consented to grant you, and that he is even resolved to use violence to possess you. You see how urgent it is to take sides.
“Consequently, next night, at midnight, I will come and place a ladder against your window by means of which you will descend with your child as soon as you see a white handkerchief floating at the end of a long pole; this will be the signal. You will have nothing to fear from Grimmo; as he lives in the front apartment, it will be impossible for him to notice a thing. I have already taken measures so that the knight's people, who are moreover a small number, who occupy the buildings behind, and therefore in your vicinity, cannot watch you. At supper time, I will serve them plenty of wine, to which, for greater safety, I will mix a narcotic which, moreover, cannot harm their health. A small boat equipped with its oars will be moored at the edge of the river which flows at the foot of the castle; once this passage has been crossed, all precautions are taken to continue your journey safely; but this is not the time to detail them. So, noble lady, please decide today to try the adventure; maybe a little later it would be too late. »
Theolinde saw the imminence of the danger to which a longer delay would expose her, and easily determined to follow the advice of her faithful servant. "Yes, my dear Jacques," she said, "I understand the peril that surrounds me on all sides. It pleased Providence to send me a terrible ordeal, the death of my husband; but I would regard it as a no less formidable misfortune to fall into the hands of a man like Grimmo. Now, however painful the idea of abandoning my chateau and my properties may be for me, I conceive the necessity of it; and I confidently commit my fate and that of my child to divine protection, to your prudence and devotion. So you can be sure that I will be ready at the appointed time. After receiving this assurance, Jacques went away, for fear of being surprised by the chevalier, who might return at any moment. Theolinde therefore sought to inform her Adelina of her approaching departure; the intelligence of this young child was already able to conceive some of the dangers to which her mother and she were exposed by remaining longer at the castle.
Théolinde, stripped of all her wealth, no longer owned any jewels other than those she was wearing at the time of the looting. Her whole fortune then consisted of a pair of bracelets and the rings she had on her fingers. She picked up a little more linen and some clothes, which she wrapped in a tablecloth, so that this package would not be too embarrassing in her flight. On this bundle she took care to attach her lute; she could not bring herself to leave this instrument, which her husband had given her at the time of her marriage. Then she went with her daughter to the chapel, and knelt there to implore divine protection on her next journey.
After having finished her fervent prayer, she rose, and, heartbroken with sorrow, she left that holy and peaceful place where many times, in her moments of affliction, her soul had found celestial consolations. Already the evening twilight was casting its dubious light, through the arches of the windows, on the floor of the solitary room, when Theolinde and her daughter threw themselves fully dressed on their bed, in order to be ready at the agreed time. When the castle clock had struck eleven-thirty, the chatelaine woke up her daughter, and all
two again began to pray; at last Theolinde, listening intently, heard the faint sound of a ladder being leaned against the wall, and soon afterwards she also saw through the round stained-glass windows the white handkerchief floating at the end of a pole. She opened the window, threw down the package, and after blessing her child, whom she took on her arm, she silently and slowly descended the long ladder, at the bottom of which Jacques held out his hand to her. The night was very dark: neither the moon nor the stars showed themselves in the firmament, covered with dark clouds. Jacques picked up the package and walked slowly towards the edge of the river, which rolled its noisy waves at the foot of the ancient castle. Théolinde followed him without saying a word, leading her little Adelina by the hand. The gondola, all horsetail, was moored to a tree on the bank. The Countess, her child, and the faithful Jacques went up there; the latter untied the boat, and, pushing out to sea, he began to steer the frail skiff with a sure hand to cross the river. The poor lady felt a painful sensation in her soul as she left her home, which, to all appearances, she was never to see again. However, she calmly submitted to her fate, and drew new strength from this Christian thought, that it was the will of God which ordered her thus.
At last they landed without accident on the other bank; immediately Jacques, in accordance with the plan which he had conceived, threw the veil and the mantilla of Théolinde among the reeds of the shore, and fixed them there in such a way as to make believe that they had been thrown there by the waves; he overturned the basket so that it might be imagined that the fugitives had drowned. And, indeed, the report of their death spread throughout the country.
Meanwhile the Countess had changed her costume. Jacques led her into the middle of the mountains. “It is essential,” he said, “to take all sorts of precautions so that Grimmo cannot follow in our footsteps; consequently, we will only pass through thick forests and the wildest regions. I will put on a pilgrim's habit which I have in my bundle, and I will disguise the features of my face. some provisions in the villages, and I will bring them to you in the forest. We will never ask for lodging before nightfall, and I will always take care to procure it in some isolated farm, where you will only present yourself veiled. You will immediately shut yourself up in your bedroom, where you will take your meal, so as not to be noticed by any stranger. After having walked four days with these precautions, we will find ourselves in a country so remote and isolated in the middle of the mountains, that we can establish our abode there in complete safety. For the rest, please, noble lady, banish all anxiety; I know perfectly and for many years all the country that we are going to cross. »
This is how they continued their march for four days, through thick forests. The good Jacques, disguised as a pilgrim, served as their guide, and, in spite of his seventy years, his devotion to his masters gave him the strength to almost always carry little Adelina in his arms. Otherwise, this delicate child would inevitably have succumbed to the fatigues of such a painful journey. Even the countess, who was by no means accustomed to such long journeys, at the end of the second day already felt so harassed that she thought she could go no further. But her extreme confidence in divine assistance and her pious resignation, feelings which had become familiar to her, thanks to the cruel trials which she had already undergone, communicated to her enough strength of soul to bear with courage bodily sufferings, so that that she succeeded, together with little Adelina and their guide, in reaching the end of their journey happily and in good health.
The sun, on its decline, had already hidden behind the high granite mountains, and its golden rays no longer lit up anything but the tops of the highest rocks, when our three travelers arrived in an arid country, surrounded by a dark forest. As they advanced through this wood, they found a fairly spacious clearing, in the middle of which rose majestically an age-old oak tree. In the background, on a block of rock, you could see an ancient stone cross, to which the dark solitude of this wild country gave an air of melancholy.
Arrived at this place, Jacques stopped and said: "Let us halt and rest." Please God, this is where we will make our home. It was on this square that about forty years ago, finding myself at a big game of chamois hunting, I made a dinner. This place, it must be admitted, is sad and arid, but we are also sure of being sheltered there from the persecutions of our enemies; they will not come looking for us in this place, which has not even been visited by the inhabitants of the vicinity since time immemorial when two enemy knights killed themselves in the place marked by this stone cross. I don't know of any other dwelling near here than the cabin of an Alpine shepherd, from whom I remember once having asked for a glass of fresh water, when I was out hunting. If you want, I'll drive you and your child there.
'Although I find myself so tired today that it will be difficult for me to continue on my way,' answered Theolinde, 'yet I understand that it is impossible for my child to spend the night under the stars without risking falling ill. I hope, my faithful Jacques, that you will soon build us a hut in which we can be sufficiently sheltered against the wind and the rain. »
The mountain cabin.
Jacques therefore conducted the mother with her child to the hut in the Alps, situated a league further on, where they found a very hospitable reception and a meal as good as circumstances permitted. The shepherd was a son of the one Jacques had once met. The father lived with his son and daughter-in-law; and all three, having the pastoral manners of our ancient patriarchs, strove to make their stay agreeable to their guests in their modest cabin. Marguerite, wife of Gaspard, the young shepherd, brought milk in bowls, and also prepared fresh butter, salt chamois and new honey. In truth, she only had wooden plates to present the simple dishes of this mountain feast; but everything was so good, so appetizing, and the tablecloth, although of coarse linen, was so clean and so recently bleached, that it still spread around the table the balsamic perfume of the mountain grass on which it had been laid. . The cabin, which was quite spacious, was built only of wood; but, according to the custom of the country, it was painted in oil, both inside and out; and the living room, lighted by two polished iron lamps, presented a cheerful and agreeable aspect.
After a short prayer, we sat down to table. Georges, Gaspard's father, a widower for four years, sat down next to Theolinde, and with the cordial simplicity of a good mountaineer, he tried to distract her by talking to her about various details of rural and domestic economy. The frugal meal over, the little company addressed their heart and mouth their thanksgiving to the Lord, dispenser of all goods, and Théolinde was led to an adjoining room, where she found a soft layer of straw for herself and her Adelina. Both were accustomed to more sumptuous beds in their castle; however, thanks to the fatigue of the painful journey they had just made, a sweet sleep came to close their eyes and lasted until daybreak. Already the golden rays of bright light, penetrating through the slits in the shutter of the little window, were lighting up the interior of this little room, when Theolinde opened the window. Then the rising sun made shine the yellow copper crucifix which hung on the brown wall of the bedroom, above an ancient picture painted in oil, representing the sweet Queen of the angels. At the same time a light wind from the east brought the sweet odor of aromatic plants into the room and perfumed it all; already you could hear the pleasant tinkling of the cowbells, the clearer sound of the bells attached to the necks of the goats coming from the neighboring mountains, and the sound of the spring which cascaded beside the cabin, through the crack of a rock, in a granite basin formed by nature.
Théolinde and Adelina having risen, the latter, whose intelligence was beginning to open up, and who already felt a keen pleasure at the sight of the beauties of nature, exclaimed with delight as they approached the window: “Oh! what a beautiful morning! see, mother, these meadows in the valley, how magnificent they are! each blade of grass is adorned with diamonds just as resplendent as those of the rich necklace that the enemy soldiers took from you during the plunder.
"My daughter," replied Theolinde, "it's not diamonds that you see shining on the plants, it's drops of water that have fallen from the sky on the lawn, and which always shine with the same brilliance when the sun shines on them." This water is called dew.
"And these herd bells," continued Adelina, "they are much more resounding and more harmonious than those of the herds of our country." Where does this come from?
"That comes," said the mother, "because the bells of the cows which graze on the Alps are much larger and of a purer metal than with us."
- Ah! but listen, mamma, to the sound of these bells; I still hear similar sounds resounding in the distance, although I do not see any herds there, and this new sound has a singular sweetness.
“It is the effect of what we call echo; it is the very sound of these bells, which, striking against the walls of these rocks which you see over there, is sent to us and seems to us a new sound.
During this conversation, old Jacques, who had passed the night in the clearing where Theolinde's future residence was to be established, entered the Countess's room and said to her: "I come to announce to you, noble lady, that I have now drew up the plan of your residence; it will be a simple hut, but quite practical and above all solid enough to shelter you from the bad weather of the seasons. Georges, our host's father, has a sufficient supply of beams, slats and planks; he is prepared to sell them to us at a reasonable price. To make our construction stronger and better sealed, we will line the inside with tree bark; Georges has promised to help me with the work, so that in seven or eight days at most everything will be finished. »
Jacques kept his word. From the morning of the eighth day, the new hut was ready to be inhabited. Her exterior had little appearance; but, thanks to its position, this dwelling had a picturesque and delightful effect. Smiling like the abode of peace, it was placed in the shade and, so to speak, under the protection of a large and old oak tree which occupied the middle of this clearing, itself surrounded by a belt of wooded rocks. . The majestic oak extended its long branches laden with thick foliage over the humble cabin, whose roof covered in tree bark, and whose door and shutters, painted in oils and of a pretty green, offered a charming look.
About four leagues from this solitary country was located, in a pleasant valley, a small market town, where old Jacques frequently went to buy provisions for Theolinde, Adelina and himself.
It was also there that he procured wallpaper to decorate the interior of the solitary cabin; he also bought several pots of beautiful flowers there, which he placed in front of the windows; finally he neglected nothing that could embellish this dwelling. At the far end was a small kitchen, barely two paces from a hollow in the rock which the good Jacques had appropriated to serve as his bedroom.
The acquisition of so many objects intended to make the little cabin more pleasant and more comfortable must have soon exhausted the pecuniary resources of the faithful Jacques. He had wanted to spare nothing that could make his noble mistress's solitude more bearable: he bought beds and all the necessary linen. He also found a way to earn something for Theolinde by embroidery and knitting; it was he who was going to place these products of the lady's labor and seek new orders from her; so that one lives for a long time free from want. Theolinde had Jacques sell the rich bracelets and diamond rings she had brought with her in her exile, the price of which was also used to buy furniture and provisions. She kept of these jewels only her wedding ring and the one that her late husband had returned to her. These two objects were too precious to her, she kept them as a souvenir of the happy years of her marriage.
Theolinde knew how to play the lute admirably: she gave lessons to her daughter Adelina, who profited very well from it. But the principal care of this tender mother was to teach her child the truths of religion and to form a good Christian from it. Every Sunday she went down to the valley, in the company of her daughter and old Jacques, to attend the services of the parish. Nevertheless the deep sorrow which the loss of a beloved husband had caused her could not be softened, and she found a painful pleasure in manifesting her regrets, remaining faithful to the vow she had made never to leave her mourning clothes. .
However, the great age of Jacques, and the fatigues of the wars he had waged, did not take long to diminish his strength, and he soon saw clearly that his end was approaching. He said one evening: “I feel more and more weakened, and I already see certain signs of approaching death. My anxiety about your fate, my noble lady, and that of your child, is the only thing that makes my departure from this world painful. Despite all our precautions, I cannot help feeling a certain fear. The knight Grimmo of Durcoin has many and powerful friends, and if he should ever discover your asylum, you would have everything to fear from his vengeance; I therefore advise you to carefully conceal your quality, and to change your name, even in the interior of your solitude. »
Théolinde, surprised as much as distressed by this speech of a devoted and faithful servant and friend, replied: "Your death, my dear Jacques, would be the most terrible calamity that God could send me in the position in which I find myself. find. But I dare to hope that you are mistaken, and I will not stop praying to the Lord not to make me undergo this cruel ordeal. However, I will follow the prudent advice you have just given me. It was agreed that Theolinde would henceforth be called Mathilde, and that Adelina would be called Agnes.
The sinister presentiments of the good Jacques were realized only too soon. A few days after this conversation, the old man having gone out after dinner to go for a walk in the mountains, the daughter of a chamois hunter whose hut was a league away was seen arriving in all haste. This girl announced that old Jacques had been so badly en route that he could not return home; he had been received in the hunter's hut, whence he sent to beg the noble lady to come and see him before his death.
Mathilde left immediately with Agnès, and found her faithful Jacques lying on a bed in the hunter's hut. He had been stricken with apoplexy, and hardly had the strength to speak. The priest of the neighboring village, summoned in haste, arrived promptly, administered the sacraments to him, and assisted him with the help of religion until his last breath.
On the third day after his death, the mortal remains of the respectable old man were, following the steps of Mathilde, deposited in the cemetery of the neighboring village, and a solemn mass was sung there for the repose of his soul. Mathilde's heart bled for a long time at the memory of the loss of this faithful friend, whose considerate activity, wise advice and support were so useful to her in her sad position, and it was only with great sorrow that she could get used to providing for everything herself; finally, however, his sweet resignation to the will of God softened and healed the deep wounds of his heart.
The pious hermit.
Not far from Mathilde's cabin, but at the bottom of the most secluded gorges of the mountain, and everywhere surrounded by rocks and brushwood, was the peaceful dwelling of a pious hermit known in the country by the name of Father Benno. Behind his solitary refuge rose an ancient chapel whose modest steeple was surmounted by a gilded cross. In front of the anchorite's cell, covered with thatch, and whose walls and windows were lined with ivy, there was a small garden planted with flowers and shrubs. A little ahead, on the right, you could see two fruit trees in full bearing, covered with their branches, a small table and benches of grass. Nearby, a harp was suspended from the branches of a superb lime tree. Spring embellished nature, which seemed to take on a new life. One morning, the soft light of the dawn began to spread over the hermitage, the rocks and the trees, and gradually changed into a bright and brilliant clarity. The bell had just rung matins when Benno, leaving the chapel, knelt down and said his prayers. After gazing for a moment at the picturesque landscape, he took up his harp and sang:
How the sun shines there! The sky sparkles with a thousand lights. Who makes this horizon so beautiful? It's God! To us the Lord is good!
Surrounded by a cloud of gold, The lofty summit of this mountain Seems to repeat to my reason: It is God! To us the Lord is good!
Do you see this limpid source Springing from this arid rock, Which makes it flee on the lawn? It's God! To us the Lord is good!
Birds under the cool shade How I love pretty warbling! What are they singing in the valley? It's God! To us the Lord is good!
The shepherd sitting on the grass Sings, leaning on his crook, The sweet refrain of his song: It's God! To us the Lord is good!
Come on, my heart, take heart! To Heaven pay your homage, Redis blessing his name: It is God! To us the Lord is good I
After finishing this morning hymn, Benno returned to his cell. A few moments later, a knight, guided by a young herdsman, appeared on the top of a nearby rock. He was dressed in a rich costume, but without cuirass and helmet. A hat adorned with a beautiful plume covered his head, a sword hung at his side, and his spear served him as a traveling staff.
"So this is where Father Benno lives?" asked the knight of the shepherd; and his eyes wandered with admiration over the beautiful country. “What a magnificent sight! what a pleasant retreat! In truth, our hermit knew how to choose his home well. Finally he approached the hermitage, and, taking out his purse, he said to the young shepherd: “I thank you, young man, for having guided me with so much zeal and eagerness; here, take this, I give it to you for your trouble. The chevalier, on coming to visit this part of the Alps, had passed the previous night in the chalet of the father of this young man, and, as his hosts had been unwilling to accept any payment for the hospitality which they had accorded him, the knight thought it his duty to reward their son all the more generously; he put a gold coin in her hand.
“How, lord! said the young shepherd, take some money for the slight service I was able to render you by accompanying you! So fi! it wouldn't be nice. Then, casting his eyes on the gold coin which the knight had given him, he exclaimed, struck with astonishment: “Hey! but, what do I see? yellow money! I thought there was only white and red money.
- Oh! ha! resumed the knight, it is because you know only silver and copper coins; but this is gold.
- Gold ! allow me to examine it a little. What! it's this little object that we make so much of! Of course, I had heard of gold, but this is the first time I've seen it. I had a completely different idea. Take that again, I don't find anything marvelous about it. »
The knight made vain efforts to explain to this young child the nature and value of gold. He further told him that with this coin one could easily buy two goats or two sheep.
"You're kidding! said the shepherd to him; one would have to be out of his mind to give two goats or two sheep in exchange for this puny little coin; it is not only worth my crook.
“However, my boy, people who have a lot of gold are considered very happy. With gold you can have it all.
"Damn it!" ah! if so, give it to me. We have a neighbor who is sick with grief. He cannot sleep or eat; he is always sad and dejected; I am going to give him this little piece of gold, so that he can buy himself health, sleep, appetite and gaiety.
- Oh! Oh! everything you say there cannot be bought; but there are a host of beautiful and useful things that one can buy when one has gold.
- Hum! we mountain people have everything we need: we even enjoy many beautiful and good things that we could do without if necessary. Our little field, our garden, our meadows, our flocks of sheep and our forest provide us abundantly with bread, fruits, vegetables, milk, honey, wool, hemp and wood; I cannot imagine what more we would need. »
The knight, surprised as much as charmed by the judicious replies of this young mountaineer, said to himself: Happy child! Accustomed from the cradle to a frugal life, brought up far from the corruption of the century, he learned early to know and to value the only true goods on earth: contentment, health and peace of conscience. Lucky mortals, you don't even know the name of the city's dummy needs! Yes, it is here, in the chalets of the mountain shepherds separated from all over the world, and where gold is neither known nor sought after, that the golden age really exists. Then, addressing the young man: “My boy, your words denote more wisdom than you think. Little shepherd, you are a great philosopher.
"What beast are you calling me here?" exclaimed the little shepherd with vivacity; if it is an insult that you say to me, please dispense with it, I beg you...
"No, no, calm down, my child," interrupted the knight. I didn't want to insult you; on the contrary, this name is honorable in many respects. Listen, my boy, you have done me a great service by guiding me to this hermitage; your language gave me infinite pleasure. I, in turn, would like to do something that would please you.
- Well! replied the little shepherd, do you know how to sing, sir? I would rather have a ditty than your gold coin.
"I know how to sing a little," replied the chevalier, "but I am too distressed: go, my friend, I am too unhappy."
- Well! what use is your gold to you? You see it does not make happy. No, no, I prefer my songs to your gold; I always sing, myself, and I am at the same time so happy, so happy, that I wouldn't exchange my happiness for a bag full of gold coins. Listen to me, and you will see. Then he sang, jumping and frolicking, the following ditty:
The young lamb, in the pasture, Freely frolics, And seeks, in the shade of the foliage, The grass of which he makes his meal.
One sees like him on earth The amiable and gracious child To find near his good mother A happiness of which he is joyful.
The ewe loves pasture; The child lives by eating his bread. If he dies, the author of nature gives him a sweet end.
The frank gaiety of this child charmed the knight, who expressed his satisfaction and said to him: "Now, go and join my servant, who is waiting for me by that rock over there." I want to speak alone with the hermit.
"Well, well, sir," cried the merry child, going away; but don't stay too long, or my herd and I might just lose patience. »
The knight then approached the hermitage, and rang the bell. Benno left. His venerable head was bald; a thick and long beard descended on his chest; he said, "God bless you, noble stranger." What subject brings you so early in the morning to my cell? and how can old Benno oblige you?
'Father,' resumed the chevalier, 'unhappiness has weighed on my head; my heart aches. It has been several nights since sleep has closed my eyelids. Having heard of your virtues and of the efficacy of your prayers, I have taken the resolution to come and implore your help, and to spend a few days with you in your hermitage, if you have the kindness to allow me to do so. don't refuse it, I am a wretch who seeks consolation.
- Oh ! if so, Benno went on, welcome, all the unfortunate are my brothers or my sons. Think it's your father reaching out to you. Anything Benno can do to relieve you, he will do; all that my poor cell contains is at your service. Come, sit down on this moss bench in the shade of the apple tree; for you must be tired from the climb, and no doubt you are also hungry and thirsty. I will go to get provisions for the time of your stay. I'll find everything I need at a big farm some distance from here, and here's something to look forward to when I get back. I'll offer you all the provisions in my cell, I'll be right back. »
At these words, Benno drew from a kind of cupboard a stoneware jug, two goblets, a small loaf, and a basket full of fruit. He laid all this on the table, and said, “Take, noble knight; that is all I can offer you at this moment; Besides, appetite is the best of cooks, and you don't lack it, I think.
- Ah! good father Benno, answered the chevalier, I hardly think at this moment of eating and drinking; I'm so distressed...
"You must never be," interrupted Father Benno; you must constantly think that the very afflictions come to us from the hand of God. Come, knight, empty this cup: wine expands and revives the heart of man. Do not reject the gifts of Heaven. To your health, long live happy hearts! and may God comfort and rejoice the melancholic, so that they may again become happy. Let's toast.
- Alas! sighed the knight, yes, may God console and rejoice the melancholy, and may he preserve the happy from sufferings as cruel as mine.
- What! suffering is not such a great evil as one imagines. God is a good father, his designs are always wise; when he sends us reverses, he gives us the opportunity either to correct our faults or to strengthen ourselves in virtue. Besides, our sufferings are transient like all the phenomena of nature. The sun cannot shine continuously; winds and storms are also good for the earth. It took both rain and fine weather to ripen the generous wine that shines in this cup and gushes out in liquid pearls. Happiness and unhappiness are alike necessary to form noble characters and produce lofty and generous feelings. What do I see ! a tear escapes from your eyes... I respect your sharp pain; but, whatever the motive, believe me, take heart. The weather of rain, storms and thunder does not always last, and for you too will shine more serene days.
"No, never, never for me," sighed the chevalier; and his sorrowful gaze was fixed on the earth.
- Why no ? where does this discouragement come from? I too, as you see me, have suffered a lot. I was once a valiant warrior; I have witnessed many battles, suffered many privations and fatigues, just as I have lived in many castles and tasted the evils as well as the pleasures of life. A cursed arrow, by smashing my right arm, closed my military career. From then on, all imaginable misfortunes came crashing down on me. But today I thank God for the evils he has sent me even more than for the enjoyments he has given me; prosperity intoxicated me, adversity brought me back to wisdom and moderation. At first I believed that I would never laugh heartily, and that for me there would no longer be either joy or tranquility on earth. I took the world in disgust. I retired to these wild rocks: it is here, in this silent and solitary cell, that God gave me peace and rest. Thanks to his providence, everything ends well here below: open your soul to hope, and console yourself like me.
"It is difficult for me to believe, my good father, that your sufferings have equaled mine." I am going to tell you the story of my misfortunes, and you will judge.
"Yes, knight, tell me about your pains, it will relieve you, and I will listen to you with the liveliest interest." »
The stranger began thus: “I am the Chevalier Adelbert de Haute-Roche, only son of Count Cuno de Haute-Roche.
- What! exclaimed Renno, you are the son of the late Count of Haute-Roche! then be a thousand times welcome. Your father was a noble and valiant knight; I knew him well, for I served under him. His castle stood majestically on the top of a wooded mountain, like the crown on the head of a king. All the surroundings, fields, forests, meadows, as far as the view could extend from the top of the castle, depended on his domain. All the inhabitants of the valley were his vassals. Your mother, may God have her in his holy keeping! was an accomplished lady, a truly pious and charitable soul. You too, dear Adelbert, I saw you several times when you were still only a beautiful child, shining with freshness and health. You were only six years old then, and I doubt if you can remember noticing me among the crowd of your father's men-at-arms; but I still remember very well the cries of enthusiasm with which we used to greet you each time that, on returning from a campaign, we were assembled for the review on the place d'armes of the castle of Haute-Savoie. Roche, and that your father was walking you through our ranks.
“Oh! my God, how time flies! You was just a child then, and here you are a man in the full vigor of age. Oh ! I cannot express to you what joy I feel in my old age to see again in you, my dear Adelbert, the son of the illustrious leader who led us to battles and to victory. »
The knight affectionately shook hands with the venerable hermit, and said to him: “I do not remember ever seeing you; but I am delighted to meet here, in such an unforeseen manner, one of my father's brave comrades-in-arms; this happy meeting encourages me even more to share my misfortunes with you. So I continue:
“After the premature death of my parents, the Chevalier 0thon d'Apremont, my father's childhood friend, took me to his castle, which was several days' walk from the one where I was born. There he gave me a careful education, and later he granted me in marriage his daughter Théolinde, whose ravishing beauty was still the least of the advantages; it would be impossible for me to describe to you his kindness, his modesty, his piety, his affability and his gentleness. We came to live in the Chateau de Haute-Roche, where my wife soon made herself loved and cherished as the model of all virtues. A year later, she gave birth to a charming child, whom we named Adelina, and who surpassed in beauty all the children I had seen up to that time. Already this child was beginning to grow, already her eyes knew me, already she was stretching out her arms to me with an angelic smile, and was beginning to stammer out the names of papa and mama, when suddenly war broke out, and I was called In the Army. We had to leave, our farewells were heartbreaking; the child, it is true, still did not understand what was going on; but his mother, my tender wife, fell fainting into my arms..."
The knight wiped away a tear that moistened his eyelids, then he resumed his story:
“You know what an unfortunate turn the war took. The superiority of numbers overwhelmed us. Soon we saw our countryside invaded, our castles sacked, our towns and villages ravaged by sword and fire. The disastrous news we received daily in the army, and my anxiety about the fate of my wife and my child, finally determined me, not being able to leave my post, to send one of my squires, disguised as a pilgrim, to the castle of Haute-Roche, to see what was going on there, and I anxiously awaited his return. But
my faithful squire did not return, I have heard no more of him, and I do not know what has become of him. You can well imagine in what perplexity I was then. All day we fought the enemies, and at night sorrow and anxiety prevented me from closing my eyes.
“Peace was finally concluded, I returned to my homes. But what a sad sight met my eyes! from a distance I saw my dungeons half destroyed, and of my father's castle I found only the ruins; the enemy, in retreating, had set it on fire. The village below the castle had also been engulfed in flames. The unfortunate peasants, who had built miserable pine huts near their houses which had been reduced to ashes, uttered cries of pain and joy when they saw me again. It was from them that I learned the terrible news of the death of my wife and her daughter. “The good lady,” they said, “seeking to escape the domination of the enemy, wanted to cross during the night the torrent which bathes the walls of the castle, but she perished in the waves with her child; for the next day the little boat was found overturned, and a sail caught in the reeds on the shore. I was heartbroken when I rode up the mountain to my castle to see inside. Burning tears ran down my cheeks as I wandered among the rubble, and my eyes still sought and examined the places where I had spent such a sweet childhood, where I had tasted so much happiness as a husband and as a father. . These immense ruins offered me the image of my annihilated happiness; I spent the whole night seated on a fallen pillar, and I leaned my heavy head against a section of wall still blackened by the devastating flames; my tired eyes called for sleep, but in vain. A thousand times my eyes were fixed on the sky, loaded with dark clouds. Alas! I found myself in the very place where our little family drawing-room used to be, and where during long stormy evenings I sat in front of the paternal hearth, near Théolinde, with brave and faithful friends. When I recalled those sweet memories, the rain was falling in a hurry, the storm was roaring in these half-open walls, and I could not have found shelter there against the fury of the storm... Since that time my castle has been rebuilt, the houses of my good peasants have been rebuilt; my happiness alone, the happiness of my life, destroyed from top to bottom, can never be restored.
"But you didn't tell me," observed Benno, "where did you get that wound, the scar of which I can still see on your cheek?"
"This," replied Adelbert, "still brings back a cruel memory to me." We had in our army corps a knight little esteemed because of his disloyal character, known as a spendthrift, and to whom all means were good to obtain money. One evening we were with several other leaders in a meeting, joyfully celebrating, glass in hand, an advantage we had just won over the enemy. This knight, named Stein, intentionally, I believe, dropped the conversation to the wedding ring which I then wore on my finger, and which I never took off day or night. Stein offered me the bet that in the space of twenty-four hours he would be able to pull the ring off my finger without my noticing. The thing, which at that moment I regarded as impossible, nevertheless came true the following night. Stein had probably slipped a narcotic into my glass, and he took advantage of my sleep to steal the ring from me, because the next morning I noticed that it had disappeared. I paid the wager and asked for my ring again; but Stein, as disloyal as he was quarrelsome, disputed it with me, on the pretext that it was included in the wager and had become his property. This cherished pledge of my beloved Théolinde was too precious to me to renounce it so easily; the result was an all-out fight in which my adversary knocked me down with a sword thrust through the face; and before my wound was healed, Stein had left the army and fled. Later I learned with certainty that this disloyal man had allowed himself to be won over by one of the chiefs of the enemy army to take this jewel from me, and that he had received a considerable sum for it. And yet I still cannot conceive what motive the foreigner could have induced to procure at such a high price a jewel which, for anyone but me, was almost worthless. Still, the most infernal ruse deprived me of the most precious memory I had of my dear Theolinde. »
At these words, Adelbert cast around him sad and gloomy glances, when suddenly his eyes met the harp, suspended from the tree, at the entrance of the hermitage. “Here is an instrument,” he said, “which still reminds me of my poor Theolinde. She loved the harp, she played it admirably, accompanying it with a melodious voice. I remember that one morning, it was before our wedding, I presented her with a small bouquet made up of lily of the valley, violets and forget-me-nots, these were her favorite flowers. In the evening of the same day she said to me with a charming smile: “See, my Adelbert, the lovely little bouquet you gave me this morning, I carried it on my bosom; already it is almost withered; but here is another small bouquet that I offer you in my turn; for this you will plant it in your heart, and it will remain there. Then she sang me a ballad which she had composed herself about her three favorite flowers, and which will always remain engraved in my memory.
"Would you be kind enough," said Benno, "to sing me this ballad composed by your late Theolinde?" I will gladly accompany you on the harp as soon as I have caught the air. »
Adelbert began to sing, while Benno accompanied him on the harp.
Among the flowers of the meadow That God created to beautify it, I love three; their modesty always charms my memory. Youth makes garlands of them To adorn the coquettish hat; I, who intend them for offerings, unite them in a bouquet.
Symbol of sweet innocence, The lily of the valley, with its white flower, In honor of Providence, Exhales its sweet odor. Slender of its green foliage, Each button, while blooming, Seems to pay a sincere homage. To the glory of the Almighty.
The tender and sweet violet, Who hides under the grass, Humbly opens her bell To embalm the air of the valley. She complacently spreads Her sweet perfumes, her simple flowers Emblem of benevolence, She smiles at all hearts.
When the beneficent dew Has refreshed the burning ground, More beautiful we see the germander Open its charming chalice. Ceaselessly it renews itself Of the day so bright braving the ardor: It is the image always faithful Of friendship, of true happiness.
Receive these three lovely flowers That my hand picked for you; Their perfumes, their tender colors Outweigh the prettiest. Your heart must say when you see them: Of the virtues they are the emblem; Dear spouse, in imitating them, One finds supreme happiness.
This romance singularly pleased the venerable anchorite, and he insisted that the Chevalier Adelbert should pass the whole day at the hermitage. Benno promised to act as his guide himself the next morning; consequently the little shepherd who had shown the way to Adelbert was sent back to his parents.
The young shepherdess.
Since the death of Jacques, the resources of the unfortunate Mathilde had experienced a sharp decline. This good and honest old man had had the talent to procure a certain and advantageous outlet. to the needlework of the poor widow. Many people to whom his age and his engaging manners had inspired interest, gave him new orders rather out of regard for him than out of compassion for the unfortunate lady whom they did not know. Also the poor Countess sometimes had so much work to do that she happened to prolong her vigils very late. In addition, several charitable ladies, at the request of this devoted servant, sent rather abundant supplies of food.
The death of Jacques dried up these resources: the reduction in revenue due to the lack of orders and the suspension of supplies no longer made it possible to meet the necessary expenses. Deprivations of all kinds weakened Mathilde's health so much that she could only walk with the aid of a stick. In the end, she fell into such dejection that she was forced to stay in bed for several weeks. However, a few feeble aids, which came at the right time, somewhat revived his strength, or rather his courage; she got up, and, dressed in her dress of deep mourning, covered with a black veil, leaning on a stick, she left her cabin, sat down on a bench of moss, and placed her work basket beside her. 'She. "O my God," she said, raising her veil and casting around her a look of melancholy satisfaction, "it had been so long since I had been under that beautiful azure sky!" For many days I have seen the green foliage of the trees only through the narrow windows of my hut! How long these three weeks spent on my bed of pain seemed to me! With what happiness I come here to breathe this air so soft and so fresh! Thanks, thanks be to you, O my God, who have condescended to restore me to health. Yet I still feel weak, very weak..."
She took her work and wanted to start sewing; but, seeing that she did not have the strength, she said with a sigh: “I cannot, it is impossible; my eyes are troubled, my hand is shaking; I am in no condition to make a single point..., and yet we have to, we have no more bread; yesterday we ate our last morsel. At this moment the slightest food would revive me. So she tried to work, but the work fell from her failing hands; and she went on again: "It's impossible." My God ! how will I do? how to feed my daughter and me? Will we have to starve in this desert? Oh my God ! my God ! she exclaimed in a painful accent, have you forgotten us? do you no longer think of us? Oh ! at least send us consolations and hope, if you do not want to send us help. A torrent of tears escaped from her eyes; she sat down again and rested her head on one of her hands. " I feel bad. Alas! my soul is discouraged, and an enormous weight oppresses my heart! »
At this moment Agnès, returning from the mountain with a little basket on her arm, ran up to her mother and said: “Alas! my poor mother, I come back with my basket empty; I have presented myself in vain at several doors to ask for charity, I have not been given a single morsel of bread. Since good old Jacques died, the people he recommended us to have changed a lot. “Poverty, they told me, is too great in these mountains, we don't have too much bread for ourselves. “On my way back, I picked some strawberries for you; that's all I could find; but of what use will this little fruit be to us?
'Never mind,' said the mother, 'it's always something, and however weak this help may be, let's give thanks to God. »
Agnès looked at her mother, and then seeing her eyes swollen with tears, she kissed her and said: "You cried again." Don't cry anymore, dear mother, I can't see you crying, it pains me so much. Oh, don't cry any more, please!
— Calm down, my child, you see that I am smiling at you.
- Yes, but you do not smile at me willingly. Ah! my God, how pale you are! I fear that you will become ill again; don't worry so much; it would make me sick too: when I see you suffer, I suffer as much as you.
“Reassure yourself, my child; you see, since I ate some of those strawberries you brought me, I feel a little better; eat the rest.
- Oh ! no, I will not take one; they are all for you, I am not hungry; and besides, I couldn't eat, I'm so sad. »
Then Mathilde, greatly moved, hugged her daughter tenderly to her heart, then suddenly told her to go to the hut to pick up the linen and the most necessary clothes and bring them to her. It was to keep her away for a few moments, so that she wouldn't see the tears she no longer felt the strength to hold back. "How unhappy I am, she cried as soon as she saw herself. alone, especially to see this dear child suffer! Alas! it is already very hard to see oneself reduced to the necessity of begging for one's bread; but how cruel it is to beg without obtaining anything!.... There remains no other course for me to take than to leave this asylum, and to go with my child to seek a less deserted and more hospitable country, risk of falling into the hands of my enemies... O God of goodness, be my protector, deign to shield me from all their research. »
However, Agnes was not long in returning to her mother, carrying under her arm a small traveling package and her lute in the other hand. “Come, my dear daughter, we are going to leave this hut, we cannot stay there without exposing ourselves to dying of hunger. But before leaving we must pray to the Lord to guide our uncertain walk. Then the mother and the daughter knelt down and addressed to Heaven this invocation: "Almighty God, merciful and kind Father, we thank you for the benefits you have made us enjoy in this small corner of the immense earth. that you have created; deign to protect us still, guide our steps towards a hospitable country, and make us find people whose heart is open to pity. »
After having also addressed a fervent invocation to the Blessed Virgin, protectress of the unfortunate, Mathilde gave her hand to her daughter, and they set off. But no sooner had she tried to walk than she fell from weakness on a block of granite. At this sight, Agnes, in despair, uttered piercing cries. " Oh ! mom, mom, she said, don't die, please. »
Mathilde opened her eyes again, and shortly afterwards her spirits revived; however, the excess of her misfortune caused her to shed tears in abundance.
“Alas! she cried, moaning, never before have I felt so unhappy and so discouraged as today. Agnès, dear Agnès, help me in my prayers, so that my trust in God and in his holy providence does not abandon me in this terrible ordeal. »
Mathilde didn't have the strength to say more, her tears flowed again, and she leaned her weakened head against an angle of the rock. Agnes, believing that her mother was going to lose consciousness again, rushed towards her, supported her in her arms, and exclaimed in a painful accent, “Is there no one here who can help us? Gracious God, come to our aid! »
While making this pious exclamation she had knelt down, and held her gaze and clasped hands raised to heaven. In the midst of her fervent prayers for her mother, she suddenly heard in the distance a soft voice singing the following words:
Tell me where these alarms come from, Where does the pallor of your features come from? Doesn't God dry the tears Of who deserves his blessings?
Agnès, surprised, delighted, said in a low voice to her mother: “Do you hear, Mama? listen, how beautiful!
"Yes," said Mathilde; »
However the voice approaches and continues to sing:
See the brilliance of these brilliant flowers That the Creator gave birth to: When the sun makes them ill, God knows how to restore their freshness.
Listen to the joyous song Of these birds which in the air Pay eloquent homage To the powerful God of the universe. , right, mom?
'Yes, no doubt, my dear girl. He who feeds the birds will certainly provide for our sustenance and will not forget us. »
The voice came still nearer, and the two unfortunates heard very distinctly the following couplet: Weep no more! Providence will sympathize with your misfortunes; Place your hope in God, He will never forget you. very well, exclaimed Agnes enthusiastically, clapping her hands. That's exactly what I was saying. Did you hear it? Won't you, dear mother, she added, kissing her and wiping away her mother's tears, won't you cry no more?
"No, my good Agnes," replied the chatelaine; no, no, I won't cry anymore. I blame myself now for my lack of faith. God strengthened and comforted me in the most touching way. »
While the mother and daughter were still conversing on this subject, and trying to find out where this melodious voice could come from, they saw a young shepherdess descending into a ravine between two rocks; she ferreted anxiously through all the bushes, and said, "Where can my lamb be hidden?" Provided he did not fall into some precipice. I've been looking everywhere for him for a long time, in vain; never before have I advanced so far into the mountains. She looked carefully at the surrounding rocks for orientation; on discovering the valley, she resolved to descend there to regain her herd by a less arduous route. When she saw Mathilde and Agnès: “Heavens! she cried, there are strangers, let's flee!
- Oh ! no, don't go away, good shepherdess, said Mathilde to her in a gentle voice; have no fear, and come to our aid if you can: we are poor and unfortunate.
- Oh my God! said the shepherdess, tell me quickly how I can be of use to you. »
Agnes hastened to tell him that since the day before at noon her mother had eaten nothing but a few strawberries.
“Oh! How glad I am to still have my whole breakfast! exclaimed the compassionate shepherdess, immediately opening her hand-basket, from which she took out bread, a stone jug, and an earthen bowl. "Take, eat," she said; this bread is excellent: here is sheep's milk; and she poured some into the bowl. “Drink, it is sweet and pleasant. Here are some more fruits, your young lady must love them; here, my dear little one, take them, and here is a little more bread. »
Mathilde and Agnès ate with delight the breakfast which came to them in such an unexpected manner; then Mathilde, shaking affectionately the hand of the young shepherdess, said to her with emotion: “I thank you, my good child; you are for me an angel from heaven whom God sent to me at the height of my distress. Your kindness saved my life; without you I would have died of hunger. »
The shepherdess interrupted these tokens of gratitude with this question: "But how do you find yourself in this sterile and absolutely deserted part of the mountain?" How can you live in this miserable hut, so far from any human society? You are poor and unfortunate, come with me, I will lead you to a country inhabited by brave people who will not leave you without help.
— Alas! my good daughter, answered Mathilde, I am too weak to be able to leave these places; I have been ill for several weeks, and my strength has not yet returned to me to undertake a long race.
"It is very unfortunate," said the shepherdess; so, how to do? I would like to bring you food every day; but it is too far from here, and we are poor ourselves.
— Don't worry, my dear child, said Mathilde, God has just rescued me for the moment, he will continue to do so. Your charitable gifts have already revived me. Heaven, which does not leave a glass of water unrewarded, will reward you for the bread and milk you have given me.
- Yes ! added Agnès in her turn, I also thank you for your charitable action. But now you yourself will be hungry, because you have deprived yourself of your lunch.
- Oh! it's nothing, I wish I had something better to offer you. Don't talk about that anymore.
"I owe you a double gratitude," continued Mathilde again; for if your milk and your bread have revived my body, your sweet and pleasant songs have strengthened my suffering soul. They seemed to come down from heaven to comfort us.
"So you really like this song?" replied the shepherdess: oh! I know a host of others no less beautiful. My greatest pleasure is to sing and to hear singing; it has often happened to me to give a young lamb for a new romance. »
Mathilde, charmed to have found a way to show her gratitude to her young benefactress, ordered Agnes to take the lute and sing her some tune. Agnès, who had already made notable progress on this instrument, hastened to obey, and, after a brilliant prelude, she began to sing the following romance:
In her pretty garden, Blandine had a small shrub that her hand watered. The poor, young shrub, in its first year, Had only one cherry attached to its branch; But if this fruit alone hung from its branch, As rare as it was, as beautiful as it was.
Blandine, jumping with joy and happiness, Plucked this unique fruit, and in her lively ardor Ran with transport to bring it to her mother. Take it, good mother, I prefer you to everything. The mother refuses it instead of accepting it, and we see a tear shining in her eyes.
This cherry was promptly forgotten; The season passed; but the following year, In her garden, Blandine, while walking at random, Saw a cherry tree offer itself to her gaze; It was magnificent and a happy omen: A thousand tasty fruits shone under its foliage.
The mother, in her arms embracing her child, Covered her tenderly with maternal kisses. See, she said, this tree, it surprises you, It was born from the pit of the single cherry. In his wisdom God always rewards the good that the child does to the authors of his days.
" How beautiful! how touching! cried the young shepherdess, clapping her hands and jumping for joy, and what harmonious sounds! I have never heard anything like it before. The shepherds of our mountains only know the chalumeau, the cornet and the musette. Oh ! come with me. Skilled as you are, it will be easy for you to earn a living and provide for your mother. Even if we had no pity for your misery, we would be delighted with your song; we would gladly give you everything we have in our mountains: bread and milk, butter and eggs, hemp and wool. Come, come with me.
— My child, said Mathilde, you give me an idea which comes, I believe, from Heaven. Yes, dear Agnès, go to the keeping of God; go sing at the doors of the houses, and thus try to feed yourself and your mother.
'Yes, my dear mother,' replied Agnes, 'I will obey you; and, if necessary, to feed you I would go to the end of the world, walking barefoot on sharp stones and by paths bristling with thorns. »
It was therefore resolved that Agnes would set out, guided by the young shepherdess, and that she would try to gain something by song and music. The separation was painful and painful for mother and daughter; the idea that this absence would last only two or three days was the only thing capable of calming their pain. Mathilde's eyes followed the steps of her darling daughter until at last the latter, having reached the top of the mountain, disappeared behind the foliage of the dark pines.
Agnes asks for alms.
Plunged in sadness and deep reverie, Agnès, her lute under her arm, walked beside the shepherdess. Her excessive shyness, a natural consequence of the solitude in which she had been brought up, embarrassed her greatly. She dared not think of the necessity of singing in front of everyone to receive alms. However great the tenderness she felt for her mother, however willing she felt to do everything in her power to relieve her, she nevertheless understood all that the execution of the promise she had done was going to be painful and bitter. The closer she approached the end of her journey, the more she saw her courage weaken. The young shepherdess, who, on the way, had just found her lamb huddled in the brushwood between two blocks of rocks, and who was carrying it under her arm, did her best to combat the scruples of her fearful companion, and to inspire him with more boldness. At last the pious Agnes raised her gaze to heaven; the image of his starving mother came to his mind; so she prayed inwardly to God to strengthen her heart and her soul from that moment in that moment of painful trial. From that moment his eyes opened, so to speak; she recognized her duty so distinctly that she succeeded in overcoming her timidity and took the courageous resolution to undertake everything with the help of God to lessen the horrible distress of her dear mother.
While she was in this happy state of mind, our two young people arrived in a charming valley, surrounded on all sides by verdant hills. A great number of peasant huts could be seen scattered here and there; however there were also a few on the hills. These houses were very low; the roofs, very flattened, covered with slates, were laden with heavy stones to prevent the roof from being carried away by the hurricane. These houses had shutters painted mostly red or green; fine moral and religious sentences adorned their white walls. This custom is general in the villages of Switzerland and the Alps.
Among these pretty dwellings stood out a charming smallholding surrounded by an orchard and lined with vines. In front of the door there was a superb lime tree, under the shade of which the owner had built a rustic bench and a table.
“Do you see this smallholding? said the shepherdess to Agnes, showing it to her: it is inhabited by the best people in the country. First go and start singing in front of this house; I recommend it to you, and I am sure that the warm welcome you will receive there will induce you to try your luck afterwards in front of the other habitations. In the meantime I will take my lamb home. My mother will be glad to see that I have found it, for we thought it was lost. When you're done here, you'll head straight for the two fir trees you see over there. There you will see a cabin, and you will follow a pretty little path which will lead you there through the meadows: this is my home; I will wait for you there. Come on, goodbye, and may the good God and his divine Mother protect you! »
When the young shepherdess had left, Agnès began to tune her lute. However, his heart was beating again. “Alas! she exclaimed, "so I'm going to sing for bread." Ah! I feel more like crying than singing, it seems so humiliating to me... But no, let's not blush at our poverty; it would only be dishonorable if it were deserved, just as the greatest undeserved wealth does no honor. Come on, be brave! And, standing in front of the door of the farmhouse, she began to sing, accompanying herself with her lute, the following ballad:
A child was having fun On the green meadow Which borders the forest Near the hotel. Through the reeds, At the edge of a tranquil lake, On the limpid waters 11 sees a shining rose.
The reckless child Soars to pick it. Fickle, improvident, Towards the lake he advances. Stop, said his mother, Flee from such great danger! My son, stay behind, Be careful not to advance.
The child, without listening to This advice from his mother, Plucks without hesitation The spring rose. But soon under his feet The ground sinks!... He slips!... And finds death In the dreadful precipice.
By her heartrending cries Her desolate mother Attracts children From all over the country. Listen to your parents, She said earnestly: You see what disobedience leads to.
While Agnès was singing thus, a window of the farmhouse opened, and three children of the farmer, with fresh complexions like the rose, placed themselves there to listen better, while the peasant woman went to the door, and expressed her satisfaction by his faces and his gestures. And she said to herself, after having carefully looked at Agnès: My God! how could this child have come to our mountains? From her costume, I judge that she must be a foreigner; her shy and delicate demeanor indicates that she must be of good family, perhaps even a noblewoman.
After these inward reflections, the peasant woman approached the little musician and said to her in a benevolent tone: "God bless you (susual greeting of the mountain dwellers of Helvetia and Tyrol), my dear little one! your voice resembles that of an angel, and doubtless you also equal the angels in virtue and gentleness. What could I offer you in return for the pleasure your song has given me?..."
Agnès, completely reassured by the affability of this good woman, answered him in a timid voice: “Ah! I am very hungry; if you would give me some milk and bread for God's sake?
"Yes, my dear little one, I'll satisfy you right away, wait for me," said the peasant woman as she entered the house. A moment later, her three children, Georges, Rose and Lisette, came out of the farm, and, surrounding the young stranger, they cried to her: “Oh! another little song, again; sing us one; we beg you, a lively and cheerful air. »
Agnes willingly yielded to the wishes of these amiable children; after having preluded, she sang the following piece:
SONG OF THE LARK
The happy lark Soars through the air. Listen, she sings Un sublime concert. God! God! God! God! God ! God ! God ! God !
God ! Supreme God! God ! I sing, God! God ! God whom I love, be blessed, my God. God ! God! God ! God ! God ! God ! God ! God !
To praise you, O my Father, Is my only law. Hear my prayer, which rises to you. God! God! God! God! God ! God ! God ! God !
" Cheer ! cheer ! exclaimed the children transported with joy: we thank you, kind stranger.
"But it's not enough to give thanks," exclaimed little Georges. refrain ele each of the verses, the cry of the quail. Let's start. »
SONG OF THE QUAIL
From the rising dawn, In its joyful accents, The vigilant quail Rises towards the heavens, Listen, she says: Get out of bed, get out of bed, Get out of bed, get out of bed.
The provident quail Calls towards noon, In the burning plain, The sleeping reaper: Let's go quickly, to work, To work, to work, to work, to work!
When the light breeze Makes itself felt in the evening, The messenger quail Seems to say good evening; Singing she says: Good night, good night! Good night Good Night!
No sooner had Georges finished singing than the peasant woman returned, bearing, on a very clean wooden plate garnished with a vine leaf, bread and fresh butter. "Here, my dear child," she said to Agnès, "here's some fresh butter, I've just made it just now."
"You are very kind," replied Agnes; I thank you a thousand and a thousand times. And she cut a slice of bread on which she spread butter; she ate one with a very good appetite, then she refused to eat the rest.
“But eat, my dear child,” said the peasant woman; you did well today, you must be hungry.
— No, thank you, I have eaten enough; but, if you allow me, I will take the rest of this sandwich to my mother.
"Look, my children," said the peasant woman, "how this little one loves her mother!" she is hungry, however she does not eat everything that is given to her, she keeps the biggest piece for her mother! Ah! my children, take example from this good little one... Go, my daughter, always eat, don't be embarrassed. I will fill your basket with bread, butter and fruit for your mother. »
During this conversation Father Benno the hermit was seen to arrive, and, according to his custom, he distributed small images and medals to the children, to which they showed great joy. When the venerable hermit saw little Agnès, he said to the peasant woman:
"'What is this little one? a lute player, I see; and, after looking at her carefully, he added to himself-. Sky ! this child is as pretty as an angel, and what an air of sweetness and modesty! my child, he went on, addressing Agnes, play and sing us something, the most beautiful thing you know, but only a couplet.
"Of my finest romance?" asked Agnes: well, I'm going to sing you the couplet of the lily of the valley.
"Very well," said Father Benno. Lily of the valley, the flower of innocence, your emblem. Come on, sing it to us. »
Agnes immediately took her lute, tuned it again, and preluded for a moment. When Benno noticed the graceful way in which she held her instrument, and the elegance of her pose, he could not help exclaiming in surprise:
“Verily, here is a perfect game, this young girl did not have an ordinary master. »
Symbol of sweet innocence, The lily of the valley, with its white flower, In honor of Providence, Exhales its sweet odor. Slender with its green foliage, Each bud, in bloom, Seems to pay sincere homage To the glory of the Almighty.
What was Benno's surprise when he recognized one of the verses of the romance which the Chevalier Adelbert had sung to him that morning, asserting that no one knew it, and had never known it, except his late wife! At first he suspected that the little lute player might well be Adelbert's daughter. But when, after questioning her, he learned that the little one was called Agnès, and her mother Mathilde, that she did not remember having had any other home than a puny cabin in the middle of the mountains, where her mother had lived on the produce of her labor until sickness and lack of work had reduced her to the most dreadful misery. Benno rejected this first supposition; then he thought that this lady Mathilde, who had taught her daughter the romance in question, might well be an intimate friend of Théolinde, wife of the Chevalier Adelbert.
He therefore resolved to go immediately with Agnès and the young shepherdess to find the unfortunate Mathilde: first, to offer this lady the help she might need, and, still more, in the secret hope to learn some consoling news for the knight. He begged the farmer's wife to prepare a fowl and some other dishes for the stranger whom he had received in the morning at his house, and to send them to him by her husband at the hermitage. Benno therefore made his way towards the solitary dwelling of Mathilde; Agnes and the young shepherdess accompanied him. Along the way, he never stopped asking little Agnes a host of questions trying to find out who this Mathilde might be. But the poor child did not know how to reply to him which gave the slightest explanation of the obscure and mysterious existence of her mother.
That day happened to be the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entrance of the venerable Benno into his hermitage; it was a day of celebration for the whole country. While he was climbing the mountain to offer help and consolation to the unfortunate lady, all the inhabitants of the neighborhood had gathered to adorn his cell with flowers, shrubs and garlands, and thus provide him with a pleasant surprise. on his return.
The countess is recognized.
Never had a day seemed so long and so sad to poor Mathilde as that of Agnes' departure. She could not live without her dear child: dark anxieties tormented her maternal heart.
O Heaven! she said to herself, so long as no misfortune happens to her, so long as she returns happily to my arms! O God of goodness, you who are my only support, my only hope, deign to protect my daughter.
Then she left her cabin, holding in her hand a garland of flowers with which she wished to adorn the trunk of her favorite tree; on the bark of this tree she had engraved the name of her husband, Adelbert. Every day Agnès was in charge of spreading new flowers at the foot of this beech. In this moment
ment, Mathilde replaced her in the care of adorning the only monument erected in memory of the husband she had loved so much, and for whom her tears still flowed. This sad occupation awakened painful memories in his soul. To amuse herself, and remembering the good that the song of the young shepherdess had done her again in the morning, she began to sing in a soft and melodious voice the stanzas of a pious canticle:
Life is a tough job, A path bristling with shackles, And traversing it entirely Is the work of the strong and the brave. Yet we see many a flower there, Even, on the wild rock: Beneficent God, Creator God, Everywhere I admire your work.
O sweet hope! it is in the heavens that he lives radiant with light. In this delightful abode One enjoys complete peace. I will pursue my career with ardor Courageously, Since you give me, Lord, The strength that I need.
While Mathilde was still singing the last stanzas, Benno came out from behind a rock and stopped to gaze at her. Mathilde, on seeing him, uttered a cry of terror. " Sky ! what do I see ! a stranger, a hermit! Benno then approached, bowed to her respectfully, and said, "God bless you, noble lady!" Forgive me if I interrupt you in your solitary retreat.
"It is rather I who must ask your forgiveness, venerable father, for having embarrassed you by my fright." In the solitary life that I lead here, I never see any human being, except some chamois hunter or some shepherdess coming to look for a lost goat. They all promised me not to tell anyone about my retirement. This very morning I met a shepherdess, and, in asking her to guide my daughter to the next village, I forgot to recommend her silence on my account. Would she have revealed my secret asylum?
"Reassure yourself, noble lady," replied Benno; I do not come with the intention of harming you.
"Since that is so, take off your cloak and stick, and sit down." »
Benno obeyed, and, after taking his place on the grassy bench, he said:
“I come in the hope of healing a sick heart.
'If it's mine you're talking about, I admit he's very ill; but her wound is such that only God can heal her. The earth has no more consolation for me, there is no longer any hope here below for me. All I ask of this earth, while waiting for it to receive me into its bosom, is a little bread. If you can get me some, please do.
'If that's all that troubles you,' Benno went on, 'it will be easy to satisfy you.
"There's still another worry that overwhelms me," continued Mathilde; I have an only child, and that is my only consolation in this world. It pains me to see her vegetate in the midst of these dreadful rocks, deprived of an education worthy of the rank in which she was born. My venerable father, you seem to me a wise man, matured by experience. No doubt you haven't always worn this homespun robe: your language, your manners announce that you once lived among the noble knights. Perhaps you are the man whom God sends me to improve the lot of my poor daughter.
'Yes,' said Benno, 'that's what brings me here; I have seen your daughter: she is charming as an angel, and her fate filled me with the liveliest pity.
"Have you seen her?" exclaimed Mathilde: where? Did some misfortune happen to him?
"No, calm down," resumed Benno; the same young shepherdess who this morning served as her guide, in a quarter of an hour will bring her back to you in good health. I took the initiative, because it was important to me above all to have a private interview with you.
“Your daughter has found a way to earn a living which later could become disastrous to her. I have a friend, a man of noble and generous character, from whom death took his only daughter. When I saw your child, the idea occurred to me that he might adopt it. The friendliness of your young Agnès and her angelic gentleness, as well as her voice and her talent for playing the lute, will prevent him in her favour, and this all the more so since the little one is experiencing a romance that will go straight to her heart. This adoption would soften my friend's grief: your Agnes would find a sure fate with her new father, and probably you too. But above all it is necessary that I know your origin and the history of your misfortunes. Trust my gray hair, noble lady. Remember that he who speaks to you is an old man who has the entrails of a father for you. God, who sees me, knows the sincerity of my intentions.
"I believe you, my venerable father," replied Mathilde, "and my confidence in you is complete." You are going to know my whole story, I won't hide anything from you.
"Certainly, your misfortunes must have been very great to force you to relegate yourselves to this wild and desert country, and I will listen to you with keen interest." »
Mathilde began: “I am Théolinde, only daughter of the Chevalier Othon d'Apremont. »
The good hermit uttered a cry of surprise: “O Heaven! it's herself! »
Mathilde, who noticed this movement, was surprised in her turn. In an almost trembling voice she asked Benno: "Where does this emotion come from, good father?" is it my name? Would you be my enemies? No, venerable father, I cannot believe it.
"No, don't worry, my noble lady," replied Benno. But your daughter told me your name was Mathilde.
'Don't let that surprise you: it's that she herself doesn't know my real name. Listen to me, and everything will be clear. »
Mathilde related to the attentive hermit all the events of her life, from her marriage to the Chevalier Adelbert, to the death of her old and faithful servant Jacques; then she ended thus: "After the loss of this brave man, we lived, my daughter and I, in the most frightful misery." However, I adore the decrees of divine providence. It is better to be poor and just than rich and criminal. »
This story touched the good Father Benno to the bottom of his heart; he could not hear it without shedding tears of tenderness. Good God, he said to himself, what joy these two spouses will have to meet again! they believe themselves dead, reciprocally, and both will meet again in this world. How well you know how to console the afflicted, O celestial Father of men! give me the grace to be able to tell her of her happiness without her dying of joy.
Then, addressing Mathilde, he said to her: “Noble lady, you cannot imagine the happiness I feel in assuring you that your misfortunes are over. Grimmo de Durcoin, your persecutor, no longer exists: in an all-out fight with the son of one of his victims, he received the just reward for his crimes. As for your husband, I have strong reasons to doubt that he is dead. The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that he is still alive. Perhaps the news of his death was just a trick by your pursuer. »
In vain Mathilde objected to the dismissal of the nuptial ring by one of her husband's pages; Benno replied that human perversity often resorts to the most infamous means to satisfy its brutal passions; that, for example, it would not be impossible that the nuptial ring had been maliciously stolen from the knight Adelbert with the design of giving credence to the false news of his death.
At these words, the melancholy features of the unfortunate Mathilde seemed to be animated by a ray of hope and happiness. An unexpected light seemed to enter his mind. The mere idea that her adored husband would still be alive, a glimmer of hope, a shadow of likelihood, the very mere possibility, everything gave her new life. She got up quickly and exclaimed: “O pious hermit, what are you saying to me! My persecutor is dead... My husband would still live... In the name of Heaven, provide me with the means to leave this country. Let's go, let's go out, let's get my Adelbert, even if he's at the end of the world. »
Benno, finding the lady more disposed than he had expected to receive such news without a shock, then resolved to give her a better foreboding of the certainty of her future happiness. So he spoke again: 'Your husband was called Adelbert de Haute-Roche, you say; that name is not unknown to me, we served in the same corps; I knew all the knights who perished in this fatal war; but Adelbert is not among the dead. The castle of Haute-Roche, burned by the enemy during its retreat, is rebuilt. I saw it when two years after the peace I crossed the country: the keep rises more majestically than ever towards the clouds, and I have not heard that this fief has passed to another possessor. I attended the distribution of vacant fiefs made by the Emperor, and I am certain that the fief of Haute-Roche was not on the list. Many events no less astonishing than this have happened in our day; you see it for yourself: everyone thought you were dead, and yet you are still alive. What happened once can happen again.
“Pious hermit,” interrupted Mathilde, “you know more than you say. Speak ! speak ! my presentiments tell me that Adelbert is not dead. Do not be afraid that the excess of joy will be fatal to me. Oh ! he was still alive in my heart. For me, it had never ceased to exist. In my illness, after God, he was, with my daughter, my only thought. I looked at our meeting as so soon, that every morning when I woke up, I said to myself: You will see him again today, in a few hours perhaps. I barely dreamed that death would have to come and open the doors of eternity to me. The barrier between time and eternity, between this world and the next, had disappeared in my eyes. If, therefore, I had the happiness of seeing my husband again, even at this very moment, it would only be the realization of the most ardent wish of my heart, and nothing more. Only the place and the circumstances would be quite different from what I had imagined; I would see him again, not in the other world, but in this one. So speak, speak, and hide nothing from me, I beg you. At these last words, Theolinde seized the hand of the venerable hermit, pressed it with emotion between her own, and gazed at him fixedly: "Isn't that so, my Adelbert still lives?"
— Noble lady, said Benno, I cannot see without a religious emotion what strength the belief in eternal life gives to the soul, even to that of a weak and delicate woman. Well! yes, he lives... and you will see him today. »
Scarcely were these words spoken than Theolinde fell on her knees, raised her two hands to heaven, and exclaimed with the accent of the liveliest emotion: "Deign to receive my thanksgiving, O God of goodness and of mercy; my tears of pain as well as my fervent prayers have reached your throne, and you have condescended to grant them. You prepared and brought our meeting earlier than I expected. Yes, you are the father of widows and orphans, the powerful protector of the unfortunate. We were so unhappy, we thought we were completely abandoned, and just when our distress seemed at its height, your powerful and paternal arm came to lift us up and restore us to happiness!
'Yes,' said Benno, deeply touched by this touching scene, 'this is how God often changes tears of pain into tears of joy. »
While Théolinde was still praying, Agnes arrived, followed by the young shepherdess. As soon as her mother saw her, she got up quickly, ran to her, hugged her, crying: “Agnès, Agnès, my dear daughter! rejoice! falls on his knees and thanks God. Raise your hands, your eyes, your heart to the sky. Your father, whom we thought was dead, your father is alive, you will see him today... Oh! thank you, thank God! »
What pen would be able to paint the surprise, astonishment and joy of this excellent child when she had just learned such happy and unexpected news? " Mom! she exclaimed, what are you saying to me? how, my father, he would still live! where is he, let me kiss him? O my mother, joy almost prevents me from speaking... Ah! How delighted I am to see and share your happiness! Alas! for so many years you've only been crying and moaning...
“O God, so good and so lovable,” she added with transport, falling on her knees, “how I thank you for having spread happiness and joy in the heart of my good mother! How many times, seeing her cry, have I crept secretly to the foot of the cross, on the rock, and have I begged you on my knees to send consolations to my dear mother! You have lent a favorable ear to my accents... You have listened to me, me, poor child. No, never, as long as I live, I cannot praise you enough and thank you for it. »
Then she ran again to throw herself into her mother's arms, shedding a torrent of tears.
"It's amazing," she said, "I should be jumping for joy, and I'm crying as if some misfortune had happened to me... I didn't know one could cry for joy..."
Theolinde would have liked to leave these sad places immediately, and leave at once to join her husband. She could not restrain a slight movement of impatience on seeing Father Benno, seated quietly on the grassy bench, turning and turning in his hands the lute that Agnès had just placed on the grass, and, after having considered it pensively, draw a few chords while raising your eyes to the sky. "What are you doing, good Father Benno?" Leave this instrument; let's go, lead me. Your happy message has restored my health as if by magic. Yes, I feel now that I could, like the agile chamois, climb the steep rocks and leap over the precipices. Give my daughter the lute, take your stick and your coat, and let's go as quickly as possible.
"Please, leave this lute in my hands for a while longer," replied Benno. This lute is in my eyes a sacred object; for God has used it to bring about great things. Learn with holy reverence the admirable ways of divine providence. Without this puny piece of wood, your retirement would have remained completely unknown, I would never have had the happiness of snatching you from exile and misery, I would never have known that the wife of the Chevalier Adelbert still existed, and that she dwelt in this dreadful desert; for, if you had not had this lute, you would not have taught your daughter music, and she could not have had the idea of going to earn her subsistence and yours by making heard in the hamlets mountains his lute and his voice. This morning, your husband sang me a ballad that you had taught him. An hour later a little lute player sang a verse. This circumstance struck me. Your fake names almost confused me: it shows us how dangerous it is to hide the truth; but no matter, I found you. This lute and the song of Agnès reunite two spouses whom a barbarous enemy had separated; God even uses the lute to bring back into the arms of her father a young girl honored by generous devotion. Let us not lay down this lute and leave this country without having thanked the Almighty, who has given harmony to wood and metals, and who restores harmony between all things. Let us sing a hymn in honor and praise of Him who, through the melody of song, knew how to give such a happy outcome to your fate. Then the pious old man, preluding on the lute, sang, accompanied by Theolinde and Adelina, the following stanzas:
TO THE GLORY OF THE VERY HIGH
Mortals, thank Heaven in your pains, Give Him thanks again for the evils He sends you. To reward you, he tests your hearts, And sorrow for you soon turns to joy.
The grapes and the fruits, when they must ripen, Want a heat, every day, temperate,
Like the young flower about to blossom Asks in the morning for the tears of the dew.
The darker the night, the better one sees the splendor Of the stars suspended from the ethereal vault: The more dreadful the storm, the sweeter The rainbow that smiles at the reassured soul.
Without complaining accept from the hands of the Creator Humiliation, pain and suffering: Later you will find the consoling happiness That Providence secretly reserves for us.
Théolinde, Adelina, Benno and the young shepherdess then left for the hermitage. Joy seemed to give them wings, for the little caravan reached the top of the hill much sooner than it had hoped, from where the humble bell tower of the chapel could be seen from afar looming through the foliage of the trees with which Benno's cell was shaded.
Arrived there, the venerable hermit, who feared to cause too violent an emotion to the knight by presenting his wife and daughter to him together, made a detour so that no one could see him from his cell, and led the countess down a path which led from the hermitage to the large farm; he begged her to hide there for some time, and told her when she was to arrive.
During this interval, the inhabitants of the village where Father Benno had met the little lute player in the morning, had gone to the hermitage and had built at the entrance a triumphal arch in foliage, decorated with garlands and wreaths. flowers; they had also adorned the doors of the chapel and the cell; the very trunks of the trees were surrounded by garlands. The Chevalier Adelbert, aided by his squire Marquart, who had come to rejoin his master, showed himself most eager to help the good peasants, and to arrange the embellishments with taste. During this pleasant occupation, both sang the following verses:
God, you are for us the most perfect love: Everything we see tells us every day: The morning star, the misty earth, The bright star of the day, the silent night.
The bird, fed by you, sings merrily; On its green branches it says while fluttering: Mortals, recognize the author of nature; Man is, like me, his weak creature.
In our woods, in our fields, your hand has sown This harvest of flowers whose air is fragrant:
Their perfume invites us to recognition, And reveals your omnipotence everywhere.
The brilliance so varied of a thousand and a thousand flowers Which spread everywhere their sweet odors Shows us, O Lord, in a palpable way, How adorable you are in our eyes.
And this sun so beautiful in its noble splendor, This star so brilliant, work of the Creator, By spreading its beneficent heat on us, Raises the grateful soul to the heavens.
Yes, Lord, the more here the virtuous mortal Seeks to imitate you, the happier he is. His touching example soon determines us To celebrate your divine goodness very high.
At length, impatient at not seeing Father Benno return, the knight had returned to the cell with his squire, when the good hermit, descending the hill which was near his retreat, advanced with a light step without making the slightest noise, recommending silence with a finger on his mouth, and looking around to see if the knight could see him. No, he's not here, he told himself. So much the better!... But what do I see? these garlands, these flowers, what does that mean? is it good for me? Ah! yes, my good neighbours, the inhabitants of the valley, have not forgotten that I have now lived on this mountain for twenty-five years; they wanted to celebrate this day by decorating my house in this way. Good people, may Heaven return to you a hundredfold the joy you cause me! But these decorations are arranged with a taste, an elegance unfamiliar to simple country people... Adelbert, I recognize your hand there. You wanted to spare me a surprise, I'm preparing an even bigger one for you; these flowers, these garlands come just in time to embellish the most beautiful day of your life. He then motioned to Adelina to come forward; she arrived with her lute. "Come, charming child," he said to her, taking her by the hand, "hide yourself under this arbour, you will sing the couplet of the Violette there as soon as I give you the signal." You will still remember all the lessons I gave you on the way.
- Oh ! yes, very well, good Father Benno, replied Adelina; then she went and hid under the cradle.
As soon as Benno saw himself alone, he raised his voice and called, "Chevalier Adelbert!" where are you ? So come. The knight ran up; it looked like it had wings.
Adelbert, having approached, said to him: “There you are at last, Father Benno; I was getting tired of looking in the direction from which you had descended this morning; so you came back by another
'Yes, pressing matters forced me to deviate from my usual path, as you should have been told.
- Ah! Benno, resumed the chevalier, if you only knew how long I found the time of your absence! These hours of sad solitude in the midst of these rocks and these trees, whose shadow extends into the valley, have further increased my melancholy. This deep silence, barely interrupted by the fall of a leaf or the chirping of a bird, saddened me. All my painful memories, all the images of the past, presented themselves again to my soul. Alas! the sun of happiness did not shine for me for long. In the flower of my age, I saw the evening of my life coming quickly. I remain isolated in this world, more isolated than a poor hermit... My friends have been harvested by the sword of the Saracens... Death took my wife from me in the springtime of her life. Even my daughter perished like that tender rosebud whose stalk a cruel hand broke. Finally I lost everything, everything. »
And the unfortunate knight sat down, leaned his head on his hand, and gave himself up to his gloomy reveries.
"Come, come, knight," Benno said affectionately to him, "take courage, perhaps I have a way of consoling you." He then made a sign, and Adelina, hidden in the arbour, played an adagio on her lute.
The knight, completely surprised, raised his head and exclaimed: “Heavens! what do I hear? what harmonious sounds! But Benno, his finger to his mouth, said, "Hush!" hush! silence ! »
A moment later, Adelina sang:
The tender and sweet violet, Who hides under the grass, Humbly opens her bell To embalm the air of the valley. She complacently displays Her sweet perfumes, her simple flowers;
Emblem of benevolence, She smiles at all hearts.
Adelbert remained seated on his block of rock, as if petrified; his feet seemed rooted in the ground, his gaze was motionless and fixed on the bower from which these sounds came. At last the chanting ceased, and the knight, rising, exclaimed with force: “Great God! Théolinde's romance, the same air, and even the sound of her voice, with even more sweetness! Is she returning from these dismal lands to dry my tears, or is your home visited by angels? Pious hermit, have you begged the Lord to send me one of his angels to comfort me? Oh ! show me this mysterious being who vibrates all the fibers of my heart. »
At the same time he made a movement to rush towards the bower, but Benno held him back. “Stay, knight; you are going to see a miracle from the Almighty which will give you even more consolation than if he had sent an angel. »
At a sign from the hermit, Adelina leaves the bower; Benno takes her by the hand and leads her to Adelbert. 'Chevalier,' he said to him, 'that young child here, I met her this morning; it came from the driest and most inaccessible part of our mountains...' Benno wanted to continue; but no sooner had the knight cast an attentive look at the young girl than he exclaimed: “O prodigy! it is all his portrait! such must have been my Théolinde when she was still a child. »
Then approaching Adelina: "Don't tremble, my child, don't be afraid." Tell me, who are you? and who taught you this romance?
'I learned it from my mother, and I am your daughter.
- Could it be possible ! Benno, I cannot believe it, would this be a barbaric game? would you deceive me?... Tell me, dear little one, what is your name, what is your mother's name?
— My name is Adelina, and my mother Theolinde.
- Good Lord ! Adelina is the name of my darling daughter, Théolinde that of my loving wife. Benno! Benno! I'm drunk with joy, I don't know if I'm awake or if I'm dreaming... Vain illusion, alas! the dead do not return from the tomb. »
Adelina then presented the lute to her father: “Here, dad, she said, do you recognize this? »
Scarcely had the knight examined him; that he exclaimed: "Darling instrument, yes, I recognize you. Your sight charms me like that of a childhood friend whom we had not seen for many years. Yes, it was a present that I made to Theolinde in the time of our happiness, during our engagement. Our two names are engraved on the wood: Souvenir offered by Adelbert to his beloved Théolinde... O Adelina, yes, you are my daughter! let me press you to my heart. You were still a weak child in your mother's arms when I left for the fights. How tall and beautiful you are! what a delightful aspect for a father!... But, your mother... I dare not ask you if she is still alive.
'Yes, father, she is still alive.
- How ! she lives ! exclaimed Adelbert with transport; but where is she? Oh ! let's leave quickly; let's find her.... She lives!... O God of goodness! what thanks I have to render to you! Adelina, darling girl, tell me quickly where I will find her.
"Calm yourself, knight," interrupted Benno; do you expect to find her as she once was, this beloved companion of your youth, in all the brilliance of her beauty? Alas! sorrow has withered the roses of her cheeks. Wanting to keep her faith for you, she took refuge in these wild lands, to live there in misery and distress. She has just escaped a long illness; you will hardly recognize it.
"What does the beauty of the body matter, the freshness of the cheeks!" exclaimed Adelbert; vain and fugitive charms! it's her, it's my Theolinde that I want to see again.
"Moderate your transports," replied Benno; your wife's heart is also eager to see you again; but spare the sensibility of this tender and delicate soul. Do not spoil the delicious moment of your meeting by an impetuosity which could become fatal to it. She thought you were dead; you will seem to him a spirit of the other world; she is exhausted with pain and joy. »
Adelbert didn't want to listen to anything. “Tell me, please, where she is. Let's not waste a single moment, let's go, let's go as soon as possible.
'For the love of God, be moderate, listen to me: I sent one of my friends to fetch her on a saddle-horse. »
He was still struggling when, in the distance, the sounds of rural music, composed of flutes and blowtorches, were heard coming closer and closer. At the same moment Adelbert's squire came to tell his masters that a large procession of country people had come from behind the rocks, and that he had also seen a lady of distinction, dressed in mourning, dismount from her horse. and climb the mountain, leaning on the arm of a peasant woman.
" It's her! cried the knight, she is coming! O Théolinde, my dear Théolinde! »
And he flew to meet him, followed by his squire.
Adelina wanted to accompany her father, but Benno prevented her. “Stay, my dear child; the mountain paths are too difficult and too dangerous: you could slip and fall over a precipice. Your dear parents will not be long in coming. What joy ! what happiness! added the pious hermit with emotion, following the knight with his eyes. O my God, if it is already such a great pleasure to meet again here below when on both sides we thought we were dead, if human nature can hardly bear this excess of joy, what will not be not our bliss when we all meet again in heaven! This single thought is a balm that softens all the wounds that death and absence can cause us! »
However, the knight, followed by his faithful squire, had rushed to meet his wife. With rapid steps he climbed the mountain, and hardly had he taken a hundred paces to descend the slope, when he met Theolinde, walking leaning on the arm of the farmer's wife. The happiness of these two spouses was inexpressible; delicious tears flooded their faces; they remained silent for a long time with joy and emotion.
At last Adelbert was the first to break this long silence. He took Théolinde's hand and pressed it to his lips. Seeing her wedding ring on Theolinde's finger, he told her in a few words how the ring had been stolen from her, probably at the instigation of Grimmo, who had since perished in a duel.
Then, raising grateful eyes to heaven, he exclaimed: “Eternal thanks be to you, Heavenly Father, God of goodness and mercy! You gave me this sweet friend, you took her away from me, and you give her back to me today, may your holy name be blessed and glorified in all eternity! »
The two spouses, at the height of happiness, then returned to the hermitage to join their daughter Adelina.
The Jubilee at the Hermitage.
During this interval, the farmers and the shepherds of all the surrounding country had joined the procession, and, preceded by country music, had gone to the hermitage, to
celebrate the anniversary of the jubilee of twenty-five years since the arrival of Venerable Father Benno in their midst. The country people had their festive clothes; children and young girls were dressed in white and crowned with flowers. One of these children held a bouquet tied with a beautiful ribbon, another a basket of flowers, others oak wreaths suspended from long twigs with floating streamers of ribbons of various colors; the young shepherdess whom we already know was leading a little lamb as white as snow and crowned with flowers; another young girl finally had two pretty doves in a cage. We also saw the farmer's wife of the big farm carrying on her head a large basket covered with a napkin, while her husband held under his arm a barrel decorated with garlands of ivy. A large number of people of both sexes of all ages formed the procession. They all lined up in two rows at the entrance to the hermitage, so as to leave room for Benno, Adelbert, Théolinde and Adelina.
At a sign from the fat farmer, the music ceased, the peasant took off his cap, and addressing the hermit, he said to him:
“Dear and venerable Father Benno, the shepherds and country people of the region come to compliment you on the occasion of your jubilee. We thank you for all the good that you have done us during the course of these twenty-five years, and, to show you our gratitude, we bring you some rural presents; it's the best we have to offer you. We don't know how to turn a compliment, the rest of us, but you won't look so closely at it. It is our hearts that must be seen: how they cherish you! The good Lord, who knows how to read in the depths of our souls just as one reads in a book, sees there the sincere wishes that we form for you. He alone can answer them, and we hope he will. »
Benno, deeply touched by the testimonials of friendship from these good country people, thanked them in terms that depicted all the emotion he felt. A general cry, thrice repeated, of
"Long live our venerable Father Benno!" rang through the air.
It was in the midst of this scene of joy that the Chevalier Adelbert arrived, leading, his wife Theolinde leaning on his arm. As soon as Adelina saw them, she ran to meet them, crying with joy: “My father! mother!...” was all she could say. Her parents showered her with tender caresses, and Théolinde replied: “O my dear daughter, what a day of happiness Heaven has prepared for us after so much suffering! “Adelbert said in his turn: “Yes, what happiness that you have returned to me, my dear daughter, and that you have brought me back to your good mother!
— Good God, then said the pious hermit, I thank you for having embellished the day of my jubilee by the happiness of these noble spouses. Cast a favorable glance on these generous hearts which you united in a miraculous way; bless them again, and make them count more than one jubilee together. May this dear child, through whom you have brought them together today, be an inexhaustible source of joy for their loving hearts. Bless also all the fine people who are gathered here. Spread union and peace, happiness and contentment in all households, and may all children, by means of your grace, become the joy and consolation of their parents. "
This pious invocation ended, one of the cultivators, a respectable old man with white hair, then addressed in the name of all the assistants the most cordial congratulations to the noble family, and he ended his short speech with these words: "We will not cease to pray the good Lord so that he deigns to grant you all that Father Benno has just wished for you. »
Adelbert shook the hand of the worthy old man affectionately, and answered him in a penetrating tone:
“My good friend, I am very sensitive to the interest you take in my happiness, and I thank you for it from the bottom of my soul, you and all these brave fathers of families. May the Eternal fulfill the wishes that you form for us, and grant to your wives and your children all the goods that you wish for us! »
Then this joyful cry: "Long live the noble knight Adelbert and his family!" resounded from all sides and was repeated by the echoes of the surroundings.
Then the good farmer's wife advanced with a modest air towards Adelbert, and, after a deep bow, she said:
“Lord Knight, I have a favor to ask of you; but excuse me, I hardly dare tell you. We prepared today, in honor of Father Benno, a small collation; she is waiting for us there on the round lawn surrounded by trees; please do us the honor of joining us. The invitation was accepted; consequently Adelbert and Théolinde, Adelina and Benno, as well as all the assistants, young and old, took their places near the rustic banquet. Only the farmer's wife and her husband remained standing to serve the many guests. The wine which the latter had brought in his barrel was liberally distributed.
At the end of this joyful meal, which ended to everyone's satisfaction, as night was already approaching, the stars were beginning to shine and the moon was rising in a serene and cloudless sky, the venerable Benno got up and said, "Let's end this beautiful evening by singing the praises of God. Let us sing together the canticle on divine goodness that I taught you very recently. »
The assembly applauded this proposal, and they sang:
a voice In the shadows of the night Soon succeeds again The clarity that follows it, The morning dawn.
For the universe what is the star of the day, Is for you from the Lord an ineffable grace; To your neighbor, mortal, be also favorable.
The brilliant dew Comes to refresh the flower, The withered plant Is reborn vigorously.
What is the dew to the flowers Is for you from the Lord an ineffable grace; To your neighbor, mortal, be also favorable.
a voice Under the tree in the bocage, When the day's heat Makes you want shade, I seek freshness.
What shade is for warmth, Is for you an ineffable grace from the Lord; To your neighbor, mortal, be also favorable.
Of its living and clear water. The beneficent stream Comes to refresh the earth From the arid hillside.
Ah! what for the earth is water, Is for you from the Lord an ineffable grace; To your neighbor, mortal, be also favorable.
When the storm has passed, To the tormented man The rainbow portends Sweet serenity.
What the rainbow is to humans,
Is to you an ineffable grace from the Lord;
To your neighbor, mortal, be also favorable.
So ended this beautiful evening. The next day all the preparations were made for departure: horses and carriages were ordered, and on the morning of two days later they set out for the Chateau de Haute-Roche. Benno could not refuse to accompany the noble travellers, and the squire Marquart was sent by courier to warn the vassals of the knight that he had fortunately found his wife and child.
Joy was general in the country; all the inhabitants, young and old, dressed in their best clothes, went to meet their beloved masters to form their procession. Their entrance into the castle, rebuilt with magnificence, and adorned with garlands, triumphal arches, and trophies of arms, presented an imposing sight.
The third day after their arrival, it was a still more brilliant and touching celebration; for on that day Adelbert caused a solemn Te Deum to be celebrated in the chapel of the castle, which was attended in crowds not only by the vassals, but also by a great number of knights, his neighbors and his friends. The good father Benno could not resist the entreaties of the noble family which he had restored to happiness, and which begged him to spend some time at the Chateau de Haute-Roche. But at the expiration of this term he separated from his friends, who shed abundant tears, and returned to his hermitage.
Adelbert and Theolinde lived for a long time with Adelina, their beloved daughter; she married a knight as virtuous as he was rich and powerful, to whom the fief of Haute-Roche was granted. Adelina closed her eyes to her parents, who only passed into eternal rest at a very advanced age. She herself, after a long and very happy union, still survived her husband; she had a numerous posterity, and thus saw the fulfillment in her person of the promise which God joined to his fourth commandment: Honor your father and your mother, and you will live a long time, and you will prosper on the earth.
END OF AGNES
The Erlau family.
At the disastrous time when the ancient throne of the kings of France was overthrown, and when a multitude of families distinguished by their birth and their wealth were plunged into the most dreadful misery, in 1793 finally, there existed in our beautiful France a very respectable family , the Erlau family.
M. d'Erlau was an estimable man in all respects, of a good and generous character; his wife, a model of gentleness and kindness; and their two children, Charles and Lina, were the faithful portrait of their virtuous parents.
From the beginning of these dreadful disturbances which cost so many tears to thousands of families and flooded the whole of Europe with blood, M. d'Erlau left the capital to retire to
a remote land he owned between the Rhine and the Vosges. There, far from business, within his family and in deep retirement, he lived in his castle, which, like the adjoining village, was surrounded by rocks, hillsides planted with vines, wheat fields, meadows, and as if hidden in the thickness of a small forest of fruit trees. The inhabitants of the village, of which he was the benefactor and the father, who usually saw him only during the fine season, were tenderly devoted to him; they therefore rejoiced when they learned that he was coming to settle among them, for the good he was doing them exceeded all that could be said. Already before his arrival this country resembled a garden; under the influence of this active and enterprising man, it soon became a paradise.
This respectable father considered himself lucky that his retirement from public affairs, having restored him to himself, left him the leisure necessary to occupy himself with the instruction and education of his two children. The most delightful hours for him were those which he devoted to their religious instruction. He had the intimate conviction that religion alone can form man, make him truly esteemed, ennoble his soul, strengthen his happiness, console him in the pains of life, and above all strengthen and support him in the hour of the death. Mme d'Erlau, imbued with the same feelings, never failed to listen to these interesting instructions, and often added to them a few words full of wisdom, which a fervent piety suggested to her maternal heart. In these days of danger, the father took pleasure in speaking with particular emotion of the admirable ways of divine providence, and of the confidence which the Christian must place in it. When the mother looked at her children exposed to so many perils in these troubled times, and turned her thoughts to that infinite wisdom and kindness which directs all events, she shed tears of pain and joy. So his exhortations, starting from a heart filled with faith and burning with the love of God, breathed a sublime devotion. What comes from the heart seldom fails to go to the heart; also the children listened to their mother with attention and contemplation; their young souls were deeply impressed by these pious lessons, and their eyes were often seen to fill with tears. Formed in such a school, they learned early to resign themselves Christianly under the weight of adversity; the seed of piety and virtue, entrusted to a land so well prepared, was later to bear precious fruit.
However, the political horizon grew darker and darker, and daily perils threatened this noble and respectable family; but, full of confidence in the divine protection, they did not fail to pass serene days, and seemed only the more animated to do good around them.
Independently of religious instruction, which is the most important of all, M. d'Erlau developed at the same time the minds of his children by teaching them all the other necessary or useful knowledge, without neglecting even the arts of pleasure, which help to charm and beautify life.
He was an excellent musician, played the piano perfectly and sang very pleasantly; in this respect his wife alone could rival him in talent. So he gave young Charles piano lessons, and singing lessons to the small and sweet Lina.
One evening, it was towards the end of winter, the weather was dark and cold, the whole family was gathered in the living room around the piano; in the long evenings of this rigorous season, singing and music were the ordinary pastime.
M. d'Erlau had composed a little canticle expressly for his two children, to which he had adapted a sweet melody and a piano accompaniment easy enough for Charles' little hands to play. Mme d'Erlau was unaware of all this, and the children intended to surprise her by letting her know of their progress. That evening, after the mother had sung a few selected pieces in her lovely voice, accompanied by her husband on the violin, he said to the children: "Now it's your turn, my little friends, to give us a sample of your talents. »
Charles sat down at the piano to accompany his sister, who sang in a weak and timid voice, but with grace, the following verses:
If I keep my firmness
In the evils that are my share,
From the Almighty it is kindness That consoles and encourages me.
Let lightning shine in the skies, Let lightning roar and roar, The slightest signal from his eyes Bring peace to the world.
Nothing is dreadful with him. Without fear, in the midst of thunder, If the Lord be my support, I would see the earth deteriorate.
He who, submitted to the Lord, Walks always in his presence, Near him finds happiness Forever free from suffering.
Of the divine Father the goodness Equals his omnipotence; And I oppose adversity With a Christian heart, confidence.
Mme d'Erlau was delighted with this little canticle, Charles and Lina's first attempt. Never had a concert, even at the court of princes, given him so much pleasure. She was touched to tears, and hugging her dear children happily in her arms, she exclaimed: “Oh! yes, God, who has watched over you thus far, will always be your most powerful protector. »
Suddenly a noise is heard, the door opens with violence, and a troop of armed people suddenly enters the living room. The officer exhibits an order for the arrest issued against M. d'Erlau, as a royalist and enemy of liberty. He was to be taken away immediately and imprisoned in the prisons of the neighboring town.
It is in vain that M.me d'Erlau threw himself at the feet of this rude man, whose hard black eyes, thick hair, and big whiskers gave him a terrible air, and who cast him looks full of arrogance and menace. The poor mother's face, pale with fright and terror, was flooded with tears; she was wringing her hands. The two children were also praying, joining their little hands, that their papa would not be taken away; they were crying hot tears, and from sobbing they could hardly utter a word. But it was all useless.
He was not even given time to collect the items most needed to ease the rigors of his prison. We had to leave immediately; and like Mme d'Erlau held her husband tightly embraced, uttering cries of despair, and the two children clung to his legs, M. d'Erlau was carried off by main force by the soldiers, who took him away immediately.
It is impossible to paint the deep pain of the mother and her children during this sudden and violent separation. They were kept in their apartment, because it was feared that they would cause trouble in the village by asking the help of the inhabitants, of whom M. d'Erlau was generally loved. A prey to the most dreadful despair, wringing her hands, the mother threw herself on a seat; her knees were shaking, and her legs no longer had the strength to carry her; her two children crowded around her, uttering loud cries. They were like this for a long time without being able to calm down. Finally the good and pious mother regained a little courage and said to them: “We must not lose our confidence in God so easily; since he allowed us to undergo this cruel ordeal, he will give us the courage and the strength to bear it. He will make what seems to us at this moment such a great misfortune serve our greatest good, and perhaps one day our sadness will be changed into joy. So let us say with courage and resignation: Lord, let your will be done. »
This unfortunate wife no longer thought of anything but seeking every means of obtaining her husband's deliverance. As soon as the guard had retired and she saw herself free to go out, she went to town, presented herself to the judges to protest the innocence of M. d'Erlau; she appealed to the testimony of all the inhabitants of the chateau and the surrounding area, of the quiet and retired life which he had led since his arrival; the care with which he had avoided taking the slightest part in political affairs, and even making them the subject of his talks with anyone. Hoping to bend these heartless men, she threw herself at their feet; but it was in vain; it was as if she had spoken to marble statues: all were inaccessible to the slightest feeling of pity, none showed her the slightest interest.
She could not only obtain permission to see her husband in his prison; and these barbarians pushed their cruelty so far as to make him understand that in a few days M. d'Erlau would carry his head to the scaffold.
When, after three days of fruitless appeals, she returned to her country, she had the sorrow of finding her castle invaded by soldiers. All his property had just been sequestered; the chateau had been pillaged and turned into a barracks. She was refused entry, and she was forced to leave, heartbroken. She was especially in the deepest anxiety about the fate of her children, because no one could tell her what had become of them: all her servants had been driven out and dispersed. Delivered to this horrible perplexity, the poor lady shed a torrent of tears.
Already the evening was well advanced, and Mrs.mc d'Erlau did not know where to spend the night, when she had the good fortune to meet one of her oldest servants, the brave and faithful Richard, who recognized her at once, and said to her: "What happiness, my dear and good lady, to have met you to warn you that you are threatened with being arrested at any moment!
"You have, in the liveliness of your pain, let slip a few expressions that malicious people have collected and denounced. You spoke of injustice, barbarism, tyranny exercised under the name of freedom and equality. You must flee, and quickly, it is the only means of salvation that remains to you. There would be too much danger in wanting to give you an asylum and to hide yourself. Besides, you cannot save your husband; Don't think about it any longer, and a longer stay in these countries would only serve to ruin you. Your children are with me; come on, I've already warned my brother, an old fisherman on the banks of the Rhine; this very night I will take you to his house; he will bring you and your children to safety by taking you across the river in the boat. »
Mme d'Erlau followed the good Richard to his house, which was at the end of the village. But there again a new grief awaited her: little Lina had fallen ill with pain and dread the day her mother had gone to town, and since then the illness had become much worse; it had even picked up intensity that night; and when Mme d'Erlau arrived, the poor child had such a violent fit of fever that in her delirium she did not recognize her mother.
Mme D'Erlau, heartbroken at the sight of her sick child, insisted on staying to nurse her dear Lina; but the physician who was there dissuaded him in the most urgent manner. 'The little patient,' he said, 'has only a few moments left to live; she will no longer recover her consciousness, and we can already regard her as dead. Your presence, Madame, would therefore be of no use to your child, whereas it is a duty for you to think of your own preservation and that of your son. »
This unfortunate mother, wrecked in her pain, her eyes bathed in tears and pale as death, stood by her child's bed, and could not bring herself to leave. The doctor renewed his entreaties and took her gently by the arm to lead her away from the patient's bed. She did, in fact, take a few steps towards the door; but suddenly, seized with a shudder, she reconsidered her determination, returned to her daughter, and, with outstretched arms, she threw herself on this child, whom she pressed against her heart, crying out with a heartrending accent. "No, poor little one, I cannot abandon you. I count my life for nothing; I want to stay here and die with you. »
Then the good Richard and his wife surrounded the lady, and begged her with clasped hands not to delay her departure. They solemnly promised to care for the sick child as if it were their own child. “Night has come,” added the brave Richard, “the darkness still favors your flight: you have no time to lose; every minute of delay brings new dangers and can endanger not only your life, dear and good lady, but also mine and that of my wife: you do not perhaps know that, in the times in which we live, it is forbidden under penalty of death to keep someone at home overnight without having declared it to the police.
"Well then, amiable and very dear child," exclaimed Mrs.me d'Erlau, very sorry and covering her daughter with the most tender kisses, since I can no longer be of use to you in this world, and it is true that a longer stay here would only serve to get you up on the scaffold these brave people, I leave you in the custody of God: farewell, dear angel! you will soon go to live in heaven, that abode of peace, where innocence no longer suffers, where tears are no longer shed, where hearts that love each other have no more separation to fear. »
Little Charles, who was standing next to his mother, sobbingly took his sister's hand.
“Console yourself, dear Lina, he said to her, you will go to heaven, where you will be a beautiful angel. You will be happier than on earth, where we have to live in constant fear and anguish. Oh ! how I would like to go with you! »
Then the tender mother knelt before the bed of her beloved daughter, and said, raising to heaven a look of piety and love: "O my God, receive this child as a tender victim whom I abandon entirely in your grace and mercy. She didn't have the strength to say more; she prayed a few more moments in silence, then got up quickly, gave her daughter another kiss, took Charles by the hand, and went out trembling, not daring to look behind her.
Mme d'Erlau therefore decided to flee. The faithful Richard had prepared in advance the most necessary objects for the journey. He walked ahead, heavily laden. The poor lady, a parcel under her arm, followed him, and led by the hand her young son, also laden with a small baggage.
All three walked along in the most profound silence, for fear of betraying each other by the slightest noise: the weather was horrible; the wind blew violently, and the rain fell in torrents.
After about an hour of laborious marching, our three travelers having paused for a moment to breathe, the old man said in a low voice: "The weather is dreadful, and yet we must thank God that it is so: this tempest, this downpour, this profound darkness, are so many benefits that divine providence has sent us to protect us in a certain way against the rage of our persecutors. On a beautiful night and a beautiful moonlight we would have been discovered: this is how the upheaval of the elements, which seems terrible, dreadful to us, turns to our advantage. It is the same with all the sorrows and afflictions of human life: they are constantly arranged for our good. God is always admirable in his ways; he never abandons his children; every day we experience it. »
Finally they arrived at the old fisherman's hut; they entered a small room darkened by smoke, and where a lighted lamp shed a mournful light. The honest inhabitant of this humble abode welcomed with cordial benevolence the noble lady and her son. While helped by Richard he was preparing his boat, his wife offered a good soup, bread and wine to restore his hosts, who, trembling with fright, wet to the bone, shivering with cold, barely had the strength to taste it.
The two men returned, and after announcing that everything was ready, they led Mrs.me from Erlau to the place where she was to embark.
The moon, which was in its last quarter, had just risen, and appeared from time to time through the intervals of the clouds, as if to soften a little the darkness of this dreadful night.
When the good lady saw this immense river rolling with a crash its impetuous islands, swollen and agitated by the storm, and when she thought that it was necessary to cross it with her son, in spite of the wind and the darkness, in a frail boat which barely seemed to be able to carry two people, she was so frightened that she felt an icy shiver run through her whole body, and she nearly lost heart. Her guides, who noticed this, did their best to reassure her. The old fisherman stepped into the boat, seized the oars, and said with pious confidence, “God will help us to reach the other shore. »
Richard then took leave of his unfortunate mistress. The faithful servant had been lucky enough, during the pillage of the castle, to steal from people's eyes and save a gold snuffbox, a watch of the same metal, as well as bracelets and earrings enriched with precious stones. He handed them over at this moment to M.me d'Erlau, adding to it some gold coins, the fruit of small savings which he had made on his wages, and he had the delicacy not to say that these gold coins came from him. Then he took and kissed with tears the hand of his former benefactress, and kissed Charles sobbing.
“O my dear and noble lady, I am old, and this will probably be the last time I will see you and this dear child. It is not in my power to do anything more for you. But God will watch over you, he still has prosperous days in store for you: such good masters cannot always be unhappy.
“I would have liked with all my heart to be able to accompany you in exile; but by remaining here I hope to be able to render some service to your husband. Maybe I'll even manage to save him; at least I will try everything to succeed. »
While pronouncing these farewells, the excellent Richard wept, and everyone wept with him. Mme d'Erlau again recommended her husband and little Lina to her. The faithful old man promised everything, then helped his mistress and young Charles into the canoe.
When this frail boat had reached the open sea, the old man followed it with his wishes; prostrate on his knees on the shore, he raised his pleading hands to heaven. "I'm going to pray to God," he said, "that he'll make you land happily on the other side, and I won't get up until my brother comes to tell me that you're safe." Praise Heaven that one day I can bring you the happy news that your husband and your daughter are saved! »
The Tyrol hut.
Mme d'Erlau and his son arrived safely on the right bank of the Rhine. There they were safe; but the good mother could not stay there long, because on these frontiers the French emigrants were hardly tolerated, and it was not easy for them to establish their residence there. Besides, the theater of war was drawing nearer and nearer, and it was necessary to think of going further. According to the directions Richard had given her, she followed the banks of the Rhine, heading towards Switzerland. However, his pecuniary means were noticeably diminished. The stay in Switzerland was portrayed as too costly for him, and he was advised to seek a retreat in Württemberg. She wandered for a long time without finding where to settle, and thus arrived as far as the borders of the Tyrol. Finally a charitable man promised him asylum in the cabin of an old Tyrolean.
Happy to finally be able to find shelter, she took a guide to take her there and carry her little luggage, and she followed him with her little Charles. She had to climb high mountains and cross deep valleys. Arriving at the top of one of these mountains, she discovered at a frightening depth a narrow and verdant valley. On the right of this valley and at the foot of frightful rocks, she saw some extremely low wooden huts, the roof of which was almost flat. From the midst of these poor huts rose the pointed steeple of a modest chapel covered with slates, the greyish roof of which shone brightly in the rays of the sun. To the left of the valley stretched a gloomy forest of firs, behind which two mountain peaks still covered with snow seemed to soar into the clouds. The guide, pointing with his stick to the little valley, said to Mr.me d'Erlau: "Here is the hamlet of Schwarzenfels, and, you see, over there is the dwelling of the honest and respectable old man who has promised to receive you in his home." At this sight, the good lady heaved a sigh and descended the narrow path which led to the little valley.
The old Tyrolean, who was expecting her that day, went to meet her as soon as he saw her. He was a man still fresh and green. He received her with an open and affable face. He was unacquainted with that painted politeness of the high society which is exhaled in fine words; but he had a good and sensitive heart, and his gay, gentle, and benevolent countenance said more than all our compliments, which he understood nothing of. However, in spite of his rustic simplicity, he had a certain tact of propriety. To show his respect for the foreign lady whom he was about to receive at his home, he had that day put on his gray Sunday coat, his scarlet waistcoat and his beautiful green hat topped with a cock's feather. “God bless you, noble lady! he said, taking off his hat respectfully; Welcome ; I am very happy to be able to give you an asylum under my roof, as well as that little gentleman there. »
The wife of this worthy man was waiting at the door of his house: she was a little old woman with a kind air. She was neatly dressed, and the whiteness of her hair heightened the appearance of freshness and health which shone on her cheeks. She advanced towards Mme d'Erlau, first wiped her hand with her white apron, then presented it to the lady, saying to her: “May God be with you, welcome, dear lady; we've been expecting you ; dinner is about to be ready, but you will have to content yourself with little: with us there is almost nothing but milk and butter, oatmeal bread and potatoes; but we will do everything that depends on us to satisfy you. »
The Tyrolean led Mme d'Erlau in a small room whose window looked out on the neighboring forest and on the two snow-covered peaks which towered over it. A table, a bench, two pine chairs, a beautiful green earthenware stove, covered with a brilliant varnish, and which served at the same time as a stove and a hearth for cooking, made up all the furniture; there was also a very small bedroom. However Mme d'Erlau thanked God for having made him find this modest refuge.
She arranged her little household as well as her means and circumstances permitted. She did the cooking herself, and spent the rest of the time sewing and embroidering; this work always brought him something. Her greatest concern was to see her little Charles without occupation. She lacked the books she would have needed to instruct herself, and could not continue the Latin lessons that Charles had already received from his father, because she did not know that language.
One day when, sad and pensive, she was reflecting on her position, she was aroused from her reverie by the sound of the bell of the neighboring chapel. At the same moment the Tyrolean entered the room with pious eagerness, and announced that the priest of the village situated on the other side of the mountain had come to say mass in the chapel of the hamlet. Mme d'Erlau got up at once and went to the modest church with Charles. After the Gospel, the priest addressed to those present a very touching short speech, which brought consolation to the soul of the noble lady. On leaving the office she went to find the priest, and in the conversation she had with him, she was able to convince herself that this worthy priest was no less enlightened than pious and charitable. Having informed him of her position and her embarrassments about the education of her son, she received from the priest the promise to provide Charles with the books he needed, and to give him moreover two hours of lessons every days, if the child wanted to take the trouble to go home beyond the mountain.
Charles gladly accepted this benevolent offer from the respectable priest, and he was overjoyed to find himself a fixed and daily occupation. His satisfaction and his desire to learn were so great that he always waited impatiently for dinner time to take his books and go to the good priest; but when it rained for several days in a row, and the bad weather prevented him from crossing the mountain, the poor child experienced real grief, because he remained without occupation and had almost nothing to amuse himself with. Mme d'Erlau, like a wise and prudent mother, regarding an honest recreation as as indispensable as work, judged it necessary to procure it for her.
The Tyrol is renowned for the large quantity of beautiful canaries which are raised there, and which peddlers who take special care of this trade will then resell in foreign countries. In each hut there are several aviaries filled with these birds, and the old Tyrolean himself had some very fine ones. As in this country they are not expensive, Charles begged his mother to buy him one. "At papa's house," he said, "Lina always had a canary: buy one, mamma." At least we shall have, in the midst of these rocks and these mountains, something which will remind us of our dear homeland. The excellent mother hastened to satisfy him, and Charles ran to choose among the canaries the most beautiful of all, the one which most resembled his dear sister's canary.
Charles felt blessed beyond words to own such a nice bird. Often he gazed with delight at his pretty yellow plumage, the little crest that adorned his head, and his little black, shiny eyes. Soon this little bird was tamed enough to fly on the finger of its young master; he came to take from his mouth the crumbs of bread intended for him. Sometimes, while Charles was writing, the canary would fly over the table, pull his quill, or peck him on the fingers, so that, while laughing and amused by his niceties, he often found himself obliged to lock him in his cage so as not to be interrupted in his work.
When the canary began to sing, Charles could not tire of expressing his delight at hearing this charming song.
“Now,” said the Tyrolean one day, “you should teach him some pretty tune. »
Charles thought the good old man meant to joke; for he did not know that these birds could be accustomed to singing learned tunes.
Then the old Tyrolean drew a pretty little flageolet from his pocket.
“Oh! the beautiful little ivory flute you have there! the child said in surprise.
The Tyrolean began to play a lively and joyous air, and taught Charles to play this instrument also. Charles was transported by these pure, soft and pleasant sounds; and, as he had a great disposition for music, he learned easily, and was soon able to repeat all the airs which the old man played. Every day since that time he began to play the same tune to his canary, and when the bird himself repeated the entire tune without fail, Charles jumped for joy and began to dance around the room; and his mother said to him with a smile: "My son, imitate your canary: try to learn your lesson and recite it exactly and without hesitation, in order to please your respectable master as your pupil pleases you." The bird and the flute became more expensive day by day, and when bad weather obliged them to keep the room, he charmed his solitude and that of his mother by making music with his canary.
However, in spite of this little distraction, the noble lady was still deeply worried about the fate of her husband and that of her daughter; also, what sad hours she spent! How many sleepless nights devoted to tears! She tried hard to hear news of two such dear ones; but it was always useless, and the newspapers alone informed him from time to time of what was passing in France. The good priest took care to send them to him every week by Charles.
One evening, the latter returned home full of joy, bringing various gazettes which he took from his wallet, and gave them to his mother, saying to her: “M. le curé has not had time to read them entirely; however, he has seen enough to assure me that they contain interesting news today. » Mme d'Erlau, impatient to know its contents, eagerly read the first pages, and convinced herself that the news from the theater of war was indeed excellent. The hope of soon returning to his dear country smiled upon him, and revived his dejected courage. But, oh pain! in the supplement of one of the gazettes, she sees a
list of victims immolated in France because of their attachment to the old regime, and among all these names was that of Henri d'Erlau, her husband.
Judge of his terror; she was as if struck by lightning, the leaf fell from her hands, and she fainted. Charles uttered lamentable cries which were heard by the people of the house; they stayed a long time before they could call her back to her, and soon she fell so dangerously ill that they despaired of her life... Poor Charles, sorry, never left his mother's bedside, and was wasting away on sight. of eye.
The old Tyrolean said sadly, shaking his head: "Next autumn will scatter its leaves on the grave of the poor lady, and perhaps this poor child himself will not see spring." »
Richard, the old and faithful servant, had waited on the other side of the Rhine until his brother the fisherman had returned and told him of the lady's happy crossing. His greatest care was then to save the life of his good master; for Richard considered it an injustice to put someone to death because of his attachment to his king.
The next morning he went to the town, where was his son, named Robert, who had been forced to serve in the National Guard. This young man, skilful and courageous, mounted guard from time to time at the prison where M. d'Erlau moaned; and Richard hoped to save by his means this respectable father of a family. He therefore told his project to this son, and both of them combined several plans; but none was practical. Finally they decided that the young man would pay attention to everything that happened, and that he would spy on the first favorable opportunity to take advantage of it. But for a long time none were offered, and these two generous men began to lose all hope.
Finally, M. d'Erlau was tried and condemned to death; the sentence was to be carried out the following day. Sad and resigned, his head resting in his hands, the unfortunate d'Erlau was seated in a dungeon, in the midst of the deepest darkness; for no one had deigned to give him light. He thought of his wife and children, and it was for them that his heart ached, not for himself; he had no idea what had become of them, and he was deeply worried about them. This absolute ignorance of their fate distressed him. However, his courage and his Christian resignation were undeniable. When he heard his death sentence pronounced, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Lord, your will be done! and while waiting for the fatal hour he repeated these pious words again.
At that moment all his thoughts turned to God. “Where can I find any consolation,” he said in the outpouring of his soul, “that sustains me in this last night, if not in you, O my heavenly Father? Everything that happens to us by your permission is always for our good. So do with me and mine as you please. If you want to deprive my wife and my children of the support they had in me on earth, you will be able to watch over them with paternal care, to protect and console them. Yes, full of confidence in you, I will calmly mount the scaffold, already sprinkled with the blood of so many of my friends. If, on the contrary, you wish to keep me for some time longer with my family, it will be easy for you to break down the doors of my prison and to snatch me from the hands of my executioners; and in that case my whole life and that of mine will be devoted to serving you, praising you and blessing you forever. »
While M. d'Erlau was absorbed in these pious thoughts, a terrible noise was heard in the corridor of the prison; the door of his dungeon opens with a crash, and black whirlwinds of smoke enter it; the dungeon is suddenly lighted up by the light of a fire which had just broken out in the prison. At the same moment a young soldier approaches and shouts to him: "In the name of Heaven, run away!" »
It was Robert, Richard's son. By the imprudence of some drunken soldiers, the fire had just taken to the building where the prisoners were held. The soldiers on guard had laid down their arms and clothing to deal more successfully with stopping the progress of the flames. Young Robert, taking advantage of this first moment of confusion, quickly seized the arms and uniform of a National Guard, his comrade, and ran to M. d'Erlau's dungeon.
“Put on this uniform very quickly,” he said to her: at the same time he helped her to put it on, put the hat on her head with the plume and the cockade, passed her the belt and the pouch, and put the rifle in his arm.
The long beard which disfigured M. d'Erlau, and which he had not been allowed to cut since he had been in prison, helped to make him look like one of the fierce soldiers of that period, and completed to give him a martial air. 'Now,' Robert said to him, 'boldly descend the stairs and go out through the great gate; I hope that thanks to this costume we will let you pass. Once out of town, go quickly to my father, who must be at this moment with his brother, an old fisherman on the banks of the Rhine. »
The appearance of young Robert in the prison had been regarded by M. d'Erlau as that of an angel sent from heaven to announce his deliverance. He perfectly grasped the part he had to play, and, preserving all the presence of mind necessary in this position, he pretended to be charged with a pressing commission; he descended the stairs with great composure, weapon in arm, pushed aside the people who were working to put out the fire, shouting to them in a loud and assured voice: "Let's go!" place ! He thus found himself in the street without being stopped, and walked with a firm step towards the city gate; and, as Robert had communicated the password to him, he passed without hindrance.
Once outside the walls, he hastened his march towards the banks of the Rhine, where the fisherman's hut was; it was after midnight when he arrived. He knocked softly on the window pane. A few moments later the fisherman went out, and was not a little frightened, thinking he saw a soldier who had come to arrest him and his brother; for the attachment of these two estimable men for the family of Erlau, unfortunate and proscribed, was known. But when this worthy man recognized M. d'Erlau, he exclaimed, raising his hands to heaven: “Ah! God be praised! and he let him in immediately. Richard, who had been there for ten days, and watched every night to wait for him, rushed to meet him, crying: “O my good master! and they both embraced each other crying.
M. d'Erlau's first questions were to inquire about his wife and children. Richard informed her that the noble lady and little Charles had managed to save themselves; that Lina, seriously ill at the time of their departure, had not been able to follow them, but that she was now recovered, and that she slept in the adjoining room.
But already this dear child had woken up at the cry of joy uttered by the good Richard on seeing her master, and, recognizing her father's voice, she ran and threw herself into his arms, shedding tears of joy; and he himself watered the flowery cheeks of his tender Lina with tears.
M. d'Erlau was of the opinion that he should cross the Rhine that very night in order to get away as soon as possible from a country which had once been so happy and so flourishing, but which now no longer offered security for anyone, and which had become a vast field of carnage; he wished that the same boat which had been used for the crossing of his wife and his son should also take him to the territory of this Germany, then still so fortunate. He immediately set off with Lina. The old fisherman took the lead, and the good Richard followed, carrying a suitcase on his back.
The night was beautiful, the sky serene and dotted with stars. they silently approach the shore, where the small boat, hidden in the brushwood, was moored to the willows, ready to receive them. Suddenly they heard rifle shots behind them at a short distance, and the sinister cry: Stop! stopped!...
In fact, the fire in the prison having been promptly extinguished, it was not long before it was noticed that the prisoner had escaped; the arms and uniform which had been taken from the soldier confirmed them in their suspicions, and they set off in pursuit. Already the cries were heard very close. The unfortunate fugitives, half dead with fright, ran with all their might towards the boat. M. d'Erlau, Lina, and Richard, frozen with terror, jumped hastily into the boat, and rowed away. The old fisherman, who could not have found a place in such a small boat, hid in the hollow of a tree.
But no sooner had the boat gone twenty paces than the soldiers arrived on the edge of the river and began to fire at the boat. Bullets are whistling terribly round the ears of our poor fugitives. In this cruel distress, M. d'Erlau orders Lina to lie down at the bottom of the boat; he and Richard row hard to escape the blows of the assailants; a bullet pierced M. d'Erlau's hat, several others struck Richard's oar, and the little boat, too laden, sank so deeply into the water that at every instant one thought it was submerged. They escaped, however, from so many united perils, and happily landed on the right bank of the river.
Hardly had he landed than M. d'Erlau threw himself on his knees to thank God for his deliverance; Lina and Richard followed his example. They then sat down on an overturned tree trunk to catch their breath and recover from their fatigue and their fear. When they were a little rested, Richard, who did not want to abandon his master in misfortune, took up his stick again, loaded the heavy suitcase on his shoulders, and the three of them set off for the mountains of Swabia, to which the numerous forests of fir trees with which they are covered gave rise to the name of the Black Forest.
The providential canary.
What was most important to M. d'Erlau now was to find his wife. Richard had a friend who lived near the Black Forest; he was an honest farmer, to whom he took his master to first take a few days' rest before undertaking a longer journey. But scarcely had M. d'Erlau crossed the threshold of this hospitable asylum than he spoke of leaving again. “I won't have a moment of peace,” he told Richard, “until I find my wife and son. You tell me, my dear Richard, that they are in Switzerland: but how are we going to get there? Lina is too small and too delicate to make such a long journey on foot, and I will not be able to afford this trip by car. »
Then Richard pulled out a purse filled with gold, and scattering the shiny coins on the table: "Reassure yourself, my dear master," he said to him, "you are richer than you think, this gold belongs to you." M. d'Erlau did not know what to think; his gaze was fixed with astonishment sometimes on the gold pieces, sometimes on his faithful servant.
“Do you want to know where this treasure came from? I am going to tell you. In your prosperity, you have always shown yourself to be helpful and beneficent. To how many unfortunate people have you not opened your purse! How many times have you lent often large sums to embarrassed families to get them out of trouble! Well! my dear master, it is the gold of which you have made such generous use that I have brought in little by little while you groaned in prison and your wife wandered on a foreign land, like an outcast. I addressed myself to the people whom you had formerly obliged, and I again asked them for these little advances. Although I have met many ungrateful and insincere people, yet I have been happy enough to assure myself that there are also honest souls, loyal and grateful hearts, and many have not contented themselves with giving amount which they had borrowed, they still added theirs there by gratitude and attachment for their good lord. »
M. d'Erlau, moved, counted his gold. "There are a lot of them," he said, casting an effusive look towards the sky; but this sum, although large enough for the moment, how long will it last?
"We'll take care to be thrifty," replied the old man, "and yet we'll go to Switzerland by carriage." »
Indeed, he bought a horse and a small peasant cart, on which he fitted hoops, in order to spread a canvas there to shelter it against the wind and the rain. Then our travelers resumed their march. Most of the time Richard went on foot beside the horse, while M. d'Erlau and Lina remained seated in the carriage, according to the formal entreaties of the good old man. They thus arrived without accident in Switzerland, and inquired about the lady and little Charles, but without being able to obtain the slightest information. Seeing all their fruitless searches, and having acquired the almost certainty that the lady must have taken another direction, they resolved to retrace their steps and return to Swabia.
However, M. d'Erlau's health had been impaired by his stay in prison, the anguish of his trial, the fears and anxieties of his escape, and by the continual fatigue of the journey; imperceptibly his strength was exhausted, and he fell ill in a small town in Swabia, where he had to stay until he recovered.
Richard rented a small apartment, and bought the most necessary furniture, and as he was very well versed in home economics, he took charge of the small household, which he took care of with uncommon intelligence and zeal. Lina helped her as best she could, and worked from morning till evening at everything that was not beyond her strength. Her father, in the beginning, was obliged to stay almost always in bed. It took him a long time before he could stay up for part of the day. Little Lina seemed to multiply in order to provide her with the most tender care; she sought to cheer him up and dissipate his troubles. Every day she tried to procure him some new pleasure: sometimes she presented him with a dish which she had just prepared for the first time; sometimes she surprised him with some pretty ballad which she sang to him, or told him some agreeable news. So the good father, on his side, cherished her more every day, and showed her in a thousand ways his satisfaction and his tenderness.
Meanwhile Lina's birthday arrived; That day, very early in the morning, she went to church to hear mass, thank God, and commend her father and mother to him. Returning home, she saw her window lined with several pots filled with beautiful lilacs and superb red and white wallflowers, the flowers she loved most; In this kind of little garden was suspended a pretty cage containing a beautiful yellow canary, whose head was covered with a small crest, and perfectly resembled the one she had formerly brought up.
The morning sun was darting its rays on the window and giving a vivid brilliance to the beautiful shades of the flowers. Lina stopped, moved with surprise and delight at the sight of these objects, which brought back happy memories to her. She could not see this testimony of paternal tenderness without shedding tears of joy, and she thanked her good father with the most touching sensitivity. "You must be content with so little, my dear Lina," said M. d'Erlau, "because that is all I can give you." In the past, when we still lived in our castle, it was very different; then the day of your birth was celebrated with brilliance, and also became a day of joy for all the inhabitants of our village; but today we will pass it modestly and quietly, in a manner consistent with our new position. »
The dinner was a little more sophisticated than usual; M. d'Erlau abandoned himself throughout the meal to the joy of his heart. The faithful Richard was invited to take his place also beside his master; and when it was dessert, this good old servant served another beautiful cup decorated with flowers and a bottle of the excellent wine of their country, Alsace, which he had procured. The father uncorked it and poured it out for everyone; he began by drinking to the health of his dear Lina, and then to that of his wife and of little Charles; but painful tears flowed from his eyes at that moment and mingled with the wine he was about to drink.
“Alas! my dear Lina, he said, in what place do your mother and your brother celebrate your birthday today? What have they become? Who knows what they have suffered since the moment of our separation? A woman and a child thrown into the middle of the world, without fortune, without a protector, without friends, without help, are exposed to a thousand dangers and a thousand inconveniences. Who knows if we will ever be able to celebrate your birthday together again? Until now I had had so much courage and confidence in God! but lately I sometimes have moments when sadness overwhelms me. I'm afraid, ah! I fear... "
Lina threw herself on her father's neck, crying, and did her best to console him. “No, don't be afraid, dear Papa, console yourself and take heart: God will not abandon us; you will see that he will bring us all together again when you do not think of it. It is not for nothing that he saved us in such a miraculous way. Oh ! certainly, certainly he watches over us.
"Yes, no doubt, I think so too," said Richard, wiping the tears that fell from his eyes.
All three were greatly moved, and were silent. A moment of silence and religious tenderness followed this suspicious scene.
Suddenly the canary began to chirp, and, after a brilliant song, began to sing the tune of the little canticle:
If I keep my firmness
In the evils which are my share, etc.
Lina, quite surprised, exclaimed, clapping her hands: “O heavens! what do I hear! What does that mean? It was the first tune that Charles played on the piano, and that I learned to sing. Do you remember? We were singing it the very night you were arrested. »
M. d'Erlau, Lina and Richard could not recover from their astonishment, and their eyes remained fixed on the canary, which repeated the same air a second and a third time; it was exactly that of Lina's canticle; not a note was missing.
"That is what could not be more surprising," says M. d'Erlau. My God, he added, uncovering himself, I begin to believe that you want to give me back my wife and my son; for only they in the world know this air; so they alone were able to teach this bird, although I do not yet understand how the thing could have happened. Tell me, Richard, where did you find that canary?
— I bought it yesterday from a young Tyrolean who had many others in his aviary; I took this one because it was the most beautiful of all.
— O my friend, go, run without losing a moment; try to find this young man: who knows if he won't be able to give us valuable information? »
Richard left immediately, and was a long time without returning. M. d'Erlau and his daughter awaited his return with impatience and mortal anxiety; they formed a thousand conjectures.
"How great their distress must be," said the father, "since they have been reduced to selling even this pretty little animal, or perhaps they are dead, and is this canary the only memory that they leave us. »
At last Richard arrived accompanied by the Tyrolean. The young man was questioned; but he could say nothing in particular about the canary, except that he had bought it from a little shepherd in the Tyrol. M's namemo d'Erlau was unknown to him. However, on further questioning, he asserted that there was in his country a lady and a little boy such as they were depicted to him, and that the canary might well have belonged to them. He added that he had seen this lady every Sunday at church, and that the little boy, who went to class with the priest, must have already been very learned, because while crossing the mountain he had often found him laden with a large packet of books tied with a strap.
Moreover, the young Tyrolean depicted the lady and her son so exactly that M. d'Erlau, Lina and Richard, full of joy, exclaimed unanimously: "It is they, there is no doubt, this are them! Yes it's sure! »
They thanked God, who, by a particular effect of his providence, revealed to them the dwelling place of these persons so dear. M. d'Erlau obtained the most detailed information on the place where his wife had retired, and on the road to follow to get there. He then gave a crown of six francs to the Tyrolean, who was very astonished, to reward him for the faithfulness of his story.
We immediately set about making preparations for departure. M. d'Erlau had completely recovered his strength; the good news contributed to the restoration of his health better than the best medicine. Lina helped pack; Richard went to fetch the little car, and put it in good running order; he harnessed the horse, which had been hired to another innkeeper for food, and so as not to be a burden to their little household.
The next day we headed for the Tyrol; we were careful not to forget the dear little canary; his cage was suspended from one of the hoops which supported the canopy. In this way his songs came from time to time to delight the travelers and shorten the length of the journey.
The family reunited.
The journey of M. d'Erlau was very happy, and he arrived without accident with his little caravan and his rural equipage at the village of the parish of which depended the hamlet of Schwarzenfels. He first went to visit the charitable priest, who confirmed everything the young bird-seller had told him. Mme d'Erlau and his son were still living. " But unfortunately! added the cure, this good lady is plunged into sadness and mourning, she believes her husband dead, and since this fatal news joy has no longer entered her soul. She has just recovered from a long and cruel illness caused by the excess of her pain; we despaired of her life, and it is only slowly and with difficulty that she begins to recover. »
M. d'Erlau asked where this false news could have come from. The priest went and took a packet of newspapers, took out one, and presented it to him. He read there, in fact, with his own eyes, that he had perished on the scaffold on such a day. Although this assertion in the newspaper seemed to him very strange, he easily explained it to himself. In these times of trouble and confusion, such an inaccuracy in the lists of names of the victims could only be regarded as a slight error, and most often passed unnoticed. One might have forgotten, after his escape, to erase his name from the list of those condemned to death; perhaps he had been kept there on purpose, to escape the reproach of having allowed a prisoner to escape.
M. d'Erlau was deeply saddened by the thought that this unfortunate news had broken the heart of his dear wife, and had nearly cast her to the grave. He longed to undeceive her, and to dissipate all his sorrows by his presence; but the curé was of the opinion, and with good reason, that it was necessary to use the greatest consideration, and to communicate only with great prudence this happy news to the lady. He conferred with M. d'Erlau on the precautions to be taken, and, although night was approaching and the weather was bad, it was decided that they should go to Schwarzenfels without delay. It had been raining all day, and, as in these mountainous regions winter makes itself felt early, it was beginning to snow in large flakes. They set out, however, and soon reached the top of the wooded mountain, from which could be seen at the bottom of the valley the modest huts covered with snow, with their flat roofs and their tall chimneys from which escaped torrents of smoke.
The little caravan stopped there; She took cover by resting on a block of granite covered with moss, and sheltered by fir trees whose bushy branches, descending to the ground, protected them against wind and snow. The priest showed his companions from afar the cottage in which Mme.me d'Erlau; the faithful Richard was dispatched first, and descended the path which led to it.
Mme d'Erlau, in mourning dress, was seated in front of her fireplace, the sparkling flame of which lit up her modest room, already darkened by the evening twilight. She was still knitting, and Charles was reading to her. When she saw Richard, her old and faithful servant, enter, she uttered a cry, and the work fell from her hands. She rose hastily, ran to him, took his hands and welcomed him with effusion, shedding tears of joy and pain, as if he were her father. Charles, likewise, was not possessed of surprise and joy.
Mme d'Erlau made the worthy old man sit down beside her, and, after fanning the fire and recovering a little from her confusion, she said to him:
“Oh! Richard, my good and faithful Richard, so we see each other again! but unfortunately ! in what painful circumstances we were to find ourselves! I dare not speak to you of the cruel end of the best of husbands! This memory is too heartbreaking for me. But, tell me, what has become of Lina? Dead no doubt, as the doctor had announced?
'Console yourself, my good lady,' replied Richard, 'the lovely child still exists. It was to determine you not to delay your flight that the doctor, who is a very brave man, exaggerated the state of your daughter's condition, depicting it to you as absolutely hopeless and without any remedy. After your departure, and by dint of care, little Lina was soon restored; since then she has constantly enjoyed good health. »
At these words, the happy mother felt electrified with joy and happiness; her eyes shone with unspeakable delight.
But almost immediately the noble lady's brow darkened, and she resumed in a tone of tender but severe reproach: "Why didn't you bring her with you?" Why not have torn her from this unhappy country where her life is at risk at every moment? How could you leave her and leave this poor child alone and unprotected? I would have thought that your
She did not have time to finish, for suddenly the door opened again, and Lina flew into her mother's arms: Charles rushed there with her; Never did tears flow softer than when this loving mother saw her two children united in her arms.
But soon a painful feeling came to poison for her these first moments of happiness.
“Oh! why does he no longer live, the dearest of spouses, the most tender of fathers! if he lived, and if he was there near you and me, then, oh! yes, it is then that my happiness would be at its height. But you are unhappy orphans, my poor children; your sight fills my soul with affliction: I, weak widow, what can I do for you? »
So Richard began to prepare her little by little to learn the happy news of her husband's escape and existence. The lady listened to him in silence, and immediately understood where he was coming from. These consideration were not necessary: the satisfaction she had had on seeing her old servant again, the joy of seeing her daughter again, were for this noble lady the most natural preparation and the best managed for the greatest happiness that her heart could taste in this world, that of seeing again full of life this dear husband whose death she had mourned. M. d'Erlau, hidden behind the door, had overheard the whole conversation between his wife and Richard. Judge if his heart was beating!
So when Mme d'Erlau had understood, by the turn of Richard's speech, that her husband was still alive, and that she had exclaimed in the intoxication of happiness: “O God of mercy! Is it possible! M. d'Erlau is still alive! You have snatched him from the hands of his executioners! Oh! I'm sure he's not far from here, my heart tells me so; come, come, my dear children, let's run, let's fly to him..."
Then M. d'Erlau, unable to contain himself any longer, opened the door and threw himself, drunk with joy, into his wife's arms.
This tender wife, who, believing him dead, had shed so many tears, experienced at that moment a very lively and very sweet emotion on seeing him suddenly again in her arms; shy and trembling, and still doubting whether it was indeed himself or whether his imagination was not deceiving her, she could not utter a single word, and gazed at him anxiously in the flickering light of the flame. She couldn't express the feelings of her heart; in the excess of her happiness, she could only say: "If we do not experience so much joy here below in seeing again the objects of our tenderness, what delights must not be reserved for us in heaven, where we will see so many people darlings whose loss we mourn! »
M. d'Erlau and his wife, the two children, the worthy priest and the faithful Richard spent together, in this poor cottage, around the modest hearth, an evening full of charms; the old Tyrolean and his wife also joined them to share in the common joy.
The next morning a new guest arrived, the one who, after God, had contributed the most to reunite the scattered members of this noble family. Richard brought the canary, which he had left the day before in the priest's house. Charles was overjoyed to see his sweet canary again, who had escaped at the time of Mrs.me d'Erlau, without it being possible to know what had become of him.
M. d'Erlau told his wife how this bird had fallen into his hands, and how the canary had led him to discover the country where she had retired with her son; the latter was again moved on hearing this story, as well as the so terrible and moving details of the trial, the flight and the stay of her beloved husband in a foreign land, and she exclaimed with the accent of a pious gratitude, and clasping his hands: "Yes, God of love and goodness, it is your admirable providence which has watched over us, and which has combined the reunion of all circumstances to bring our misfortunes to an end So happy. You used this little winged messenger to let my husband know in which corner of the earth I lived. Without the prompt arrival of my beloved husband I would have died of grief this winter. »
Charles was no less grateful than his mother to God. "Haven't I had a happy idea," he said, "to teach my canary precisely the tune of the hymn Papa had composed for Lina and for me?" But I would never have imagined, when I was grieving the loss of my lovely bird, that the good Lord took him from me only to give me back my father and my sister through him, and my bird on top of that. We see clearly by this as from a small misfortune God knows how to give birth to the happiest events.
"You are right, my dear Charles," replied the father; it is thus that God took away all our goods from us in order to give us more precious and more lasting ones; for I hope that the misfortunes which have come to descend on us will have been for all of us an opportunity to make progress in virtue, which is preferable to all the brilliance of riches and to all the enjoyments which they procure. Perhaps the Lord, one day, will give us back our fortune, as he gave you back your canary. »
The young shepherd whom Charles had commissioned to go in search of the canary which had flown away, and who, after catching it, instead of returning it, had sold it to a bird-dealer, was
dismayed, when the priest, having sent for him, admonished him and told him how the little canary himself had discovered his theft, and that he had been ransomed in a foreign country and brought back to these mountains. "Never in my life will I commit a dishonest act again," the young man replied, weeping, struck with a salutary fear. hidden that is not discovered early. Or
M. d'Erlau resolved to pass the winter under the hospitable roof of those good Tyroleans who had welcomed his son and his wife so well, and Richard found accommodation in one of the neighboring cabins.
The little canary, which had become so dear, was put back in the same place it had occupied before flying away. Charles and Lina took the greatest care of it, and, despite the bad season, they never let it lack greenery, seeds and small slices of apples. Often, in the beautiful days of winter, when the noble family was gathered around the domestic hearth, and contemplated through the window the countryside all white with snow, the immense forests of pines laden with frost, and the whirlwinds of snow cradled on the wings of the winds, the nice bird seemed to guess their thoughts and want to join them, singing the tune of the favorite canticle:
If I keep my firmness
In the evils which are my share, etc.
And then Mr. and Mr.me d'Erlau, with their children, sang the pious canticle, which they applied to their present position; and even afterwards, in other painful circumstances, when unfortunate events or any sorrow came to afflict this estimable family, as soon as the canary came to repeat its air, which it usually ended with a joyous and brilliant roulade, it restored calm to the depths of hearts, and thus brought them new consolations every day.
“Let us always have confidence, said the father, in this God who, by means of this little creature, has already so miraculously rescued us. God can help us in a thousand ways: so far he has watched over us; therefore he will not abandon us, for it is as easy for him to help us a thousand times as once.
- Oh ! yes, said old Richard, that's what I believe too. The sight of those poor little birds fluttering around our windows while everything is covered with snow and it is freezing cold touches me singularly; they remind me of these words of our divine Saviour: Consider the birds of the sky: they neither sow nor reap, they do not gather in barns: and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Well, aren't you more excellent than they! But when I look at the canary of Charles, and think of the wonderful event it has occasioned, these beautiful words of the Gospel make a still greater impression on me; and when he begins to sing his favorite air, it is impossible for me to lose courage, so badly that things seem to be going, and to some hard trials that Heaven has in store for us henceforth; for can He who takes care of the little birds and feeds them forget us?
At last the Erlau family, after having endured deprivation and hardship for some time, had the happiness of being able to return to France, where the father recovered a large part of his property. Mr. and Mr.me d'Erlau congratulated themselves on having become rich again, because they found themselves in a position to prove their gratitude to those who, in times of misfortune, had shown themselves their friends: the good Richard, his son Robert, as well as the fisherman from the banks of the Rhine, and all the people who had given them some real marks of interest.
END OF CANARY
The forest chapel
The young traveler.
Conrad Erlib was a handsome young man, fresh, full of health and vigor. After having well and duly completed his apprenticeship in the trade of boilermaker, he traveled through different countries as a journeyman, in order to perfect himself in his profession, and conducted himself everywhere with wisdom and probity. Decently dressed, a well-stocked suitcase on his back and a knotty stick in his hand, once crossing a vast forest on a very hot summer's day, he turned from the high road and lost his way. For more than two hours he wandered hither and thither in the woods, and no longer knew where to get out. The sun was already bent towards its decline, and the young Conrad lost all hope of finding another refuge for that night than the thick trees under which he walked. Suddenly he saw shining at some distance the tip of the steeple of a little chapel which, gilded by the last rays of the sun, rose above the dark pines. He directed his steps in that direction, soon came to a well-marked path, and arrived at the solitary little chapel, situated on the top of a beautiful green hill, in the middle of the forest.
His father had given him this wise recommendation: “As far as time and circumstances permit, you will never pass in front of an open church without entering it; for it was built to worship your Maker, and the steeple is, so to speak, an uplifted finger pointing to the sky. Why would you miss an opportunity to lift your soul to eternity and bow down to your greatest benefactor? Besides, you will frequently find there some painting or some other object of art the sight of which may charm your eyes or touch your heart; or else you will be able to read there some inscriptions which will give you consolation and courage, will strengthen you in the good, and will teach you to tame your passions. »
Conrad remembered this wise exhortation of his father, and he entered the chapel, of which he found the door open. These silent vaults, these greyish walls, the high and narrow windows with painted stained-glass windows, and the Gothic ornaments of the altar transported him several centuries back. The deep silence that reigned in this place consecrated to the Divinity invited him to devotion. He put his suitcase and his stick in a corner, knelt down on the last bench near the door, and
recited some prayers. Before taking up his suitcase again, he advanced still further towards the altar, in order to examine more closely the structure, which seemed to him to indicate a venerable monument of the arts of antiquity. He then perceived on a prie-dieu, opposite the altar, a pretty prayer-book which seemed to have been forgotten there; this book was elegantly bound in red morocco and gilt on the edge; Conrad opened this book and stood petrified with surprise; for on the first white sheet one read his name written with his own hand. At first he seemed to see all these letters only in a dream, and he hardly dared to believe his eyes.
He leafed through the book from cover to cover; he found there on the frontispiece a very pretty engraving: it was Jesus blessing the group of children with whom he was surrounded; all the prayers and several verses written on loose sheets, and which he remembered very well, all this helped his memory. “Yes, yes,” he said with lively emotion, “that little book once belonged to me; this name was traced by my hand. That's how I wrote when I was still in school. Hey! but, how is it that this book is in this solitary chapel, in the middle of a vast forest? this is what seems inconceivable to me. »
A thousand memories of his childhood came to stir in his mind. The desire to see his family again awoke with force in his heart, burning tears flooded his cheeks. “O God, good God, adorable God,” he cried, kneeling on the same kneeler where he had found the book, “what excellent parents you have given me! what happiness we children once enjoyed in our father's house! Ah! how happy I was when our mother, so gentle and so amiable, seated at her little worktable and surrounded by her children, spent whole hours talking to us about you and your divine Son; when our excellent father, after having devoted himself all day to the work of his employment, returned in the evening, and amused us by instructing us with all sorts of stories calculated to inspire in us a taste for piety and virtue; when my little sister and I were playing in that beautiful garden behind our house, or busying ourselves with some little gardening, to the great satisfaction of our parents!... Where are those happy times? ... These moments of bliss, what have they become?... Alas! war has long since driven us from our dear homeland and dispersed us all... Alas! our good mother died a long time ago in misery, and her faithful hand which gave me this little book dissolved in the dust of the tomb. For several years I have not been able to know what has become of my good father. It is probable that grief will also have precipitated him before his time in the grave... And my poor sister, where can she be? Does she still live? Where, and in what position is she?... Distant and separated from all the members of my dear family, I see myself entirely isolated in this world: you alone, O Almighty God, in whose eyes nothing is hidden, only you know if my father and my sister are still alive... Even if there were only one of these two beloved beings left..., oh! deign to meet us. Have mercy on me, merciful God. Hear today the prayer that my father addressed to you when I saw him the last time; Fulfill the vows he made for me, and the blessings with which, full of confidence in you, he showered me at the moment when we said our farewells. »
The brother and the sister.
Conrad continued to pray like this for a long time. Finally he got up. He didn't dare take his little book away. Although it once belonged to me, I don't know, he said to himself, if I am still entitled to regard it as my property. What is certain is that someone will have forgotten it here, and that we will come and get it before it is quite dark. The best thing to do is to wait here for a while. Perhaps by means of this book I will obtain some information on many things.
Absorbed in a multitude of reflections, he took the book, went to sit down in a corner of the chapel, and began to read with unspeakable pleasure. But scarcely had he read a few pages, when a young person of about sixteen, of a gentle and modest countenance, of a clean and decent dress, entered the chapel, approached the altar, made a deep and respectful bow, and knelt down to recite her prayers. " Oh my God ! she said, looking around her anxiously, he's gone! I would rather have lost any other object. However, she remained on her knees for a few more minutes before the altar, and prayed fervently. Then she got up and wanted to go out.
At this moment Conrad went to meet him, the little book in his hand. As she had not seen him, she was frightened at first sight. But the honest demeanor of this young man soon reassured her. "It seems that it was you, Mademoiselle, who forgot this book?" he said to him.
'Yes, sir,' she answered joyfully, seeing in his hand the book which she thought had been lost; there is on the first leaf the name of Conrad Erlib.
"It seems that Mademoiselle is very fond of this book," continued the young man. "Do I dare ask you the reason for it?" The name of Conrad Erlib is no stranger to me; I am in a position to be able to give you positive news, if that pleases you.
- Ah! if you could, she exclaimed, you would make me infinitely happy: this Conrad Erlib holds me very close. Many travelers had already assured me that they had met him in different countries; but unfortunately their information was never confirmed. As you claim to know a Conrab Erlib, I am going to give you some details which will enable you to judge whether the one whose name is written on the book is the same as you know.
“My father was head of an administration in a small principality on the left bank of the Rhine. The war and the occupation of the country by the French army forced him to leave our dear homeland. His prince, who himself had lost everything, being unable to do anything more for him, the position of my parents became very unfortunate. My mother, of a weak and delicate constitution, could not resist very harsh privations for long; she died of grief and misery. My father felt this loss doubly, especially since with two young children, my brother and me, he could not easily find a job, nor even travel the country to look for a job. An honest boilermaker from the little town through which we passed one day, and who had no children, took charge of my brother, and took him into his house to teach him his trade and bring him up. My father willingly consented to this proposal, and left a few days later with me. We traveled together, and we went far, very far, without my father being able to secure any place. I was so young then that I cannot remember the names of the countries we passed through. Suddenly my father fell ill, and died almost suddenly after a few days. I was then a child of six, still too young to feel the full extent of my loss. A rich and charitable lady had compassion on me, and took me to her house; but now nearly ten years have passed since I lost my father, and since that time I have heard no more of my brother.
"The very night before his death, my father, sensing his end approaching, urged the innkeeper with whom he was staying to convey the news of his death and his last blessings to my brother, and to conjure up the benevolent coppersmith to continue to serve as a father to this poor orphan. For this purpose, my father had wanted to write a letter; but his failing hands allowed him to trace on a piece of paper only the name of the town and of the coppersmith with whom my brother was placed.
“Unfortunately this piece of paper has gone astray; a servant occupied in tidying up the room of the deceased, and not knowing how to read, had torn it up and thrown it away as useless. Ah! how many thousands of times have I thought of my brother! We took information from all sides, but all our research remained without result: I am completely unaware of what became of him. This little prayer book is the only thing I have left of my family; although I do not have it from himself, there is nevertheless his name written with his own hand, and it has therefore become a very precious memory to me. I found it at the bottom of the small trunk that contained our modest assets. When my father had left little Conrad in the boilermaker's house, he took my brother's clothes and effects out of this trunk; this book was forgotten there, and that is how it remained with me.
At that moment Conrad, who for a long time had listened, with tears in his eyes and his heart beating with the liveliest emotion, exclaimed: “Great God! how wonderful are your ways! Isn't it, my dear child, your name is Louise?
"Yes," replies the young girl, gazing at him with astonished eyes; Louise Erlib is my name.
“Then be a thousand and a thousand times welcome, my beloved sister; I am your father, Conrad Erlib; it was I who once wrote my name in this little book. »
Both looked at each other in astonishment, and did not know what to say when thinking of such an unexpected meeting. After a few moments of silence, Conrad and Louise threw themselves into each other's arms, weeping for joy, and in this attitude of religious emotion they remained thus for a long time at the foot of the altar.
When their first transports of joy had calmed down a little, and they had recovered from their confusion, the brother finally spoke and said: “O good Louise! Dear sister ! I still remember very well the moment of our separation and the last moments we spent together.
"A foreign family who was also on the run, like ours, met us
on the road, and as you could only walk very slowly, for you were still very small, she offered to take you in her carriage; I seem to see you again: how happy you seemed to be going in a carriage! We followed on foot, our father and I, and we joined you in the neighboring town, where, as you know, I was placed with the brave coppersmith.
“You were very small then, and I still think I see you as a child. How you have grown since then, and how beautiful and fresh you have become! I would never have recognized you, my dear sister. Oh what joy to have found you!...
“Oh! he continued, I cannot express to you what passes in my heart; it is so full that it seems to me close to breaking. What happiness to see you, and what sorrow to learn of the death of our virtuous father, although I expected it! You cannot believe how much pain and sorrow I have suffered, not receiving the slightest news from my father since the day he placed me with the brave coppersmith, who treated me like his child and taught me very -good job. But how many times have I had to hear people who came to his shop say that he was wrong to receive me; that my father had deceived him, since by not even condescending to inquire about me they had no thought either of taking me back or of paying the expenses that my bourgeois incurred for me; that my father had only thought of getting rid of, and had thus maliciously abandoned his own child!
“All these speeches broke my heart, although I did not place the slightest faith in them; because how could I have believed it? You know how much our father was worthy of veneration, how tender his heart was, how pious and wise he was.
- Oh! yes, he was truly pious and wise! answered Louise, and never in my life will I forget the night he died. I was sound asleep in a closet next to his bedroom, when he made me wake up and approach his bed. He was already totally weakened, and could barely speak; but he was still making the last efforts to bless me and you too, my dear brother; his voice, his looks expressed the most sincere piety; the serenity of his soul was painted in his features: he seemed a saint: the image of this virtuous Christian on his deathbed will never be erased from my memory.
- Ah! said Conrad, just now, when I was entering this chapel, I was thinking of him, and his memory came vividly to my mind: I remembered his venerable face such as I saw it for the last time when he bade me farewell; it seemed to me that it was only yesterday that I had been separated from him, although many years have passed since that time. It was the day after that day when the foreign family had picked you up in their car. That day my father set out very early in the morning, I accompanied him to the nearest village; crossing it we found the door of the church open, and it was on this occasion that he exhorted me never to pass in front of a church which I would meet on my way without entering it. And, in fact, we both entered it; it was so early that no one was there yet. He went and knelt before the altar, and I knelt beside him; he remained there a long time, shedding tears and offering his supplications to God; and I too join my tears and my prayers to his. Finally he got up and said to me:
“Dear Conrad, I have just prayed to the Lord for you and for good Louise, your sister, and I have recommended you both to his paternal protection. Then he exhorted me to always remain attached to religion, to have God constantly before my eyes and in the bottom of my heart, to faithfully observe his divine commandments, and to flee from sin and vice.
“Poor child,” he added, among other things, “I don't think I shall live long: perhaps you will see me for the last time; I recommend your sister to you when one day you will be able to earn your living; take care of her and serve her as a father. »
“When he had pronounced these words, he took me by the hand, led me to the foot of the altar, and made me promise before God that I would faithfully execute all that he had just recommended to me; I promised him everything; then he made me kneel, raised a gaze full of devotion to heaven, and blessed me. He knelt beside me for a moment, then picked me up, hugged me affectionately, gave me some money, and we left the church together, the pain not permitting us to say a word. . Finally the moment of separation
tion had arrived. “God be with you, my son! he said to me in a voice broken by sobs; then he fixed on me his eyes full of tears.
“Farewell,” he said; behave so that we can meet again in heaven. At these words he turned away hastily, and disappeared round the corner of the church... Since that moment I have not seen him again.
Here, in this solitary chapel, the memory of these farewells and this long and cruel separation came, more vivid than ever, to remind me of my tender father, as well as of the touching and solemn scene which had taken place in the little village church.
Right here, at the foot of this altar, I seemed to see my father kneeling. And when I found this book, which I very well recognized as having once belonged to me, the image of my father came again to offer itself to my eyes; the fervent prayer he addressed to God the last day we saw each other came back to me in the same way; I thought I was still on my knees beside him before the altar; I conjured the Lord with tears to have pity on me, and to procure for me at last, after so many years of cruel uncertainty as to your fate, some news of my father and of you. Oh! How happy I feel to learn that this excellent father has not forgotten me, that he still remembered me with tenderness, and that at the moment of his death he gave me his blessing!
"O good, excellent father!" replied Louise, bursting into tears; this virtuous father is now in heaven; there he prays for his children, and his last blessing rests visibly on us... Yes, dear brother, we have a sensible and quite remarkable proof of this: you see, it was before the altar of another small church in village that our father said goodbye to you, and it was also before the altar of this chapel that we, his two children, were to meet. It comes from God! God answered the father's prayer in the other church, and your prayer in this one. You see how much the Lord has rewarded you for your faithfulness in obeying the exhortations of our late father, and for having always had God present in your thoughts. If, like so many people in the world, you had looked disdainfully at this chapel without entering it, we would never have met. Oh! come, let us hasten at this very moment to thank the God of love for having brought us together in such an admirable and happy way. »
And the brother and sister knelt on the steps of the altar, and from the bottom of their deeply moved hearts addressed fervent thanksgiving to God, who had so admirably directed their fate on that memorable day.
Having thus concluded their prayers with the most fervent devotion, they went and sat down on a bench, and thus began the conversation:
“But tell me, my good sister, by what chance you came here, and how you could venture into this forest like this.
"We're not as deep in the forest as you imagine," replied Louise. We are almost at the edge of the wood, and not far from here there is a fairly busy road. This chapel has long been my favorite place, where I usually go to pray every Sunday and feast day, and even several times during the week, when my occupations allow it. The path that leads here is a kind of very pleasant and well shaded promenade. Usually one of my friends, a wise and well-educated young person, accompanies me; but today her occupations have prevented her. This little prayer book has become my favorite book, and although I know it almost all by heart, I always carry it with me when I come here; a thousand times I thought of you when I opened it, praying God to return you to my affection. Well, my prayers have not been in vain; because, by the chance which made me forget my book here, God guided my steps to make me find there a beloved brother. All day this loss has caused me the greatest anxiety, and now this same loss causes me the greatest happiness.
'It's just like me: when I had the misfortune to get lost in the forest, I was desolate, I was tormented by the liveliest anxieties; and now I am overjoyed. It is almost always so in this life; it is through sorrows that God leads us to happiness...
But tell me, where do you live, my good sister?
"A quarter of a league from here, in the town of Belle-Fontaine, behind the little hill you can see from here." This is where the charitable lady lives who was kind enough to take me in. She is a widow and has no children. Her husband, who died several years ago, was a wealthy merchant. I love her like a mother, and she, on her side, cherishes me and treats me as if I were her own daughter. But come, we are going to see her; take your hat and your stick, I will carry your suitcase, for you must be very tired. Come, my benefactress will be delighted to meet the brother of whom I have spoken to her so often. »
Conrad and Louise set off, but the first would not consent to his sister taking the heavy suitcase. Along the way, they continued to talk in a friendly way about the different adventures of their lives, intermingling them with pious reflections.
At last they crossed the hill, and entered Belle-Fontaine together.
Establishment of Conrad.
When they entered the pretty, clean and well-appointed house in which the good lady lived, the latter was greatly surprised to see Louise arrive with a young man and chat familiarly with him; at first she could not believe that this young man was the brother of her adopted daughter. Meanwhile, several people arrived; some said he looked exactly like Louise, while others shook their heads doubtfully. So, to convince them, Conrad opened his wallet, showed his apprenticeship certificate, his booklet and his passport; he added the certificate given to him by the master from whom he had learned the trade of boilermaker, as well as the certificate of good conduct and morals issued by the parish priest of the commune, and thus managed to convince everyone that he was, in fact, Louise's brother. Immediately all suspicion disappeared. And when the good lady learned how Louise, by means of her prayer book, which she had forgotten in the chapel in the forest, had finally found her brother, she shed tears of tenderness.
"The house that my husband left me when he died, she said, I intended it a long time ago for Louise for her dowry, if she continues to remain pious and wise as she has been up to this day, if she does not belie herself, and if she takes care not to resemble those fashionable girls who concern themselves only with toilet and vanity, and who under a painted exterior often hide only a corrupt heart.
“As for you, brave Conrad, I also want to try to be useful to you. Heaven has deigned to favor me on the side of fortune, and I could not make better use of it than to use it to make the happiness of my fellow men. The coppersmith of our commune died six months ago and his house is for sale as well as his shop; I want to buy them from you, if you are willing to settle in this town to be near your sister. »
The good lady said all this in the joy of her heart. These generous plans caused a great rumor among the relations of the lady, all rich people, but more greedy than beggars, and who made every effort to dissuade her. Fortunately she had too noble a heart and too firm a character to allow herself to be diverted from her benevolent intentions. Conrad became one of the most respected bourgeois and one of the most respectable fathers of families in the commune. Louise also married soon after, and was very happy.
Conrad had not forgotten his excellent master, the brave coppersmith. Not only did he write to her from time to time letters dictated by the most grateful heart, but he also proved his gratitude to her by deeds; for when this brave man, beginning to grow old, lost his wife, and found himself greatly hampered in his affairs by the events of the war, so much so that he was earning his living only with great difficulty, Conrad told him that he was going to take care of him, and kept his word: he left almost immediately with a car to look for him and bring him home. From that moment the old boilermaker lived in the house of his ci-devant apprentice, who surrounded him with all possible care, and treated him with as much respect, love and gratitude as if this good old man had been his own father. Louise, in her turn, showed the same filial tenderness towards the widow who had adopted her. These good feelings and these ever increasing attentions touched the two old men, to the point that they often said: “God did not allow us to have children; but those we have adopted cause us so much joy and consolation, that we could not have had more satisfaction if they had been our own children. »
The walls of the chapel of the forest being old and threatening ruin, Conrad and Louise had them repaired at common expense, and the first planted four lime trees on the beautiful hill in the middle of which it was situated.
The old painting of the altar, almost effaced by humidity and time, was restored by a distinguished artist, and soon presented a charming appearance. Everyone, on entering the chapel, was delighted. It was clean and whitewashed, the stained-glass windows cleaned, the woodwork and the altar repainted, the ornaments regilded; and the azure of the sky, like the pleasant greenery of the lime trees, which could be seen in the middle of the transparent stained-glass windows, delighted the sight. But the most beautiful ornament, without a doubt, was the painting above the altar. It represented the Holy Family: the Blessed Virgin was seated at the entrance to her house, shaded by vines, and holding in her arms the divine child, to whom her foster father presented a small basket filled with grapes and adorned with flowers. The two parents cast a look of tenderness on the future Savior of the world, and the child Jesus, on his side, joined his small hands, and looked towards the sky with a touching expression. On the side of the Blessed Virgin Mary one saw a table laden with the labors of her sex; on the other side lay carpenter's tools on the ground, and under the painting was the following inscription in gold letters:
Work and peace, virtue, fervor, alone can make us happy here below.