Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

which inned at the Red Lion, had just dropped there two foreigners, a man and a woman, one of whom seemed to her fancy dying, whilst both appeared miserably poor, and neither could speak a word to be understood. Would her dear child come and interpret for the sick lady ?

Jane went immediately. They were German musicians, on their way to Bristol, where they hoped to meet a friend, and to procure employment. In the meanwhile, the illness of the wife had stopped them on their journey ; and their slender funds were, as the husband modestly confessed, little calculated to encounter the expenses of medical assistance and an English inn.

Jane promised to represent the matter to her father, who, although hating Frenchmen and papists (both of which he assumed the foreigners to be) with a hatred eminently British and Protestant, was yet too good a Christian to refuse moderate relief to fellow-creatures in distress; and between Mr. Lanham’s contributions and the good landlady's kindness, and what Jane could spare from her own frugally-supplied purse, the poor Austrians (for they were singers from Vienna) were enabled to bear up during a detention of many days.

Before they resumed their journey, their kind interpreter had heard from the good hostess that they had found another friend, almost as poor as themselves, and previously unacquainted with them, in a French officer on parole in the town, to whom the simple fact of their being foreigners in distress in a strange land had supplied the place of recommendation or introduction; and when going the next day, laden with a few comforts for Madame, to bid them farewell, and to see them off, she met, for the first time, the young officer, who had been drawn by similar feelings to the door of the Red Lion.

It was a bitter December day—one of those north-east winds which seem to blow through you, and which hardly any strength can stand ; and as the poor German, in a thin summer waistcoat and a thread bare coat, took his seat on the top of the coach, shivering from head to foot, and his teeth already chattering, amidst the sneers of the bear-skinned coachman, muffled up to his ears, and his warmly-clad fellow-passengers, Victor took off his own great-coat, tossed it smilingly to the freezing musician, and walked rapidly away as the coach drove off, uttering an exclamation somewhat similar to Sir Philip Sidney's at Zutphen--_- He wants it more than I do *.'

My friend, Mr. Serle, has said, in one of the finest plays of this century, richer in great plays, let the critics rail as they will, than any age since the time of Elizabeth and her immediate successor,-Mr. Serle, speaking of the master-passion, has said, in “ The Merchant of London,"

“ How many doors or entrances hath love

Into the heart?
As many as the senses :
All are love's portals; though, when the proudest comes,
He comes as conquerors use, by his own path-

And sympathy's that breach."
And this single instance of sympathy and fellow-feeling (for the grate-

* St. Martin was canonized for an act altogether similar to that of Victor d'Auberval.

ful Germans had spoken to M. d'Auberval of Miss Lanham's kindness) sealed the destiny of two warm hearts.

Victor soon contrived to get introduced to Jane, by their mutual friend, the landlady of the Red Lion; and, after that introduction, he managed to meet her accidentally whenever there was no danger of interruption or discovery, which, as Jane had always been in the habit of taking long, solitary walks, happened, it must be confessed, pretty often. He was charmed at the piquant contrast between her shy, retiring manners and her ardent and enthusiastic character, and his national vanity found a high gratification in her proficiency in, and fondness for, his language and literature; whilst she (so full of contradictions is love) found no less attraction in his ignorance of English. She liked to have something to teach her quick and lively pupil; and he repaid her instructions by enlarging her knowledge of French authors—by introducing to her the beautiful, though dangerous, pages of Rousseau, the light and brilliant writers of memoirs, and the higher devotional eloquence of Bossuet, Massillon, and Bourdaloue, the Lettres Spirituelles of Fenelon, and the equally beautiful, though very different, works of Le Père Pascal.

So time wore on. The declaration of love had been made by one party; and the confession that that love was returned had been reluctantly extorted from the other. Of what use was that confession ? Never, as Jane declared, would she marry to displease her father ;-and how, knowing as she well did all his prejudices, could she hope for his consent to an union with a prisoner, a soldier, a Frenchman, a Catholic? Even Victor felt the impossibility.

Still neither could forego the troubled happiness of these stolen interviews, chequered as they were with present alarms and future fears. Jane had no confidant. The reserve and perhaps the pride of her character prevented her confessing even to her affectionate nurse a clandestine attachment. But she half feared that her secret was suspected at least, if not wholly known, by Mr. Fenton; and if known to him, assuredly it would be disclosed to her father; and the manner in which a worthy, wealthy, and disagreeable London suitor was pressed on her by both (for hitherto Mr. Lanham had seemed averse to her marrying) confirmed her in the apprehension.

Still, however, they continued to meet, until suddenly, and without any warning, the exchange that restored him to his country, and tore him from her who had been his consolation in captivity, burst on them like a thunderclap; and then Jane, with all the inconsistency of a woman's heart, forgot her own vows never to marry him without the consent of her father, forgot how impossible it appeared that that consent should ever be obtained, and dwelt wholly on the fear of his inconstancy, on the chance of his meeting some fair, and young, and fascinating Frenchwoman, and forgetting his own Jane; whilst he again and again pledged himself, when peace should come, to return to Belford and carry home in triumph the only woman he could ever love. Until that happy day, they agreed, in the absence of any safe medium of communication, that it would be better not to write ; and so, in the midst of despondency on the one side, and ardent and sincere protestations on the other, they parted.

Who, shall describe Jane's desolation during the long and dreary winter that succeeded their separation ? That her secret was known, or, at least, strongly suspected, appeared to her certain ; and she more than guessed that her father's forbearance in not putting into words the grieved displeasure which he evidently felt, was owing to the kind, but crabbed old bachelor, Mr. Fenton, whose conduct towards herself, or rather whose opinion of her powers appeared to have undergone a considerable change, and who, giving her credit for strength of mind, seemed chiefly bent on spurring her on to exert that strength to the utmost. He gave proof of that knowledge of human nature which the dissenting ministers so frequently possess, by seeking to turn her thoughts into a different channel, and by bringing her Milton and Cowper, and supplying her with English books of history and theology, together with the lives of many pious and eminent men of his own persuasion, succeeded not only in leading her into an interesting and profitable course of reading, but in beguiling her into an unexpected frankness of discussion on the subject of her new studies.

In these discussions, he soon found the talent of the young person whom he had so long undervalued ; and constant to his contempt for the sex, (a heresy from which a man who has fallen into it seldom recovers,) began to consider her as a splendid exception to the general inanity of woman, a good opinion which received further confirmation from her devoted attention to her father, who was seized with a lingering illness about a twelvemonth after the departure of Victor, of which he finally died, after languishing for nearly two years, kept alive only by the tender and incessant cares of his daughter, and the sympathizing visits of his friend.

On opening the will, his beloved daughter, Jane, was found sole heiress to a fortune of 70,0001.; unless she should intermarry with a soldier, a papist, or a foreigner, in which case the entire property was bequeathed unreservedly to the Rev. Samuel Fenton, to be disposed of by him according to his sole will and pleasure.

Miss Lanham was less affected by this clause than might have been expected. Three years had now elapsed from the period of separation; and she had been so well obeyed, as never to have received one line from Victor d'Auberval. She feared that he was dead; she tried to hope that he was unfaithful; and the tremendous number of officers that had fallen in Napoleon's last battles rendered the former by far the more probable catastrophe; even if he had not previously fallen, the Russian campaign threatened extermination to the French army, and

poor Jane, in whose bosom hope had long lain dormant, hardly regarded this fresh obstacle to her unhappy love.

She felt that hers was a widowed heart, and that her future comfort must be sought in the calm pleasures of literature, and in contributing all that she could to the happiness of others.

Attached to Belford by long habit, and by the recollection of past happiness and past sorrows, she continued in her old dwelling, making little other alteration in her way of life, than that of adding two or three servants to her establishment, and offering a home to her mother's sister, the aunt to whose intervention she owed the doubtful good of that proficiency in French which had introduced her to Victor, and whom unforeseen events had now reduced to absolute poverty.

In her she found an intelligent and cultivated companion, and in her society and that of Mr. Fenton, and in the delight of a daily increasing library, her days passed calmly and pleasantly; when, in spite of all her resolutions, her serenity was disturbed by the victories of the Allies, the fall of Napoleon, the capture of Paris, and the peace of Europe. Was Victor dead or alive? Faithless or constant ? Would he seek her? and seeking her, what would be his disappointment at the clause that parted them for ever? Ought she to remain in Belford ? Was there no way of ascertaining his fate?

She was revolving these questions for the hundredth time, when a knock was heard at the door, and the servant announced Colonel d'Auberval.

There is no describing such meetings. After sketching rapidly his fortunes since they had parted; how he disobeyed her by writing, and how he had since found that his letters had miscarried ; and after brief assurances that in his eyes she was more than ever charming, had gained added grace, expression, and intelligence, Jane began to communicate to him at first with much agitation, afterwards with collected calmness, the clause in the will, by which she forfeited all her property in marrying him.

“ Is it not cruel,” added she, “to have lost the power of enriching him whom I love?

You do love me, then, still ?” exclaimed Victor. “Blessings on you for that word! You are still constant ? ”

“ Constant! Oh, if you could have seen my heart during these long, long years ! If you could have imagined how the thought of you mingled with every recollection, every feeling, every hope! But to bring you a pennyless wife, Victor-for even the interest of this money since my father's death, which might have been a little portion, I have settled upon my poor aunt—to take advantage of your generosity, and burthen you with a dowerless wife, never handsome, no longer young, inferior to you in every way—ought I to do so? Would it be just ? Would it be right? Answer me, Victor ?"

“ Rather tell me, would it be just and right to deprive you of the splendid fortune you would use so well ? Would

you,

for

my sake, for love, and for competence, forego the wealth which is your own ? "

“Would I? Oh, how can you ask !”

“Will you, then, my own Jane? Say yes, dearest, and never will we think of this money again. I have a mother worthy to be yours—a mother who will love and value you as you deserve to be loved; and an estate with a small chateau at the foot of the Pyrenees, beautiful enough to make an emperor forget his throne. Share it with me, and we shall be happier in that peaceful retirement than ever monarch was or can be ! You love the country. You have lost none of the simplicity which belonged to you, alike from taste and from habit. You will not miss these riches?"

Oh, no! no !”
And
you

will be mine, dearest and faithfullest ? Mine, heart and hand ? Say yes, mine own Jane!"

And Jane did whisper, between smiles and tears, that "yes," which her faithful lover was never weary of hearing; and in a shorter time than it takes to tell it, all the details of the marriage were settled.

In the evening, Mr. Fenton, whom Miss Lanham had invited to tea, arrived; and in a few simple words, Jane introduced Colonel d’Auberval, explained their mutual situation, and declared her resolution of relinquishing immediately the fortune which, by her father's will, would be triply forfeited by her union with a soldier, a foreigner, and a Catholic.

“ And your religion ?” inquired Mr. Fenton, somewhat sternly.

“ Shall ever be sacred in my eyes,” replied Victor, solemnly. My own excellent mother is herself a Protestant and a Calvinist. There is a clergyman of that persuasion at Bayonne. She shall find every facility for the exercise of her own mode of worship. I should love her less if I thought her capable of change."

“Well, but this money–Are you sure, young man, that you yourself will not regret marrying a portionless wife?”

Quite sure. I knew nothing of her fortune. It was a portionless wife that I came hither to seek."

“And you, Jane? Can you abandon this wealth which, properly used, comprises in itself the blessed power of doing good, of relieving misery, of conferring happiness? Can you leave your home, your country, and your friends ?”

“Oh, Mr. Fenton!” replied Jane, “ I shall regret none but you. His home will be my home, his country my country. My dear aunt will, I hope, accompany us. I shall leave nothing that I love but you, my second father. And for this fortune which, used as it should be used, is indeed a blessing-do I not leave it in your hands ? And am I not sure that with you it will be a fund for relieving misery and conferring happiness? I feel that if, at this moment, he whom I have lost could see into my heart, he would approve my resolution, and would bless the man who had shown such disinterested affection for his child."

“ In his name and my own, I bless you, my children," rejoined Mr. Fenton ; and as his act and my own do I restore to you the forfeited money. No refusals, young man! No arguments! "No thanks ! It

and
yours only.

Listen to me, Jane. This will, for which any one less generous and disinterested than yourself would have hated me, was made, as you must have suspected, under my direction. I had known from your friend, the hostess of the Red Lion, of your mutual attachment; and was on the point of putting a stop to your interviews, when an exchange, unexpected by all parties, removed M. d’Auberval from Belford. After your separation, it would have been inflicting needless misery to have reproached you with an intercourse which we had every reason to believe completely at an end. I prevailed on my good friend to conceal his knowledge of the engagement, and tried all I could to turn your thoughts into a different channel. By these means I became gradually acquainted with your firmness and strength of mind, your ardour and your sensibility; and having made minute and searching inquiries into the character of your lover, I began to think, little as an old bachelor is supposed to know of those matters, that an attachment between two such persons was likely to be an attachment for life; and I prevailed on Mr. Lanham to add to his will the clause that you have seen, that we might prove the disinterestedness as well as the constancy of the lovers. Both are proved,” continued the good old man, a smile of the purest benevolence softening his rugged features, “both are

is yours

« AnteriorContinuar »