« PreviousContinue »
vanity, I might have thought they were ridiculing me. Their conduct, however, convinced me they were sincere. Their desire for revenge upon the haughty girl, seemed to become more eager and extravagant, as it was about to be gratified. In order to confirm the delusion of both father and daughter, they immediately sent, in my name, to my mistress, a beautiful bouquet, accompanied by a watch, bracelets, jewelry, and lace of the finest quality. Toward the end of the week the marriage contract was drawn up, to which I took care to sign my true name, a precaution which was in the end of the greatest service to me.
I had deceived Aurora, shamefully deceived her, it is true ; but heaven is my witness, it was not without the deepest remorse! When at her side, I could think only of her. When with my gay friends, their good humor, their wit, and agreeable manners, and the state of dependence in which they held me; the instructions and favors they had so freely bestowed upon me; the many and kind services I had received from them; all combined to take from me the power of reflection. I could scarcely realize the present, or look forward to the future. But, in the solitude of my own chamber, passion and sophistry gave way to despair and remorse ; and I looked with dismay upon the frightful prospect before me! When I pictured to myself my beautiful Aurora, undeceived and conducted to my wretched abode, the only one I possessed ; when I thought of those fair and delicate hands condemned to perform the most menial offices, and prepare the scanty meals for our daily support; when I felt that so much grace and beauty, fit to adorn a palace, was doomed henceforth to be buried in my father's miserable hut, I started with horror from the contemplation of the scene; a death-like coldness paralyzed my
I was ready to throw myself at her feet, confess my crime, and declare myself ready to bear the shame and degradation I so truly deserved. But alas ! self-love, and the madness of my passion, withheld me. Intoxicated by the feelings of the present, imagination cast a ray of hope over the obscurity of the future. The unhappiness of Aurora,' I said to myself, ' will only be momentary. Love will soften all the bitterness of her misfortune ; and when the thirst for revenge, which now blinds her enemies, shall have passed away, she shall again be happy! I shall have some money remaining, and by my own industry, I can procure her comfort and ease. I should indeed be contemptible, if I were not willing to devote all the energy of my character, and every hour of my life, to shed ease and enjoyment on the pathway of her existence. When she first discovers the truth, her resentment will doubtless be terrible indeed; but the evil being irreparable, reason will in time reconcile her to it; love will compensate her for the loss of fortune ; and we shall at last be happy!'
Such were the reflections which occupied my mind, during the few days preceding our marriage. When, at the holy altar, Aurora pronounced the vow to live and die with me, a cold shudder shook my whole frame. Never before had the odious part I was acting appeared in so appalling a light. I turned as pale as death, and should have fallen upon the floor, had not tears come to my relief. This last effort of expiring virtue was mistaken by the surrounding crowd for an excess of sensibility. Aurora was herself deceived; and I felt,
I found my
by the expression of her tenderness, that this proud and haughty beauty shrank not from evincing toward me all the feelings of a devoted and affectionate wife.
The engravers, willing to reward the address and good faith with which I had executed their project, permitted me to continue the deception for some days; during which time I gave myself up to the happiness of the moment, and endeavored to banish from my mind the fatal period when the delusion must be dissolved. But alas ! I could not ward it off for ever. They at length became impatient; and after many fruitless entreaties to spare my Aurora, her implacable enemies insisted upon the completion of their triumph, and bade me prepare to conduct her to my miserable home. When I proposed to my wife a journey, of which I knew the cruel termination, I could not suppress a deep sigh, which she heard with surprise ; for to her lively imagination, the prospect of travelling with me, in a handsome equipage, with attendants, was a gratification both of her affection and pride, to which she could only look forward with delight; and she flew with eagerness to prepare for our departure, the near approach of which caused me inexpressible grief. Again and again I implored the pity of my friends, but they were inexorable, and only replied by placing the bond of our agreement before my eyes. doom was inevitable, and ceased to struggle against fate.
Two of my employers acted as our couriers; and Aurora's rejected suitor, with the aid of a wig, and black patch over one eye, which so completely disguised him that no one could have recognised him, insisted upon being our coachman. Three others, dressed in gay liveries, mounted as footmen behind the carriage, while the other four, unable, on account of business, to leave Lyons, were compelled to console themselves for the loss of the final scene, by exacting from their comrades a promise to give them a full account of every thing that took place during the journey. It was with the greatest difficulty that the rogues could restrain their laughter, when my wife, after giving them her orders in a careless and haughty tone, turned to me, and with the utmost deference, asked the names of my different chateaux, the extent of my domains in Dauphiny, and what were my rights of chase and fishery thereon; and spoke with complacency of the richness of my mines, which in her imagination equalled those of Peru. While conversing upon these subjects, we at length approached Montélimart, and turned off into the narrow, crooked lane, which led to the poor little hamlet in which my father lived.
The awful moment at length arrived; for after a painful drive of three hours over a humble road, our coachman suddenly Idrew up
before a miserable cabin, at the door of which sat a venerable old man, clad in the coarsest garb of poverty. This was my father! Believe me, my dear friend, words are inadequate to describe the scene which then ensued! On one side stood the pale and trembling Perourou; on the other, the astonished Aurora, surrounded by the six insolent young men, who handed her with mock ceremony to an old broken chair, amid bursts of insulting laughter, and sarcastic remarks, best calculated to express their revenge, and complete her humiliation. The pretended coachman, throwing aside his wig and
black patch, stepped up to Aurora, and with an air of insolent triumph, and in a tone of derision, said to her:
No, madam; you were not indeed born to become the wife of an engraver ; such a match would have been too great an honor for your birth, your fortune, and your choice; a poor bellows-mender alone could obtain your hand. Behold the man your discrimination and your pride have chosen for a husband !'
I rushed forward to interrupt him, but in an instant he mounted his box, the others threw themselves into the carriage, and with a burst of merriment and triumph, the whole party drove off, and left us to ourselves.
I knew that the dénouement must be terrible ; but I never imagined it would be carried to such an extent; for in pointing out to me the part I was to perform, the engravers were careful to hide from me the cruel insults they intended to inflict upon my poor wife; and I felt like the spectator of a play, who, after dwelling with delight upon some scene of enchantment, beholds the curtain fall, and the whole charm is destroyed in an instant. I seemed to have awakened from a dream of rapture to all the stern realities of life. My unfortunate Aurora had suffered but little of the painful scene; for long before the engraver ceased to speak, she became unconscious of every thing around her, and they left her in a deep swoon.
You may imagine my state of despair and agony, when you consider, that the new kind of life I had led for the last year, and the pains which had been bestowed upon the cultivation of my mind, had drawn forth new tastes, and brought to life and fostered a delicacy and susceptibility of feeling, with which nature had endowed me, but of the extent of which I was unconscious until now. Alas! when I beheld her whom I adored, lying at my feet like one dead, I shuddered at the thought of losing her for ever, although I almost equally dreaded the moment which should restore ber to the consciousness of her unhappy fate; and while I ceased not to apply every remedy my anxiety could suggest, I almost hoped my efforts might be without success. It seemed, indeed, for some time, as if my half-formed wishes were to be fulfilled, so long was it before Aurora returned to her senses. At length her eyes unclosed, and met mine gazing upon her with intense anxiety. She shuddered, and uttering the word “monster! sank again into a state of insensibility. I took advantage of this relapse, to disperse the crowd which had collected around us, and carrying her into the hut, placed her upon my poor old father's wretched pallet, which a kind neighbor had covered with some fresh straw. I then begged we might be left alone, not wishing there should be any witnesses to the cruel confession I had to make.
When entirely alone, I took Aurora in my arms; I pressed her to my bosom; I bathed her cold cheeks with my scalding tears. At length, she opened her eyes, and fixed them upon me with a look that made me tremble. The first words she uttered, were to beg me to leave her alone, under the pretext that we both so much needed repose, and to defer, until the next day, the details of the dishonorable plot of which she had discovered herself to be the victim. I yielded to her wishes, and retired, leaving her in care of the curate's niece, whose affectionate attentions she appeared to receive with pleasure.
Dreadful indeed were the sufferings of that terrible night! I was suddenly transported from a situation of elegance and luxury, to a miserable hovel, and almost destitute of resources, for I had but a few Louis left; and my wife, my beautiful Aurora, in the spring-time of her life, accustomed to every indulgence, and all the delights of a society of which she had formed one of the brightest ornaments, was at once, by an infamous deception, reduced to a state of the extremest poverty, and forced to share the wretched cabin of a poor old man; and with me, the chief instrument of her misfortunes, the wretched accomplice in all the atrocities from which she suffered. Alas! what could I now do? How hope to soften her wounded feelings ? My fervent attachment, my tenderness, my deep devotion, would they alone suffice for her happiness? Would they atone for my dishonorable and cruel conduct? Alas ! I feared not. I could scarcely presume upon so much goodness and forgiveness. I felt more strongly than ever the wretchedness of her fate, and the unmanly folly of my own course. It was not the reverse of fortune which I lamented; for in truth I had experienced none.
Born and bred in poverty, I was habituated to its wants, and could bear with all its privations : but my full heart taught me, but too sensibly, that I could never bear that grief which springs from indifference and contempt in the cherished object of our love; the most bitter which falls to the lot of humanity. I could not endure to lose for ever that tenderness so necessary to my happiness, nor bear to read coldness and disdain in those eyes which once beamed upon me with confidence and affection. Nor was this all. I knew not that even this would be the extent of my punishment. Might not deep aversion and contempt take the place of indifference? And even if hated by her whom I adored, what right had I to complain? My conscience told me I had none! My deep remorse added to my torture, but could bring me no relief. Was not I the cause of all her misfortunes ? Had I not cast a dark cloud over the brilliant horizon of her life? Had I not brought sorrow upon the brightest days of her youth? In short, was I not the unfortunate cause of all her wretchedness? Perhaps in her despair she might seek an asylum in the grave; perhaps with her last breath she would pour curses upon my head; or, if in pity she granted me a generous pardon, such pity, such pardon, would be more painful than reproach - more heart-rending than her malediction. I wa almost frantic with these harrowing thoughts, which made the bed upon which I had sought repose, a place of torment, where I in vain courted a short oblivion of my woes.
To increase the evils of my situation, a long-continued rain had inundated the road to Montélimart
, and rendered it impassable for several days, which prevented me from sending there for a carriage, as I had intended, to convey Aurora to a more comfortable and less humiliating lodging. You will believe that I made frequent inquiries after my unfortunate companion: the replies were satisfactory, and my attentions were received with some acknowledgment. I was even told that I should be admitted to see her the next day; that she exerted herself, and displayed a strength of character, a firmness, and courage, under the cruel circumstances in which she was placed, which would astonish and confound her heartless enemies. All this
was told me, however, with such an air of mystery, that it gave me no comfort; and the next day found me again filled with terror and dismay. The fatal interview appeared more dreadful than death itself; and I was seeking for some pretext by which to defer it, when the door of my chamber opened, and Aurora stood before me. I threw myself at her feet, and seizing her hand, bathed it with tears. She gazed upon me for some time in silence; then bidding me rise, said, with an air of dignity and pride, which nothing could overcome : • You have deceived me, cruelly deceived me, and must be aware that my pardon depends upon the course you may henceforth pursue. If any sentiment of generosity remains in your heart — if you do not wish to heap new misfortunes upon your victim — you will not seek to take advantage of the title you have so unjustly acquired. The curate's niece offers me an asylum in her uncle's house: I have accepted it, as it accords with my situation and duties. Yon can see me there, when you please ; and we can then, with more calmness, consider the best mode of relieving ourselves from our present painful position, and arrange our future plans. You may trust to my honor for the faithful guardianship of yours.'
The man who loves, is always sanguine. A kind expression from the woman he adores, is sufficient to banish uneasiness from his mind. In spite of the studied calmness of Aurora's manner, my
faith was strong in her good intentions; and I did not reflect, that it would have been much more natural for her to have overwhelmed me with reproaches. For some days, I retained the hope of pardon ; for I saw her smile as I traced out the plan of such a life as my fond affection suggested. How indeed could I conceive, after the agony I had endured, that my cup of bitterness was not yet full, and that there was in reserve for me a grief still more fatal ?
One morning, about a week after our arrival, when dreams of happiness had prolonged my sleep to a later hour than usual, my father entered my room, and reproving my laziness, presented me with two letters. The handwriting of one was unknown to me. I opened the other, which was from my friends at Lyons, and ran thus :
• We are so well satisfied with you, and our revenge upon the proud Aurora has been so completely accomplished, that it is but just we should remember the adroitness and good faith by which you have insured our success. You are no longer fitted to dwell in the class in which you were born; and we have great pleasure in being able to offer you the means of extricating yourself from your present situation, without taxing your gratitude too far, as we can be useful to you, without injuring ourselves. When, urged on by our desire of revenge, you are aware that we each contributed one thousand crowns in aid of our plan: you have scarcely expended one third of this sum; the rest is placed at your disposal, in the hands of a notary of this city, who is ready to deliver it to you at any moment. The lace, silks, and jewelry, which served to confirm the credulity of a silly father, and blind the pride of an arrogant daughter, you must also consider as your own; and to you we confide the future happiness of Aurora ; having made choice of you, in the hope that we might never have cause to regret our revenge being carried too far.