For previous instalments see posts tagged with ‘The Baroness’.
Chapter Nine: Eugene and the Priest—the Declaration
No—it is not true that love has but a period more or less limited to reign in the heart of man; that after a season of blissful delirium and intoxicating pleasure, its decline is inevitable; and that a few years are the term assigned by Nature to a passion which nothing can enchain, and which must perish together with the bosom that has nursed it! No—it is not true that the most elevated and sublime sentiments which ever concrete in the minds of intelligent beings, are like crystal toys that an accident may break and disperse! Oh!—no—the designs of crafty individuals have, from time to time, endeavoured to represent mankind in a more degraded predicament than it really is; but they shall never succeed in convincing us that love—true love—can be destroyed like the fragile glass; that its image may be effaced from the memory like a passing dream; or that its shackles are more fragile than silken threads! Love is the soul itself; it enjoys an invisible existence; it cures itself with its own balm; it fortifies itself by its own energies; it does not recommence—for it never ceases. At one moment it is ardent and passionate; at another, languishing and docile; now heated and feverish—then calm and reflective; now jealous and unjust—then forgiving and blind to a fault; now like the bursting volcano—then smooth as the placid lake; at one time selfish and cruel—at another, generous and kind. The principles of true love belong to eternity: they are combined with a faculty of regeneration, an impossibility of total decay, a youthfulness of passion blooming simultaneously with all the most beauteous flowers, like the rose- trees of Paestum which blossom twice in one year!
Such was the substance of the arguments used by the young and the noble Count de Montville to enforce his passion, as he roved with the beautiful Clemence in one of the groves adjacent to the chateau of Grandmanoir. The vacillating mind of the young nobleman had at length become settled and released from its waverings; and after a long communion which he held within himself, and after a series of catechising reflections in the silence of his private apartment at the manor, de Montville became convinced that his heart was decidedly the captive of the fascinating Clementine.
Many of our readers know—and the rest can readily imagine—the nature of the tender questions, timid replies—bashful looks, and downcast eyes—the volumes expressed by those signs—for the mute language of love is far more expressive than the eloquent bursts of verbal eloquence which flow from the tongue—and the ardour of the lover, and the hesitation of the maiden,—all this can full easily be divined, and requires no embellishment of metaphor or poesy to render it intelligible.
“My lord,” said the blushing Clemence, when pressed for a definitive reply to the suit of her impassioned adorer—for no words are so delicious in sound or sentiment to the ears of a lover, as those three monosyllables, “I love you,”—“My lord,” said Clemence, “to assert that I am not flattered by your offer, would be but to pay a bad compliment to yourself; and to say that you are indifferent to me, would be the assumption of a coquetry and ridiculous deception of which I am not capable. No—my lord—your candour, your kindness, your attentions have secured my affection: but—at the present moment, my lord—when a crisis appears to—to menace the baroness, my venerable guardian—”
“Clemence,” interrupted the Count, “I know what you would say. Some dreadful mystery involves the affairs of my respected friend in doubt and dread: her own melancholy demeanour—a few occasional half-uttered remarks—a perpetual dread to hear the name of de Moirot alluded to in her presence—and the increased confidence she appears to place in the Abbé Prud’homme—all these circumstances, Clemence, have awakened something more than suspicion in my mind. Hence —at such a moment—were it indecent, indelicate to importune the baroness with aught that wears an aspect of joy or bliss. It nevertheless behoves me to comfort and console her, if possible,—and to such task shall my mind immediately be bent.”
“Wherefore that cold—that chilling manner of addressing me, Clemence, now that our vows are plighted in the face of heaven?”
“But half an hour ago, and I was ignorant of—of—” began the bashful girl, casting her eyes upon the ground.
“Too true!” exclaimed the Count; “we shall become more familiar, as you know me better.—Ha!”—and de Montville started, as if a serpent had stung him.
“Heavens!” cried Clemence; “are you unwell, my lord?”
The Count made no reply, but pointed towards a secluded walk which intersected the grove, and which two individuals, in earnest conversation, were slowly threading. Clemence glanced in the direction thus indicated by her companion, and discovered her sister Eugenie and the Abbé Prud’homme, the former apparently listening with the greatest attention to the vehement discourse of the latter.
The Count struck his forehead, as if he were labouring under the influence of violent emotions which prompted the necessity of immediate interference in a colloquy that at no other time would have appeared to him as singular. Clemence awaited an explanation of her lover’s strange conduct in vain: he hastily collected his scattered ideas—drew the arm of the astonished maiden abruptly within his own —and silently retraced his steps towards the chateau, unperceived by the two objects whose appearance in the grove had so singularly excited him.
By the time Clemence and the Count reached the principal entrance of the manor-house, the shades of evening had spread a thick veil over the surrounding scenery; but the stars shone resplendently on the arch of heaven above. This is the hour which poets have declared, and which our own feelings seem to warrant us to suppose, the most congenial to the sentiments of lovers. The Count himself appeared to be influenced by such a reflection, as he was about to enter the chateau; for he turned abruptly back, glanced at the fading outlines of the groves and shrubberies around, and then, in a voice rendered unusually soft and melancholy by emotion, he said, “Clemence, my breast is strangely agitated by a variety of conflicting feelings. To-morrow, dear girl, I will tell thee more—nay, I will confide all my suspicions—all my fears to thy sympathetic bosom.”
“And wherefore not now?” enquired the beautiful maiden, the tone of whose voice had caught the tremulousness that had betrayed itself in the Count’s. “Methinks this is the hour for such confidential discourse,” added she with all the naivety of an innocent and infant mind.
“Or rather for one of thy sweet songs, Clemence,” exclaimed de Montville, assuming a gayer tone, and drawing his fair companion towards a seat near the bank of the stream whose undulating ripples watered the gardens of Grandmanoir. Clementine complied with the request of her lover—her vanity required not to be complimented by a frequent reiteration of a demand which simplicity of manners would in every instance immediately accord, did not a ridiculous spirit of coquettishness often prompt refusal at first, and then suffer an apparently reluctant assent to be obtained by degrees. The Count listened attentively while his betrothed warbled, with enchanting sweetness, the following seasonable
Away, away! The god of day
Departs to another sphere:
The mists arise, but the darkling skies
Like a jeweil’d vest appear.
Like a jewell’d vest, the arch above
Is gemm’d with many a star,
To guide the swain to his ladye-love,
Or the champion to the war!
Away, away! The sun-beams play
On Atlantic billows now;—
The glist’ning foam, as she dances home,
Sports around the vessel’s prow.
Oh! it gaily sports around the bark,
With the early beam of morn:—
To another sphere, when our’s is dark,
Thus the light is newly born!
Away, away! Like night and day
Is the chequered race we run,—
A changing scene, where woes intervene
As our mirth has just begun.
When mirth has begun, the voice of fate
Breaks in with a gloomy sound;
We bow to the force of guile and hate,
Though our cups with wine be crown’d!
“Alas! this is indeed a chequered life!” observed the Count, as the last words of the above song stole gently upon his ear, and then melted away into silence, Clemence was about to reply, when the sound of a footstep caused her to turn hastily round, a movement that was simultaneously followed by the Count; and the tall figure of the priest, moving rapidly along the pathway towards the chateau, met the eyes of the lovers.
“How singular!” exclaimed Clemence, when the Abbé Prud’homme was no longer in sight: “Eugenie is not with him!”
The Count made no reply: but the suspicion that lurked in his mind, led him to believe that Eugenie had sought the chateau by another avenue, in pursuance of the directions of the wily priest. He remained thoughtful for some minutes, and then, suddenly perceiving that the night air was beginning to impart a chilliness to the frame of his fair companion, he rose, and re-conducted her to the chateau, where they found the baroness and the priest already seated at the evening repast.
“Where is Eugenie?” enquired the venerable dame, after a few indifferent remarks upon the state of the weather, &c.
“Is she not come in, yet?” demanded the Count hastily.
“I fancied you were all three together,” said the baroness, while de Montville glanced towards the priest, whose countenance was as unruffled and whose manners were as easy as if he were a total stranger to the subject of the conversation.
A quarter of an hour elapsed, and still Mademoiselle de Grandmanoir did not make her appearance. The baroness was uneasy, and desired Clemence to see if her sister were not in her bed-chamber. Clemence obeyed the command of her revered relative, and departed to execute the commission. In a few minutes she returned, declaring that Eugenie could not be found, and that her cloak and bonnet were not in her sleeping apartment.
“I fancy that Mademoiselle Eugenie was walking with Monsieur Abbé ere now,” said the Count, excessively alarmed at the prolonged absence of the sister of his intended wife, and mentioning that, in the agitation of the moment, which he had intended to have kept secret from the party most intimately connected with a fact which might ap- pear to others innocent and void of suspicion.
“Certainly,” cried Clemence, before the priest could reply: “I also saw Eugenie with you, Father Joseph, not half an hour ago, in the grove near the canal.”
“You are right,” returned the priest, with extraordinary equanimity of manner: “but we separated at the entrance of the two avenues which, as you know, lead to the front and back gates of the chateau.”
“It is most extraordinary!” exclaimed the Count, casting a searching glance at the man the trammels of whose dark and mysterious mind few could define.
“Your ladyship—” he added, after a pause— “I begin to feel particularly anxious on Eugenie’s account. Some accident may have happened—”
“Oh! my sister—my dear, dear sister!” cried Clemence, as the dreadful suspicion that some untoward circumstance might have involved Eugenie’s safety in fearful jeopardy, darted across her mind. “What can we do?—My lord—Father Joseph—what, what shall we do?”—and the terrified girl’s voice was lost in sobs and heart-rending sighs.
“Compose yourself, Clemence,” said de Montville, in a soothing tone of voice; then turning sharply round upon the priest, he exclaimed—“You were walking this evening with Mademoiselle Eugenie, Monsieur l’Abbé ?”
“I was,” responded the priest, with the most imperturbable calmness.
“And you separated from her—” continued the Count.
“At the commencement of the two avenues fifty yards distant, as I before stated,” interrupted the Abbé, returning the dark and menacing glance of the Count with another of deep and haughty disdain.
“Singular, most singular!” said the Count; for he recollected that the circumstance of the Abbé having sought the front gate of the a chateau alone, and the fact that the most ready entrance to the suite of apartments inhabited by the young ladies was by the avenue which led towards the back of the building, were strong corroborative evidence of the priest’s statement. Delicacy, justice, and the sake of appearances did not therefore warrant him to question the Abbé Prud’homme farther, upon that occasion.
While the inhabitants of the chateau were thus thrown into a strange state of doubt, anxiety, and alarm, the approaching steps of horses and the wheels of a heavy vehicle indicated the arrival of some visitor. A loud knocking speedily commenced at the front door, and in a few minutes the gallery, with which the room the room where the evening meal had been spread, communicated, re-echoed to the steps of’ several individuals. Clemence dared not raise her eyes as the strangers entered the apartment—but the Count started from his chair, exclaiming at the same time, “Heavens—Eugenie! and in this state!” And there, indeed, was the elder sister—borne in the arms of two strange individuals—the one a man dressed in the extreme of fashion; the other a female of coarse and vulgar appearance—and both entirely unknown to all present. Eugenie’s clothes were dripping wet—her long black hair hung dishevelled over her shoulders—her eyes were closed—her countenance was pale as death—her bosom, from which her gown had been roughly torn, palpitated but faintly—and the hues of death appeared to have gathered upon her once lovely countenance.
“Do not give way to any unnecessary alarm, my dear friend,” exclaimed the stranger, addressing himself to de Montville, who surveyed the dreadful picture before him in speechless horror. “She’s not dead—although you might think so at the first blush of the thing. Make haste, however, and give her all necessary assistance—she’s a fine girl, sacrebleu!—and must not be suffered to die this time—and then you shall tell me whether it be usual for young ladies to drown themselves in these parts!”
“Drowned herself!” cried the Count, casting a terrible look at the Abbé, “Impossible!”
“Well—this is a most singular part of the world!” cried the unceremonious stranger, yielding his fair burden, who now showed some signs of life, to the crowds of attentive servants that hastened to receive the unfortunate girl in their arms, while Clemence recovered herself so far as to ascertain that proper care was taken of her sister: “this is a singular province! Instead of being thanked for saving a young lady’s life, I am coolly told that it is impossible!”
“And is it to you, then, Sir,” began the priest, “that we are indebted for—”
“Indebted!” cried the stranger. “Why—certainly you are: but if I do not make haste and get some supper, those very pleasing looks of your’s will take away my appetite. When a man has travelled all day, and jumped up to his knees in a canal at night, he ought to be rather hungry, I think!”
And with these words, the unceremonious stranger very quietly seated himself at the table, beckoned the lady, who accompanied him, to follow the same laudable example, and forthwith heaped a goodly proportion of provisions on his plate. His companion, without uttering a word, stuck her fork into the half of a roast fowl which stood near her; and the two singular visitors commenced a most vigorous attack upon the dainty food, from which they only withdrew their attention to apply themselves to the wine-bottle at frequent intervals.
“Singular thing!” at length exclaimed the strange gentleman, pulling an enormous gold repeater from his pocket, and striking it, while the baroness rose from the table and followed Clemence, de Montville, and the party that bore the still insensible Eugenie to her apartment, from the supper room: ‘very singular, indeed!”
“What is so extraordinary?” enquired the priest, whose countenance was, if possible, paler than usual, and whose manners betrayed a degree of embarrassment which had never before characterized them.
“Pass that bottle, old scare-crow, and I will tell you.”
The priest regarded the individual that thus addressed him, with a look of the most ineffable disdain, and having handed the Burgundy as he was desired, made a sign of impatience, as if he were anxious to receive the promised communication.
“Mine is a very singular destiny,” cried the stranger, in a tone of jocularity to which the churchman was in no ways accustomed. “In the course of a month, I inherit a brilliant fortune from my father—I marry a rich and loving wife—and this is she,” added the facetious visitor, indicating his female companion through the novel medium of throwing a somewhat massive piece of bread at her nose—“I find that my putative father is not my real father—I ascertain who I am —I go to claim a vast estate—I rescue a young lady from a strange suicidal kind of death—and lastly, I find myself in the presence of a very pleasant and agreeable gentleman, in the shape of a priest, who will neither eat, drink, chat, laugh, nor admit a joke!”
“And, pray, might I have the honour of being made acquainted with the name of the person,” said the priest, with a degree of interest that somewhat surprised the stranger, “who has experienced such a variety of adventures in the space of one month?”
“Most decidedly, cried the stranger. “Till a few days ago my nomenclature was happily designed as Paul Sans-géne—and a very appropriate name, I dare say you will think it,” added the owner of the prenomen and cognomen just mentioned, as he gave the priest a violent knock upon the shoulder with his clenched fist.
“And, pray, what may your appellations be, now?” enquired the Abbé Prud’homme, drawing back his chair from the immediate vicinity of the too facetious guest.
“Alfred de Moirot,” returned the stranger, with the most enviable nonchalance in the world.
“Alfred de Moirot!” exclaimed the priest, starting from his chair, and gazing intently on the features of him whom the reader may have recognised as an old acquaintance.
“The same,” said that individual, coolly—Notary of the Rue Vivienne in Paris.”
The Abbé Prud’homme appeared to hesitate for a moment what steps to pursue, as this unexpected disclosure materially affected his schemes and the plans of others with whom he was connected: but he soon recovered his usual presence of mind, and hastily left the apartment.
In a few minutes Sans-géne—or rather, Alfred de Moirot—heard the sounds of a horse’s hoofs in the court-yard at the back of the chateau; and then the retreating steps of a steed, apparently urged to its utmost celerity, fell upon his attentive ear.
 Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘The Baroness: A Novel’, The Monthly Magazine, February 1838, pp. 172–78.