19th Century

The Baroness: A Novel (Part VII) | G.W.M. Reynolds

Written by George W.M. Reynolds in 1838; transcribed by Stephen Basdeo. For previous posts see all posts tagged ‘The Baroness

Chapter Ten: The Explanation

“To you, dear Clemence, alone,” said Eugenie, on the morning that followed the events related in the last chapter, “shall I now relate the motives that induced me to attempt the horrible crime from which a strange hand so happily saved me.[1] You may then communicate my explanation to our venerable relative, and the Count de Montville: and if my conduct have been more than indiscreet, the welfare of the Baroness alone prompted me to lend an ear to the insidious wiles of the most ruthless and designing of men.”

Mademoiselle de Grandmanoir paused for a moment, while Clemence, in speechless impatience, awaited the communication her a sister was about to confide to her.

“For the last six months, the manners of the Abbé Prud’homme,”—‘twas thus that Eugenie communicated her brief narrative—“have filled my mind with strange suspicions. Whenever he found himself alone with me, his conversation turned upon topics at variance with the presumed sanctity of his profession and his usual public deportment. At times I did not comprehend him—at others I affected not to do so; but I immediately avoided his society, and on every occasion endeavoured to make him understand that his behaviour was mysterious and disagreeable to me. At length M. de Moirot visited the Chateau, about three weeks back—as you may recollect—and a few days afterwards the priest at once threw off the mask he had hitherto worn, and, with the most unblushing effrontery, declared his passion, in terms I could no longer pretend to misinterpret. You may readily conceive the resentment that filled my breast, Clemence —the indignation that seized upon me, when the wretch thus insulted the grand-daughter of her who had been his benefactor in the hour of his poverty and distress. But he knew full well how to put a seal upon my lips; and a few words that he uttered in my ears filled my soul with sorrow, and made me deeply—O God! how deeply—regret the circumstances that obliged me to conceal the villainy of him, who, under the garment of holiness and sanctity, had a heart capable of every crime.

‘Ah! said the wily priest, ‘I see that my candour—my frankness is offensive. ’Tis well—but know, stubborn beauty’—these were his very words—‘that I may haply compel thee to act more courteously to one who is too intimately connected with the fortunes of the Baroness of Grandmanoir to be regarded as a creature without importance. De Moirot’—added the priest—‘is my friend, and will be led by my counsel. De Moirot, in one month, will take possession of these estates—banish your aged relative and yourselves penniless from the mansion—and close the gates of your forefathers for ever against their posterity. Or this same de Moirot—on the other hand—will grant time for the payment of the frightful mortgage that thus embarrasses the Baroness; according to my suggestions. Circumstances have put me in possession of these and other strange facts connected with your family—my letters to de Moirot have compelled him to act as my friend—do not you, then, make me your enemy.’ And with these words—words that involved me in a horrible state of uncertainty and suspense—the priest left me to ruminate on his black designs. This scene took place on the day immediately after the one on which you remember, Clemence, that de Montville abruptly left us in the garden, and sought an interview with the Abbé in the grove.

“Conceive the state of my mind! I dared not communicate my suspicions, and the conduct of the priest—not eyen to you, dear sister—although from infancy our thoughts, our fears, our joys, and our woes, were reciprocally told and shared. A species of indecision—an uncertainty how to act—a nervousness—an anxiety that I could not conquer, and cannot define, destroyed my happiness; and in order to avoid interrogation, I was nevertheless necessitated to assume a cheerful countenance.

“It appears that de Monteville suspected the Abbé’s design—for the priest, on one occasion, questioned me whether the Count had ever spoken to me concerning a letter which he—the Abbé—had inadvertently dropped, and which he had intended to have slipped into my hands. The contents of that letter merely contained some professions of regard and affection, which the wretch had had the audacity to pen.

“On every occasion did the Abbé torment me with similar protestations and avowals of a love which I loathed and detested. At one time he was fawning and timid—at another, passionate, full of menaces, dark and mysterious in his manners, muttering strange threats, and then attempting to justify his unholy attachment. Then, again—would he urge me to save the fortune and the happiness of him my revered relation, by consenting to accompany him to England, and there become his wife. Two alternatives were before me—either to wed a being whose very presence is revolting—or to see de Moirot, at his instigation, enter into possession of that property, a the loss of which would reduce us all to a state of penury, and bring down the grey hairs of the Baroness with sorrow to the grave!

“Last evening—for I will not particularize, dear Clemence, the agonies, the persecutions, and the anxiety I endured each successive day during the past fortnight—last evening, the priest demanded an interview in the grove, and spoke in so imperious a tone of voice, that I saw refusal was useless. I accordingly acceded to the request—or rather, command—and accompanied the Abbé to the place he had named.

“ ‘A few days,’ said he, after a long pause, ‘have only now to elapse, and de Moirot will be here. This is the last time, Eugenie, continued the vile priest, ‘that I shall address you upon the subject. Consent to become my wife in a country where no law imposes restrictions upon individuals of my profession; and I swear—by the Almighty Judge who now hears us—that the lands of Grandmanoir shall not depart from the Baroness, whom you respect and revere. Ponder on the noble sacrifice—if sacrifice it be—you will thus make; or, on the other hand, consider yourself as the cause of the downfall of one of the oldest families of France!’

“It was in vain that I pleaded my cause, Clemence, with that energy which the circumstance naturally occasioned: all the eloquence which agony and distress bade flow from my tongue, was but fruitlessly employed in appeals for mercy to that monster in a human shape. Oh! when, at the great and general day of judgment, he shall stand before the throne of his Judge, and implore, with tears as profuse, and with sighs as bitter, as those he then wrung from me, Clemence—may he receive that respite, and experience that leniency, he refused to me!”

Eugenie ceased for a moment—her pale countenance was animated with a sudden glow—a heavenly light of Christian piety fired her eye—and if ever lovely woman resembled those holy beings that stand around the throne of their Redeemer, then might the experienced limner have transferred as an angel to his canvass the counterpart of Eugenie de Grandmanoir, as she reclined upon the sofa, with Clemence seated at her feet. The sisters gazed at each other for a few moments without uttering a word, and then, by a simultaneous impulse, threw themselves into each other’s arms, and wept freely on each other’s bosoms. At length their emotions gradually subsided into calmness; and, Clemence having resumed her seat, Eugenie thus concluded her woeful tale:—

“It is useless to reiterate all that I said to endeavour to turn the priest from his purpose. To every appeal I frantically made to that iron heart, the wretch coolly replied—‘Consent to our union, as the only condition of safety for the Baroness!’ What was I to do? Could I see that venerable relative exiled from her home at her advanced age? Could I behold my Clemence driven from that mansion where she had passed so many happy days? Oh! no— the thought was maddening—but there was no alternative—I accordingly collected the remnants of my scattered courage, and in as firm a tone of voice as I could command, said to the priest—‘If you be decided, I must consent to accompany you to England.’ ‘Tis well,’ said he. ‘At six o’clock to-morrow morning, meet me at this very place—and I will take such measures that our flight shall be unperceived.’

“I reiterated my promise with a species of resigned fortitude, the extent of which now astonishes me when I think of it; but in a few moments that feeling gave way, and was succeeded by one of the most gloomy and terrible despondency—or rather, despair! We retraced our steps towards the Chateau—we parted at the commencement of the two avenues—for the priest had desired me to enter the house by the back gate. It was at that moment that all the horrors of my situation were present in most dismal colours to my mind. I saw the outline of the vast building in the twilight—and felt a presentiment, that if I once quitted it, I should never behold it more. I turned to the right—our favourite gardens, Clemence, greeted my sight; I turned to the left—and there the flowers, that I myself had reared, watched, and brought to perfection, appeared to fill my soul with dismal forebodings. In fine, my brain whirled—my mind was worked up to a pitch of desperation that made death welcome in any shape—I felt that if I ceased to exist, all obstacle would be removed to the settlement of the affairs of the Baroness, through the influence of the priest—and, in a state only to be envied by an individual about to suffer the tortures of the Inquisition—the rack—the wheel—or the ‘drop of water,’—I retraced my steps towards the grove, and instinctively sought the banks of the canal. For one moment I hesitated, and lifted my eyes to heaven, as if I expected some guardian angel to descend and snatch me from a world of misery and woe; but the moon rolled on her tranquil way, and appeared, by her playful beams, to render the very stream itself inviting to a wretch whose existence was a burden to her. Those stilly waters, lighted by the silvery rays of the deity of the night, seemed almost to consecrate the suicide’s grave. Suddenly the sound of an approaching carriage fell upon my ears—I listened for one moment—it drew nearer—more near—deliberation was at an end—a momentary feeling of delight, to think how noble was the sacrifice I was about to make at so tender an age, for the sake of my relations, came across me—I sprung from the bank, and was immediately immersed in the depths of the canal. The waters rang in my ears—a suffocating sensation seized upon me—I rose to the surface—and at that instant—for it was only a momentary thought—I would have given worlds—millions and millions, had I possessed them—to be saved. Oh! the agony of that one single moment’s thought! Never—never can it be eradicated from my memory—never will it cease to haunt me like a hideous spectre—a perpetual night-mare—a phantom of whose presence imagination may not divest itself. Years of penury—want—indigence—starvation—were preferable to the endurance of that one moment of thought: ages of persecution—imprisonment—sickness—peril—and pain had better be endured than the agony of that single idea!”

“Eugenie—dear Eugenie!” exclaimed Clemence, once more flinging herself into her sister’s arms; “cease this despairing—this frightful language. You alarm me!”

“Think not of it, then, Clemence,” returned Eugenie hastily. “But I—Oh! never—never may I forget that moment!”

“Time, dear sister—” began Clemence, about to use a trite argument as a means of consolation.

“Let us not dwell upon the subject,” interrupted Eugenie. “The remainder of my tale is already known to you. A stranger rescued me from a watery grave—and that stranger is the heir to the territories of Grandmanoir, in case of the inability of the Baroness to meet his claims. The priest has disappeared—and nought but ruin and misery appear to await us.”

“De Montville is still here,” suggested Clemence, timidly; “and he has come to befriend us.”

“Ah!” said Eugenie, with a withering smile of sorrow: “ but all the wealth he can command will not repay to the heir of the late de Moirot, that which is due. Our destinies are now within the range of prophecy.”

Clemence was about to reply, when a carriage drew hastily up to the principal entrance of the Chateau. She flew to the window of the apartment opposite the one in which she and her sister were seated, and, with a beating heart, perceived M. de Moirot, the notary, descend the steps of the vehicle.

“He will now encounter his brother, whom he believes to have ceased to exist;” cried Clemence, clasping her hands together, and precipitately retracing her steps to Eugenie’s chamber.

Chapter Eleven: Conclusion

In the meantime—while Eugenie and Clemence were occupied, as detailed in the preceding chapter—the reception-room of the Baroness was the scene of a not less interesting debate. At the head of the long mahogany table, as if she were destined to be the proprietor of the lands of Grandmanoir till the hour of her death, was seated the venerable heroine of this narrative; at her right hand was the Count de Montville; on her left, was Alfred de Moirot, alias Paul Sans-géne; and on the table itself were divers papers, the corners of which were stamped with the timbre royale of France.

“M. de Moirot,” said the Baroness, pushing aside one of the deeds just alluded to—“we cannot, for one moment, doubt the genuineness of these documents. The will of your late father was too clearly drawn up to admit of doubt or question, even were I disposed to dispute its conditions. He held an extensive mortgage over these lands—he left his business to his elder son—he assigned the estates of Grandmanoir to the younger, in case of the non-payment of the sums due. You are the individual to whom the second charge in his will so especially relates—I am unable to liquidate your claim—to-morrow—for delay is useless—shall you enter into the possession of that which is your own.”

“I do not, for one moment, intend to quarrel with the terms in which you have expressed yourself, my Lady,” said Sans-géne, nodding facetiously to the Baroness, and giving the Count a violent kick under the table at the same time; “but—” continued he—“I must beg to contradict the latter part of your statement, although you talk like a printed book or a deputy with a sinecure-place.”

“Jesting, Sir,” interrupted de Montville, “in such a case, is but an aggravation on the part of the son, of that injury which was inflicted by the villainy of the father.”

‘“As I do not very well recollect my deceased parent,” replied Sans-géne, or de Moirot, coolly, “I do not pretend to justify his character. I dare say he was a terrible rogue, if you say so; but that has nothing to do with what I was about to observe. I have already had the supreme felicity of assuring you, that till a day or two ago I fancied myself the son of a quiet and easy gentleman, happily designated as Monsieur Paul Ménard. But, amongst the papers of that individual—papers, which, as I also informed you, had been deposited in the hands of his banker—was found one which disclosed a terrible conspiracy; a second, establishing my identity as Alfred de Moirot; a third, containing extracts from my real father’s will; and a fourth, which demonstrated, in the most unequivocal style in the world, the right I have to this territory.”

‘Wherefore this recapitulation, monsieur?” demanded Lord de Montville, angrily.

“To enhance the value of the sacrifice I am about to make, my Lord,” answered Sans-géne, with a smile.”

“Ah!” said the Baroness, starting on her chair.

“I dare swear,” continued Alfred de Moirot, slowly, “that you think me to be a merciless creditor, who is glad to embarrass his unfortunate debtor. No—no—” added he, in a more serious tone than he had yet adopted—“I have just married a lady who has quite enough to suit my present purposes—I have a small store of mine own—wealth and brilliant prospects are in the perspective of my years—and shall I, then, diminish my present felicity by an act that will render others miserable? May your ladyship long retain the lands of Grandmanoir—may the Count de Montville deign to approve of my conduct—and any arrangement that your ladyship shall propose to my solicitors, will be cordially approved of by me.”

“Is it possible ?” exclaimed the Count, rising from his chair; and proffering his hand across the table to the benefactor of his venerable friend.

“It is a dream!” said the Baroness, almost sinking beneath the weight of such unprecedented and unexpected generosity. At that moment, a carriage drove up to the principal gate of the Chateau.

“This is your brother,” said the Count de Montville, after a pause, during which he had hastened to the window and observed the person that descended from the vehicle.

“The villain!” exclaimed Alfred de Moirot, with unfeigned indignation, “Let him approach!”

Before the Baroness and de Montville had time to request an explanation of this extraordinary behaviour, the notary entered the room, and was immediately confronted by the individual who had so earnestly desired an interview with him.

“Your business?” enquired Alfred, laconically. “Your name is already known,” he added, with a sneer.

“My business is not with you, Sir,” replied the notary, a disdainful smile curling his lip, “but with her ladyship of Grandmanoir.”

“You err, Sir,” continued Alfred. “It is with me that you have now to converse, relative to these possessions.”

“Have I, then, the honour of speaking to your ladyship’s legal adviser?” said the astonished notary, turning towards the venerable dame, who, together with de Montville, remained a silent spectator of the scene that was being enacted before them.

“No, Sir—I am no lawyer, thank God!” exclaimed Alfred, with a bitterness and irony that struck the notary with awe. “I am an injured person, Sir,” continued he, in the same tone, “whom an elder brother consigned to the care of an individual at a tender age, in order to remove a barrier between himself and a vast property. That individual, succumbing to the temptations which my brother held out, and anxious to re-establish his fallen fortunes by any means that might present themselves, too greedily swallowed the inviting bait, and brought me up in ignorance of my family and name. To be brief—that individual was Paul Ménard—and you are the elder brother, whose villainy was not even arrested by the ties of blood, of affection, and of duty.”

The notary sank upon a chair, gazed wildly at that brother whom he had never wished to encounter more, and in whose presence he so singularly and unexpectedly found himself: Alfred de Moirot crossed his arms on his breast, and returned the timid glance of the notary with one of scorn, indignation, and reproach. The Baroness and de Montville exchanged looks of mingled satisfaction and anxiety.

“Wretch!” exclaimed Alfred, after a long pause: “when the author of my being resigned his breath to that Almighty Power, who, at this very moment, is recording your crimes, did he not equitably divide his property between us, and entrust the care of his younger son to you? Did he not imagine, when stretched on that couch whence he never rose, save as a lifeless corpse, that my infant years would find a second father in yourself? And how have you fulfilled the task? How has your duty been accomplished? Oh! at the moment when I find a relation—the only one I ever yet knew—I am obliged to withhold my hand from his grasp, retreat to a distance to avoid contamination, and look upon him as I would upon my bitterest enemy!”

“Alfred—Oh! Alfred!” cried the notary; “I know that I have deeply injured you!” And the brothers wept in concert; but the manners and deportment of the younger showed too clearly, that reconciliation was impossible. Even where the closest ties of consanguinity connect two individuals, may the sense of deadly injuries hush the whisperings of all Nature’s kindest feelings, stop the promptings of tenderness and love, and establish hatred on that throne where nought but affection and bounty should be seen.

But the day, on which the above-mentioned events took place, appeared to be big with others of equal import to the interests of Gandmanoir. While the notary and his injured brother were still absorbed in tears, the door of the apartment was thrown open, and a powdered lacquey announced the “Chevalier d’Altamont, and the Abbé Prud’homme.” The Baroness started, as they entered the room—and, casting one single glance upon the features of the Chevalier, she fainted in the aims of the Count de Montville, who hastened to her assistance.

The Chevalier wiped away a tear from his eyes, and drawing a small portfolio from his bosom, proceeded to distribute its contents upon the table, without apparently noticing the condition of the notary and his brother.

 “There,” he said, at length, “is the ransom for the estates of Grandmanoir;” and he pointed to the piles of bank-notes he had spread upon the table before him.

“It is not to me,” exclaimed the notary, in reply to a glance which the old Chevalier cast at him, “that you must address yourself in this matter. There is the rightful owner of the wealth you have now displayed.”

De Moirot pointed towards his brother, and rushed hastily out of the room,

“Do you not follow your friend?’ enquired de Montville, addressing himself in an ironical tone to the priest, who held down his head and made no answer.

“Nay—spare him, young man,” exclaimed the venerable Chevalier; “for if he have deeply sinned, he has also expressed his sincere penitence.”

De Montville bowed, and remained silent. The Baroness was now recovered from her swoon by the speedy assistance of her female domestics; and her eyes immediately fell upon the awe inspiring countenance of d’Altamont. A momentary hesitation on the part of that individual might have been observed by the Count; but it was speedily forgotten—and a long and fervent embrace conveyed conviction to the minds of all present, that the lost Lord of Grandmanoir held the Baroness in his arms.


But little remains for us now to say. Indeed—

We do not rhyme to that dull elf,

Who cannot figure to himself?

that the Count de Montville received the sanction of the Baron and Baroness of Grandmanoir to his union with the beautiful Clemence—that the nuptials were celebrated in a style of grandeur which recalled to the minds of the numerous guests present at the ceremony, the ancient feudal splendours which tradition attributed to the household of the lords of Grandmanoir—and that Alfred de Moirot made himself an universal favourite on the occasion. That facetious young gentleman had been prevailed upon to receive the sums amassed by the Baron in other climes; and the estates were thus entirely disembarrassed from the heavy mortgage which had lately threatened their alienation from the family that had so long possessed them.

The Abbé Prud’homme, shortly after the marriage of Clemence, retired to the convent of La Trappe, and soon accustomed himself to hear and repeat, without a thrill of horror, the words that form the only greeting offered by one member of that community to another —“Brother, we must die!” Eugenie de Grandmanoir never recovered the shock her frame and mind had experienced by the dismal event narrated at the end of the ninth chapter: she succumbed beneath the influence of a deep melancholy, that seized upon her; and, in her last moments, confessed that there was still a secret which she had left unrevealed to her sister. What that mystery might be, none ever knew: the young heart of that fair girl cherished a sentiment, or a reminiscence, whose nature she tenaciously refused to impart to a single soul that attended upon her in the last hours of her life. And with her that secret died; and she was thus cut off in the bloom of her years; and those she has left behind her still scatter flowers over her tomb!

The elder de Moirot took an active part in the Revolution of 1830; and when the rash monarch issued his fatal ordinances from the Palace of St. Cloud—when, in one dread moment, he sought to abridge the liberties of the greatest of nations—de Moirot was amongst the first to take up arms in favour of tyranny and despotism. He fell beneath the hand of one of the heroes of July, and his vast property was devoted to the building of a hospital in a provincial town of France.

Alfred de Moirot purchased a house in the neighbourhood of Amiens, and was a frequent visitor at the Chateau of Grandmanoir, as well as at the abode of the Count and Countess de Montville. We have also ascertained, that a certain M. Delville was a constant guest at Alfred de Moirot’s residence.

[1] Original citation: G.W.M. Reynolds, ‘The Baroness: A Novel’, The Monthly Magazine, March 1838, pp. 302–10.

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