It was on Midsummer’s-day in the year 1817, that, at about six o’clock in the morning, the sudden din of a cannon, issuing from the guard-ship at Brest, alarmed the peaceful fishermen who were preparing their nets on the shore, the busy watermen occupied in cleaning their wherries, the ruminating sentry at the gun-wharf, and the crews of the various vessels stationed about. That single cannon’s explosion, at so early and unusual an hour, appeared to afford scope for conjecture amongst those whose ears it met and who were aware that some strange occurrence, unless it were an accident, must have caused the guard-ship to give that warning. Many an eye was cast towards the mighty mass which lay motionless on the water, scorning the slight ripples that broke against its side; but the ship offered no farther token of the event that had thus demanded the single warning gun, whose roar was soon lost in a pervasive stillness all around, resembling that which succeeds the explosion of heaven’s high artillery.
And the thunder of that cannon was heard at a considerable distance from one of the great naval arsenals of France, and it startled a lovely girl who even thus early was watering her flowers, and attending to her garden, that adorned a neat house in which she dwelt with her father. The beautiful creature listened for a moment; and in another ran to question her parent, an old capitaine de vaisseau, * as to the cause of the warning thus given by the guard-ship.
Captain Darbois was already dressed, and occupied with a book in his study, waiting for the announcement of breakfast. Lucie—such was the young lady’s name—was kindly welcomed by her venerable parent; and he laughed at her alarm, as she suggested the probability of a commencement of fresh hostilities on the part of the English.
“No, my love,” said the officer; “the English will maintain a truce. And even if they did venture to go to war with us again, we should hear the news of their intentions long before a single vessel of their’s could have passed by Havre-de-grace.”
“What then could have been the object of firing thus early?” enquired Lucie, a portion of the roses, that had ere now faded from her cheeks, returning with the assurance of her father.
“I recollect a similar warning many years ago, Lucie; and, if I mistake not, ’tis for the escape of a galley-slave!”
“A galley-slave!” exclaimed Lucie.
“Yes; a convict has doubtless escaped; and the moment he was missed from the prison, the guard-ship was informed of the evasion.”
At this instant a loud knock was heard at the front door; the servant hastened to answer it, and in another moment an individual, pale, dirty, and weary, rushed into the apartment, and threw himself upon a chair, crying, “Save me, Oh! save me!”
“From what—from whom?” enquired the captain hastily; for he had formed no good opinion of the stranger that thus intruded himself upon his notice.
“Save me, I repeat. Oh! save me!”
“Tranquillize yourself, and in a few moments reply to my questions. I cannot undertake to give shelter to a criminal; but if your claim be just, and do not compromise my safety—”
“No, no: keep me secretly here till to-night, and all will be well,” exclaimed the stranger, recovering some assurance from the language of Captain Darbois, whose charitable door was never closed against the indigent and helpless.
The breakfast was now served. Lucie maintained a strict silence: unaccountable emotions—fear, alarm, compassion, and curiosity— agitated her bosom and sealed her lips. She nevertheless occasionally cast a furtive glance at the intruder, and the idea she formed of him was far from flattering. He was a man who had probably seen some thirty summers; his features were regular, his teeth remarkably white, his eyes brilliant, and his figure well formed. But his garb was of the most wretched description, his hair disordered, his garments filthy and torn, and his hands soiled and discoloured with hard labour. He refused to take any substantial food; a little milk he greedily swallowed, and appeared to be intent on schemes or reflections carefully concealed. Whenever the servant entered the room he started and trembled violently; and now and then threw a timid glance at Captain Darbois, who was also wrapped up in thought, and lost in conjecture. The meal was speedily finished; Lucie obeyed a signal her father gave her, and withdrew. As the door closed behind her, the stranger started up, seemed uncertain how to act, and in another moment fell at the feet of the gallant officer, who had thus granted shelter to an individual that claimed it under the most suspicious circumstances.
“Monsieur,” cried the wretched man, “Providence led me hither. I was pursued; I saw no other dwelling near; I was desperate; I was driven to seek for shelter somewhere—ignorant of to whom this house belongs, I knocked, and you have deigned to receive me; but do not the generous deed by halves. Save, save, Oh! save an unfortunate being!”
“Your language, monsieur, assures me that you were not born to poverty, nor meanly educated in your youth. Your manners are above your present predicament. Speak candidly then; and I will act as a man towards you; but I could not harbour you, if—”
“But wherefore press the matter? all I require of you is, to suffer me to remain here till the night’s dark wing shall aid my escape; and should my pursuers trace me hither, or think they have—do you deny me.”
“Impossible!” cried Darbois, a sudden idea flitting across his brain. “Has nought extraordinary happened this morning?”
“The warning gun—”
“Oh! save me, save me!” cried the poor wretch in agony—
“From the guard-ship; and only a single gun—”
‘‘In mercy, spare me!”
“Was for a convict, who has broken his chains.”
“And that convict is myself!” ejaculated the other, now rising from his knees, folding his arms, and standing calmly in front of the officer. “Monsieur le capitaine, you may proceed; speak my doom, or act as a man of feeling, of compassion, and of generosity.”
“I have decided,” said the Captain in a firm tone of voice, after a moment’s deliberation, ‘I am in the service of his majesty; I am unacquainted with the reason for which you were condemned as a malefactor to expiate the amount of your crime at the galleys. You appear desirous of avoiding any communication on those heads; I therefore feel it my duty to abandon you to the gendarmes. But mark me, and understand my meaning. If you quit my house this moment, I shall behave as if I had never known, seen, nor heard of you; if you persist in tarrying here, I shall not seek your pursuers to deliver you up, but I shall certainly answer truly any question that may be put to me, should they visit my dwelling. This is the decision humanity on the one hand, and justice on the other, command me to adopt.”
“If there be but those two alternatives—”
“There are no others,” said the captain, in a firm tone of voice.
“I depart, and neither thank nor blame you,” returned the convict as he hastened towards the door. “One thing, however, you cannot refuse me.”
“Name your request.”
“Some money to prevent me from starving.”
A long pause ensued; the deliberation of Darbois terminated, at length, in the delinquent’s favour. He cast his purse upon the table; it was heavy; it was filled with gold and silver; and the gallant officer wiped a tear from his eye—for he commiserated the woes of a fellow-creature; and although he himself was far from rich, yet did he not grudge the mendicant a portion of his all.
“Your name,” said the convict, “that I may the better remember my benefactor?”
But he had no sooner uttered these words, than the noise of approaching footsteps, and the clatter of the garden gate, fell upon his ears.
“Great God! I am lost,” ejaculated the unfortunate man whose re-capture now appeared certain.
“No, no,” said Darbois, opening a side door, through which he conducted the galley-slave. He led him to the back of the house. A thundering knock at the front door compelled them to hasten; and the malefactor made his escape from the premises, as his pursuers entered the apartment he had just left.
Six months had elapsed since the date of the event ere now related, and nothing more of the convict had been heard of at the house of Captain Darbois, save that he never was retaken; when the following letter, from Lucie’s sister in Paris, not a little excited the mingled joy, the partial envy, and the astonishment of the beautiful girl to whom it was addressed. Lucie read it to her father; its contents ran as follows: —
Paris, December 27, 1817.
“My dear Sister.
“My last three or four letters, as you justly complain, have been unusually short and void of interest. But the communication I am about to make to you, Lucie, will entirely settle your doubts as to my continued affection for you, and the permanency of the place you ever retain in my memory.
“You know that till lately my aunt saw and entertained a great deal of company, and mixed much in society. I also informed you in my last letter that she had now become so feeble that she is obliged to renounce all former gaiety, and content herself with a tew friends whom she receives from time to time. Three months ago I danced with Count de Bellois at Madame de Beauharnais’ magnificent ball, a description of which I gave you. I did not like him at first—but, on a farther acquaintance, he improved greatly in my estimation, He soon became a constant visitor at the house— and my aunt rather encouraged him than otherwise; for she constantly pronounced him to be a genteel, gentlemanly, and correct young man. And certainly, dear Lucie, he is very handsome; you cannot therefore be astonished if I have been foolish enough to accept his addresses; and, to tell the truth, you will either laugh at or blame me—love him in return.
“Yes, dear Lucie; I feel that I love him, that he is necessary to my happiness; and that you must break this as well as you can to our father. I am sure he would be pleased with the count, were he acquainted with him, M. de Bellois is tolerably well off, and has io few literary talents to assist his income, for between ourselves, Lucie, he is the author of the new roman that is now making such a noise in Paris. This he told me in confidence; and he does not wish the world to know it, for everybody is wondering who could have written so splendid a work.
“Do, dear Lucie, do speak to papa and tell me what he says. My aunt suspects our attachment, and invariably praises the Count, who is, by the bye, very attentive to her, and is even so condescending as to play picquet with her of an evening.
“Write by return of post, if possible, and tell me what my father says of the match. M.de Bellois has caught me writing this—and he insisted upon reading it. I refused, and he would make me add a few words, io desire his respects to you, as he says he hopes soon to be your brother-in-law. Is not all this agreeable? Write, dear Lucie, and send me good news, if possible.
“Your affectionate sister,
“Your sister is a fortunate girl, Lucie, if it be as she says,” remarked the captain, when this epistle was concluded.
Am I to answer her letter?” asked Lucie in a mournful tone of voice.
“Certainly, my love: but wherefore have you an air thus melancholy?”
“Nothing —only I was thinking that if—”
“That if you had been in Paris, you silly girl—you might have found a husband also:”—and the captain chuckled at his discovery.
Lucie blushed, and said nothing.
“However,” continued the kind parent, “you shall have your chance as well, Lucie; in a few days we will go to Paris, and I’ll examine this matrimonial affair on the spot: for,” he continued seriously, “I would not pronounce rashly on any thing so materially connected with a daughter’s happiness.”
We shall not fatigue our readers with a description of Lucie’s joy at these happy tidings; she embraced her father with all the fervour of real affection, and immediately commenced her little preparations for the intended journey.
Agathe was not so fine nor so lovely a girl as her sister; but she was more accomplished, and more fascinating in her manners: for Lucie, having been brought up afar from the gay scenes of Parisian society, was somewhat reserved and backward, so that she occasionally appeared repulsive and cool, while timidity alone restrained her from shining as Agathe did.
On her arrival in Paris with her father, she found that Count de Bellois had suddenly gone into the country, and was not expected to return for several days. This absence, as Lucie was informed by Agathe, the Count had purposely arranged; for he was desirous of allowing Captain Darbois proper opportunities of questioning his daughter on the tender subject that interested them all. The result of these conversations was the conditional assent of Captain Darbois to the match, provided Count de Bellois could give him satisfactory accounts of his pecuniary affairs, and demonstrate his ability to maintain a wife in the style her social position required: for the Captain, while he made great allowances for a young girl’s first love, was still resolved to exert his parental authority with proper prudence, should the match appear any way objectionable. Count de Bellois had only lately been a resident in Paris; and to his good manners and gentlemanly appearance alone he was indebted for an introduction into the society he now moved in. All inquiries concerning his early history were unavailing; but that was a matter of little import, provided he could satisfactorily answer the usual interrogations parents were obliged to put to their children’s suitors. On these heads Agathe was sanguine; and her future prospects appeared to wear a joyous aspect of felicity.
Shortly after the arrival of Captain Darbois and his daughter at the house of the aunt, a young gentleman of immense fortune, of prepossessing appearance, and of handsome exterior, was introduced to them. M.de Lisier, for such was his name, had only just returned from a tour in Italy; and, wearied of the inconstancy of Italian ladies, he soon noticed the amiable diffidence of Lucie, and sought every opportunity he could find to engage her in conversation. Accustomed not to judge of an individual’s merit by first impressions, he soon found that a jewel of immense value lay hid beneath the natural timidity of Lucie; and that she only required to be thoroughly “drawn out,” as the phrase is, for her merits to appear. It scarcely remains to say, that he was soon deeply enamoured of her; and he had every reason to flatter himself that his passion was not slighted, nor his attentions unperceived by her whom he now determined formally to demand in marriage of her father—provided he had not wrongly appreciated the cause of her half expressed, half concealed joy which she evinced in his presence, and the downcast modesty with which she listened to the language he intended her not to misunderstand.
Captain Darbois was in raptures when M. de Lisier made serious proposals relative to Lucie; and so satisfactory was the explanation given by that gentleman on every matter concerning which it was important to be informed, that the worthy officer, in the plenitude of his honest joy, actually hugged his future son-in-law, with tears in his eyes.
“May you be happy, mon cher ami, with my daughter—as happy as I can wish you, and as happy as you deserve to be.”
“A thousand thanks!” exclaimed de Lisier. “In becoming the husband of Mademoiselle Lucie, how can I be otherwise than happy
“All is bright to young lovers,” returned Captain Darbois; “and though I say it myself, it is nevertheless a fact—that Lucie will ever be the same good-tempered, affectionate girl she now appears to you. This is not invariably the case; but Lucie has not the ability of concealing her faults, if she have any.”
“I flatter myself that I am too much experienced in the ways of the world to be easily deceived; and I do not hesitate to say that your daughter merits all the eulogium even the fondest and most partial parent might be inclined to bestow upon her. The treachery of a once sincere and intimate friend has rendered me peculiarly distrustful of the human heart; and—”
“You are young to have thus acquired such a knowledge, of the world.”
“Circumstances gave me that knowledge.”
“It is true that one little event often opens our eyes to a great deal,” remarked Captain Darbois; “and perhaps those who, for many years have watched the human mind but superficially, become the most complete men of that world when accident has awakened them from their lethargic indifference.”
“That was the case with me,’ observed de Lisier. “At school, and for three years subsequent to my emancipation from the rigour of a pedagogue, a person, named Jacques Marre, was my constant companion. But his extravagancies soon reduced him to poverty. My purse was then open to him; and from the allowance mace me by my guardians during my minority, he received considerable sums, all inadequate, however, to maintain him in any respectable way; for his profusion was boundless, his ideas of expensive living unlimited; and he soon became involved in debts, from which I liberated him the moment I arrived at the age of twenty-one.”
“You acted as a brother, rather than as a friend.”
“Yes—and I was well requited,” added de Lisier, with a bitter smile, “Marre soon indulged in every kind of debauchery—he condescended to adopt the meanest stratagems in order to procure money—-he seduced a lovely girl, to whom he made false promises of marriage: that girl was my cousin!”
“The villain!” exclaimed Captain Darbois, in honest indignation, while de Lisier wiped away a tear from his eye.
“What could I do?” continued the young man; “I challenged him—the laws of society demanded such a step—the wrongs of my relative required such atonement. The morning of the anticipated duel dawned—and Marre came not to the field. I was surprised— for I knew he lacked not courage. Wearied with waiting for him— ill, and oppressed in spirits, I returned home. In the course of the day I had occasion for money; and knowing that my banker had a considerable balance in my favour, I drew a cheque upon the firm. It was paid; but a note from one of the clerks told me that in my draught of the preceding day I had overdrawn my account by five hundred pounds. This was impossible! On the preceding day, — and during the preceding week even—I had not required, nor drawn for, a farthing.”
‘Good God!” exclaimed Darbois, suspecting the event.
“I see you have conjectured the truth. Marre’s last villainy against me was-—”
“Forgery!” cried the Captain; “but I hope he was punished.”
“He was; for all I could do to avert the prosecution was—”
“And he richly deserved to be hanged,” said the officer, interrupting the young man.
At this moment Lucie entered the room; and her lover was too happy to have an opportunity of communicating her father’s favourable decision to her he adored, to continue the conversation any longer on the same topic.
Three months had elapsed since the arrival of Captain Darbois and Lucie in Paris; still, the Count did not return, neither did Agathe receive any letter from him. She now began to suspect the constancy of his affection, and to deplore in secret the probability of his forgetfulness; for she felt, that she could not forget. Nightly her pillow was moistened with her tears: in the morning she anxiously waited the well-known rap of the postman. But day after day passed on—and still he came not.
One morning de Lisier had occasion to visit the prison of St. Pelagie, to see a friend whom unforeseen difficulties in mercantile affairs had reduced toa gaol. The sum for which he was detained was so considerable, that de Lisier could not for an instant think of procuring his unfortunate friend’s emancipation by the payment of it: but he generously advanced him enough to secure him from im- mediate want of the little comforts and necessaries so essential to preserve even a moderate degree of resignation in the prisoner’s mind,
As the charitable lover of the beautiful Lucie was about to quit the walls of the vast tenement, wherein thousands have languished from time to time for political offences as well as for debt, a well-known and remarkable form passed him hastily by. A single glance was sufficient for him to recognise Jacques Marre. He hurried forward to avoid the possibility of coming in contact with so detestable a villain; but curiosity impelled him to question his friend, who accompanied him as far as the gate, relative to Marre,
“That man,” said the impoverished merchant, “is named Dumont: he is incarcerated at the suit of a creditor at Bordeaux, who, by great address and cunning, tracked him out, and put him into prison. He was arrested at his own lodgings, just as he was about to undertake a journey to the northern departments.”
De Lisier made no remark upon this information; and his friend proceeded: — “But this M. Dumont will be released to-morrow: the arrangements he has proposed for the payment of the debt are accepted: and I believe that he has some prospect of acquiring a fortune by marriage.”
In the meantime Agathe had received a letter from her suitor who, as it appeared by his welcome epistle, was still faithful to her. He had been so ill during his absence, that he could not possibly write himself, and he preferred leaving “his dear Agathe” in suspense, to wounding her feelings by permitting another to make her aware of his situation. His life had been despaired of—but now, thank God, he was well-and was returned.
These excuses appeared somewhat extraordinary to Captain Darbois; they however satisfied Agathe, and that was sufficient. On the following day she was to see her lover; and she anxiously awaited his arrival.
After breakfast next morning, the happy party, that had assembled in the drawing-room to welcome Count de Bellois’s return, consisted of the aunt, Captain Darbois, his two daughters, and M. de Lisier. Agathe was much agitated; and when a tremendous ring at the bell of the porter’s lodge re-echoed through the house, her bosom palpitated violently. Hasty steps ascended the stair case—-she cast an anxious glance towards the door; fearful that still it might not yet be he; the others remained in silence, awaiting the entrance of the visitor. He came—he rushed into the room—an expression of horror burst from the lips of Lucie, then de Lisier and Captain Darbois uttered similar ejaculations.
“Jacques Marre! and in this house,” cried de Lisier.
“The convict!” exclaimed Lucie, “O God! protect my poor sister!”
“Damnable villain!” thundered the Captain after a momentary pause, during which Agathe had nearly fainted. “But you shall pay for this treachery.”
“No—no, spare him—spare him!” shrieked Agathe, who indistinctly heard her father’s threats.
“Monsieur,” said de Lisier, walking towards Marre or de Bellois, “no one will do aught against you, if you instantly quit this house. Of the enormity of all your crimes I say nothing; sooner or later your conscience will tell you on that head more terrible truths than any human tongue can express. A forger, an escaped felon, a villain, who can engage the innocent affections of a lovely girl—must eventually meet with an awful retributive fate. Begone, Sir—nor pollute this dwelling longer with your presence!”
The culprit hazarded not a reply; his face was ghastly pale, his breath came thickly, and his head swam round, during the brief but impressive remonstrance of him whom he once could call his friend. He hesitated for a moment—recalled his scattered ideas—cast one deplorable and really penitential look upon the sorrow-stricken assembly, and then speedily withdrew. None disputed the decision of de Lisier. Captain Darbois even implied his concurrence with it by his silence.
 * Post Captain in the Navy
Categories: g w m reynolds, History, novels, Short Fiction, Short Story, Susannah Frances Reynolds