Most generally we used to travel back over the past, step by step, and recall with scrupulous minuteness every place, circumstance, and hour which had brought on, or marked the beginning of our love,—like some young girl who has scattered by the way the unstrung pearls of her precious necklace, and returns upon her steps, her eyes bent upon the ground, to find and gather them up, one by one. We would not lose the recollection of one of those places, or one of those hours, for fear of losing at the same time the hoarded memory of a single joy. We remembered the mountains of Savoy; the valley of Chambery; the torrents and the lake; the mossy ground, sometimes in shade and sometimes dappled with light, beneath the outstretched arms of the chestnut-trees; the rays between the branches, the glimpse of sky through the leafy dome above our heads, the blue expanse and the white sails at our feet; our first unsought meetings in the mountain paths; our mutual conjectures; our encounters on the lake before we knew each other, sailing in our boats in contrary directions, her dark hair waving in the wind, my indifferent attitude; our looks averted from the crowd; the double enigma that we were to each other, of which the answer was to be eternal love; then the fatal day of the tempest, and her fainting; the mournful night of prayers and tears; the waking in heaven; our return together by moonlight through the avenue of poplars, her hand in mine; her warm tears which my lips had drunk, the first words in which our souls had spoken; our joys, our parting,—we remembered all.
We never wearied of these details. It was as though we had related some story which was not our own. But what was there henceforth in the universe save ourselves? O inexhaustible curiosity of love, thou art not only a childish delight of the hour, thou art love itself, which never tires of contemplating what it possesses, treasures up every impression, each hair, each thrill, each blush, each sigh of the loved one, as a reason for loving more, as a means of feeding anew with each memory the flame of enthusiasm, in which it joys to be consumed!
Julie's tears would sometimes suddenly flow from a strange sadness. She knew me condemned, by this concealed though to us ever-present death, to behold in her but a phantom of happiness, which would vanish ere I could press it to my heart. She grieved and accused herself for having inspired me with a passion which could never bring me joy. "Oh, that I could die, die soon, die young, and still beloved!" would she say. "Yes, die, as I can be to you but the bitter delusion of love and joy; at once your rapture and your woe. Ah, the divinest joys and the most cruel anguish are mingled in my destiny! Oh, that love would kill me; and that you might survive to love after me, as your nature and your heart should love! In dying, I shall be less wretched than I am while feeling that I live by your sacrifices, and doom your youth and your love to a perpetual death!"
"Oh, blaspheme not against such ineffable joy!" I exclaimed, placing my trembling hands beneath her eyes to receive her fast dropping tears. "What base idea have you conceived of him whom God has thought worthy to meet, to understand, and to love you? Are there not more oceans of tenderness and love in this tear which falls warm from your heart, and which I carry to my lips as the life's blood of our tortured love, than in the thousand sated desires and guilty pleasures in which are engulfed such vile attachments as you regret for me? Have I ever seemed to you to desire aught else than this twofold suffering? Does it not make of us both voluntary and pure victims? Is it not an eternal holocaust of love, such as, from Heloise to us, the angels can scarce have witnessed? Have I ever once reproached the Almighty, even in the madness of my solitary nights, for having raised me by you, and for you, above the condition of man? He has given me in you, not a woman to be polluted by the embrace of these mortal arms, but an impalpable and sacred incarnation of immaterial beauty. Does not the celestial fire, which night and day burns so rapturously within me, consume all dross of vulgar desire? Am I aught but flame? A flame as pure and holy as the rays of your soul which first kindled it, and now feed it unceasingly through your beaming eye! Ah, Julie, estimate yourself more worthily, and weep not over sorrows which you imagine you inflict on me! I do not suffer. My life is one perpetual overflow of happiness, filled by you alone,—a repose of sense, a sleep of which you are the dream. You have transformed my nature. I suffer? Oh, would that I could sometimes suffer, that I might have somewhat to offer unto God, were it but the consciousness of a privation, the bitterness of a tear, in return for all he has given me in you! To suffer for you, might, perchance, be the only thing which could add one drop to that cup of happiness which it is given me to quaff. To suffer thus, is it to suffer, or to enjoy? No; thus to live, is, in truth, to die, but it is to die some years earlier to this wretched life, to live beforehand of the life of heaven."
She believed it, and I myself believed it, as I spoke and raised my hands imploringly towards her. We would part after such converse as this, each preserving, to feed on it separately till the morrow, the impression of the last look, the echo of the last tone, that were to give us patience to live through the long, tedious day. When I had crossed the threshold, I would see her open her window, lean forth amid her flowers on the iron bar of the balcony, and follow my receding figure as long as the misty vapors of the Seine allowed her to discern it on the bridge. Again and again would I turn to send back a sigh and a lingering look, and strive to tear away my soul, which would not be parted from her. It seemed as if my very being were riven asunder,—my spirit to return and dwell with her, while my body alone, as a mere machine, slowly wended its way through the dark and deserted streets to the door of the hotel where I dwelt.
Thus passed away, without other change than that afforded by my studies, and our ever-varying impressions, the delightful months of winter. They were drawing to a close. The early splendors of spring already began to glance fitfully from the roofs upon the damp and gloomy wilderness of the streets of Paris. My friend V——, recalled by his mother, was gone, and had left me alone in the little room where he had harbored me during my stay. He was to return in the autumn, and had paid for the lodging for a whole year, so that, though absent, he still extended to me his brotherly hospitality. It was with sorrow I saw him depart; none remained to whom I could speak of Julie. The burden of my feelings would now be doubly heavy, when I could no longer relieve myself by resting it on the heart of another; but it was a weight of happiness,—I could still uphold it. It was soon to become a load of anguish, which I could confide to no living being, and least of all to her whom I loved.
My mother wrote me, that straightened means, caused by unexpected reverses of fortune, which had fallen on my father in quick and harsh succession, had reduced to comparative indigence our once open and hospitable paternal home, obliging my poor father to withhold the half of my allowance, to enable him to meet, and that only with much difficulty, the expense of maintaining and educating six other children. It was therefore incumbent upon me, she said, either by my own unaided efforts to maintain myself honorably in Paris, or to return home and live with resignation in the country, sharing the common pittance of all. My mother's tenderness sought beforehand to comfort me under this sad necessity; she dwelt on the joy it would be to her to see me again, and placed before me, in most attractive colors, the prospect of the labors and simple pleasures of a rural life. On the other hand, some of the associates of my early years of gambling and dissipation, who had now fallen into poverty, having met me in Paris, reminded me of sundry trifling obligations which I had contracted towards them, and begged me to come to their assistance. They stripped me thus, by degrees, of the greater part of that little hoard which I had saved by strict economy, to enable me to live longer in Paris. My purse was well-nigh empty, and I began to think of courting fortune through fame. One morning, after a desperate struggle between timidity and love, love triumphed. I concealed beneath my coat my small manuscript, bound in green, containing my verses, my last hope; and though wavering and uncertain in my design, I turned my steps towards the house of a celebrated publisher whose name is associated with the progress of literature and typography in France, Monsieur Didot. I was first attracted to this name because M. Didot, independently of his celebrity as a publisher, enjoyed at that time some reputation as an author. He had published his own verses with all the elegance, pomp and circumstance of a poet who could himself control the approving voice of Fame.
When before M. Didot's door in the Rue Jacob, a door all papered with illustrious names, a redoubled effort on my part was required to cross the threshold, another to ascend the stairs, another still more violent to ring at his door. But I saw the adored image of Julie encouraging me, and her hand impelled me. I dared do anything.
I was politely received by M. Didot, a middle-aged man with a precise and commercial air, whose speech was brief and plain as that of a man who knows the value of minutes. He desired to know what I had to say to him. I stammered for some time, and became embarrassed in one of those labyrinths of ambiguous phrases under which one conceals thoughts that will and will not come to the point. I thought to gain courage by gaining time; at last I unbuttoned my coat, drew out the little volume, and presented it humbly with a trembling hand to M. Didot. I told him that I had written these verses, and wished to have them published,—not indeed to bring me fame (I had not that absurd delusion), but in the hope of attracting the notice and good-will of influential literary men; that my poverty would not permit of my going to the expense of printing; and, therefore, I came to submit my work to him, and request him to publish it, should he, after looking over it, deem it worthy of the indulgence or favor of cultivated minds. M. Didot nodded, smiled kindly, but somewhat ironically, took my manuscript between two fingers, which seemed accustomed to crumple paper contemptuously, and putting down my verses on the table, appointed me to return in a week for an answer as to the object of my visit. I took my leave. The next seven days appeared to me seven centuries. My future prospects, my favor, my mother's consolation or despair, my love,—in a word, my life or death, were in the hands of M. Didot. At times, I pictured him to myself reading my verses with the same rapture that had inspired me on my mountains, or on the brink of my native torrents; I fancied he saw in them the dew of my heart, the tears of my eyes, the blood of my young veins; that he called together his literary friends to listen to them, and that I heard from my alcove the sound of their applause. At others, I blushed to think I had exposed to the inspection of a stranger a work so unworthy of seeing the light; that I had discovered my weakness and my impotence in a vain hope of success, which would be changed into humiliation, instead of being converted into gold and joy within my grasp. Hope, however, as persevering as my distress, often got the upper hand in my dreams, and led me on from hour to hour until the day appointed by M. Didot.
My heart failed as, on the eighth day, I ascended his stairs. I remained a long while standing on the landing-place at his door without daring to ring. At last some one came out, the door was opened, and I was obliged to go in. M. Didot's face was as unexpressive and as ambiguous as an oracle. He requested me to be seated, and while looking for my manuscript, which was buried beneath heaps of papers, "I have read your verses, sir," he said; "there is some talent in them, but no study. They are unlike all that is received and appreciated in our poets. It is difficult to see whence you have derived the language, ideas and imagery of your poetry, which cannot be classed in any definite style. It is a pity, for there is no want of harmony. You must renounce these novelties which would lead astray our national genius. Read our masters,—Delille, Parny, Michaud, Reynouard, Luce de Lancival, Fontanes; these are the poets that the public loves. You must resemble some one, if you wish to be recognized, and to be read. I should advise you ill if I induced you to publish this volume, and I should be doing you a sorry service in publishing it at my expense." So saying, he rose, and gave me back my manuscript. I did not attempt to contest the point with Fate, which spoke in the voice of the oracle. I took up the volume, thanked M. Didot, and, offering some excuse for having trespassed on his time, I went downstairs, my legs trembling beneath me, and my eyes moistened with tears.
Ah, if M. Didot, who was a kind and feeling man, a patron of letters, could have read in my heart, and have understood that it was neither fame nor fortune that the unknown youth came to beg, with his book in his hand; that it was life and love I sued for—I am sure he would have printed my volume. He would have been repaid in heaven, at least.
I returned to my room in despair. The child and the dog wondered, for the first time, at my sullen silence, and at the gloom that overspread my countenance. I lighted the stove, and threw in, sheet by sheet, my whole volume, without sparing a single page. "Since thou canst not purchase for me a single day of life and love," I exclaimed, as I watched it burning, "what care I if the immortality of my name be consumed with thee? Love, not fame, is my immortality."
That same evening, I went out at nightfall. I sold my poor mother's diamond. Till then I had kept it, in the hope that my verses might have redeemed its value, and that I might preserve it untouched. As I handed it to the jeweller, I kissed it by stealth, and wet it with my tears. He seemed affected himself, and felt convinced that the diamond was honestly mine by the grief I testified in disposing of it. The thirty louis he gave me for it fell from my hands as I reckoned them, as if the gold had been the price of a sacrilege. Oh, how many diamonds, twenty times superior in price, would I not often have given since, to repurchase that same diamond, unique in my eyes!—a fragment of my mother's heart, one of the last teardrops from her eye, the light of her love!... On what hand does it sparkle now?...
Spring had returned. The Tuileries cast each morning upon their idlers the green shade of their leaves, and showered down the fragrant snow of their horse-chestnut trees. From the bridges I could perceive beyond the stony horizon of Chaillot and Passy the long line of verdant and undulating hills of Fleury, Meudon, and St. Cloud. These hills seemed to rise as cool and solitary islands in the midst of a chalky ocean. They raised in my heart feelings of remorse and poignant reproach, and were images and remembrances which awaked the craving after Nature that had lain dormant for six months. The broken rays of moonlight floated at night upon the tepid waters of the river, and the dreamy orb opened, as far as the Seine could be traced, luminous and fantastic vistas where the eye lost itself in landscapes of shade and vapor. Involuntarily the soul followed the eye. The front of the shops, the balconies, and the windows of the quays were covered with vases of flowers which shed forth their perfume even on the passers-by. At the corners of the streets, or the ends of the bridges, the flower-girls, seated behind screens of flowering plants, waved branches of lilac, as if to embalm the town. In Julie's room the hearth was converted into a mossy grotto; the consoles and tables had each their vases of primroses, violets, lilies of the valley, and roses. Poor flowers, exiles from the fields! Thus swallows who have heedlessly flown into a room bruise their own wings against the walls, while announcing to the poor inhabitants of dismal garrets the approach of April and its sunny days. The perfume of the flowers penetrated to our hearts, and our thoughts were brought back, under the impression of their fragrance and the images it evoked, to that Nature in the midst of which we had been so isolated and so happy. We had forgotten her while the days were dark, the sky gloomy, and the horizon bounded. Shut up in a small room where we were all in all to each other, we never thought that there was another sky, another sun, another nature beyond our own. These fine, sunny days, glimpses of which we caught from among the roofs of an immense city, recalled them to our minds. They agitated and saddened us; they inspired us with an invincible desire to contemplate and to enjoy them in the forests and solitudes which surround Paris. It seemed to us while indulging these irresistible longings, and projecting distant walks together in the woods of Fontainebleau, Vincennes, St. Germain, and Versailles, that we should be again, as it were, amid the woods and waters of our Alpine valleys, that at least we should see the same sun and the same shade and recognize the harmonious sighing of the same winds in the branches.
Spring, which was restoring to the sky its transparency and to the plants their sap, seemed also to give new youth and pulsation to Julie's heart. The tint upon her cheeks was brighter; her eyes more blue, their rays more penetrating. There was more emotion in the tone of her voice; the languor of her frame was relieved by more frequent sighs; there was more elasticity in her walk, more youthfulness in her attitudes; even in the stillness of her chamber, a pleasant though feverish agitation produced a petulant movement of her feet, and sent the words more hurriedly to her lips. In the evening Julie would undraw the curtains, and frequently lean forth from her window to take in the freshness of the water, the rays of the moon, and the breath of the fragrant breeze which swept along the valley of Meudon, and was wafted even into the apartments on the quay.
"Oh, let us give," said I, "a joyous holiday to our hearts amid all our happiness! Of all God's creatures for whom he reanimates his earth and his heavens, let not us, the most feeling and the most grateful, be the only beings for whom they shall have been reanimated in vain! Let us together dive into that air, that light, that verdure; amid those sprouting branches, in that flood of life and vegetation, which is even now inundating the whole earth! Let us go, let us see if naught in the works of his creation has grown old by the weight of an added day; if naught in that enthusiasm, which sang and groaned, loved and lamented within us, on the mountains and on the waters of Savoy, has been lowered by one ripple or one note!" "Yes, let us go," said she. "We shall neither feel more, nor love better, nor bless otherwise; but we shall have made another sky and another spot of earth witness the happiness of two poor mortals. That temple of our love which was in our loved mountains only will then be wherever I shall have wandered and breathed with you." The old man encouraged these excursions to the fine forests around Paris. He hoped, and the doctors led him to expect, that the air laden with life, the influence of the sun, which strengthens all things, with moderate exercise in the open fields, might invigorate the too sensitive delicacy of Julie's nerves and give elasticity to her heart. Every sunny day, during the five weeks of early spring, I came at noon to fetch her. We entered a close carriage in order to avoid the inquisitive looks and light observations of any of her acquaintances whom we might chance to meet, or the remarks that even strangers might have made on seeing so young and lovely a woman alone with a man of my age; for we were not sufficiently alike to pass for brother and sister. We left the carriage on the skirts of the woods, at the foot of the hills, or at the gates of the parks in the environs of Paris, and sought out at Fleury, at Meudon, at Sevres, at Satory, and at Vincennes the longest and most solitary paths, carpeted with turf and flowers, untrodden by horses' hoofs, except perhaps on the day of a royal hunt. We never met any one, save a few children or poor women busy with their knives digging up endive. Occasionally a startled doe would rustle through the leaves, and springing across the path, after a glance at us, dive into the thicket. We walked in silence, sometimes preceding each other, sometimes arm in arm, or we talked of the future, of the delight it would be to possess one out of all these untenanted acres, with a keeper's lodge under one of the old oaks. We dreamed aloud. We picked violets and the wild periwinkle, which we interchanged as hieroglyphics and preserved in the smooth leaves of the hellebore. To each of these flowery letters we linked a meaning, a remembrance, a look, a sigh, a prayer. We kept them to reperuse when parted; they were destined to recall each precious moment of these blissful hours.
We often sat in the shade by the side of the path, and opened a book which we tried to read; but we could never turn the first leaf, and ever preferred reading in ourselves the inexhaustible pages of our own feelings. I went to fetch milk and brown bread from some neighboring farm; we ate, seated on the grass, throwing the remains of the cup to the ants, and the crumbs of bread to the birds. At sunset we returned to the tumultuous ocean of Paris, the noise and crowd of which jarred upon our hearts. I left Julie, excited by the enjoyment of the day, at her own door, and then went back, overcome with happiness, to my solitary room, the walls of which I would strike and bid them crumble, that I might be restored to the light, Nature, and love which they shut out. I dined without relish, read without understanding; I lighted my lamp and waited, reckoning the hours as they passed, till the evening was far enough advanced for me to venture again to her door, and renew the enjoyment of the morning.
The next day we recommenced our wanderings. Ah, in those forests, how many trees, marked by my knife, bear on their roots or bark a sign by which I shall ever recognize them! They are those whose shade she enjoyed; those beneath which she breathed new life, basked in the warmth of the sun, or inhaled the sweet vernal scent of the trees. The stranger sees, but dreams not that they are to another the pillars of a temple, whose worshipper is on earth though its divinity is in heaven. I still visit them once or twice each spring, on the anniversaries of these walks; and when the axe lays one low, it seems to me as though it falls upon myself, and carries away a portion of my heart.
On one of the highest and most generally solitary summits of the park of St. Cloud, where the rounded hill descends in two separate slopes, one towards the valley of Sevres, and the other towards the hollow where the Chateau stands, there is an open space where three long avenues meet. From thence the eye discovers from afar the rare passengers that intrude on the solitude of the place. The hill, like a promontory, overlooks the plain of Issy, the course of the Seine, and the road to Versailles; its summit, clothed and overshaded by the forest which fills up the triangular intervals between the three avenues, appears like the rounded basin of a lake of which grass and foliage are the billows. If one looks towards Sevres, one sees only a long and sloping meadow stretching down towards the river like a verdant and undulating cascade, which, after a rapid descent, loses itself at the bottom of the valley in dark masses of thickets stocked with deer. Beyond these thickets, on the other side of the Seine, the blue slated roofs of Meudon, and the waving tops of the majestic trees of its park, stand out in the blue summer sky. We often came to sit on this hill, which has all the elevation of a promontory, the silence and shade of a valley, and the solitude of a desert. The lungs play freer there; the ear is less disturbed by the sounds of earth; the soul can better wing its flight beyond the horizon of this life.
We went there one morning early in May, at the hour when the forest is peopled only by the deer, which bound and skip in its lonely paths. Now and then a gamekeeper crosses the extremity of one of the avenues, like a black speck on the horizon. We sat down under the seventh tree of the semi-circle round the open space, looking towards the meadows of Sevres. Centuries have been required to frame that sturdy oak, and to bend its gnarled branches; its roots, swelling with sap to nourish and support its trunk, have burst through the sod at its feet, and form a moss-covered seat, of which the oak is the back, and its lower leaves the natural canopy. The morning was as serene and transparent as the waters of the sea at sunrise under the green headlands of the islands of the Archipelago. The ardent rays of an almost summer sun fell from the clear sky on the wooded hill, and then rose again from out of the thickets in exhalations warm as the waves which expire in the shade after having imbibed the sunshine. There was no other sound than that of the fall of some dry leaves of the preceding winter, which, as the sap rose and throbbed, fell at the foot of the tree, to make room for the new and tender foliage. Whole flights of birds dashed against the branches round their nests, and there was one vague, universal hum of insects that revelled in the light, and rose and fell, like a living dust, at the least undulation of the flowering grass.
There was so much sympathy between our youth and the youthful year and day; such entire harmony between the light, the heat, the splendor, the silence, the gentle sounds, the pensive delights of Nature and our own sensations; we felt so delightfully mingled with the surrounding air and sky, life and repose; we were so completely all to each other in this solitude,—that our exuberant but satisfied thoughts and sensations sufficed us. We did not even seek for words to express them; but were as the full vase, whose very plenitude renders its contents motionless. Our hearts could hold no more; but they were capacious enough to contain all, and nothing sought to escape from them. Our breathing was scarcely audible.
I know not how long we remained thus seated at the foot of the oak, mute and motionless beside one another, our faces buried in our hands, our feet in sunshine on the grass, our heads in shade; but when I raised my eyes the shadows had retreated before us on the grass, beyond the folds of Julie's dress. I looked at her, she raised her face as if by the same impulse which had made me raise mine; and gazing at me without saying a word, she burst into tears. "Why do you weep?" I asked with anxious emotion, but in a low tone for fear of disturbing or diverting the course of her silent thoughts. "From happiness," she answered. Her lips smiled, while big tears rolled down her cheeks in shining drops, like the dew of spring. "Yes, from happiness," she resumed. "This day, this hour, this sky, this spot, this peace, this silence, this solitude with you, this complete assimilation of our two souls, which no longer require to converse to comprehend each other, which breathe in the same aspiration is too much,—too much for mortal nature that excess of joy may kill, as excess of grief, and which, when it can draw no cry from the heart, grieves that it cannot sigh, and mourns that it cannot praise sufficiently."
She stopped for an instant; her cheeks were flushed. I trembled lest death should seize her in her joy; but her voice soon reassured me. "Raphael! Raphael!" she exclaimed in a solemn tone, which surprised me, as if she had been announcing some good tidings, long and anxiously expected,—"Raphael, there is a God!" "How has he been revealed to you to-day more clearly than any other day?" I asked. "By love," she answered, raising slowly to heaven the orbs of her bright, glistening eyes; "yes, by love, whose torrents have flowed in my heart just now with a murmuring, gushing fulness that I had never felt before with the same force, nor yet the same repose. No, I no longer doubt," she continued in a tone where certitude mingled with joy; "the spring whence such felicity is poured upon the soul cannot be here below, nor can it lose itself in this earth after having once gushed forth! There is a God; there is an eternal love, of which ours is but a drop. We will together mingle it one day with the divine ocean whence we drew it! That ocean is God! I see it; feel it; understand it in this instant by my happiness! Raphael, it is no longer you I love; it is no longer I you love,—it is God we henceforth adore in one another; you in me, and I in you, both, in these tears of bliss which reveal to us, and yet conceal, the immortal fountain of our hearts! Away," she added, with a still more ardent tone and look,—"away with all the vain names by which we have hitherto called our attraction towards each other. I know but one to express it; it is the one which has just been revealed to me in your eyes: God! God! God!" she exclaimed once more, as though she had wished to teach her lips a new language. "God is in you; God is in me for you! God is us; and henceforward the feelings which oppressed us will no longer be love, but a holy and rapturous adoration! Raphael, do you understand me? You will no longer be Raphael, you will be my worship of God!"
We rose in a transport of enthusiasm; we embraced the tree, and blessed it for the inspiration which had descended from its boughs; we gave it a name, and called it the tree of adoration.
We then slowly descended the hill of St. Cloud to return to the noise and turmoil of Paris; but she returned with new-found faith and the knowledge of God in her heart, and I with the joy of knowing that she now possessed a bright and inward source of consolation, hope and peace.
In a very short time, the expense I was obliged to incur but which I concealed from Julie, in order to accompany her on our daily country excursions, had so far exhausted the proceeds of the sale of my mother's last diamond that I had only ten louis left. When each night I reckoned over the limited number of happy days represented by that small sum, I was seized with fits of despondency, but I should have blushed to confess my excessive poverty to her I loved. Though far from wealthy she would have wished to share with me all she possessed, and that would have degraded our intercourse in my eyes. I valued my love more than life, but I would rather have died than have debased my love.
The sedentary life I had led all the winter in my dismal room, my intense application to study all day, the tension of my thoughts towards one object, the want of sleep at night, but, above all, the moral exhaustion of a heart too weak to bear a continuous ecstasy of ten months, had undermined my constitution. A consuming flame, which burned unfed, shone through my wan and pale face. Julie implored me to leave Paris, to try the effect of my native air, and to preserve my life, even at the expense of her happiness. She sent me her doctor, to add the authority of science to the entreaties of her love. Her doctor, or rather her friend, Dr. Alain, was one of those men who carry a blessing with them, and whose countenance seems to reflect Heaven by the bedside of the sick poor they visit. He was himself suffering from a complaint of the heart brought on by a pure and mysterious passion for one of the loveliest women in Paris.
He was active, humane, pious, and tolerant, and possessing a small fortune sufficient for his simple wants and charities, practiced only for a few friends or for the poor. His physic was friendship or charity in action. The medical career is so admirable when divested of all cupidity, it brings so much into play the better feelings of our nature, that it often ends by being a virtue after commencing as a profession, With Dr. Alain it was more than a virtue; it had become a passion for relieving the woes of the body and of the soul, which are often so closely linked! Where Alain brought life, he also took God with him, and made even Death resplendent with serenity and immortality.
I saw him, too, die, some years later, the death of the righteous and the just. He had learned how to die at many deathbeds; and when stretched motionless on his, during six months of agony, his eye counted on a little clock, which stood at the foot of his bed, the hours that divided him from eternity. He pressed upon his bosom, with his crossed hands, a crucifix, emblem of patience, and his look never quitted that celestial friend, as though he had conversed at the foot of the cross. When he suffered beyond his powers of endurance he requested that the crucifix might be approached to his lips, and his prayers were then mingled with thanksgiving. At last he slept, supported to the end by his hopes and the memory of the good he had done. He had given the poor and the sick an accumulated treasure of good works to carry before him into the presence of the God of the merciful. He died on a wretched bed in a garret, leaving no inheritance. The poor bore his body to the grave, and, in their turn, gave him the burial of charity in the common earth. O blessed soul, that in memory, I still see smiling on that kind countenance, lighted with inward joy, can so much virtue have been to thee but a deception? Hast thou vanished like the reflection of my lamp upon thy portrait, when my hand withdraws the light that allowed me to contemplate it? No, no; God is faithful, and cannot have deceived thee, who wouldst not have deceived a child!
The doctor took a deep and friendly interest in me. It seemed as if Julie had imparted to him a portion of her tenderness. He understood my complaint, though he concealed his knowledge from me, and was too deeply read in human passion not to recognize its symptoms in us. He ordered me to depart under penalty of death, and induced Julie herself to enforce his commands by communicating to her his fears. He invoked the tender authority of love to tear me from love. He tried to mitigate the pang of separation by the allurement of hope, and ordered me to breathe some time my native air, and then return to the baths of Savoy, where Julie should join me, by his advice, in the beginning of autumn. His principles did not seem startled by the symptoms of mutual passion which he had not failed to perceive between us. Our pure flame was in his eyes a fault, but it was also its own purification. His countenance only expressed the indulgence of man, and the compassion of God. He thus endeavored to save us by loosening the tie which threatened to draw us to one common death. I at length consented to be the first to depart, and Julie swore to follow me soon. Alas, her tears, her pale face, and trembling lips said more than any vows! It was settled that I should leave Paris as soon as my strength permitted me to travel. The eighteenth of May was the day fixed for my departure.
When once we had resolved on our approaching separation we began to reckon the minutes as hours, the hours as days. We would have amassed and concentrated years into the short space of a second, to wrest from time the happiness from which we were to be debarred during so many months. These days were days of rapture, but they had their anguish and their agony; the approaching morrow cast its gloom upon each interview, each look and word, each pressure of the hand. Joys such as these are not joys, but disguised pangs of love and tortures of the heart. We devoted the whole day preceding my departure to our adieus. We wished not to say our last farewell within the shadow of walls, which weigh down the soul, or beneath the eyes of the indifferent, which throw back the feelings on the heart, but beneath the sky, in the open air, in the light, in solitude, and in silence. Nature sympathizes with all the emotions of man; she understands, and, as an invisible confidant, seems to share them. She garners them in heaven, and renders them divine.
In the morning, a carriage, which I had hired for the day, conveyed us to Monceau. The windows were down, the blinds closed. We traversed the almost deserted streets of the more elevated parts of Paris, leading to the high walls of the park. This garden was at that time almost exclusively reserved for their own use by the princes to whom it belonged, and could only be entered on presenting tickets of admission, which were very parsimoniously distributed to a few foreigners or travellers desirous of admiring its wonderful vegetation. I had obtained some of these tickets, through one of my mother's early friends who was attached to the prince's household. I had selected this solitude because I knew its owners were absent, that no admissions were then given, and that the very gardeners would be away enjoying the leisure of a holiday.
This magnificent desert, studded with groves of trees, interspersed with meadows, and traversed by limpid streams, is also embellished by monuments, columns, and ivy-covered ruins, imitations of time in which art has copied the old age of stone. That day we knew it would be visited only by the bright sunbeams, the insects, the birds, and us. Alas, never were its leaves and its green turf to be watered by so many tears!
The warm and glowing sky, the light and shade dancing fitfully on the grass driven by the summer breeze, as the shadow of the wings of one bird pursuing another; the clear note of the nightingale ringing through the sonorous air; the distinctness with which the lilies of the valley, the daisies, and the blue periwinkles which carpeted the sloping banks of the clear waters, were reflected in their polished mirror,—all this gladness of Nature saddened us, and this luminous serenity of a spring morning only seemed to contrast the more with the dark cloud which weighed upon our hearts. In vain we sought to deceive ourselves even for a moment by expatiating on the beauty of the landscape, the brilliant tints of the flowers, the perfumes of the air, the depth of the shade, the stillness of those solitudes in which the happiness of a whole world of love might have been sheltered. We carelessly threw on them an unheeding glance, which quickly fell to the ground; our voices, when answering with their vain formulas of joy and admiration, betrayed the hollowness of words and the absence of our thoughts, which were elsewhere. It was in vain we sought a resting-place to pass the long hours of this our last interview; seating ourselves alternately beneath the most fragrant lilacs, or the green branches of the loftiest cedars, on the fluted fragments of columns half-buried in ivy, or by the side of those waters that lay most still within their grassy banks, for scarcely had we chosen one of these sites when some vague disquietude drove us away in search of another. Here it was the shade, and there the light; further on, the importunate murmur of the cascade, or the persisting song of the nightingale over our heads,—that turned into bitterness all this exuberance of joy, and made it odious in our eyes. When our heart is sad within us, all creation jars upon our feelings, and it could but have added fresh pangs to the grief of two lovers, had the garden of Eden been the scene of their parting.
At last, worn out by wandering for two hours, and finding no shelter against ourselves, we sat down near a small bridge across a stream; a little apart, as if the very sound of each other's breathing had been painful, or as if we had wished instinctively to conceal from one another the suppressed sobs which were bursting from our hearts. We long watched abstractedly the green and slimy water as it was slowly swept beneath the narrow arch of the bridge. It carried along on its surface sometimes the white petals of the lily, and sometimes an empty and downy bird's nest which the wind had blown from a tree. We soon saw the body of a poor little swallow, turned on its back, and with extended wings, floating down. It had, doubtless, been drowned when skimming over the water before its wings were strong enough to bear it on the surface; it reminded us of the swallow which had one day fallen at our feet, from the top of the dismantled tower of the old castle on the borders of the lake, and which had saddened us as an omen. The dead bird passed slowly before us, and the unruffled sheet of water rolled and engulfed it in the deep darkness below the bridge. When the bird had disappeared, we saw another swallow pass and repass a hundred times beneath the bridge, uttering its little sharp cry of distress, and dashing against the wooden beams of the arch. Involuntarily we looked at each other; I cannot tell what our eyes expressed as they met, but the despair of the poor bird found us with our eyelids so overcharged, and our hearts so nearly bursting, that we both turned away at the same moment, and throwing ourselves with our faces to the ground, sobbed aloud. One tear called forth another tear, one thought another thought, one foreboding another foreboding, each sob another sob. We often strove to speak, but the broken voice of the one only made that of the other still more inaudible, and we ended by yielding to nature, and pouring forth in silence, during hours marked by the shadows alone, all the tears that rose from their hidden springs. They fell on the grass, sank into the earth, were dried by the winds of heaven, absorbed by the rays of the sun,—God took them into account! No drop of anguish remained in our hearts when we rose face to face though almost hidden from each other by the tearful veil of our eyes. Such was our farewell,—a funereal image, an ocean of tears, an eternal silence. Thus we parted without another look, lest that look should strike us to the earth. Never will the mark of my footsteps be again traced in that desert scene of our love and of our parting.
The next morning I was rolling along, sad and silent, wrapped in my cloak, among the barren hills on the road that leads from Paris towards the south. I was stowed away in a public coach, with five or six unknown fellow-travellers who were gayly discussing the quality of the wine and the price of the last dinner at the inn. I never once opened my lips during that long, sad journey.
My mother received me with that serene and resigned tenderness which might have made even misfortune happy in her company. Her diamond had been spent in vain to advance my fortunes; and I returned home, with shattered health and broken hopes, consumed with melancholy that she attributed to my unoccupied youth and restless imagination, but of which I carefully concealed the real cause, for fear of adding an irremediable sorrow to all her other griefs.
I spent the summer alone in an almost deserted valley enclosed between barren hills, where my father had a little farm, which was worked by a poor family. My mother had sent me there, and commended me to the care of these good people, that I might have a change of air and the benefit of milk diet. My whole occupation was to reckon the days which must intervene before I could join Julie in our dear Alpine valley. Her letters, received and replied to daily, confirmed me in my security, and dispelled, by their sportive gayety and caressing words, the gloomy and sinister forebodings our last farewell had raised in my heart. Now and then some desponding word or expression of sadness which seemed to have unguardedly escaped, or been involuntarily overlooked among her vistas of happiness, as a dry leaf in the midst of the foliage of spring, struck me as being in contradiction with the calm and blooming health she spoke of. But I attributed these discrepancies to some vision of memory or to her impatience at the slowness of time which might have flitted like shadows across the paper as she wrote.
The bracing mountain air, sleep at night, and exercise by day, the healthy employment of working in the garden and in the farm, soon restored me to health; but, above all, the approach of autumn, and the certainty of soon seeing her once more who by her looks would give me life. The only remaining trace of my sufferings was a gentle and pensive melancholy which overspread my countenance; it was as the mist of a summer's morning. My silence seemed to conceal some mystery, and my instinctive love of solitude made the superstitious peasants of the mountains believe that I conversed with the Genii of the woods.
All ambition had been extinguished in me by my love. I had made up my mind for life to my hopeless poverty and obscurity, and my mother's serene and pious resignation had entered into my heart with her holy and gentle words. I only indulged the dream of working during ten or eleven months of the year manually, or with my pen to earn sufficiently thereby to spend a month or two with Julie every year. I thought that if the old man's protection were one day to fail, I would devote myself to her service as a slave, like Rousseau to Madame de Warens; we would take shelter in some secluded cottage of these mountains, or in the well-known chalets of our Savoy; I would live for her, as she would live for me, without looking back with regret to the empty world, and asking of love no other reward than the happiness of loving.
I was, however, often recalled harshly from my dreamy region by the cruel penury of my home, which was partly attributable to the unavailing expense incurred for me. Crops had failed during successive years, and reverses of fortune had changed the humble mediocrity of my parents into comparative want. When on Sundays I went to see my mother, she spoke of her distress, and before me shed tears that she concealed from my father and my sisters. I, too, was reduced to extreme destitution. I lived at the little farm on brown bread, milk, and eggs, and had in secret sold successively in the neighboring town all the books and clothes I had brought from Paris, to procure wherewithal to pay the postage of Julie's letters, for which I would have sold my life's blood.
The month of September was drawing to a close. Julie wrote me that her anxiety on the score of her husband's daily declining health (O pious fraud of love to conceal her own sufferings and lighten my cares) would detain her longer in Paris than she had expected. She pressed me to start at once, and await her in Savoy, where she would join me without fail towards the end of October. The letter was one of tender advice, as that of a sister to a beloved brother. She implored and ordered me, with the sovereign authority of love, to beware of that insidious disease which lurks beneath the flowery surface of youth, and often withers and consumes us at the very moment we think that we have overcome its power. Enclosed, she sent a consultation and a prescription from good Dr. Alain, ordering me in the most imperative terms, and with most alarming threats, to remain during a long season at the baths of Aix. I showed this prescription to my mother, to account for my departure, and she was so disquieted by it that she added her entreaties to the injunctions of the doctor to induce me to go. Alas! I had in vain applied to a few friends as poor as myself, and to some pitiless usurers, to obtain the trifling sum of twelve louis required for my journey. My father had been absent six months, and my mother would on no account have aggravated his distress and anxiety by asking him for money. In borrowing he would have exposed his poverty, by which he was already too much humbled. I had made up my mind to start with two or three louis only in my purse, in the hope of borrowing the remainder from my friend L——, at Chambery; when, a few days before my departure, my mother, during a sleepless night, had found in her heart a resource that a mother's heart could alone have furnished.
In one of the comers of the little garden that surrounded our house there stood a cluster of trees, comprising a few evergreen oaks, two or three lime trees, and seven or eight twisted elms, which were the remains of a wood, planted centuries ago, and had, doubtless, been respected as the local Genius when the hill had been cleared, the house built, and the garden first walled in. These lofty trees in summer time served as a family saloon, in the open air. Their buds in spring, their tints in autumn, and their dry leaves in winter, which were succeeded by the hoar frost hanging from their branches like white hair, had marked the seasons for us. Their shadows, rolled back upon their very feet, or stretched out to the grassy border around, told us the hours better than a dial. Beneath their foliage our mother had nursed us, lulled us to rest, and taught us our first steps. My father sat there, book in hand, when he returned from shooting; his shining gun suspended from a branch, his panting dogs crouching beneath the bench. I, too, had spent there the fairest hours of my boyhood, with Homer or Telemachus lying open on the grass before me. I loved to lie flat on the warm turf, my elbows resting on the volume, of which a passing fly or lizard would sometimes hide the lines. The nightingales among the branches sang for our home, though we could never find their nest, or even see the branch from which their song burst forth. This grove was the pride, the recollection, the love of all. The idea of converting it into a small bag of money, which would leave no memory in the heart, no perpetual joy and shade, would have occurred to no one, save to a mother, trembling with anxiety for the life of an only son. My mother conceived the thought; and, with the readiness and firmness of resolve that distinguished her, called for the woodcutters as soon as morning came,—fearing lest she should feel remorse, or my entreaties stop her, if she first consulted me. She saw the axe laid to their roots, and wept, and turned away her head not to hear their moan, or witness the fall of these leafy protectors of her youth on the echoing and desolate soil of the garden.
When I returned to M—— on the following Sunday, I looked round from the top of the mountain for the clump of trees that stood out so pleasantly on the hillside, screening from the sun a portion of the gray wall of the house; and it seemed as a dream when in their wonted place I perceived only heaps of hewn-down trunks whose barked and bleeding branches strewed the earth around. A sawing-trestle stood there like an instrument of torture, on which the saw with its grinding teeth divided the trees. I hurried on with extended arms towards the outer wall, and trembled as I opened the little garden door.... Alas! the evergreen oak, one lime-tree, and the oldest elm alone were standing, and the bench had been drawn in beneath their shade. "They are sufficient," said my mother, as she advanced towards me, and, to conceal her tears, threw herself into my arms; "the shade of one tree is worth that of a whole forest. Besides, to me what shade can equal yours? Do not be angry. I wrote to your father that the trees were dying from the top, and that they were hurtful to the kitchen-garden. Speak no more of them!"... Then leading me into the house, she opened her desk and drew forth a bag half-filled with money. "Take this," she said, "and go. The trees will have been amply paid me if you return well and happy."
I blushed, and with a stifled sob took the bag. There were six hundred francs in it, which I resolved to bring back untouched to my poor mother.
I started on foot, like a sportsman, with leathern gaiters on my feet, and my gun on my shoulder, and took from the bag only one hundred francs, which I added to the little I had remaining from the proceeds of my last sale. I could not bear to spend the price of the trees, and therefore concealed the remainder of the money at the farm, that on my return I might restore it to her who had so heroically torn it from her heart for me. I ate and slept at the humblest inns in the villages through which I passed, and was taken for a poor Swiss student returning from the University of Strasbourg. I was never charged but the strict value of the bread I ate, of the candle I burned, and of the pallet on which I slept. I had brought but one book with me, which I read at evening on the bench before the inn door; it was Werther, in German; and the unknown characters confirmed my hosts in the idea that I was a foreign traveller.
I thus wandered through the long and picturesque gorges of Bugey, and crossed the Rhone at the foot of the rock of Pierre-Chatel. The narrowed river eternally rushes past the base of this rock, with a current wearing as the grindstone and cutting as the knife, as if to undermine and overthrow the state-prison, whose gloomy shadow saddens its waters. I slowly ascended the Mont du Chat by the paths of the chamois-hunters; arrived at its summit, I perceived stretched out before me in the distance the valleys of Aix, Chambery, and Annecy; and at my feet the lake, dappled with rosy tints by the floating rays of the setting sun. One single image filled for me the immensity of this horizon; it rose from the chalets where we had met; from the doctor's garden, the pointed slate roof of whose house I could recognize above the smoke of the town; from the fig-trees of the little castle of Bon-Port at the bottom of the opposite creek; from the chestnut-trees on the hill of Tresserves; from the woods of St. Innocent; from the island of Chatillon; from the boats which were returning to their moorings, from all this earth, from all this sky, from all these waves. I fell on my knees before this horizon filled with one image. I spread out my arms and folded them again, as if I could have embraced her spirit by clasping the air which, had swept over these scenes of our happiness, over all the traces of her footsteps.
I then sat down behind a rock which screened me even from the sight of the goatherds, as they passed along the path. There I remained, sunk in contemplation, and reveling in remembrances, till the sun was almost dipping behind the snow-clad tops of Nivolex. I did not wish to cross the lake, or enter the town by daylight, as the homeliness of my dress, the scantiness of my purse, and the frugality of life to which I was constrained, in order to live some months near Julie, would have seemed strange to the inmates of the old doctor's house. They formed too great a contrast with my elegance in dress and habits of life during the preceding season. I should have made those blush whom I had accosted in the streets, in the garb of one who had not even the means of locating himself in a decent hotel in this abode of luxury. I had, therefore, resolved to slip by night into the humble suburb, bordering a rivulet which runs through the orchards below the town.
I knew there a poor young serving girl, called Fanchette, who had married a boatman the year before. She had reserved some beds in the garret of her cottage, that she might board and lodge one or two poor invalids at fifteen sous a day. I had engaged one of these rooms, and a place at the humble board of the good creature. My friend L——, to whom I had written naming the day of my arrival on the borders of the lake, had some days previously written to take my lodgings, and warn Fanchette of my arrival, binding her to secrecy. I had also begged him to receive, under cover to himself, at Chambery, any letters that might be addressed to me from Paris. He was to forward them to me by one of the drivers of the light carts that run continually between the two towns. I intended, during my stay at Aix, to remain in the daytime concealed in my little cottage room, or in the surrounding orchards. I would only, I thought, go out in the evening; I would go up to the doctor's house by the skirts of the town; I would enter the garden by the gate which opened on the country, and pass in delightful intercourse the solitary evening hours. I would bear with pleasure want and humiliation, which would be compensated a thousand fold by those hours of love. I thought thus to conciliate the respect I owed to my poor mother for the sacrifices she had made, with my devotion to the idol I came to worship.
From a pious superstition of love, I had calculated my steps during my long pedestrian journey, so as to arrive at the Abbey of Haute-Combe, on the other side of the Mont du Chat, upon the anniversary of the day that the miracle of our meeting, and the revelation of our two hearts, had taken place in the fisherman's inn on the borders of the lake. It seemed to me that days, like all other mortal things, had their destiny, and that in the conjunction of the same sun, the same month, the same date, and in the same spot, I might find something of her I loved. It would be an augury, at least, of our speedy and lasting reunion.
From the brink of the almost perpendicular sides of the Mont du Chat that descend to the lake, I could see on my left the old ruins and the lengthening shadows of the Abbey, which darkened a vast extent of the waters. In a few minutes I reached the spot. The sun was sinking behind the Alps, and the long twilight of autumn enveloped the mountains, the waves, and the shore. I did not stop at the ruins, and passed rapidly through the orchard where we had sat at the foot of the haystack, near the bee-hives. The hives and the haystack were still there; but there was no glow of fire lighting the windows of the little inn, no smoke ascending from the roof, no nets hung out to dry on the palisades of the garden.
I knocked, no one answered; I shook the wooden latch, and the door opened of itself. I entered the little hall with the smoky walls; the hearth was swept clean, even to the very ashes, and the table and furniture had been removed. The flagstones of the pavement were strewed with straws and feathers that had fallen from five or six empty swallows' nests which hung from the blackened beams of the ceiling. I went up the wooden ladder which was fastened to the wall by an iron hook, and served to ascend into the upper room where Julie had awaked from her swoon, with her hand on my forehead. I entered as one enters a sanctuary or a sepulchre, and looked around; the wooden beds, the presses, the stools were all gone. The sound of my footsteps frightened a nocturnal bird of prey, that heavily flapped its wings, and after beating against the walls, flew out with a shrill cry through the open window into the orchard. I could scarcely distinguish the place where I had knelt during that terrible and yet enchanting night, at the bedside of the sleeper or of the dead. I kissed the floor, and sat for a long while on the edge of the window, trying to evoke again in my memory the room, the furniture, the bed, the lamp, the hours, which had kept their place within me though all had been changed during a single year of absence. There was no one in the lonely neighborhood of the cottage who could furnish any information as to the cause of its being thus deserted. I conjectured from the heaps of fagots which remained in the yard, from the hens and pigeons which returned of themselves to roost in the room, or on the roof, and from the stacks of hay and straw which stood untouched in the orchard, that the family had gone to gather in a late harvest in the high chalets of the mountain, and had not yet come down again.
The solitude of which I had thus taken possession was sad; not so sad, however, as the presence of the indifferent in a spot that was sacred in my eyes. I must have controlled before them my looks, my voice, my gestures, and the impressions that assailed me. I resolved to pass the night there, and brought up a bundle of fresh straw, which I spread on the floor, on the same spot where Julie had slept her death-like sleep. Resting my gun against the wall, I then took out of my knapsack some bread and a goat cheese that I had bought at Seyssel to support me on the road, and went out to eat my supper on a green platform above the ruins of the Abbey, by the side of the spring which flows and stops alternately, like the intermittent breathing of the mountain.
From the edge of that platform, and from the dismantled terraces of the old monastery, at evening time, the eye embraces the most enchanting horizon that ever delighted an anchorite, a contemplator, or a lover. Behind is the green and humid shade of the mountain, with the murmur of its source, and the rustling of its foliage; and on one side the ruins, the broken walls, with their garlands of ivy, and the dark arcades replete with night and mystery; the lake, with its expiring waves slowly rolling, one by one, their fringes of spray at the foot of the rocks, as if to spread its couch and lull its sleep on the fine sands. On the opposite shore, the blue mountains clothed with their transparent tints; and on the right, as far as the eye can reach, the luminous track that the sun leaves in crimson light on the sky and on the lake, when it withdraws its splendor. I revelled in this light and shade, in these clouds and waves. I incorporated myself with lovely Nature, and thought thus to incorporate in me the image of her who was all nature for me. I inwardly said I saw her there. I was at that distance from her boat when I saw it struggling against the storm. There is the shore where she landed; there is the orchard where we opened our hearts to each other in the sunshine, and where she returned to life to give me two lives. There in the distance are the tops of the poplars of the great avenue which unrolls its length like a green serpent issuing from the waves. There are the chalets, mossy turf, and woods of chestnut-tree, the sheltered paths upon the highest mountain-planes where I picked flowers, strawberries, and chestnuts to fill her lap. There she said this; there I confessed some secret of my soul; and on that spot we remained a whole evening silent, our hearts flooded with enthusiasm, our lips without language. Upon these waves she wished to die; upon this shore she promised me to live. Beneath yonder group of walnut-trees, then leafless, she bid me farewell, and promised me that I should see her again before the new leaves should have turned yellow. They are about to change; but love is faithful as Nature. In a few days I shall see her once more.... I see her already; for am I not here awaiting her? and thus to wait, is it not as though I saw her again?
Then I pictured to myself the instant when, from the shady orchards that slope down from the mountains behind the old doctor's house, I should see at last that window of the closed room where she was expected,—to see it open for the first time, and a woman's face, half-hidden in its long dark hair, appear between the open curtains, dreaming of that brother whom her eye seeks in the glorious landscape, where she, too, sees but him.... And at that image my heart beat so impetuously in my breast that I was forced to drive away the fancy for an instant, in order to breathe.
In the meantime night had almost entirely descended from the mountain to the lake. One could only see the waters through a mist that glazed and darkened their wide expanse. Amid the profound and universal silence which precedes darkness, the regular sound of oars which seemed to approach land smote upon my ear. I soon saw a little speck moving on the waters, and increasing gradually in size until it slid into the little cove near the fisherman's house, throwing on either side a light fringe of spray. Thinking that it might be the fisherman returning from the Savoy coast to his deserted dwelling, I hurried down from the ruins to the shore, to be there when the boat came in. I waited on the sand till the fisherman landed.
As soon as he saw me, he cried out, "Are you, sir, the young Frenchman who is expected at Fanchette's, and to whom I have been ordered to give these papers?" So saying, he jumped out of the boat, and, wading knee-deep through the water, handed me a thick letter. I felt by its weight that it was an enclosure containing many others. I hastily tore open the first cover, and read indistinctly in the dim moonlight a note from my friend L—-, dated that same morning from Chambery. L—— informed me that my lodging was taken and prepared for me at Fanchette's poor house in the Faubourg, and that no one had yet arrived from Paris at our old friend the doctor's. He added, that, having learned from myself that I should be that same evening at Haute-Combe to spend the night and a part of the following day, he had taken advantage of the departure of a trusty boatman who was to pass beneath the Abbey walls, to send me a packet of letters, which had arrived two days before, and that I was doubtless eagerly expecting. He purposed joining me at Haute-Combe the following day, that we might cross the lake together, and enter the town under the shadow of night.
While my eye glanced over the note, I held the packet with a trembling hand. It seemed to me heavy as my fate. I hastened to pay and dismiss the boatman, who was impatient to be off so as to leave the lake and enter the waters of the Rhone before dark. I only asked him for a piece of candle, to enable me to read my letters; he gave it, and I soon heard the strokes of his oars, as they once more cut through the deep sheet of water. I returned overjoyed to the upper room, to see once more the sacred characters of that angel in the very place where she had first revealed herself to me in all her splendor and in all her love. I felt sure that one of those letters must inform me that she had left Paris and would soon be with me. I sat down on the bundle of straw which I had brought up for my bed, and lighted my candle by means of the priming of my gun. I hastily tore open the cover, and it was only then that I perceived that the seal of the first envelope was black, and that the address was in the handwriting of Dr. Alain. I shuddered as I saw mourning where I had expected to find joy. The other letters slid from my hands onto my knees. I dared not read on for fear of finding—alas! what neither hand, nor eye, nor blood, nor tears, nor earth, nor Heaven could evermore efface—Death!... Though my very soul trembled so as to make the syllables dance before my eyes, I read at last these words:
"Prove yourself a man! Submit yourself to the will of Him whose ways are not our ways; expect her no longer! ... Look for her no more on earth, she has returned to heaven, calling on your name.... Thursday at sunrise.... She told me all before she died; ... she directed me to send you her last thoughts, which she wrote down till the very instant her hand grew cold while tracing your name.... Love her in Christ, who loved us unto death, and live for your mother!
I fell back senseless on the straw, and only recovered consciousness when the cold air of midnight chilled my brow. The light was still burning, and the doctor's letter was grasped convulsively in my hand. The untouched packet had fallen on the floor; I opened it with my lips, as if I feared to profane the heavenly message by breaking the seal with my fingers. Several long letters from Julie fell out; they were arranged according to dates.
In the-first there was: "Raphael! O my Raphael! O my brother! forgive your sister for having so long deceived you.... I never hoped to see you once more in Savoy.... I knew that my days were numbered, and that I could not live on till that day of happiness.... When I said at the gate of the garden of Monceau, 'We shall meet again,' Raphael, you did not understand me, but God did. I meant to say, 'We shall meet again, once more to love, to bless eternally, in heaven!' I begged Dr. Alain to aid me in deceiving you, and sending you away from Paris. It was my wish, it was my duty, to spare you such a sight of anguish as would have torn your heart asunder, and would have been too much for your strength.... And then again—forgive me, I must tell you all—I did not wish you to see me die.... I wish to spread a veil between us some time before death.... Cold death!—I feel it, see it, and shudder at myself in death! Raphael, I sought to leave an image of beauty in your eyes, that you might ever contemplate and adore! But now, you must not go, ... to await me in Savoy! Yet a little while—two or three days perhaps—and you need seek me nowhere! But I shall be there, Raphael! I shall be everywhere, and always where you are."
This letter had been moistened with tears, which had unglazed and stiffened the paper.
In the other, dated the following night, I read:—
"Raphael, your prayers have drawn down a blessing from Heaven upon me. I thought yesterday of the tree of adoration at St. Cloud, at whose foot I saw God through your soul. But there is another holier tree,—the Cross!... I have embraced it ... I will cling to it evermore.... Oh, how that divine blood cleanses! how those divine tears purify!... Yesterday I sent for a holy priest of whom Alain had spoken. He is an old man who knows everything; who forgives all! I have discovered my soul to him, and he has shed on it the love and light of God.... How good is God! how indulgent, how full of loving kindness! How little we know of him! He suffers me to love you, to have you for my brother, to be your sister here below, if I live; your guardian angel above, if I die! O Raphael, let us love him, since he permits that we should love each other as we do!"...
At the end of the letter there was a little cross traced, and, as it were, the impress of a kiss all around.
There was another letter written in a totally altered hand, where the characters crossed and mingled on the page, as if traced in the dark, which said:—
"Raphael, I must say one word more—to-morrow, perhaps, I could not. When I am dead, oh, do not die! I shall watch over you from above; I shall be good and powerful, as the loving God, to whom I shall be united, is good and powerful. After me, you must love again.... God will send you another sister, who will be, moreover, the pious helpmate of your life.... I will myself ask it of him.... Fear not to grieve my soul, Raphael!... I—could I be jealous in heaven of your happiness?... I feel better now I have said this. Alain will forward these lines to you, and a lock of my hair.... I am going to sleep."...
One letter more, almost illegible, contained only these interrupted lines: "Raphael! Raphael! where are you? I have had strength to get out of bed.... I have told the nurse that I wished to be left alone to rest. I have dragged myself along to the table, where I am writing by the light of the lamp.... But I can see no more; ...my eyes swim in darkness; ... black spots flit across the paper; ... Raphael! I can no longer write.... Oh, one word more!"...
Then, in large letters, like those of a child trying to write for the first time, there are two words which occupy a whole line, filling the bottom of the page. "Farewell, Raphael!"
All the letters fell from my hands. I was sobbing without tears, when I perceived another little note in the handwriting of the old man, her husband; it had slid between the pages as I was unsealing the first envelope.
There were only these words: "She breathed her last, her hand in mine, a few hours after writing you her last farewell. I have lost my daughter.... Be my son for the few days I have yet to live. She is there upon her bed, as if asleep, with an expression on her features of one whose last thought smiled at seeing something beyond our world. She never was so lovely; and as I look on her I require to believe in immortality.... I loved you through her; for her sake love me!"
How strange, and yet how fortunate for human nature, is the impossibility of immediately believing in the complete disappearance of a much-loved being! Though the evidence of her death lay scattered around, I could not believe that I was forever separated from her. Her remembrance, her image, her features, the sound of her voice, the peculiar turn of her expressions, the charm of her countenance, were so present, and, as it were, so incorporate in me, that she seemed more than ever with me; she appeared to envelop me, to converse with me, to call me by my name, as though I could have risen to meet her, and to see her once more. God leaves a space between the certainty of our loss and the consciousness of reality, like the interval which our senses measure between the instant when the eye sees the axe fall on the tree and the sound in our ear of the same blow long after. This distance deadens grief by cheating it. For some time after losing those we love, we have not completely lost them; we live on by the prolongation of their life in us. We feel as when we have been long watching the setting sun,—though its orb has sunk below the horizon, its rays are not set in our eyes; they still shine on our soul. It is only gradually, and as our impressions become more distinct as they cool, that we are made to know the complete and heartfelt separation,—that we can say, she is dead in me! For death is not death, but oblivion.
This phenomenon of grief was shown in its full force in me during that night. God suffered me not to drain at one draught my cup of woe, lest it should overwhelm my very soul. He vouchsafed to me the delusive belief, which. I long retained, of her inward presence. In me, before me, and around me, I saw that heavenly being who had been sent to me for one single year, to direct my thoughts and looks forevermore towards the heaven to which she returned in her spring of youth and love.
When the poor boatman's candle was burned out, I took up my letters and hid them in my bosom. I kissed a thousand times the floor of the room which had been the cradle, and was now the tomb, of our love. I unconsciously took my gun, and rushed wildly through the mountain passes. The night was dark; the wind had risen. The waves of the lake, dashing against the rocks, lashed them with such hollow blows, and sent forth sounds so like to human voices, that many times I stopped breathless, and turned round, as if I had been called by name. Yes, I was called; and I was not mistaken; but the voice came from heaven!...
You know, my friend, who found me the next morning, wandering among precipices, in the mists of the Rhone; who raised me up, supported me, and brought me back to my poor mother's arms....
Now fifteen years have rolled by without sweeping away in their course a single memory of that one great year of my youth. According to Julie's promise to send me from above one who should comfort me, God has exchanged his gift for another; he has not withdrawn it. I often return to visit the valley of Chambery and the lake of Aix, with her who has made my hopes patient and tranquil as felicity. When I sit on the heights of the hill of Tresserves, at the foot of those chestnut-trees that have felt her heart beat against their bark; when I look at the lake, the mountains, snows and meadows, trees and jagged rocks, swimming in a warm atmosphere which seems to bathe all nature in one perfumed liquid; when I hear the sighing breeze, the humming insects, and the quivering leaves, the waves of the lake breaking on the shore, with the gentle rustling sound of silken folds unrolling one by one; when I see the shadow of her whom God has made my companion until my life's end cast beside mine upon the grass or sand; when I feel within me a plenitude that desires nothing before death, and peace, untroubled by a single sigh; methinks I see the blessed soul of her who appeared to me in this spot rise, dazzling and immortal, from every point of the horizon, fill of herself alone the sky and waters, shine in that splendor, float in that ether, bum in all those flames. I see it penetrate those waves, breathe in their murmurs; pray, and laud, and sing in that one hymn of life that streams with these cascades from glacier unto lake, and shed upon the valley and on those who keep her memory a blessing that the eye seems to see, the ear to hear, the heart to feel!...
Here ended Raphael's first manuscript.