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and while their eyes wandered over the glorious scene, and they inhaled the sweet breath of flowers and herbs that enriched the grass, Emily played and sung several of their favorite airs, with the delicacy of expression in which she so much excelled.
Music and conversation detained them in this enchanting spot, till the sun's last light slept upon the plains; till the white sails that glided beneath the mountains, where the Garonne wandered, became dim, and the gloom of evening stole over the landscape. It was a melancholy, but not unpleasing gloom. St. Aubert and his family rose, and left the place with regret alas! Madame St. Aubert knew not that she left it forever.
When they reached the fishing-house she missed her bracelet, and recollected that she had taken it from her arm after dinner, and left it on the table when she went to walk. After a long search, in which Emily was very active, she was compelled to resign herself to the loss of it. What made this bracelet valuable to her was a miniature of her daughter, to which it was attached, esteemed a striking resemblance, and which had been painted only a few months before. When Emily was convinced that the bracelet was really gone, she blushed and became thoughtful. That some stranger had been in the fishing-house during her absence, her lute and the additional lines of a pencil, had already informed her. From the purport of these lines it was not unreasonable to believe, that the poet, the musician, and the thief were the same person. But though the music she had heard, the written lines she had seen, and the disappearance of the picture, formed a combination of circumstances very remarkable, she was irresistibly restrained from mentioning them; secretly determining, however, never again to visit the fishing-house, without Monsieur or Madame St. Aubert.
They returned pensively to the chateau, Emily musing on the incident which had just occurred; St. Aubert reflecting, with placid gratitude, on the blessings he possessed; and Madame St. Aubert somewhat disturbed and perplexed by the loss of her daughter's picture. As they drew near the house, they observed an unusual bustle about it; the sound of voices was distinctly heard, servants and horses were seen passing between the trees, and, at length, the wheels of a carriage rolled along. Having come within view of the front of the chateau, a landeau with smoking horses appeared on the little lawn before it. St. Aubert perceived the liveries of his brother-in-law, and in the parlor he found Monsieur and Madame Quesnel already entered. They had left Paris some days before, and were on the way to their estate, only ten leagues distant from La Vallee, and which Monsieur Quesnel had purchased several years before of St. Aubert. This gentleman was the only brother of Madame St. Aubert; but the ties of relationship having never been strengthened by congeniality of character, the intercourse between them had not been frequent. M. Quesnel had lived altogether in the world; his aim had been consequence; splendor was the object of his taste; and his address and knowledge of character had carried him forward to the attainment of almost all that he had courted. By a man of such a disposition, it is not surprising that the virtues of Št. Aubert should be overlooked; or that his pure taste, simplicity, and moderated
wishes, were considered as marks of a weak intellect, and of confined views. The marriage of his sister with St. Aubert had been mortifying to his ambition; for he had designed that the matrimonial connection she formed should assist him to attain the consequence which he so much desired; and some offers were made her by persons whose rank and fortune flattered his warmest hope. But his sister, who was then addressed also by St. Aubert, perceived, or thought she perceived, that happiness and splendor were not the same; and she did not hesitate to forego the last for the attainment of the former. Whether Monsieur Quesnel thought them the same or not, he would readily have sacrificed his sister's peace to the gratification of his own ambition; and, on her inarriage with St. Aubert, expressed in private his contempt for her spiritless conduct, and of the connection which it permitted. Madame St. Aubert, though she concealed this from her husband, felt perhaps, for the first time, resentment lighted in her heart; and, though a regard for her own dignity, united with considerations of prudence, restrained her expression of this resentment, there was ever after a mild reserve in her manner towards M. Quesnel, which he both understood and felt.
In his own marriage he did not follow his sister's example. His lady was an Italian, and an heiress, by birth; and, by nature and education, was a vain and frivolous woman.
They now determined to pass the night with St. Aubert; and as the chateau was not large enough to accommodate their servants, the latter were dismissed to the neighboring village. When the first compliments were over, and the arrangements for the night made, M. Quesnel began the display of his intelligence and connections; while St. Aubert, who had been long enough in retirement to find these topics recommended by their novelty, listened with a degree of patience and attention which his guest mistook for the humility of wonder. The latter, indeed, described the few festivities which the turbulence of that period permitted to the court of Henry the Third, with a minuteness that somewhat compensated for his ostentation; but when he came to speak of the character of the Duke de Joyeuse, of a secret treaty which he knew to be negotiating with the Porte, and of the light in which Henry of Navarre was received; M. St. Aubert recollected enough of his former experience to be assured that his guest could be only of an inferior class of politicians; and that, from the importance of the subjects upon which he committed himself, he could not be of the rank to which he pretended to belong. The opinions delivered by M. Quesnel were such as St. Aubert forebore to reply to; for he knew that his guest had neither humanity to feel, nor discernment to perceive, what is just.
Madame Quesnel, meanwhile, was expressing to Madame St. Aubert her astonishment that she could bear to pass her life in this remote corner of the world, as she called it, and describing, from a wish probably of exciting envy, the splendor of the balls, banquets, and processions which had just been given by the court, in honor of the nuptials of the Dake de Joyeuse with Magaretta of Lorrain, the sister of the queen. She described with equal minuteness the magnificence she had seen, and that from which she had been excluded; white Emily's vivid fancy,
as she listened with the ardent curiosity of youth, heightened the scenes she heard of; and Madame St. Aubert, looking on her family, felt, as a tear stole to her eye, that though splendor may grace happiness, virtue only can bestow it.
It is now twelve years, St. Aubert, said M. Quesnel, since I purchased your family estate.-Somewhere thereabout, replied St. Aubert, suppressing a sigh. It is near five years since I have been there, resumed Quesnel; for Paris and its neighborhood is the only place in the world to live in; and I am so immersed in politics, and have so many affairs of moment on my hands, that I find it difficult to steal away even for a month or two. St. Aubert remaining silent, M. Quesnel proceeded: I have sometimes wondered how you, who have lived in the capital, and have been accustomed to company, can exist elsewhere; especially in so remote a country as this, where you can neither hear nor see any thing, and can, in short, be scarcely conscious of life.
I live for my family and myself, said St. Aubert; I am now contented to know only happiness-formerly I knew life.
I mean to expend thirty or forty thousand livres on improvements, said M. Quesnel, without seeming to notice the words of St. Aubert; for I design, next summer, to bring here my friends, the Duke du Durefort and the Marquis Ramont, to pass a month or two with me. To St. Aubert's inquiry, as to these intended improvements, he replied, that he should take down the old east wing of the chateau, and raise upon the site a set of stables. Then I shall build, said he, a salle à manger, a salon, a salle du commun, and a number of rooms for servants; for at present there is not accommodation for a third part of my own people.
It accommodated our father's household, said St. Aubert, grieved that the old mansion was to be thus improved, and that was not a small one.
Our notions are somewhat enlarged since those days, said M. Quesnel; what was then thought a decent style of living, would not not now be endured. Even the calm St. Aubert blushed at these words; but his anger soon yielded to contempt. The ground about the chateau is encumbered with trees; I mean to cut some of them down.
Cut down the trees too! said St. Aubert.
Certainly why should I not? they interrupt my prospects. There is a chestnut which spreads its branches before the whole south side of the chateau, and which is so ancient that they tell me the hollow of its trunk will hold a dozen men; your enthusiasm will scarcely contend that there can be use or beauty in such a sapless old tree as this.
Good God! exclaimed St. Aubert, you surely will not destroy that noble chestnut, which has flourished for centuries the glory of the estate! It was in its maturity when the present mansion was built. How of ten, in my youth, I have climbed among its broad branches, and sat embowered amidst a world of leaves, while the heavy shower has pattered above, and not a rain-drop reached me! How often I have sat with my book in my hand, sometimes reading, and sometimes looking out between the branches upon the wide landscape, and setting sun, till twilight came, and brought the birds home to their little nests among
the leaves! How often-but pardon me, added St. Aubert, recollecting that he was speaking to a man who could neither comprehend nor allow for his feelings, I am talking of times and feelings as old-fashioned as the taste that would spare that venerable tree.
It will certainly come down, said M. Quesnel; I believe I shall plant some Lombardy poplars among the clumps of chestnut that I shall leave of the avenue; Madame Quesnel is partial to the poplar, and tells me how much it adorns a villa of her uncle not far from Venice.
On the banks of the Brenta, indeed, continued St. Aubert, where its spiry form is intermingled with the pine and the cypress, and where it plays over light and elegant porticoes and colonnades, it unquestionably adorns the scene; but among the giants of the forest, and near a heavy Gothic mansion
Well, my good sir, said M. Quesnel, I will not dispute with you: you must return to Paris before our ideas can at all agree. But à propos of Venice; I have some thought of going thither next summer; events may call me to take possession of that same villa, too, which they tell me is the most charming that can be imagined. In that case I shall leave the improvements I mention to another year; and I may perhaps be tempted to stay some time in Italy.
Emily was somewhat surprised to hear him talk of being tempted to remain abroad, after he had mentioned his presence to be so necessary at Paris that it was with difficulty he could steal away for a month or two; but St. Aubert understood the self-importance of the man too well to wonder at this trait; and the possibility that these projected improvements might be deferred, gave him a hope that they might never take place.
Before they separated for the night, M. Quesnel desired to speak with St. Aubert alone; and they retired to another room, where they remained a considerable time. The subject of this conversation was not known; but whatever it might be, St. Aubert, when he returned to the supper-room, seemed much disturbed; and a shade of sorrow sometimes fell upon his features, that alarmed Madame St. Aubert. When they were alone, she was tempted to inquire the occasion of it; but the delicacy of mind, which had ever appeared in his conduct, restrained her; she considered that, if St. Aubert wished her to be acquainted with the subject of his concern, he would not wait for her inquiries.
On the following day, before M. Quesnel departed, he had a second conference with St. Aubert.
The guests, after dining at the chateau, set out, in the cool of the day, for Epourville, whither they gave M. and Madame St. Aubert a pressing invitation, prompted rather by the vanity of displaying their splendor, than by a wish to make their friends happy.
Emily returned, with delight, to the liberty which their presence had restrained-to her books, her walks, and the rational conversation of M. and Madame St. Aubert, who seemed to rejoice no less that they were delivered from the shackles which arrogance and frivolity had imposed. Madame St. Aubert excused herself from sharing their usual evening walk, complaining that she was not quite well; and St. Aubert and Emily went out together.
They chose a walk towards the mountains, intending to visit somo old pensioners of St. Aubert, whom, from his very moderate income, he contrived to support; though it is probable M. Quesnel, with his very large one, could not have afforded this.
After distributing to his pensioners their weekly stipends-listening patiently to the complaints of some, redressing the grievances of others, and softening the discontents of all by the look of sympathy and the smile of benevolence-St. Aubert returned home through the woods,
At fall of eve, the fairy people throng,
The summer night, as village stories tell."-THOMSON.
The evening gloom of woods was always delightful to me, said St. Aubert, whose mind now experienced the sweet calm which results from the consciousness of having done a beneficent action, and which disposes it to receive pleasure from every surrounding object. I remember that in my youth this gloom used to call forth to my fancy a thousand fairy visions and romantic images; and I own I am not yet wholly insensible of that high enthusiasm which wakes the poet's dream. I can linger with solemn steps, under the deep shades, send forward a transforming eye into the distant obscurity, and listen with thrilling delight to the mystic murmuring of the woods.
O my dear father! said Emily, while a sudden tear started to her eye, how exactly you describe what I have felt so often, and which I thought nobody had ever felt but myself! But hark! here comes the sweeping sound over the wood-tops-now it dies away. How solemn the stillness that succeeds! Now the breeze swells again! It is like the voice of some supernatural being-the voice of the spirit of the woods that watches over them by night. Ah! what light is yonder? But it is gone!-and now it gleams again, near the root of that large chestnutlook, sir!
Are you such an admirer of nature, said St. Aubert, and so little acquainted with her appearances as not to know that for the glowworm But come, added he, gayly, step a little farther, and we shall see fairies perhaps they are often companions. The glowworm lends his light, and they in return charm him with music and the dance. Do you see nothing tripping yonder?
Emily laughed. Well, my dear sir, said she, since you allow of this alliance, I may venture to own I have anticipated you; and almost dare venture to repeat some verses I made one evening in these very woods.
Nay, replied St. Aubert, dismiss the almost, and venture quite: let ns hear what vagaries fancy has been playing in your mind. If she has given you one of her spells, you need not envy those of the fairies.
If it is strong enough to enchant your judgment, sir, said Emily, while I disclose her images, I need not envy them. The lines go in a sort of tripping measure, which I thought might suit the subject well enough; but I fear they are too irregular.