The Huron; or, Pupil of Nature/Chapter XIX
THE HURON, THE BEAUTIFUL MISS ST. YVES, AND THEIR RELATIONS, ARE CONVENED.
The generous and respectable, but injured, girl was with her brother, the Abbé de St. Yves, the good prior of the mountain, and Lady de Kerkabon. They were equally astonished, but their situations and sentiments were very different. The Abbé de St. Yves was expiating the wrongs he had done his sister at her feet, and she pardoned him. The prior and his sympathizing sister likewise wept, but it was for joy. The filthy bailiff and his insupportable son did not trouble this affecting scene. They had set out upon the first report that their antagonist had been released. They flew to bury in their own province their folly and fear.
The four dramatis personæ, variously agitated, were waiting for the return of the young man who had gone to deliver his friend. The Abbé de St. Yves did not dare to raise his eyes to meet those of his sister. The good Kerkabon said:
"I shall then see once more my dear nephew."
"You will see him again," said the charming Miss St. Yves, "but he is no longer the same man. His behavior, his manners, his ideas, his sense, have all undergone a complete mutation. He has become as respectable as he was before ignorant and strange to everything. He will be the honor and consolation of your family; would to heaven that I might also be the honor of mine!"
"What, are you not the same as you were?" said the prior. "What, then, has happened to work so great a change?"
During this conversation the Huron returned in company with the Jansenist. The scene was now changed, and became more interesting. It began by the uncle and aunt's tender embraces. The Abbé de St. Yves almost kissed the knees of the ingenuous Huron, who, by the by, was no longer ingenuous. The language of the eyes formed all the discourse of the two lovers, who, nevertheless, expressed every sentiment with which they were penetrated. Satisfaction and acknowledgment sparkled in the countenance of the one, while embarrassment was depicted in Miss St. Yves's melting, but half averted, eyes. Every one was astonished that she should mingle grief with so much joy.
The venerable Gordon soon endeared himself to the whole family. He had been unhappy with the young prisoner, and this was a sufficient title to their esteem. He owed his deliverance to the two lovers, and this alone reconciled him to love. The acrimony of his former sentiments was dismissed from his heart—he was converted by gratitude, as well as the Huron. Every one related his adventures before supper. The two abbés and the aunt listened like children to the relation of stories of ghosts, and both were deeply interested.
"Alas!" said Gordon, "there are perhaps upward of five hundred virtuous people in the same fetters as Miss St. Yves has broken. Their misfortunes are unheeded. Many hands are found to strike the unhappy multitude, how seldom one to succor them."
This very just reflection increased his sensibility and gratitude. Everything heightened the triumph of the beautiful Miss St. Yves. The grandeur and intrepidity of her soul were the subject of each one's admiration. This admiration was blended with that respect which we feel in spite of ourselves for a person who we think has some influence at court. But the Abbé de St. Yves inquired:
"What could my sister do to obtain this influence so soon?"
Supper being ready, every one was already seated, when lo! the worthy confidante of Versailles arrived without being acquainted with anything that had passed. She was in a coach and six, and it was easily seen to whom the equipage belonged. She entered with that air of authority assumed by people in power who have a great deal of business, saluted the company with much indifference, and, pulling the beautiful Miss St. Yves on one side, said:
"Why do you make people wait so long? Follow me. There are the diamonds you forgot."
However softly she uttered these expressions, the Huron, nevertheless, overheard them. He saw the diamonds. The brother was speechless. The uncle and aunt exhibited the surprise of good people, who had never before beheld such magnificence. The young man, whose mind was now formed by an experience of twelve months, could not help making some reflections against his will, and was for a moment in anxiety. His mistress perceived it, and a mortal paleness spread over her countenance; a tremor seized her, and it was with difficulty she could support herself.
"Ah! madam," said she to her fatal friend, "you have ruined me—you have given me the mortal blow."
These words pierced the heart of the Huron; but he had already learned to possess himself. He did not dwell upon them, lest he should make his mistress uneasy before her brother, but turned pale as well as she.
Miss St. Yves, distracted with the change she perceived in her lover's countenance, pulled the woman out of the room into the passage, and threw the jewels at her feet, saying:
"Alas! these were not my seducers, as you well know; but he who gave them shall never set eyes on me again."
Her friend took them up, while Miss St. Yves added:
"He may either take them again, or give them to you. Begone, and do not make me still more odious to myself."
The ambassadress at length departed, not being able to comprehend the remorse to which she had been witness.
The beautiful Miss St. Yves, greatly oppressed and feeling a revolution in her body that almost suffocated her, was compelled to go to bed; but that she might not alarm any one she kept her pains and sufferings to herself, and under pretence of only being weary, she asked leave to take a little rest. This, however, she did not do till she had reanimated the company with consolatory and flattering expressions and cast such a kind look upon her lover as darted fire into his soul.
The supper, of which she did not partake, was in the beginning gloomy, but this gloominess was of that interesting kind which inspires reflection and useful conversation, so superior to that frivolous excitement commonly exhibited, and which is usually nothing more than a troublesome noise.
Gordon, in a few words, gave the history of Jansenism and Molinism, of those persecutions with which one party hampered the other, and of the obstinacy of both. The Huron entered into a criticism thereupon, pitying those men who, not satisfied with the confusion occasioned by these opposite interests, create evils by imaginary interests and unintelligible absurdities. Gordon related—the other judged. The guests listened with emotion, and gained new lights. The duration of misfortunes and the shortness of life then became the topics. It was remarked that all professions have peculiar vices and dangers annexed to them; and that from the prince down to the lowest beggar, all seemed alike to accuse Providence. How happens it that so many men, for so little, perform the office of persecutors, sergeants, and executioners to others? With what inhuman indifference does a man in authority sign papers for the destruction of a family; and with what joy, still more barbarous, do mercenaries execute them.
"I saw in my youth," said the good old Gordon, "a relation of the Marshal de Marillic, who, being prosecuted in his own province on account of that illustrious but unfortunate man, concealed himself under a borrowed name in Paris. He was an old man nearly seventy-two years of age. His wife, who accompanied him, was nearly of the same age. They had a libertine son, who, at fourteen years of age, absconded from his father's house, turned soldier, and deserted. He had gone through every gradation of debauchery and misery; at length, having changed his name, he was in the guards of Cardinal Richelieu (for this priest, as well as Mazarin, had guards) and had obtained an exempt's staff in their company of sergeants.
"This adventurer was appointed to arrest the old man and his wife, and acquitted himself with all the obduracy of a man who was willing to please his master. As he was conducting them, he heard these two victims deplore the long succession of miseries which had befallen them from their cradle. This aged couple reckoned as one of their greatest misfortunes the wildness and loss of their son. He recollected them, but he nevertheless led them to prison, assuring them that his reverence was to be served in preference to everybody else. His eminence rewarded his zeal.
"I have seen a spy of Father de la Chaise betray his own brother, in hope of a little benefice, which he did not obtain; and I saw him die, not of remorse, but of grief at having been cheated by the Jesuit.
"The vocation of a confessor, which I for a long while exercised, made me acquainted with the secrets of families. I have known very few who, though immersed in the greatest distress, did not externally wear the mask of felicity and every appearance of joy; and I have always observed that great grief was the fruit of our unconstrained desires."
"For my part," said the Huron, "I imagine that a noble, grateful, sensible man may always be happy; and I hope to enjoy an uncheckered felicity with the charming, generous Miss St. Yves. For I flatter myself," added he, in addressing himself to her brother, with a friendly smile, "that you will not now refuse me as you did last year; besides, I shall pursue a more decent method."
The abbé was confounded in apologies for the past, and in protesting an eternal attachment.
Uncle Kerkabon said this would be the most glorious day of his whole life. His good Aunt Kerkabon, in ecstasies of joy, cried out:
"I have always said you would never be a subdeacon. This sacrament is preferable to the other; would to God I had been honored with it! but I will serve you for a mother."
And now all vied with each other in applauding the gentle Miss St. Yves.
Her lover's heart was too full of what she had done for him, and he loved her too much, for the affair of the jewels to make any permanent impression on him. But those words, which he too well heard, "you have given me the mortal blow," still secretly terrified him, and interrupted all his joy; while the eulogiums paid his beautiful mistress still increased his love. In a word, nothing was thought of but her, nothing was mentioned but the happiness those two lovers deserved. A plan was agitated to live altogether at Paris, and schemes of grandeur and fortune were formed. Those hopes which the smallest ray of happiness engenders were predominant. But the Huron felt, in the secret recesses of his heart, a sentiment that exploded the illusion. He read over the promises signed by St. Pouange, and the commission signed Louvois. These men were painted to him such as they were, or such as they were thought to be. Every one spoke of the ministers and administration with the freedom of convivial conversation, which is considered in France as the most precious liberty to be obtained on earth.
"If I were king of France," said the Huron, "this is the kind of minister that I would choose for the war department. I would have a man of the highest birth, as he is to give orders to the nobility. I would require that he should himself have been an officer, and have passed through the various gradations, or, at least, that he had attained the rank of lieutenant-general and was worthy of being a marshal of France. For, to be acquainted with the details of the service, is it not necessary that he himself should have served? and will not officers obey, with a hundred times more alacrity, a military man who, like themselves, has been signalized by his courage, rather than a mere man of the cabinet who, whatever natural ability he may possess, can, at most, only guess at the operations of a campaign? I should not be displeased at my minister's generosity, even though it might sometimes embarrass a little the keeper of the royal treasure. I should desire him to have a facility in business, and that he should distinguish himself by that kind of gayety of mind which is the lot of men superior to business, which is so agreeable to the nation, and which renders the performance of every duty less irksome."
This is the character he would have chosen for a minister, as he had constantly observed that such an amiable disposition is incompatible with cruelty.
M. de Louvois would not, perhaps, have been satisfied with the Huron's wishes. His merit lay in a different walk. But while they were still at table, the disorder of the unhappy Miss St. Yves took a fatal turn. Her blood was on fire; the symptoms of a malignant fever had appeared. She suffered, but did not complain, being unwilling to disturb the pleasure of the guests.
Her brother, thinking that she was not asleep, went to the foot of her bed. He was astonished at the condition he found her in. Everybody flew to her. Her lover appeared next to her brother. He was certainly the most alarmed, and the most affected of any one; but he had learned to unite discretion to all the happy gifts nature had bestowed upon him, and a quick sensibility of decorum began to prevail over him.
A neighboring physician was immediately sent for. He was one of those itinerant doctors who confound the last disorder they were consulted upon with the present; who follow a blind practice in a science from which the most mature investigations and careful observations do not preclude uncertainty and danger. He greatly increased the disorder by prescribing a fashionable nostrum. Can fashion extend to medicine? This frenzy was then too prevalent in Paris.
The grief of Miss St. Yves contributed still more than her physician to render her disorder fatal. Her body suffered martyrdom in the torments of her mind. The crowd of thoughts which agitated her breast communicated to her veins a more dangerous poison than that of the most burning fever.