Volume IV

Chapter XI

  Ah happy hills! ah pleasing shade!
Ah fields belov’d in vain!
Where once my careless childhood stray’d,
A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales, that from ye blow,
A momentary bliss bestow,
As waving fresh their gladsome wing,
My weary soul they seem to sooth.

On the following morning, Emily left Tholouse at an early hour, and reached La Vallee about sun-set. With the melancholy she experienced on the review of a place which had been the residence of her parents, and the scene of her earliest delight, was mingled, after the first shock had subsided, a tender and undescribable pleasure. For time had so far blunted the acuteness of her grief, that she now courted every scene, that awakened the memory of her friends; in every room, where she had been accustomed to see them, they almost seemed to live again; and she felt that La Vallee was still her happiest home. One of the first apartments she visited, was that, which had been her father’s library, and here she seated herself in his arm-chair, and, while she contemplated, with tempered resignation, the picture of past times, which her memory gave, the tears she shed could scarcely be called those of grief.

Soon after her arrival, she was surprised by a visit from the venerable M. Barreaux, who came impatiently to welcome the daughter of his late respected neighbour, to her long-deserted home. Emily was comforted by the presence of an old friend, and they passed an interesting hour in conversing of former times, and in relating some of the circumstances, that had occurred to each, since they parted.

The evening was so far advanced, when M. Barreaux left Emily, that she could not visit the garden that night; but, on the following morning, she traced its long-regretted scenes with fond impatience; and, as she walked beneath the groves, which her father had planted, and where she had so often sauntered in affectionate conversation with him, his countenance, his smile, even the accents of his voice, returned with exactness to her fancy, and her heart melted to the tender recollections.

This, too, was his favourite season of the year, at which they had often together admired the rich and variegated tints of these woods and the magical effect of autumnal lights upon the mountains; and now, the view of these circumstances made memory eloquent. As she wandered pensively on, she fancied the following address

  To Autumn

Sweet Autumn! how thy melancholy grace
Steals on my heart, as through these shades I wind!
Sooth’d by thy breathing sigh, I fondly trace
Each lonely image of the pensive mind!
Lov’d scenes, lov’d friends—long lost! around me rise,
And wake the melting thought, the tender tear!
That tear, that thought, which more than mirth I prize—
Sweet as the gradual tint, that paints thy year!
Thy farewel smile, with fond regret, I view,
Thy beaming lights, soft gliding o’er the woods;
Thy distant landscape, touch’d with yellow hue
While falls the lengthen’d gleam; thy winding floods,
Now veil’d in shade, save where the skiff’s white sails
Swell to the breeze, and catch thy streaming ray.
But now, e’en now!—the partial vision fails,
And the wave smiles, as sweeps the cloud away!
Emblem of life!—Thus checquer’d is its plan,
Thus joy succeeds to grief—thus smiles the varied man!

One of Emily’s earliest enquiries, after her arrival at La Vallee, was concerning Theresa, her father’s old servant, whom it may be remembered that M. Quesnel had turned from the house when it was let, without any provision. Understanding that she lived in a cottage at no great distance, Emily walked thither, and, on approaching, was pleased to see, that her habitation was pleasantly situated on a green slope, sheltered by a tuft of oaks, and had an appearance of comfort and extreme neatness. She found the old woman within, picking vine-stalks, who, on perceiving her young mistress, was nearly overcome with joy.

‘Ah! my dear young lady!’ said she, ‘I thought I should never see you again in this world, when I heard you was gone to that outlandish country. I have been hardly used, since you went; I little thought they would have turned me out of my old master’s family in my old age!’

Emily lamented the circumstance, and then assured her, that she would make her latter days comfortable, and expressed satisfaction, on seeing her in so pleasant an habitation.

Theresa thanked her with tears, adding, ‘Yes, mademoiselle, it is a very comfortable home, thanks to the kind friend, who took me out of my distress, when you was too far off to help me, and placed me here! I little thought!—but no more of that—’

‘And who was this kind friend?’ said Emily: ‘whoever it was, I shall consider him as mine also.’

‘Ah, mademoiselle! that friend forbad me to blazon the good deed—I must not say, who it was. But how you are altered since I saw you last! You look so pale now, and so thin, too; but then, there is my old master’s smile! Yes, that will never leave you, any more than the goodness, that used to make him smile. Alas-a-day! the poor lost a friend indeed, when he died!’

Emily was affected by this mention of her father, which Theresa observing, changed the subject. ‘I heard, mademoiselle,’ said she, ‘that Madame Cheron married a foreign gentleman, after all, and took you abroad; how does she do?’

Emily now mentioned her death. ‘Alas!’ said Theresa, ‘if she had not been my master’s sister, I should never have loved her; she was always so cross. But how does that dear young gentleman do, M. Valancourt? he was an handsome youth, and a good one; is he well, mademoiselle?’

Emily was much agitated.

‘A blessing on him!’ continued Theresa. ‘Ah, my dear young lady, you need not look so shy; I know all about it. Do you think I do not know, that he loves you? Why, when you was away, mademoiselle, he used to come to the chateau and walk about it, so disconsolate! He would go into every room in the lower part of the house, and, sometimes, he would sit himself down in a chair, with his arms across, and his eyes on the floor, and there he would sit, and think, and think, for the hour together. He used to be very fond of the south parlour, because I told him it used to be yours; and there he would stay, looking at the pictures, which I said you drew, and playing upon your lute, that hung up by the window, and reading in your books, till sunset, and then he must go back to his brother’s chateau. And then—’

‘It is enough, Theresa,’ said Emily.—’How long have you lived in this cottage—and how can I serve you? Will you remain here, or return and live with me?’

‘Nay, mademoiselle,’ said Theresa, ‘do not be so shy to your poor old servant. I am sure it is no disgrace to like such a good young gentleman.’

A deep sigh escaped from Emily.

‘Ah! how he did love to talk of you! I loved him for that. Nay, for that matter, he liked to hear me talk, for he did not say much himself. But I soon found out what he came to the chateau about. Then, he would go into the garden, and down to the terrace, and sit under that great tree there, for the day together, with one of your books in his hand; but he did not read much, I fancy; for one day I happened to go that way, and I heard somebody talking. Who can be here? says I: I am sure I let nobody into the garden, but the Chevalier. So I walked softly, to see who it could be; and behold! it was the Chevalier himself, talking to himself about you. And he repeated your name, and sighed so! and said he had lost you for ever, for that you would never return for him. I thought he was out in his reckoning there, but I said nothing, and stole away.’

‘No more of this trifling,’ said Emily, awakening from her reverie: ‘it displeases me.’

‘But, when M. Quesnel let the chateau, I thought it would have broke the Chevalier’s heart.’

‘Theresa,’ said Emily seriously, ‘you must name the Chevalier no more!’

‘Not name him, mademoiselle!’ cried Theresa: ‘what times are come up now? Why, I love the Chevalier next to my old master and you, mademoiselle.’

‘Perhaps your love was not well bestowed, then,’ replied Emily, trying to conceal her tears; ‘but, however that might be, we shall meet no more.’

‘Meet no more!—not well bestowed!’ exclaimed Theresa. ‘What do I hear? No, mademoiselle, my love was well bestowed, for it was the Chevalier Valancourt, who gave me this cottage, and has supported me in my old age, ever since M. Quesnel turned me from my master’s house.’

‘The Chevalier Valancourt!’ said Emily, trembling extremely.

‘Yes, mademoiselle, he himself, though he made me promise not to tell; but how could one help, when one heard him ill spoken of? Ah! dear young lady, you may well weep, if you have behaved unkindly to him, for a more tender heart than his never young gentleman had. He found me out in my distress, when you was too far off to help me; and M. Quesnel refused to do so, and bade me go to service again—Alas! I was too old for that!—The Chevalier found me, and bought me this cottage, and gave me money to furnish it, and bade me seek out another poor woman to live with me; and he ordered his brother’s steward to pay me, every quarter, that which has supported me in comfort. Think then, mademoiselle, whether I have not reason to speak well of the Chevalier. And there are others, who could have afforded it better than he: and I am afraid he has hurt himself by his generosity, for quarter day is gone by long since, and no money for me! But do not weep so, mademoiselle: you are not sorry surely to hear of the poor Chevalier’s goodness?’

‘Sorry!’ said Emily, and wept the more. ‘But how long is it since you have seen him?’

‘Not this many a day, mademoiselle.’

‘When did you hear of him?’ enquired Emily, with increased emotion.

‘Alas! never since he went away so suddenly into Languedoc; and he was but just come from Paris then, or I should have seen him, I am sure. Quarter day is gone by long since, and, as I said, no money for me; and I begin to fear some harm has happened to him: and if I was not so far from Estuviere and so lame, I should have gone to enquire before this time; and I have nobody to send so far.’

Emily’s anxiety, as to the fate of Valancourt, was now scarcely endurable, and, since propriety would not suffer her to send to the chateau of his brother, she requested that Theresa would immediately hire some person to go to his steward from herself, and, when he asked for the quarterage due to her, to make enquiries concerning Valancourt. But she first made Theresa promise never to mention her name in this affair, or ever with that of the Chevalier Valancourt; and her former faithfulness to M. St. Aubert induced Emily to confide in her assurances. Theresa now joyfully undertook to procure a person for this errand, and then Emily, after giving her a sum of money to supply her with present comforts, returned, with spirits heavily oppressed, to her home, lamenting, more than ever, that an heart, possessed of so much benevolence as Valancourt’s, should have been contaminated by the vices of the world, but affected by the delicate affection, which his kindness to her old servant expressed for herself.


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