« PreviousContinue »
at any moment to burst out, and passion beating so warmly in us as it does in the hearts of even the coldest and most prudent, our thanksgiving should be, I thank God that I have so little opportunity to do evil!' and we should forgive, as we wish to be forgiven ourselves, those whose temptations, either from their own nature, or from the outer world, have been so much greater than our own."
Her voice was wonderfully musical, with a strange timbre of pathos in it; her gesticulation had all the grace and fervour of her Southern Europe origin; her eyes and lips-indeed, her whole face-were singularly expressive of the thoughts that lay in her fertile and fervid mind, and spoke themselves in natural and untutored eloquence. Her words sent a strange thrill to De Vigne's heart; they were the first gentle, the first sympathising, and the first tolerant words he had heard from a woman's lips since his mother had died. He had known but two classes of women: those who shared his errors and pandered to his pleasures, whose life disgusted, while their beauty lured him; and those who, piquing themselves on a superiority of virtue, perhaps not seldom unjustly denounced the short-comings of others, giving the coup de Jarnac to those already gone down under society's kicks and cuffs, whose illiberality equally disgusted him in another way, and whose sermons only roused him to more wayward rebellion against the social laws which they expounded. It touched him singularly to hear words at once so true, so liberal, and so humble, from one on whose young life he knew that no stain had rested; to meet with so much comprehension and so much sympathy from a heart, compared with his own, as pure and spotless from all error as the snow-white roses in her windows, on which the morning dewdrops rested without soil. Wide as was the difference between them, in the liberality of thought there was unison of mind; in the passion and warmth of heart, now checked in the man, still sleeping in the girl, there was similarity of character, and at her words something of De Vigne's old nature began to wake into new existence, as, after a long and weary sleep, the eyelids tremble before the soul arouses to the heat and action of the day.
As he looked down in those dangerous eyes of hers, a memory of the woman whom Church and Law in their cruel folly called his wife passed over him he could scarcely tell why or how-with a cold chill, like the air of a pestilent charnel-house.
"Alma, if women were like you, men might be better than they are. Child, I wish you would not talk as you do. You wake up thoughts and memories that had far better sleep."
She touched his hand gently with her own little fingers:
"Sir Folko, what are those memories?"
He drew his hand away and laughed, not joyously, but that laugh which has less joy in it even than tears:
"Don't you know a proverb, Alma-'N'éveillez pas le chat qui dort?" "
"But were the cat a tiger I would not fear it, if it were yours." "But I fear it."
There was more meaning in that than little Alma guessed. The impetuous passion that had blasted his life and linked his name with the Trefusis would be, while his life lasted, a giant whose throes and mighty will would always hold him captive in his chains.
He was silent; he sat looking out of the window by which he sat, and
playing with a branch of the white rose that stood in a stand among the other flowers he had sent her. His lips were pressed together, his eyebrows slightly contracted, his dark eagle eyes sad and troubled, as if he were looking far away-so he was-to a white headstone lying among fragrant violet tufts under the old elms at Vigne, with the spring sunshine in its fitful lights and shadows playing fondly round the name of the only woman who had loved him at once fondly and unselfishly.
Alma looked at him long and wistfully, some of his darker shadows flung on her own bright and sunny nature-as the yew-tree throws the dark beauty of its boughs over the golden cowslips that nestle at its
At last she bent forward, lifting her soft frank eyes to his.
"Sir Folko, where are your thoughts? Tell me; you may trust me.” Her voice won its way to his heart; he knew that interest, not curiosity, spoke in it, and he answered gently,
"With my mother."
It was the first time he had spoken of her to Alma-he never breathed her name to any one. Alma looked up at him, her face full of tenderness and pity.
"You loved her dearly?"
Alma's eyes filled with tears, a passion very rare with her.
"Tell me of her," she said, softly.
"No. I cannot talk of her."
"Because you loved her so much ?"
"No! Because I killed her."
That was the great sorrow of his life; that his folly had cost him his name and, as he considered, his honour, was less bitter to him than that it had cost his mother's life.
Alma, at his reply-uttered almost involuntarily under his breathgazed at him, horror-stricken, with wild terror in her large eyes; yet De Vigne might have noticed that she did not shrink from him, but rather drew the closer to him. Her expression recalled his thoughts.
"Not that, not that," he said, hastily. "My hand never harmed her, but my passions did. My own headlong and wilful folly sent her to her grave. Child! you may well thank God if Temptation never enter your life. No man has strength against it."
Alma's face still spoke all the full yet silent sympathy that best chimed in with his haughty and fiery spirit, which craved and demanded the warmest, yet at the same time most delicate, comprehension. It was the sort of sympathy which lures on men to confessions which they would never make to another man-a sympathy which assures them that whatever sins they recount there will be pity and excuse made fondly for them. For the first time De Vigne felt an inclination to disclose his marriage to Alma Tressillian; to tell her what he would have told to no other living being of all his own madness had cost him, of the fatal revenge the Trefusis had taken, of the headlong impetuosity which had led him to raise the daughter of a beggar-woman to one of the proudest names in England, of the fatal curse which he had drawn on his own head, and the iron fetters which his own hand had forged. The words were already on his lips. I cannot tell what there was in the Little Tressillian to win upon him so, but certain it is that in another minute he would have bent his
pride and laid bare his secret to her, if at that moment the door had not opened to admit Alma's quasi-governess, Miss Russell.
Alma was very right-our life hinges upon Opportunity!
De Vigne never again felt a wish to tell her of his marriage.
He rose, Alma rose too, sorry, for the first time in her life, to see her friend; and Miss Russell, a little, quietly-dressed, timid woman, the perfection of a vieille fille (whose life, Alma has confessed to me, she made somewhat of a burden to her, with her heterodox opinions and wild spirits, and who must have been often horrified, poor lady! by her pupil's daring independence and imaginative flights), looked with mild astonishment at Alma kneeling down before De Vigne, and at De Vigne's stately figure and statuesque head, which were not without a certain effect upon her-as on what daughter of Eve, however far gone in years or prudery, would they have been?
De Vigne went up to her, with his "grand air" and his courtly manner, always most courtly where the recipients of it were in an inferior position to himself, and claimed his recollection. He had seen her once, before Boughton Tressillian's departure for Lorave-a fact entirely forgotten by him, but of which Alma had assured him. Miss Russell remembered him by dint of having had his name dinned into her ears all the years she had been with Alma, but looked upon him with some little disquietude nevertheless; for it is noticeable that vieilles filles who have escaped from our griffes rather more completely than they could have wished, invariably regard us as most dangerous beasts of prey.
De Vigne stayed with her some twenty minutes, chatting chiefly of old Tressillian; then he left, for he did not much care for his visit to Alma if it was not a tête-à-tête, and the roll of the tilbury grew fainter and fainter as he drove down the road, remembering, for the first time, what he had come to tell the girl, that her picture was accepted by the Society.
As soon as he was gone, Miss Russell took it upon herself to expostulate with her quondam pupil as to the non-advisability of such tête-àtête calls. She had known nothing of them before, living in a family at Windsor, which she was seldom able to leave for a visit to her old pet and favourite.
"Now do be quiet, you dear old thing!" cried Alma, at the first of Miss Russell's prudent periods. "You know your dreadfully stiff ideas were the only rock on which you and I ever quarrelled. I never subscribed to them, and never shall. I have told you how I met Major de Vigne. He is the best friend on earth I have. He is never weary of doing me kindnesses. There is no generosity which he would stop at if I would accept it. He finds purchasers for my pictures, and praises them, and gets them put in exhibitions-he who has Guidos, and Poussins, and Landseers on his walls! He is noble-hearted, honourable, generous as the sunlight; and the royalty of his intellect is only equalled by the royalty of his heart! And then you tell me it is 'improper' to receive him, unwise' to like him. You might as well tell the flowers not to like the clouds, whose morning shade and evening dews make all their life and beauty!"
Miss Russell sighed. Well she might, poor luckless lady! for Alma's vehement rush of words, and her impassioned Italian gesticulation, to say nothing of her opinions, were calculated to overwhelm and crush a whole legion of such timid and gentle mortals as her poor governess.
"But, my dear child," she ventured mildly, "it is not the custom for young ladies, situated as you are, to receive the visits of young unmarried men-you must allow that?"
"I allow it," laughed Alma; "but, to begin with, there are few young ladies situated as I am, all alone in a horrible farm-house, with nothing in the world to talk to but a goldfinch and a dog (till he came and gave me my darling Pauline, look at her beautiful green and yellow and scarlet feathers!); Heaven forefend there should be, poor things! for it is by no means a delightful existence, without society, fun, or pleasant sauce of any kind! In the second, as I have often assured you, only you never would believe me, the ways of the world are not always right ways, and very seldom agreeable ones; and a little nature, and gratitude, and warm feeling are worth all their conventionalities and prudence. In the third, his visits might honour a queen, and they are the single joy of my life. Even the brute Caliban knew how to feel grateful, and shall I be lower and less quick in feeling than Major de Vigne's dogs and horses, who love him for his care, his kindness, and his gentleness ?"
Miss Russell was puzzled, as your worldiy-wise people sometimes are by those who are only nature-wise.
"Be as grateful as you please, my love; Heaven forbid I should seem to teach you ingratitude or mistrust, but don't you know, my dear child, that women, especially young and inexperienced ones, Alma, cannot be too circumspect in their conduct. They are so easily misconstrued, and, unhappily, my dear child, men are so apt to take advantage of
Alma's face glowed crimson in an instant, and her eyes flashed fiercely with that Southern passion which lay underneath her laughing, careless gaiety of nature.
"I understand you," she said, haughtily, "but I am not afraid of being misconstrued,' or 'taken advantage of,' as you suggest. of the world are truer judges of character than our censorious and purblind sex, and a gentleman of honour is as safe a friend as the world holds."
"I hope so," sighed Miss Russell, quite bewildered; "but I have certainly heard something against Major de Vigne. I cannot remember what, but I think-I fancy-he has been very wild-"
"Possibly," said Alma, her little soft lips curling contemptuously. "Whatever you may have heard I shall request you to keep it to yourself. I will hear nothing, even from you, detrimental to Major de Vigne."
Miss Russell was shut up! the stronger character of the young one cowed the weaker disposition of the elder and more timid woman. Alma changed the subject, and busied herself, in her rapid and graceful way, in making her governess welcome, in showing her her pictures, in introducing Sylvo and Pauline to her notice, in a hundred pretty little petits soins, which sat very charmingly on her, though she was about the least "domestic" young lady I ever came across; but there was a lack of that entire confidence in Miss Russell, and joyous pleasure in her society, which her pet pupil had always before demonstrated. Pour cause: Miss Russell had spoken against the god of her idolatry-De Vigne.
There are gods still, as in the days of Ancient Priestcraft, on whose altars are offered up with tears of blood no holocaust less costly than a human heart-quivering with mortal life, throbbing with vital pain!
THE name of Gabrielle d'Estrées embraces the whole life and policy of Henry IV. Her graceful person presents itself in the midst of the troubles of a prolonged struggle of civil and religious warfare, and of consequent misery and suffering on the part of the people, which characterised more particularly the early career of Henry, like that monument of Florentine art, in which the king is sculptured as Hercules entwined in roses. Henry of Béarn received with his attachment for Gabrielle the support of the royalist nobility. They cut down their woods, and even mortgaged their domains, in order to support the little army that was fighting so gloriously for Henry of Navarre. Gabrielle d'Estrées followed the king's fortune; and when Henry IV. made his entry into Paris, his beautiful companion was an attendant in infinite splendour. It was Henry's intention to have wedded Gabrielle, and to have crowned her queen, but the pride of Margaret of Valois opposed itself as an invincible obstacle to this arrangement. She would consent to any arrangement but that of seeing herself supplanted by the daughter of a mere nobleman.
Gabrielle d'Estrées was, unfortunately for herself, all her life unpopular. Her luxury amidst public misery was incessantly reproached her; she loved dress, sumptuous feasts, and gaieties of a palatial life; the children she had had of the king (the Vendômes) were recognised as children of France; she would, despite all obstacles, have ultimately been queen, had it not been for the twofold opposition of the Huguenots and Catholics alike the Huguenots would only sever the marriage of Henry IV. with Margaret of Valois on condition that he should take a German princess of their persuasion; whilst the Catholics were doing all in their power to bring about a marriage with Mary of Medicis, niece of the sovereign pontiff, and which union they felt would assure their supremacy. This last faction triumphed, because it was a solution.
Among the great portraits of Primatice, one, in the style of Jules Romain, makes itself remarked above all others. It is the portrait of Jean d'Estrée,† born in 1486, of a noble Picardy family, and grand-master of artillery, who, Brantôme tells us, was one of the most distinguished men in his epoch, and who went to besiege a city just as if it was to a hunting party. His son, Antoine d'Estrée, succeeded to the charge of this distinguished officer, and Gabrielle, his daughter, was brought up at the Château de Cœuvres, after the mediæval fashion, in riding thoroughbreds, firing arquebuses, and lighting the matches of culverins. Born in 1571, at fifteen years of age Gabrielle is said to have been remarkable for her beauty and for great firmness of character.
Gabrielle's first love had been the Duke of Bellegarde, a gallant and handsome captain of light horse, afterwards Marshal of France, and then exiled in Poland and Piedmont. It is difficult to understand how this
Les Reines de la Main Gauche: Gabrielle d'Estrées. Par M. Capefigue. It is curious that Capefigue spells the family name, D'Estrée; and Gabrielle's, D'Estrées.
Nov.-VOL. CXXIII. NO. CCCCXCI.