Legends of Lampidosa
Collected by a Recluse
No one ever saw a summer evening in Provence without pleasure; but a father only can judge of the delight it brings when its mild and beautiful hour is appointed for the arrival of a darling child. The Baron de Salency was seated in such an hour under the light colonnade which fronted his chateau, watching every swell of the superb river before him, and imagining he heard the oars of the boatmen sent to bring his only grand-daughter to her paternal home. “How much delight I expect from Henrielle’s society!” he said, as the Baroness leaned on his chair—“this lovely hour has always appeared to me the richest picture of a kind father’s old age, Henrielle is young, and has been instructed to love us: we shall easily shape her mind according to our wishes; and now at least, in the second generation of our offspring, we have had experience enough to blend what is best in our contrary opinions.”
“Certainly,” replied the Baroness, raising herself into a haughtier attitude, “you may find ample scope for your experiments in a child educated we know not where or how! We must atone for the folly of our son’s rash marriage, by qualifying his daughter for a splendid entrance into life. Sprightly wit, talents for exhibition, and an imposing demeanor, are the stage-effect or decoration of a woman’s virtue. Like the trampoline board our opera-dancers use, none rise high without it,” A boat, whose progress had been concealed by the shrubby edges of the river, now touched the landing-place, and a young person in deep mourning approached the colonnade, alone and trembling. The Baron and Baroness met her with a gracious air of encouragement; but the timid stranger only kissed their hands in tears and silence. “Where,” said her grandmother, “is the letter promised by our son?”—Henrielle cast down her eyes weeping, and answered, after long hesitation, “Ah, madam! all is lost—the letter—the jewels—all that my father gave me as testimonials in my favour were stolen last night.”—Urgent inquiries followed this confession, but she could only inform her hearers that she had travelled from Paris under the escort of a notary and a female servant long employed by her father. Both had accompanied her to Arles, where she slept expecting their attendance till she reached the Chateau de Salency; and both departed during the night with the small ivory box which contained her treasure. The Baron heard this strange narrative without comment; and his wife, coldly receding a few steps, took an exact and stern survey of her supposed grand-daughter. But the ominous pause was interrupted by the arrival of a cabriole, from whence a lovely young woman sprang, and threw herself at the Baron de Salency’s feet. “From whom do I receive this gracious homage?” said the Baronne, smiling on her beautiful visitor—“From your grand-daughter, Henrielle de Salency!—I see my father in your countenance, and my homage here can never be misplaced—” Then drawing a sealed letter from her bosom, she presented it to the Baron with an exquisite grace which ensured the kindness it solicited. He saw the hand writing of a beloved son, the most powerful testimonial in favour of the bearer, whose features perfectly resembled his. She had the same brilliant jet-black eyes, the same full half-opening lips covered with the richest vermillion, and a smile expressing the very spirit of innocence. The Baron extended his hands to welcome the grand-child his heart acknowledged, forgetting at that instant the forlorn stranger he had already received; but his wife, with a sneer which seemed to commend her own superior sagacity, exclaimed—“Do you know this impostor, Mademoiselle De Salency?”—As if that title had belonged to her, the first claimant advanced to speak, looked earnestly at her opponent, and covered her face. The second Henrielle laid her hands on her grandfather, and, throwing back the rich ringlets which shaded her large bright eyes, whispered, “Do not overwhelm her with reproaches. She is the daughter of an artful woman who nursed me in my childhood, and knew all my mother’s family concerns, She left me suddenly on the road from Paris, but not before she had twice attempted to steal this casket, which contains my father’s portrait, and documents sufficient, perhaps, to have supported an imposture.”—At the sight of this important casket in her rival’s hand, the pretended Henrielle gave a cry of agony, and fainted. The Baroness led her acknowledged grand-daughter to another apartment; her husband followed after a short interval, and the remainder of the evening was devoted to inquiries which their Henrielle answered with the promptitude of truth and the grace of polished suavity. When they had retired to their own apartment, the Baroness inquired if her husband had consigned the intruder to the correctional police.—“No, madam; I have a fitter tribunal, I think, in my own heart.”—“Can you doubt the baseness of a stratagem so obvious and ill-sustained”—“I doubt nothing, Baroness, so often as the accuracy of human judgment. If this unhappy stranger has been swayed by the criminal ambition and authority of her mother, let us ascribe the heaviest portion of her crime to her instructor; if she has been the pupil of fraud and avarice, let us try the influence of generous tuition.”—“Under my roof!” retorted the Baroness, with a glance of scorn:—her husband answered by leading her towards an exquisite piece of sculpture representing the celebrated Grecian mother recalling her truant child from the edge of a precipice by displaying her bountiful bosom. “This Greek fable, Adelaide, is memorable, because it teaches us how to retrieve a wanderer—not by frowns, but by the milk of human kindness. And the Shakspeare of English divines says truly—‘the young tendrils and early blossoms of the mind hardly bear a breath, but when age has hardened them into a stem, they may meet a storm unbroken.’” He spoke of love, but be might have said this of virtue. We will remember it; and since there are gentle feelings in the supposed impostor, they shall be fostered by kindness. The cloak of fraud is aptest to fall off when the heart is warmed.
“It is torn away already!”' interrupted the Baroness. “The letter—the casket—the documents it contained—all or any one of these was sufficient to detect her. And Henrielle’s beautiful resemblance to her father—”—“We shall see.” rejoined M. de Salency, “how far it extends. This incident will acquaint us with her heart and if it knows how to pity error, it is not capable of many.”—The Baronne took refuge in sleep, but her husband remained in uneasy musings on the peril of deciding between the two claimants. His son, the most infallible arbiter, was no longer in France, and many months might elapse before he could answer an appeal, even if the chances of war permitted him to receive it. Henry de Salency, the father of Henrielle, had been a husband and a widower unknown to his parents, and had not ventured to recommend his only daughter to their care till his departure on a distant and dangerous expedition had softened the pride of his mother, and left his Father desolate. Tender to whatever claimed affinity with this beloved son, the Baron determined that even the soi-disant Henrielle should not be abandoned to poverty and shame. None of his domestics knew with what pretensions she had arrived, and she might be retained among them as attendant on his acknowledged grand-daughter; an office sufficiently abject to punish her presumption, yet indulgent enough to encourage reformation.—In the morning this decree was announced. The offender heard it with a start of surprise, followed by a glow perhaps of gratitude, at a sentence milder than the public dismission she had probably expected. Henrielle exclaimed, with a pleading smile, “I shall be charmed to retain my foster-mother’s daughter near me. She often spoke of her Henriana, and the Baron will allow me to give you that name, though it resembles mine too nearly.”—“Certainly I consent,” he answered, “but my plan must be changed to suit it. She shall be retained as your companion, not your soubrette; for no name that resembles my son’s ought to be connected with ignominy.”
Madame De Valency expressed her opinion of this change by indignant frowns, and in private by severe expostulations. Her husband only answered drily, “Recollect, we have not yet identified our grand-daughter.”—But the Baroness acted as if the identity was beyond dispute, and Paris was soon employed in praising the splendid debût of the heiress. Her wit, her graces, and her accomplishments, were the theme of its highest circles, and certainly vouched for the elegant education she professed to have received from her mother, of whom she often spoke with lavish praise. But Henriana, when questioned respecting , only answered, “I never wish to speak of my mother—She had so many virtues which I never understood till now, so many cares for me that I might have repaid better—my deepest grief is to remember her.”
No one appeared to regard what these words implied; and her character, contrasted with Henrielle’s, resembled the Provençal rose, whose cold whiteness is scarcely tinged with a blush, compared to the bright scarlet tulip. An impenetrable mauvaise honte covered talents which she really possessed, while an air always easy, confident and caressing, gave her rival that elegance which is said to be the result of conscious dignity and tranquil happiness. The Baroness, once herself the reigning belle of Paris, determined to raise her new favourite to the same height by splendid and incessant galas. On her birth-day, according to the graceful custom still preserved there, Henrielle presided at a festival designed for its celebration; and flowers, the usual tributes, were brought in beautiful abundance to the pavilion where she sat. A young stranger, pressing through the throng, placed himself near her. “Your father,” said be, “could not send his favourite flowers to-day, but he charged me to offer this substitute—” and he presented a bouquet of jewels arranged to represent a poppy and a lily interwoven. These symbols, once considered sacred to the deity of marriage, caused a smiling change in the receiver’s aspect, while the Baron gravely cast his eyes on the letter brought to him by the giver. But the assembly’s attention was diverted by the entrance of an aged and blind woman, supported by her children, who led her towards the queen of the festival. She carried a basket tilled with Provençal roses, which she kissed and wept over. “I have nothing more to offer, mademoiselle!” said she—“but these roses are fresh from the tree your good father planted in my garden.”—“Ah, Madelon!” exclaimed Henriana, springing towards her—“I have heard him name his kind nurse a thousand times, and that rose-tree was planted on my birth-day!”—“Who are you?” replied the old paysanne—“when he planted it, he did not tell me that he had a daughter.”—“No, Madelon,” interposed Henrielle, gently taking the flowers from her basket—“on that day your niece Suzette had rejected her lover Lubin by placing nuts upon the table, according to your Provençal custom; and he comforted him by a promise to take him to Paris as his valet.”—“It is the very voice of my dear young lord!” returned Madelon, clasping her hands in rapture—“but tell me, is poor Suzette living yet?”—Henrielle hesitated, as if fearful to give the good paysanne affliction; and before she could determine how to reply, a dove flew into the pavilion, and alighted on Henriana’s shoulder. It had a paper attached to its foot, inscribed, “To detect a counterfeit.” Every eye was fixed on her face, which varied a thousand times from the whiteness of fear and shame to that deep red supposed to announce guilt. But instead of spurning the innocent bearer of this testimony against her, she allowed it to nestle in her bosom; and, shedding tears, whispered—“Poor bird!—an enemy has employed thee, but thou hast not forgotten me.”—Henrielle smiled on her with a gracious air, as if desiring her to confide in her friendship. And collecting the flowers which had been brought as tributes, with an air of badinage apparently contrived to relieve Henriana, she said—“Are there counterfeits, then, among these offerings?—we will submit them to the ordeal both of fire and water.” All admired the benevolent attempt to divert attention from a humbled culprit, and the grace with which she dipped the flowers in a perfumed vase, and placed them round the edge of a lamp burning on an antique tripod. But the flowers were all artificial, and the flame spreading among them, seized the drapery attached to the pavilion, and the conflagration was general in a few instants. The young stranger, whose gallant gift had introduced him to Henrielle, lost not a moment in carrying her out of the reach of danger; but Henriana, inattentive to herself, caught the blind paysanne in her arms, and saved her from the flames which had already fastened on her. “One would think,” said the Baroness, with a scornful air, “that this young woman recognized a relative in our old Madelon! and I now remember—her pert niece Suzette followed our son’s Gascon valet to Paris Since Henriana has evidently no claims to nobility, we cannot give her a fitter retreat than her grand-aunt’s cottage in Provence.”—“She has nobility of heart, at least,” replied M. de Salency—“and if it endures the test next prepared for it, I am satisfied.” Without explaining this speech, he descended to the saloon, where the rival claimants were seated; and addressing himself to Henrielle, unfolded the packet brought by the young chevalier Florival. It contained a letter from her father, recommending him to her favour as a suitor highly enriched by nature, though not by fortune, and giving his paternal blessing to their union. Henrielle heard it with the smile of conscious beauty, and a playful glance of mock indifference: the father, perhaps, would have been more gratified if they had been checked by a tender and grateful remembrance of the absent writer. But he withdrew without comment, and returned accompanied by Florival, whose flushed cheek and downcast eye expressed a timid, yet proud, dependence on the recommendation of Henrielle’s father. She received him with a charming mixture of assumed unconsciousness and careless encouragement which her grandmother secretly applauded as the perfection of that coquetry she had once practised herself.—“In your presence,” said Florival, looking respectfully towards the Baroness, “I may request your grand-daughter’s acceptance of this pledge, which her father hoped you would permit her to attach with her own hand to the pearl necklace she received from her mother. It was once your gift, and he promised to fill up the vacant place in it when he had found what he thought worthy”—And he produced an emerald heart, evidently adapted to some peculiar repository, but his gallant allusion to the colour of hope which tinged it, did not produce the smile he probably expected. Henrielle was silent till the Baron requested her to comply with her father’s wishes:—then, looking compassionately at Henriana, she replied, “It was in my possession yesterday, but it is mine no longer;”—and when repeated questions extorted fuller answers, she reluctantly implied that her pearls had been stolen during the confusion caused by the burning pavilion. Henriana remained mute; but the quick heavings of her bosom announced her interest in this scene, and the intelligent glance of accusation cast on her by Henrielle turned Florival’s thoughts towards her. He had not yet heard the mysterious tale of her supposed imposture; and her mourning dress, her retiring attitude, and modest eyes, over which she had drawn her fine hair embellished only by a simple sprig from the rose-tree loved by her father, fixed his pity and attention.—“Speak that I may see you,” says an old philosopher who had the benefit of a woman’s instruction. Florival understood this hint, and he addressed his conversation to Henriana, hoping to penetrate her character. If he had been touched by the meek simplicity of her aspect, he was now impressed by what might be called the holiness of innocence in her calm and proud reserve. But the Baroness, enraged at the suspicion which the absence of the necklace seemed to excite in her husband, busied herself in public and vehement complaints of the theft. The pearls had been often worn by her, were of the rarest oriental kind, and of a shape so singular that they could be easily identified. All the domestics and spectators employed on the day of the fête were traced by police-officers, but no discovery resulted. Florival, apparently heedless of the event, continued his visits at the Baron’s hotel, where he was received with vague but inviting blandishments by Henrielle, and with placid coldness by Henriana. As his regard seemed fixed on the prosperous heiress, the latter gradually avoided his presence, and left him in full enjoyment of the wit and smiles which had attained such celebrity. On one of these occasions, she absented herself to seek Madelon’s humble residence, and offer her a price for the cherished rose-tree. She found her knitting in her little garden-porch with the happy thoughtlessness of second childhood; but at the first glance Henriana recognized the pearl necklace hanging round her neck! A moment was given to silent astonishment before she inquired by what means it had fallen into her possession.—“This?” returned the old paysanne, stroking her sunburned throat—“this was my grandson’s gift on my saint’s day."—“Madelon!” said Henriana, gently detaining her hand—“recollect yourself—these pearls belong to the family De Salency!”—The blind woman started up with a fierce gesture—“Wretch! vile wretch! you have profited by my blindness to steal my necklace, and substitute another!”—Her cries brought a robust young man from the interior of her habitation; but as he ran to her assistance, he appeared to recognize Henriana, and hesitated. “Speak for me, Lubin!” exclaimed his grand-mother: “You well know I have no pearls—the chain you gave me was of beads.”—Lubio hung down his head, and a deep blush rose even to his forehead—“Mademoiselle, pardon and believe me!—I was tempted—I was paid to bring your dove to the pavillion with the billet written by—by her who wore the necklace of pearls:—they were dropped near me—I did not guess their value, and—I gave them to La Bonne.”—“Well,” replied Henriana,” she loved my father, and you are safe—Dare you confide the pearls to me?”—The rich glow of Lubin’s heart burned through his saffron cheek—“Gracious lady!—you saved our helpless grandmother from the flames, and we owe you the service of our whole lives.”—Henriana replied, “The time may come when you shall receive more than the value of these pearls:—let Madelon accompany me.”
The old paysanne rested on her grand-son’s arm, and followed Henriana to the Hotel de Salency. In the vestibule they met Florival; and advancing a few steps to meet him, Henriana said, “Chevalier, the lost prize is recovered!—it fell into the bands of this blind woman, and was worn by her without consciousness of its worth.”—“I know it already,” he answered;—“but Henrielle has denounced her to the police, and its agents are on their way to her residence—I was hastening thither myself to favour her escape:—let her depart now, for the vengeance will be as sudden as the suspicion.”—“What! on her father’s fostermother!” interrupted Henriana, indignantly—“dares Henrielle shew cruelty even there!—take back these pearls, chevalier, since you have brought a bauble to attach to them—give them to your chosen bride, and say they were redeemed by yourself—at your request, perhaps, she will spare this aged woman.”—“I will protect Madelon, assuredly,” replied Florival—“but the heart I brought will never belong to Henrielle— is incapable of gratitude, bounty, or compassion. They tell me she has been educated for ornament and refinement, but she has neither been ornamented completely nor refined enough. Flowers are scattered on the surface of her character, but none grow there. The benevolence which ornaments social life, the refinement which governs thoughts and actions, are wholly unknown to her. Self is the sole motive of her graces, her blandishments, and even her virtues, which she assumes not because they are feminine, but because they create her power. It is a power, however, which extends no farther than her own flattered imagination, and I disclaim it from this hour.”—“Her presence will renew it, chevalier!” returned Henriana, smiling—“No, madame—the vapid remains of wit and beauty exhausted in public crowds would not satisfy me—I expected to find a heart capable of gratitude to an absent father, sincerity to a modest claimant, and tenderness to helpless old-age. I have found one, but not in Henrielle.”—“Be well assured before you decide,” said the Baron, entering—“I have brought a final arbitrator.”—Florival saw the father of Henrielle, and started back.—“Do you fear to be assured of this young beauty’s poverty?” added the old Lord, sternly.—“No, Baron!” returned his young favourite, still retreating—“I only fear to find her unworthy.”—“This,” said Henri de Salency, “is my own Henrielle—my only acknowledged daughter. Her rival, who has wisely taken refuge in flight, obtained the documents and credentials she possessed by a theft which her wretched mother committed to exalt a daughter whose existence is my reproach. The child of my virtuous wife has shewn the softness and the purity of soul which, like the poppy and the lily, are the best symbols of domestic happiness;—the pain inflicted by her sister’s imposture was a penalty I well deserved, by believing that splendid talents might cover a depraved heart, or atone for its unworthiness.”