« PreviousContinue »
“ These manifestations from Bertollon shocked me the more as I had often remarked his deep and penetrating observation of the human character. I did not, however, discontinue my visits to Madame Bertollon, who, I began to imagine, found pleasure in my society. A constant witness of her patience and meekness, combined with her uncommon beauty and affability, soon changed my respect into the warmest friendship, and I determined to leave nothing undone to restore husband and wife to happiness and each other. Daily intercourse soon released us from the restraints of etiquette, and favoured me with the confidence of Madame Bertollon. Walking one day in the garden she said to me
"• You are the friend of Bertollon, and your breast is the repository of his secrets; I likewise consider you as mine, and your character gives me some claim upon your kindness. Speak without disguise, Alamontade ; you know the cause, tell me why does Bertollon hate me.'
“He does not hate you, madame; he has the highest respect for you. Hate you! he must be a monster could he be guilty of it. No, he is a man of too much honour to hate any one.
".You are right,' said she, “he is as incapable of feeling hatred as love; he is not bound to the world or any one in it only so long as they are subservient to his wishes and pleasures. The baneful influence of improper education never produced a heart endowed with more benevolent feelings, or a mind more rich in talents and acquirements.'
“' Perhaps you judge too harshly, madame.'
“Would to Heaven it might be so ! but I entreat you, if possible, to convince me of it.'
“Only observe your husband, and you will then change your opinion.'
* 66. Observe him? that I have never ceased doing, and find him invariably the same.'
“'At least a good and amiable man.
“ 'He is amiable—he knows it—and endeavours to be so; but, alas! not to contribute to the happiness of others, but his own. I cannot, for this reason, call him good, neither does he deserve the appellation of bad.'
". I certainly do not rightly understand you, madame; but allow me to answer your confidence with mine. I never knew two persons who more deserved to be happy, or were more formed for the enjoyment of it in each other's society than you and your husband ; and I should think it the happiest moment of my life if I could be the blessed means of uniting your hitherto divided hearts.'
“ “ You are very kind, but the half of your benevolent plan is accomplished, as my heart has long vainly sought his, which shrinks from every symptom of regard. I therefore fear your
wishes are impracticable. If it is possible for any one to succeed, you are the person, Alamontade, as you are the first to whom Bertollon has evinced such warm and confiding friendship. Use therefore your utmost influence to reform his character.'
"• You jest! to reform him? What virtue do you require him more particularly to cultivate? He is generous, modest, the protector of innocence, of an even temper, free from violent passions, participating, friendly, ....
“'You are right, he possesses all you have mentioned.'
" A better man !' I repeated, while astonishment arrested my footsteps, and I stood gazing upon the beautiful female before me, whose eyes were bedewed with tears, while I added, 'Is he wicked ? is he vicious ?'
“No,' said she, “but he is not good.'
“. And yet, madame, you grant him those excellent qualities which I have enumerated; do you not perhaps require too much of a fallible man?'
““What you have praised in him, Alamontade, I have not denied ; but these qualities are not natural to him, but only assumed for the gratification of his wishes. He does much good, not on account of its excellence and worth, only because it is a source of profit to himself; he is not virtuous, only wise in all his dealings, he views the advantage or disadvantage, not the good or bad; he would as soon make use of vicious as virtuous means to gain his point; his happiness is comprised in obtaining that for which he has an inclination, and to possess it he will conform to anything the circumstances require ; he considers the world as a stage for the gratification of passion, and its opinion alone stamps approbation or condemnation. Such, Alamontade, is my husband. It is impossible he can love me, for he is absorbed in self. His behaviour is as variable as his opinions and taste. With determined steadiness he pursues and obtains his aim. He is the son of a respectable family, who were reduced from affluence to a state of comparative poverty ; he coveted riches, turned merchant, and after retiring for some time to a distant country, returned the possessor of half-a-million. To increase his affluence and respectability, he sought alliance with the first families in the town, and I became his wife. He wished to have influence in public affairs, but without exciting envy; to make himself popular he rejected places of the highest honour. According to his principle everything is attainable. He holds nothing sacred, subdues all opposition, and sees with an Argus glance if the weakness of his adversary consists in inclination, passion, or opinion.'
“I was now fully aware of the insurmountable barrier which separated them, and totally despaired of my influence being able tu reunite them.
Doubt not, madame,' said I, but your constant affection and virtue will at last reform and teach him the value of your love.'
“Oh! Alamontade, what can one hope from the man who calls virtue a weakness, mere prudery of the mind; who considers religion only as a farce in which the imaginations of the timid can satisfy their puerile fears ? True love is neither mercenary nor calculating, but hopeless it cannot remain ; it demands a return, in which consists its happiness.'
"• In which consists its happiness !' I repeated, as I returned to my room, and saw Clementine at the window. The temerity of my hopes and wishes was now first clear to myself with regard to her. I had loved, and ardently desired a return, but now, though poor in circumstances and without fortune in perspective, I felt I could not be happy without the hand of Clementine. I applied myself still closer to my studies, and passed days and nights in endeavouring to render myself more worthy of her affection. I was anxious to obtain an unprejudiced opinion of my abilities, and published a work anonymously upon the Ancient Administration of Justice, and at the same time a collection of poems, most of which were written under the inspiration of my secret passion for Clementine. The success of my publications exceeded my most sanguine expectations. The name of the author was soon discovered, and the general praise I received raised me not a little in my own estimation. The good fortune of my first attempt fed the spark of hope in my breast, and I already pictured Clementine as mine-eternally, irrevocably mine! I saw her one day reading my poems at the window; without having known me as the author, she might have imagined it from the thousand passages which she alone could fully appreciate. She looked towards me, smiled and pressed the book to her heart, as if she would express - It has my approbation, the feelings you have portrayed are understood and returned by me.
“ No one seemed so delighted with the attention I met with as Bertollon ; his confidence and attachment daily increased, and chance continually brought to my knowledge some of his kind actions.
«« Oh! Bertollon,' said I to him, why do I see in you so much to lament as well as to admire ?
““You go to the extreme in both, for I deserve neither one nor the other,' replied he, with an insinuating smile.
"'I own I cannot help feeling regret, Bertollon, that your theory and practice should be so contradictory. You call virtue fanaticism, a creature of the imagination, and still you perform her dictates.' miny ws. Well, then, be contented, Alamontade. Why do you always trouble yourself with my conversion? As soon as you are a little older I shall see you walking in my footsteps. For the present be
rather more tolerant. I consider wisdom and virtue synonymous. Is it not possible for the same offspring to bear two names? I see, Colas, you will make a poor lawyer, and are likely to remain in the same situation, if, according to your present opinion, you advocate only the cause of the just, and avoid the unjust, which, perhaps, might prove the more profitable of the two.'
" I swear to you, Bertollon,' interrupted I, that I should be an object of detestation to myself through life, dare my lips accuse the innocent or plead the cause of the guilty.
“* And yet, you good-natured fool, you will do it unknown to yourself as long as the traces of innocence and guilt are not marked upon the forehead. You will not evince your wisdom if you do not conform a little more to the opinions and customs of the world.'
“The principles he uttered would have filled me with abhorrence, had they not always been spoken of as if he did not believe them himself; he often succeeded in silencing me, and would then laugh heartily at my expense. Madame Bertollon, in the meantime, unfolded the fine and amiable qualities of her mind. I became quite domesticated in the house; the long winter evenings were spent in interesting conversation and music; and, had not. my heart been Clementine's, her bewitching beauty and unfortunate fate might have rendered her a dangerous object to me. When I spoke of her with enthusiasm to Bertollon, he smiled; when I reproached him with his shameful neglect of so interesting a being, he answered—
“Our tastes are different, and let us enjoy our own opinion. Would you despotically wish all heads and hearts to be formed in the same mould as yours? I am well aware that my wife in my neglect has no cause of regret; and if I choose to follow the example of fashionable wedlock, it does not make her unhappy, as she was previously aware of it. If you find pleasure in her society I am satisfied; and still more so if your conversation affords her amusement. You see, virtuous Colas, I likewise am capable of making great sacrifices, for I permit her to enjoy your society when I most ardently desire it myself.'
“I had finished my studies, and received the degree of Doctor of Law, with the permission to practise as attorney. My increased employment prevented the possibility of seeing Madame Bertollon as often as formerly. She appeared sometimes more pensive, more friendly; at others she would receive me with coldness and reserve. This unevenness of manner astonished me, and I sought in vain to discover the cause. I perceived with regret that her cheerfulness and serenity were vanished, that her eyes were frequently red with weeping, and that she more than ever shunned society.
“I exerted myself to enliven her, but the melancholy of her look,
ed, 1 her feeling couching are
her fading bloom, her endeavour to assume the mask of cheerfulness, excited sympathy and pity with the friendship I had before felt for her. One evening as she sang to my accompaniment on the harp, a sudden burst of tears prevented her proceeding. Alarmed, I hastily put aside the instrument; she rose, and, anxious to hide her feelings, would have retired to her room had I not detained her. How touching are youth, beauty, and innocence, overwhelmed with sorrow !
“'I entreat you,' she cried, 'to leave me.'
6 But I cannot leave you so,' I replied. 'Dare I not witness your affliction? Do you not call me friend, and does not that title imply a right to ask the cause of your distress ?'
“Only leave me, I entreat you to leave me,' said she.
“I did not attempt to restrain her tears or to speak consolation to her, for the power of thinking became almost annihilated by the terrible conviction which now for the first time entered my mind. I dared not stop to investigate the nature of my own feelings, or to cast another glance at the agitated and lovely female. My thoughts dwelt for a moment on Bertollon and Clementine, and I fled precipitately to my room. The tumult in my mind is not to be expressed. Indecision, regret, self-reproach, pity, almost bordering upon a more tender feeling, by turns agitated me; and, influenced by all these sensations, I sat down to write to Madame Bertollon. I represented the danger of our future intercourse, and added, if I wished to remain worthy of her future friendship I must leave her and Montpellier. I rose, read it again and again, tore it, and wrote another to the same purport. During this state of perplexity the door opened, and Bertollon entered.
•What is the matter with you, Colas—are you ill ?' "I was now first sensible that I had thrown myself upon the bed. I rose as he held out his hand to me, but had not the courage to give him mine.
" But what is the matter with you, Colas ?' he repeated, as I " had made no answer to his first question ; ' you look pale and agitated.'
" Confide in the husband,' whispered conscience; then only is there an eternal barrier placed between you and his wife.'
“ Bertollon,' I began, with a quick and hurried voice, fearing, if. I hesitated a moment, I might repent of the confession I was about making, 'I am miserable, for I feel for your wife a warmer sentiment than friendship.'
“ Bertollon, colouring, said — What are you talking about, Colas ?"
“ I must quit here, leave Montpellier, fly you and your wife; for, I again repeat, I feel more than friendship for her.'