Page images
PDF
EPUB

casement of the summer-house; a sweet voice murmuring 'Edward,' was the only sight or sound that his soul desired. He was to depart on the morrow for his native land. His absence from France, the country of his beloved, must, he knew, necessarily be protracted; and his heart bled to think that he had no alternative but to leave his beautiful Renee behind him, exposed to the homage of his many rivals, and the machinations of a cross old duenna, who very cordially hated England and all its inhahitants.

Rente Duchastel, the object of his regard, had pledged herself to grant him a brief interview on this evening. Actuated by the fervor of his feelings, which were not easily subdued at any time, he had repaired to the place of meeting long before the appointed hour, and had consequently sufficient leisure to practice the art of self-tormenting. He was meditating the hazardous enterprise of vaulting over the wall into the garden, when a slight noise in the summer-house occasioned . him to pause ; and, shortly after, the casement was cautiously unclosed. The starlight enabled the keen glance of the impatient lover to recognise the face of his mistress, though half concealed by the thick veil in which prudence had induced her to invelope it; and he pressed his hand on his heart with a rapturous gesture. Words of passionate endearment flowed like a torrent from his lips; and it is hard to say when the fountain of tenderness would have been exhausted, had not the melodious voice of his lady-love entreated him to subdue his transports, unless he wished her instantly to fly his presence.

'I will, I will, Renee,' he exclaimed: 'Yet how is it possible for a fceart burning with love like mine to reduce its expressions to the cold standard of maidenly propriety? I have been loitering here a full hour, conjuring up for my torment a host of images sufficient to drive any man, save a Dutchman, to distraction. Even now though I hear your sweet voice, and see about a fifth part of one of your eye-lirows, I hardly feel secure of your presence. What, in the name of every thing adverse to a devoted lover, detained you, gentlest?'

* A barrier that threatens to separate me for ever from Edward,' replied Renee,—'the watchfulness of my suspicious old aunt. But for her lynx eyes, I had kept my engagement to the moment. Just at sunset when 1 was thinking of you and the summer-house, she bethought herself of a long prosing tale about the dungeons of Mont St. Michel; and scarcely was it finished, when in dropped M. Caignon with his guitar.'

'Death to the trifler!' exclaimed the Englishman; 'was it his crotchets and quavers that robbed me so long of your sweet society? But let me not vilify an absent man—though I do wonder howsmiles like thine should ever fall to the share of such a lover.'

* Is it not much more surprising, Edward,' said Rente, 'that I should bring myself to bestow a smile, and something more than a smile, on a strange Englishman, whom 1 have known only a few weeks? M. Caignon is not the trifler you represent him. He plays and sings to admiration, has the gift of ventriloquism to a wonderful degree, and, besides, has served in Spain.'

'From which I assisted to drive him and his compatriots,' said the Englishman; 'but I shall turn Gasconader, like himself, Renee, if you extend your enumeration of his accomplishments. I admit that Caignon is well enough in his way, but certainly not a man worthy of one kind glance from those beautiful eyes.'

'You are jealous, Edward, and without cause,' said Rente. 'I neither care for M. Caignon nor his guitar.'

* But your aunt may wish you to look kindly on him." said Edward. 'And when I am gone, who can promise that you will not forget me?'

'Forget you for the sake of M. Caignon!' said Renee. 'Keep your mind quite easy on that point; for my aunt entertains no such friendly intentions toward him as you seem to apprehend. It is that old cross tempered vision of dry bones, Ducbesnois, who has her entire approbation.'

'The scarecrow!' exclaimed the Englishman. 'If I had him but for five seconds in my grasp, 1 would squeeze him into a mummy, to which, as it is, he bears no distant resemblance. But what of him, Renter Surely he cannot have the unpardonable audacity to aspire to the hand of my fair girl.'

'You have guessed it,' said Renee; and my worldly minded aunt, who worships him for his riches, abets his suit with all ber influence. In two months, according to her decision, I must choose between him and a novice's cell in the convent of Saint Anne. Now which alternative would you reccominend?'

'Unfortunate that I am,' said the Englishman. ' how can I decide? I dare not encourage you to calculate on my return for many months; and whether you choose the gloom of a convent or the arms of a dotard, you are equally lost to me.'

'No very serious loss Edward,' whispered Renee.'

'An unkind insinuation at such a moment,-" said Edward. 'Do not trifle with me, dear one! Inform me in pity, what answer you returned to this barbarous proposition.'

'That I would commence my noviciate to-morrow, if such were her pleasure.'

'O Renee!' said the youth, 'and must our sincere und ardent attachment be thus extinguished? Am I to be cast a wanderer on the world, banished forever from the presence of my soul's chosen? Must that fair face fade, that warm heart turn prematurely cold, within the cheerless wall of a convent? Early death to both were a kinder destiny.'

'Hear all I have to say, Edward,' said Renee, ' before you giveyourbelf up to despair. You have sworn a thousand times that you love me, and I—believe it. Go to your own country,—to your father's home; tell him that a young girl of Uretagne, not very rich, but of a noble ancestry, holds your heart in pledge, and entreat him to agree to our union. When vou have obtained his consent return with all speed, in some brave English barque, to San Malo. Anchor far off in the bay; and when the mantle of night falls on the shore, steer your small boat into the Ranee, and land under the steep cliffs near the gardens of the convent of Saint Anne. At the extremity of those gardens, there is, as you well know, for I have pointed it out to you from the river, a hollow tree, which I discovered when a boarder in the conveut. You are brave, and have agility sufficient to enable you to clamber up the rock, and leap the garden wall. Have a letter previously prepared, suggesting some mode of escape, and deposit it in the hollow tree. Trust to my finding it within twelve hours after you have placed it there, and also to my strictly adhering to any instructions it may obtain. I shall visit the tree every day during your absence; and when you come at last, neither wall nor rock shall intimidate me. Your boat will quickly bear us beyond the batteries of San Malo; and once on board your gallant ship, I shall hid my cross aunt, old Duchesnois, and even dear Bretagne itself, farewell with a joyful heart. England and Edward shall then be all the world to me. 'But'—and her voice faltered—' if you return not, Edward, before the leaves of next spring are sear on the hollow linden, return no more. I shall then be a nun, or in my grave.

'If Heaven grants me life,' said the Englishman vehemently, '1 will return long, long before that period. It is a romantic project, my Renee; but fortune leaves us none more feasible. In the convent, you will, in the interim, be exempted from the persecution of Duchesnois; and mine be the care to rescue you from a living death within its walls. Often, often, when far away, rocked on the salt sea, or lingering perforce in merry England, shall 1 think of the linden tree, and the grate of Sainte Anne!'

'And of the chapel at the vesper hour, Edward,' said the simple girl; 'and the beautiful shrines, with their many tapers burning lonely and silently; and the choral hymn and solemn responses, that rise night and morning from behind the dark bars that interpose between a nun and the world, forever.'

•Of all, of all,' said the Englishman. 'They shall constantly be present to my mind. At matin and at vesper hour, my heart shall be inseparably with Renee.'

• And now,'said Renee, ' since we fully understand each other, I must hasten back to my chamber without delay. To tarry longer with you would only risk discovery of our plans, and perchance lead to a perpetual separation. Hark! I am sure I hear my name shouted by some one in the garden. It is that prying minion, Jeanette; I must fly. Adieu, friend of my heart! Remember Renee!'

'One kiss of that white hand,' said the lover, 'and then I vanish.' He waited not for permission, hut made a sudden spring, and caught hold of the frame of the window. Renee was startled, but not displeased, and not only granted the boon he desired, but a still more indubitable token of affection. A shrill voice, at the very door of the summer-house, calling on Mademoiselle Renee, warned him not to linger, however great might be the temptation; and he dropped down from the window as suddenly as he had vaulted up to it. Ere he had time to recover himself, the casement closed, and Renee had vanished.

• •••#«•

Time rolled on. The leaves on the hollow linden-tree opened under the genial influence of spring; lived through a long parching summer, and, in the first days of autumn, began to turn sear and die. All was bustle and triumph in the convent of Sainte Anne, for a novice of great beauty and rank was about to dedicate herself to the special service of Heaven, at its altar. No news could have been more interesting to the inhahitants of St. Servau—no ceremony cause a greater exultation among the antiquated sisterhood, who one and all derived a malicious, perhaps it ought in charity to be called a holy gratification, from witnessing an addition to their number. Old Baron Dugas, who had eaten horse-flesh in Russia, in the absence of better fare, along with the < Emperor,' and who regularly displayed his star of the Legion of Honor and Cross of St. Lazare once a day in the Grand Place, had his faded uniform brushed up for the occasion. Monsieur Le Brun, the wine-merchant sent to St. Heliers for a new bonnet for his English lady, in order that she might appear as gay as her more recently expatriated countrywomen, and Madame Le Roi, who lets ehambres gamies during her husband's absence at the Newfoundland cod-fishing, was full twentyfour hours in arranging her coif. . Multitudes poured in from the adjacent country: some from Dinar, on the opposite bank of the Ranee; some from Cungale, of oyster-gorging celebrity; some from St. Suliac, St. Jouan, and St. Piere; and some even from Dol and Chateauueuf, with the venerable marquis at their head. The English, heretics though they were, did not escape the infection. Madame Banko, with a galaxy of beauty in her wake, swept down like a hird of paradise from the princely chateau of Versailles: some scores of captains, naval and military, followed, each with a wife, and some with a couple of daughters tucked to their skirts. Even honest Pat Heatly himself was routed out of his den in the college, where, being but a ' boy' of fifty, he had voluntarily incarcerated himself for the purpose of completing his education. It was a fete-day, in short, at St. Servan ; and the whole population, natives and foreigners, were equally on the alert to partake of the amusement which the immolation of a beautiful girl at the shrine of higotry was expected to afford.

All hearts however are not equally selfish and cold. There were individuals, who, notwithstanding their respect for an intolerant creed, did not scruple to lament that one so young, and so eminently formed to shed joy around her, should be destined to pine her life away in conventual solitude. Some even went so far as to aver, that she would not approach the altar a willing victim—that her heart was sad even unto death at the prospect before her,—and that at vespers, her low and plaintive voice echoed through the dim aisles like the song of a prisoned hird. Whether such were really the case the austere sisterhood best could tell; but though they might suspect that she bewailed her destiny, they could not comprehend the extent of her grief. They knew not, that, early and late, she had visited the hollow linden-tree—that she had watched with humid eyes the leaves on it unfold and perish; but had watched in vain for the return of her English lover. She thought him cruel-hearted—faithless: and, with the gloomy resignation of despair, prepared to take the vows that were to rend asunder every link that bound her to the world.

But on the day preceding that which had been appointed for her profession, a wonderful change took place in her deportment. Some friends who attended in the chapel at vespers, aifirmed, that they could distinguish her voice in the choir behind the grate, much fuller and sweeter than they had ever heard it before; and this of course was sagaciously attributed to inspiration, and a foretaste of that solemn and uncloying happiness, which the priests described as awaiting her in her sanctified vocation. Even the cunning sisterhood, Albeit deeply experienced in the art of fathoming the depths of unsophisticated hearts, knew not how to account otherwise for so miraculous a change. Little did they dream that the novice, instead of contemplating with holy serenity and joy the approaching ceremony, was actually meditating flight with her English lover, and perpetual exile from her native country. On that morning she had paid what she had intended should be her last visit to the hollow linden-tree. She went to it with a faltering pace and desponding heart, for the idea of Edward's inconstancy and cruel desertion filled her fond breast with unutterable grief; but "she returned to her cell with a bounding step, and joyously-panting bosom; for, in the cavity which she had so often searched in vain, she had found the long-expected letter from her truant knight. Her Edward—and tears filled her beautiful eyes while she read his fond epistle—was as devoted and faithful as woman could desire. Insuperable obstacles had occurred to prevent him from returning sufficiently soon to redeem his promise,— and hitterly had he bewailed them: but he had arrived at last with a stout vessel in the offing; and, provided she were still contented to share his fortunes, would be at the linden-tree at midnight to bear her away.

Renee laid the blessed letter close to her beating heart,—that pure heart whose every beat was love. Never had the hours appeared so leaden-winged as on this eventful day. She thought the lazy sun was miraculously arrested in his course, and that he would never sink beyond the bluff precipices of Cape Frehal. Her little head was half crazed by the mauy plans successively invented and rejected, as to the manner in which she was to elude the vigilance of the sisterhood, and effect her liberation; for a huge door intervened between the cloister and the gardens, which was regularly locked at vespers, and the key as regularly consigned to the custody of the lady abbess. Renee was a favorite with the old lady, and frequently remained in her apartment, for the purpose of talking and reading her asleep, long after the less favored sisterhood had retired to repose. On this evening, she prayed with fervency that her services might not be dispensed with; and fortune for once proved propitious. The abbess was more than usually garrulous,—talked over the levities in which she had indulged when a belle at the court of Marie Antoinette, with more pleasure than repentance,—sipped an extra demi ta sse of undiluted eau-de-vie, and then dropped into a lethargic doze. Renee felt the crisis of her fate had arrived, for the important key was now completely at her discretion. She took possession of it the moment the old dame began to sound her nazel trumpet; and, without lamp or taper, stole noiselessly from the room, along the dark passages that led to the oaken barrier. The lock of the door was obdurate; but love lent unusual strength to her delicate fingers, and the key at length revolved in the wards. To prevent immediate pursuit, in case her flight should be discovered before she bad time to descend the cliffs, she relocked the door on the outside, and then darted like a newly-liberated dove towards the hollow lindentree. As she approached it, a dark figure reared itself on the other side of the garden wall, which was built on the verge of a lofty cliff overhanging the Ranee. 'Edward!'—'Renee!'—were the only words that passed between them, ere the arms of her wandering lover were twined around her.

Alas, that such a tale should end in tears! They held but short colloquy in the garden, for every moment was pregnant with danger, as lights were already blazing in every window of the convent. Edward assisted her to scale the garden-wall, and supported her, not without eminent peril to both, down the precipitous steep, to the brink of the river. The wind blew fiercely from the south; the thunder rattled in interminable peals directly overhead; and the Ranee, hurrying to the sea with the rapidity of a torrent, sent forth an ominous moan. Renee shuddered at the fury of the wind and the irresistible gush of the water. She knew that they must venture in a frail boat far into the open bay, and her womanly heart foreboded disaster; but she dared not, wished not, to falter in her progress. The Englishman, though seriously apprehensive himself, endeavored to reassure her, and in some measure succeeded. Two stout British sailors manned the boat, and a dear friend and countryman, who had been his companion in many an enterprise of danger,

« PreviousContinue »