Excerpt, Caroline Baroness De La Motte Fouque’, “German Stories: Being Tales and Traditions Chiefly Selected from the Literature of Germany.” 1855.
THE CASTLE ON THE BEACH
On the shores of the Baltic, among many other once flourishing, but now deserted villages, there are still seen the remains of one little hamlet, whose mouldering cottages and unweeded gardens, not many years ago, formed a striking contrast to the neatness and beauty of a Castle in the vicinity, which lay close upon the beach.
No symptoms of neglect or poverty met the eye there; the walls and roofs were well-preserved; the agricultural implements were evidently guided by no sluggard’s hands; the cattle looked clean and well-fed; and the best economy showed itself in the house and in the field. The ponds full of limpid water were well-stocked with fish; shrubs and ivy bordered the green turf, and a thousand flowers bloomed freshly in the gardens which surrounded the residence of Count P___, who lived in the Castle with his wife and four children.
The wretched inhabitants of the adjoining village had long comforted themselves with the thought, that their friendly and wealthy neighbor, whose active benevolence they so often experienced, would long remain their liege lord. But a gradual change of matters took place at the Castle; several of the servants were dismissed, others taken into the establishment; the family gradually retired from public life; and at last they seemed purposely to shun the slightest occasion of intercourse with the world.
So striking an alteration in the situation and conduct of the family at the Castle could not fail to be made the subject of much conversation, particularly in the house of Samuel, who kept a small tavern in the village, where the wretched peasants would often barter their little harvest for ardent liquor, and seek to drown the miseries of a painful existence in intoxication and riot.
“Times will change again,” said Natango, an old man of three score and ten years, as he heard the wind howling overhead. “They will change,” he repeated, observing some of the party shaking their heads.
“Yes, yes,” replied another, “times will change when there is no longer an aching head amongst us. Many things change in their world; but few of them for the better.”
“Now, shame on you,” rejoined the old man, “for a chicken-hearted fellow!”
“In good truth,” exclaimed a third, “I know not who may in these times keep a good heart! Will you, my old friend, with all your talking, take staff in hand, and step where the road is broadest?”
“Why man,” replied Natango, “it will not come to that either!”
“Not come to that!” exclaimed the other, rising from his seat with the air of one who knows something which he does not choose to communicate. He added nothing more, but leant his back against the wall, and drawing a deep whiff of his pipe, threw out a volume of smoke from his lips, the ascent of which he endeavored to check by a violent motion with his hand.
Samuel was seated opposite the parties listening eagerly to the conversation which was going forward. For although he seemed to be taking little or no interest in the matter but sat with outstretched legs, his arms supported on his knees, and his head bent lazily down under his matted red locks, yet he ever and anon raised his pale countenance deeply marked with the small-pox, and fixed his little green ferret eyes on the speakers, with a keenness which bespoke more real interest at heart than he chose to profess.
“My last penny against your pipe, Michael,” cried a young lad, “but I know what you mean!”
“Do you?” replied the first, shrugging his shoulders. “You always hit the nail on the head!”
“For this time at least,” rejoined the other. “Did not I see you yesterday as you came down the hill so dejectedly, with a head full of abundant projects for distant voyages doubtless, which the ship then passing had suggested? You went along the side of the Castle-garden, and you found Olga seated near the wall, under the oak which the count’s grandfather planted. The poor old body did not at first return your greeting, for her eyes were covered with her apron, and she had not perceived your approach; but when you stopped, and again called, ‘Good evening, Olga! How are you? Why thus alone here?’ she only answered you with a nod, and lifted both her hands to heaven, as if she would have said, ‘God above only knows how I am.’”
“Well,” interrupted Michael impatiently; “and what more?”
“This more,” replied the other. “You sat down beside her; and, perhaps, your own heart felt as oppressed at that moment as hers.”
Here Michael drew a deep sigh, and allowed the clouds of smoke to obscure his sorrowful countenance.
“At first,” continued the other, “you did not speak, and Olga remained weeping in silence. At length you inquired gently, ‘Have you had any dispute with your mistress, Olga?’—‘Oh, heaven forbid, heaven forbid!’ answered she sobbing. ‘Seventeen years have I been in the Castle, and during all that time I never had an evil word from old or young! It is just on that account I weep,’ she added with a stifled voice.”
“And where have you been hidden,” interrupted Michael, peevishly, “that you overheard all this? Who set you to listen to us? Say, who told you?”
“My stars,” replied the youth, “it was only chance which led me there at the time! You remember it was about the gloaming, and surely there was nothing strange in my stopping, when I heard weeping and lamenting at such an hour, and looking about me to see what was the matter!”
“What was the matter?” repeated the first. “Nothing was the matter; and you might have spared yourself the trouble!”
“But something will be the matter,” added the youth, “and we will all live to see it. The count is about to leave this place,” he added with some vehemence; “that is the secret, and you can no longer conceal it; for though they are at trouble enough to hide it, it begins to peep out.”
“God forbid!” interrupted Samuel. “Leave the country! And what is to become of the Castle? Is it to be sold by public roup? Perhaps it is already bought by some one. Or do they give it up to their creditors?”
“Their creditors!” exclaimed Natango, clasping his emaciated hands together, “Good God, child, who are they who would dare to chase the worthy nobleman from his paternal inheritance?”
“Why,” replied Samuel, “when the most honest man that breathes is no longer able to pay his debts, he stands just in the same situation as the most dishonest; his character for honesty is forfeited in the eye of the law, which proceeds to deal with him accordingly. The creditors keep strictly to the law; and they have a right to do so.”
Natango shook his head, and shaded his white hairs from his eyes already filled with tears. “The more’s the pity that he who is only unfortunate should so often appear as if he was a cheat. Where is the man who is always able to do what he wishes or has the heart to do? I think we all know how difficult that is! But there are many creditors in the world who act better than Samuel thinks they have a right and ought to do, and who give that indulgence to an honest man which often enables him to weather his misfortunes. Well, well, time is passing onwards, and all may yet grow clearer again!”
“All are not so hopeful,” interrupted the young lad; “and there are few, indeed, who have such a sense of justice as to take the will for the deed. Among us country-people that may do sometimes, and a word spoken before witnesses may be as binding as a lawyer’s paper; but I have been in the army, and I have been quartered in towns, and I know everyone there cares only for himself, and trusts as little to another as he can.”
“Tell me, my good friend,” whispered Samuel, who by this time had edged near to Michael, “is the estate to be sold by public roup? Did you hear any talk of this in the town; and is the day fixed?”
“Curse on your tongue!” roared Michael. “If I hear such a word drop from your ugly—Sold by public roup! And are we, think you, all to go into the bargain? Is it so? No, it is not so! It cannot be!”
“No! No!” exclaimed several voices at once. “Are not the fields and gardens all flourishing as ever? And does not our lord, the count, look as calm and composed as ever, and not like one whose breast is oppressed by care as by a millstone? The count knows well where to steer his ship!”
“A prudent helmsman,” resumed Samuel, “never allows his brows to darken, or his eye to flinch, though he may see the vessel running right against the rock; he wears a good heart in his face at least, till all is lost, and neither prudence nor firmness can any longer conceal the worst. Why, I knew long ago,” added he, with a cunning look, “that it would come to this. The ground was loose—the building could not stand. Where there is no foundation, there is no stability.”
“No foundation!” exclaimed Michael angrily; “You fool, the ground about here affords the best foundation of any along the whole beach. That is not the reason.”
“You do not understand me,” said Samuel. “The father had got himself involved; the son succeeded to his estate; war, bad times, want of money—in short, if you can count your fingers you may be at little loss to reckon how matters must now stand up yonder.”
These last words had been addressed to deaf ears. All sat silent and sore grieved at heart for a few minutes, and then slipped out one after another from the tavern. They felt themselves overshadowed by the same black cloud which seemed to darken the count’s fortunes, and many an anxious interrogatory was addressed to Michael, who had not chosen to speak his mind freely before the cunning old man, and now bitterly upbraided the youth for the imprudent exposure he had made of the count’s situation.
However, most persuaded themselves that all would yet be as they wished it, and others consoled themselves with the hope that the dreaded moment was yet far distant. Only Michael and Natango continued to cast anxious looks on the blooming gardens and glittering windows of the Castle. They saw the vines winding richly around their props, and the rose-bushes glittering with fragrancy, but they both felt that all was not right and as they could have wished it.
“It is impossible,” said the old man, still lingering at the gate of the garden, and casting a melancholy look on the countess and her children, who passed near to him among the bushes. “It is impossible! They cannot intend to leave all this!”
“They must—I say they must,” replied Michael, shaking his head, and f moving off to another road.
Natango felt the painfulness of that little word must. He leant against a willow, and revolved in his mind all the vicissitudes he had experienced himself, and his country’s history had exhibited since the Seven Years’ War.
At the period of the count’s birth, Natango was a servant in the Castle, and had been sent in great haste with a sledge for the physician who resided in the neighboring village. He remembered freshly the bustle and anxiety of that night, and the joy which the appearance of a son and heir occasioned in the parents’ hearts. The young count went abroad in early life, but remained the only child of his father, and his return was anxiously prayed for by the tenantry, who found it difficult to deal with the old count now in his dotage. Before his return, however, the war had broken out, and its events brought with them serious injury to his paternal inheritance. At its close, the count, who served in the army, hastened home, and by his industry and good management soon restored his fortunes; at least, he was never heard to complain, and every one believed him happy and contented.
These and a crowd of associated recollections now passed like a dream through the mind of the old domestic. “And shall all this,” he cried, “be forgotten as if it had never been?”
At this moment, the youngest child of the count, a boy of about nine years of age, darted past Natango, like an arrow, upon his little Lithuanian pony. He wore the dress of a Cossack; his little cap with its long calpack descended on one side over his luxuriant locks; in his hand he couched, as if for the attack, a light lance of elder-wood, fashioned by his own ingenuity; and with a loud hurrah he charged upon his elder brother, who appeared descending the hill with a letter in his hand, with which he hastened towards his parents, now at a little distance.
Natango knew not what passed betwixt the count and countess, for they spoke in a foreign language; but he saw the countess frequently cast her looks pensively on the ground, and it seemed to him as if she was endeavoring to soothe the agitated feelings of her husband. A lovely little girl held the skirts of her father’s coat, and sought to engage his attention by her innocent prattle; and at a little distance the eldest daughter, Louisa, walked dejectedly with her beautiful eyes filled with tears, as she ever and anon raised them from the ground, and looked up to the trees and battlements of the Castle.
The count took the letter, and hastily breaking the seal, exclaimed with emotion, “After tomorrow then!” and stepped aside into an adjoining alley to conceal his feelings. The countess anxiously repeated the words, “After tomorrow then!” and she then severally embraced her children, who came pressing around her.
Natango observed her walk several times up and down the alley, supported by Louisa; she seemed to be addressing herself in silent prayer to God above, and the old man as he gazed upon her felt as if his heart would break. “Alas,” he silently exclaimed, as he turned sorrowfully away from the spot, “why was I not long ago laid in the dust with those who have gone before me?”
Night was pretty far advanced, and surrounding Nature veiled in darkness, when the count entered the parlour where his family was assembled. The candles appeared to yield a sickly and almost dismal light that evening—Louisa was seated in an armchair in the most distant corner of the room, her head thrown back, her hands folded with the expression of despair, and all her features bearing the marks of deep grief and exhaustion. Alexander, the little wild Cossack, lay asleep upon the sofa. Near him sat his sister Pauline, her little cheeks flushed, her bright eyes sparkling vividly, and her whole frame evidently laboring under extreme nervous agitation, the effect of the undefined anxiety and dread which filled her little bosom. The countess and her eldest son, Constantine, were absent.
“Have you had tea?” asked the count of Pauline. The little girl looked terrified at her father’s pale countenance, and replied in a low and faltering voice: “No, not yet. I believe we are not to get any tonight, for mamma is counting all the tea-things, and putting them in order.”
The count passed his hand hurried over his eyes and brow, but a loud sob bursting from Louisa at the moment, he approached her, and said in soothing accents: “My dear child, why so sorrowful?”
“Oh God,” replied the girl with a broken voice, “it grieves—it grieves me too much!”
The count put his hand affectionately on his daughter’s streaming eyes, and said: “You will make yourself ill, my love, and add to our grief. Nay, how will you be able to bear the long voyage, and what must precede it, if you already give yourself up to such boundless grief?”
“The long voyage!” sighed Louisa, lifting her hands to heaven. “Oh, my God, and was it not possible to avoid that? Why must we leave our country? Alas, that is the severest trial which a feeling heart can be called upon to endure! Death is nothing compared to it!”
“You know not what death is, Louisa,” replied her father solemnly. “Beware lest the workings of your fancy should call it down upon a beloved head! Your judgment is too light, and your feelings too strong. My beloved child,” he added with greater tenderness, “we should at any rate have been obliged to emigrate somewhere, we must have changed our residence at least, if not our country, and in either way we should have found ourselves amongst strangers. You know my feelings on the point, and I wish you could share them.”
“How can I!” exclaimed the girl. “I am bound by a thousand ties to this spot, my very existence is interwoven with it! Tear me from it, and you tear the cords of life!”
At this moment Constantine opened the door and called out: “Pauline, your key! The little black drawers must be emptied, and put with the rest.”
“The black drawers!” exclaimed the little girl, rising in great anxiety; “and where am I to put my collection of shells and butterflies, and my wax fruits, and amber ornaments, if I have nothing to keep them in?”
“That I know not,” replied the boy; “but mamma waits, make haste and give me the key.”
“You know not!” exclaimed the child angrily, as she left the room; “Yes, I believe so! You are to remain quietly here yourself, and so you do not care what may happen to us on whom all the evil is to fall!”
Constantine laughed as his sister went out to plead her cause herself.
The count had calmly witnessed Pauline’s petulance; he now turned to Louisa, who could not help smiling at her sister’s anxiety for her little goods: “And think you,” said he, “that we act a whit more wisely than she does in exaggerating the amount of the sacrifice required of us. Her pretty little drawers—our worldly goods and possessions: who knows but after-years may see them all restored and more than restored to us! At all events we shall not miss them in the life beyond this!”
He pressed the hand of his daughter, and was about to quit the room, when the countess entered with a sheet of paper and a pencil in her hands. At the sight of her husband a placid smile diffused itself over her pale but pleasing countenance.
“I have got through the business quicker than I had anticipated,” said she, sitting down evidently much exhausted. “But,” added she, passing her hand over Constantine’s cheek, “without the aid of my dear boy, I should not have been so soon done. He has never left me for a moment.” The boy looked up unto the soft eye now smiling upon him, in which the soul of his mother spoke so tenderly to his own, and unable any longer to suppress his feelings, he grasped her hand convulsively, while a torrent of tears bathed her countenance.
“Be calm! Remember your promise!” whispered the count, taking his son by the arm, and leading him into the garden.
“Never,” exclaimed Louisa, rising with youthful impatience from her seat—“never will I be convinced that it must be so—that no other means remain! This, oh this is too severe!”
“And what milder means, my love, would you desire?” said the countess. “You know well how long your father has struggled with misfortune—what he has done—what he has borne. I endeavoured to strengthen him for the task, and sometimes shared his hopes; years passed on in this way; the quiet retirement of our simple life hid our sorrows from the eye of the world; your father knew how to keep up all proper appearances, and to preserve the honour of his name unsullied, and now when misfortune assails him in this irresistible manner, when no earthly hope remains, he sacrifices for that honour, which is dearer to him than life itself, all he possesses, all the joys of life, aye, and in the truest sense of the proverb, throws his coat also into the bargain to fulfil his engagements!”
“But why,” interrupted Louisa, “why go beyond the sea, into a foreign land—perhaps, even to another part of the world?”
“My dearest love,” replied the countess, “the kernel deprived of its shell, and thrown again to the ground from which it sprung, must fade and perish. It cannot be, Louisa—man cannot bear, I might say ought not to bear to wander about in his native land without a home—without a rank and name, a thing floating about between compassion and scorn! Tell me what trade Count P—should begin? Where is the place in this country where your father could hope to live unknown? No, better die of hunger in the most distant region of the earth, than live to wring our bread from hands reluctant to give it!”
“And yet we are to leave Constantine behind!” observed Louisa.
“Because he is to remain, we must go,” replied the countess. He is the eldest of your two brothers. Perhaps Providence may grant him, in another way, what it took from his father; and the name of Count P__ may not yet vanish from a country which was once proud to number him among its citizens.”
“Well, if there is no alternative,” replied Louisa, “I will submit—though I would rather have drawn my last breath on this shore—in the most wretched hovel—among poor fishermen, than—“
“I sympathize with your feelings, dear Louisa,” interrupted her mother with a melancholy smile. “The innocent images of childhood attach you to this place. They have grown up with your growth, and gradually assumed the shape and colouring which the fancy of a girl of sixteen is likely to give them. I suppose,” she continued, drawing the blushing girl nearer her upon the sofa, “I suppose you think more than ever of your walks with the English consul’s son—the nice boy who used to help you to gather amber on the sea-shore, and whose labours united with yours formed the foundation of that collection which has been Paulene shed tears today.
“Let me now, for once, speak freely to you on this subject, while your mind is softened, and fit for friendly conversation. It is long since your eagerness to acquire the English language—the interest with which you always mentioned the late consul, and above all, your nightly musings of the moon was reflected from the waves, and the clouds threw their shady images over the surrounding county—betrayed to me that your young and unoccupied heart, and, perhaps, an imagination excited by novels and romances, had wrought out of an accidental, and in itself, quite insignificant connection between two children of ten years of age. I smiled when I saw you in every picture and print searching to discover a likeness of your young companion under those of heroes and angels, so long as I thought it all but the workings of youthful imagination. But today—when sorrow so deeply overcasts us—to find you at such a time as this still occupying yourself with such silly dreams—“
“Dear mother, no more!” interrupted Louisa.
“Let me speak out,” replied the mother. “It grieves me to find you thus__”
“O my God!” exclaimed Louisa, with increasing agitation.
“Nay, I cannot hide it from you, my love,” continued the countess; “this illusion may prove destructive to your peace if not dissipated in time. You stand here like one in a dream—between father, mother, brothers and friends—and regretting nothing but the overthrow of one selfish hope, the fulfillment of which you have weakly connected with this place of abode. You expect the man will return hither, who, older than you by several years, has long ago been drawn into the bustle of active life in another part of the world—hither you foolishly hope he will return to seek for the little girl with whom he once gathered amber! Ah Louisa, do not cast a shade over your whole life by giving to the pictures of your fancy that importance which they can only assume within the narrow precincts of an imagination too exclusively occupied with self! Believe me, Alfred Montrose is now quite another person than your fancy pictures him, and for aught he remembers of you might have been dead long ago.”
As she spoke these words, the countess pressed the agitated Louisa to her bosom, and added: “I hear your father coming—compose yourself, my dear—we should strive to support his spirits in his distress; tomorrow is the sad day—our beloved home, our garden, and all our property must inevitably be sold tomorrow, if no yet unseen hand shall interpose to prevent it.”
At this moment Constantine rushed into the room, followed by his father. “A dreadful storm is coming!” he exclaimed. “The sky is black as midnight, and a thousand lightnings flash through it; you will see it from the top of the hill where papa and I have just been! Oh, it is a magnificent sight! How the clouds are rolling, and the wave roaring!”
The countess gazed pensively on the animated features of her boy, shading with her hands the auburn locks from his forehead.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Louisa. “There is surely a hurricane approaching.”
“Yes, and a furious one,” said her father, entering the parlour. “It is a grand sight to see the elements preparing for it—the ocean and the sky almost blended together in one dark hue, with the lightning flashing between!”
Constantine had approached a window: “Look, look,” cried he, “how the tops of the trees begin to move! Now the hurricane is at hand! How the lightning gleams! The whole garden seems in a flame!”
“Do not stand at the window!” cried Louisa; but at the same moment a terrific roll of thunder was heard, and the wild howling of the storm swept round the Castle. The inmates simultaneously hastened to secure the doors and windows, and then drew back to await the uncertain issue of this fearful convulsion of nature.
The countess had awoke her younger son, who now hung half-asleep upon her arm in the middle of the room; and Pauline, forgetting her little black drawers and collection of shells, stood with her little hands clasped together at her father’s side, silently watching his looks.
The storm continued to increase till its roaring drowned the peals of thunder themselves. “Never,” exclaimed the countess sinking into an armchair—never heard I a storm like this!” The count kept pacing to and fro through the room with hurried steps; and Constantine would not yield to the entreaties of Louisa, and the aged nurse Olga—who in her anxiety had entered the parlour—to leave the window at which he had taken his station.
“Halloo!” he suddenly exclaimed, “was not that a shot.” His father paused to listen. “Again, another!” continued the boy. “Hark, there again! Listen, listen!”
The count now opened the door which led into the garden, and in spite of the entreaties of his family, stepped out, followed by Constantine.
“My dear, dear son!” cried the countess; but the roar of the wild elements drowned her voice.
The rain poured down in torrents; the thickest darkness rested on the surrounding country, save where a sudden flash revealed some distant object veiled in clouds of rain; nevertheless the most experienced among the servants hastened after the count towards the sea.
They were now convinced that Constantine had heard aright, and that it was only the storm rising at intervals in deeper gusts, which drowned the report of the signal shots coming from the sea.
“We must,” said the count to his son as they pressed forward in the dark, “we must hasten to the headland where we may, perhaps, gain a sight of the unhappy vessel.”
With these words he pushed rapidly towards the promontory, and his example was instantly followed by some young men belonging to the village, who had already reached the spot on their way to the beach. When they had gained the height, they still heard the successive signal guns, but could not ascertain the exact situation of the vessel.
“I suppose,” said the count, “she is yet to the right, behind the high beach, which prevents our seeing her.”
“But it would be impossible to reach her,” replied one of the villagers. “It would be too far to go round by the land; and who would in such a storm as this run the risk of steering round the cliff.”
None replied to this observation; for the war and crash of the elements around them was so terrific that it was with difficulty they preserved their footing on the turf. Nature alone spoke at this awful moment; and her voice was tremendous and appalling.
“Let us return,” said an old fisherman in one of the pauses of the storm. The speaker had seen similar scenes, and conceived that it was impossible to do anything for the helpless vessel.
The count, however, still lingered on the height; he listened with anxiety to the roar of the storm, and thought that the signal guns fell quicker and more loudly on his ear; but at the same moment the lightning struck the ground within a few paces of the spot where he stood—the sea yawned to its lowest depths—the waves rose up like spectral towers—and the white horizon around presented at intervals the spectacle of a continuous sheet of vivid flame. The count yielded to these alarming presages of immediate danger, and followed his retiring companions.
“Constantine!” exclaimed he, suddenly recalling his attention to the boy whom he remembered to have held in his hand the preceding moment, and to whom he believed he was talking.
“Lord in Heaven!” exclaimed the count, hastening up to the villagers. “Where is my son? Have you not seen him? Not a moment since he was at my side: for mercy’s sake, help me to seek him!” Filled with indescribable anxiety he drew away the person who stood nearest to him; it was the honest Michael.
The father rushed forward shouting the name of his child; but in vain—no answer was returned—no trace of the youth appeared.
At last the morning dawned—dark clouds still filled the atmosphere—but the sun rose up behind the thick vapours, and dissipated them through the vast concave in shroud-like fragments—and cliffs, and forests, and the mighty sea itself, stood revealed in the clear light of day.
The countess sat in silence, surrounded by her sleeping children; no distinct idea filled her mind—she was only sensible to the lapse of the lagging hours, and felt as if the anguish they brought her must soon terminate her feeble existence.
Michael presented himself at the castle; and told that the count and Constantine had gone to the assistance of the vessel. He had been sent by the count to calm the alarm which he knew their absence would excite in the family.
All hastened to join the count who was able to lend any assistance to the distressed mariners, and the countess was left nearly alone with her children. As she sat listening to every passing sound, she heard hasty footsteps approaching the door which led into the garden; the next moment a word as if from breathless lips reached her ear—it was a gentle and well-known voice, but it made the blood mount up to her cheeks with anxiety and expectation, as the door flew open.
“Mother,” exclaimed Constantine entering in eager haste, “we have saved two lives!”
The mother threw her arms around her brave boy, and pressed him to her beating heart; but the recollection of another dearer still crossed her mind: “Whose, whose life have you saved? Was your father in danger? Constantine, my dear child, where is you father?”
“Be calm, dearest mother,” replied the boy. “My father is well, but has stayed behind to assist in conveying one of the shipwrecked men to Samuel’s house. Oh, how cold seemed the poor man; he must be put to bed, and as—and as__” Here the tears rushed to the eyes of the beautiful boy, and his tongue refused to proceed.
The mother embraced her child. “You would say, my dear boy, ‘And as we have no longer a bed of our own.’ But your dear father will see him comfortably provided for.”
Constantine pressed his mother’s hand as a mute sign of affirmation. “Oh, it was dreadful,” he at last spoke, “dreadful on the cliff!”
“The cliff!” exclaimed the terrified countess. “Merciful God, how got you to the cliff, child? No one, I should have thought, would have ventured to such a place in such a night!”
Constantine blushed and hung down his head, while he kissed his mother. “And it was so odd,” said he, “that papa did not understand me when I asked his leave to run down; though if he had recollected what I said, he would not afterwards have been so needlessly alarmed.”
“Alarmed!” repeated the countess, her heart sinking within her at the word; “And for what child? Tell me what alarmed your papa?”
“Only,” said Constantine, laughing—“only, I suppose, because I had left him. But papa did not recollect that I had told him I would run to Waidewith, the boatman—who you know is here on a visit to his friends in the village—and that we would row across in a boat to the cliff.”
“You!” cried the mother, alarmed at the very thought of her boy having exposed himself to such imminent danger.
“Yes; but listen, only listen,” replied the boy with a degree of anxiety. “Papa did say I might go; only he forgot his having done so. And why should I not have gone, mama? I will be fifteen in September, and you have always said that I was strong for my age: why then should I not venture a little as well as others? Have I not been brought up on the very edge of the sea itself? Do I not know every spot on the shore down yonder as well as I do my own room? And besides, did not Waidewith go with me? To be sure when I ran up and told him I was going to the boat, and that papa had allowed me to go, he seemed astonished, and muttered something which I did not hear. But he went to work for all that very briskly; and the boat was dancing over the waves in a twinkling. Oh how bravely she mounted the high billows! Up, up we went, though they were like towers above us! Once I lay down flat in the boat for Waidewith told me to do so; but I was ashamed, and soon got up again, and helped him to work. When we got there, oh, mamma, how fearful it was to see the dead bodies cast up by the sea!”
“Was it at the cliff?” inquired the countess.
“Yes,” rejoined the boy, and proceeded to relate with great animation, and minute detail, with what difficulty they had succeeded in dragging ashore an elderly looking man, whose last strength had been spent in struggling with the waves. “But,” added he, “we found also a young man among the rocks, who looked like dead, and as we were occupied with both, papa came up with the other people, but he did not scold me, though his tears wet my cheeks.”
“Naughty child!” whispered the countess, pressing her son to her heart.
“Naughty and good too!” cried the count, entering the room at the moment. “Ah children,” added he, sitting down quite exhausted, “how light we should feel our misfortunes after such a night as this! We have little cause to repine who have not been called to weep over the grave of those we love dearest on earth!”
Never, perhaps, did a family spend a more cheerful hour than that which now passed at breakfast in the Castle. A load of tormenting anxiety had been lifted off every breast; every pulse beat quicker, and every countenance was lighted-up with gratitude and joy, and for awhile, the sorrow which had lately filled their hearts was forgotten. Constantine related his adventure to his brother and sisters in that aphoristical manner in which children generally speak of things and circumstances which vividly affect their imagination; while his father’s eyes sparkled with noble pride as he gazed upon a son who had already given such glorious proof that his was not a disposition which would tarnish an illustrative name, or dishonor his lineage. The countess thought of the future lot of her children, and heard but partially the conversation respecting the shipwreck.
Pauline, with her accustomed liveliness of manner, insisted on going down to the inn to inquire after the welfare of the poor shipwrecked sailors; but this was opposed by her brother, Alexander, who felt not a little mortified in not having had any share in the transactions of the night, and now wished to have the care of the strangers entrusted entirely to him and his brother. The contest grew warm, and at last the two parties appealed to their mother.
“Good Heavens,” exclaimed the countess, breaking suddenly from her reverie, “and can we do nothing for them? They will be but poorly treated in Samuel’s dirty inn; can we not provide them some other comfort?”
“And what comfort have you for them?” replied the count in a tone, the mildness of which was well-calculated to sooth the painfulness of the observation. “Think only of tomorrow, love.”
“Tomorrow!” sighed the countess; but Louisa entered at the moment, and guessing the reference which the word had, said: “Be calm, mamma, I have already sent down whatever was necessary to make a comfortable bed for the poor men, from my own little stock of linen which papa left at my disposal, being the production of my own spinning and weaving.”
“Ah, the linen,” said the count, “I had forgotten Louisa’s little store. Well, my girl, you have according to a good old custom, spun and wove the beginning of your plenishing, and you see in the good use it has been already put to a pledge of future good fortune.” The countess smiled and nodded an affirmative to this observation.
“Poor thing,” sighed the father, the whole weight of the approaching separation and exile rushing upon his recollection. He stood lost in deep thought, while his wife, wiping the tears from her eyes, spoke: “How sadly mortals suffer themselves to be deceived with expectation to the very last moment! Hope is a mock sun, pouring round us an artificial day—a whole lifetime of delusive expectations; time meanwhile runs on, and not till we are standing on the brink of the abyss, do we perceive the phantom shadows by which we have been deluded. Every year we beheld the slow but certain approach of the present moment, and yet you went on and worked, and planted, and fondly hoped you were laying the foundation of your children’s wealth; and thus too I looked upon Louisa, and beheld the thread glide between her fingers, and listened well-pleased to Olga’s song which told of the gentle spinner drawing her happy fate out of the yellow flax, and now__”
The count was here called away, and his wife feeling that she had, perhaps, said too much, checked the train of her thoughts, and added almost playfully. “Nay, trust to me, I shall not be found wanting in courage when the hour of trial comes. You are not surprised that the horrors of the past night should have thrown a gloom over my thoughts; but it like they will pass away.”
The count pressed his wife’s hand, and said gently: “Think of the past night; but think also of its mercies. Think of what has been restored to us. Compared with such a loss—” He added no more, but waving his hand, left the room.
On entering the hall, the count found Samuel, the innkeeper, and a stranger, who introduced himself as the person whom Constantine had assisted to get into the boat. His naturally strong constitution had enabled him to recover so soon from the consequences of his unpleasant bath. The stranger seemed already advanced in years—he was of a strong, broad form, with small, sharp features, and hair of almost the same colour as his pale complexion. His eye was inanimate, and of a pale blue colour; but a very particular expression, not easily to be defined, played around his finely delineated lips.
The count, who immediately perceived that the foreigner was a person of no common rank, invited him to enter his cabinet. Samuel retired, and the stranger found himself alone with the count.
“I beg to introduce myself, sir,” said he to the count, “as the proprietor of the ship which was wrecked last night on her way to St. Petersburg. I am aware that the law of strand-right is acknowledged on this coast. And there is, therefore, reason to dread that the whole cargo may be seized by those who have the very least right to it. What I wish therefore to do, is to leave in your hands a sum nearly equivalent to the value of the salvage goods, provided the people hereabouts, and you as lord-superior, will on the other hand, warrant the security of my property.” So saying, he drew a pocket-book from his breast, and taking from it a draft, handed it to the count, remarking that the paper, though somewhat damaged like himself by the water, would be found to afford full security of his pledge.
The count glanced over the draft, and found it to be an order upon a well-known commercial house in the neighbouring town for a sum fully equal to the uncertain amount of the salvage; but bowing politely to the stranger, he returned it with these words:
“It is not I, Sir, to whom you ought to make this offer. I shall be only a few hours longer in this place; after that, like yourself, I shall be a stranger in the wide world, having saved nothing from the shipwreck of life but my bare existence.”
The stranger listened to this declaration without betraying any emotion; and the count, anxious to remove any doubt from his mind, continued: “What I have said need not prevent you making any arrangement that pleases you with the inhabitants of the beach. If you can only get them to agree among themselves, you will easily settle the matter with them.”
“And to whom, then,” inquired the stranger, returning the draft to his pocket-book, “am I to make my proposals?”
“Truly,” replied the count, “if such a thing would at all suit your plans, the best course I could advise you to adopt would be to make yourself first master of the Castle, which is to be sold tomorrow, when you have done that, a settlement with the villagers would be easily effected.”
A momentary smile played around the lips of the stranger, who inquired, “Does the lord-superior of the Castle share the salvage of shipwrecked vessels with the villagers? Or has he a right to some kind of tribute from those who enrich themselves on his territory?”
There was a degree of self-interest in these questions which somewhat disappointed the count, who drily answered: “This rocky shore belongs to the government, which, for the benefit of unfortunate mariners, grants a little advantage to the people who fix their dwellings here, who without some inducement of the kind could not be prevailed upon to settle themselves so near the coast.”
The stranger replaced his pocket-book, and taking his hat, said: “I am sorry to have intruded upon you at so important a moment. But I shall punish myself by deferring my visit to my young benefactor till the arrangements are completed for your departure.”
He bowed abruptly and stepped out of the room, leaving the count as much surprised at the manner of his departure as he had before been by his appearance. It now occurred to him that he had been inexcusably negligent in not inquiring after the health of the other stranger, whose life had been nigh despaired of a few hours ago. But the more he reflected on the conversation and conduct of the stranger, the more incomprehensible did his conduct appear to him. “What could be the meaning,” thought he, “of such a proposal? If the sum he wishes to deposit is equal to his loss, what gain has he by such a bargain? And, if not, our people here will soon perceive it? And how does he think he will induce the villagers to relinquish real substantial possession for a piece of paper? He must have known all this himself too,” continued the count, “but I perceive it,”—and as the thought crossed his mind, he paced with increased rapidly through the room—“I perceive it, —he has used these pretences merely to gain an introduction to me—some knowledge of my affairs. Did he hope to treat with me? Has he really a wish to purchase the Castle at the approaching sale of which Samuel has doubtless informed him? Yes, and his having been brought hither by the rogue of an innkeeper is almost a proof of it!”
He felt relieved when the countess entered the room, and requested him to accompany her to the upper apartments of the Castle, where she had arranged the furniture for the sale. Having followed her, the stranger was soon forgotten in the painful activity of the succeeding hours, and the day passed rapidly over the heads of the various members of the family, now actively engaged in making the final preparations for their departure.
Meanwhile all was bustle and confusion in the village inn; every room, entrance, and yard was filled with people talking over the events of the preceding night, and calculating their probable gains from the stranded goods. The proverb, that wealth is the mother of pride, was truly borne out on this occasion. Disputes waxed louder—demands became more extravagant—some calculated their gain to a pennyworth—others neither knew nor wished to tell the value of their captures; distrust, envy, anger, deceit—every evil and degrading passion was here brought into play. At last when all were out of humour and excited to a proper degree of jealousy towards their fellow-partakers in the spoil, Samuel came forward, and dropped a few hints regarding the nature of the proposal he understood to have been made by the shipmaster to the count. He stipulated, however, that in the event of their coming to a bargain for themselves with the shipmaster, he should have the sole management of the business.
“Money is always pleasant to handle. The smallest sum of it is often preferable to bales of merchandise, which you must sell before you can convert into anything manageable. Any person capable of counting five upon his fingers may satisfy himself what a nice thing the cash is—how interest heaps upon interest, till the chests are overflowing with wealth.”
“Aha!” shouted one of the fisherman; “One’s fortune is also worth something. Whenever men begin to divide and to calculate, all goes for the nothing at last! Let him, I say, who has caught something keep it warm.”
“No! No!” shouted another. “Where so many have their hands in the pie it soon vanishes altogether. What have we made by this business? No great matter of a Godsend this after all! None of us, I trow, will grow very rich by it!”
“That is just what I say,” replied Samuel. “And then the trouble—the risk! A bird in the hand, friends, is worth two in the bush!”
“Hear me, comrades!” shouted old Natango. “We will follow Samuel’s advice; but only on the condition that the money shall be given to the count, if he will apply it to save his estate and remain with us.”
“Yes! Yes!” shouted several voices. “We will agree to that. Let the count take the money, and quiet his creditors with it. If he stays with us he will soon be worth double as much, and then we shall all be gainers.”
“What are you dreaming of?” exclaimed Samuel. “Do you not see? There the gentlemen have come already from the town to seize gardens, and fields, and castle, and everything! There they are just driving into the Castle-yard! That chaise with the black and bay horses is the lawyer’s; red Jacob and the rich tanner are with them. To them the whole estate is forfeited; and it must either be redeemed wholly, or not at all! What could we do with a little sum? It is worth nothing just now; for you see, my friends, it would not go far enough—not far enough by any means. It must come to a public roup; there is no help for that; you cannot stop it.”
“Well, and let it be so,” replied Natango; “but we will ourselves speak to the shipmaster. So bring us to him; or tell him to come down to us.”
Samuel the innkeeper assured them that this was quite wrong. The man was engaged, he said, with his young companion. Besides, nobody knew what to make of him; he was said to be rich; but then he spoke only in monosyllables, and seemed to care nothing for anything or anybody.”
While the innkeeper was thus engaged sketching such a portrait of the English stranger as he thought would best deter the villagers from applying to him personally, the gentlemen from the town entered the house, and his attention being occupied by them, Natango quickly formed his comrades into a circle around him, and having the assistance of Michael arranged matters to the satisfaction of all, Waidewith was deputed to wait on the shipmaster. In the meanwhile the two gentlemen, among whom was an army commissary, were putting a hundred questions to the villagers, and endeavoring to induce them to part with their goods for paper-money.
But while some listened to them, and others resolutely rejected every proposal which came from them, Waidewith returned, and whispered to his comrades: “’Tis settled; five of us are to keep guard on the beach; the rest you will know tomorrow.” The assembly then broke up and left the inn.
Alexander and his younger sister were amusing themselves before the Castle-door with the lawyer’s chaise. The boy had mounted the box, and whip in hand, was pretending to drive the little Pauline, who, in her sport forgot all the grief of her parents, and thought not that on the morrow the owner of the fine vehicle might be lord and master of her father’s Castle.
“Indeed,” said the little girl, “traveling is a very nice thing. I am sorry, it is true, that we are to go away tomorrow, but—“
“Yes,” interrupted her brother, “if we could always travel in a carriage; but a ship you know is very tiresome, for there are no horses.”
“O yes there are,” rejoined Pauline; “for I once read of a ship in which there were horses.”
“These were transports,” replied Alexander; “but we may never in all our life see horses again.”
“In all our life!” cried the little girl, shrugging up her shoulders. “How you talk! Why, one sees horses everywhere!”
“No, not everywhere,” answered the boy. “Not in a desert island for instance.”
“A desert island, Heaven forbid that!” cried Pauline, laughing. “No you are thinking of Robinson Crusoe!”
“Well, and why not,” replied Alexander, with a wise air. “We must be prepared for the worst. It is no small matter to have such a voyage before one.”
“Surely it is!” said Pauline thoughtfully, and the two children were silent for a moment’s space. “But would you like to stay here?”
“No, indeed,” replied the boy, cracking his whip, and reminding her that they would have a good way to travel in a carriage before they reached the port: “And then—” here the boy tossed up his head as if he meant to say, ‘who knows what may happen to us.’
The stranger, with a young pale-looking man leaning on his arm, approached the chaise at this moment. The children knew that they had been talking English though they addressed them in German. Pauline, dropping a little curtsey, inquired after the health of the youth, who looked steadfastly upon her, and replied: “Well, very well, since I saw you.”
The little girl nowise abashed by the presence of strangers, continued chattering: “I think you must have slept very well in the nice sheets my sister sent you. Only think, she spun all that fine cloth with her own hands!”
“Her own, and she gave it all to a stranger!” exclaimed the young man.
“Oh,” interrupted Pauline, “we must go away from here, and Louisa will never have any need of it.”
“Come away,” said the elder stranger, drawing his companion from the spot.
“What a rude Englishman he is,” said Pauline, peevishly. “He will not allow that nice young gentleman to talk with us!”
The next day dawned. The count arose, and having dressed himself quickly, strode with hasty steps through his apartment.
“Quiet! Quiet!” exclaimed he two or three times, placing his hand upon his throbbing heart. “It can’t be otherwise.” He approached Alexander’s bed—the child was sleeping tranquilly, but he heard Constantine—from whose eyes the light of the dreaded morning had chased all sleep away—sobbing deeply in the adjoining closet.
Overcome by his feelings the count stepped to the window, where he saw Louisa and her mother employed in watering the flower-beds. While thus engaged, he observed Louisa throw herself all at once into her mother’s arms, and both of them burst into tears.
“O God, O God!” exclaimed one of them. “What shall support us in these painful moments?” At the same moment the count heard heavy footsteps treading through the apartment above him. It was the auctioneer and his clerk who had begun thus early their preparations for the sale.
“Come along, you sleepy-head,” exclaimed the count, struggling to conceal his real feelings. “Come along; let us mix with the rest of the people, and we will soon forget our own cares in the throng of the business!”
He took his son by the arm and led him into the crowd already assembled; all fell respectfully back as they approached, and a tear trembled in many an eye then turned upon them. When within a few steps of the entrance to the hall, Olga rushed towards them, weeping bitterly, and exclaiming, “No, I cannot hear it! I cannot witness it! There is Samuel beginning to take down our family pictures from the wall!”
“Father!” cried Constantine, looking inquiringly up to him.
“No!” replied the count firmly. “Come on!”
They entered the drawing-room, and saw the auctioneer’s rough hands turning about a portrait which represented a very beautiful lady.
“Gentlemen,” began the count, walking hastily up, “I beg—these pictures, they can be of little value to you—they are only valuable as family portraits.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” interrupted the attorney, with a sneer, placing himself between the count and the picture. “Nothing can be excepted from the sale—and least of all a work of Art like this, which will certainly find a purchaser. It is from an Italian pencil, I perceive; Pinxit, Firenze, 1654. The lace veil, the white satin gown, the crimson velvet of the chair—all are exquisitely handled. You are surely too good a connoisseur, sir, not to know the value of such a piece of painting as this!”
The count drew back indignantly, saying aloud: “It is a portrait of my grandmother—it was painted in Italy, but I little thought it would come to this—with it a thousand remembrances—” He would have added more but his voice failed.
“It is a pretty thing,” said the tanner, applying a nail to try the quality of the gilding, and measuring the square contents of the canvas with his eye. “But the misfortune is, it is too large for any of my rooms, otherwise it would have formed a nice ornament indeed.”
“What value do you put upon the picture?” inquired Constantine, approaching it with glowing cheeks and eyes suffused with tears.
“My son,” said the father in a warning voice.
“Why__” replied the attorney, beckoning on red Jacob, who seemed to be looking on with indifference, “what might be the worth of it, think you?”
They whispered together for a few moments; at last the lawyer spoke to the effect that they could not now put any value upon it—it was a picture to be seen and estimated by connoisseurs only, and they would set it aside till such an opportunity for selling it occurred.
“Well,” said the boy, “then it will surely be mine.”
“My son,” said the count, with some emotion, “and how—”
“I can work, papa,” interrupted Constantine. “Do you not remember that our master once told me I could copy music very well, and that it sells well. Now, I promise you, I will copy music night and day till this picture is mine.”
At this moment a deep, but pleasant voice spake from behind a foreign accent. “I give the highest price for that picture, and subscribe to every condition to get it into my possession.” The count turned round, and recognized in the person of the speaker the master of the wrecked vessel; Constantine stamped with his foot on the ground in a paroxysm of indignation, while the lawyer bowed obsequiously to the supposed weathly stranger, and the picture being placed aside, the latter stept back, and again mingled with the crowd.
The count remained leaning against a pillar, with his arms crossed, calmly contemplating the proceedings of the auctioneer, and only now and then dropping an observation, when his interest seemed to require it.
The attorney opened the sale, by stating, that in consequence of the embarrassment of the present proprietor, the estate, with its whole pertinents and prerogatives, was about to be exposed to a public roup. He concluded by intimating that it was now at the option of the creditors either to expose the whole in one or in separate lots.
This observation excited considerable discussion among the creditors and spectators, in the course of which many impertinent observations were made, and considerable confusion excited. The lawyers got embarrassed amid the multiplicity of proposals, and hesitated how to proceed. At last Samuel raised his voice: “And are all these flocks, and woods, and meadows, and gardens, and this fine Castle, with its beautiful furniture, to be thrown away!” cried he. “Is there nobody present who will venture to offer to the extent of one-third, at least, of their estimated value?”
At the first sound of the innkeeper’s voice, a keen and loud contest arose. One maintained that the Castle must prove a burden to whoever should purchase it—that the plantation were little better than so much money thrown away—and that the fields and meadows would barely cover their purchase. Others were of a different opinion; but the general impression produced by the discussion was highly unfavourable to the sale. Disgusted with all that he had heard and witnessed, the count quitted the apartment, and retired into the garden.
On entering it he was surprised to observe the countess walking at the distant end of the alleys with the elder stranger, and apparently engaged in close conversation.
“Can he be seeking any more explanation regarding the picture?” thought the count. “And does he expect to make money by the purchase?”
The thought pained him deeply, and the agitation of mind it produced was so strong, that he retired behind a hedge to avoid their observation, as the countess and stranger approached.
Constantine, attracted by the novelty of the scene, had remained in the sale-room, behind his father; so that the latter felt no restraint to giving way to the transport of grief which now overcame him. He threw himself down at the foot of an aged oak, and covered his face with his handkerchief; but at the same moment, the stranger’s voice reached his ear. “And was it possible,” said the foreigner to the countess, “were you so insulated from help? Could none of your relatives, none of your neighbours assist you?”
The stranger seemed about to take the countess by the hand, with an expression of sympathy, but Constantine suddenly came running down the alley, and threw himself into the arms of his mother, exclaiming: “He has got it! That villain Samuel has got it! Our dear, dear Castle—today he will take possession of it!”
“Just Heaven!” exclaimed the countess, turning as pale as death, and sinking down on the neck of her son. “Oh this is too much! Too much!” The count, unable any longer to restrain himself, started up and came forward, exclaiming: “What! That man in the Castle of my ancestors! Perhaps making an inn of it!”
“It is not possible!” sighed the countess. “He! It is incredible—impossible!”
The stranger had slipped away unobserved at the first words of the boy.
Meanwhile, the garden filled with people. Among others Natango, Michael, and Waidewith, presented themselves respectfully before their old master, and the voice of the first of these faithful villagers faltered as he spoke. “Ah, Sir, for Heaven’s sake do not deny our request—do not leave us—times may yet come round—and we are come to make you a proposal!”
“My friends,” said the count, “you afflict me still more. You know any proposal is now too late—all is fixed and cannot be revoked. The moment is a trying one, but we must bear up under its sorrows. Farewell! May God bless you all!”
He was turning to withdraw, when Michael laid his hand upon his arms. “You are too hasty master,” said he. “You will not allow us to explain ourselves. Hear what we have got to say. You know the stranded goods are ours. Well, the foreign merchant offers us a sum for them, and we mean to accept his offer, and put the case into your hands. With it you will be able to pay off the most impatient of your creditors, and as for the rest, good Heavens, there will surely be Christian men amongst them! Thus the Castle will yet be saved.”
“It is already sold,” said the countess, interposing to save her husband’s feelings. “Samuel has purchased the whole.”
“O, my good lady, that is all humbuggery!” interrupted Waidewith. “How is such a beggarly rascal as he, think you, to get the money? He thinks, my lady, that he will be able to wheedle us out of the draft; but he has reckoned without his host for once. I too, methinks, have a word to say on the matter—for the stranger is still owing me the salvage-fees of his own life! But where is he? I was told I would find him in the garden.”
“The stranger!” interrupted Alexander. “Why I saw him this very moment set off in a carriage with the young Englishman. Don’t you see them? Look, they greet us with their hats!”
“Adieu, adieu!” exclaimed the boy, while Louisa mounted upon a bench gazed wistfully after the whirling clouds of dust.
“What!” exclaimed Michael. “Off, without having settled with us!”
“The deuce he is!” answered Waidewith. “And without ever thinking of me! The old rogue Samuel has surely got the papers from him! But wait a little!”
“Let him go, let him go!” exclaimed the count. “My friends, do not thus embitter our last moments of being together. See there they are already coming with the contract of sale for my signature. I will spare them the way.”
He hastened forward to meet them, followed by his wife and children. When the latter joined him, he was standing in the avenue holding a large sheet of paper in his hands, over which he threw a hurried glance. Opposite to him the lawyers stood in close and low conversation with one another.
The countess, well-divining what a mixture of contending emotions were now passing in the breast of her husband, gently stept up, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, glanced over the deed, as if in token of her willingness to share in the grief which its perusal inspired. While thus engaged the name of Constantine met her eye, and another glance turned her feelings into a new channel.
“Merciful God!” she exclaimed. “Do I not dream? My child! My child! We part not yet! You—you—” She could add no more, but sunk senseless into the arms of her children. On recovering from her faint, one of the lawyers was proceeding to read the deed.
“We have here,” said he, unfolding the paper, “an act of purchase, and another of donation, both executed by Edward Stanley, and setting forth, that, whereas the said Edward Stanley has become proprietor of the whole estate and lands of P___, being the last and highest offer for the same as exposed to public roup this day, and having paid the full purchase money, leaving it to the count to make allocation of the same in satisfaction of the most urgent debts, he, the said purchaser, hereby makes over the whole in perpetual donation, bequest, and gift, to the young Count, Constantine P___, as a proof of his gratitude towards the said Constantine, for having saved his life on a recent occasion, with and under the express condition that the father of the aforesaid Constantine shall enjoy the full life-rent of the said estate, and act as administrator thereof during the whole period of his natural life. It is likewise to be remembered that the creditors ranking on this estate, having brought the same to a public sale, are only entitled to their proportion of the proceeds, and that the Count Constantine, succeeding to it now, not by inheritance, but by free and special donation, comes under no obligation whatsoever to his father’s creditors.”
Here the attorney paused and looked round him for a moment, as if waiting to offer any additional explanation; but no question being put he proceeded. “The present act further provides and declares, that you, Natango, shall be paid a sum of money equivalent to the full value of the stranded goods, and that the goods themselves shall be divided among the gallant seamen who assisted you on the night of the storm which wrecked the English vessel on our coast. As for the innkeeper, Samuel, he is hereby entitled to be paid two crowns, ready money, with and under the express condition that he instantly quit the village, and never more come into these parts.”
When the lawyer had finished his exposition, all present seemed lost in an ecstasy of delight and happiness; none remembered the exact terms of the deed, but all felt that affairs had taken a marvelous and transporting turn; the children hung round their astonished parents—the domestics and villagers crowded around them—shouts of exultation rent the air—and the living tide of joy bore back the count and countess towards the castle of their ancestors, where a hundred hands were instantly employed in effacing all traces of the preceding transaction of the day, and restoring every room to its original, and well-known appearance.
For awhile the family was lost in a trance of wonder and happiness; at last they awoke to the full consciousness of the mighty change which had been wrought on their prospects, and poured out their hearts in grateful prayer to the Almighty disposer of all events. But where was he, the generous stranger, whose bounty had effected so mighty a revolution?
Constantine, without expressing his intentions, mounted his pony, and rode off to try and discover any traces of the strangers in the neighboring village; but he soon returned without having obtained any tidings respecting them—no person had seen them—no person knew anything about them.
A year had elapsed since these events, and no trace of the strangers had been discovered, when Louisa one day read in the newspapers, that Sir Alfred Montrose had been named British consul at B___, where his father had formerly resided in that capacity.
She handed the paper without any remark to her mamma; but it was with difficulty she concealed her agitation from her father and brothers who were in the room. When left alone with her single confidant, she flung herself into her arms, exclaiming: “And was I not right, mamma? It draws him again to our country!”
“Louisa, my beloved child,” replied the countess, “do not buoy yourself up with such foolish expectations. What connection do you imagine can exist between a lucrative employment and the remembrance of an infant playmate?”
“Nay, mamma, I am sure you think not as you speak now; though you will not confess it!” replied Louisa.
“And if my imagination also should be deceiving us,” replied the countess, “I think, my dear, there is the more need to our trying to exercise cool reason.”
Thus, the matter rested for the present. But one day a servant entered the room where Louisa and her mother were sitting, and startled them both by announcing the arrival of Sir Alfred Montrose, and the next moment, a tall young man, in the bloom of manhood, entered the room, and having made his obeisance to the ladies, playfully took Louisa by the hand, and began to recount the adventures of their early and associated years. Sir Alfred was of a lively and frank disposition; he soon gained upon the affections and confidence of the count and every member of his family—his visits to the Castle became more and more frequent—and as the reader has already anticipated, in a few months Louisa was his bride.
“What a pity,” said the countess one day, while shaping some household articles for the young couple. “What a pity it is, we have no longer any of that fine linen which Louisa spun and wove so beautifully.” Alfred affected ignorance of the matter, and the countess explained, whereupon Sir Alfred vowed he would follow his rival, Stanley’s nephew, to the ends of the earth to rescue such a relic from his hands. The jest was taken in good part by all. Sir Alfred dropt no hint of any further acquaintance with the matter than what had now been told him for the first time.
The evening preceding that of the wedding, besides the beautiful Corbeille de noces presented by her lover, Louisa also received another basket from an unknown quarter. All seemed surprised at the gift, and looked on with interest while Louisa hurriedly broke it open. But what was her astonishment and consternation when she found it to contain the very linens she had sent to the inn on the morning after the shipwreck, neatly folded up, under a heap of flowers, with a scroll of paper bearing these words:
‘Mark of changeless love the token
In these snowy threads unbroken.’
Louisa read the motto and grew pale—her mother looked embarrassed—the count looked grave—and, to increase the dilemma, at this critical juncture, the door of the room was thrown open, and the long-wished for Edward Stanley entered at the very moment when his absence would have been most desired.
Gratitude, however, instantly checked every other feeling, and Stanley was quickly surrounded by the whole family, who overwhelmed him with the expressions of their joy and thanks.
Stanley attempted for awhile to look grave. “I like not such comedies!” he cried. “But there is the man who is to blame for it all,” he added, pointing to young Montrose. “’Twas he, Louisa, whom the storm cast upon your coast. He is Edward Stanley’s nephew!”
Innumerable questions and explanations now followed each other. No one had recognized in the now blooming Alfred the pale and sickly shipwrecked youth.
“Now, Alfred, what sorrow would you not have spared me,” began Louisa, “if you had at the moment—“
“Nay, I approved of his conduct,” interrupted the uncle. “I commend him for the mastery he then exercised over his feelings. My nephew would not have it said, that he owed the hand of Count P__’s daughter to a feeling of gratitude towards me. And is it not better now?”
All agreed that it was; and the following day Sir Alfred Montrose led his beautiful bride to the altar.