> Oh! the joy Of young ideas, painted on the mind In the warm glowing colour_ancy spreads On objects not yet known, when all is new, And all is lovely!
> SACRED DRAMAS
We now return to Languedoc and to the mention of Count De Villefort, th_obleman, who succeeded to an estate of the Marquis De Villeroi situated nea_he monastery of St. Claire. It may be recollected, that this chateau wa_ninhabited, when St. Aubert and his daughter were in the neighbourhood, an_hat the former was much affected on discovering himself to be so nea_hateau-le-Blanc, a place, concerning which the good old La Voisin afterward_ropped some hints, that had alarmed Emily's curiosity.
It was in the year 1584, the beginning of that, in which St. Aubert died, tha_rancis Beauveau, Count De Villefort, came into possession of the mansion an_xtensive domain called Chateau-le-Blanc, situated in the province o_anguedoc, on the shore of the Mediterranean. This estate, which, during som_enturies, had belonged to his family, now descended to him, on the decease o_is relative, the Marquis De Villeroi, who had been latterly a man of reserve_anners and austere character; circumstances, which, together with the dutie_f his profession, that often called him into the field, had prevented an_egree of intimacy with his cousin, the Count De Villefort. For many years, they had known little of each other, and the Count received the firs_ntelligence of his death, which happened in a distant part of France, together with the instruments, that gave him possession of the domain Chateau- le-Blanc; but it was not till the following year, that he determined to visi_hat estate, when he designed to pass the autumn there. The scenes of Chateau- le- Blanc often came to his remembrance, heightened by the touches, which _arm imagination gives to the recollection of early pleasures; for, many year_efore, in the life-time of the Marchioness, and at that age when the mind i_articularly sensible to impressions of gaiety and delight, he had onc_isited this spot, and, though he had passed a long intervening period amids_he vexations and tumults of public affairs, which too frequently corrode th_eart, and vitiate the taste, the shades of Languedoc and the grandeur of it_istant scenery had never been remembered by him with indifference.
During many years, the chateau had been abandoned by the late Marquis, and, being inhabited only by an old steward and his wife, had been suffered to fal_uch into decay. To superintend the repairs, that would be requisite to mak_t a comfortable residence, had been a principal motive with the Count fo_assing the autumnal months in Languedoc; and neither the remonstrances, o_he tears of the Countess, for, on urgent occasions, she could weep, wer_owerful enough to overcome his determination. She prepared, therefore, t_bey the command, which she could not conquer, and to resign the ga_ssemblies of Paris,—where her beauty was generally unrivalled and won th_pplause, to which her wit had but feeble claim—for the twilight canopy o_oods, the lonely grandeur of mountains and the solemnity of gothic halls an_f long, long galleries, which echoed only the solitary step of a domestic, o_he measured clink, that ascended from the great clock—the ancient monitor o_he hall below. From these melancholy expectations she endeavoured to reliev_er spirits by recollecting all that she had ever heard, concerning the joyou_intage of the plains of Languedoc; but there, alas! no airy forms would boun_o the gay melody of Parisian dances, and a view of the rustic festivities o_easants could afford little pleasure to a heart, in which even the feeling_f ordinary benevolence had long since decayed under the corruptions o_uxury.
The Count had a son and a daughter, the children of a former marriage, who, h_esigned, should accompany him to the south of France; Henri, who was in hi_wentieth year, was in the French service; and Blanche, who was not ye_ighteen, had been hitherto confined to the convent, where she had been place_mmediately on her father's second marriage. The present Countess, who ha_either sufficient ability, or inclination, to superintend the education o_er daughter-in-law, had advised this step, and the dread of superior beaut_ad since urged her to employ every art, that might prevail on the Count t_rolong the period of Blanche's seclusion; it was, therefore, with extrem_ortification, that she now understood he would no longer submit on thi_ubject, yet it afforded her some consolation to consider, that, though th_ady Blanche would emerge from her convent, the shades of the country would, for some time, veil her beauty from the public eye.
On the morning, which commenced the journey, the postillions stopped at th_onvent, by the Count's order, to take up Blanche, whose heart beat wit_elight, at the prospect of novelty and freedom now before her. As the time o_er departure drew nigh, her impatience had increased, and the last night, during which she counted every note of every hour, had appeared the mos_edious of any she had ever known. The morning light, at length, dawned; th_atin-bell rang; she heard the nuns descending from their chambers, and sh_tarted from a sleepless pillow to welcome the day, which was to emancipat_er from the severities of a cloister, and introduce her to a world, wher_leasure was ever smiling, and goodness ever blessed—where, in short, nothin_ut pleasure and goodness reigned! When the bell of the great gate rang, an_he sound was followed by that of carriage wheels, she ran, with a palpitatin_eart, to her lattice, and, perceiving her father's carriage in the cour_elow, danced, with airy steps, along the gallery, where she was met by a nu_ith a summons from the abbess. In the next moment, she was in the parlour, and in the presence of the Countess who now appeared to her as an angel, tha_as to lead her into happiness. But the emotions of the Countess, on beholdin_er, were not in unison with those of Blanche, who had never appeared s_ovely as at this moment, when her countenance, animated by the lightnin_mile of joy, glowed with the beauty of happy innocence.
After conversing for a few minutes with the abbess, the Countess rose to go.
This was the moment, which Blanche had anticipated with such eage_xpectation, the summit from which she looked down upon the fairy-land o_appiness, and surveyed all its enchantment; was it a moment, then, for tear_f regret? Yet it was so. She turned, with an altered and dejecte_ountenance, to her young companions, who were come to bid her farewell, an_ept! Even my lady abbess, so stately and so solemn, she saluted with a degre_f sorrow, which, an hour before, she would have believed it impossible t_eel, and which may be accounted for by considering how reluctantly we al_art, even with unpleasing objects, when the separation is consciously fo_ver. Again, she kissed the poor nuns and then followed the Countess from tha_pot with tears, which she expected to leave only with smiles.
But the presence of her father and the variety of objects, on the road, soo_ngaged her attention, and dissipated the shade, which tender regret ha_hrown upon her spirits. Inattentive to a conversation, which was passin_etween the Countess and a Mademoiselle Bearn, her friend, Blanche sat, los_n pleasing reverie, as she watched the clouds floating silently along th_lue expanse, now veiling the sun and stretching their shadows along th_istant scene, and then disclosing all his brightness. The journey continue_o give Blanche inexpressible delight, for new scenes of nature were ever_nstant opening to her view, and her fancy became stored with gay an_eautiful imagery.
It was on the evening of the seventh day, that the travellers came within vie_f Chateau-le-Blanc, the romantic beauty of whose situation strongly impresse_he imagination of Blanche, who observed, with sublime astonishment, th_yrenean mountains, which had been seen only at a distance during the day, no_ising within a few leagues, with their wild cliffs and immense precipices, which the evening clouds, floating round them, now disclosed, and agai_eiled. The setting rays, that tinged their snowy summits with a roseate hue, touched their lower points with various colouring, while the blueish tint, that pervaded their shadowy recesses, gave the strength of contrast to th_plendour of light. The plains of Languedoc, blushing with the purple vine an_iversified with groves of mulberry, almond and olives, spread far to th_orth and the east; to the south, appeared the Mediterranean, clear a_rystal, and blue as the heavens it reflected, bearing on its bosom vessels, whose white sails caught the sun-beams, and gave animation to the scene. On _igh promontory, washed by the waters of the Mediterranean, stood her father'_ansion, almost secluded from the eye by woods of intermingled pine, oak an_hesnut, which crowned the eminence, and sloped towards the plains, on on_ide; while, on the other, they extended to a considerable distance along th_ea-shores.
As Blanche drew nearer, the gothic features of this antient mansio_uccessively appeared—first an embattled turret, rising above the trees—the_he broken arch of an immense gate-way, retiring beyond them; and she almos_ancied herself approaching a castle, such as is often celebrated in earl_tory, where the knights look out from the battlements on some champion below, who, clothed in black armour, comes, with his companions, to rescue the fai_ady of his love from the oppression of his rival; a sort of legends, to whic_he had once or twice obtained access in the library of her convent, that, like many others, belonging to the monks, was stored with these reliques o_omantic fiction.
The carriages stopped at a gate, which led into the domain of the chateau, bu_hich was now fastened; and the great bell, that had formerly served t_nnounce the arrival of strangers, having long since fallen from its station, a servant climbed over a ruined part of the adjoining wall, to give notice t_hose within of the arrival of their lord.
As Blanche leaned from the coach window, she resigned herself to the sweet an_entle emotions, which the hour and the scenery awakened. The sun had now lef_he earth, and twilight began to darken the mountains; while the distan_aters, reflecting the blush that still glowed in the west, appeared like _ine of light, skirting the horizon. The low murmur of waves, breaking on th_hore, came in the breeze, and, now and then, the melancholy dashing of oar_as feebly heard from a distance. She was suffered to indulge her pensiv_ood, for the thoughts of the rest of the party were silently engaged upon th_ubjects of their several interests. Meanwhile, the Countess, reflecting, wit_egret, upon the gay parties she had left at Paris, surveyed, with disgust, what she thought the gloomy woods and solitary wildness of the scene; and, shrinking from the prospect of being shut up in an old castle, was prepared t_eet every object with displeasure. The feelings of Henri were somewha_imilar to those of the Countess; he gave a mournful sigh to the delights o_he capital, and to the remembrance of a lady, who, he believed, had engage_is affections, and who had certainly fascinated his imagination; but th_urrounding country, and the mode of life, on which he was entering, had, fo_im, at least, the charm of novelty, and his regret was softened by the ga_xpectations of youth. The gates being at length unbarred, the carriage move_lowly on, under spreading chesnuts, that almost excluded the remains of day, following what had been formerly a road, but which now, overgrown wit_uxuriant vegetation, could be traced only by the boundary, formed by trees, on either side, and which wound for near half a mile among the woods, befor_t reached the chateau. This was the very avenue that St. Aubert and Emily ha_ormerly entered, on their first arrival in the neighbourhood, with the hop_f finding a house, that would receive them, for the night, and had s_bruptly quitted, on perceiving the wildness of the place, and a figure, whic_he postillion had fancied was a robber.
'What a dismal place is this!' exclaimed the Countess, as the carriag_enetrated the deeper recesses of the woods. 'Surely, my lord, you do not mea_o pass all the autumn in this barbarous spot! One ought to bring hither a cu_f the waters of Lethe, that the remembrance of pleasanter scenes may no_eighten, at least, the natural dreariness of these.'
'I shall be governed by circumstances, madam,' said the Count, 'this barbarou_pot was inhabited by my ancestors.'
The carriage now stopped at the chateau, where, at the door of the great hall, appeared the old steward and the Parisian servants, who had been sent t_repare the chateau, waiting to receive their lord. Lady Blanche no_erceived, that the edifice was not built entirely in the gothic style, bu_hat it had additions of a more modern date; the large and gloomy hall, however, into which she now entered, was entirely gothic, and sumptuou_apestry, which it was now too dark to distinguish, hung upon the walls, an_epictured scenes from some of the antient Provencal romances. a vast gothi_indow, embroidered with CLEMATIS and eglantine, that ascended to the south, led the eye, now that the casements were thrown open, through this verdan_hade, over a sloping lawn, to the tops of dark woods, that hung upon the bro_f the promontory. Beyond, appeared the waters of the Mediterranean, stretching far to the south, and to the east, where they were lost in th_orizon; while, to the north-east, they were bounded by the luxuriant shore_f Languedoc and Provence, enriched with wood, and gay with vines and slopin_astures; and, to the south-west, by the majestic Pyrenees, now fading fro_he eye, beneath the gradual gloom.
Blanche, as she crossed the hall, stopped a moment to observe this lovel_rospect, which the evening twilight obscured, yet did not conceal. But sh_as quickly awakened from the complacent delight, which this scene ha_iffused upon her mind, by the Countess, who, discontented with every objec_round, and impatient for refreshment and repose, hastened forward to a larg_arlour, whose cedar wainscot, narrow, pointed casements, and dark ceiling o_arved cypress wood, gave it an aspect of peculiar gloom, which the ding_reen velvet of the chairs and couches, fringed with tarnished gold, had onc_een designed to enliven.
While the Countess enquired for refreshment, the Count, attended by his son, went to look over some part of the chateau, and Lady Blanche reluctantl_emained to witness the discontent and ill-humour of her step-mother.
'How long have you lived in this desolate place?' said her ladyship, to th_ld house keeper, who came to pay her duty.
'Above twenty years, your ladyship, on the next feast of St. Jerome.'
'How happened it, that you have lived here so long, and almost alone, too? _nderstood, that the chateau had been shut up for some years?'
'Yes, madam, it was for many years after my late lord, the Count, went to th_ars; but it is above twenty years, since I and my husband came into hi_ervice. The place is so large, and has of late been so lonely, that we wer_ost in it, and, after some time, we went to live in a cottage at the end o_he woods, near some of the tenants, and came to look after the chateau, ever_ow and then. When my lord returned to France from the wars, he took a dislik_o the place, and never came to live here again, and so he was satisfied wit_ur remaining at the cottage. Alas—alas! how the chateau is changed from wha_t once was! What delight my late lady used to take in it! I well remembe_hen she came here a bride, and how fine it was. Now, it has been neglected s_ong, and is gone into such decay! I shall never see those days again!'
The Countess appearing to be somewhat offended by the thoughtless simplicity, with which the old woman regretted former times, Dorothee added—'But th_hateau will now be inhabited, and cheerful again; not all the world coul_empt me to live in it alone.'
'Well, the experiment will not be made, I believe,' said the Countess, displeased that her own silence had been unable to awe the loquacity of thi_ustic old housekeeper, now spared from further attendance by the entrance o_he Count, who said he had been viewing part of the chateau, and found, tha_t would require considerable repairs and some alterations, before it would b_erfectly comfortable, as a place of residence. 'I am sorry to hear it, m_ord,' replied the Countess. 'And why sorry, madam?' 'Because the place wil_ll repay your trouble; and were it even a paradise, it would be insufferabl_t such a distance from Paris.'
The Count made no reply, but walked abruptly to a window. 'There are windows, my lord, but they neither admit entertainment, or light; they shew only _cene of savage nature.'
'I am at a loss, madam,' said the Count, 'to conjecture what you mean b_avage nature. Do those plains, or those woods, or that fine expanse of water, deserve the name?'
'Those mountains certainly do, my lord,' rejoined the Countess, pointing t_he Pyrenees, 'and this chateau, though not a work of rude nature, is, to m_aste, at least, one of savage art.' The Count coloured highly. 'This place, madam, was the work of my ancestors,' said he, 'and you must allow me to say, that your present conversation discovers neither good taste, or good manners.'
Blanche, now shocked at an altercation, which appeared to be increasing to _erious disagreement, rose to leave the room, when her mother's woman entere_t; and the Countess, immediately desiring to be shewn to her own apartment, withdrew, attended by Mademoiselle Bearn.
Lady Blanche, it being not yet dark, took this opportunity of exploring ne_cenes, and, leaving the parlour, she passed from the hall into a wid_allery, whose walls were decorated by marble pilasters, which supported a_rched roof, composed of a rich mosaic work. Through a distant window, tha_eemed to terminate the gallery, were seen the purple clouds of evening and _andscape, whose features, thinly veiled in twilight, no longer appeare_istinctly, but, blended into one grand mass, stretched to the horizon, coloured only with a tint of solemn grey.
The gallery terminated in a saloon, to which the window she had seen throug_n open door, belonged; but the increasing dusk permitted her only a_mperfect view of this apartment, which seemed to be magnificent and of moder_rchitecture; though it had been either suffered to fall into decay, or ha_ever been properly finished. The windows, which were numerous and large, descended low, and afforded a very extensive, and what Blanche's fanc_epresented to be, a very lovely prospect; and she stood for some time, surveying the grey obscurity and depicturing imaginary woods and mountains, vallies and rivers, on this scene of night; her solemn sensations rathe_ssisted, than interrupted, by the distant bark of a watch- dog, and by th_reeze, as it trembled upon the light foliage of the shrubs. Now and then, appeared for a moment, among the woods, a cottage light; and, at length, wa_eard, afar off, the evening bell of a convent, dying on the air. When sh_ithdrew her thoughts from these subjects of fanciful delight, the gloom an_ilence of the saloon somewhat awed her; and, having sought the door of th_allery, and pursued, for a considerable time, a dark passage, she came to _all, but one totally different from that she had formerly seen. By th_wilight, admitted through an open portico, she could just distinguish thi_partment to be of very light and airy architecture, and that it was pave_ith white marble, pillars of which supported the roof, that rose into arche_uilt in the Moorish style. While Blanche stood on the steps of this portico, the moon rose over the sea, and gradually disclosed, in partial light, th_eauties of the eminence, on which she stood, whence a lawn, now rude an_vergrown with high grass, sloped to the woods, that, almost surrounding th_hateau, extended in a grand sweep down the southern sides of the promontor_o the very margin of the ocean. Beyond the woods, on the north-side, appeare_ long tract of the plains of Languedoc; and, to the east, the landscape sh_ad before dimly seen, with the towers of a monastery, illumined by the moon, rising over dark groves.
The soft and shadowy tint, that overspread the scene, the waves, undulating i_he moon-light, and their low and measured murmurs on the beach, wer_ircumstances, that united to elevate the unaccustomed mind of Blanche t_nthusiasm.
'And have I lived in this glorious world so long,' said she, 'and never til_ow beheld such a prospect—never experienced these delights! Every peasan_irl, on my father's domain, has viewed from her infancy the face of nature; has ranged, at liberty, her romantic wilds, while I have been shut in _loister from the view of these beautiful appearances, which were designed t_nchant all eyes, and awaken all hearts. How can the poor nuns and friars fee_he full fervour of devotion, if they never see the sun rise, or set? Never, till this evening, did I know what true devotion is; for, never before did _ee the sun sink below the vast earth! To-morrow, for the first time in m_ife, I will see it rise. O, who would live in Paris, to look upon black wall_nd dirty streets, when, in the country, they might gaze on the blue heavens, and all the green earth!'
This enthusiastic soliloquy was interrupted by a rustling noise in the hall; and, while the loneliness of the place made her sensible to fear, she though_he perceived something moving between the pillars. For a moment, sh_ontinued silently observing it, till, ashamed of her ridiculou_pprehensions, she recollected courage enough to demand who was there. 'O m_oung lady, is it you?' said the old housekeeper, who was come to shut th_indows, 'I am glad it is you.' The manner, in which she spoke this, with _aint breath, rather surprised Blanche, who said, 'You seemed frightened, Dorothee, what is the matter?'
'No, not frightened, ma'amselle,' replied Dorothee, hesitating and trying t_ppear composed, 'but I am old, and—a little matter startles me.' The Lad_lanche smiled at the distinction. 'I am glad, that my lord the Count is com_o live at the chateau, ma'amselle,' continued Dorothee, 'for it has been man_ year deserted, and dreary enough; now, the place will look a little as i_sed to do, when my poor lady was alive.' Blanche enquired how long it was, since the Marchioness died? 'Alas! my lady,' replied Dorothee, 'so long—that _ave ceased to count the years! The place, to my mind, has mourned ever since, and I am sure my lord's vassals have! But you have lost yourself, ma'amselle,—shall I shew you to the other side of the chateau?'
Blanche enquired how long this part of the edifice had been built. 'Soon afte_y lord's marriage, ma'am,' replied Dorothee. 'The place was large enoug_ithout this addition, for many rooms of the old building were even then neve_ade use of, and my lord had a princely household too; but he thought th_ntient mansion gloomy, and gloomy enough it is!' Lady Blanche now desired t_e shewn to the inhabited part of the chateau; and, as the passages wer_ntirely dark, Dorothee conducted her along the edge of the lawn to th_pposite side of the edifice, where, a door opening into the great hall, sh_as met by Mademoiselle Bearn. 'Where have you been so long?' said she, 'I ha_egun to think some wonderful adventure had befallen you, and that the gian_f this enchanted castle, or the ghost, which, no doubt, haunts it, ha_onveyed you through a trap-door into some subterranean vault, whence you wa_ever to return.'
'No,' replied Blanche, laughingly, 'you seem to love adventures so well, tha_ leave them for you to achieve.'
'Well, I am willing to achieve them, provided I am allowed to describe them.'
'My dear Mademoiselle Bearn,' said Henri, as he met her at the door of th_arlour, 'no ghost of these days would be so savage as to impose silence o_ou. Our ghosts are more civilized than to condemn a lady to a purgator_everer even, than their own, be it what it may.'
Mademoiselle Bearn replied only by a laugh; and, the Count now entering th_oom, supper was served, during which he spoke little, frequently appeared t_e abstracted from the company, and more than once remarked, that the plac_as greatly altered, since he had last seen it. 'Many years have intervene_ince that period,' said he; 'and, though the grand features of the scener_dmit of no change, they impress me with sensations very different from thos_ formerly experienced.'
'Did these scenes, sir,' said Blanche, 'ever appear more lovely, than they d_ow? To me this seems hardly possible.' The Count, regarding her with _elancholy smile, said, 'They once were as delightful to me, as they are no_o you; the landscape is not changed, but time has changed me; from my min_he illusion, which gave spirit to the colouring of nature, is fading fast! I_ou live, my dear Blanche, to re-visit this spot, at the distance of man_ears, you will, perhaps, remember and understand the feelings of you_ather.'
Lady Blanche, affected by these words, remained silent; she looked forward t_he period, which the Count anticipated, and considering, that he, who no_poke, would then probably be no more, her eyes, bent to the ground, wer_iled with tears. She gave her hand to her father, who, smilin_ffectionately, rose from his chair, and went to a window to conceal hi_motion.
The fatigues of the day made the party separate at an early hour, when Blanch_etired through a long oak gallery to her chamber, whose spacious and loft_alls, high antiquated casements, and, what was the effect of these, it_loomy air, did not reconcile her to its remote situation, in this antien_uilding. The furniture, also, was of antient date; the bed was of blu_amask, trimmed with tarnished gold lace, and its lofty tester rose in th_orm of a canopy, whence the curtains descended, like those of such tents a_re sometimes represented in old pictures, and, indeed, much resembling those, exhibited on the faded tapestry, with which the chamber was hung. To Blanche, every object here was matter of curiosity; and, taking the light from he_oman to examine the tapestry, she perceived, that it represented scenes fro_he wars of Troy, though the almost colourless worsted now mocked the glowin_ctions they once had painted. She laughed at the ludicrous absurdity sh_bserved, till, recollecting, that the hands, which had wove it, were, lik_he poet, whose thoughts of fire they had attempted to express, long sinc_ouldered into dust, a train of melancholy ideas passed over her mind, and sh_lmost wept.
Having given her woman a strict injunction to awaken her, before sun- rise, she dismissed her; and then, to dissipate the gloom, which reflection had cas_pon her spirits, opened one of the high casements, and was again cheered b_he face of living nature. The shadowy earth, the air, and ocean—all wa_till. Along the deep serene of the heavens, a few light clouds floate_lowly, through whose skirts the stars now seemed to tremble, and now t_merge with purer splendour. Blanche's thoughts arose involuntarily to th_reat Author of the sublime objects she contemplated, and she breathed _rayer of finer devotion, than any she had ever uttered beneath the vaulte_oof of a cloister. At this casement, she remained till the glooms of midnigh_ere stretched over the prospect. She then retired to her pillow, and, 'wit_ay visions of to-morrow,' to those sweet slumbers, which health and happ_nnocence only know.