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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
How the History of Penarvan was Written
By Leonard Sylvain Jules Sandeau (1811–1883)
 
        
From ‘The House of Penarvan’: Translation of Lady Georgiana Fullerton
  
  [The Marquise de Penarvan, an aristocrat of the old régime, has been actuated all her life by a ruling passion of family pride. She sacrifices her husband to it; and after his death, her greatest interest is the history of the family of Penarvan, which the Abbé Pyrmil, the chaplain and devoted friend of the family, is writing. She does not love her only child,—her daughter Paule,—because she cannot perpetuate the family name.
  After vainly trying to win her mother’s consent to her marriage with Henri Coverley,—a young man who, although not of noble birth, is in every other respect worthy of her,—Paule marries without it.]

FROM the day of her marriage Paule was seized with what some would call a natural, others a morbid, self-reproach, the suffering of which was increased by everything which otherwise would have rendered her happy. She had made a desperate effort to secure the bliss so long coveted, and the capacity of enjoying it when attained was denied to her.  1
  Young, beautiful, worshiped by her husband, in the midst of everything this world can offer of comfort and pleasure, she suffered unremittingly, and in secret wept bitterly; loving her husband as much as ever, the wealth and luxury with which he surrounded her she simply hated. Her thoughts were perpetually reverting to the stern mother, and the old château she had forsaken. A strange sort of yearning for its poverty and simplicity took possession of her soul. She turned with loathing from all the magnificence that her sensitive feelings compared with the penury of the home where her early life had been overshadowed and saddened.  2
  For the first time she understood the grand side of her mother’s character,—the dignity of her uncomplaining poverty. She was haunted by the thought of the tears she had—for the first time—seen in those eyes, the severe or forgiving glance of which she was never again to meet; they seemed to be dropping like molten lead on her heart.  3
  Henri lavished upon her all that the most devoted affection and tenderest care could devise. His patience, his delicacy of feeling, never failed; and she responded to his love with passionate affection.  4
  “Oh, if you knew how I love you!” she would say. “I would suffer far more even than I do suffer, rather than forego the blessing of being your wife. Yes, I bless the hour when I first saw you; and I thank God morning, noon, and night for the priceless gift of your love. But oh, forgive me if I cannot be happy, if I cannot forget; if I cannot live on in the midst of splendor and gayety, unforgiven and unblest by my mother.”  5
  If Henri reminded her of all she had suffered under that mother’s roof, she would answer:—  6
  “I was not patient enough; I did not wait as I ought to have done, Henri. I think—I have thought so ever since—that she was beginning to love me when I left her.”  7
  They wrote: only the abbé answered, and his letters held out no hope. They still went on writing, and with no other result. They traveled in Italy, in Greece; but in the midst of all the wonderful beauties of nature and art there was always before Paule’s eyes the same vision,—her mother growing old in solitude and poverty.  8
  She gave birth to a child; and the joys of maternal love only sharpened the pangs of a remorse which had grown into a malady. The more intensely she cared for her little girl, the more acute became her regrets and her fears. Would that little one abandon her one day as she had abandoned her mother? Had she any claim upon her own child,—she who had disobeyed and defied her only parent?  9
  Once more Paule wrote to the marquise: no answer came. The abbé was obliged to admit that her letters were never opened, that her name was never to be uttered in her mother’s ears.  10
  They spent a year on the banks of the lake of Como. As time went by, Paule found Henri even more excellent, more perfect, than she had ever supposed that any one could be. It was terrible to her to feel that the wife of such a man should be an unhappy woman; that with such a husband and with such a child she should be wasting away with sorrow. They came back to France discouraged and depressed.  11
  People are often more selfish in their sorrows than in their joys; and yet there is no sort of selfishness which those who are conscientious and kind-hearted should more anxiously shrink from. Paule awakened at last to a sense of the fault she was committing by making the weight of her self-reproach sadden her husband’s life; and she made up her mind to reappear in society.  12
  The magnificent house of the Coverleys was thrown open to the world; and she did the honors of balls and parties with simplicity and grace. She was as much admired then as the first days she had been seen at Bordeaux, walking arm in arm with the prince. Her dress was always simple: she disliked to wear jewels or trinkets.  13
  But in spite of all efforts to appear happy in Henri’s presence, and her pleasure in her little girl, who was a singularly engaging child, he could not help seeing that she was miserable; and so did Madame de Soleyre, who noticed that whereas formerly she seldom spoke of the marquise, and seemed afraid almost of mentioning her name, now she was always anxious to revert to the subject of her mother’s past life, and questioned her minutely as to the time when, in the height of her youth and beauty, Renée de Penarvan had acted such a noble and heroic part, and been the admiration of the Vendean nobility. Paule accused herself of the indifference and want of understanding, as she called it, which had made her fail to appreciate the grand side of her mother’s nature.  14
  One night when they had returned from a ball, Paule threw herself down on a sofa and burst into an agony of tears. She had struggled all the evening with an oppressive sense of contrast between her mother’s fate and her own; and at last the overburdened heart gave way, and she could not control herself any longer, even in Henri’s presence. He knelt by her side, and she laid her head on his shoulder.  15
  “What is it, my darling?” he tenderly said. “What can I do to comfort you?”  16
  “Henri,” she whispered, “I must go and see my mother. Even at the risk of her driving me away,—of her cursing me,—I must go to her.”  17
  “But, dearest, if she refuses—and she will refuse—to see you?”  18
  “Then I shall hide myself in the park; I shall catch sight of her in some way or other.”  19
  “We shall set off to-morrow,” Henri said.  20
  “Oh, how good, how kind you are, my own love!” she said, throwing her arms round his neck.  21
  Two days afterwards, in the dusk of an October evening, they arrived at the inn at Tiffange with their little girl, then just three years old. It was too late to send for the abbé, and they set out on foot for the château; Paule leading the way, and Henri carrying the child.  22
  They entered the park through one of the breaks in the wall, and walked along the alleys strewed with dead leaves. As they approached the house, Paule pointed to a window in which a light was visible, and whispered to her husband:—  23
  “That is her room. She must be sitting there.”  24
  It was a strange thing that those young people, who had youth and beauty and mutual love to gladden their lives, who possessed houses and villas and many a ship crossing the ocean laden with rich merchandise, and whose wealth was every day increasing, should have been standing before that dilapidated building with the one wish, the one desire, to be admitted within those doors, closed to them perhaps forever.  25
  In another window a light gleamed also. That was the abbé’s room. What was he doing? Was he praying for his little Paule? Was he still working at his ‘History of the House of Penarvan’?  26
  When Paule was a child, she used to stand under the abbé’s window and clap her hands together three times to summon him into the garden. She advanced and made the well-known signal. The window opened, and the abbé, looking like a tall ghost, appeared, leaning out of it as if to dive into the outward darkness.  27
  “Abbé my own abbé,” Paule cried in a mournful voice.  28
  The ghost disappeared; and a moment afterwards the abbé was clasping Paule, her husband, and her child in his wide arms, and then dragging them like secreted criminals into his room.  29
  “You here, my child, and you, M. Henri, and this darling?”  30
  “I am broken-hearted, abbé: I cannot live on in this state. Do, do make my mother see me. Oh, do get her to forgive me.”  31
  The abbé had taken the little child on his knees, and she was looking up into his face with a pretty smile.  32
  “Oh, M. l’Abbé, do help us!” Coverley said.  33
  The abbé was looking attentively at the little girl. She was so like what Renée had been as a child.  34
  “What does my mother feel? Does she allow you to speak of us? Does she ever mention me?”  35
  The abbé was silent. He could not say yes, he could not bear to say no.  36
  “I see there is no hope,” Paule exclaimed in a despairing manner. “It is really to her as if I were dead!”  37
  The abbé made the little child join her little hands together and said to her:—  38
  “Do you love the good God, my child?”  39
  “Oh yes,” she answered.  40
  “Then say to the good God, ‘My God, come with me.’”  41
  “My God, come with me,” the little one repeated; and then the abbé took her in his arms and exclaimed:—  42
  “Come along, come with me; and may God help thee.”  43
  The marquise was sitting in her old oak-wood chair by the chimney, where two small logs were burning; an ill-trimmed lamp by her side. Her features had grown thin and sharp; her hollow cheeks and dim eyes spoke of silent suffering and inward struggles, and of the secret work which had been going on in her soul during the last four years. She looked like the ghost of her former self; but there was still something striking and impressive in her appearance. She seemed crushed indeed, but not subdued. Around her nothing but ruins, within her nothing but bitter recollections; and a blank, desolate future in view.  44
  Had she too felt remorse? Had she heard a voice whispering misgivings as to the course she had pursued? Had she closed her ears to it? Was it true, as Paule in her grief and repentance had suspected, that she had begun to love and admire her child during the months which had preceded their final separation? Did she ask herself sometimes, when kneeling in the dismantled chapel, and before that crucifix which war and devastation had spared, if she had acted up to the Christian as well as to the ancestral traditions of her race when she had driven that child away from her forever? And the mourning garb in which she was arrayed,—did she feel certain that it was God’s will, and not her own unrelenting heart, which had condemned her to wear it?  45
  No one could tell, not even the abbé. But that she was becoming every day more thin, more haggard, more gloomy, others besides him could observe.  46
  As in a besieged city where famine is doing fell work, and from which a cry for mercy and life despairingly rises, a stern commander refuses to capitulate, holds out, and dooms himself and others to a lingering death,—so the pride of her soul stifled the yearnings, the pleadings, the cries of nature; and never perhaps had they been more distinctly heard, never had the weight of solitude and loneliness pressed more heavily on Renée de Penarvan’s heart than upon that autumnal evening. As she sat in that large, dimly lighted room, her elbow resting on the side of her arm-chair, her head on her hand, a slight noise made her look up: the door opened, and a little child came in. Alarmed at the sight of the pale lady in black by the fireside, the child stopped in the middle of the room, and her smiling face became grave.  47
  “Who are you?” asked the marquise, who did not even know that Paule had a child.  48
  “I am a little girl.”  49
  “Come here, my child.”  50
  Taking courage, the little thing toddled up to the chimney, and put her little hands on the arm of the oak chair.  51
  “What is your name?” the marquise asked, softened by the sight of the lovely little face.  52
  “Renée,” the child answered.  53
  The marquise started with emotion and a sort of fear; she scanned the features of the child, she saw, she guessed, she understood it all.  54
  “Go back to your mother,” she said in a trembling voice. “Go back to Madame Coverley.”  55
  Frightened at the stern voice and manner of the lady, the little thing turned round and slowly went towards the door.  56
  The marquise watched her with a beating heart. During the instants it took the child to cross the room, the whole of her life passed before her. She saw her gentle, affectionate husband riding from the hall door on his way to a bloody death; she saw her beautiful, gentle daughter driven from her home: and now that lovely little creature so like herself—with her fair hair, her white skin, her blue eyes—was disappearing also.  57
  She looked round at the pictures on the walls: she felt as if they, those ancestors, to whom she had sacrificed everything, had doomed her to a lingering death.  58
  And meanwhile the little girl had reached the door. Renée was still hesitating. The child turned round and said with a reproachful expression in her baby face:—  59
  “You not my grandmamma. You not love Renée. You send Renée away.”  60
  She could not hold out,—the poor marquise! She uttered a sort of cry. She sprang up, seized the child in her arms, kissed her, wept over her, hugged her to her breast.  61
  “Stay, stay, my little one, stay,” she wildly exclaimed; “stay, my little life, my darling, my treasure.”  62
 
  A YEAR had elapsed; and on the banks of the Sèvres there were no longer any ruins to be seen. The old castle of Penarvan had recovered its former aspect. The towers, the walls, the handsome entrance, were all restored, the armorial bearings had reappeared, the invading weeds were banished from the court. The stables were filled with horses and carriages, the kennel with dogs.  63
  In the handsomely furnished drawing-room the whole set of ancestors looked new and bright in their cleaned state and fresh-gilded frames. Inside and outside the house there was life and animation. The ruined farms were rebuilt, the greatest part of the estate repurchased; manufactories of ropes and sails rose on the banks of the river.  64
  The time of ragged cassocks had likewise gone by; the chapel of the château had recovered its old splendor. The abbé officiated in great pomp, on Sundays and festivals, at a magnificent altar; and the seat of the lords of the manor had been restored to its wonted place. A look of happiness and prosperity reigned in the whole neighborhood. Respect for the past was joined to modern enterprise, and the poetry of old associations to the activity of useful labor.  65
  Henri Coverley had not only repurchased the estates of the ancient domain of Penarvan, he had also bought back La Brigazière.  66
  M. Michaud, who possessed several houses in the neighborhood of Rennes, looked with contempt on that little old-fashioned manor-house, and was quite ready to sell it. Père Michaud had now grown into that famous Michaud so conspicuous on the Liberal benches in the days of the Restoration, who denounced the nobility and protested against the feudal distinctions, till in 1830 the new government stopped his mouth by making him a baron.  67
  On a beautiful summer’s afternoon the Marquise de Penarvan, with her little granddaughter and the abbé, were sitting in that same drawing-room where we have so often seen them. Renée was still handsome; her magnificent fair hair was not yet tinged by a single thread of gray. The abbé was rather less thin than he used to be. Little Renée was sitting on his knees, and learning to read in his history; the first chapters of which were being printed for private circulation.  68
  That child was now the abbé’s idol; she made the happiness of his declining years. As to the marquise, she was fondly, passionately attached to her grandchild. The old Renée loved the little Renée with a tenderness she had never before felt towards any human being. She had taken, as it were, possession of the child; and her softened but still despotic nature showed itself in the excess to which she carried her devotion to this little creature.  69
  Paule and Henri were just going out on horseback; the marquise stood at the window and watched them as they rode down the avenue.  70
  “Abbé,” she said, calling him to her side, “look at them.” And she made a gesture which implied, “How handsome they are; how happy they seem!”  71
  The abbé trying to look very sly, said in a low voice:—  72
  “I married them.”  73
  “O you arch-deceiver, you abominable hypocrite,” the marquise exclaimed: “it was just like you,—you have always played me tricks.”  74
  They both laughed; the abbé rubbed his hands in a self-complacent manner.  75
  “Well, well,” the marquise said, “we shall be quite a large party this evening: you know we expect Madame de Soleyre.”  76
  The abbé had returned to little Renée, and was again opening his book.  77
  “Really, abbé,” the marquise exclaimed, “you have no mercy on that child: you will bore her to death.”  78
  “Not at all, Madame la Marquise: Mademoiselle Renée promises to be a very good scholar; and she likes stories about battles, which her mamma never did.”  79
  Little Renée pointed with her small finger to one of the paintings in the manuscript, and said:—  80
  “Guy de Penarvan die at Massoure.”  81
  It may be imagined if she was applauded by the abbé, and hugged by her grandmother; who, after kissing her over and over again, turned to the abbé and said:—  82
  “But, by the way, is it at last finished,—that eternal history?”  83
  “That eternal history is finished, madame,” the abbé answered, in a rather touchy manner. “Yesterday I copied into it the last lines of the chapter devoted to the memory of your husband, the late marquis.”  84
  “You have not quite accomplished your task, abbé: your history is not complete.”  85
  “Alas, Madame la Marquise, I know that too well. That wretched prelate—”  86
  “Oh, but without reckoning the prelate there is still something to add to it.”  87
  “Something more, madame? what can that be?”  88
  “Well, and my history, M. l’Abbé! You make no mention of me.”  89
  “I write the history of the dead, not of the living, Madame la Marquise; and I fully reckon on never writing yours.”  90
  “I will dictate to you what to say about me. Sit down here and take a pen.”  91
  The abbé, somewhat surprised, did as he was told; and seated himself in an expectant position.  92
  “At the top of the page write: ‘Louise Charlotte Antoinette Renée, Marquise de Penarvan,—last of the name.’”  93
  “‘Last of the name,’” the abbé re-echoed.  94
  “And now write:—‘She lived like a recluse, devoted to the worship of her ancestry; and found out—though rather late—that if it is right to honor the dead, it is very sweet to love the living.’”  95
  “Is that all, madame?”  96
  “Yes, my dear abbé,” Renée answered, taking her grandchild in her arms, and fondly kissing her soft cheek. “But if you like you may add:—
  “‘HERE ENDS THE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE OF PENARVAN.’”
  97
 
 
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