A DUTCH STORY.
FROM THE FRENCH OF MADAME D'ARBOUVILLE
BY FREDERICK HARDMAN, Esq.
[MAGA. December 1847.]
It was the hour of sunrise. Not the gorgeous
sunrise of Spain or Italy, when the horizon's
ruddy blaze suddenly revives all that breathes,
when golden rays mingle with the deep azure of a
southern sky, and nature bursts into vitality and
vigour, as if light gave life. The sun rose upon
the chilly shores of Holland. The clouds opened
to afford passage to a pale light, without heat or
brilliancy. Nature passed insensibly from sleep to
waking, but continued torpid when ceasing to slumber.
No cry or joyous song, no flight of birds, or
bleating of flocks, hail the advent of a new day.
On the summit of the dykes, the reed-hedges bend
before the breeze, and the sea-sand, whirled over
the slight obstacle, falls upon the meadows, covering
their verdure with a moving veil. A river,
yellow with the slime of its banks, flows peaceably
and patiently towards the expectant ocean. Seen
from afar, its waters and its shore appear of one
colour, resembling a sandy plain; save where a ray
of light, breaking upon the surface, reveals by
silvery flashes the passage of the stream. Ponderous
boats descend it, drawn by teams of horses,
whose large feet sink into the sand as they advance
leisurely and without distress to the goal of their
journey. Behind them strides a peasant, whip on
shoulder; he hurries not his cattle, he looks neither
at the stream that flows, nor at the beasts that
draw, nor at the boat that follows; he plods steadily
onwards, trusting to perseverance to attain his end.
Such is a corner of the picture presented to the
traveller in Holland, the country charged, it would
seem, more than any other, to enforce God's command
to the waters, Thou shalt go no farther! This
silent repose of creatures and things, this mild
light, these neutral tints and vast motionless plains,
are not without a certain poetry of their own.
Wherever space and silence are united, poetry finds
place; she loves all things more or less, whether
smiling landscape or dreary desert; light of wing,
a trifle will detain and support her—a blade of
grass often suffices. And Holland, which Butler
has called a large ship always at anchor, has its
beauties for the thoughtful observer. Gradually
one learns to admire this land at war with ocean
and struggling daily for existence; those cities
which compel the waters to flow at their ramparts'
foot to follow the given track, and abide in the
allotted bed; then those days of revolt, when the
waves would fain reconquer their independence,
when they overflow, and inundate, and destroy, and
at last, constrained by the hand of man, subside
and again obey.
As the sun rose, a small boat glided rapidly
down the stream. It had a single occupant, a tall
young man, lithe, skilful, and strong, who, although
apparently in haste, kept near the shore, following
the windings of the bank, and avoiding the centre
of the current, which would have accelerated his
progress. At that early hour the fields were
deserted; the birds alone had risen earlier than
the boatman, whose large hat of grey felt lay
beside him, whilst his brown locks, tossed backward
by the wind, disclosed regular features, a
broad open forehead, and eyes somewhat thoughtful,
like those of the men of the north. His costume
denoted a student from a German university. One
gathered from his extreme youth that his life had
hitherto passed on academic benches, and that it
was still a new and lively pleasure to him to feel
the freshness of morning bathe his brow, the breeze
play with his hair, the stream bear along his bark.
He hastened, for there are times when we count the
hours ill; when we outstrip and tax them with
delay. Then, if we cannot hurry the pace of time,
we prefer at least to wait at the appointed spot.
It calms impatience, and seems a commencement
When the skiff had rounded a promontory of the
bank, its speed increased, as if the eye directing it
had gained sight of the goal. At a short distance
the landscape changed its character. A meadow
sloped down to the stream, fringed by a thick hedge
of willows, half uprooted and bending over the
water. The boat reached the shadow of the trees,
and stopping there, rocked gently on the river,
secured by a chain cast round a branch. The
young man stood up and looked anxiously through
the foliage; then he sang, in a low tone, the burthen
of a ballad, a love-plaint, the national poetry of all
countries. His voice, at first subdued, as if not to
break too suddenly the surrounding silence, gradually
rose as the song drew to a close. The clear
mellow notes escaped from the bower of drooping
leaves, and expired without echo or reply upon the
surface of the pasture. Then he sat down and contemplated
the peaceful picture presented to his
view. The grey sky had that melancholy look so
depressing to the joyless and hopeless; the cold
dull water rolled noiselessly onward; to the left,
the plain extended afar without variety of surface.
A few windmills reared their gaunt arms, waiting
for wind; and the wind, too weak to stir them,
passed on and left them motionless. To the right,
at the extremity of the little meadow, stood a
square house of red bricks and regular construction,
isolated, silent, and melancholy. The thick greenish
glass of the windows refused to reflect the sunbeams;
the roof supported gilded vanes of fantastical
form; the garden was laid out in formal
parterres. A few tulips, drooping their heavy
heads, and dahlias, propped with white sticks, were
the sole flowers growing there, and these were
hemmed in and stifled by hedges of box. Trees,
stunted and shabby, and with dust-covered leaves,
were cut into walls and into various eccentric shapes.
At the corners of the formal alleys, whose complicated
windings were limited to a narrow space,
stood a few plaster figures. One of these alleys
led to the willow hedge. There nature resumed
her rights; the willows grew free and unrestrained,
stretching out from the land and drooping into the
water; their inclined trunks forming flying-bridges,
supported but at one end. The bank was high
enough for a certain space to intervene between the
stream and the horizontal stems. A few branches,
longer than the rest, swept the surface of the river,
and were kept in constant motion by its current.
Beneath this dome of verdure the boat was
moored, and there the young man mused, gazing at
the sky—melancholy as his heart—and at the
stream, in its course uncertain as his destiny. A
few willow leaves fluttered against his brow, one of
his hands hung in the water, a gentle breeze stirred
his hair; nameless flowerets, blooming in the shelter
of the trees, gave out a faint perfume, detectable at
intervals, at the wind's caprice. A bird, hidden in
the foliage, piped an amorous note, and the student,
cradled in his skiff, awaited his love. Ungrateful
that he was! he called time a laggard, and bid him
speed; he was insensible to the charm of the present
hour. Ah! if he grows old, how well will he
understand that fortune then lavished on him the
richest treasures of life—hope and youth!
Suddenly the student started, stood up, and,
with outstretched neck, and eyes riveted on the
trees, he listened, scarce daring to breathe. The
foliage opened, and the face of a young girl was
revealed to his gaze. "Christine!" he exclaimed.
Christine stepped upon the trunk of the lowest
tree, and seated herself with address on this pliant
bench, which her weight, slight as it was, caused
to yield and rock. One of her hands, extended
through the branches that drooped towards the
water, reached that of her lover, who tenderly
clasped it. Then she drew herself up again, and
the tree, less loaded, seemed to obey her will by
imitating her movement. The young man sat in
his boat, with eyes uplifted towards the willow on
which his love reposed.
Christine Van Amberg had none of the distinguishing
features of the country of her birth. Hair
black as the raven's wing formed a frame to a face
full of energy and expression. Her large eyes
were dark and penetrating; her eyebrows, strongly
marked and almost straight, would perhaps have
imparted too decided a character to her young
head, if a charming expression of candour and
naïveté had not given her the countenance of a
child rather than of a woman. Christine was fifteen
years of age. A slender silver circlet bound her
brow and jet-black tresses—a holiday ornament,
according to her country's custom: but her greatest
festival was the sight of her lover. She wore a
simple muslin dress of a pale blue colour; a black
silk mantle, intended to envelop her figure, was
placed upon her hair, and fell back upon her shoulders,
as if the better to screen her from the gaze of
the curious. Seated on a tree trunk, surrounded by
branches and beside the water, like Shakespeare's
Ophelia, Christine was charming. But although
young, beautiful, and beloved, deep melancholy
was the characteristic of her features. Her companion,
too, gazed mournfully at her, with eyes to
which the tears seemed about to start.
"Herbert," said the young girl, stooping towards
her lover, "Herbert, be not so sad! we are
both too young to despair of life. Herbert! better
times will come."
"Christine! they have refused me your hand,
expelled me your dwelling; they would separate
us entirely: they will succeed, to-morrow perhaps!..."
"Never!" exclaimed the young girl, with a
glance like the lightning's flash. But, like that
flash, the expression of energy was momentary, and
gave way to one of calm melancholy.
"If you would, Christine, if you would! ...
how easy were it to fly together, to unite our destinies
on a foreign shore, and to live for each other,
happy and forgotten!... I will lead you to
those glorious lands where the sun shines as you
see it in your dreams—to the summit of lofty
mountains whence the eye discovers a boundless
horizon—to noble forests with their thousand tints
of green, where the fresh breeze shall quicken your
cheek, and sweep from your memory these fogs, this
humid clime, these monotonous plains. Our days
shall pass blissfully in a country worthy of our loves."
As Herbert spoke, the young girl grew animated;
she seemed to see what he described, her eager
eye sought the horizon as though she would over-leap
it, her lips parted as to inhale the mountain
breeze. Then she passed her hand hastily across
her eyes, and sighed deeply. "No!" she exclaimed;
"no, I must remain here!... Herbert,
it is my country: why does it make me suffer?
I remember another sky, another land,—but
no, it is a dream! I was born here, and have
scarcely passed the boundary of this meadow. My
mother sang too often beside my cradle the ballads
and boleros of her native Seville; she told me too
much of Spain, and I love that unknown land as
one pines after an absent friend!"
The young girl glanced at the river, over which
a dense fog was spreading. A few rain-drops pattered
amongst the leaves; she crossed her mantle
on her breast, and her whole frame shivered with
"Leave me, Christine, you suffer!—return home,
and, since you reject my roof and hearth, abide
with those who can shelter and warm you."
A sweet smile played upon Christine's lips. "My
beloved," she said, "near you I prefer the chilling
rain, this rough branch, and the biting wind, to
my seat in the house, far from you, beside the
blazing chimney. Ah! with what joy and confidence
would I start on foot for the farthest corner
of the earth, your arm my sole support, your love
my only wealth. But...."
"What retains you, Christine? your father's affection,
your sisters' tenderness, your happy home?"
The young girl grew pale. "Herbert, it is cruel
to speak thus. Well do I know that my father
loves me not, that my sisters are often unkind, that
my home is unhappy; I know it, indeed I know it,
and I will follow you.... If my mother consents!"
Herbert looked at his mistress with astonishment.
"Child!" he exclaimed, "such consent
will never leave your mother's lips. There are
cases where strength and resolution must be found
in one's own heart. Your mother will never say
"Perhaps!" replied Christine, slowly and gravely.
"My mother loves me; I resemble her in most
things, and her heart understands mine. She knows
that Scripture says a woman shall leave her father
and mother to follow her husband; she is in the
secret of our attachment, and, since our door has
been closed against you, I have not shed a tear that
she has not detected and replied to by another.
You misjudge my mother, Herbert! Something
tells me she has suffered, and knows that a little
happiness is essential to life as the air we breathe.
Nor would it surprise me, if one day, when embracing
me, as she does each night when we are
alone, she were to whisper: Begone, my poor
"I cannot think it, Christine. She will bid you
obey, be comforted, forget!"
"Forget! Herbert, my mother forgets nothing.
To forget is the resource of cowardly hearts. No,—none
will bid me forget."
And once more a gloomy fire flashed in Christine's
eyes, like the rapid passage of a flame which
illumines and instantly expires. It was a revelation
of the future rather than the expression of the
present. An ardent soul dwelt within her, but had
not yet cast off all the encumbrances of childhood.
It struggled to make its way, and at times, succeeding
for a moment, a word or cry revealed its
"No—I shall not forget," added Christine; "I
love you, and you love me, who am so little loved!
You find me neither foolish, nor fantastical, nor capricious;
you understand my reveries and the thousand
strange thoughts that invade my heart. I am very
young, Herbert; and yet, here, with my hand in yours,
I answer for the future. I shall always love you! ...
and see, I do not weep. I have faith in the
happiness of our love; how? when? I know not,—it
is the secret of my Creator, who would not have
sent me upon earth only to suffer. Happiness will
come when He deems right, but come it will! Yes,—I
am young, full of life, I have need of air and
space; I shall not live enclosed and smothered
here. The world is large, and I will know it; my
heart is full of love, and will love for ever. No
tears, dearest! obstacles shall be overcome, they
must give way, for I will be happy!"
"But why delay, Christine? My love! my
wife! an opportunity lost may never be regained.
A minute often decides the fate of a lifetime. Perhaps,
at this very moment, happiness is near us!
A leap into my boat, a few strokes of the oar, and
we are united for ever!... Perhaps, if you again
return to land, we are for ever separated. Christine,
come! The wind rises: beneath my feet is a sail
that will quickly swell and bear us away rapidly as
the wings of yon bird."
Tears flowed fast over Christine's burning cheeks.
She shuddered, looked at her lover, at the horizon,
thought of liberty; she hesitated, and a violent
struggle agitated her soul. At last, hiding her
face amongst the leafage of the willow, she clasped
her arms round its stem, as if to withhold herself
from entering the boat, and in a stifled voice muttered
the words,—"My mother!" A few seconds
afterwards, she raised her pallid countenance.
"If I fled," said she gently, "to whom would my
mother speak of her dear country? Who would
weep with her when she weeps, if I were gone?
She has other children, but they are gay and happy,
and do not resemble her. Only my mother and
myself are sad in our house. My mother would die
of my absence. I must receive her farewell blessing
or remain by her side, chilled like her by this
inclement climate, imprisoned in yonder walls, ill-treated
by those who love me not. Herbert, I will
not fly, I will wait!" And she made a movement
to regain the strand.
"One instant,—yet one second,—Christine! I
know not what chilling presentiment oppresses my
heart. Dearest,—if we were to meet no more! If
this little corner of earth were our last trysting-place—these
melancholy willows the witnesses of
our eternal separation! Is it—can it be—the
last happy hour of my life that has just slipped
He covered his face with his hands, to conceal
his tears. Christine's heart beat violently—but she
Letting herself drop from the tree, she stood upon
the bank, separated from the boat, which could not
come nearer to shore.
"Adieu, Herbert!" said she, "one day I will be
your wife, faithful and loving. It shall be, for I
will have it so. Let us both pray God to hasten
that happy day. Adieu, I love you! Adieu, and
till our next meeting, for I love you!"
The barrier of reeds and willows opened before
the young girl. A few small branches crackled
beneath her tread; there was a slight noise in
the grass and bushes, as when a bird takes flight;
then all was silence.
The clock in the red brick house struck eight,
and the family of Van Amberg the merchant were
mustered in the breakfast-room. Christine was the
only absentee. Near the fire stood the head of the
family—Karl Van Amberg—and beside him his
brother, who, older than himself, yielded the prerogative
of seniority, and left him master of the
community. Madame Van Amberg was working
near a window, and her two elder daughters, fair-haired,
white-skinned Dutchwomen, prepared the
Karl Van Amberg, the dreaded chief of this
family, was of lofty stature; his gait was stiff; his
physiognomy passionless. His face, whose features
at first appeared insignificant, denoted a domineering
temper. His manners were cold. He
spoke little; never to praise, but often in terms of
dry and imperious censure. His glance preceded
his words and rendered them nearly superfluous, so
energetically could that small sunken grey eye
make itself understood. With the sole aid of his
own patience and ambition, Karl Van Amberg had
made a large fortune. His ships covered the seas.
Never loved, always respected, his credit was everywhere
excellent. Absolute monarch in his own
house, none dreamed of opposing his will. All were
mute and awed in his presence. At this moment,
he was leaning against the chimney-piece. His
black garments were very plain, but not devoid of
a certain austere elegance.
William Van Amberg, Karl's brother, was quite
of an opposite character. He would have passed
his life in poverty, subsisting on the scanty income
left him by his parents, had not Karl desired
wealth. He placed his modest fortune in his
brother's hands, saying, "Act as for yourself!"
Attached to his native nook of land, he lived in
peace, smoking and smiling, and learning from
time to time that he was a richer man by a few
hundred thousand francs. One day, he was told
that he possessed a million; in reply, he merely
wrote, "Thanks, Karl; it will be for your children."
Then he forgot his riches, and changed nothing in
his manner of life, even adhering in his dress to
the coarse materials and graceless fashion of a peasant
dreading the vicinity of cities. His youthful
studies had consisted of a course of theology. His
father, a fervent Catholic, destined him for the
church; but it came to pass, as a consequence of his
indecision of character, that William neither took
orders nor married, but lived quietly in his brother's
family. The habitual perusal of religious books
sometimes gave his language a mystical tone, contrasting
with the rustic simplicity of his exterior.
This was his only peculiarity; otherwise he had
nothing remarkable but his warm heart and strong
good sense. He was the primitive type of his
family: his brother was an example of the change
caused by newly-acquired wealth.
Madame Van Amberg, seated at the window,
sewed in silence. Her countenance had the remains
of great beauty, but she was weak and suffering.
A single glance sufficed to fix her birthplace
far from Holland. Her black hair and olive
tint betrayed a southern origin. Silently submissive
to her husband, his iron character had pressed
heavily upon this delicate creature. She had never
murmured; now she was dying, but without complaint.
Her look was one of deep melancholy.
Christine, her third daughter, resembled her. Of
dark complexion, like her mother, she contrasted
strongly with her rosy-cheeked sisters. M. Van
Amberg did not love Christine. Rough and cold,
even to those he secretly cherished, he was severe
and cruel to those he disliked. He had never been
known to kiss Christine. Her mother's were the
only caresses she knew, and even those were
stealthily and tearfully bestowed. The two poor
women hid themselves to love each other.
At intervals, Madame Van Amberg coughed
painfully. The damp climate of Holland was slowly
conducting to her grave the daughter of Spain's
ardent land. Her large melancholy eyes mechanically
sought the monotonous horizon, which had
bounded her view for twenty years. Fog and
rain surrounded the house. She gazed, shivered
as if seized with deadly cold, then resumed her
Eight o'clock had just struck, and the two young
Dutchwomen, who, although rich heiresses, waited
upon their father, had just placed the tea and
smoked beef upon the table, when Karl Van Amberg
turned abruptly to his wife.
"Where is your daughter, madam?"
He spoke of Christine, whom the restless gaze
of Madame Van Amberg vainly sought through the
fog veiling the garden. At her husband's question,
the lady rose, opened the door, and, leaning on the
banister, twice uttered her daughter's name. There
was no reply; she grew pale, and again looked
out anxiously through the fog.
"Go in, Madame," was the surly injunction of
Gothon, the old servant woman, who knelt on the
hall flags, which she had flooded with soap and
water, and was now vigorously scrubbing,—"Go,
in, Madame; the damp increases your cough, and
Mademoiselle Christine is far enough away! The
bird flew before daybreak."
Madame Van Amberg cast a mournful glance
across the meadow, where nothing moved, and into
the parlour, where her stern husband awaited her;
then she went in and sat down at the table, around
which the remainder of the family had already
placed themselves. No one spoke. All could read
displeasure upon M. Van Amberg's countenance,
and none dared attempt to change the course of his
ideas. His wife kept her eyes fixed upon the
window, hoping her daughter's return. Her lips
scarcely tasted the milk that filled her cup; visible
anguish increased the paleness of her sweet, sad
"Annunciata, my dear, take some tea," said her
brother-in-law. "The day is chill and damp, and
you seem to suffer."
Annunciata smiled sadly at William. For sole
answer she raised to her lips the tea he offered
her, but the effort was too painful, and she replaced
the cup upon the table. M. Van Amberg looked
at nobody; he ate, his eyes fixed upon his
"Sister," resumed William, "it is a duty to care
for one's health, and you, who fulfil all your duties,
should not neglect that one."
A slight flush tinged the brow of Annunciata.
Her eyes encountered those of her husband, which
he slowly turned towards her. Trembling, almost
weeping, she ceased her attempts to eat. And the
silence was again unbroken, as at the commencement
of the meal. At last steps were heard in the
passage, the old servant grumbled something which
did not reach the parlour, then the door opened,
and Christine entered; her muslin dress damp with
fog, her graceful curls disordered by the wind, her
black mantle glittering with a thousand little rain-drops.
She was crimson with embarrassment and
fear. Her empty chair was beside her mother; she
sat down, and hung her head; none offered aught
to the truant child, and the silence continued.
Yielding to maternal anxiety, Madame Van Amberg
took a handkerchief and wiped the moisture from
Christine's forehead and hair; then she took her
hands to warm them in her own. For the second
time M. Van Amberg looked at his wife. She let
Christine's hands fall, and remained downcast and
motionless as her daughter. M. Van Amberg rose
from table. A tear glistened in the mother's eyes
on seeing that her daughter had not eaten. But
she said nothing, and returning to the window,
resumed her sewing. Christine remained at table,
preserving her frightened and abashed attitude.
The two eldest girls hastened to remove the breakfast
"Do you not see what Wilhelmina and Maria
are about? Can you not help them?"
At her father's voice, Christine hastily rose,
seized the cups and teapot, and hurried to and fro
from parlour to pantry.
"Gently! You will break something!" cried
M. Van Amberg. "Begin in time, to finish without
Christine stood still in the middle of the room.
Her two sisters smiled as they passed her, and one
of them muttered—for nobody spoke aloud in
M. Van Amberg's presence—"Christine will hardly
learn housekeeping by looking at the stars and
watching the river flow!"
"Now, then, Mademoiselle, you are spoiling
everything here!" said the old servant, who had
just come in; "go and change that wet gown,
which ruins all my furniture."
Christine remained where she was, not daring
to stir without the master's order.
"Go," said M. Van Amberg.
The young girl darted from the room and up the
stairs, reached her chamber, threw herself upon the
bed and burst into tears. Below, Madame Van
Amberg continued to sew, her head bent over her
work. When the cloth was removed, Wilhelmina
and Maria placed a large jug of beer, glasses, long
pipes, and a store of tobacco, upon the mahogany
table, and pushed forward two arm-chairs, in which
Karl and William installed themselves.
"Retire to your apartment, madam," said M.
Van Amberg, in the imperious tone habitual to
him when he addressed his wife,—"I have to discuss
matters which do not concern you. Do not
leave the house; I will call you by-and-by; I wish
to speak with you."
Annunciata bowed in token of obedience, and
left the room. Wilhelmina and Maria approached
their father, who silently kissed their pretty cheeks.
The two brothers lit their pipes, and remained
alone. William was the first to speak.
"Brother Karl!" said he, resting his arms upon
the table, and looking M. Van Amberg in the face,
"before proceeding to business, and at risk of
offending you, I must relieve my heart. Here, all
fear you, and counsel, the salutary support of man,
is denied you."
"Speak, William," coldly replied M. Van Amberg.
"Karl, you treat Annunciata very harshly. God
commands you to protect her, and you allow her to
suffer, perhaps to die, before your eyes, without
caring for her fate. The strong should sustain the
weak. In our native land, we owe kindness to the
stranger who cometh from afar. The husband owes
protection to her he has chosen for his wife. For
all these reasons, brother, I say you treat Annunciata
"Does she complain?" said M. Van Amberg,
filling his glass.
"No, brother; only the strong resist and complain.
A tree falls with a crash, the reed bends
noiselessly to the ground. No, she does not complain,
save by silence and suffering, by constant
and passive obedience, like that of a soulless automaton.
You have deprived her of life, the poor
woman! One day she will cease to move and
breathe; she has long ceased to live!"
"Brother, there are words that should not be
inconsiderately spoken, judgments that should not
be hastily passed, for fear of injustice."
"Do I not know your whole life, Karl, as well as
my own, and can I not therefore speak confidently,
as one well informed?"
M. Van Amberg inhaled the smoke of his pipe,
threw himself back in his arm-chair, and made no
"I know you as I know myself," resumed William,
gently, "although our hearts were made to
love and not to resemble each other. When you
found our father's humble dwelling too small, I
said nothing; you were ambitious; when a man is
born with that misfortune or blessing, he must do
like the birds, who have wings to soar; he must
strive to rise. You departed; I pressed your hand,
and reproached you not; it is right that each man
should be happy his own way. You gained much
gold, and gave me more than I needed. You
returned married, and I did not approve your marriage.
It is wiser to seek a companion in the land
where one's days are to end; it is something to love
the same places and things, and then it is only
generous to leave one's wife a family, friends, well-known
objects to gaze upon. It is counting greatly
on one's-self to take sole charge of her happiness.
Happiness sometimes consists of so many things!
Often an imperceptible atom serves as base to its
vast structure: for my part I do not like presumptuous
experiments on the hearts of others. In
short, you married a foreigner, who perishes with
cold in this country, and sighs, amidst our fogs,
for the sun of Spain. You committed a still greater
fault—Forgive me, brother; I speak plainly, in
order not to return to this subject."
"I am attending to you, William; you are my
"Thanks for your patience, Karl. No longer
young, you married a very young woman. Your
affairs took you to Spain. There you met a needy
Spanish noble, to whom you rendered a weighty
service. You were always generous, and increasing
wealth did not close your hand. This noble had a
daughter, a child of fifteen. In spite of your apparent
coldness, you were smitten by her beauty, and
you asked her of her father. Only one thing struck
you—that she was poor and would be enriched by
the marriage. A refusal of your offer would have
been ingratitude to a benefactor. They gave you
Annunciata, and you took her, brother, without looking
whether joy was in her eyes, without asking the
child whether she willingly followed you, without
interrogating her heart. In that country the heart
is precocious in its awakening ... perhaps
she left behind her some youthful dream ...
some early love.... Forgive me, Karl; the
subject is difficult to discuss."
"Change it, William," said M. Van Amberg,
"Be it so. You returned hither, and when your
business again took you forth upon the ocean, you
left Annunciata to my care. She lived many years
with me in this house. Karl, her youth was joyless
and sad. Isolated and silent, she wore out her days
without pleasure or variety. Your two eldest
daughters, now the life of our dwelling, were then
in the cradle. They were no society to their mother;
I was a very grave companion for that young and
beautiful creature. I have little reading and knowledge,
no imagination; I like my quiet arm-chair,
my old books, and my pipe. I at first allowed myself
to believe—because I loved to believe it—that
Annunciata resembled me—that tranquillity and a
comfortable dwelling would suffice for her happiness,
as they sufficed for mine. But at last I understood—what
you, brother, I fear, have never comprehended—that
she was not born to be a Dutch housewife.
In the first place, the climate tortured her.
She constantly asked me if finer summers would not
come,—if the winters were always so rigorous,—the
fogs so frequent. I told her no, that the year
was a bad one; but I told her a falsehood, for the
winters were always the same. At first she tried
to sing her Sevillian romances and boleros, but soon
her song died away and she wept, for it reminded
her too much of her own native land. Silent and
motionless she sat, desiring, as I have read in the
Bible,—'The wings of the dove to fly away and be
at rest.' Brother, it was a melancholy sight. You
know not how slowly the winter evenings passed
in this parlour. It was dark at four, and she worked
by lamp-light till bed-time. I endeavoured to converse,
but she knew nothing of the things I knew,
and I was ignorant of those that interested her. I
saw at last that the greatest kindness was to leave
her to herself. She worked or was idle, wept or was
calm, and I averted my eyes to give her the only
consolation in my power,—a little liberty. But it
was very sad, brother!"
There was a moment's silence, broken by M. Van
Amberg. "Madame Van Amberg was in her own
dwelling," said he, severely, "with her children,
and under the protection of a devoted friend. Her
husband toiled in foreign parts to increase the fortune
of the family; she remained at home to keep
house and educate her daughters; all that is very
natural." And he filled his pipe.
"True," replied William; "but still she was
unhappy. Was it a crime? God will decide. Leave
her to His justice, Karl, and let us be merciful!
During your long absence, chance conducted hither
some Spaniards whom Annunciata had known in her
childhood, and amongst them the son of an old friend
of her father's. Oh! with what mingled joy and
agitation did the dear child welcome her countrymen!
What tears she shed in the midst of her joy
... for she had forgotten how to be happy,
and every emotion made her weep. How eagerly
she heard and spoke her native tongue! She fancied
herself again in Spain; for a while she was
almost happy. You returned, brother, and you were
cruel; one day, without explaining your motives,
you shut your door upon the strangers. Tell me,
why would you not allow fellow-countrymen, friends.
a companion of her childhood, to speak to your wife
of her family and native land? Why require complete
isolation, and a total rupture with old friends?
She obeyed without a murmur, but she suffered more
than you thought. I watched her closely; I, her
old friend. Since that fresh proof of your rigour,
she is sadder than before. A third time she became
a mother; it was in vain; her unhappiness continued.
Brother, your hand has been too heavy on
this feeble creature."
M. Van Amberg rose, and slowly paced the room.
"Have you finished, William?" said he; "this conversation
is painful, let it end here; do not abuse
the license I give you."
"No; I have yet more to say. You are a cold
and severe husband, but that is not all; you are also
an unjust father. Christine, your third daughter, is
denied her share of your affection, and by this partiality
you further wound the heart of Annunciata.
Christine resembles her; she is what I can fancy her
mother at fifteen—a lively and charming Spaniard;
she has all her mother's tastes; like her she lives
with difficulty in our climate, and although born
in it, by a caprice of nature she suffers from it as
Annunciata suffered. Brother, the child is not easy
to manage; independent, impassioned, violent in all
her impressions, she has a love of movement and
liberty which ill agrees with our regular habits, but
she has also a good heart, and by appealing to it
you might perhaps have tamed her wild spirit. For
Christine you are neither more nor less than a pitiless
judge. Her childhood was one long grief. And
thus, far from losing her wild restlessness, she loves
more than ever to be abroad and at liberty; she goes
out at daybreak; she looks upon the house as a cage
whose bars hurt her, and you vainly endeavour to
restrain her. Brother, if you would have obedience,
show affection. It is a power that succeeds when
all others fail. Why prevent her marrying the man
she loves? Herbert the student is not rich, nor is
his alliance brilliant; but they love each other!"
M. Van Amberg, who had continued his walk,
now stopped short, and coldly replied to his brother's
accusations: "Christine is only fifteen, and I do
my duty by curbing the foolish passion that prematurely
disturbs her reason. As to what you call
my partiality, you have explained it yourself by the
defects of her character. You, who reproach others
as pitiless judges, beware yourself of judging too
severely. Every man acts according to his internal
perceptions, and all things are not good to be spoken.
Empty your glass, William, and if you have finished
your pipe, do not begin another. The business I had
to discuss with you will keep till another day; it is
late, and I am tired. It is not always wise to rake
up the memories of the past. I wish to be alone
a while. Leave me, and tell Madame Van Amberg
to come to me in a quarter of an hour."
"Why not say, 'Tell Annunciata?' Why, for
so long a time, has that strange sweet name never
passed your lips?"
"Tell Madame Van Amberg I would speak with
her, and leave me, brother," replied Karl sternly.
William felt he had pushed Karl Van Amberg's
patience to its utmost limit; he got up and left
the room. At the foot of the stairs he hesitated a
moment, then ascended, and sought Annunciata in
Christine's chamber. It was a narrow cell, shining
with cleanliness, and containing a few flowers in
glasses, a wooden crucifix, with chaplets of beads
hanging on it, and a snow-white bed; a guitar (it
was her mother's) was suspended on the wall.
From the window was seen the meadow, the river,
and the willows. Christine sat on the foot of the
bed, still weeping; her mother was beside her,
offering her bread and milk, with which Christine's
tears mingled. Annunciata kissed her daughter's
eyes, and then furtively wiped her own. On
entering, William stood for a few moments at the
door, mournfully contemplating this touching picture.
"My brother, my good brother," cried Annunciata,
"speak to my child! She has forgotten prayer
and obedience; her heart is no longer submissive,
and her tears avail nothing, for she murmurs and
menaces. Ask her, brother, by whom it was told
her that life is joy? that we live only to be happy?
Talk to her of duty, and give her strength to accomplish
"Your husband inquires for you, sister. Go, I
will remain with Christine."
"I go, my brother," replied Annunciata. Approaching
the little mirror above the chimney-piece,
she washed the tear-stains from her eyes, pressed
her hand upon her heart to check its throbbings,
and when her countenance had resumed its expression
of calm composure, she descended the stairs.
Gothon was seated on the lower steps.
"You spoil her, madame," said she roughly to
her mistress; "foolish ears need sharp words.
You spoil her."
Gothon had been in the house before Annunciata,
and had been greatly displeased by the arrival of
her master's foreign lady, whose authority she never
acknowledged. But she had served the Van Ambergs'
mother, and therefore it was without fear of
dismissal that she oppressed, after her own fashion,
her timid and gentle mistress.
Annunciata entered the parlour and remained
standing near the door as if waiting an order. Her
husband's countenance was graver and more gloomy
"Can no one hear us, madam? Are you sure
we are alone?"
"Quite alone, sir," replied the astonished Annunciata.
M. Van Amberg recommenced his walk. For
some moments he said nothing. His wife, her
hand resting on the back of an arm-chair, silently
awaited his pleasure. At last he again spoke.
"You bring up your daughter Christine badly;
I left her to your care and guidance, and you do
not watch over her. Do you know where she goes
and what she does?"
"From her childhood, sir," replied Annunciata
gently, pausing between each phrase, "Christine
has loved to live in the open air. She is delicate,
and requires sun and liberty to strengthen her. Till
now you have allowed her to live thus; I saw no
harm in letting her follow her natural bent. If
you disapprove, sir, she will obey your orders."
"You bring up your daughter badly," coldly repeated
M. Van Amberg. "She will dishonour the
name she bears."
"Sir!!" exclaimed Annunciata, her cheeks suffused
with the deepest crimson; her eyes emitting
a momentary but vivid flash.
"Look to it, madam, I will have my name respected,
that you know! You also know I am
informed of whatever passes in my house. Your
daughter secretly meets a man to whom I refused
her hand; this morning, at six o'clock, they were
together on the river bank!"
"My daughter! my daughter!" cried Annunciata
in disconsolate tones. "Oh! it is impossible!
She is innocent! she shall remain so! I will place
myself between her and evil, I will save my child!
I will take her in my arms, and close her ears to
dangerous words. My daughter, I will say, remain
innocent, remain honoured, if you would not see
With unmoved eye M. Van Amberg beheld the
mother's emotion. Beneath his frozen gaze, Annunciata
felt embarrassed by her own agitation;
she made an effort to calm herself; then, with clasped
hands, and eyes filled with tears, which she would not
allow to flow, she resumed, in a constrained voice:
"Is this beyond doubt, sir?"
"It is," replied M. Van Amberg: "I never
accuse without certainty."
There was a moment's silence. M. Van Amberg
"You will lock Christine in her room, and bring
me the key. She will have time to reflect, and I
trust reflection will be of service to her; in a prolonged
seclusion she will lose that love of motion
and liberty which leads her into harm; the silence
of complete solitude will allay the tumult of her
thoughts. None shall enter her room, save Gothon,
who shall take her her meals, and return me the
key. This is what I have decided upon as proper."
Madame Van Amberg's lips opened several times
to speak, but her courage failed her. At last she
advanced a pace or two.
"But I, sir, I," said she in a stifled voice, "I am
to see my child!"
"I said no one," replied M. Van Amberg.
"But she will despair, if none sustain her. I
will be severe with her; you may be assured I
will! Let me see her, if only once a-day. She
may fall ill of grief, and who will know it? Gothon
dislikes her. For pity's sake, let me see Christine!
For a minute only, a single minute."
M. Van Amberg once more stood still, and fixed
upon his wife a look that made her stagger. "Not
another word!" he said. "I allow no discussion,
madam. No one shall see Christine; do you
"I will obey," replied Annunciata.
"Convey my orders to your daughter. At dinner
bring me the key of her room. Go."
Madame Van Amberg found Christine alone,
seated on her bed, and exhausted by long weeping.
Her beautiful face, at times so energetic, wore an
expression of profound and touching dejection.
Her long hair fell in disorder on her shoulders, her
figure was bent, as if weighed down by grief: her
rosary had fallen from her half-open hand; she
had tried to obey her mother and to pray, but had
been able only to weep. Her black mantle, still
damp with rain, lay upon a table, a few willow
sprays peeping from its silken folds. Christine eyed
them with mingled love and melancholy. She
thought it a century since she saw the sun rise on
the river, on the old trees, and on Herbert's skiff.
Her mother slowly approached her.
"My child," said she, "where were you at daybreak
Christine raised her eyes to her mother's face,
looked at her, but did not answer. Annunciata repeated
her question without change of word or tone.
Then Christine let herself slide from the bed to the
ground, and kneeled before her mother.
"I was seated," she said, "upon the trunk of a
willow that overhangs the stream. I was near
"Christine!" exclaimed Madame Van Amberg,
"can it be true? Oh, my child, could you so infringe
the commands laid upon you! Could you
thus forget my lessons and advice! Christine, you
thought not of me when you committed that fault!"
"Herbert said to me, 'Come, you shall be my
wife, I will love you eternally, you shall be free and
happy; all is ready for our marriage and our flight;
come!' I replied, 'I will not leave my mother!'
Mother, you have been my safeguard; if it be a
crime to follow Herbert, it is the thought of you
alone that prevented my committing it. I would
not leave my mother!"
A beam of joy illumined Annunciata's countenance.
Murmuring a thanksgiving to God, she
raised her kneeling child and seated her by her side.
"Speak to me, Christine," she said, "open your
heart, and tell me all your thoughts. Together we
will regret your faults, and seek hope for the future.
Speak, my daughter; conceal nothing."
Christine laid her head upon her mother's
shoulder, put one of her little hands in hers, sighed
deeply, as though her heart were too oppressed
for words, and spoke at last with effort and
"Mother," she said, "I have nothing to confess
that you do not already know. I love Herbert. He
is but a poor student, intrusted to my father's care,
but he has a noble heart—like mine, somewhat sad.
He knows much, and he is gentle to those who
know nothing. Poor, he is proud as a king: he
loves, and he tells it only to her who knows it.
My mother, I love Herbert! He asked my hand of
my father, whose reply was a smile of scorn. Then
he was kept from me, and I tried to exist without
seeing him. I could not do it. I made many
neuvaines on the rosary you gave me. I had seen
you weep and pray, mother, and I said to myself—Now
that I weep as she does, I must also pray like
her. But it happened once, as day broke, that I
saw a small boat descend the stream, then go up
again, and again descend; from time to time a
white sail fluttered in the air as one flutters a kerchief
to a departing friend. My thoughts, then as
now, were on Herbert; I ran across the meadow—I
reached the stream—Mother, it was he! hoping
and waiting my coming. Long and mournfully we
bewailed our separation; fervently we vowed to
love until death. This morning Herbert, discouraged
and weary of waiting a change in our position,
urged me to fly with him. I might have fled,
mother, but I thought of you and remained. I have
told you all; if I have done wrong, forgive me,
With deep emotion Madame Van Amberg listened
to her daughter, and remained buried in reflection,
when Christine paused. She felt that the young
girl's suffering heart needed gentle lessons, affectionate
advice; and, instead of these, she was the
bearer of a sentence whose severity must aggravate
the evil—she was compelled to deny her sick child
the remedies that might have saved her.
"You love him very dearly, then," said she at
last, fixing a long melancholy look on her daughter's
"Oh, mother!" exclaimed Christine, "I love
him with all my soul! My life is passed in expecting,
seeing, remembering him! I could never make
you understand how entirely my heart is his. Often
I dream of dying for him, not to save his life, that
were too easy and natural, but uselessly at his command."
"Hush! Christine, hush! you frighten me,"
cried Annunciata, placing both hands upon her
daughter's mouth. By a quick movement Christine
disengaged herself from her mother's arms.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, "you know not what it
is to love as I do! My father could never let himself
be loved thus!"
"Be silent, my child! be silent!" repeated
Annunciata energetically. "Oh, my daughter!
how to instil into your heart thoughts of peace and
duty! Almighty Father! bless my weak words,
that they may touch her soul! Christine, hear
Annunciata took her daughter's hands, and compelled
her to stand before her. "My child," she
said, "you know nothing of life; you walk at random,
and are about to wander from the right path.
All young hearts have been troubled as yours is
now. The noble ones have struggled and triumphed;
the others have fallen! Life is no easy
and pleasant passage; its trials are many and painful—its
struggles severe; believe me, for us women
there is no true happiness beyond the bounds of
duty. And when happiness is not our destiny,
many great things still remain to us. Honour, the
esteem of others, are not mere empty words. Hear
me, beloved child! That God whom from your infancy
I have taught you to love, do you not fear
offending him? Seek Him, and you will find better
consolation than I can offer. Christine, we love in
God those from whom we are severed on earth.
He, who in his infinite wisdom imposed so many
fetters on the heart of woman, foresaw the sacrifices
they would entail, and surely he has kept treasures
of love for hearts that break in obedience to duty."
Annunciata rapidly wiped the tears inundating
her fine countenance; then clasping Christine's
"On your knees, my child! on our knees both of
us before the Christ I gave you! 'Tis nearly dark,
and yet we still discern Him—his arms seeming to
open for us. Bless and save and console my child,
oh merciful God! Appease her heart; make it
humble and obedient!"
Her prayer at an end, she rose, and throwing her
arms round Christine, who had passively allowed
herself to be placed on her knees and lifted up
again, she embraced her tenderly, pressed her to
her heart, and bathed her hair with tears. "My
daughter," she murmured between her kisses, "my
daughter, speak to me! Utter one word that I may
take with me as a hope! My child, will you not
speak to your mother?"
"Mother, I love Herbert!" was Christine's
Annunciata looked despairingly at her child, at
the crucifix upon the wall, at the darkening sky
seen through the open window. The dinner-bell
rang. Madame Van Amberg made a strong effort
to collect and express her ideas.
"M. Van Amberg," said she in broken voice,
"orders you to remain in your room. I am to take
him the key. You are to see no one. The hour is
come, and he expects me."
"A prisoner!" cried Christine; "A prisoner,—alone,
all day! Death rather than that!"
"He will have it so," repeated Annunciata
mournfully; "I must obey. He will have it so."
And she approached the door, casting upon Christine
a look of such ineffable love and grief, that the
young girl, fascinated by the gaze, let her depart
without opposition. The key turned in the lock,
and Annunciata, supporting herself by the banister,
slowly descended. She found M. Van Amberg
alone in the parlour.
"You have been a long time up stairs," said he.
"Have you convinced yourself that your daughter
saw the student Herbert this morning?"
"She did," murmured Annunciata.
"You have told her my orders?"
"I have done so."
"Where is the key?" She gave it him.
"Now to dinner," said M. Van Amberg, walking
into the dining-room. Annunciata endeavoured to
follow him, but her strength failed her, and she
sank upon a chair.
M. Van Amberg sat down alone to his dinner.
"A prisoner!" repeated Christine in her solitude;
"apart from all! shut up! Yon meadow was too
wide a range; the house too spacious a prison. I
must have a narrower cell, with more visible walls—a
straiter captivity! They deprive me of the
little air I breathed—the scanty liberty I found
means to enjoy!"
She opened the window to its full extent; leaned
upon the sill, and looked at the sky. It was very
dark; heavy clouds hid the stars; no light fell
upon the earth; different shades of obscurity alone
marked the outlines of objects. The willows, so
beautiful when Herbert and the sun were there,
were now a black and motionless mass; dead silence
reigned around. In view of nature thus lifeless and
lightless, hopes of happiness could hardly enter the
heart. Christine was in a fever: she felt oppressed
and crushed by unkindly influences, by the indifference
of friends, by a tyrant's will, even by the cold
and mournful night. The young girl's heart beat
quickly and rebelliously.
"Be it so!" she exclaimed aloud; "let them
have their way! They may render me unhappy; I
will not complain. They sanctify my love by persecution.
Happy, I should perhaps have been
ashamed to love so much. But they rob me of air
and liberty; I suffer; I weep. Ah! I feel proud
that my heart still throbs with joy in the midst of
so many evils. My sufferings will hallow my love,
will compel the respect of those who scoffed and
slighted it. Herbert! dear Herbert! where are
you at this moment? Do you joyfully anticipate to-morrow's
dawn: are you busy with your boat, preparing
it for its early cruise? Or do you sleep,
dreaming of the old willows in the meadow, hearing
the waters murmur through their branches, and the
voice of Christine promising her return? But no;
it cannot be; our hearts are too united for their
feelings thus to differ! You are sad, my love, and
you know not why; I am sad with knowledge of
our misfortune—'tis the sole difference separation
can establish between us. When shall we meet
again, Herbert? Alas! I know not, but meet we
surely shall. If God lets me live, he will let me
Christine shut the window and threw herself on
her bed without undressing. It was cold; she
wrapped herself in her mantle, and gradually her
head sank upon her breast. Her hands, at first
pressed against each other, opened and fell by her
sides. She dropped asleep, like an infant, in the
midst of her tears.
The first sun-rays, feeble though they were,
awoke Christine, who sprang hastily from her
couch. "Herbert waits for me!" she exclaimed.
At her age memory is better for joy than for
sorrow. For her the dawn of day was still a rendezvous
of love. The next moment she awoke to
the consciousness of her captivity. She went to
the window, leaned out as on the previous evening,
and looked mournfully around. In a corner of the
heavens was a glow of light, intercepted by billows
of cloud. The pale foliage of the willows shivered
in the breeze, which ruffled the leaves without
bending the branches; the long fine grass of the
meadow was seen through a veil of fog, as yet undispelled
by the sun. The sounds of awakening
nature had scarce begun, when a white sail stood
out upon the surface of the stream, gliding lightly
along like the open wing of a graceful bird. It
passed to and fro in front of the meadow; was
lowered before the trees, and then again displayed,
bending the boat's gunwale to the water's surface,
hovering continually around a point of the bank,
as though confined within the circle of an invisible
fascination. At long intervals the wind brought a
faint and scarce perceptible sound, like the last
notes of a song; then the little bark again manœuvred,
and its sail flapped in the air. The pale tints
of dawn gave way to the warmer sunbeams; passengers
appeared upon the bank; trading boats
ascended the river; the windows of the red brick
house opened as if to inhale the morning air. The
boat lowered its sail, and floated slowly away at
the will of the current. Christine looked after it
Twice during that day, Gothon opened the door
of the young girl's chamber, and brought her a
frugal meal. Twice did Gothon depart without
uttering a word. The whole day passed in silence
and solitude. Christine knew not how to get rid
of the weary hours. She knelt before the crucifix,
her alabaster rosary in her hand, her head raised
towards the cross, and prayed. But her prayer
was for Herbert, to see him again; she never
dreamed of praying to forget him. Then she took
down the guitar, passed round her neck the faded
blue ribbon, tied on it at Seville, and which her
mother would never allow to be changed. She
struck a few chords of the songs she best loved;
but her voice was choked, and her tears flowed
more abundantly when she tried to sing. She collected
the little sprays of willow, and placed them
in a book to dry and preserve them. But the day
was very long; and the poor child fluttered in her
prison like a caged bird, with an anguish that each
moment increased. Her head burned, her bosom
throbbed. At last night came. Seated near the
open window, the cold calmed her a little. They
brought her no light, and time passed more slowly
than ever. She went to bed, but, deprived of her
accustomed exercise, tormented by a thousand
anxieties, she could not sleep; she got up, walked
about in the darkness, and again lay down; slumber
still avoided her. This time her eyes, red
with tears and watchfulness, beheld the sun rise
without illusion; she did not for a moment forget
her captivity, but looked mournfully out at the
little sail which, faithful to its rendezvous, came
each morning with the sun. Again, none but Gothon
disturbed her solitude. During another long
day, Christine, alternately desponding and excited,
walked, wept, lamented, and prayed. Night came
again. Nothing broke the silence; the lights in
the red house were extinguished one after the
other. Profound darkness covered the earth.
Christine remained at her window, insensible to
cold. Suddenly she started: she heard her name
pronounced in low tones at the foot of the wall.
"Christine, my daughter!" repeated the voice.
"Mother," exclaimed Christine, "you out in this
dreadful weather! I conjure you to go in!"
"I have been two days in bed, my child; I have
been unwell; to-night I am better; I felt it impossible
to remain longer without seeing you, who are
my life, my strength, my health! Oh! you were
right not to leave me; it would have killed me.
Are you well, dear Christine? Have you all you
require? How do you live, deprived of my caresses?"
"Dearest mother, for heaven's sake, go in!
The night is damp and cold; it will be your
"Your voice warms me; it is far from you that
I feel chill and faint. Dearest child, my heart
sends you a thousand kisses."
"I receive them on my knees, mother, my arms
extended towards you. But, when shall I see you
"When you submit, and promise to obey; when
you no longer seek him you are forbidden to see,
and whom you must forget. My daughter, it is
"Oh mother, I thought your heart could better
understand what it never felt. I thought you respected
the true sentiments of the soul, and that
your lips knew not how to utter the word 'forget.'
If I forgot, I should be a mere silly child, capricious,
unruly, unworthy your tenderness. If my
malady is without remedy, I am a steadfast woman,
suffering and self-sacrificing. Good God! how is
it you do not understand that?"
"I understand," murmured Annunciata, but in
so low a tone that she was sure her daughter could
not hear her.
"Mother," resumed Christine, "go to my father!
summon up that courage which fails you when you
alone are concerned; speak boldly to him, tell him
what I have told you; demand my liberty, my
"I!" exclaimed Annunciata in terror; "I brave
M. Van Amberg, and oppose his will!"
"Not oppose, but supplicate! compel his heart
to understand what mine experiences; force him to
see and hear and feel that my life may cease, but
not my love. Who can do it, if you cannot? I am
a captive. My sisters know not love, my uncle
William has never known it. It needs a woman's
voice to express a woman's feelings."
"Christine, you know not what you ask. The
effort is above my strength."
"I ask a proof of my mother's love; I am sure
she will give it me."
"I shall die in so doing. M. Van Amberg can
kill me by a word."
Christine started and trembled. "Do not go,
then, dearest mother. Forgive my egotism; I
thought only of myself. If my father has such
terrible power, avoid his anger. I will wait, and
entreat none but God."
There was a brief pause. "Christine," said
Madame Van Amberg, "since I am your only hope,
your sole reliance, and you have called me to your
aid, I will speak to him. Our fate is in the hands
Annunciata interrupted herself by a cry of terror;
a hand rudely grasped her arm; M. Van Amberg,
without uttering a word, dragged her to the house
door, compelled her to enter, took out the key, and
made her pass before him into the parlour. A lamp
burned dimly upon the table, its oil nearly exhausted;
at times it emitted a bright flash, and
then suddenly became nearly extinguished. The
corners of the room were in darkness, the doors
and windows closed, perfect silence reigned; the
only object on which a strong light fell, was the
countenance of M. Van Amberg. It was calm, cold,
motionless. His great height, the piercing look of
his pale grey eyes, the austere regularity of his
features, combined to give him the aspect of an
"You would speak with me, madam," said he to
Annunciata; "I am here, speak!"
On entering the parlour, Annunciata let herself
fall into a chair. Her clothes streamed with water;
her hair, heavy with rain, fell upon her shoulders;
her extreme paleness gave her the appearance of a
corpse rather than of a living creature. Terror obliterated
memory, even of what had just occurred;
her mind was confused; she felt only that she suffered
horribly. Her husband's voice and words
restored the chain of her ideas; the poor woman
thought of her child, made a violent effort, rallied
her strength, and rose to her feet.
"Now then," she murmured, "since it must
M. Van Amberg waited in silence, his arms
crossed upon his breast, his eyes fixed upon his
wife; he stood like a statue, assisting neither by
word nor gesture the poor creature who trembled
before him. Annunciata looked long at him before
speaking; she hoped that at sight of her tears and
sufferings, M. Van Amberg would remember he had
loved her. She threw her whole soul into her eyes,
but not a muscle of her husband's countenance
moved. He waited for her to break silence.
"I need your indulgence," she at last said; "it
costs me a fearful effort to address you. In general
I do but answer; I am unaccustomed to speak first,
and I am afraid. I dread your anger; have compassion
on a trembling woman, who would fain be
silent, and who must speak. Christine's happiness
is in your hands. The poor child implores me to
soften your rigour.... Did I refuse, not a
creature upon earth would intercede for her. This
is why I venture to petition you, sir."
M. Van Amberg continued silent. Annunciata
wiped the tears from her cheeks and resumed with
"She is much to be pitied; she has inherited
the faults you blame in me. Believe me, sir, I
have laboured hard to check them in the bud. I
have striven, exhorted, punished, have spared
neither advice nor prayers, but all in vain. God
has not been pleased to spare me this new grief.
Her nature is unchangeable; she is to blame, but
she is also much to be pitied. Christine loves with
all her soul. Women die of such love as hers,
and when they do not die, they suffer frightfully.
For pity's sake, sir, let her marry him she loves!"
Annunciata covered her face with her hands,
and awaited in an agony of anxiety her husband's
"Your daughter," said M. Van Amberg, "is still
a child; she has inherited, as you say, a character
that needs restraint. I will not yield to the first
caprice that traverses her silly head. Herbert is
only two-and-twenty; we know nothing of his character.
Your daughter requires a protector, and a
judicious guide. Herbert has neither family, fortune,
nor position. He shall never be the husband
of a woman who bears the name of Mademoiselle
"Sir!" cried Annunciata, clasping her hands
and breathless with emotion, "Sir! the best guidance
for a woman's life is a union with the man
she loves! It is her best safeguard, it strengthens
her against the cares of the world. I entreat you,
Karl!" exclaimed Madame Van Amberg, falling
upon her knees, "have compassion on my daughter!
Do not render duty a torture; do not exact from
her too much courage! We are weak creatures:
we have need both of love and virtue. Place her
not in the terrible necessity of choosing between
them. Pity, Karl, pity!"
"Madam," cried M. Van Amberg, and this time
his frame was agitated by a slight nervous trembling,
"Madam, you are very bold to speak to me
thus! You! you! to dare to hold such language
to me! Silence! and teach your daughter not to
hesitate in her choice between good and evil. Do
that, instead of weeping uselessly at my feet."
"Yes, it is bold of me, sir, thus to address you;
but I have found courage in suffering. I am ill,—in
pain,—my life is worthless, save as a sacrifice—let
my child take it, I will speak for her! Her fate
is in your hands, do not crush her by a cruel decision!
An absolute judge and master should be
guarded in word and deed, for a reckoning will be
asked of him! Be merciful to my child!"
M. Van Amberg approached his wife, took her arm,
placed his other hand on her mouth, and said:—
"Silence! I command you; no such scenes in my
house, no noise and whimpering. Your daughters
sleep within a few yards of you, do not disturb
their repose. Your servants are above, do not
awaken them. Silence! you had no business to
speak; I was wrong to listen to you. Never dare
again to discuss my orders; it is I whom your
children must obey, I whom you must obey yourself.
Retire to your apartment, and to-morrow let
me find you what you yesterday were."
M. Van Amberg had regained his usual calmness.
He walked slowly from the room.
"Oh, my daughter!" exclaimed Annunciata,
despairingly, "nothing can I do for you! Merciful Father!
what will become of me, placed between
him and her, both inflexible in their resolves!"
The lamp which feebly illuminated this scene of
sorrow, now suddenly went out and left the unhappy
mother in profound darkness. The rain beat
against the windows,—the wind howled,—the house
clock struck four.
Christine had seen M. Van Amberg seize Annunciata's
arm, and lead her away with him; afterwards,
she had distinguished, through the slight
partitions of the house, a faint echo as of mingled
sobs, entreaties, and reproaches. She understood
that her fate was deciding,—that her poor mother
had devoted herself for her, and was face to face
with the stern ruler whose look alone she usually
dared not brave. Christine passed the night in
terrible anxiety, abandoning herself alternately to
discouragement and to joyful hopes. At her age
it is not easy to despair. Fear, however, predominated
over every other emotion, and she would
have given years of existence to learn what had
passed. But the day went by like the previous
one. She saw none but Gothon. Her she ventured
to question, but the old servant had orders
not to answer.
Another day elapsed. Christine's solitude was
still unbroken, no friendly voice reached her ear,
no kindly hand lifted the veil shrouding her future.
The poor girl was exhausted, she had not even the
energy of grief. She wept without complaint, almost
without a murmur. Night came, and she fell
asleep, exhausted by her sorrow. She had scarcely
slept an hour when she was awakened by the opening
of the door, and Gothon, lamp in hand, approached
her bed. "Get up Mademoiselle," said
the servant, "and follow me."
Christine dressed herself as in a dream, and
hastily followed Gothon, who conducted her to her
mother's room, opened the door, and drew back to
let her pass. A sad spectacle met the young girl's
eyes. Annunciata, pale and almost inanimate, lay
in the agonies of death. Her presentiment had not
deceived her; suffering and agitation had snapped
the slender strings that bound her to the earth.
The light of the lamp fell full upon her features,
whose gentle beauty pain was impotent to deface.
Resignation and courage were upon her countenance,
over which came a gleam of joy when Christine
appeared. Wilhelmina and Maria knelt and wept
at the foot of their mother's bed. William stood a
little apart, holding a prayer-book, but his eyes had
left the page to look at Annunciata, and two large
tears trembled on their lids. M. Van Amberg,
seated beside his wife's pillow, had his face shaded
by his hand, so that none could see its expression.
With a piercing cry, Christine rushed to Madame
Van Amberg, who received her in her arms.
"Mother!" she cried, her cheek against Annunciata's,
"it is I who have killed you! For love of
me you have exceeded your strength."
"No, my beloved, no," replied Annunciata, kissing
her daughter between each word, "I die of an
old and incurable malady. But I die happy, since
I once more clasp you in my arms."
"And they did not let me nurse you!" cried
Christine, indignantly raising her head; "they
concealed your illness! They let me weep for other
sorrows than yours, my mother!"
"Dearest child," replied Annunciata gently,
"this crisis has been very sudden; two hours ago
they knew not my danger, and I wished to fulfil
my religious duties before seeing you. I wished
to think only of God. Now I can abandon myself
to the embraces of my children." And she clasped
her weeping daughters to her heart. "Dear children,"
said she, "God is full of mercy to the dying,
and sanctifies a mother's benediction. I bless you,
my daughters; remember and pray for me."
The three young girls bowed their heads upon
their mother's hand, and replied by tears alone to
this solemn farewell.
"My good brother," resumed Annunciata to
William, "my good brother, we have long lived
together, and to me you have ever been a devoted
friend, indulgent and gentle. I thank you,
William averted his head to conceal his tears,
but a deep sob escaped him, and he turned his
venerable face towards Annunciata.
"Do not thank me, sister," he said, "I have
done little for you. I loved you, that is certain,
but I could not enliven your solitude. My sister,
you will still live for the happiness of us all."
Annunciata gently shook her head. Her glance
sought her husband, as if she would fain have addressed
her last words to him. But they expired
on her lips. She looked at him timidly, sadly, and
then closed her eyes, to check the starting tears.
She grew visibly weaker, and as death approached,
a painful anxiety took possession of her. Resigned,
she was not calm. It was ordained her soul should
suffer and be troubled to the end. The destiny of
one of her daughters disturbed her last moments;
she dared not pronounce the name of Christine, she
dared not ask compassion for her; a thousand conflicting
doubts and fears agitated her poor heart.
She died as she had lived, repressing her tears,
concealing her thoughts. From time to time she
turned to her husband, but his head continued sunk
upon his hand; not one look of encouragement could
she obtain. At last came the spasm that was to
break this frail existence. "Adieu! Adieu!" she
murmured in unintelligible accents. Her eyes no
longer obeyed her, and none could tell whom they
sought. William approached his brother, and placed
his hand upon his shoulder. "Karl!" he whispered
in tones audible but to him he addressed,
"she is dying! Have you nothing to say to a poor
creature who has so long lived with you and suffered
by you? Living, you loved her not; do not
let her die thus! Fear you not, Karl, lest this
woman, oppressed and slighted by you, should expire
with a leaven of resentment in her heart?
Crave her pardon before she departs."
For an instant all was silent. M. Van Amberg
stirred not. Annunciata, her head thrown back,
seemed to have already ceased to exist. On a sudden,
she moved, raised herself with difficulty, leaned
over towards M. Van Amberg, and groped for his
hand as though she had been blind. When she
found it, she bowed her face upon it, kissed it twice,
and expired in that last kiss.
"On your knees!" cried William, "on your
knees, she is in heaven! let us implore her intercession!"
And all knelt down.
Of all the prayers addressed to God by man during
his life of trial, not one is more solemn than
that which escapes the desolate heart, when a beloved
soul flies from earth to heaven, to stand, for
the first time, in the presence of its Creator.
M. Van Amberg rose from his knees.
"Leave the room!" said he to his brother and
daughters, "I would be alone with my wife."
Alone, beside the bed of his dead wife, Karl Van
Amberg gazed upon the pale countenance, to which
death had restored all the beauty of youth. A tear,
left there by human suffering, a tear which none
other was to follow, glittered upon the clay-cold
cheek; one arm still hung out of bed, as when it
held his hand; the head was in the position in
which it had kissed his fingers. He gazed at her,
and the icy envelope that bound his heart was at
last broken. "Annunciata!" he exclaimed, "Annunciata!"
For fifteen years that name had not passed his
lips. Throwing himself on his wife's corpse, he
clasped her in his arms and kissed her forehead.
"Annunciata!" he cried, "can you not feel this
kiss of peace and love! Annunciata, we have both
suffered terribly! God did not grant us happiness.
I loved you from the first day that I saw you, a
joyous child in Spain, till this sad moment that I
press you dead upon my heart. Oh Annunciata,
how great have been our sufferings!"
Karl Van Amberg wept.
"Repose in peace, poor woman!" he murmured;
"may you find in heaven the repose denied you
upon earth!" And with trembling hand he closed
Annunciata's eyes. Then he knelt down beside
"Almighty God!" he said, "I have been severe.
Be thou merciful!"
When, at break of day, M. Van Amberg left the
chamber of death, his face had resumed its habitual
expression; his inflexible soul, for a moment bowed,
had regained its usual level. To Annunciata had
been given the last word of love, the last tear of
that heart of adamant. To the eyes of all he reappeared
as the stern master and father, the man
on whose brow no sorrow left a trace. His daughters
bowed themselves upon his passage, William
spoke not to him, order and regularity returned to
the house. Annunciata was buried without pomp
or procession. She left, to revisit it no more, the
melancholy abode where her suffering soul had worn
out its mortal envelope; she ceased to live, as a
sound ceases to be heard, as a cloud passes, as a
flower fades; nothing stopped or altered because
she went. If any mourned her, they mourned in
silence; if they thought of her, they proclaimed not
their thoughts; her name was no more heard; only
the interior of the little red house was rather more
silent, and M. Van Amberg's countenance appeared
to all more rigid than before. During the day,
Christine's profound grief obeyed the iron will that
weighed on each member of the family. The poor
child was silent, worked, sat at table, lived on as
if her heart had not been crushed; but at night,
alone in the little room where her mother had so
often wept with her, she gave free course to grief;
she invoked her mother, spoke to her, extended her
arms to her, and would fain have left the earth to
be with her in heaven. "Take me to you, dear
mother!" she would exclaim. "Deprived of you,
apart from him, I cannot live! Since I saw you
die, I no longer fear death."
Since the death of Annunciata, Christine was
allowed her liberty, M. Van Amberg doubtless
thinking, and with reason, that she would make no
use of it during her first grief. Or, perhaps, with
his wife's corpse scarcely cold, he hesitated to recur
to the severity that had caused her so many tears.
Whatever his motive, Christine was free, at least
to all appearance. The three sisters, in deep
mourning, never passed the threshold; they sat all
day at work near the low window of the parlour,
supped with their uncle and father, then retired to
bed. During the long hours of their silent work,
Christine often thought of her lover. She dared
not attempt to see him; she would have expected
to hear her mother's voice murmur in her ear,—"My
daughter, it is too soon to be happy! Mourn
me yet a little, alone and without consolation."
One morning, after a night of tears, Christine
fell into a tardy slumber, broken by dreams. Now
it was her mother, who took her in her arms, and
flew with her towards heaven. "I will not let you
live," said Annunciata, "for life is sorrow. I have
prayed of God to let you die young, that you may
not weep as I have wept!"
The next instant she beheld herself clothed in
white and crowned with flowers. Herbert was
there, love sparkling in his eyes. "Come, my
betrothed!" he said, "life is joy! My love shall
guard you from all evil; come, we will be
She started up, awakened by a sudden noise in
her chamber. The window was open, and on the
floor lay a pebble with a letter attached. Her first
impulse was to fly to the window; a bush stirred
in the direction of the river, but she saw no one.
She snatched up the letter, she guessed it was Herbert's
writing. It seems as if one never saw for
the first time the writing of him one loves; the
heart recognises as if the eyes had already seen it.
Christine was alone, a beam of the rising sun tinted
the summits of the willows, and hope and love revived
in the young girl's heart, as she read what
"Christine, I can write but a few lines; a long
letter, difficult to conceal, might never reach you.
Hear me with your heart, and guess what I am unable
to write. As you know, dearest, my family
intrusted me to your father, and gave him all authority
over me. He can employ me at his will, and
according to the convenience of his commercial
establishments. Christine, I have just received
orders to embark in one of his ships, sailing for
A cry escaped Christine's lips, and her eyes,
suffused with tears, devoured the subsequent lines.
"Your father places the immensity of ocean between
us; he separates us for ever. We are to
meet no more! Christine, has your heart, since I
last saw you, learned to comprehend those words?
No, my adored Christine, we must live or die together!
Your poor mother is no more; your presence
is no longer essential to the happiness of any
one. Your family is pitiless and without affection
for you. Your future is gloom and unhappiness.
Come, then, let us fly together. In the Helder are
numerous ships; they will bear us far from the
scene of our sufferings. All is foreseen and arranged.
Christine, my life depends on your decision.
For ever separated! ... subscribe to that
barbarous decree, and I terminate an existence
which henceforward would be all bitterness! And
you, Christine! will you love another, or live
without love? Oh! come! I have suffered so
much without you! I summon you, I await you,
Christine! my bride! At midnight—on the riverbank—I
will be there! and a world of happiness
is before us. Come, dear Christine, come!"
As Christine read, her tears fell fast on Herbert's
letter. She experienced a moment of agonising
indecision. She loved passionately, but she was
young and innocent, and love had not yet imparted
to her pure soul the audacity that braves all things.
The wise counsels heard in her father's house,
uncle William's pious exhortations, the holy prayers
she had learned from her infancy upwards,
resounded in her ears; the Christ upon her wooden
crucifix seemed to look at her; the beads of her
rosary were still warm with the pressure of her
"Oh! my dream! my dream!" she exclaimed;
"Herbert who calls his bride! my mother claiming
her daughter! With him, life and love! With her,
death and heaven!..." And Christine sobbed
aloud. For an instant she tried calmly to contemplate
an existence in that melancholy house, weeping
for Herbert, growing old without him, without
love, within those gloomy walls, where no heart
sympathised with hers. The picture was too terrible;
she felt that such a future was unendurable.
She wept bitterly, kissed her rosary, her prayer-book,
as if bidding adieu to all that had witnessed
the innocence of her early years. Then her heart
beat violently. The fire of her glance dried her
tears. She looked out at the river, at the white
sail which seemed to remind her of her vows of
love; she gave one last sob, as if breaking irrevocably
the links between her past and future.
The image of her mother was no longer before her.
Christine, abandoned to herself, followed the impulse
of her passionate nature; she wept, trembled,
hesitated, and at last exclaimed,—
"At midnight, I will be there!"
Then she wiped her tears, and remained quite
still for a few moments, to calm her violent agitation.
A vast future unrolled itself before her;
liberty would be hers; a new world was revealed
to her eyes; a new life began for her.
At last night came. A lamp replaced the fading
daylight. The window was deserted for the
table. William and Karl Van Amberg came in.
The former took a book; his brother busied himself
with commercial calculations. The lamp gave
a dull light; all was silent, sad, and monotonous in
the apartment. The clock slowly told the successive
hours. When its hammer struck ten, there
was a movement round the table; books were
shut, work was folded. Karl Van Amberg rose;
his two eldest daughters approached him, and he
kissed their foreheads in silence. Christine no
longer a captive, but still in disgrace, bowed herself
before her father. Uncle William, grown
drowsy over his book, put up his spectacles, muttering
a "good-night." The family left the parlour,
and the three sisters ascended the wooden staircase.
At her chamber door, Christine felt a tightness
at her heart. She turned and looked after
her sisters. "Good-night, Wilhelmina! good-night,
The sisters turned their heads. By the faint
light of their tapers Christine saw them smile and
kiss their hands to her. Then they entered their
rooms without speaking. Christine found herself
alone. She opened her window; the night was
calm; at intervals clouds flitted across the moon,
veiling its brightness. Christine made no preparations
for departure; she only took her mother's
rosary, and the blue ribbon so long attached to the
guitar; then she wrapped herself in her black
mantle and sat down by the window. Her heart
beat quick, but no distinct thought agitated her
mind. She trembled without terror; her eyes were
tearful, but she felt no regret. For her, the hour
was rather solemn than sad; the struggle was over,
and she was irrevocably decided.
At last midnight came; each stroke of the clock
thrilled Christine's heart; for an instant she stood
still, summoning strength and courage; then, turning
towards the interior of the room,—
"Adieu, my mother!" she whispered. Many
living creatures dwelt under that roof. It seemed
to Christine as if she left her only who was no
longer there. "Adieu, my mother!" she repeated.
Then she stepped out of the window; a trellis,
twined with creepers, covered the wall. With
light foot and steady hand, Christine descended,
aiding herself by the branches, and pausing when
they cracked under her tread or grasp. The stillness
was so complete that the slightest sound
assumed importance. Christine's heart beat violently;
at last she reached the ground, raised her
head, and looked at the house. Her father's window
was still lighted. Again she shuddered with
apprehension; then, feeling more courage for a
minute's daring than for half an hour's precautions,
she darted across the meadow and arrived breathless
at the clump of willows. Before plunging
into it, she again looked round. All was quiet
and deserted; she breathed more freely and disappeared
amongst the branches. Leaning upon the
old tree, the witness of her former rendezvous, she
whispered, so softly that none but a lover could
hear, "Herbert, are you there?"
A cautious oar skimmed the water; a well-known
voice replied. The boat approached the willow;
the young student stood up and held out his arms
to Christine, who leaped lightly into the skiff. In
an instant, they were out of the willow-shaded
inlet; in another, the sail—the signal of their
loves—was hoisted to the breeze; the bark sped
swiftly over the water, and Herbert, scarce daring
to believe his happiness, was seated at Christine's
feet. His hand sought hers; he heard her weep,
and he wept for sympathy. Both were silent, agitated,
uneasy, and happy.
But the night was fine, the moon shed its softest
light, the ripple of the stream had a harmony of its
own, the light breeze cooled their cheeks, the sail
bent over them like the wing of an invisible being;
they were young, they loved, it was impossible
that joy should not revive in their hearts.
"Thanks, Christine, thanks!" exclaimed Herbert,
"thanks a thousand times for so much devotedness,
for such confidence and love! Oh how
beautiful will life now appear! We are united for
"For ever!" repeated Christine, her tears flowing
afresh. For the first time she felt that great
happiness, like great grief, expresses itself by tears.
Her hand in Herbert's, her eyes raised to heaven,
she gazed upon bright stars and fleecy clouds, sole
and silent witnesses of her happiness. Presently
she was roused from this sweet reverie.
"See there, Herbert!" she exclaimed; "the
sail droops along the mast, the wind has fallen,
we do not advance."
Herbert took the oars, and the boat cut rapidly
through the water. Wrapped in her mantle, Christine
sat opposite, and smiled upon him. Onwards
flew the boat, a track of foam in its wake. Daylight
was still distant; all things favoured the
fugitives. Again Christine broke silence.
"Herbert, dear Herbert, do you hear nothing?"
Herbert ceased to row, and listened. "I hear
nothing," he said, "save the plash of the river
against its banks." He resumed the oars; again
the boat moved rapidly forward. Christine was
pale; half risen from her seat, her head turned back,
she strove to see, but the darkness was too great.
"Be tranquil, best beloved," said Herbert with a
smile. "Fear creates sounds. All is still."
"Herbert," cried Christine, this time starting up
in the boat, "I am not mistaken! I hear oars behind
us ... pause not to listen ... row,
for Heaven's love, row!"
Her terror was so great, she seemed so sure of
what she said, that Herbert obeyed in silence, and
a sensation of alarm chilled his heart. Christine
seated herself at his feet.
"We are pursued!" she said; "the noise of your
own oars alone prevented your hearing. A boat
"If it be so," Herbert cried, "what matter! That
boat does not bear Christine—is not guided by a
man who defends his life, his happiness, his love.
My arm will weary his, his bark will not overtake
mine." And Herbert redoubled his efforts. The
veins of his arms swelled to bursting; his forehead
was covered with sweat-drops. The skiff clove the
waters as though impelled by wings. Christine
remained crouched at the young man's feet, pressing
herself against him, as to seek refuge.
Other oars, wielded by stalwart arms, now struck
the water not far from Herbert's boat. The young
student heard the sound; he bent over his oars and
made desperate efforts. But he felt his strength
failing; as he rowed he looked with agony at Christine;
no one spoke, only the noise of the two boats
interrupted the silence. Around, all was calm and
serene as when the fugitives set out. But the soul
of the young girl had passed from life to death;
her eyes, gleaming with a wild fire, followed with
increasing terror each movement of Herbert's; she
saw by the suffering expression of his countenance,
that little hope of escape remained. Still he rowed
with the energy of despair; but the fatal bark drew
nearer, its shadow was seen upon the water, it followed
hard in the foamy track of Herbert's boat.
Christine stood up and looked back; just then the
moon shone out, casting its light full upon the pale,
passionless features of M. Van Amberg. Christine
uttered a piercing cry.
"My father!" she cried; "Herbert, 'tis my
Herbert also had recognised his pursuer. The
youth had lived too long in Karl Van Amberg's
house not to have experienced the strange kind of
fascination which that man exercised over all around
him. Darkness had passed away to reveal to the
fugitives the father, master, and judge!
"Stop, Herbert!" cried Christine, "we are lost,
escape is impossible! Do you not see my father?"
"Let me row!" replied Herbert, disengaging
himself from Christine, who had seized his arm.
He gave so violent a pull with the oars, that the
skiff bounded out of the water and seemed to gain
a little on its pursuer.
"Herbert," cried Christine, "I tell you we are
lost! 'Tis my father, and resistance is useless!
God will not work a miracle in our favour! Herbert,
I will not return to my father's house! Let
us die together, dear Herbert!"
And Christine threw herself into her lover's arms.
The oars fell from the young man's hands; with a
cry of anguish he pressed Christine convulsively
to his heart. For a single instant he thought of
obeying her, and of plunging with her into the dark
tide beneath; but Herbert had a noble heart, and
he repelled the temptation of despair. The next
moment a violent shock made the boat quiver, and
M. Van Amberg stepped into it. Instinctively
Herbert clasped Christine more tightly, and retreated,
as if his strength could withhold her from
her father—as if, in that little boat, he could retreat
far enough not to be overtaken. With a
vigorous arm, M. Van Amberg seized Christine,
whose slender form bent like a reed over his
"Have mercy on her!" cried the despairing
Herbert; "I alone am guilty! Punish her not,
and I promise to depart, to renounce her! Pity,
sir! pity for Christine!"
He spoke to a deaf and silent statue. Wresting
Christine's hand from the student's grasp, M. Van
Amberg stepped back into his boat, and pushed
Herbert's violently with his foot. Yielding to the
impulse, the boats separated; one was pulled
swiftly up the river, whilst the other, abandoned
to itself, was swept by the current in a contrary
direction. Erect on the prow of his bark, his head
thrown back, his arms folded on his breast, M. Van
Amberg fixed a terrible look upon Herbert and then
disappeared in the darkness. All was over. The
father had taken his daughter, and no human power
could henceforward tear her from his arms.
Within a week from that fatal night, the gates
of a convent closed upon Christine Van Amberg.
On the frontier of Belgium, on the summit of a
hill, stands a large white building of irregular
architecture, a confused mass of walls, roofs, angles,
and platforms. At the foot of the hill is a village,
whose inhabitants behold with a feeling of respect
the edifice towering above their humble dwellings.
For there is seen the belfry of a church, and thence
is heard unceasingly the sound of pious bells, proclaiming
afar that on the mountain's summit a few
devout souls pray to God for all men. The building
is a convent; the poor and the sick well know
the path leading to the hospitable threshold of the
Sisters of the Visitation.
To this convent was Christine sent. To this
austere dwelling, the abode of silence and self-denial,
was she, the young, the beautiful, the loving,
pitilessly consigned. It was as though a gravestone
had suddenly closed over her head. With
her, the superior of the convent received the following
"Madame la Supérieure,—I send you your
niece, Christine Van Amberg, and beg you to oblige
me by keeping her with you. I intend her to embrace
a religious life; employ the influence of your
wise counsels to predispose her to it. Her misconduct
compels me to exclude her my house; she
requires restraint and watching, such as are only to
be found in a convent. Be pleased, dear and respected
kinswoman, to receive her under your roof;
the best wish that can be formed for her is, that she
may make up her mind to remain there for ever.
Should she inquire concerning a young man named
Herbert, you may inform her that he has sailed
to Batavia, whence he will proceed to our most
"I am, with respect, Madame la Supérieure, your
kinsman and friend,
"Karl Van Amberg."
Five years had elapsed since the date of this
letter, when one day the convent gate opened to
admit a stranger, who craved to speak with the
superior. The stranger was an old man; a staff
sustained his feeble steps. Whilst waiting in the
parlour, he looked about him with surprise and
emotion, and several times he passed his hand
across his eyes as if to brush away a tear. "Poor,
poor child!" he muttered. When the superior
appeared behind the grating, he advanced quickly
"I am William Van Amberg," he said, "the
brother of Karl Van Amberg. I come, madam, to
fetch Christine, his daughter and my niece."
"You come very late!" replied the superior;
"sister Martha-Mary is on the eve of pronouncing
"Martha-Mary!—I do not know the name!"
said William Van Amberg; "I seek Christine—my
"Christine Van Amberg, now sister Martha-Mary,
is about to take the veil."
"Christine a nun! Oh, impossible! Madame,
they have broken the child's heart; from despair
only would she take the veil; they have been cruel—they
have tortured her; but I bring her liberty
and the certainty of happiness,—permission to
marry him she loves. Let me speak to her and
she will quickly follow."
"Speak to her then; and let her depart if such
be her will."
"Thanks, madam,—a thousand thanks! Send
me my child, send me my Christine—with joy and
impatience I await her."
The superior retired. Left alone, William again
contemplated the melancholy abode in which he
found himself, and the more he gazed, the sadder
his heart became. He would fain have taken Christine
in his arms, as he did when she was little, and
have fled with her from those chilly walls and dismal
"Poor child!" he repeated, "what a retreat for
the bright years of your youth!... How you
must have suffered! But console thyself, dearest
child, I am here to rescue thee!"
He remembered Christine as a wild young girl,
delighting in liberty, air, and motion; then as an
impassioned woman, full of love and independence.
And a smile crossed the old man's lips as he thought
of her burst of joy, when he should say to her,—"You
are free, and Herbert waits to lead you to
the altar!" His heart beat as it had never beaten
in the best days of his youth; he counted the
minutes and kept his eyes fixed upon the little door
through which Christine was to come. He could
not fold her in his arms, the grating prevented it,
but at least he should see and hear her. Suddenly
all his blood rushed to his heart, for the hinges
creaked and the door opened. A novice, clothed
in white, slowly advanced; he looked at her, started
back, hesitated, and exclaimed: "Oh God! is that
William had cherished in his heart the memory
of a bright-eyed, sunburnt girl, alert and lively,
quick and decided in her movements, running more
often than she walked, like the graceful roe that
loves the mountain-steeps. He beheld a tall young
woman, white and colourless as the robes that
shrouded her; her hair concealed under a thick
linen band, her slender form scarcely to be distinguished
beneath the heavy folds of her woollen
vestments. Her movements were slow, her black
eyes veiled by an indescribable languor; a profound
calm was the characteristic of her whole being—a
calm so great, that it resembled absence of life.
One might have thought her eyes looked without
seeing, that her lips could not open to speak, that
her ears listened without hearing. Sister Martha-Mary
was beautiful, but her beauty was not of the
earth—it was the beauty of infinite repose,—of a
calm that nothing could disturb.
The old man was touched to the bottom of his
soul; the words expired on his lips, and he extended
his hands towards Christine. On beholding
her uncle, Martha-Mary endeavoured to smile, but
moved not, and said nothing.
"Oh my child!" cried William at last, "how
you must suffer here!"
Martha-Mary gently shook her head, and the
tranquil look she fixed upon her uncle, protested
against his supposition.
"Is it possible that five years have thus changed
my Christine! My heart recognises you, my child,
not my eyes! They have compelled you to great
austerities, severe privations?"
"A cruel bondage has weighed heavily upon
"You have been ill then?"
"Your poor heart has suffered too much, and has
broken. You have shed many tears?"
"I remember them no longer."
"Christine! Christine! do you live? or has the
shade of Annunciata risen from the grave? Oh my
child! in seeing you, I seem to see her corpse, extended
on the bed of death!"
Martha-Mary raised her large eyes to heaven;
she joined her hands, and murmured, "My mother!"
"Christine, speak to me! weep with me! you
frighten me by your calm and silence.... Ah!
in my trouble and emotion, I have as yet explained
nothing.... Listen: my brother Karl, by the
failure of a partner, suddenly found his whole
fortune compromised. To avoid total ruin he was
obliged to embark immediately for the colonies. He
set sail expecting to return in a few years; but his
affairs prolong his absence, and his return is indefinitely
postponed. His two eldest daughters are
with him. To me, who am too old to follow him,
too old to remain alone, he has given Christine. I
would not accept the precious charge, my child,
without the possibility of rendering you happy. I
implored permission to marry you to Herbert. You
are no longer a rich heiress: your father gone, you
need protection, and that of an old man cannot long
avail you. In short, your father has agreed to all
I asked: he sends you, as a farewell gift, your
liberty and his consent to your marriage....
Christine! you are free, and Herbert awaits his
The long drapery of the novice was slightly
agitated, as if the limbs it covered trembled; she
remained some seconds without speaking, and then
replied, "It is too late! I am the affianced of the
William uttered a cry of grief, and looked with
alarm at the pale calm girl, who stood immovable
"Christine!" he cried, "you no longer love
"I am the affianced of the Lord!" repeated the
novice, her hands crossed upon her breast, her eyes
raised to heaven.
"Oh my God! my God!" cried William, weeping
bitterly, "my brother has killed his child! Her
soul has been sad even unto death! Poor victim
of severity, tell me, Christine, tell me, what has
passed within you, during your abode here?"
"I saw others pray, and I prayed also. There
was a great stillness, and I was silent; none wept,
and I dried my tears; a something, at first cold,
then soothing, enveloped my soul. The voice of
God made itself heard to me, and I listened; I loved
the Lord, and gave myself to Him."
Then, as if fatigued with speaking so much,
Martha-Mary relapsed into silence, and into that
absorbing meditation which rendered her insensible
to surrounding things. Just then a bell tolled.
The novice started, and her eyes sparkled.
"God calls me!" she said; "I go to pray!"
"Christine! my daughter, will you leave me
"Hear you not the bell? It is the hour of
"But, Christine, dearest child, I came to take
"I shall never leave these walls!" said Martha-Mary,
gliding slowly away. As she opened the
parlour door, she turned towards William; her eyes
fixed upon him with a sad and sweet expression;
her lips moved, as if to send him a kiss; then she
disappeared. William made no attempt to detain
her; his head was pressed against the grating, and
big tears chased each other down his cheeks. How
long he remained thus plunged in mournful reflection,
he noted not. He was roused by the voice of
the superior, who seated herself, wrapped in her
black robes, on the other side of the grating.
"I foresaw your grief," she said. "Our sister
Martha-Mary refuses to follow you."
With a despairing look, William answered the nun.
"Alas! alas!" he said, "the child I so dearly
loved met me without joy, and left me without
"Listen, my son," resumed the superior; "listen
to me.—Five years ago, there came to this convent
a young girl overwhelmed with grief and sunk in
terrible despair; her entrance here was to her a
descent into the tomb. During one entire year,
none saw her but with tears on her face. Only
God knows how many tears the eyes must shed
before a broken spirit regains calm and resignation;
man cannot count them. This young girl suffered
much; in vain we implored pardon for her, in vain
we summoned her family to her relief. She might
say, as is written in the psalm,—'I am weary with
my groaning: mine eye is consumed because of grief.'
What could we do, save pray for her, since none
would receive her back!..."
"Alas!" cried William, "your letters never
reached us. My brother was beyond sea; and I,
having then no hope of changing his determination,—I
had quitted his empty and melancholy house."
"Man abandoned her," continued the superior,
"but God looked upon His servant, and comforted
her soul. If He does not see fit to restore strength
to her body, exhausted by suffering—His will be
done! Perhaps it would now be wise and generous
to leave her to that love of God which she has
attained after so many tears; perhaps it would be
prudent to spare her fresh shocks."
"No! no!" interrupted William, "I cannot give
up, even to God, this last relic of my family, the
sole prop of my old age. I will try every means
to revive in her heart its early sentiments. Give
me Christine for a few days only! Let me conduct
her to the place of her birth, to the scenes where
she loved. She is deaf to my entreaties, but she
will obey an order from you; bid her return for a
while beneath her father's roof! Should she still
wish it, after this last attempt, I will restore her
"Take her, my son," replied the superior; "I
will bid her follow. If God has indeed spoken to
her soul, no worldly voice will move her. If it be
otherwise, may she return no more to the cloister,
but be blessed wherever she goes! Adieu, my
son; the peace of the Lord be with you!"
Hope revived in the heart of William Van Amberg;
it seemed to him as if—the convent threshold
once passed—Christine would revert to her former
character—to her youth and love. He believed he
was about to remove his beloved child for ever
from these gloomy walls, and with painful impatience
he awaited her coming. Soon a light step
was heard in the corridor; William threw open the
door, Christine was there, and no grating now
separated her from her uncle.
"My beloved Christine!" exclaimed William;
"at last, then, you are restored to me; at last I
can press you to my heart! Come, we will return
to our own country, and revisit the house where
we all dwelt together."
Sister Martha-Mary was still paler than at her
first interview with William. If any expression
was discernible upon that calm countenance, it was
one of sadness. She allowed herself to be taken by
the hand and conducted to the convent gate; but
when the gate was opened, and, passing into the
open air, she encountered the broad daylight and
the fresh breeze, she tottered and leaned for support
against the wall. Just then the sun rent the
clouds, and threw its golden beams on plain and
mountain; the air was clear and transparent, and
the flat and monotonous horizon acquired beauty
from the burst of light.
"See, my daughter!" said William; "see how
lovely is the earth! How soft is the air we breathe!
How good it is to be free, and to move towards that
"Oh, my dear uncle!" replied the novice; "how
beautiful are the heavens! See how the sun shines
above our heads! It is in heaven that his glory
should be admired! His rays are already dim and
feeble when they touch the earth!"
William led Christine to a carriage; they got
in, and the horses set off. Long did the gaze of
the novice remain fixed on her convent's walls;
when these were hidden from her by the windings
of the road, she closed her eyes and seemed to
sleep. During the journey, William endeavoured
in vain to make her converse; she had forgotten
how to express her thoughts. When compelled to
reply, fatigue overwhelmed her; her whole existence
was concentrated in her soul, and detached
entirely from the external world. At intervals she
would say to herself, "How long the morning is!
Nothing marks the hours; I have not heard a single
At last they reached the red house, and the carriage
drove into the court, where the grass grew
between the stones. Gothon came out to receive
them, and Martha-Mary, leaning on her uncle's
arm, entered the parlour where the family of Van
Amberg had so often assembled. The room was
deserted and cold; no books or work gave it the
look of habitation; abandoned by its last occupants,
it awaited new ones. Christine slowly traversed
this well-known apartment, and sat down upon a
chair near the window. It was there her mother
had sat for twenty years; there had her childhood
passed at the knees of Annunciata.
William opened the window, showed her the
meadow, the willows, and the river. Christine
looked at them in silence, her head resting on her
hand, her eyes fixed on the horizon. For a long
while William stood beside her, then he placed his
hand on her shoulder and pronounced her name.
She rose and followed him. They ascended the
stairs, traversed the gallery, and William opened a
door. "Your mother's room," said he to Christine.
The novice entered and paused in the middle of
the chamber; tears flowed from her eyes, she
clasped her hands and prayed.
"My daughter," said William, "she ardently
desired your happiness."
"She has obtained it!" replied the novice.
The old man felt a profound sadness come over
him. It was like pressing to his heart a corpse to
which his love restored neither breath nor warmth.
Martha-Mary approached her mother's bed, knelt
down, and kissed the pillow that had supported the
dying head of Annunciata.
"Mother," she murmured, "soon we shall meet
William shuddered. He took Christine's hand,
and led her to the room she had formerly occupied.
The little white-curtained bed was still there, the
guitar hung against the wall, Christine's favourite
volumes filled the shelves of her modest book-case;
through the open window were seen the willows
and the river. Martha-Mary noticed none of these
things: the wooden crucifix was still upon the
wall; she rapidly approached it, knelt, bowed her
head upon the feet of Christ, closed her eyes and
breathed deeply, like one finding repose after long
fatigue. Like the exile returning to his native
land, like the storm-tossed mariner regaining the
port, she remained with her brow resting upon her
Standing by her side, William looked on in tearful
silence. Farther off, Gothon wiped her eyes
with her apron. Several hours elapsed. The house
clock struck, the birds sang in the garden; the
wind rustled among the trees; in the lofty pigeon-house
the doves cooed; the cock crowed in the
poultry-yard. None of these loved and familiar
sounds could divert Martha-Mary from her devout
meditation. Sick at heart, her uncle descended to
the parlour. He remained there long, plunged in
gloomy reflections. Suddenly hasty steps were
heard; a young man rushed into the room, and
into William's arms.
"Christine! Christine!" cried Herbert; "where
is Christine? Is it not a dream? M. Van Amberg
gives me Christine!... Once more in my
native land, and Christine mine!"
"Karl Van Amberg gives, but God refuses her
to you!" replied William, mournfully. Then he
told Herbert what had passed at the convent, and
since their arrival at the house: he gave a thousand
details—he repeated them a thousand times, but
without convincing Herbert of the melancholy
"It is impossible!" cried the young man; "if
Christine is alive, if Christine is here, to the first
word uttered by her lover, Christine will reply."
"God grant it!" exclaimed William; "my last
hope is in you."
Herbert sprang up the stairs, his heart too full of
love to have room for fear. Christine free, was for
him Christine ready to become his wife. He hastily
opened her chamber door; but then he paused,
as if petrified, upon the threshold. The day was
closing in, and its fading light fell upon Martha-Mary,
whose form stood out like a white shadow
from the gloom of the room. She was still on her
knees, her head resting on the feet of Christ, her
fragile person lost in the multiplied folds of her
conventual robes. She heard not the opening of
the door, and Herbert stood gazing at her, till a
flood of tears burst from his eyes. William took
his hand and silently pressed it.
"I am frightened!" said Herbert, in a low tone.
"That is not my Christine! A phantom risen from
the earth, or an angel descended from heaven, has
taken her place!"
"No, she is no longer Christine!" replied William,
For a few moments more Herbert stood in mournful
contemplation. Then he exclaimed—"Christine,
At the sound of his voice the novice started,
rose to her feet, and pronounced his name. As in
former days, when her lover called "Christine!"
Martha-Mary replied "Herbert!"
The young man's heart beat violently; he stood
beside the novice, he took her hands. "It is I, it
is Herbert!" he said, kneeling down before her.
The novice fixed her large black eyes upon him
with a long inquiring gaze; a slight flush passed
across her brow; then she became pale as before,
and said gently to Herbert—"I thought not to see
you again upon earth."
"Dear Christine! tears and suffering have long
been our portion; but happy days at last dawn
upon us! My love! my bride! we will never part
Martha-Mary extricated her hands from those of
Herbert, and retreated towards the image of Christ.
"I am the bride of the Lord," she said in trembling
accents. "He expects me."
Herbert uttered a cry of grief.
"Christine! dear Christine! remember our oft-repeated
pledges, our loves, our tears, our hopes.
You left me vowing to love me always. Christine,
if you would not have me die of despair, remember
Martha-Mary's eyes continued riveted on the
crucifix; her hands, convulsively clasped, were extended
"Gracious Lord!" she prayed, "speak to his
heart as you have spoken to mine! It is a noble
heart, worthy to love you. Stronger than I, Herbert
may survive, even after much weeping! Console
him, oh Lord!"
"Christine! my first and only love! sole hope
and joy of my life! do you thus abandon me?
That heart, once entirely mine, is it closed to me
Her gaze upon the crucifix, her hands still joined,
the novice, as if able to speak only to her God,
gently replied:—"Lord! he suffers as I suffered!
shed upon him the balm wherewith you healed my
wounds! Leaving him life, take his soul as you
have taken mine. Give him that ineffable peace
which descends upon those thou lovest!"
"Oh Christine! my beloved!" cried Herbert,
once more taking her hand, "do but look at me!
turn your eyes upon me and behold my tears!
Dearest treasure of my heart! you seem to slumber!
Awake! Have you forgotten our tender meetings,
the willows bending over the stream, the boat in
which we sailed a whole night, dreaming the joy of
eternal union? See! the moon rises as it rose that
night. We were near each other as now; but then
they tore us asunder, and now we are free to be
together! Christine, have you ceased to love? Is
William took her other hand. "Dear child," he
said, "we entreat you not to leave us! To you
we look for happiness; remain with us, Christine."
One hand in the hands of Herbert, the other in
those of William, the novice slowly and solemnly
"The corpse that reposes in the tomb lifts not
the stone to re-enter the world. The soul that has
seen heaven, does not leave it to return to earth.
The creature to whom God has said, 'Be thou the
spouse of Christ,' does not quit Christ to unite herself
to a man; and she who is about to die should
turn her affections from mortal things!"
"Herbert!" cried William, "be silent! Not
another word! I can scarcely feel the throbbing of
her pulse! She is paler even than when I first saw
her behind the convent grating. We give her pain.
Enough, Herbert, enough! Better yield her to
God upon earth, than send her to Him in heaven!"
The old man placed the almost inanimate head
of Martha-Mary upon his shoulder, and pressed her
to his heart as a mother embraces her child.
"Recover yourself, my daughter," he said; "I
will restore you to the house of God."
Martha-Mary turned her sad and gentle gaze
upon her uncle, and her hand feebly pressed his.
Then addressing herself to Herbert:
"You, Herbert," she said, in a scarcely audible
voice—"you, who will live, do not abandon him!"
"Christine!" cried Herbert, on his knees before
his betrothed. "Christine! do we part for ever?"
The novice raised her eyes to heaven.
"Not for ever!" she replied.
Some days afterwards the convent gates opened
to receive sister Martha-Mary. They closed upon
her for the last time. With feeble and unsteady
step the novice traversed the cloisters to prostrate
herself on the altar-steps. The superior came to
"Oh my mother!" exclaimed Christine, the
fountain of whose tears was opened, and who wept
as in the days of her childhood, "I have seen him
and left him! To thee I return, oh Lord! Faithful
to my vows, I await the crown that shall consecrate
me thy spouse. Thy voice alone shall henceforward
reach my ears; I come to sing thy praises, to
pray and serve thee until the end of my life!—Holy
mother, prepare the robe of serge, the white crown,
the silver cross; I am ready!"
"My daughter," replied the superior, "you are
very ill—much exhausted by so many shocks; will
you not delay the ceremony of profession?"
"No, holy mother! no; delay it not! I would
die the bride of the Lord!... And I have little
time!" replied sister Martha-Mary.