CHRISTINE

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 of happiness.

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 sudden chill.

"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 yes."

"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 child!"

"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 presence.

"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 by?"

He covered his face with his hands, to conceal his tears. Christine's heart beat violently—but she had courage.

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.

Herbert wept.


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 breakfast.

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 work.

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 countenance.

"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 plate.

"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 things.

"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 hurry."

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 ill."

"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 reply.

"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 elder brother."

"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, coldly.

"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 it!"

"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 than ever.

"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 me die!"

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 again spoke.

"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 hear?"

"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 this morning?"

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 Herbert's boat."

"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 fatigue.

"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, dearest mother!"

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 countenance.

"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 me!"

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 arm—

"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 reply.

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 love you."

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 and wept.

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. She listened.

"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 death!"

"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 again?"

"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 your duty."

"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 happiness."

"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 of heaven."

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 implacable judge.

"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 be so!"

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 more courage.

"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 reply.

"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 Van Amberg!"

"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, brother!"

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 her.

"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 happy!"

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 follows:

"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 Batavia."

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 fingers.

"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, Maria!"

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 ever!"

"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 follows us."

"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 father!"

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 shoulder.

"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 letter:—

"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 remote settlements.

"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 towards her.

"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 her vows."

"Martha-Mary!—I do not know the name!" said William Van Amberg; "I seek Christine—my niece Christine."

"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 gratings.

"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 Christine?"

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?"

"No."

"A cruel bondage has weighed heavily upon you?"

"No."

"You have been ill then?"

"No."

"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 bride!"

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 Lord!"

William uttered a cry of grief, and looked with alarm at the pale calm girl, who stood immovable before him.

"Christine!" he cried, "you no longer love Herbert?"

"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 thus?"

"Hear you not the bell? It is the hour of prayer."

"But, Christine, dearest child, I came to take you hence."

"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 regret."

"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 hither."

"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 immense horizon!"

"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 bell to-day!"

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 again."

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 Saviour's feet.

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 truth.

"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, sadly.

For a few moments more Herbert stood in mournful contemplation. Then he exclaimed—"Christine, dear 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 again!"

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 the past!"

Martha-Mary's eyes continued riveted on the crucifix; her hands, convulsively clasped, were extended towards it.

"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 for ever?"

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 all forgotten?"

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 replied:

"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 her.

"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.