Read CHAPTER XIX of Raphael Pages Of The Book Of Life At Twenty, free online book, by Alphonse de Lamartine, on

“I was born,” she said, “in the same land as Virginia (for the poet’s fancy has given a real birthplace to his dream), in an island of the tropics. You may have guessed it from the color of my hair, and from my complexion, which is paler than that of European women. You must have perceived, too, the accent which still lingers on my lips. In truth, I rather wish to preserve that accent as my only memento of my native land; it recalls to my mind the plaintive and harmonious sounds of the sea-breeze that are heard at noon beneath the lofty palms. You may also have noticed that incorrigible indolence of walk and attitude, so different from the vivacity of French women, which indicates in the Creole a wild and natural frankness that knows not how to feign or to dissemble.

“My family name is D , and my own is Julie. My mother was lost in a boat in attempting to leave our native island during an insurrection of the blacks. I was washed ashore and saved by a black woman, who took care of me for several years, and then delivered me over to my father. He brought me to France when I was six years old, with an elder sister, and a short time after he died in poverty and exile in the house of some poor relations, who had hospitably received us in Brittany. The second mother whom I had found in exile provided for my education until her death, and, at twelve years old, I was adopted by the government as being the daughter of a man who had done some service to his country.

“I was brought up in all the luxurious splendor, and amid the choice friendships of those sumptuous houses, in which the State receives the daughters of those who die for their country. I grew in years, in talent, and also, it was said, in beauty. Mine was a grave and saddened grace, like the flower of some tropical plant blooming awhile beneath a foreign sky. But my useless beauty and my unavailing talents gladdened no eye or heart beyond the narrow precincts in which I was confined. My companions, with whom I had formed those close intimacies which make the friends of childhood the kindred of the heart, had all left, one by one, to join their mothers, or to follow their husbands. No mother took me home; no relation came to visit me; no young man heard of me, or sought me for his wife. I was saddened by these successive departures of all my friends, and felt sorrowful to think I was forsaken by the whole world, and doomed to an eternal bereavement of the heart without ever having loved. I often wept in secret, and regretted that the poor black woman had not allowed me to perish in the waves of my native shore, more merciful to me than the ocean, of the world on which I was cast.

“Now and then, an old man of great celebrity would come to visit, in the name of the Emperor, the national house of education, and inquire into the progress of the pupils in the arts and sciences, which were taught by the first masters of the capital; I was always pointed out to him as the brightest example of the education bestowed on the orphans. He invariably treated me with peculiar predilection from my childhood. ‘How I regret,’ he would sometimes say, loud enough for me to hear, ‘that I have no son!’

“One day I was called down to the parlor of the Superior. I found there my illustrious and venerable friend, who seemed as discomposed as I was myself. ‘My child,’ said he, at length, ’years roll on for every one, slowly for you, swiftly for me. You are now seventeen; in a few months you will have attained the age at which you must leave this house for the world; but there is no world to receive you. You have no country, no home, no fortune, and no family in France; your unprotected and dependent situation has made me feel anxious on your account for many years. The life of a young girl who earns her livelihood by her labor is full of snares and bitterness, and a home offered by friends is both precarious and humiliating to the spirit. The extreme beauty that Nature has bestowed upon you will, by its brightness, dispel the obscurity of your fate and attract vice, as the brightness of gold induces theft. Where do you mean to take shelter from the sorrows and dangers of life?’ ‘I know not,’ I answered; ’and I have thought sometimes that death alone can save me from my fate!’ ‘Oh,’ he replied, with a sad and irresolute smile, ’I have thought of another mode of escape, but I scarcely dare propose it.’ ‘Speak without fear, sir,’ I answered; ’you have during so many years spoken to me with the look and accent of a father, that I shall fancy I am obeying mine, in obeying you.’ ‘Ah, he would be happy indeed,’ he replied, ’who had a daughter such as you! Forgive me if I have sometimes indulged in such a dream! Listen to me,’ he added in a more tender and serious tone; ’and answer me in thorough frankness and liberty of heart.

“’My life is drawing to a close; the grave will soon open to receive me, and I have no relations to whom to bequeath my only wealth, the unaspiring celebrity of my name, and the humble fortune that I have acquired by my labors. Hitherto I have lived alone, completely absorbed by the studies that have consumed and dignified my life. I draw near to the close of my existence, and I am painfully aware that I have not commenced to live, since I have not thought of loving. It is too late to retrace my steps, and follow the path of happiness instead of that of glory, which I have unfortunately chosen; and yet I would not die without leaving in some memory that prolongation of existence in the existence of another, which is called affection, the only immortality in which I believe. I cannot hope for more than gratitude, and I feel that it is from you that I should wish to obtain it. But,’ added he, more timidly, ’for that, you must consent to accept, in the eyes of the world, and for the world only, the name, the hand, and the affection of an old man who would he a father under the name of husband, and who, as such, would merely seek the right of receiving you into his house, and loving you as his child.’

“He stopped, and refused that day to hear the answer which was already hovering on my lips. He was the only man among all the visitors of the house who had evinced any feeling towards me, beyond that vulgar and almost insolent admiration which shows itself in looks and exclamations, and is as much an offence as an homage. I knew nothing of love; I only felt an absence of all family ties which I thought the tenderness of my adoptive father would replace. I was offered a safe and honorable refuge against the dangers of the life in which I was to enter in a few months; and a name which would be as a diadem to the woman who bore it. His hair had grown white, it was true, but under the touch of Fame, which bestows eternal youth upon its favorites; his years would have numbered four times mine, but his regular and majestic features inspired respect for time, and no disgust for old age, and his countenance, where genius and goodness were combined, possessed that beauty of declining age which attracts the eye and affection even of childhood.”

“The very day I quitted forever the Orphan Establishment, I entered my husband’s house, not as his wife, but as his daughter. The world gave him the name of husband, but he never suffered me to call him anything but father, and he was such to me in care and tenderness. He made me the adored and radiating centre of a select and distinguished circle, composed for the greater part of those old men, eminent in letters, politics, or philosophy, who had been the glory of the preceding century and had escaped the fury of the Revolution, and the voluntary servitude of the Empire. He selected for me friends and guides among those women of the same period who were most remarkable for their talents or virtues; he promoted and encouraged all those connections most likely to interest my mind or heart, and to diversify the monotonous life I led in an old man’s house; and far from being severe or jealous in respect of my acquaintances, he sought by the most courteous attention to attract all those distinguished men whose society might have charms for me. He would have liked whomever I had chosen, and would have been pleased if I had shown preference to any one among the crowd. I was the worshipped idol of the house, and the general idolatry of which I was the object went far, perhaps, to guard me against any individual predilection. I was too happy and too much flattered to inquire into the state of my own heart, and besides, there was so much paternal tenderness in my husband’s manner towards me, although he only showed his fondness by sometimes holding me to his heart, and kissing my forehead, from which he gently parted my hair, that I should have feared to disturb my happiness by seeking to render it complete. He would sometimes, however, playfully rally me on my indifference, and tell me that all that tended to add to my happiness would increase his own.

“Once, and once only, I thought I loved and was beloved. A man whose genius had rendered him illustrious, who was powerful from his high favor with the Emperor, and who was doubly captivating by his renown and appearance, although he had passed the meridian of life, sought me with a signal devotion that deceived me. I was not elated with pride, but rather with gratitude and surprise. I loved him for a time, or rather I loved a self-created delusion under his name. I might have yielded to the charm of such a feeling, had I not discovered that what I supposed to be a passionate attachment of the heart was on his part only an infatuation of the senses. When I perceived the real nature of his love, it became odious to me, and I blushed to think how I had been deceived; I took back my heart, and wrapped myself once more in the cold monotony of my happiness.

“The morning was spent in deep and engaging studies with my husband, whose willing disciple I was. During the day we took long and solitary walks in the woods of St. Cloud or of Meudon; and in the evening a few grave, and for the most part elderly, friends would meet and discourse on various topics, with all the freedom of intimacy. These cold but indulgent hearts inclined toward my youth, from that natural bias which makes the love of the aged descend on the youthful, as the streams of snow-covered summits flow downwards to the plain. But these hoary heads seemed to shed their snows on me, and my youth pined and wasted away in the ungenial atmosphere of age. There lay too great a space of years between their hearts and mine! Oh, what would I not have given to have had one friend of my own age, by the contact of whose warm heart I might have dissolved the thoughts that froze within me, as the dew of morning congeals upon the plants that grow too near these mountain glaciers!

“My husband often looked sadly at me, and seemed alarmed at my pale face and languid voice. He would have desired, at any cost, to give air and motion to my heart. He continually tried to induce me to mingle in diversions which might dispel my melancholy, and would use gentle force to oblige me to appear at balls and theatres, in the hope that the natural pride which my youth and beauty might have given me would have made me share in the pleasure of those around me. The next morning, as soon as I was awake, he would come into my room and make me relate the impression I had produced, the admiration I had attracted, and even speak of the hearts that I had seemed to touch. ‘And you,’ would he say, in a tone of gentle interrogation, ’do you share none of these feelings that you inspire? Is your young heart at twenty as old as mine? Oh, that I could see you single out from among all these admirers one superior being, who might one day, by his love, render your happiness complete, and when I am gone, continue my affection for you under a younger and more tender form!’ ‘Your affection suffices me,’ I would answer; ‘I feel no pain; I desire nothing; I am happy!’ ‘Yes,’ he would rejoin, ’you are happy, but you are growing old at twenty! Oh, remember that it is your task to close my eyes! Live and love! oh, do but live, that I may not survive you!

“He called in one doctor after another; they wearied me with questions, and all agreed in saying that I was threatened with spasm of the heart. The fainting fits, incident to the disease, had begun to show themselves. I required, it was said, to break through the usual routine of my life, to relinquish for some time my sedentary habits, and seek a complete change of air and scene, in order to give me that stimulus and energy that my tropical nature required, and which it had lost in the cold and misty atmosphere of Paris. My husband did not hesitate one moment between the hope of prolonging my life and the happiness of keeping me near him. As he could not, by reason of his age and occupations, accompany me, he confided me to the care of friends who were travelling in Switzerland and Italy, with two daughters of my own age. I travelled with that family two years; I have seen mountains and seas that reminded me of those of my native land; I have breathed the balmy and stimulating air of the waves and glaciers; but nothing has restored to me the youth that has withered in my heart, although it sometimes appears to bloom on my face, so as to deceive even me. The doctors of Geneva have sent me here, as the last resource of their art; they have advised me to prolong my stay as long as one ray of sun lingers in the autumnal sky; then I shall rejoin my husband. Alas, that I could have shown him his daughter, once more young, and radiant with health and hope! But I feel that I shall return only to sadden his latter days, and perhaps to expire in his arms! Well,” she rejoined in a resigned and almost joyful tone, “I shall not now leave earth without having seen my long-expected brother, the brother of the soul, that some secret instinct taught me to expect, and whose image, foreshadowed in my fancy, had made me indifferent to all real beings. Yes,” she said, covering her eyes with her rosy taper fingers between which I saw one or two tears trickle; “oh, yes, the dream of all my nights was embodied in you this morning, when I awoke! ... Oh, if it were not too late to live on, I would wish to live for centuries, to prolong the consciousness of that look, which seemed to weep over me, of that heart that pitied me, of that voice,” she added, unveiling her eyes which were raised to heaven, “of that voice that called me sister! ... That tender name will never more be taken from me,” she added with a look and tone of gentle interrogation, “during life, or after death?”