The words were scarce out of my mouth when the Count de L-'s post- chaise, with his sister in it, drove hastily by: she had just time to make me a bow of recognition,--and of that particular kind of it, which told me she had not yet done with me. She was as good as her look; for, before I had quite finished my supper, her brother's servant came into the room with a billet, in which she said she had taken the liberty to charge me with a letter, which I was to present myself to Madame R- the first morning I had nothing to do at Paris. There was only added, she was sorry, but from what penchant she had not considered, that she had been prevented telling me her story,--that she still owed it to me; and if my route should ever lay through Brussels, and I had not by then forgot the name of Madame de L-,--that Madame de L- would be glad to discharge her obligation.
Then I will meet thee, said I, fair spirit! at Brussels;--'tis only returning from Italy through Germany to Holland, by the route of Flanders, home;--'twill scarce be ten posts out of my way; but, were it ten thousand! with what a moral delight will it crown my journey, in sharing in the sickening incidents of a tale of misery told to me by such a sufferer? To see her weep! and, though I cannot dry up the fountain of her tears, what an exquisite sensation is there still left, in wiping them away from off the cheeks of the first and fairest of women, as I'm sitting with my handkerchief in my hand in silence the whole night beside her?
There was nothing wrong in the sentiment; and yet I instantly reproached my heart with it in the bitterest and most reprobate of expressions.
It had ever, as I told the reader, been one of the singular blessings of my life, to be almost every hour of it miserably in love with some one; and my last flame happening to be blown out by a whiff of jealousy on the sudden turn of a corner, I had lighted it up afresh at the pure taper of Eliza but about three months before,--swearing, as I did it, that it should last me through the whole journey.--Why should I dissemble the matter? I had sworn to her eternal fidelity;--she had a right to my whole heart: --to divide my affections was to lessen them;--to expose them was to risk them: where there is risk there may be loss: --and what wilt thou have, Yorick, to answer to a heart so full of trust and confidence--so good, so gentle, and unreproaching!
- I will not go to Brussels, replied I, interrupting myself.--But my imagination went on,--I recalled her looks at that crisis of our separation, when neither of us had power to say adieu! I look'd at the picture she had tied in a black riband about my neck,--and blush'd as I look'd at it.--I would have given the world to have kiss'd it,--but was ashamed.--And shall this tender flower, said I, pressing it between my hands,--shall it be smitten to its very root,--and smitten, Yorick! by thee, who hast promised to shelter it in thy breast?
Eternal Fountain of Happiness! said I, kneeling down upon the ground,--be thou my witness--and every pure spirit which tastes it, be my witness also, That I would not travel to Brussels, unless Eliza went along with me, did the road lead me towards heaven!
In transports of this kind, the heart, in spite of the understanding, will always say too much.
THE LETTER. AMIENS.
Fortune had not smiled upon La Fleur; for he had been unsuccessful in his feats of chivalry,--and not one thing had offered to signalise his zeal for my service from the time that he had entered into it, which was almost four-and-twenty hours. The poor soul burn'd with impatience; and the Count de L-'s servant coming with the letter, being the first practicable occasion which offer'd, La Fleur had laid hold of it; and, in order to do honour to his master, had taken him into a back parlour in the auberge, and treated him with a cup or two of the best wine in Picardy; and the Count de L-'s servant, in return, and not to be behindhand in politeness with La Fleur, had taken him back with him to the Count's hotel. La Fleur's PREVENANCY (for there was a passport in his very looks) soon set every servant in the kitchen at ease with him; and as a Frenchman, whatever be his talents, has no sort of prudery in showing them, La Fleur, in less than five minutes, had pulled out his fife, and leading off the dance himself with the first note, set the fille de chambre, the maitre d'hotel, the cook, the scullion, and all the house-hold, dogs and cats, besides an old monkey, a dancing: I suppose there never was a merrier kitchen since the flood.
Madame de L-, in passing from her brother's apartments to her own, hearing so much jollity below stairs, rung up her fille de chambre to ask about it; and, hearing it was the English gentleman's servant, who had set the whole house merry with his pipe, she ordered him up.
As the poor fellow could not present himself empty, he had loaded himself in going up stairs with a thousand compliments to Madame de L-, on the part of his master,--added a long apocrypha of inquiries after Madame de L-'s health,--told her, that Monsieur his master was au desespoire for her re-establishment from the fatigues of her journey,--and, to close all, that Monsieur had received the letter which Madame had done him the honour--And he has done me the honour, said Madame de L-, interrupting La Fleur, to send a billet in return.
Madame de L- had said this with such a tone of reliance upon the fact, that La Fleur had not power to disappoint her expectations;-- he trembled for my honour,--and possibly might not altogether be unconcerned for his own, as a man capable of being attached to a master who could be wanting en egards vis a vis d'une femme! so that when Madame de L- asked La Fleur if he had brought a letter,-- O qu'oui, said La Fleur: so laying down his hat upon the ground, and taking hold of the flap of his right side pocket with his left hand, he began to search for the letter with his right;--then contrariwise.--Diable! then sought every pocket--pocket by pocket, round, not forgetting his fob: --Peste!--then La Fleur emptied them upon the floor,--pulled out a dirty cravat,--a handkerchief,--a comb,--a whip lash,--a nightcap,--then gave a peep into his hat,-- Quelle etourderie! He had left the letter upon the table in the auberge;--he would run for it, and be back with it in three minutes.
I had just finished my supper when La Fleur came in to give me an account of his adventure: he told the whole story simply as it was: and only added that if Monsieur had forgot (par hazard) to answer Madame's letter, the arrangement gave him an opportunity to recover the faux pas;--and if not, that things were only as they were.
Now I was not altogether sure of my etiquette, whether I ought to have wrote or no;--but if I had,--a devil himself could not have been angry: 'twas but the officious zeal of a well meaning creature for my honour; and, however he might have mistook the road,--or embarrassed me in so doing,--his heart was in no fault,-- I was under no necessity to write;--and, what weighed more than all,--he did not look as if he had done amiss.
- 'Tis all very well, La Fleur, said I.--'Twas sufficient. La Fleur flew out of the room like lightning, and returned with pen, ink, and paper, in his hand; and, coming up to the table, laid them close before me, with such a delight in his countenance, that I could not help taking up the pen.
I began and began again; and, though I had nothing to say, and that nothing might have been expressed in half a dozen lines, I made half a dozen different beginnings, and could no way please myself.
In short, I was in no mood to write.
La Fleur stepp'd out and brought a little water in a glass to dilute my ink,--then fetch'd sand and seal-wax.--It was all one; I wrote, and blotted, and tore off, and burnt, and wrote again.--Le diable l'emporte! said I, half to myself,--I cannot write this self-same letter, throwing the pen down despairingly as I said it.
As soon as I had cast down my pen, La Fleur advanced with the most respectful carriage up to the table, and making a thousand apologies for the liberty he was going to take, told me he had a letter in his pocket wrote by a drummer in his regiment to a corporal's wife, which he durst say would suit the occasion.
I had a mind to let the poor fellow have his humour.--Then prithee, said I, let me see it.
La Fleur instantly pulled out a little dirty pocket book cramm'd full of small letters and billet-doux in a sad condition, and laying it upon the table, and then untying the string which held them all together, run them over, one by one, till he came to the letter in question,--La voila! said he, clapping his hands: so, unfolding it first, he laid it open before me, and retired three steps from the table whilst I read it.
Je suis penetre de la douleur la plus vive, et reduit en meme temps au desespoir par ce retour imprevu du Caporal qui rend notre entrevue de ce soir la chose du monde la plus impossible.
Mais vive la joie! et toute la mienne sera de penser a vous.
L'amour n'est rien sans sentiment.
Et le sentiment est encore moins sans amour.
On dit qu'on ne doit jamais se desesperer.
On dit aussi que Monsieur le Caporal monte la garde Mercredi: alors ce cera mon tour.
Chacun a son tour.
En attendant--Vive l'amour! et vive la bagatelle!
Je suis, Madame,
Avec tous les sentimens les plus respectueux et les plus tendres,
tout a vous,
It was but changing the Corporal into the Count,--and saying nothing about mounting guard on Wednesday,--and the letter was neither right nor wrong: --so, to gratify the poor fellow, who stood trembling for my honour, his own, and the honour of his letter,--I took the cream gently off it, and whipping it up in my own way, I seal'd it up and sent him with it to Madame de L-;--and the next morning we pursued our journey to Paris.