Page images
PDF
EPUB

more petitions from me to spurn,

," he mentally Whenever wagon-loads of stone or wood had to be resolved, and resolved it in the bitterness of a transported over heavy country by-roads, Pavel's wounded heart.

horses were sure to be put in requisition ; but if, At Noah's, Pavel had heard a great deal of as happened once or twice, an animal died in conoppression, but never suffered from it ; young as sequence of being over-labored, Pavel had no rehe was, he had now to feel it. The count's dress, nor could he get his beast replaced. On steward was by nature a grinding, harsh-tempered such occasions, however, he lamented the loss less man, who had the double task to perform of pre- than he was enraged at witnessing the sufferings senting correct accounts to a master who was not of the poor animals, for which he ever had the easy to blind, and feathering his own nest. These greatest sympathy, and seeing them expire beneath two achievements demanded the greatest nicety of a brutality which he could neither avert nor reproceeding, and the sufferers were, of course, the venge; and when his over-burthened horses looked serfs. If the terms of a peasant's tenure exacted at him with the reproachful glances of human betwo days' work in the week, then as surely would ings, and he was yet compelled to flog thein on, the steward require a third to be devoted to his his heart hardened towards mankind—no amount own bit of land ; and whatever advantages devolved of human suffering could move him after that. on the peasants by right, he curtailed it by half. “Man, at least,” thonght he, "might complain, If a cottage required repair, or a case of peculiar might resist ; but I--serf that I am-can I comdistress occurred, it was noted down in his books, plain ? can I resist ? am I not as much in the and set forth at a most extravagant rate ; but the thrall as these poor victims?" and he grew more roof was not thatched, the relief was not afforded. insensible with injustice, his temper became fiercer, Of those tithes that are paid in kind, a large por- his thoughts darker. tion found its way into his own yard and granary. There was nothing in his home to soften these His system was this :-If a man's tithe comprised impressions. Jakubska, discontented, often beside two fowls at a certain season, it was an understood herself with drink, always irritable, incapable of thing that he must deliver three, that the steward attending to her womanly duties, yielded him no might have his share. Should the peasant neglect comfort ; but, by her loathsome presence and habits, this precaution, he might make sure that the work added a sting to his wretchedness. She played allotted to him and his horses would try both man her mean tricks even upon him. Often did he and cattle in such a manner, that the unlucky serf find his pockets rified in the night of the very few might consider himself fortunate if he could pur- pence they contained. Often when he had, by dint chase forgiveness by the payment of an extra fowl, of the severest exertion and self-denial, laid by the with, perhaps, the addition of a basket of eggs, or tithe due to church or lord, would she dispose of a measure of wheat and rye. If the peasant hap- the treasured-up debt in his absence, and leave pened to keep on his own land one cow or horse him to settle it with the exacting steward and the more than was, by regulation, allotted to that piece count's justice as best he might. At first Pavel of ground, the animal must either be given up, or remonstrated—threatened to abandon her; but she the steward duly sostened.

laughed his threats to scorn.

ro. Thus there was not It was not long before Pavel became acquainted in the whole village a man more sober or hardwith this man. His independent bearing was ev- working, yet more frequently fined and punished, idently displeasing from the first ; and the steward than Pavel. For now Pavel was a man. Ten was not slow in manifesting symptoms of hostility. long years had passed in this perpetual hopeless He was confirmed in this course by the count's struggle with his destiny ; still neither Jakubska's having ordered him to keep a sharp look-out after vices, nor the steward's persecutions diminished, the Jakubskas, which he interpreted into a token nor did any change of feeling occur to turn the of dislike, and, therefore, set down the lone widow current of his afflictions. They settled down ever and her youthful son as legitimate objects of his more gloomily on his spirit, and left at the bottom malignity; and he showed it in a series of galling of his nature but one element, that of sullen deannoyances. Thus, free pasture on the castle spair. lands for the widow's cattle being among the priv- It is not, however, to be supposed that disconileges granted by the late countess, Pavel one day tent was restricted to Pavel. The whole estate, permitted a favorite goat to stray into one of these for fifteen years under the steward's rule, compaddocks. He was immediately summoned before plained grievously; and forgetting altogether how the count's court of justice, and punished—slighl- often they had, under similar circumstances, comly, indeed, for no extent of ill-will could construe plained of the count, they now longed for his presthis into a crime. On paying his periodical visits ence among them. to the steward's house with his mother's tithes, At last, one morning in spring, the great event he was invariably accused of having brought light was announced-he was about to return. weights, and forced to add greatly to what was that the people rejoiced at the prospect of seeing really due ; when it was his turn to work on his him for his own sake, would be saying too much ; lords's lands, he never worked sufficiently—he had affection so vivid as to inspire a sentiment of this never done his task properly; and more was ex- kind towards their lords is not generally known to acted from him than from any one else, though all the Gallician peasantry; but there was a hope, a were overtoiled, and knew themselves to be so. I vague feeling, that now their rights, such as they

To say

were, would be respected, and their situation some-| ters of the most affluent inhabitants of the villages, what bettered. They hailed the event, in short, drew near to offer nosegays to the countess ; but as one likely to be productive of good.

the footmen took the flowers from their hands, and To Pavel, it was fraught with a nameless, in- remitted them to his mistrees. The children looked describable interest. He could not have shaped abashed. They had hoped and expected that the his confused hopes and sensations into form ; but carriage-door would be opened, and a few kind he had a presentiment as of some impending words from their new mistress would have repaid change. At any rate, he would be roused from the courtesy, but the door remained closed, and the torpor in which his whole being was petrify- the veil that half hid the countess' face was not ing. Soon, indeed, wagons, laden with furniture, removed. The thin lace could not, however, conmade their appearance slowly nearing the chateau ; ceal the movement of her hand, which raised a and, a few days later, the count followed alone, to handkerchief to her lips in order to suppress a prepare everything for the reception of his family. yawn. Now, for the first time since her death, the apart- The carriage then rolled into the castle-yard, ments of the late countess were thrown open. and the peasantry were sent home till the evening, These the general determined to appropriate to when their presence would be required for the his own use, and gave directions that another part framework of a rural fete. of the mansion should be fitted up for his present The guests were shown their several apartments. wife.

The servants, all huddled together in the common About a week after his arrival, an elegant room, immediately fell to upon what eatables they travelling carriage, preceding several others, was could find; and soon the so long silent house reëchoed seen entering the estate, and rolling at great speed to the unwonted sounds of animation. The count, along the road leading to the mansion. The count's his wife, and child, repaired to the room where orders had been given that a village fete should be first we saw Leon. Here nothing had been altered. got up to celebrate the arrival of the mistress of The chamber was as naked and faded as of yore; Stanoiki. The peasants of the two chief villages, the persons who occupied it alone were changed. in the nearest of which Pavel resided, were, ac- The count was no longer in his prime as when cordingly, decked out in their best attire, and with last he stood there ; the few years that had since rifles, from which to send forth triumphant salutes; elapsed seemed to have weighed him down. His accompanied by little village maidens with baskets tall figure was, indeed, erect as ever ; but his full of flowers and early violets, to strew upon the head was bald, and the thin locks yet clinging to countess' path. They now stood drawn up to re- the temples were fast merging from gray into the ceive her on the lawn before the chateau, singing silver tints. His bushy eyebrows and fierce mussome old native song, in which the words mamin- tachios were thickly grizzled ; and his aquiline ka and papinka gos podino and gos podina (mother, features had assumed an austere expression that father, lord and lady) figured ad infinitum. repulsed all advances. The heart naturally closed

There was, however, something like a blight before that aspect of utter abstraction. upon the scene. The idea of alighting never His lady, though nearly thirty, scarcely seemed seemed to occur to the countess; and her carriage, past twenty, so juvenile was her style of beauty. hermetically closed, looked, together with those of middle height and slender form, with eyes, that immediately followed it, like so many hearses hair, and skin, of the palest possible tints, with drawn up in the midst of the rejoicing peasantry. features which, though not strictly regular, were The violets and primroses fell at the horses' feet, the most delicate imaginable, with lips well nigh and were soon trampled beneath their hoofs. The as colorless as her cheek, the countess was one of weather was damp, and the rifles flashed in the pan; those women for whom the words ethereal and and the rich pure voices peculiar to the Sclavonic sylph-like seem expressly invented, or who, more race were accompanied by the croaking of frogs properly, may be said to have inspired them. She from the marshy banks of the river, where they understood well the peculiarity of her style, and were rejoicing in the first warmth of the year. how to make the most of it; her hair surrounded

Whilst the physiognomy of the Slavonic peasant her face in fleecy clouds, and her dress was ever is distinguished by the peculiar type of the slave, of the lightest, most transparent materials. I know extreme depression, and an apathy which borders not if Lavater has illustrated the truth of the folon stolidity, the noble of those countries unites, lowing remark; it is generally in this sort of nebula with an undeniable grace and peculiarly aristocratic plantom that the hardest kernel may

be found. A form, a harshness of aspect, and a hauteur which, warm heart, and a lively fancy, like rich soils, coupled with the brutalized appearance of the lower develop a more abundant and highly colored vegeorders, gives a key to the existence of the latter. tation ; but beneath these spotless snows one may The General Count Stanoiki, as he rode up to the be pretty sure to discover, in the long run, a good, carriage in which his wife sat, and took his stand solid foundation of ice, and hard, sterile ground. beside it, had a look so cold, so abstracted from Those who had no systems, and drew no foregone the scene, so unapproachable, that the peasants conclusions, might be divided, with respect to the felt a chill at their hearts that increased the nat-countess, into two distinct classes : her inferiors, ural mournfulness of their voices. The chorus of who, even at the first glance, felt an unutterable rewelcome being finished, a few young girls, daugh- pulsion from her, and her equals, who strongly suspected her mind to be of the same unearthly nature answer ; but as his wife remained silent, he said as her person. This difference was easy to un- in a milder tonederstand. To the former, her half-closed eyes, “ It is necessary that my son should be known which, it seemed, she could not take the trouble on his principal estate—that from which he will to open to their full extent to gaze on their worth- one day draw a considerable part of his fortune ; lessness, the sneer of her curling lip, the impa- and as you will never let him go anywhere withtience of her slightly-elevated eyebrows, conveyed out youan impression of such ineffable insolence, that more “I know my duty as a mother and a wife," ine perfect features than hers would have been ob- terrupted the countess, drawing herself up primly. scured by it. Among her equals her disdainful “ If you go where I do not like to be, still I must indolence vanished ; her frigid grace was deemed follow-I am yet too young and too good-looking purity, and her angel wings were clearly discern- to spend my summers alone at a bath, or on one ible.

In téte à téte with her husband, her coun- estate when you are at another." tenance had a third and no less marked expression ; “But I shall like to be here," said the boyit was that of irrepressible ennui, which the differ- “I think there will be more pleasure in boating ence in their age might explain, but could not jus- and riding, on the lake and about these grounds, tify.

than anywhere I have yet been." Near the fauteuil on which his mother lay re- “Well, Casimir, if you like it," said the clining, stood her son, now twelve years of age, mother, “ it will be a comfort at least; but I can't with the same gray eyes, flaxen curls, and pallor, fancy with what I shall amuse my guests !-drive that distinguished his mother, but with features them to the mines-boat down the river-et puis more irregular, and which want of strength and après ? expression rendered utterly insignificant. It was “Oh, you 'll have scandal and cards here, as a puny, sickly child, on whose faded, old-looking everywhere else," said the general. countenance might be traced the baneful effects of The countess was about to cast on her husband late hours and the atmosphere of crowded rooms. one of her most vindictive glances, but one of the The child had remained the solitary fruit of their guests happening to enter the chamber at the mounion, and was the heir of Stanoiki. Certainly ment, she exchanged it for one of welcome. the group bore little resemblance to that which had The general left the room, followed by Casimir. preceded it fifteen years before, yet there was one " Where are the stables, papa? where is my thing that was not changed—the heir of Stanoiki pony? where is the boat you promised me ?" was as spoiled and as wilful as ever Leon had The count passed his hand over his brow as been.

these accents, tinged with an infantine acridity, “ It is all very well,” said the countess, languid- that reminded him but too well of the maternal ly, endeavoring to suppress a yawn, " to visit this ones, reached his ear. Similar requests, made in place en passant, but it is too much out of the a franker, more joyous tone, still dwelt on his memway of my friends to spend here any length of ory, and the figure of a bold, dark boy, shooting

along the river alone in his boat, or scouring the "It is my intention,” said the general, “to de- grounds on his pony, flitted across his mind. But vote the few next summers to my estate ; I have that child of his love was no more, though the too long neglected it."

child of the slave still existed. Recollections “I always hated the place !” said the countess. here crowded from all sides upon him. For fif

How could you hate, my dearest Sophie, what teen years he had not had the courage to face you did not know?"

them, and he felt it would yet be the work of time Oh, because—that is the great drawback to to disconnect the images of the past from that marrying a widower—there is always a portion of abode. his past life which does not belong to one. Now He had known but little of happiness since this place is so connected with your first wife and Vanda's death. Childless and wealthy, when his child, that I fancy their shadows are haunting ev- proposals had been accepted by a young creature ery spot."

who might have been his daughter, and whose The words conjured up the image of a soft, pale brilliant advantages of person and fortune entitled female, and a hearty boy, which was as instantly her to make her own selection, he thought he had repressed by the strength of the count's will, but every reason to congratulate himself ; nor had the his brow clouded over.

warnings of a few, faithful old friends, as to the “ You have the talent,” he said, sharply, “ever danger of wedding one so much his junior, been in to evoke disagreeable subjects.”

any way justified by the sequel. The countess' “ Disagreeable to me, I conceive," said the behavior, as a wife, was beyond the breath of scancountess, “but to you, I should not have thought dal. Not only virtue, but prudence and discretion

had guided her every step.

But if the count “ Your delicacy should have made you feel it," knew none of those heart-burning jealousies that replied the count.

are generally the lot of elderly husbands of young I always told you I hated the idea of coming wives, yet his self-love gained but little on that to Stanoiki,” resumed the countess. The count score; for the countess made him feel, as well as shrugged his shoulders, and for a time returned no the rest of the world, how admirable was her be

time."

[ocr errors]

assure

band."

havior, considering the very peculiar and delicate " The general looks moved, my dear," observed circumstances in which she was placed. The first her friend. time she stood prepared, radiant in her fairy beauty, “This place, you know," said the countess, all gauze and gossamer, with her marabout boa " is so fraught with tender reminiscences—such a mingling with a cloud of fair hair, to be taken by romantic story, too-cousins—an attachment of him to a court-ball at Vienna, he felt a pride in early youth—all that sort of thing—one must make his new bauble, such as he had not experienced allowances; it quite overcomes him. I

you since the sun of his emperor had blazed forth in I feel for him—it is so natural. Of course he glory. But pride gave way to mortification when, has no longer that affection to offer me which, putting her child-like hand in his broad palm, she after all, one must be fair, belongs but to one said, in her peculiarly low, yet acidulated accents period of life.” -“ Now mind, my dear general, our position is But

you

-80 young, with your warm heart !" exceptional, so must our manners be-you must Oh, I-I have such a perfect esteem for the be doubly careful of me, and I shall be more re- general. He is, too, the father of my beloved served than other women, for no one can suspect Casimir. A romantic, silly girl might not like me of a romantic attachment to you."

always having the remembrance of another rising “ It need not be romantic," said the general, in between her and her husband, but you know with a tone of pique, “but still

me it is so different.' “Still," said the countess,“ my part will be a “ Your angelic temper makes you bear anyvery difficult one just at first, till the world under thing, my dear.” stands me thoroughly, and gets accustomed to the “We cannot expect unalloyed delight on this immense disparity of our years.”

earth-we should not even desire it." “I," said the general, with a reddening brow, Other guests now assembling in the salon pre“I shall never condescend to play the jealous hus- vented the countess from gratifying her patien:

listener with more of those wise saws and pious “ I don't ask you—it would be wearisome-be maxims which, when forming, as they did with kind and fatherly, that is all I demand."

this lady, the ground-work of conversation, are That night the arrow entered the general's neither amusing, edifying, nor sincere.

One senheart, and had rankled there ever since. He per- timent alone seemed genuine-her almost idolatry ceived plainly, and so did the world, that he was of her son. The affection could only be surpassed not loved—that he was as much alone in his by the injudiciousness of its application. Cloyed second marriage as he would have been had he with sweetmeats and blasé with toys from his craremained a widower. The countess lived beside dle, ever present at the countess' late soirées, his him, but not with him. Their pursuits, their education neglected—for no tutor could be found amusements, their likings and dislikings, their so thoroughly deprived of hope and resources as to joys and their griefs, had nothing in common. The remain for any length of time with this hopeful count, an old trooper of the “grand army,” hated scion_his every wish gratified, no one

on the the Jesuits. The countess, of a family devoted establishment daring to venture upon the slightest to them, lived and breathed but through their coun- opposition to his desires, and the Josephinka of his sels. In his faults, as in his virtues, the count mother, who had replaced the Countess Vanda's was reserved, but not false : the countess was a Seraphinka, being proportionably humble and slavfinished actress, and her husband at last came to ish as the rule she lived under was exacting, renthe opinion that her manifold virtues were all but dered fretful and irritable by the mismanagement so many stage effects. Beneath the coldness of the of his stomach and disposition, Casimir was an count's air lay concealed passion ; but the countess embryo tyrant, whom even his mother was glad had not a fibre in her whole system which it was in to obey. She had indeed managed to instruct him the power of man to move. An inflexible will in the first rudiments of reading and writing, but an indomitable pride-an unbounded self-esteem, there seemed but little prospect of his ever turning were the qualities enshrined within that fragile this instruction to good account. There was, it casket; their hearts, parted from the first, were is true, no danger of his perusing light books like two parallel lines running on ; they never the countess eschewing French novels as she esmet by the way.

But here, at Stanoiki, the count chewed plays, operas, and ballets, on account of had known true happiness. Vanda had gilded their immoral tendency—but as often happens in years of felicity on this spot; and never had his such cases, the boy read not at all.

The history regrets, no, not even in the first hour of bereave- of the Dukes of Burgundy, by Barante, lay open on ment, been so poignant as now, when experience the countess' table, always presenting the same had taught him how irretrievable was bis loss. page to view, for eleven successive years, and her

While he was thus musing, the countess and son had a Buffon des enfans which seemed likely her female friend were discussing the general ; not to do him similar service in time. that she was one of those vulgar women who are We said that the countess had but one affection in the habit of complaining of, or making formal in her heart, but one tie in life. This was, howaccusations against, the man whose name they ever, doing the lady injustice. She was a zealous bear, to a third party; she was altogether above patriot, and would have sacrificed for Poland, as that.

an abstract idea, even the fortune of her child.

Perhaps this feeling was too absorbing to allow boatman so bold and safe as Pavel-now to run others of a less pure nature to stand beside it, and after his pony, and satisfy his many caprices, was had consequently raised her above ordinary temp- gall and wormwood-it was gall and wormwood tations. In her country's cause she had already, to see him riding about the grounds as he once as we have seen, lost a brother who, having suc- rode, spending his time roaming as he once roamed, ceeded to large estates in Russian-Poland, one day and treated with more servile reşpect than he had disappeared, no clue to his fate having ever been been treated withal. Pavel's dark looks and sulky obtained. Whether he had fled to distant countries, bearing seemed to give zest to the child's tyrannic as was his intention, and perhaps died in his ex- humor. He found a sort of charm in this tacit ile, or perished by the hand of an unknown assassin, opposition. Though too young to read aright the was what no one had been able to ascertain ; and play of the features, he instinctively felt he was the countess, who inherited after him, had felt and tormenting, and like all children too much left to exhibited on this occasion a sorrow which, con- themselves and their own whims, he was not insidering the general tenor of her character, her sensible to the pleasure resulting from the conhusband might be excused for secretly suspecting sciousness of power.

Yet sometimes there was to be greatly exaggerated. She had, however, that in Pavel's look which would check the boy neglected no means of procuring intelligence of in the very height of his enjoyment, and a monitor his fate; hitherto these efforts had been fruitless, in his breast told him he had gone far enough for and except herself, no one indulged the belief that that day. he was yet on earth.

One morning, the count, accompanied by his The evening fete went off badly. The peasantry wife, and many of his guests, chanced to ride were awkward from want of habit in that sort of over a field on which, it being robot day, the

peasthing. The ladies were tired, the lamps burned ants were at work. A little apart from the rest, in a dimly, and the crackers would not explode. Every fit of abstraction, his scythe lying beside him, his one said that it was a failure, which the countess, arms folded on his chest, a large straw-hat shading of course, attributed to Vanda's spirit, and her his face, stood a young man, in whose attitude and husband's maladresse, and the guests went to bed picturesque negligence of costume there was but with a dim consciousness that this estate was little of the serf. His striking person and counrather far from Lemberg for amusement.

tenance drew all eyes involuntarily upon him. Pavel had affected illness to avoid going near The count looked at him with a vague interest ; the castle, but he was now ordered, with one or and turning to the bailiff, who had come up when two more, to work in the gardens. Never had he the party halted, and cutting short a long story approached those precincts since he had last been with which that personage was favoring him, abthere with the Countess Vanda. During the ruptly inquired the name of the youth. many years he had spent on the domain, he had · Pavel Jakubski, excellency," was the answer uniformly avoided the premises. With what feel- -"the most dangerous-tempered man on the ings did he now approach them! In spite of the whole estate.” insensibility in which he had endeavored to sleep At that moment their eyes met.

Pavel's were his soul, at sight of those well-remembered par- filled with melancholy reproach. The count could terres, a flood of recollections crowded in upon not repress a start-could not conquer himself so him. In those broad alleys he had walked with far as to withdraw his gaze instantly ; and his his gentle protectress—in that shady bower he had eyes fell before the peasant's steady look. To sat, with scarce controlled impatience, listening to conceal his agitation, or perhaps in consequence her tender words—he was then the future lord of of it, he looked fiercer than usual ; and feeling those grounds upon which he was now called to that he must not appear to quail before one of his labor as a serf. The master and mistress never serfs, cast upon Pavel a glance of uncompromising made their appearance in the garden, but Casimir severity, then turned away without a word. constantly crossed his path. The first time Pavel “What a handsome brigand !” exclaimed a set eyes on this usurper, as he deemed him, young lady who rode near the countess, in tones of what fate had intended to be his lot, his emo- so unmeasured that they reached Pavel's ears. tion was so great that he was obliged, on pretext “My dear," said the countess, with the air of of indisposition, to leave the place. But in time, mild virtuous reproof in which she loved to inwhether there was something in Pavel that roused dulge,“ people of this sort are below the notice his latent love of teasing, or he found his services of ladies like us. agreeable, Casimir seemed to take a fancy to him Oh, that dark fellow !" put in Casimir, “ you

- he was ever having him called. The very cannot think, mamma, how I hate him. He is sound of the boy's imperative voice, the sight of always so reluctant to do anything for me, I am the scornful countenance he had inherited from obliged to compel him; and he always seems as his mother, made Pavel's heart beat. Should he, if he were about to say something impertinent.” a man in his full strength and power, obey the

“ I should think there is no one bold enough beck of that child's hand—be ordered about by his on this estate to brave its future lord,” replied the querulous tones!-he would rather work in the lady. “General, this must be looked to.” mines, and labor for his master all the days of the “ What must be looked to ?" said the general, week!--to be ever at that boy's disposal, now to somewhat abruptly. boat him down the river-for there was no other That young peasant you were just now ob

66

« PreviousContinue »