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There was nothing more, I knew, to be said on the subject. I smothered the rebellious beatings of my young heart, I tried, I am half ashamed to confess it, to console myself with the picture of domestic happiness drawn by my mother, and in three weeks I became the Marquise de Montaland.
From the day of our marriage I never had cause to regret it. My husband, as fully conscious as myself, perhaps more so, of the disparity of our ages, ever treated me with the tenderness of an indulgent father, to a beloved and only child, adding to it a delicacy, a series of petits soins, calculated to remove any objections his fine tact could not but teach I must feel in entering on such an alliance. His highly-cultivated mind, his excellent heart, his knowledge of men and manners, rendered him the most delightful of companions; and his greatest pleasure consisted in encouraging me to converse with him, in gently and almost imperceptibly drawing forth my ideas, opinions, and feelings, and correcting the many erroneous and childish views my incomplete and secluded education and existence had created.
We lived almost entirely in the country, much to the surprise, and not less to the dissatisfaction of my mother, who said I might as well have remained in the convent, as lead so hermit-like a life, away from all the gaieties of the capital, the brilliant salons, the splendid toilettes, the triumphs of wealth, and rank, and position, which had formed in her and my father's eyes the sole advantages of the marriage.
For myself, having had no experience of these delights, I thought but little of them ; I enjoyed a liberty as new as it was enchanting ; I had not a wish ungratified; all my tastes were studied by my husband, all my better feelings brought into play; his love of literature, his careful selection of such as was most innocent, most elevating, and most strengthening to the mind; most pleasing, and at the same time, most purifying to the imagination, gave me in reading a resource of invaluable worth ; while, above all, his strong religious feelings, gently but firmly insinuated into my young and ductile mind, formed a safeguard and a guide to all my thoughts and actions.
Three years and a half of this enchanted existence passed away, almost without a cloud, but at the end of that time my husband's health, never strong, began to break perceptibly, and day by day he became weaker and more infirm. One day I was sitting by his fauteuil, reading to him, when, fancying, by his extreme stillness, he had fallen asleep, I paused, and gently laid down the book ; he looked round with his usual fond smile.
“I thought you were asleep, cher ami,” I said; “shall I go
“Non, mon enfant,” thus he always called me. “I want you as usual to be my secretary. I wish you to write to my cousin, Ernest d'Ermonville, and tell him I wish much to see him; bring your writing-book here, and I will dictate to you."
I did as he directed, and the letter was written and despatched to Paris by the next post.
“As I have never talked to you of my affairs, mon enfant," said my husband, when the epistle was completed, "you are not, I daresay, aware that my second cousin, Ernest d’Ermonville, is the heir to a considerable portion of my property; as, beside this, I have the means to make an ample provision for you, chère enfant, I do not regret his being so, as, though yet quite a young man, Ernest is a model of prudence, honour, and good sense, united to the kindest heart and the most amiable disposition; his relationship with me, and his being my heir, will, when I am gone—and that, my child, must soon be give him a sort of right, or at all events a privilege, to interest himself in your affairs, advise and counsel you, and, to a certain degree, supply the want of experience your youth and secluded existence have rendered it impossible for you to acquire. Trust yourself, therefore, to his guidance, my Hortense, in all matters where you feel your own judgment at fault in worldly matters ; for other and higher concerns, you will have the same light and support when I am no more as you have now, though even there you will feel yourself on familiar ground with Ernest, should you wish to strengthen your own opinions or ideas by the aid of his clear sense of right and wrong, and enlightened conscience. I have sent for him now, that you may learn to know and appreciate each other, and that I may, ere I leave you, feel that it is to a beloved friend, and not to a stranger, I bequeath the charge of your youth and innocence."
Tender, thoughtful, considerate, as was this speech, it gave me a degree of pain I could not, and indeed dared not, speak. Every word of it expressed an idea from wbich, though it had occasionally flashed upon me, I had turned with an acute pang, the idea that I was about, probably very shortly, to lose the being who had been to me father, husband, friend, counsellor, and companion ; who alone, in my hitherto unloved and neglected life, had treated me with unvarying affection, attention, and confidence; to whom I owed the only years of real happiness I had yet enjoyed. I could but take his hand, press it to my lips and heart, and quit the room to hide the tears that would not be checked.
Ere long, Ernest d'Ermonville arrived. He was, perhaps, about eight-and-twenty, but appeared somewhat older from an habitual expression of thoughtfulness, and a quietness of deportment unusual to my countrymen, more especially at so early an age. Without being handsome, his countenance was particularly agreeable, especially when he smiled; his voice, deep and well modulated ; his manners, like my husband's, polished, easy, and calculated to inspire confidence ; and I felt at once the desire and the hope to secure the friendship and good-will of one whose favourable opinion I was assured was well worth the seeking
Weeks passed away, and Ernest still remained, vying with me in tender care and anxious attention to the beloved object of our mutual solicitude, for the attachment that subsisted between my husband and his young cousin was more like that of father and son than of such comparatively slight relationship. Vain, however, were all our cares; vain our attempts to keep death from his prey; the beloved invalid sunk gradually, yet perceptibly, and died, calmly and without a struggle.
It was the first time I had seen death; the first time I had followed, step by step, the departure from a human creature of that intangible thing - life, that spark which “no man can tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth ;" which constitutes the difference between the being we love, we cling to, we confide in, who thinks of us, looks at us with fond eyes, speaks to us tender words, and the dull, cold, inert mass, that neither thinks, nor feels, nor moves; which we approach with the desire to love and embrace, but from which, despite our efforts and our selfreproach, we shrink with shuddering dread, when our lips touch the cold, damp, stiff ones, whose icy, unresponding contact sends their chill to our very souls. My first sensation, as the last ray of existence was still fluttering in the muscles of my husband's face, was of the impossibility that what I saw could indeed be death—not the physical impossibility, but an inability of my own mind to grasp the fact ; the next, when all was over, a rushing, overpowering consciousness of it. I have heard people, as I did on that occasion, say that the corpse looked just as if asleep; this has always, since I have seen death, seemed to me one of the vulgarest errors of commonplace that ever existed. There is not one of our senses, moral or physical, that does not reject the comparison, that does not whisper thrillingly to our whole being,—death ! death! death! And God meant that it should be so. He meant that when He took back the divine spark that He alone could give, we should feel in every nerve that it was indeed gone, and that, deprived of it, the earthly tenement should be a thing of naught, “Dust to dust,” possessed not even of the physical power of the meanest and smallest insect, of the unconscious existence of the weed ! No, death in itself is a transition more awful, more incomprehensible, than can be conceived by those who have never witnessed it, and never, never to be forgotten in its minutest details by those who have.
After my husband's death I continued to reside at Roubillac, the spot where my happiest days had passed, and where everything was associated with his memory.
Without pretending to judge the feelings of others, I never, for myself, could understand the desire to chase from our eyes and thoughts these associations with the beloved dead. I like to make their memories familiar to me, to think of them as “not lost, but gone before,” to habituate myself to see objects that remind me of them, to hear their names pronounced, to speak of them often, and tenderly more than sadly; not to raise up a barrier between their memories and me, as if some sin, some disgrace, some dark and impassable gulf, were for ever fixed between us. When the corpse, that unmistakable evidence of the separation that has taken place on earth, is gently placed away out of my sight, that the green grass and the flowers wave over it, and the sun smiles and the boughs droop above it, I go back to the days before that last sight shocked my weak humanity, and I think of the beloved as in life, more solemnly, but without horror or shrinkingly; their grave seems to be a resting-place, where I can sit and think of them, a resort, hallowed, not haunted, by their memories, a shrine where something dear is deposited, and from which some faint emanation of their presence still proceeds ; and I think this