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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 80/89 -
THE PRINCESS AMELIA.
The apartment occupied by Fleur-de-Marie (we shall call her the Princess Amelia only officially), in the grand ducal palace, had been furnished by Rudolph's care, with extreme taste and elegance. From the balcony of the young girl's oratory could be seen, in the distance, the two towers of the Convent of St. Hermangilda, which, rising above immense masses of verdure, were themselves commanded by a high wooded mountain, at the foot of which the abbey stood. On a beautiful morning in summer, Fleur-de-Marie was allowing her glances to wander over the splendid landscape, which extended far away in the distance. Her hair was dressed, but she wore a morning dress of thin material, white, with narrow blue stripes; a large handkerchief of plain cambric falling upon her shoulders, left visible the two ends and the knot of a little silk cravat, of the same blue as the girdle of her dress. Seated in a large, high-backed elbow chair made of carved ebony and cramoisie velvet, her elbow supported by one arm of this seat, her head a little bent down, she supported her cheek upon the back of her small white hand, delicately veined with azure. The languishing attitude of Fleur-de-Marie, her paleness, the fixedness of her gaze, the bitterness of her half-smile, revealed a deep melancholy. After some moments, a heavy, sad sigh relieved her breast. Then, letting her hand which supported her cheek fall again, she bent her head further upon her breast. You would have said that the wretched girl was bending beneath the weight of some heavy misfortune. At this moment a woman of mature age, with a grave and distinguished air, dressed in elegant simplicity, entered the oratory, almost timidily, and coughed slightly, to attract the attention of Fleur-de-Marie. Arousing herself from her reverie, she raised her head quickly, and said, saluting her with a motion full of grace,
"What do you wish, my dear countess?"
"I come to inform your highness that my lord begs you to await him; for he will meet you here in a few minutes," replied Princess Amelia's maid of honor, with respectful formality.
"I was wondering that I had not yet saluted my father to-day; I wait his visit each morning with so much impatience! But I hope that I do not owe to any illness of Fräulein Harneim the pleasure of seeing you, my dear countess, at the palace two days in succession."
"Let your highness feel no uneasiness on that point; Fräulein Harneim has begged me to take her place to-day; to-morrow she will have the honor of resuming her service of your highness, who will, perhaps excuse the change."
"Certainly, for I shall lose nothing by it; after having had the pleasure of seeing you two days in succession, my dear countess, I shall have for two other days Fräulien Harneim with me."
"You highness honors us," replied the maid of honor, bending again; "this extreme kindness encourages me to ask a favor."
"Speak, speak; you know my eagerness to be of assistance to you."
"It is true that for a long time your highness has accustomed me to your goodness; but this regards a subject so painful, that I should not have the courage to enter upon it, if it did not concern a very deserving object; for this reason I dare to depend upon the extreme indulgence of your highness."
"Your have no need of any indulgence, my dear countess; I am always very grateful for every occasion that is given me for doing a little good."
"This concerns a poor creature who, unfortunately, had quitted Gerolstein before your highness had established that institution, which is so charitable, and so useful for young orphan or forsaken girls, whom nothing protects from evil passions."
"And what has happened to her? what do you beg for her?"
"Her father, a very adventurous man, went to seek his fortune in America, leaving his wife and daughter to a precarious mode of existence. The mother died; the daughter, hardly sixteen years old when left to herself, quitted the country to follow to Vienna a seducer, who soon forsook her. Then, as always happens, the first step in the path of vice led this wretched girl to an abyss of infamy; in a short time she became, like so many other miserable creatures, the opprobrium of her sex."
Fleur-de-Marie cast down her eyes, blushed, and could not conceal a slight shudder, which did not escape the maid of honor. Fearing to have wounded the chaste susceptibility of the princess by conversing with her upon such a creature, she continued, with embarrassment:
"I asks a thousand pardons of your royal highness; I have undoubtedly offended you by drawing your attention to so polluted a being; but the miserable one shows so sincere a repentance, that I thought I could solicit for her a little pity."
"And you were right. Go on, I pray you," said Fleur-de-Marie, conquering her sad emotion; "indeed, all errors are worthy of pity when repentance follows them."
"And that is the case here, as I have remarked to your highness. After two years of this abominable life, grace touched this abandoned one. A prey to a late remorse, she has returned here. Chance so favored her, that, on her arrival here, she was lodged at a house belonging to a worthy widow, whose gentleness and piety are well known. Encouraged by the pious goodness of the widow, the poor creature has confessed to her her faults, adding that she felt a just horror for her past life, and that she would purchase, at the price of the most severe penance, the happiness of entering a religious house, where she might expiate her errors and deserve their redemption. The worthy widow to whom she has intrusted this confidence, knowing that I had the honor to serve your highness, has written to me to recommend to me this unfortunate one, who, by means of the all-powerful agency of your highness with the Princess Juliana, lady superior of the abbey, might hope to enter St. Hermangilda Abbey as lay sister; she asks as a favor to be employed in the most painful hours that her penance may be more meritorious. I have several times desired to converse with this woman before allowing myself to implore for her the pity of your highness, and I am firmly convinced that her repentance will be lasting. It is neither want nor age that has brought her to the true good; she is scarcely eighteen years old; she is yet very beautiful, and possesses a small sum of money, that she wishes to devote to a charitable object if she obtains the favor that she solicits."
"I will take charge of her," said Fleur-de-Marie, restraining with difficulty her emotion, so much resemblance did her past life offer to that of the unfortunate one in whose favor she was solicited: she added, "the repentance of this miserable one is too praiseworthy to be left without encouragement."
"I know not how to express my gratitude to your highness. I hardly dared hope your highness would deign to be so charitably interested in such a creature."
"She has been guilty--she repents," said Fleur-de-Marie, with an accent of commiseration and inexpressible sadness; "it is right to nourish pity for her. The more sincere her remorse, the more painful must it be, my dear countess."
"I hear my lord, I believe," said the maid of honor, suddenly, without remarking the deep and increasing emotion of Fleur-de-Marie.
In fact, Rudolph was entering a saloon which opened into the oratory, holding in his hand an enormous bunch of roses. At the sight of the prince the countess discreetly retired. Hardly had she disappeared, when Fleur-de-Marie threw herself upon her father's neck, resting her forehead upon his shoulder, and remained thus some seconds without speaking.
"Good-morning, good-morning, my dear child," said Rudolph, pressing his daughter to his breast with feeling, without yet observing her sadness. "See this mass of roses; what a fine harvest I gathered for you this morning; it was this that prevented me from coming sooner; I hope that I have never brought you a more magnificent bouquet. Take it."
And the prince, still holding his bouquet in his hand, moved backward gently, to disengage his daughter from his arms and look at her; but seeing her burst into tears, he threw the bouquet upon the table, took Fleur-de-Marie's hands in his, and exclaimed, "You weep! Oh, what is the matter?"
"Nothing, nothing, my dear father," said Fleur-de-Marie, drying her tears and endeavoring to smile upon Rudolph.
"Tell me, I beg you, what is the matter? What can have made you sad?"
"I assure you, father, it is nothing to distress you. The countess has just solicited my interest for a poor woman, so interesting, so unhappy, that in spite of myself I am moved by her recital."
"Truly? Is it only this?"
"It is only this," answered Fleur-de-Marie, taking from a table the flowers that Rudolph had thrown there; "but how you spoil me!" added she, "what a magnificent bouquet, and when I think that each day you bring me such, gathered by yourself."
"My child," said Rudolph, gazing upon his daughter with anxiety, "you conceal something from me; your smile is sad--constrained. Tell me, I beg you, what distresses you: do not occupy yourself with this bouquet."
"Ah, you know this bouquet is my joy every morning; and then I love roses so much--I have always loved them so much. You remember," added she, with an affecting smile, "you remember my poor little rose-bush. I have always kept its remains."
At this painful allusion to the past, Rudolph exclaimed, "Unhappy child! Are my suspicions founded? In the midst of the splendor that surrounds you, would you yet sometimes think of that horrible time? Alas, I had thought to have made you forget it by tenderness."
"Pardon, pardon, father! these words escaped me. I make you sad."
"I am myself sad, poor angel," said Rudolph sorrowfully, "because these returns to the past must be fearful to you--because they would poison your life if you were weak enough to abandon yourself to them."
"Father, this was by chance. Since our arrival here, this is the first time--"
"This is the first time you have spoken of it--yes; but, perhaps, this is not the first time that these thoughts have troubled you. I have perceived your moments of melancholy, and sometimes I have accused the past as causing your sadness. But, as I was uncertain, I dared not even attempt to combat the sad influence of these remembrances--to show you the uselessness, the injustice of them--for if your grief had arisen from another cause, if the past had been to you what it ought to be, a vain, bad dream, I should risk awakening in you painful ideas that I should wish to destroy."
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