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   Chapter 33 AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 18130

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


The Baron de la Motte, leaving Captain de Volaski stretched on the ground, to be cared for by the seconds and the surgeon in attendance, went back to the hotel and made preparations to leave San Vito.

Mademoiselle de la Motte, still very weak from recent illness, was placed in a carriage at the risk of her life, and compelled to commence the journey back to France.

Madame de la Motte, grieved with the grief and anxious for the health of her daughter, dared not show the sufferer any pity or kindness.

Monsieur de la Motte was no longer the tender and affectionate father he had hitherto shown himself: for, in his bitter mortification and fierce resentment, his love seemed turned to hatred, his sympathy to antipathy.

The attenuated form, the pale face, and the sunken eyes of his once beautiful child, failed to move his compassion for her. He told her with brutal cruelty that he had slain her lover in the duel, and left him dead upon the ground; and that she must think no more of the villain who had dishonored her family.

On arriving in Paris, the baron established his household in the magnificent Hotel de la Motte, in the most aristocratic quarter of the city; and here began for Valerie a life that was a very purgatory on earth.

At home, if her purgatory could be called her home, she was studiously and habitually treated with scorn and contempt, as a creature unworthy to bear the family name, or share the family honors; until at length the child herself began to look upon her fault in the light her father wished her to see it, and with such exaggerating eyes, withal, that she came to think of herself as a dishonored criminal, unworthy even to live. Her grief sank to horror, and her depression to despair.

She was treated as an outcast in all respects but one, and this exception was an additional cruelty; for she was introduced into the gay world of fashion, and compelled to mix in all its festivities, at the same time being sternly warned that if this same world should suspect her fault, she would not be received in any drawing-room in Paris.

Valerie was too broken-spirited to answer by telling the truth, that the world and the world's favor had lost all attraction for her, who would willingly have retired from it forever.

Valerie was presented to society as Mademoiselle de la Motte, and nothing was said of her stolen marriage with the young Russian officer.

That season was perhaps the gayest Paris had ever known during the quiet reign of the citizen king and queen. Brilliant festivities in honor of the Spanish marriages were the order of the days and nights. Representatives from every court in Europe were present, as special messengers of congratulation-or expostulation; for it will be remembered the Spanish marriages were not universally popular with the sovereigns of Europe.

Among the representatives of the English Court, present at the Tuileries, was the seventh Duke of Hereward, recently come into his titles and estates.

It was at a ball at the Tuileries that Valerie de la Motte first met the Duke of Hereward, then a very handsome man of middle age, of accomplished mind and courtly address. The beautiful, pale, grave brunette at once interested the English duke more than all the blooming and vivacious beauties at the French capital could do. At every ball, dinner, concert, play, or other place of amusement where Mademoiselle de la Motte appeared with her parents, the Duke of Hereward sought her out; and the more he saw of her, the more interested he became in her; and it must be confessed that the conversation of this handsome and accomplished man of middle age pleased the grave, sedate girl more than that of younger and gayer men could have done.

The duke, on his part, was not slow to perceive his advantage, and he would willingly have paid his addresses to Mademoiselle de la Motte in person, and won her heart and hand for himself, before speaking to her father on the subject; but as such a proceeding would not have been in accordance with the customs of the country, no opportunity was allowed him to do so; for whereas in England, or America, a suitor must win the favor of his lady before he asks that of her parents, in France the process is precisely the reverse of all this, and the lover must have the sanction of the father or mother, or both, before he may dare to woo the daughter; and this rule of etiquette holds good in all cases except in those of stolen marriages, which are illegal and disreputable.

It was not long, therefore, before the Duke or Hereward called at the Hotel de la Motte, and requested a private interview with the baron, which was promptly and politely accorded.

The duke then and there made known to the baron the state of his affections, and formally solicited the hand of Mademoiselle Valerie de la Motte in marriage.

The "mad duke" was not then mad; he had not squandered his princely fortune; his dukedom was one of the wealthiest as well as one of the oldest in the United Kingdom; the marriage he offered the baron's daughter was one of the most brilliant (under royalty) in Europe.

The baron did not hesitate a moment, but promptly accepted the proposals of the duke in behalf of his daughter.

The Duke of Hereward hurried away, the happiest man in Europe.

The Baron de la Motte went and informed his daughter that she must prepare to receive the middle-aged suitor as her future husband.

Now, Valerie, in a languid way, liked the Duke of Hereward better than any one else in the whole world except her mother, but she did not like him in the character of a husband. The idea of marriage even with him was abhorrent to her. In her first surprise and dismay at the announcement of the duke's proposal for her hand, and her father's acceptance of that proposal, she betrayed all the unconquerable antipathy she felt to the contemplated marriage; but in vain she wept and pleaded to be left in peace; to be left to die; to be sent to a convent; to be disposed of in any way rather than in marriage!

The baron was no longer a tender and compassionate father, but a ruthless and implacable tyrant.

Valerie's life had been a purgatory before, it was a hell now. She was covered with reproach, contumely and threats by her father; she was lectured and mourned over by her mother; and when her mother at length took sides with her father, in urging her to this marriage, the very ground seemed to have slidden from beneath her feet; she had not a friend in the world to whom to turn in her distress.

Meanwhile the Duke of Hereward was impatiently awaiting the promised summons to the Hotel de la Motte to meet Mademoiselle Valerie as his future wife.

Valerie believed that her young lover-husband had been slain in the duel with her father; and that she was free to bestow her hand, if she could not give her broken heart; she was worn out with the ignominious reproaches heaped upon her by her father; by the tears and sighs lavished upon her by her mother; by all the humiliation and degradations of her daily life, and by the dreariness and desolation of her home. She longed for peace and rest; she would gladly have sought them in a convent had she been permitted to do so, or in the grave, had she dared.

I repeat that she did not dislike the Duke of Hereward; but on the contrary, she liked him better than any one else in the world except her mother, and so it followed that at length she began to look upon a marriage with him as the only possible refuge from the horrors of her home.

What wonder, then, that, goaded and taunted by her father, implored by her mother, solicited by the handsome duke, believing her young lover to be dead, slain by the hands of her father, longing to escape from the persecutions of her family, prostrated in body and mind, broken in heart and in spirit, Valerie at last succumbed to the pressure brought to bear upon her, and accepted the refuge of the Duke of Hereward's love, although the very next moment, in honor of herself and him, she would willingly have recalled her decision, if she could have done so.

From the moment that her acceptance of the duke's proposal was announced to her parents, the domestic sky cleared; her ruthless tyrant became again her tender father; her weeping mother brightened into smiles; she herself was once more the petted daughter of the house, and her lover showed himself the proudest and happiest of men; and Valerie de la Motte would have been at peace but for her consciousness of the secret that they were all keeping from the duke.

"Mamma, he ought to be told, he is so good, so noble, so confiding. I feel like a wretch in deceiving him; he ought to be told of my fault before he commits himself by marrying me," she pleaded with her mother.

"Valerie, you frighten me half to death! Do not dream of such a folly as telling the duke anything about your mad imprudence in running away with the young Russian! It would make a great and terrible scandal! Your father would kill you, I

do believe! Besides, for that fault, committed while you were in our keeping and under our authority, you are accountable only to me and to your father. Your betrothed husband has nothing to do with it. No good would come of your telling it; no harm can come of your keeping it. The wild partner of your imprudence is dead and buried, the saints be praised! and so he can never rise up to trouble your peace. While you are here with us, and under our authority, you must obey us, and hold your peace, and keep your secret," said the baroness.

"Come weal, come woe, my honor requires that this secret should be told to the noble and confiding gentleman who is about to make me his wife," murmured Valerie.

"Your honor, Mademoiselle, is in the keeping of your father, until, by giving you in marriage, he passes it into the keeping of your husband. You are not to concern yourself about it. If your father should deem that your 'honor' demands your secret to be confided to your betrothed husband, he will divulge it to him: if he does not divulge it, then rest assured honor does not require him to do so. Now let us hear no more about it."

Valerie sighed and yielded, but she was not satisfied.

The betrothal was immediately announced to the world, and the marriage, which soon followed, was celebrated in the church of Notre Dame with the greatest eclat.

Directly after the wedding the duke took his bride on a long tour, extending over Europe and into Asia; and after an absence of several months, carried her to England, and settled down for the autumn on his English patrimonial estate, Hereward Hold, (for Castle Lone was then a ruin and Inch Lone a wilderness, which no one had yet dreamed of rebuilding and restoring.)

The youthful duchess, in her quiet English home, was like Louise la Valliere in the Convent of St. Cyr, "not joyous, but content."

She tried to make her noble husband happy, by fulfilling all the duties of a wife-except one. She knew a wife should have no secrets from her husband, yet, in her fear of disturbing the sweet domestic peace, in which her wearied spirit rested, she kept from him the secret of her first wild marriage.

At the meeting of Parliament in February, the Duke of Hereward took his beautiful young wife to London, and established her in their magnificent town-house-Hereward House, Kensington.

At the first Royal drawing-room at Buckingham Palace, the young duchess was presented to the queen, and soon after she commenced her career as a woman of fashion by giving a grand ball at Hereward House.

The Duke of Hereward was very fond and very proud of his lovely young bride, whose beauty soon became the theme of London clubs-though invidious critics insisted that she was much too pale and grave ever to become a reigning belle.

Yes, she was very pale and grave; peaceful, not happy.

Scarcely twelve months had passed since she had been cruelly torn from the idolized young husband of her youth and thrown into a convent, where the only news that she heard of him was, that he had been killed in a duel with her ruthless father. She had mourned for him in secret, without hope and without sympathy, and before the first year of her widowhood had passed-a widowhood she had been sternly forbidden by her father either to bewail or even to acknowledge-she had been driven by a series of unprecedented persecutions to give her hand where she could not give her broken heart, and to go to the altar with a deadly secret on her conscience, if not with a lie on her lips!

Now her persecutions had ceased, indeed; but not her sorrows. Her home was quiet and honored, her middle-aged husband was kind and considerate, and she loved him with filial affection and reverence; but she could not forget the husband of her youth, slain by her father; his memory was a tender sorrow cherished in the depths of her heart, the only living sentiment there, for it seemed dead to all else.

"If he were a living lover," she whispered to herself, "I should be bound by every consideration of honor and duty to cast him out of my heart-if I could! But for my dead boy, my husband, slain in the flower of his youth for my sake, I may cherish remembrance and sorrow."

Thus, it is no wonder that she moved through the splendor of her first London season, a beautiful, pale, grave Melpomene.

But the splendor of that season was soon to be dimmed.

News came by telegraph to the Duke of Hereward, announcing the sudden death of the Baron de la Motte, of apoplexy, in Paris.

Now much has been said and written about the ingratitude of children; but quite as much might be said of their indestructible affection. The Baron de la Motte had shown himself a very cruel father to his only child; he had shot down her young husband in a duel; yet, notwithstanding all that, Valerie was wild with grief at the news of his sudden death. She wondered, poor child, if she herself had not had some hand in bringing it on by all the trouble she had given him, although that trouble had passed away now more than twelve months since; and the late baron was known to have been a man of full habit and excitable temperament, and, withal, a heavy feeder and hard drinker-a very fit subject for apoplexy to strike down at any moment.

The Duke and Duchess of Hereward hastened to Paris, where they found the remains of the baron laid in state in the great saloon of the Hotel de la Motte, and the widowed baroness prostrated by grief, and confined to her bed.

The duke and duchess remained until after the funeral, when the will of the late baron was read. It was then discovered for the first time that his daughter, Valerie, was not nearly the wealthy heiress she was supposed to be.

All the late baron's landed estates went to the male heir-at-law, a young officer in the Chasseurs d' Afrique, then in Algiers. All his personal property, consisting of bank and railroad stocks, after a deduction as a provision for his widow, was bequeathed to his only daughter Valerie, Duchess of Hereward. But this property was so inconsiderable, that, without other means, it would scarcely have sufficed for the respectable support of the mother and daughter.

After the settlement of the late baron's affairs, the duke and duchess would have returned immediately to London but for the condition of the widowed baroness' health.

Madame de la Motte had for years been a delicate invalid, and she had experienced, in the sudden death of her husband, a severe shock, from which she could not rally; so that, within a few weeks after the baron's remains had been laid in the family vault, she passed away, and hers were laid by his side.

Valerie was even more prostrated with sorrow by the loss of her mother than she had been by that of her father.

The duke, to distract her grief, telegraphed to New Haven, where his yacht, the Sea-Bird, was lying to have her brought over to meet him at Dieppe, took his duchess down to that little seaport and embarked with her for a voyage to Norway.

The season was most favorable for such a northerly voyage. They sailed on the first of July, and spent three months cruising about the coasts of Norway, Iceland, and down to the Western Isles. They returned about the first of October.

The duke left his yacht at Dieppe, and, accompanied by the duchess, went up to Paris, to attend to some business connected with the estate of the late baron.

As but a third of a year had passed since the death of her parents, and the duchess had scarcely passed out of her first deep crape mourning, she went very little into society. Nevertheless, she was constrained, at the duke's request, to accept one invitation.

There was to be a diplomatic dinner given at the British Legation, at which the Prussian, Austrian and Russian ministers, with the higher officers of their suites, were to be present.

Valerie, living her recluse life in the city, did not know the names of one of these ministers, nor, in the apathy of her grief, did she care to inquire.

On the evening appointed for the entertainment, she went to the hotel of the British Legation, escorted by her husband.

Dressed in her rich and elegant mourning of jet on crape, glimmering light on blackest darkness, and looking herself paler and fairer by its contrast, she entered the grand drawing-room, leaning on the arm of her husband. She heard their names announced:

"The Duke and Duchess of Hereward."

Then she found herself in a room sparsely occupied by a very brilliant company, and stood-not, as she had expected to stand, among strangers-but in the midst of her own familiar friends, whom she had known in her girlhood at the court of St. Petersburg, or met, in her womanhood, in the drawing-rooms of London.

It was while she was still leaning on her husband's arm and receiving the courteous salutations of her old friends, that their host, Lord C-n, approached with a gentleman.

Valerie looked up and saw standing before her the young husband of her girlish love!

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