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   Chapter 37 A SENTENCE OF BANISHMENT.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 23241

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


Valerie, in an agony of terror, waited for her expected visitor.

Did she love him, then?

Ah, no! Horror at the position in which she found herself so filled her soul as to leave no room for any softer emotion. She loved no one in the world, not even herself; she wished for nothing on earth but death, and only her religious faith, or her superstitious fears, restrained her from laying sacrilegious hands upon her own life.

While watching for her dreaded guest she bitterly communed with herself.

"No one ever really loved me," she moaned. "Every one connected with me loved only himself, or herself, and sacrificed me. My father and my mother cared only for themselves and their own ambitions, and so they immolated me, their only child, to their gratification; my suitors loved only themselves and their passions, and immolated me! And I-I love no one and hate myself! hate the creature they have all combined to make me! If it were not for that which comes after death I would not exist an hour longer-I would die!"

As she muttered this the little ormolu clock on the mantlepiece struck twelve.

"The hour has come. He will be here in another moment! Oh, why could he not leave me in peace? Oh, what shall I do?" she exclaimed, in her excitement rising from her seat and beginning to pace up and down the room with wild, disordered steps.

Sometimes she stopped to listen, but without hearing any sound that might herald the approach of a visitor; then resumed her wild and purposeless walk, until the clock struck the quarter, when she suddenly threw herself down in the chair, muttering:

"Fifteen minutes late! I do not want to see him! But since he is to come, I wish he had come, and this was all over."

Another quarter of an hour passed, and her visitor had not arrived.

Again in her anxiety she arose and began to walk the floor and to look out occasionally at a window which commanded the approach to the house.

No one, however, was in sight.

She sat down again, muttering:

"This seems an intentional affront, an insult. He treats me with no consideration. Well, perhaps I deserve none. Oh! I wish I knew to whom my duty is due! I wish I had some one of whom I dared to ask counsel! I certainly did wed Waldemar. I certainly did believe him to be my lawful husband, and then my duty was clearly due to him. But my parents came and tore me away from him, and told me that my marriage was not lawful, and that Waldemar de Volaski was not my husband. Then they took me to Paris, and told me that I must forget the very existence of my lover. Still, I should never have dreamed of another marriage while I thought Waldemar lived; for I loved him with all my heart, and only wished to live until I should be of an age to contract a legal marriage with him, with whom I had already made a sacramental one. But they told me that Waldemar was dead, slain by the hand of my father! and they bade me keep the secret of my first marriage, and to contract a second one with the Duke of Hereward! Oh, if I had but known that Waldemar still lived, the tortures of the Inquisition should not have forced me into this second marriage! But believing Waldemar to be dead, I suffered myself to be persecuted, worried and weakened into this marriage! Oh! that I had been strong enough to bear the miseries of my home; to resist the forces brought to bear against me! Oh, that I had been brave enough to tell the whole truth of my marriage with Waldemar de Volaski to the Duke of Hereward before he had committed his honor to my keeping by making me his wife! That course would have saved me then with less of suffering than I have to bear now. But I weakly permitted myself to be forced, with this secret on my conscience, into a marriage with the Duke of Hereward. And now I dare not tell him the truth! And now my first husband has come back and hates me for my inconstancy, and my second husband knows nothing about it! Now to whom do I rightly belong! To whom do I owe duty? To Waldemar? To the duke? Who knows? Not I! One thing only is clear to me, that I must not live with either of them as a wife, henceforth! Heaven forgive those who forced me into this position, for I fear that I never can do so!"

While these wild and bitter thoughts were passing through her tortured mind the clock struck one and startled her from her reverie.

"Ah! something has prevented his coming," she said to herself, as she once more looked out of the window. Then she relapsed into her sad reverie.

"I can never, never be happy in this world again-never! But if I only knew my duty I would do it. I don't know it. I only know that I must go clear away from both these-" She shuddered and left the sentence incomplete even in her thoughts.

Just then a footman entered with a note upon a little silver tray.

She took it languidly, but all her languor vanished as she recognized the handwriting of Waldemar de Volaski.

"Who brought this?" she inquired of the servant.

"Un garcon from the Hotel de Russe, madame."

"Is he waiting for an answer?"

"Oui, madame."

She had asked these questions partly to procrastinate the opening of the note she dreaded to read. Now slowly and sadly she drew it from its envelope, unfolded and read:

Hotel de Russe, Tuesday Morning.

Unfaithful Wife-An engagement at the Tuileries, for the very hour you named, prevents me from meeting you at your appointed time. Write by the messenger who brings this, and tell me when you can see me.

Your wronged husband, Volaski.

While reading this, she shivered as with an ague. When she had finished she crushed it up in her hand and put it in her pocket with the intention of destroying it on the first opportunity.

Then she went to a little ornamental writing-desk that stood in the corner of the room, and took a pencil and a sheet of note paper and wrote these words, without date or signature:

"I was ready to see you this noon. I cannot at this instant tell at what hour I can be certain to be alone; but will find out and let you know in the course of this day."

She placed this note in an envelope, sealed it with a plain seal, and sent it down by the footman to Count Waldemar's messenger.

Then she hurried up to her own bedchamber, rang for her maid, changed her dress for a white wrapper, and threw herself down, exhausted, upon a lounge.

She was almost fainting.

"This must be something like death! Oh, if it were only death!" she sighed, as she closed her eyes.

An hour later she was found here by the Duke of Hereward, who showed no surprise at finding her reclining there, but only said that Doctor Velpeau was below stairs and would like to see her.

"Let him come up, then," coldly answered Valerie.

And the duke himself went to conduct the physician to his patient.

He left them together for an hour, at the end of which Doctor Velpeau came down and reported to the anxious husband that his wife was not seriously out of health that her malady was more of the mind than the body, and that amusement and society would be her best medicines.

"Just what I cannot prevail on her to take," said the duke, with an impatient shrug. "She will go nowhere, will see nobody; but shuts herself up and mopes. Now, to-day, I have received intelligence concerning the rather intricately embarrassed affairs of the late Baron de la Motte, which will oblige me to start for Algiers, for a personal interview with his heir-at-law, an officer in the Chasseurs d'Afrique, who cannot get leave of absence to come to me. Now the question is, Doctor, shall I take the duchess with me, or leave her here? Is she well enough to be left, or strong enough to travel?"

"Both! She is both. I assure you she is not at all ill in body. Put the question to herself. If she should be willing to go, take her. The trip will do her good. If she prefers to stay, leave her. She is in no danger of illness or death."

"But I should be gone, probably, a fortnight. Could I, with safety to herself, take her so far away, for so long a time, from the best medical advice? or could I, on the other hand, leave her here for so distant a bourne and so long an absence?"

"With perfect safety; barring, of course, the human possibilities to which even the most fortunate, the most healthful and the best-guarded among us are more or less subject. But again I counsel you to leave it to the duchess, whether she shall remain here or accompany you to Algiers. She is equally fit for either plan," said the great physician, as he drew on his gloves.

"I will take the duchess with me, if she will go. If not, I will leave here under your charge, Doctor," said the duke.

"Much honored, I am sure, in attending her grace," replied the French physician, with the extravagant politeness of his countrymen.

As soon as Doctor Velpeau had gone, the Duke of Hereward went up stairs to see his wife, and, sitting by the lounge on which she still reclined, he told her of the urgent business that required his immediate departure for Algiers.

"Algiers! Why, that is in Africa! another quarter of the globe! a long, long way off!" she exclaimed, starting up with an eagerness that the duke mistook for alarm and distress.

"Oh, no, dear, it is not. It only sounds so. It is about eight hundred miles nearly due south of Paris. We go by train to Marseilles in a few hours, and by steamer to Algiers in a couple of days. You will go with me, dear. The change will do you good," said the duke, gayly.

"I! Oh, no, I could not think of such a thing! Pray, pray, do not ask me to do so!" exclaimed Valerie, in a tone of such genuine terror that the duke hastened to say:

"Certainly not, if you do not wish it, my love. I should be happier to have you with me, and I think the trip would benefit your health, but-"

"Did that horrid doctor advise you to take me to Algiers?" testily interrupted the young duchess.

"He said the change would do you good if you should like to go; but not otherwise. He said that you should be left to decide for yourself."

"Then he has quite as much judgment as the world gives him credit for, and that is not the case with every one."

"Now you are left to your own choice, to go or not to go."

"Then I choose not to go, most decidedly."

"Very well," said the duke, with a disappointed air; "then there is no need that I should delay my departure for another day. I shall leave for Marseilles by the night's express, Valerie."

"As you please," she wearily replied.

"I may be gone a fortnight, Valerie, and I may not be gone more than ten days; the length of my absence will depend upon contingencies; but I shall hurry back with all possible dispatch."

"Yes, I am sure you will," she answered, because she did not know what else to say.

"And I will write to you every day."

"Thank you."

"Will you write to me every day?"

"Certainly, if you wish me to do so."

"Of course I wish you to do so, my love," said the duke, as he stooped and pressed his lips on the pale cheek of his "wayward child," as he sometimes called her.

He then left the room to give orders to his valet and groom to pack up and be ready to attend him on his journey.

As soon as she found herself alone, Valerie arose, slipped on a dressing-gown, sat down to her writing-desk, and wrote the following note, as usual, without name, date, or signature:

"Come to me at noon to-morrow; or, if you cannot do so, write and fix your own hour, any time will suit me equally well, or rather, ill."

She put this note in an envelope, sealed it, a

nd directed it to Monsieur Le Count de Volaski, Russian Embassy.

Then she rang for her maid, and sent her out to post the letter.

Valerie made an effort to dress for dinner that evening, and dined with the duke for the last time-yes, for the very last time in this world.

After the Duke had risen from the table and pressed a parting kiss upon her lips before leaving her to enter the carriage that was to take him to the railway station, she never saw his face again-nay more-though she honored and revered him, she never even wished or intended to see him again.

She witnessed his departure with tearful eyes, yet with a sense of infinite relief. One of them was gone! Oh, how she wished that the other would go also!

She loved neither of them. She had lost the power of loving. Her love, by her awful position, was frightened into its death-throes. All she desired to do, was to get away from them both, and like a haunted hare, or wounded bird, creep into some safe hiding-place to die in peace.

She retired early that evening, and, for the first time for several days, slept in peace.

The next day she arose, and, contrary to her custom in the morning, dressed herself to receive company.

She waited all the forenoon in expectation of receiving a note from the Count de Volaski, either accepting her appointment or arranging another one; but when the clock struck the hour of noon without her having heard from him, she naturally concluded that he meant to answer her note in person, by coming at the hour named. So she went down into the small drawing-room to be ready to receive him.

She was right in her conclusions; for she had scarcely been seated five minutes when a footman entered and presented the count's card.

"Show the gentleman up," she said in a voice that she vainly tried to render steady.

A few minutes passed, the door opened, and Count de Volaski entered the room.

She arose to receive him, but did not advance a single step to meet him.

He came on, and bowed low-much lower than any ceremony required.

She bent her head, and silently pointed to a chair at a short distance.

He sat down.

Up to this time not a word had passed between them.

A monk and a nun, who keep their vows, could not have met more coldly than this pair who had once plighted their hands and hearts in marriage before the altar of the Church of St. Marie.

Valerie was the first to speak.

"Well, you insisted upon this interview. Now you have it. What do you want of me?"

"I want you to leave the Duke of Hereward," he answered, sternly.

"You are right, so far. But the Duke of Hereward has saved me the trouble of taking the initiative step. He has left me. I shall never see him, more."

"How! What!" exclaimed de Volaski, starting up.

"The Duke of Hereward left for Algiers last night. I shall not remain here to receive him when he returns."

"You told him, then, and he has left you? Good!"

"No, I have not told him; he knows nothing-not even that he has left me forever. Business of a financial nature connected with his duties as executor of my father's estates, takes him to Algiers for a few weeks. During his absence I shall make arrangements for leaving this house forever."

"Valerie, where will you go?" he inquired, in a more softened tone.

"I do not know-not with you that is certain. You were quite right when you said that I could not live with either-that a single life was the only possible one for me. I feel that it is so, and I hope that it will be a short one."

"Valerie, do not say so. You are very young yet. The duke is an elderly man; he will die and leave you free."

"I shall not be free while either of you live! nor can I build any hope in life on death! Oh! I have been cruelly wronged, and I am very miserable, but I am not selfish or wicked, Waldemar."

"How soon do you propose to leave this house?"

"I do not know. I only know that I must go before the duke's return."

"What should hinder your going at once?"

"I must make some provision for the miserable remnant of life left me. I must collect and sell my jewels and my shawls and laces, and invest the money in some safe place, where it will bring me interest enough to live cheaply in some remote country neighborhood. Wretched as I am, soon as I hope to die, I do not wish to be dependant on you, Waldemar."

"No, nor do I wish anything but independence and honor for you, Valerie. But you must let me assist you in realizing capital from your personal property, and in making other necessary arrangements for your removal. You cannot do this for yourself. You are more ignorant of the world than a child. So you must let me see you safely through this trial. You have no alternative, Valerie. You have no one else to consult with but me, and you may confide in me, for I will endeavor to forget that I ever called you wife, and will treat you with the reverential tenderness due to a dear sister. When I once have seen you safely lodged in a secure retreat, I will leave you there, never to intrude upon you again."

"Thanks! thanks! that is the kindest course you could pursue toward me."

"You accept all my service then?"

"Yes, on the condition that I shall seem to you only as a sister. But, oh! Waldemar! you, who are so kind and considerate now, how could you have ever written to me so cruelly-calling me an unfaithful wife-calling yourself a wronged husband? I never was consciously unfaithful to any one in my life. I never voluntarily wronged any creature since I was born. How could you have written so cruelly, Waldemar?"

"Forgive me, Valerie! I was crazed with the contemplation of you,-you whom I considered as my own wife, living here as the Duchess of Hereward. Only since I have learned that the duke is gone-and gone forever from you, have I come to my senses. Do you understand me, and do you forgive me?"

"Yes, both; but now, do not think me rude or unkind; but you must go. It is not well that you should stay too long."

"Good-morning, Valerie," he said immediately preparing to obey her.

She held out her hand. He took it, pressed it lightly, dropped it, turned and left the room.

After this day the Count de Volaski came daily to the Hotel de la Motte on some errand connected with the duchess' financial business. These interviews were as coldly formal as the most severe etiquette would have required.

Valerie received frequent letters from the Duke of Hereward, in which he spoke of the protracted business that still kept him an unwilling absentee from her side; promised as speedy a return as possible; expressed great anxiety concerning her health, and besought her to write often.

She complied with his request: she wrote daily as she had promised to do, but she could not write deceitfully; she told him of her health, which she described as no better and no worse than it had been when he left Paris; she told him any little political news or rumor that happened to be stirring, and any social gossip that she thought might interest or amuse him; but she deluded him by no expressions of affection or devotion.

The duke's absence, that was expected to last but two weeks, was prolonged to six.

Still Valerie delayed leaving the Hotel de la Motte. She shrank from taking the final step, until it should seem absolutely necessary.

At length, after an absence of nearly seven weeks, the Duke of Hereward wrote to his young wife that he was about to return home, and would follow his letter in twenty-four hours.

This letter threw her into a state of excessive nervous excitement, and when her daily visitor entered her room a few hours after its reception, he found her in this condition.

"Why, what is the matter, Valerie? What on earth has happened?" he inquired, in much anxiety.

"The hour has come! I must go!" she answered, trembling.

"Well, so much the better. You are ready to go. You have been ready for weeks past! Do not falter now that the time is at hand."

"I do not falter in resolution, only in strength."

"The sooner it is over the better. I will take you away this afternoon, if you wish."

"Yes, yes, take me away as soon as possible!"

"Have you thought of where you would like to go first?"

"Yes! I have thought and decided! I want you to take me to Italy-to St. Vito, where we were married, and to the vine-dresser's cottage, in the Apennines, where we passed the first days of our marriage, and the happiest days of our lives."

"It will be very sad for you there," said Waldemar, compassionately.

"Yes! I know it will be so without you! for of course I must live without you! and though I do not love you as I used to do, because love has perished out of my soul, still, I know, there in that place where we were so happy in our honeymoon, I shall be always comparing the happy days that were with the sorrowful days that are!"

"But still, if that is so, why do you go there?"

"Oh, Waldemar, it is the only place for me! I cannot go among entire strangers. I am such a coward. I am afraid in my loneliness: I should be driven to despair or to insanity, or worse than all, to the unpardonable sin of suicide! I dare not go among strangers, nor dare I go among people who know me as the Duchess of Hereward, or knew me as Valerie de la Motte, for they would scorn and abhor me, and their company would be far worse than the very worst solitude. No! I must go to the vine-dresser's cottage in the Apennines. Good Beppo and Lena knew me only as your wife and loved me dearly, and wept bitter tears when my father tore me away from you. They will be glad to see poor Valerie again! And the good Father Antonio, who married us! He loved us both! He will comfort and counsel me. Yes, Waldemar! St. Vito is my City of Refuge, and the vinedresser's cottage my only possible home. Take me there and leave me in peace."

"I believe you are right, Valerie. By what train would you like to leave Paris? There is an express that starts at seven. Could you be ready for that?"

"Yes! yes! thanks! I can be ready for that!"

"Shall you take your maid with you?"

"No. I shall pay her and discharge her with a present."

"Then I shall have to secure only two seats. I will get a coupe, if it be possible."

"Anything you like! Go now, Waldemar!"

Count de Volaski pressed her hand and withdrew; but before leaving the room he turned back and inquired:

"Shall I come here for you, or shall I meet you at the station?"

"Meet me at the station, of course! Spare my poor name as long as it can be spared! In twenty-four hours it will be in everybody's mouth, and the worst that can be said of it will seem too good! And yet they will all be wrong, and I shall not deserve their condemnation."

Count de Volaski waved his hand, and hurried from the room and the house, for he had many hasty preparations to make for the sudden journey.

As soon as he had gone Valerie set about making her final arrangements. She paid off her maid and discharged her with a handsome present, but without a word of explanation. She sent off her luggage to the railway-station, and ordered the carriage to take her to the same point. She took in her hand a small bag containing her money, jewels, and other small valuables, when she seated herself in her carriage and gave the order to her coachman. And so she left her own magnificent home forever.

The wondering servants, who had been too well trained even to look any comment in their mistress' hearing, let loose their tongues as they watched the carriage roll away.

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