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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Romuald attacks his work desperately


the die is cast, and the journey continues. They reach the modest parsonage where Romuald is to pass the rest of his days, and he is installed in his cure, Serapion returning to the city. Romuald attacks his work desperately, hoping to find peace there, but he very partially succeeds. The words of Clarimonde and the touch of her hand haunt him constantly, and sometimes even stranger things happen. He sees the flash of the sea-green eyes across his garden hedges; he seems to find the imprint of feet, which are assuredly not those of any inhabitant of the village, on the gravel walks. At last one night he is summoned late to the bedside of a dying person, by a messenger of gorgeous dress and outlandish aspect. The journey is made in the darkness on fiery steeds, through strange scenery, and in an unknown direction. A splendid palace is at length reached--too late, for the priest is met by the news that his penitent has already expired. But he is entreated, and consents, at least to watch and pray by the body during the night. He is led into the chamber of death, and finds that the corpse is Clarimonde. At first he mechanically turns to prayer, but other thoughts inevitably occur. His eyes wander to the appearance and furniture of the boudoir suddenly put to so different use: the gorgeous hangings of crimson damask contrasting with the white shroud, the faded rose by the bedside, the scattered signs of revelry, distract and disturb him. Strange fancies come thick. The air seems other
than that to which he is accustomed in such chambers of the dead. The corpse appears from time to time to make slight movements; even sighs seem to echo his own. At last he lifts the veil which covers her, and contemplates the exquisite features he had last seen at the fatal moment of his sacrifice. He cannot believe that she is dead. The faint blush-rose tints are hardly dulled, the hand is not colder than he recollects it.

The night was now far spent. I felt that the moment of eternal separation was at hand, and I could not refuse myself the last sad pleasure of giving one kiss to the dead lips of her, who, living, had had all my love. Oh, wonder! A faint breath mingled with mine, the eyes opened and became once more brilliant. She sighed, and uncrossing her arms she clasped them round my neck with an air of ineffable contentment. "Ah!" she said, with a voice as faint and as sweet as the last dying vibrations of a harp, "is it you, Romuald? I have waited for you so long that now I am dead. But we are betrothed to one another from this moment, and I can see you and visit you henceforward. Romuald, I loved you! Farewell; this is all I have to say; and thus I restore the life you gave me for a minute with your kiss. We shall soon meet again." Her head fell back, but she still held me encircled. A furious gust of wind forced in the window and swept into the room: the last leaflet of the white rose quivered for a minute on its stalk and then fell, and floated through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp went out, and I sank in a swoon.

He wakes in his own room, and hears from his ancient _gouvernante_ that the same strange escort which carried him off has brought him back. Soon afterwards his friend Serapion comes to visit him, not altogether to his delight, for he, rightly suspects the father of some knowledge of his secret. Serapion announces to him, as a matter of general news, that the courtesan Clarimonde is dead, and mentions that strange rumours have been current respecting her--some declaring her to be a species of vampire, and her lovers to have all perished mysteriously. As he says this he watches Romuald, who cannot altogether conceal his thoughts. Thereat Serapion--

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