The Mysteries of Udolpho/Volume IV/Chapter I
Is all the council that we two have shared,
The hours that we have spent,
When we have chid the hasty-footed time
For parting us—Oh! and is all forgot?
And will you rend our ancient love asunder?
Midsummer Night's Dream
In the evening, when Emily was at length informed, that Count De Villefort requested to see her, she guessed that Valancourt was below, and, endeavouring to assume composure and to recollect all her spirits, she rose and left the apartment; but on reaching the door of the library, where she imagined him to be, her emotion returned with such energy, that, fearing to trust herself in the room, she returned into the hall, where she continued for a considerable time, unable to command her agitated spirits.
When she could recall them, she found in the library Valancourt, seated with the Count, who both rose on her entrance; but she did not dare to look at Valancourt, and the Count, having led her to a chair, immediately withdrew.
Emily remained with her eyes fixed on the floor, under such oppression of heart, that she could not speak, and with difficulty breathed; while Valancourt threw himself into a chair beside her, and, sighing heavily, continued silent, when, had she raised her eyes, she would have perceived the violent emotions, with which he was agitated.
At length, in a tremulous voice, he said, 'I have solicited to see you this evening, that I might, at least, be spared the further torture of suspense, which your altered manner had occasioned me, and which the hints I have just received from the Count have in part explained. I perceive I have enemies, Emily, who envied me my late happiness, and who have been busy in searching out the means to destroy it: I perceive, too, that time and absence have weakened the affection you once felt for me, and that you can now easily be taught to forget me.'
His last words faltered, and Emily, less able to speak than before, continued silent.
'O what a meeting is this!' exclaimed Valancourt, starting from his seat, and pacing the room with hurried steps, 'what a meeting is this, after our long—long separation!' Again he sat down, and, after the struggle of a moment, he added in a firm but despairing tone, 'This is too much—I cannot bear it! Emily, will you not speak to me?'
He covered his face with his hand, as if to conceal his emotion, and took Emily's, which she did not withdraw. Her tears could no longer be restrained; and, when he raised his eyes and perceived that she was weeping, all his tenderness returned, and a gleam of hope appeared to cross his mind, for he exclaimed, 'O! you do pity me, then, you do love me! Yes, you are still my own Emily—let me believe those tears, that tell me so!'
Emily now made an effort to recover her firmness, and, hastily drying them, 'Yes,' said she, 'I do pity you—I weep for you—but, ought I to think of you with affection? You may remember, that yester-evening I said, I had still sufficient confidence in your candour to believe, that, when I should request an explanation of your words, you would give it. This explanation is now unnecessary, I understand them too well; but prove, at least, that your candour is deserving of the confidence I give it, when I ask you, whether you are conscious of being the same estimable Valancourt—whom I once loved.'
'Once loved!' cried he,—'the same—the same!' He paused in extreme emotion, and then added, in a voice at once solemn, and dejected,—'No—I am not the same!—I am lost—I am no longer worthy of you!'
He again concealed his face. Emily was too much affected by this honest confession to reply immediately, and, while she struggled to overcome the pleadings of her heart, and to act with the decisive firmness, which was necessary for her future peace, she perceived all the danger of trusting long to her resolution, in the presence of Valancourt, and was anxious to conclude an interview, that tortured them both; yet, when she considered, that this was probably their last meeting, her fortitude sunk at once, and she experienced only emotions of tenderness and of despondency.
Valancourt, meanwhile, lost in emotions of remorse and grief, which he had neither the power, or the will to express, sat insensible almost of the presence of Emily, his features still concealed, and his breast agitated by convulsive sighs.
'Spare me the necessity,' said Emily, recollecting her fortitude, 'spare me the necessity of mentioning those circumstances of your conduct, which oblige me to break our connection forever.—We must part, I now see you for the last time.'
'Impossible!' cried Valancourt, roused from his deep silence, 'You cannot mean what you say!—you cannot mean to throw me from you forever!'
'We must part,' repeated Emily, with emphasis,—'and that forever! Your own conduct has made this necessary.'
'This is the Count's determination,' said he haughtily, 'not yours, and I shall enquire by what authority he interferes between us.' He now rose, and walked about the room in great emotion.
'Let me save you from this error,' said Emily, not less agitated—'it is my determination, and, if you reflect a moment on your late conduct, you will perceive, that my future peace requires it.'
'Your future peace requires, that we should part—part forever!' said Valancourt, 'How little did I ever expect to hear you say so!'
'And how little did I expect, that it would be necessary for me to say so!' rejoined Emily, while her voice softened into tenderness, and her tears flowed again.—'That you—you, Valancourt, would ever fall from my esteem!'
He was silent a moment, as if overwhelmed by the consciousness of no longer deserving this esteem, as well as the certainty of having lost it, and then, with impassioned grief, lamented the criminality of his late conduct and the misery to which it had reduced him, till, overcome by a recollection of the past and a conviction of the future, he burst into tears, and uttered only deep and broken sighs.
The remorse he had expressed, and the distress he suffered could not be witnessed by Emily with indifference, and, had she not called to her recollection all the circumstances, of which Count De Villefort had informed her, and all he had said of the danger of confiding in repentance, formed under the influence of passion, she might perhaps have trusted to the assurances of her heart, and have forgotten his misconduct in the tenderness, which that repentance excited.
Valancourt, returning to the chair beside her, at length, said, in a calm voice, Tis true, I am fallen—fallen from my own esteem! but could you, Emily, so soon, so suddenly resign, if you had not before ceased to love me, or, if your conduct was not governed by the designs, I will say, the selfish designs of another person! Would you not otherwise be willing to hope for my reformation—and could you bear, by estranging me from you, to abandon me to misery—to myself!'—Emily wept aloud.—'No, Emily—no—you would not do this, if you still loved me. You would find your own happiness in saving mine.'
'There are too many probabilities against that hope,' said Emily, 'to justify me in trusting the comfort of my whole life to it. May I not also ask, whether you could wish me to do this, if you really loved me?'
'Really loved you!' exclaimed Valancourt—'is it possible you can doubt my love! Yet it is reasonable, that you should do so, since you see, that I am less ready to suffer the horror of parting with you, than that of involving you in my ruin. Yes, Emily—I am ruined—irreparably ruined—I am involved in debts, which I can never discharge!' Valancourt's look, which was wild, as he spoke this, soon settled into an expression of gloomy despair; and Emily, while she was compelled to admire his sincerity, saw, with unutterable anguish, new reasons for fear in the suddenness of his feelings and the extent of the misery, in which they might involve him. After some minutes, she seemed to contend against her grief and to struggle for fortitude to conclude the interview. 'I will not prolong these moments,' said she, 'by a conversation, which can answer no good purpose. Valancourt, farewell!'
'You are not going?' said he, wildly interrupting her—'You will not leave me thus—you will not abandon me even before my mind has suggested any possibility of compromise between the last indulgence of my despair and the endurance of my loss!' Emily was terrified by the sternness of his look, and said, in a soothing voice, 'You have yourself acknowledged, that it is necessary we should part;—if you wish, that I should believe you love me, you will repeat the acknowledgment.'—'Never—never,' cried he—'I was distracted when I made it. O! Emily—this is too much;—though you are not deceived as to my faults, you must be deluded into this exasperation against them. The Count is the barrier between us; but he shall not long remain so.'
'You are, indeed, distracted,' said Emily, 'the Count is not your enemy; on the contrary, he is my friend, and that might, in some degree, induce you to consider him as yours.'—'Your friend!' said Valancourt, hastily, 'how long has he been your friend, that he can so easily make you forget your lover? Was it he, who recommended to your favour the Monsieur Du Pont, who, you say, accompanied you from Italy, and who, I say, has stolen your affections? But I have no right to question you;—you are your own mistress. Du Pont, perhaps, may not long triumph over my fallen fortunes!' Emily, more frightened than before by the frantic looks of Valancourt, said, in a tone scarcely audible, 'For heaven's sake be reasonable—be composed. Monsieur Du Pont is not your rival, nor is the Count his advocate. You have no rival; nor, except yourself, an enemy. My heart is wrung with anguish, which must increase while your frantic behaviour shews me, more than ever, that you are no longer the Valancourt I have been accustomed to love.'
He made no reply, but sat with his arms rested on the table and his face concealed by his hands; while Emily stood, silent and trembling, wretched for herself and dreading to leave him in this state of mind.
'O excess of misery!' he suddenly exclaimed, 'that I can never lament my sufferings, without accusing myself, nor remember you, without recollecting the folly and the vice, by which I have lost you! Why was I forced to Paris, and why did I yield to allurements, which were to make me despicable for ever! O! why cannot I look back, without interruption, to those days of innocence and peace, the days of our early love!'—The recollection seemed to melt his heart, and the frenzy of despair yielded to tears. After a long pause, turning towards her and taking her hand, he said, in a softened voice, 'Emily, can you bear that we should part—can you resolve to give up an heart, that loves you like mine—an heart, which, though it has erred—widely erred, is not irretrievable from error, as, you well know, it never can be retrievable from love?' Emily made no reply, but with her tears. 'Can you,' continued he, 'can you forget all our former days of happiness and confidence—when I had not a thought, that I might wish to conceal from you—when I had no taste—no pleasures, in which you did not participate?'
'O do not lead me to the remembrance of those days,' said Emily, 'unless you can teach me to forget the present; I do not mean to reproach you; if I did, I should be spared these tears; but why will you render your present sufferings more conspicuous, by contrasting them with your former virtues?'
'Those virtues,' said Valancourt, 'might, perhaps, again be mine, if your affection, which nurtured them, was unchanged;—but I fear, indeed, I see, that you can no longer love me; else the happy hours, which we have passed together, would plead for me, and you could not look back upon them unmoved. Yet, why should I torture myself with the remembrance—why do I linger here? Am I not ruined—would it not be madness to involve you in my misfortunes, even if your heart was still my own? I will not distress you further. Yet, before I go,' added he, in a solemn voice, 'let me repeat, that, whatever may be my destiny—whatever I may be doomed to suffer, I must always love you—most fondly love you! I am going, Emily, I am going to leave you—to leave you, forever!' As he spoke the last words, his voice trembled, and he threw himself again into the chair, from which he had risen. Emily was utterly unable to leave the room, or to say farewell. All impression of his criminal conduct and almost of his follies was obliterated from her mind, and she was sensible only of pity and grief.
'My fortitude is gone,' said Valancourt at length; 'I can no longer even struggle to recall it. I cannot now leave you—I cannot bid you an eternal farewell; say, at least, that you will see me once again.' Emily's heart was somewhat relieved by the request, and she endeavoured to believe, that she ought not to refuse it. Yet she was embarrassed by recollecting, that she was a visitor in the house of the Count, who could not be pleased by the return of Valancourt. Other considerations, however, soon overcame this, and she granted his request, on the condition, that he would neither think of the Count, as his enemy, nor Du Pont as his rival. He then left her, with a heart, so much lightened by this short respite, that he almost lost every former sense of misfortune.
Emily withdrew to her own room, that she might compose her spirits and remove the traces of her tears, which would encourage the censorious remarks of the Countess and her favourite, as well as excite the curiosity of the rest of the family. She found it, however, impossible to tranquillize her mind, from which she could not expel the remembrance of the late scene with Valancourt, or the consciousness, that she was to see him again, on the morrow. This meeting now appeared more terrible to her than the last, for the ingenuous confession he had made of his ill conduct and his embarrassed circumstances, with the strength and tenderness of affection, which this confession discovered, had deeply impressed her, and, in spite of all she had heard and believed to his disadvantage, her esteem began to return. It frequently appeared to her impossible, that he could have been guilty of the depravities, reported of him, which, if not inconsistent with his warmth and impetuosity, were entirely so with his candour and sensibility. Whatever was the criminality, which had given rise to the reports, she could not now believe them to be wholly true, nor that his heart was finally closed against the charms of virtue. The deep consciousness, which he felt as well as expressed of his errors, seemed to justify the opinion; and, as she understood not the instability of youthful dispositions, when opposed by habit, and that professions frequently deceive those, who make, as well as those, who hear them, she might have yielded to the flattering persuasions of her own heart and the pleadings of Valancourt, had she not been guided by the superior prudence of the Count. He represented to her, in a clear light, the danger of her present situation, that of listening to promises of amendment, made under the influence of strong passion, and the slight hope, which could attach to a connection, whose chance of happiness rested upon the retrieval of ruined circumstances and the reform of corrupted habits. On these accounts, he lamented, that Emily had consented to a second interview, for he saw how much it would shake her resolution and increase the difficulty of her conquest.
Her mind was now so entirely occupied by nearer interests, that she forgot the old housekeeper and the promised history, which so lately had excited her curiosity, but which Dorothee was probably not very anxious to disclose, for night came; the hours passed; and she did not appear in Emily's chamber. With the latter it was a sleepless and dismal night; the more she suffered her memory to dwell on the late scenes with Valancourt, the more her resolution declined, and she was obliged to recollect all the arguments, which the Count had made use of to strengthen it, and all the precepts, which she had received from her deceased father, on the subject of self-command, to enable her to act, with prudence and dignity, on this the most severe occasion of her life. There were moments, when all her fortitude forsook her, and when, remembering the confidence of former times, she thought it impossible, that she could renounce Valancourt. His reformation then appeared certain; the arguments of Count De Villefort were forgotten; she readily believed all she wished, and was willing to encounter any evil, rather than that of an immediate separation.
Thus passed the night in ineffectual struggles between affection and reason, and she rose, in the morning, with a mind, weakened and irresolute, and a frame, trembling with illness.