Hendrik Conscience.

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everything which she loved and tended in her solitude. He
scarcely distinguished her sweet and childlike words, for what
she said seemed to vanish at the very moment it reached his
ears, and melt away into a kind of heavenly music, which
filled him with enchanting dreams, and transported his soul
into a region of unutterable bliss.

Herr von Vlierbeke, again, on his part, gave himself incon-
ceivable trouble to entertain his guest, and keep him in a
cheerful humour, that he might drive from his recollection
any intention which might still linger there of returning to the
table ; he called into requisition all his extensive knowledge,
told him remarkable stories, and endeavoured to penetrate
the innermost folds of the merchant's breast, that he might
know how to please him nay, even when the conversation
showed symptoms of flagging, he began to make jests, and
said and did things, which, it is true, were perfectly becom-
ing, but far removed from his usually dignified and earnest

The time was now approaching which Herr Denecker had
fixed for his departure. The nobleman was thanking God,
from the bottom of his heart, that He had enabled him to
get through his difficulties thus far so successfully, when the
merchant suddenly turned to his nephew, and said

" Now, Gustav, we are going in to drink a parting cup ;
do not lose time, it is already five o'clock."

Again Herr von Vlierbeke grew pale, and looked with, a.


visible expression of alarm at the merchant, who could not
understand the effect which his words seemed to have on his
host, and did not conceal his surprise

" Do you feel unwell ?" he asked.

" I take a pain in the stomach sometimes at the mere men-
tion of the word wine," stammered Herr von Vlierbeke ; " it
is a peculiar, nervous pain."

Suddenly his countenance assumed a livelier expression,
and pointing with his finger towards the gate, he said

" There, I hear your carriage, Herr Denecker."

The carriage drove up to the door of Grinselhof.

The merchant said no more about the wine, but he thought
it singular that his departure should give such manifest
pleasure ; and doubtless this suspicion would have seriously
offended him, had not the extremely friendly manner and
hospitable reception of the nobleman convinced him of the
contrary. He could not ascribe his un politeness to any other
cause but his indisposition, which he, perhaps out of considera-
tion for his guests, had been making great efforts to conceal.
Accordingly Herr Denecker said affectionately, as he pressed
the nobleman's hand

" Herr von Vlierbeke, I have spent a particularly agreeable
afternoon with you : in your society, and that of your amiable
daughter, one feels truly happy. I am overjoyed to have
made your acquaintance, and I hope that a nearer connexion
may one day secure me your friendship. Meanwhile, let me
thank you for your very kind and friendly reception."

Gustav and Lenora meanwhile approached, while the noble-
man was uttering a few words in polite disavowal of his guest's
complimentary language.

" And my nephew," continued the merchant, " is, I am
sure, of my opinion, that few hours of his life have been so
pleasant as those which we have spent to-day at Grinselhof.


You will likewise do me the honour, Herr von Vlierbeke,
to dine with me, in company with your amiable daughter,
though I am forced to postpone this pleasure for a little. I
go to Frankfurt to-morrow on business, and shall be absent
probably for some months. In the meantime, my nephew
will do himself the honour of visiting you frequently, and I
hope he will continue to be welcome."

The nobleman repeated his friendly expressions. Lenora
was silent, although Gustav looked into her eyes, and seemed
to ask some encouragement. The uncle moved towards the

" And the parting cup?" said Gustav with surprise. " Pray
let us go in for a little yet."

" No, no I" said Herr Denecker ; " were I to wait till you
were willing to leave, I suppose we should not be gone to-day.
But it is high time to be off ; so, say nothing more about it ;
a merchant must keep his appointments, and you know your-
self what we have promised."

Gustav and Lenora exchanged a long look, in which could
easily be read sorrow that they should part so soon, and the
mutual hope of meeting again ere long. The nobleman and
Herr Denecker shook hands heartily and affectionately, and
then both guests stepped into the carriage.

Laughing in a friendly way, and kissing their hands as
long as they were within sight, the strangers left Grinselhof.



ON the second day after his uncle's departure, Gustav pre-
sented himself at Grinselhof. Father and daughter received
him as kindly as on the former visit ; and having spent the
greater part of the afternoon in their society, he returned to
Echelpoel Castle at the approach of evening, with his heart
full of warm recollections.

At first he did not venture to show himself often at Grin-
selhof ; either from a feeling of propriety, or because he was
afraid of being troublesome to the nobleman. Before two
weeks had elapsed, however, the hearty way in which the
nobleman always received him, dispelled the feeling, whatever
it was ; and the young man no longer resisted the longing
which drew him so powerfully to Lenora's side. No day
passed without a visit to Grinselhof ; and there, the too swift
hours glided away in a calm and dreamy happiness. He
took pleasure walks with Lenora and her father, through the
shady paths round Grinselhof; was present at the instructions
which the father gave his daughter in many arts and sciences ;
listened with rapture to the maiden's beautiful voice as she
sang her favourite songs ; entered into instructive conversation
with both, or sat under the jessamine dreaming of a happy
future ; while he gazed with loving eyes at the young maiden,
who, he earnestly hoped in fulfilment of the ardent prayers
which he continually offered to God should one day be his wife.


Lenora's noble and charming countenance had first at-
tracted him ; but now, when he perceived the beauty of her
soul, his feeling for her became so fervent, so unbounded,
that the whole universe seemed to him colourless and dead,
when the loved object was not present to throw a light
and a glory over everything. To him no angel, depict-
ed in the finest sacred poetry, could be half so beautiful as
his virgin friend. And, indeed, while she was adorned with
all the personal beauty with which the Creator must have
clothed the first woman, there beat in her bosom a heart
whose mirror-like purity had never been dimmed by the
smallest breath of the world, and out of which, at the
slightest touch, feeling, fresh and ardent, sprang like a clear

Gustav had never been quite alone with Lenora, as she
never, in his presence, left the room in which she usually sat
with her father, unless the latter expressed a wish to walk
in the open air ; yet the young man felt no desire to conceal
his affection from Herr von Vlierbeke, or to tell the maiden
how entirely her image filled his soul. It would indeed have
been superfluous to express in words what was passing in the
hearts of each. Love, friendship, respect, beamed from the
eyes of all ; three souls lived here, in one sentiment, united
by one bond,, blended in the same feeling of affection and

Although Gustav felt a deep reverence for Lenora's father,
and loved him truly like an affectionate son, there was yet
one thing which threatened to disturb his high estimation of
him. What he had heard in the neighbourhood, of the ex-
cessive niggardliness of Herr von Vlierbeke, had now become
to him a certainty. On no occasion had the nobleman offered
him a glass of wine, or invited him to eat the evening meal
with himself and his daughter ; on the contrary, Gustav had


often observed with grief the great efforts which were made
to conceal from him this unexampled stinginess.
. Avarice is a passion which is universally visited with
abhorrence and contempt, because one almost instinctively
perceives that the moment this vice begins to show itself, it
renders all nobility in the human heart impossible, and fills it
instead with a cold and coarse selfishness. Gustav accordingly
had to struggle long with his feelings, before he could bring
himself to overlook this failing of Herr von Vlierbeke, and to
convince himself that it was only a caprice in him a mere
aberration of judgment, which had left unharmed the native
nobility of his character. Had the young man only known
the truth ! Had he only been able to look further into the
nobleman's heart, then would he have seen that, behind that
smile, a sorrow lay concealed ; and that every tremor which
shook those nervous features, was the expression of the agony
of a soul which was afraid of exposing its secret. He knew not,
happy youth, that while he sunned himself in Lenora's eyes, and
sipped so sweetly from the golden cup of love, the nobleman's
life was a perpetual suffering, that he dreamt day and night
of a horrible future, and with the sweat of agony on his brow
counted the hastening hours, as if every minute brought him
nearer to some fearful and unavoidable calamity. And, in-
deed, had not the Notary said to him " Only four months !
only four months, and the bond falls due ! then will your pro-
perty be sold by auction by order of a court of law?"

Of these four momentous months two had already passed.

If the nobleman appeared to encourage the young man's
love, it must be confessed that it was not entirely from affec-
tion towards him. No, no ; the drama of his sufferings must
be played out within a limited time. If it did not, then the
fate which awaited himself and his child was open shame
moral death. Within that period, destiny would irrevocably


determine whether he was to emerge victoriously out of this
ten years' struggle with misery, or sink overwhelmed under
the public obloquy.

On this account he all the more carefully concealed his
poverty ; and although he watched like a guardian angel over
both young people, he yet did nothing to check the speedy
development of their mutual love.

When the time fixed for Herr Denecker's return arrived, the
two months of his absence seemed to Gustav to have fled like
a dream. Although he was quite convinced that his uncle
would have no objections to the prosecution of his love, he yet
foresaw that he would not permit him to devote so much time
to it : and the thought of being separated from Lenora, per-
haps for weeks, made him look forward to his uncle's return
with no little anxiety and vexation. He, on one occasion,
communicated his fears to Lenora with much sadness, and
painted vividly the Borrow with which even a temporary sepa-
ration from her would fill him. For the first time he saw
tears in her eyes. This token of affection moved him so deeply,
that he silently took her hand, and sat for a long time ^>y her
side without uttering a word. Meanwhile, Herr von Vlier-
beke endeavoured to console him, but his words seemed in-
effectual. After a long silence, Gustav rose to take leave,
although the usual hour of departure had not arrived. The
maiden read in his countenance that a change had taken place
in his mind, and that his features were lighted up with an
unaccountable vivacity and joy. . She sought to detain him in
order to discover the ground of his apparent cheerfulness. But
he escaped with a few friendly remarks, simply telling her
that she would probably learn his secret on the following day.
He then left Grinselhof with hasty steps, as if some over-
whelming purpose was driving him on.

Herr von Vlierbeke believed that he had read in the young


man's eyes what was passing in bis heart; and beautiful
dreams made the nobleman's sleep calm and sweet that night.
On the following day when the usual hour of Gustav's visit
arrived, the father's heart beat high with expectation. He
saw Gustav pass through the gate and approach the house.

The young man's dress was not on this occasion composed
of light materials, as was usual. He was clothed entii-ely
in black, as on the day on which he first visited Grinselhof.
A cheerful smile played round the nobleman's features as he
went to meet his visitor, for the choice of the dress had con-
firmed his hopes, and convinced him that Gustav had come on a
solemn errand indeed, formally to solicit his daughter's hand.

Gustav expressed a wish to see him for a few minutes alone.
Herr von Vlierbeke led him into a side-room offered him a
chair sat down opposite him, and said

" I am prepared to listen, my young friend."

Gustav kept silence for a time, as if he would collect his
thoughts, and then Jbegan with visible anxiety, but at the same
time with firmness

" Herr von Vlierbeke, I venture to take a very important
step with you, and it is your extreme kindness alone which
gives me the necessary courage; and I hope that, let the
answer be what it may, you will at all events excuse my
boldness. It cannot have escaped your notice,' sir, that from
the first day on which I had the good fortune to see Lenora,
my heart has been filled with an irresistible love for her for
she appeared to me then, and appears now, an angel. Per-
haps, before permitting this feeling to gain such entire posses-
sion of me, I ought to have asked your consent ; but I could
not but suppose, from the polite and friendly way in which
you always received me, that you had read my heart ! "

The young man paused, in the hope of receiving some en-
couragement from the nobleman. The latter, however, only


looked at him with a quiet smile, in which it was impossible
to read how he received the young man's declaration. A wave
of his hand, as if he would say, " Go on," was the only reply.
Gustav felt his confidence entirely forsake him for a moment,
but immediately mastering his fears, he took courage, and
said with fervour

" Yes, I have loved Lenora since the moment in which her
eyes first met mine ; she lighted then a spark of love in my
bosom, which has since become a flame, arid which would con-
fcume me entirely if any one should try to smother it. It
may be, sir, that you imagine that her beauty alone is the
ground of my love? Certainly this ground is sufficient to
make even the most unimpressible love her : but I have dis-
covered, in the heart of this angel, a treasure far transcending
that her virtue, the unspotted purity of her soul, her gentle
and high-toned sensibility the gifts with which God has so
lavishly endowed her these are the things which have led
me from admiration to love, and from love to worship. Ah !
why then conceal it longer ? Without Lenora. life is impos-
sible the very thought of separation from her fills me with
sadness, and makes me tremble : I must see her daily, hourly
hear her voice, and drink in happiness from her looks. I do
not know, Herr von Vlierbeke, what your decision may be ;
but if it is not favourable, believe me, my heart will be broken
for ever. Were you to separate me from my beloved my
sweet Lenora, it would be a fatal blow life would be for ever
hateful to me."

With deep emotion and great emphasis Gustav had uttered
these words. Herr von Vlierbeke took his hand sympathiz-
ingly, and said " Do not be alarmed, my young friend ; I
know that you love Lenora, and that your love is requited ;
but what do you wish from me?"

With downcast eyes the young man answered " If, after


all the tokens of your affection which I have received, I still
have some doubts of receiving your final consent, it is because
I am conscious of one fact which may, I fear, make you think
me unworthy of enjoying the happiness which I now desire.
I have no family tree which strikes its roots deep into the
past ; the deeds of my ancestors are not blazoned in the his-
tory of our country ; the blood which flows through my veins
is plebeian blood.

" Do you think, then, Gustav," said Herr von Vlierbeke,
" that I did not know that before you began to visit here ? Your
heart is great arid noble, otherwise I would not have loved
you as my son."

" Then," exclaimed Gustav with joy, " you will not deny
me Lenora's hand, if my uncle also gives his consent to our

" No, I would not in that case deny it. I would, on the
contrary, confide my child's happiness to you with the great-
est pleasure ; but there is an obstacle yet unknown to you."

" An obstacle ! " sighed the young man, growing pale. " An
obstacle between me and Lenora!"

" Moderate your ardour for a minute," rejoined von Vlier-
beke, " and listen without prejudice to what I shall now tell
you. You believe, Gustav, that Grinselhof and the adjoining
possessions are mine ; you deceive yourself ; we possess no-
thing ; we are poorer than the farmer who lives at the lodge."

The young man looked for a short time with an expression
of surprise and doubt ; and then an incredulous smile passed
over his face, which made the nobleman redden and tremble.
He resumed with anxious emphasis

" Ah, I read in your eyes that you have no faith in my
words. You believe me to be a miser, a mau who conceals his
gold, who exposes himself and his child to want, that he may
heap paltry treasure together, and who sacrifices everything to


his insatiable avarice a selfish being who is either feared or

"Oh, pardon me!" exclaimed Gustav anxiously, "my
esteem for you is unbounded."

" Do not be alarmed at my words," said the nobleman, more
calmly. "I do not blame you; your smile convinced me
that you also believe, with others, that I use poverty as a cloak
for the most detestable avarice. For the present it is unne-
cessary to enter into more minute details what I have said
is true : I possess nothing literally nothing ! Eeturn home
without seeing Lenora : consider maturely, with coolness and
composure, whether no grounds exist for altering your resolu
tion ; let a night pass over your head, and if to-morrow morn-
ing you can still love the poor Lenora, and if you believe that
you can still make each other happy, then ask your uncle's
consent. Here is my hand ; you may press it then as the hand
of a father, and my most fervent wishes will be at that mo-
ment fulfilled."

The solemn and calm tone in which these words were
uttered, convinced Gustav of their truth, however much the
information they conveyed took him by surprise ; and his
countenance at once expressed a joyful animation

" If I can love the poor Lenora ! " he exclaimed. " To
call her my wife, to become united with her by the bond of
everlasting love, for ever to draw happiness from her sweet
looks ! To know that I am her protector, that my labour con-
tributes to her happiness ! Palace or hut, riches or poverty
everything is to me indifferent, if only she is present to breathe
a soul into the spot where I am. Night can bring me no
counsel, Herr von Vlierbeke ; if I may now possess Lenora's
hand through your generosity, I will thank you on my knees
for the priceless gift!"

" I believe it," replied the nobleman. " This fervent passion,


this steady devotedness, are natural to your youth and ardent
disposition but your uncle?"

" My uncle ?" muttered Gustav, visibly annoyed. "It is
true, I must have his consent ; what I possess in the world,
or may henceforth possess, depends on his favour. I am an
orphan his brother's son ; he took me when a child, and has
loaded me with benefits. He has, therefore, a right to con-
trol my acts I must obey him."

" And will he, who is a merchant, and probably sets a high
value on money, because he has learnt what one can accom-
plish with it will he likewise say, ' Poor or rich, palace or
hut, it is the same' ?"

" Ah, I cannot tell, Herr von Vlierbeke," replied Gustav,
troubled ; " but he is so kind to me, so extremely kind, that
I have cause to hope for his consent. To-morrow is the day
of his return ; at our very first meeting I shall tell him of my
intentions, and say that my peace, my happiness, and my life
depend on his consent. He has a more than ordinary regard
and affection for Lenora, and seemed to encourage me to sue
for her hand : your explanation, it is true, will surprise him
very much, but my entreaties, believe me, will move him."

The nobleman rose to bring the conversation to a close, and
said " Well then, ask your uncle for his consent, and realize
your expectations ; and then request him to come to me to
enter into more details. Whatever may be the consequence,
Gustav, you have acted towards us as a brave and honest
youth ought. My esteem and friendship shall certainly al-
ways remain with you. Go, leave Grinselhof for once without
seeing Lenora ; she cannot again be in your presence till this
matter is settled. I will tell her what she ought to know
of it."

Half pleased and half sad, joy and anxiety in his heart,
Gustav took leave of Lenora's father.



ON the following morning Herr von Vlierbeke sat by a
table in an upper room of the Castle, his head resting on his
hand. He must have been in deep reflection, for his eye
wandered unsteadily and unconsciously from object to object ;
and hope and pleasure, sorrow and anxiety, by turns revealed
themselves on his countenance.

Lenora made her appearance in the room, remained for a
minute in a wavering and uncertain way, went from one side
to another, looked through the window into the garden, and
then hastened down stairs again. There could be no doubt
that she was waiting with great impatience for some expected
visit ; her countenance, however, expressed an undisguised
cheerfulness, from which one could infer that her heart was
full of the sweetest hopes. Had she been able to see the
anxiety which at times overspread her father's face in the
midst of his musings, she would not perhaps have dreamt so
confidingly and cheerfully of a happy future ; but Herr von
Vlierbeke carefully concealed his sadness when she was pre-
sent, and laughed gaily and affectionately at her impatience,
as if he also looked forward with confidence to the events of
this critical day.

At last, quite tired of going and coming, Lenora sat down
beside her father, and gazed into his face with a clear and in-
quiring look.


: " My dear Lenora," he said, " do not be so impatient. To-
day we can hope for nothing ; to-morrow, perhaps. Moderate
your joy, my child, and then your sorrow will be less difficult
to overcome, if God should decide in this matter contrary to
your hopes."'

" Ah, father," stammered Lenora, " God will be gracious
to me. I feel in my heart that I am happy ; do not wonder
at it, father. I see Gustav speaking with his uncle I hear
what he says, and Herr Denecker's reply. I see him embrace
Gustav, and give his consent. Surely I may hope the best ;
for you remember Herr Denecker also liked me, and was al-
ways so very friendly at church."

" Would you be very happy indeed if Gustav were to be
your bridegroom ?" asked Herr von Vlierbeke, smiling.

" Never to leave him," exclaimed Lenora ; " to help to
make him cheerful and happy ! To infuse life into the solitude
of Grinselhof with our love ! And then to sweeten your days,
father ! for Gustav understands so much better than I do how
to chase away from your heart the melancholy which at times
darkens your countenance. You will go walking and hunting
with him, talk, and be merry ; he will love and honour you
as a son, and tenderly care for you. His great object on earth
will be to make you happy, because he knows that your hap-
piness is mine ; and I will reward his generous nobleness,
strewing his path with the beautiful flowers of a grateful
heart. yes, we shall live together in a paradise of peace
and love ! "

" Poor, innocent Lenora ! " sighed Herr von Vlierbeke ;
" may God grant your beautiful wish ! but there are laws and
usages which regulate the world, of which you are ignorant
a woman must follow her husband wherever he goes. If
Gustav selects you to be his wife, you must obey him without
resistance, and console yourself gradually for absence from


me. Such a separation would in other circumstances be in-
conceivably bitter to me ; but if I knew you to be happy, I
could learn to bear the loneliness."

Lenora had listened to her father with surprise and alarm ;

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Online LibraryHendrik ConscienceTales of Flemish life → online text (page 21 of 26)