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marquis. Fortune had not been deaf to the cries
and struggles of his despair. After five years of
laborious effort and painful toil, he had found him-
self once more the possessor of a considerable for-
tune. In his impatience to see his country once
more and to bring happiness to his family, he had
followed the example of certain French merchants in
Havana, by taking passage with them upon a Spanish
vessel with a cargo for Bordeaux. His imagination,
worn out with foreseeing disaster, drew the most
delightful pictures of his past good fortune. As he
gazed from afar at the shimmering coast line, he
fancied that he was looking at his wife and children.
He was in his place by the fireside, and could feel
their caresses and their arms about him. He drew
a mental picture of Moina, grown tall and beautiful,
an imposing young woman. When this fanciful
picture had taken on a sort of reality, tears gathered
in his eyes; and, as if to hide his distress, he
turned and looked at the misty horizon, away from
the hazy line that marked the shore.

"It is he he is following us!" he said.

"What's that?" cried the Spanish captain.

"A sail," the general replied, in an undertone.

"I saw the same fellow yesterday," rejoined
Captain Gomez.

He cast a questioning glance at the Frenchman.



244 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

"He is giving chase to us," he said in the gen-
eral's ear.

"I don't know' why he hasn't overhauled us,"
retorted the old soldier, "for he sails much faster
than your damned Saint- Ferdinand."

"He must have had some disaster, sprung a leak
perhaps "

"He's gaining on us!" cried the Frenchman.

"He's a Colombian privateer," said the captain
in his ear. "We are still six leagues from shore
and the wind is failing us."

"He isn't sailing, he's flying, as if he knew that
his prey will have escaped him in two hours. What
an audacious fellow!"

"Audacious !" cried the captain. " Ah ! he doesn't
call his craft the Othello without reason. He sunk
a Spanish frigate only a short time ago, and he only
carries thirty guns! I was more afraid of him than
anything else, for I knew he was cruising in the
Antilles. Aha!" he continued after a moment's
pause, during which he was watching his sails, "the
wind is freshening and we shall make port. We
must, for the Parisian would have no mercy on us."

"He will make port before us!" the marquis re-
plied.

The Othello was not more than three leagues dis-
tant. Although the crew had not overheard the
conversation between the marquis and Captain
Gomez, the sudden appearance of the sail astern
had attracted most of the seamen and passengers to
the spot where the two were standing; but as



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 245

almost all of them took her for a merchant vessel,
they were watching her approach with interest,
when suddenly a sailor exclaimed in forcible lan-
guage: "By Saint- Jacques! it's all up with us;
there's the Parisian captain!"

At that terrible name, the brig's crew were panic-
stricken, and a scene of indescribable confusion
ensued. The Spanish captain succeeded in impart-
ing courage to. his men for the moment by his brave
words; and, in face of the impending danger, deter-
mined to make the land at any cost, he ordered all
the upper and lower studding-sails to be set, in order
to present to the wind every stitch of canvas with
which his vessel was provided. But his orders
were obeyed with great difficulty; naturally, there
was none of the precision that we admire so much
in the working of a man-of-war. Although the
Othello flew over the water like a swallow, thanks
to the trim of her sails, she gained so little, appar-
ently, that the ill-fated Frenchmen indulged in
pleasing but illusory hopes. Suddenly, just as the
Saint- Ferdinand, after incredible efforts, seemed to
take a new flight as a result of the skilful manoeu-
vring in which Gomez had assisted by voice and ges-
ture, the helmsman, purposely no doubt, threw the
helm the wrong way and hove the brig to. The
sails met the wind from the other side so suddenly
that she was taken aback; the studding-sail booms
snapped and she was completely helpless for the
moment. Indescribable rage rendered the captain
whiter than his sails; at a single bound, he sprang



246 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

upon the helmsman and aimed a blow at him with
his dagger, so furiously that he missed him but
hurled him into the sea; then he seized the helm
and tried to remedy the frightful confusion that
transfigured his noble, gallant ship. Tears of
despair rolled down his cheeks; for we are more
disturbed by treachery that prevents our skill from
attaining its results, than by imminent danger of
death. But the more the captain swore, the less
progress was made. He fired an alarm gun with his
own hand, hoping to be heard on shore. At that
moment, the pirate, who was coming up with dis-
tressing rapidity, answered with a shot that fell
within ten yards of the Saint- Ferdinand.

"Thunder!" cried the general, "how that gun
was aimed! He carries carronades made for his
purposes."

"Oh! when he speaks, you know, the rest of us
must hold our tongues. The Parisian wouldn't
sheer away from an English ship."

"It's all over with us!" cried the captain in a
despairing tone, for with his telescope he could see
nothing standing out from shore. "We are farther
from France than I thought."

"Why do you lose courage?" said the general.
"Your passengers are all Frenchmen, and they
chartered your ship. This privateer is a Parisian,
you say? Very good, hoist the white flag and "

"And he'll sink us," the captain replied. "Isn't
he of any nationality that circumstances require,
when he wants to seize a rich prey?"



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 247

"Ah! if he's a pirate"

"A pirate!" said one of the seamen with a terri-
fied air. "Ah! he's always within the law, or has
a way of making it appear that he is."

"Very well," cried the general, raising his eyes
heavenward, "let us be resigned to the worst"

And he still had sufficient force of will to restrain
his tears.

As he spoke, a second shot, better aimed than the
first, struck the brig's hull and passed clear through
her.

"Bring her to," said the captain sadly.

And the seaman who had upheld the Parisian's
honesty, assisted most intelligently in this desperate
manoeuvre. For a mortal half- hour, the crew waited
in most profound consternation. The Saint-Ferdi-
nand was carrying four millions in piastres, which
composed the whole fortune of five of the passengers,
the general's amounting to eleven hundred thousand
francs. At last the Othello, having come up within
ten musket shots, showed distinctly the yawning
mouths of twelve guns ready to fire. It seemed as
if she were driven along by a wind produced by the
devil expressly for her; but the practised eye of a
sailor could readily understand her speed. It was
enough to cast a glance at the brig's high, raking
masts, her fine lines, her narrow beam, the cut of her
canvas, the wonderful lightness of her rigging, and
the ease with which her crew, working together like
one man, maintained in perfect trim the white sur-
face presented by her sails. Everything combined



248 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

to indicate the security of conscious power in the
slender wooden creature, as swift and intelligent
as a race-horse or a bird of prey. The crew of the
privateer were standing silent at their posts, ready,
in case of resistance, to devour the poor merchant
vessel, which, luckily for itself, lay quietly by, like
a schoolboy detected in wrong-doing by his teacher.

"We have guns!" cried the general, pressing the
Spanish captain's hand.

The captain darted a glance instinct with courage
and despair at the old soldier, saying:

"And men?"

The marquis looked at the crew of the Saint-Fer-
dinand and shuddered. The four merchants were
pale and trembling, while the sailors, standing in a
group around one of their number, seemed to be
concerting measures for making common cause with
the Othello, and watched the privateer with greedy
curiosity. The boatswain, the captain and the
marquis alone exchanged courageous thoughts as
their eyes met.

"Ah! Captain Gomez, I bade adieu to my
country and my family long ago, with the bit-
terness of death at my heart; must I leave them
again just as I am returning to bring joy and hap-
piness to my children?"

The general turned to drop a tear of rage into the
sea, and spied the helmsman swimming toward the
privateer.

"This time," replied the captain, "you will doubt-
less bid them adieu forever."



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 249

The Frenchman alarmed the Spaniard by the hor-
rified glance with which he received his words. At
that moment, the two vessels were almost side by
side; and when his eye fell upon the privateer's
crew, the general had faith in Gomez's prophecy of
disaster. Three men were standing at each gun.
By reason of their athletic posture, their rigid feat-
ures, their bare, muscular arms, they might have
'been taken for bronze statues. They might have
been killed without being overthrown. The sailors,
well armed, active, nimble and powerful, stood
motionless at their stations. Their determined
faces were burned almost black by the sun and
hardened by exposure. Their eyes gleamed like so
many sparks of fire, and denoted keen intelligence
and infernal joy. The profound silence that reigned
on the deck, black as it was with men and hats,
was most eloquent of the rigid discipline that forced
those human demons to bend beneath the yoke of a
powerful will. The leader stood at the foot of the
mainmast, without weapons and with folded arms;
an axe lay at his feet. As a protection against the
sun, he wore a broad-brimmed felt hat that kept his
face in shadow. Like dogs lying at their master's
feet, gunners, soldiers and sailors gazed at their
captain and at the merchantman in turn. When the
two brigs came together, the shock aroused the pri-
vateer from his reverie, and he said a word or two
in the ear of a young officer who stood within two
steps of him.

"Ready to board her!" cried the lieutenant



250 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

And the Saint- Ferdinand was made fast to the
Othello with marvelous promptitude. In compliance
with the orders given in an undertone by the priva-
teer and repeated by the lieutenant, the men detailed
for each duty went aboard the prize, like monks
marching to mass, to bind the crew and passengers
and secure the treasure. In a moment, the kegs of
piastres, the supplies and the crew of the Saint-
Ferdinand were transported to the deck of the Othello.
The general fancied that he was dreaming when his
hands were bound behind him and he was tossed
upon a bale as if he were himself a piece of mer-
chandise. A conference was held by the privateer,
his lieutenant and one of the sailors who seemed to
fill the post of boatswain. When the discussion,
which was very brief, was at an end, the boatswain
blew his whistle; at the word of command, the men
leaped aboard the Saint- Ferdinand, clambered up
the rigging, and began to strip her of her yards and
sails and top-hamper with as much speed as a soldier
exhibits on the battlefield in undressing a dead
comrade whose shoes and cape have aroused his
greed.

"We are lost," said the Spanish captain coolly to
the marquis, after watching the gestures of the three
leaders during their deliberations, and the move-
ments of the sailors as they proceeded to strip his
brig in due form.

"How so?" asked the marquis as coolly.

"What do you suppose they will do with us?"
replied the Spaniard. "They undoubtedly realize



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 25 1

that they would find it hard to sell the Saint-Ferdi-
nand in a French or Spanish port, so they will sink
her in order to get her off their hands. As for us,
do you imagine they'll burden themselves with our
support, when they don't know what their next port
may be?"

The captain had hardly finished speaking, when
the general heard a horrible outcry, followed by the
dull splash caused by the fall of several bodies into
the sea. He turned and could not discover the four
merchants. Eight fierce-looking gunners still had
their arms in the air when the horrified general
looked up at them.

"What did I tell you?" said the Spanish captain
coolly.

The general sprung to his feet; the sea was
smooth once more and he could not distinguish the
place where his wretched companions had been
swallowed up; they were at that moment going
down, down through the water, bound hand and
foot, if the sharks had not already devoured them.
A few steps away, the treacherous helmsman and
the sailor from the Saint-Ferdinand who sang the
Parisian captain's praises, were fraternizing .with
the privateersmen, and pointing out to them those
of the brig's crew whom they considered worthy of
being incorporated in the crew of the Othello ; two
cabin boys were binding the feet of the others,
despite their horrible oaths. When the selection
had been made, the eight gunners seized the doomed
men and tossed them unceremoniously over the side.



252 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

The privateersmen watched with infernal interest
the different ways in which these men made the
plunge, and their grimaces and dying struggles; but
their faces betrayed neither mockery nor astonish-
ment nor pity. It was to them a simple every-day
incident to which they seemed accustomed. The
older men preferred to feast their eyes, with a
sombre, glassy smile, on the casks filled with
piastres, piled at the foot of the mainmast. The
general and Captain Gomez, seated on a bale, con-
sulted each other in silence with glances almost
devoid of expression. They were soon the only
survivors of the Saint-Ferdinand's living freight.
The seven sailors selected by the two spies from
among the Spaniards, had already joyously trans-
formed themselves into Peruvians.

"What damnable villains !" cried the general, sud-
denly, his noble, generous indignation causing him
to forget prudence and grief alike.

"They obey necessity," replied Gomez, coolly.
"If you should ever meet one of those fellows again,
wouldn't you run your sword through him ?"

"Captain," said the lieutenant, accosting the
Spaniard, "the Parisian has heard of you. You
are, he says, the only man who knows the channels
in the Antilles and on the Brazilian coast Do you
care to !"

The captain interrupted him with a scornful ex-
clamation, and replied:

"1 will die like a sailor, like a true-hearted
Spaniard, like a Christian do you understand?"



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 253

"Over with him!" cried the young man.

At the word, two gunners laid hold of Gomez.

"You are cowards!" cried the general, attempting
to stop them.

"Don't go too far, old fellow," said the lieutenant.
"Although your red ribbon has made some impres-
sion on our captain, I snap my fingers at it We'll
have a little talk together before long."

At that moment, a loud splash, unaccompanied by
anything in the nature of a complaint, told the gen-
eral that the brave Gomez had died like a sailor.

"My fortune or death!" he cried in a frightful
paroxysm of rage.

"Ah! you're very reasonable !" retorted the pri-
vateer with a sneering laugh. "Now you are sure
of obtaining something from us."

At a sign from the lieutenant, two sailors came
forward to bind the Frenchman's feet; but he, with
unexpected bravery, pushed them away, drew the
lieutenant's sword with a swift motion he was very
far from anticipating, and began to brandish it like
an old cavalry officer who knew his trade.

"Ah! scoundrel," he said, "you are not going to
throw one of Napoleon's old campaigners into the
sea, as you would an oyster!"

Pistol shots, fired almost point-blank at the recal-
citrant Frenchman, attracted the attention of the
Parisian, who was engaged in overseeing the trans-
shipment of the rigging he had ordered taken from
the Saint- Ferdinand. Without excitement, he came
up behind the gallant general, drew him rapidly



254 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

away toward the bulwarks and prepared to throw
him into the water like a useless spar. At that
moment, the general met the piercing eye of his
daughter's abductor. The father and son-in-law
recognized each other instantly. The captain,
twisting the marquis around and pushing him in the
other direction, as if he weighed nothing at all,
placed him at the foot of the mainmast instead of
tossing him into the sea. A murmur arose on the
deck ; but the privateer cast one glance at his men
and the most profound silence reigned.

"It is Helene's father," he exclaimed, in a firm,
ringing voice. "Woe to the man who does not re-
spect him!"

A chorus of joyous acclamations arose and
mounted heavenward from the deck, like a prayer,
or like the first notes of the Te Dewn. The boys
danced about in the rigging, the sailors threw their
caps in the air, the gunners stamped on the deck,
all hands howled and whistled and swore. This
mad way of expressing delight made the general
anxious and dejected. Attributing their action to
some ghastly mystery, his first words, when he re-
covered the power of speech, were : "My daughter !
where is my daughter?" The privateer bestowed
upon him one of those penetrating glances of his,
which, for some unexplained reason, always wrought
havoc in the bravest hearts; it imposed silence upon
him, to the great satisfaction of the sailors, who
were happy to see their leader's power exerted over
everybody. He then led him to a companion way



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 255

and down the steps to the door of a stateroom which
he hastily pushed open, saying:

"There she is!"

With that he disappeared, leaving the old soldier
in a sort of stupor at the picture presented to his
eyes. When she heard the stateroom door suddenly
thrown open, Helene rose from the couch on which
she was lying; but she saw the marquis and uttered
a cry of amazement. She was so changed that no
eyes but a father's could have recognized her. The
sun of the tropics had embellished her pale face
with a rich shade of brown, of- marvelous beauty,
which gave it a poetic Oriental cast, and it breathed
an air of grandeur, of majestic firmness, of depth of
sentiment by which the most vulgar mind must
have been impressed. Her long, luxuriant hair,
falling in thick curls over the whole curve of her
neck, added another element of power to the becom-
ing pride of her face. In her attitude and her ges-
tures, Helene exhibited her consciousness of her
power. Triumphant satisfaction inflated slightly
her pink nostrils, and tranquil happiness was writ-
ten in every detail of her beauty. There was in
her an indefinable suggestion of virgin purity com-
bined with that sort of haughtiness characteristic of
those who are dearly loved. Slave and sovereign
at once, she was willing to obey because it was in
her power to reign. She was dressed with charm-
ing and refined magnificence. Indian muslin was
the principal material of her costume; but her couch
and the cushions were of cashmere and a Persian



20 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

carpet covered the floor of the capacious cabin ; her
four children were playing at her feet, building out-
landish castles with pearl necklaces, precious stones
and valuable trinkets of all sorts. Vases of Sevres
porcelain, painted by Madame Jaquotot, were filled
with rare flowers that perfumed the air ; there were
Mexican jasmines and camellias, and among them
tiny South American birds, quite tame, flew in and
out, like animated rubies and sapphires and flakes
of gold. There was a piano in the room, and
against the wooden walls, hung with red silk, were
pictures, of small dimensions but from the hands of
the best painters: a Sunset by Hippolyte Schinner
hung beside a Terburg; one of Raphael's I/irgins
contested the supremacy in poetic charm with a
sketch by Gericault; a Gerard Dow eclipsed the
portrait painters of the Empire. Upon a table of
Chinese lacquer work was a golden plate filled
with delicious fruit In short, Helene seemed like
the queen of a vast country, as she sat in the
boudoir in which her crowned lover had collected
the loveliest productions of the earth. The children
looked up at their grandfather with eyes of piercing
brightness; and, accustomed as they were to live
in the midst of battle, tempest and uproar, they
resembled the young Romans, deeply interested in
war and bloodshed, whom David has represented in
his picture of Brutus.

"How can it be?" cried Helene, grasping her
father as if to make sure of the reality of the vision.

"Helene!"



256 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

carpet covered the floor of the capacious cabin ; her
four children were splay ing at her feet, building out-
landish castles with pearl necklaces, precious stones
and valuable trinkets of all sorts. . Vases of Sevres
por\:elain, painted by Madame Jaquotot, were filled
with rare flowers that perfumed the air; there were
Mexican jasmines and camellias, and among them
tiny South American birds, quite tame, flew in and
out, like animated rubies and sapphires and flakes
of gold. There was a piano in the roorrL and
*&\*&^&&>&i{*k^*^ wH^S^sHK, were
pictures, of small dimensions but from the hands of
the best painters: a Sunset by Hippolyte Schinner



poetic charm with, a
^'ti^ ect^e<i w &e

lacuer work was a golde,n jpteteufinecl
boudoir in which he;



ren
piercing



in the midst of battle, tempest
resembled the young Romans, deeply interested in
war and bloodshed, whom David has represented in
his picture of Brutus.

"How can it be?" cried Helene, grasping her
fattier as if to make sure of the reality of the vision.

"Helene!"




-



\KMMMbM



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 257

"Father!"

They fell into each other's arms, and the old man's
embrace was not the stronger or the more loving.

"You were on that vessel ?"

"Yes," he replied sadly, seating himself on the
couch and looking at the children, who were grouped
about him, watching him with innocent curiosity.
"1 should have died except for "

"Except for my husband," she interrupted him,
"I understand."

"Ah!" cried the general, "why need I find you
thus, my Helene, you for whom I have wept so bit-
terly! I must still lament over your destiny."

"Why so?" she asked with a smile. "Will it not
please you to learn that I am the happiest of
wives?"

"Happy?" he cried, leaping from his seat in sur-
prise.

"Yes, my dear father," she replied, taking hold
of his hands, kissing them, pressing them against
her palpitating bosom, and in addition to all this
cajolery, holding her head in a significant way
that was emphasized by the expression of her eyes,
which were fairly sparkling with pleasure.

"How can that be?" he asked, curious to know
the story of his daughter's life, and forgetting
everything else in face of her resplendent beauty.

"Listen, father," said she; "I have for my lover,

husband, servant, master, a man whose heart is as

vast as this boundless sea, as fertile in gentleness

as the heavens, a god, in short! For seven years

17



258 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

past, not a word, a sentiment, a gesture has ever
escaped him that could by any possibility produce a
discordant note in the divine harmony of his words,
his caresses and his love. He has always looked
at me with an affectionate smile on his lips and a
joyful gleam in his eye. Up yonder, on the deck,
his voice of thunder often rises above the roaring
of the tempest and the tumult of battle; but here
it is as soft and melodious as the music of Rossini,
whose works he gives me. Everything that a
woman's caprice can invent, I obtain. Indeed my
wishes are often exceeded. In short, I reign upon
the sea, and I am obeyed there as a sovereign might
be. Oh! happy!" she added, interrupting herself,
"happy is not the word to express my good fortune.
I share the fate of all women! To feel an immense
passion, boundless devotion to the man one loves,
and to find in his heart an infinitude of sentiment in
which a woman's heart loses itself and forever! tell
me, is that happiness ? I have already consumed a
thousand existences. Here I am alone, here I com-
mand. Never has a creature of my sex placed her
foot on this noble vessel, where Victor is always
within a few steps of me. He cannot go farther
from me than from the bow to the stern," she con-
tinued, with a sly and mischievous expression.
''Seven years! is a love that resists this perpetual
joy, that sustains this ever-recurring test for seven
years is that love? No! oh! no, it is better than
anything else I know in life. Human language has
no words to express celestial happiness."




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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 15 of 22)