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Title: Ourika
Author: Duras, Claire de Durfort, duchesse de
Language: English
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This is to be alone, this, this is solitude.







A few months had elapsed since I quitted Montpellier to follow my
profession as physician in Paris, when I was sent for one morning to
attend a sick Nun at a convent in the Faubourg St. Jacques. Napoleon
had a short time since permitted several of these convents to be
re-established: the one I was going to belonged to the order of the
Ursuline Sisters, and was opened for the education of young females.
Part of the edifice had been destroyed during the Revolution. The
cloister was laid bare on one side by the demolition of an antique
chapel, of which but a few arches remained. One of the nuns led me
through this cloister. As we traversed it I perceived that the broad
flat stones that paved it were tombs: they all bore inscriptions half
effaced; some were broken, others quite torn up. I had never yet seen
the interior of a convent, and felt curious to witness a scene so new
to me. My conductress led the way into the garden, where she said we
should find our sick patient. I beheld her seated at a distance at
one end of a bower, almost entirely enveloped in a long black veil.
"Here is the physician," said her companion, and immediately left us.
I approached timidly, for my heart had sickened at the sight of the
tombs; and I fancied that I should now contemplate another victim of
the cloister. The prejudices of my youth had just been awakened, and
a considerable interest excited in my mind from the kind of malady
I had imagined for her. She turned towards me, and I was singularly
surprised on beholding a black woman. Her polite address and choice of
words increased my astonishment, "You are come, Sir, to visit a very
sick person," said she, "and one who greatly wishes to get better,
though she has not always wished it, and that perhaps has been the
cause of her long sufferings." I questioned her as to the nature of
them. "I feel," replied she, "continual oppression and fever, and
sleep has quite forsaken me." Her emaciated appearance confirmed this
account of herself. Her figure was tall, but indescribably, meagre.
Her large brilliant eyes and very white teeth lit up the rest of her
features. It was plain that violent and lengthened grief had worn her
frame, though her soul still retained its powers. Her melancholy aspect
moved me. I resolved to exert every means of saving her, and mentioned
the necessity of subduing her evidently heightened imagination, and
diverting her mind from what might give it pain. "I am perfectly
happy!" cried she; "I have never felt so happy and so calm as I do
at present." The sweet and sincere tone in which this was uttered
persuaded me, though it again surprised me.

"That you have not always thought yourself happy is evident," said
I; "you bear the marks of heavy sufferings."--"True; but my mind is
tranquil now, though it has been long in finding repose."--"Since it
is so, then, let us try to cure the past; but can I hope for success
when I know not the disease?"--"Alas! must I own my folly?" cried she,
her eyes filling with tears. "You are not happy!" exclaimed I. "I am,"
replied she, gathering more firmness; nor would I change my present
happiness for the state I once envied. I have no secret; my misfortune
is the history of my whole life. My sufferings were so continual until
I entered this abode that they have gradually undermined, my health.
With joy did I feel myself wasting away, for I had no prospect of
happiness in life. This guilty joy has been punished, for now that I
desire to live, I have scarcely a hope of it left."

I soothed her apprehensions with the promise of speedy recovery; but
whilst uttering the consolatory words a sad presentiment came over me,
warning me that Death had marked its victim.

       *       *       *       *       *

I continued to attend the young Nun, and she appeared not insensible
to the interest I took in her fate. One day she returned of her own
accord to the subject I longed to be enlightened upon. "My sorrow,"
said she, "would appear of so strange a nature, that I have always
felt reluctant to confide it. No one can be a perfect judge of the
feelings of another, and our confidants soon become accusers."--"Fear
not," cried I, "can I doubt the reality of your grief, when I behold
its effects upon your person?"--"Ah! real it has been, but not the
less unreasonable."--"Let us even suppose it so. Does that prevent
sympathy?"--"I have feared so; but if to cure the effect of my sorrows
it is necessary you should know their cause, some time hence, when we
are a little better acquainted, I will confide it to you."

       *       *       *       *       *

I renewed my visits still oftener at the convent, and the remedies I
prescribed appeared to do my patient some good. In short, one morning,
finding her seated alone in the same bower where I had first seen her,
I renewed the subject, and she related to me the following history.


I was brought over from Senegal by the Governor, the Chevalier de B.,
when about two years old. He took compassion on me one day as he stood
witnessing the embarkation of some slaves on board a negro transport
ship then going to sail. I had lost my mother, and I was carried on
board the vessel, in spite of my violent screams and resistance. He
bought me, and on his return to France shortly after gave me to his
aunt, the wife of the Marshal de B. She was the most amiable woman of
her time, and united an elevated and highly refined mind to the most
exemplary virtue. To save me from slavery, and choose for me such a
benefactress as Madame de B., was twice bestowing life upon me. Such
was my ingratitude towards Providence, that I was not made happy
by it. But is happiness always the result of the development of our
faculties? I think not. How often does the knowledge we acquire teach
us to regret our days of ignorance! Nor does the fable tell us that
Galatea received the gift of happiness with that of life.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was not told the early circumstances of my life until long after
they happened. My first recollections always bring Madame de B.'s
drawing-room to my mind. I used to pass my life there, doted on by
herself, praised and caressed by her friends, who loaded me with
presents, and exalted to the skies my wit and graces.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tone of her society was animated gaiety; but gaiety from which
good taste had excluded all exaggeration. What deserved praise always
met with it, and what deserved blame was generally excused; nay, from
excessive leniency erroneous notions were often suffered to pass for
right ones. Success gives courage, and every one was sure of being
estimated a little above their real worth, by Madame de B.; for,
without knowing it, she lent them a part of her own, and after seeing
or listening to her people, fancied themselves like her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dressed in the Eastern fashion, and seated on a little stool at Madame
de B.'s feet, I used to listen to the conversation of the first wits
of the day long before I could understand it. I had no childish
petulance. I was pensive ere I began to think. I was perfectly happy
at being by the side of Madame de B. To love her, to listen to her,
to obey her, and above all, to look at her, was all that I desired.
Neither a life of luxury, nor accomplished society, could astonish me;
I knew no other, but I insensibly acquired a great contempt for every
other sphere than the one I lived in. Even when a child, the want of
taste would shock me. I felt it ere I could define it, for habit had
made it necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus did I grow up to the age of twelve years without an idea of any
other kind of happiness than that I possessed. I felt no pain at
being a negress. I was continually praised and admired, and nothing
ever suggested its being to my disadvantage. I seldom saw any other
children; and the only one who was my friend, did not love me the less
on account of my colour.

Madame de B. had two grandsons; the children of her daughter who had
died young. Charles, the youngest, was about my own age. We spent our
infancy together. He was my protector and my adviser in all my little
faults, but he went to school when he was eight years old. I wept at
parting. This was my first sorrow. He seldom came home, yet I often
thought of him. Whilst he pursued his studies, I was ardently engaged
in acquiring the accomplishments necessary to complete my education.
Madame de B. resolved to make me perfect in every talent. My voice was
thought worthy of the instruction of the first masters; a celebrated
painter, one of my benefactress's friends, undertook to guide me in
his art; English and Italian were familiar to me, and Madame de B.
herself presided over my reading. She formed both my mind and judgment.
By conversing with her, and discovering the beauties of her soul, my
own grew elevated, and admiration was the first source of my own
intelligence. Alas! how little I then foresaw that these delightful
studies would be followed by so many bitter hours! My sole thought was
how to please Madame de B., and a smile of approbation on her lips the
only recompense I wished for.

       *       *       *       *       *

However, constant reading, and, above all, the study of the poets,
began to inflame my young imagination. My thoughts sometimes wandered
upon my own future life; but with the confidence natural in youth, I
felt assured that I should always be happy with my benefactress. Her
tenderness towards me, and the bewitching life I led, contributed to
confirm my error. A single instance will show the pride she took in me.
You will perhaps scarcely believe that my shape was once remarkable
for its beauty and elegance. Madame de B. often boasted of my grace,
and had been anxious to have me dance well. Under pretext of giving a
ball for her grandchildren, she resolved to show off my talent in a
quadrille, representing the four parts of the world, in which I was to
perform Africa. Travellers were consulted, books of costume resorted
to, and works read upon African music and dancing: at last the Comba,
a national dance of my own country, was fixed upon. My partner put
a crape over his face. Alas! I had no need of any to blacken mine;
but this was far from my thoughts, they were wholly engrossed by the
pleasures of the ball. I danced the comba with the greatest success,
as might be expected, from the novelty of the spectacle, and the choice
of spectators, who were all friends of my protectress, and to please
her, gave way to the most enthusiastic applause. The dance was in
itself sufficiently attractive, being composed of graceful attitudes
and measured steps, expressing love, grief, triumph, and despair. I was
totally ignorant of these violent passions; yet from instinct I guessed
them, and my imitation succeeded. I was surrounded by an applauding
assembly, and overwhelmed with praise. This was a pleasure that I
enjoyed in the most perfect security. It was my last.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days after this ball had taken place, I overheard by chance a
conversation, which awakened me to the truth, and at once put an end to
my youth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de B. had a lacker screen in her drawing-room, which hid one
of the doors, and extended beyond the window. Between the door and
this window there was a table where I used frequently to draw. I sat
down one morning, to work at a miniature there; my attention became
so completely absorbed that I remained for some time motionless, and
no doubt Madame de B. concluded that I had left the room when the
Marchioness de C. was announced. This lady possessed a penetrating
judgment, but her manners were trenchant, positive, and dry. She was
capable of great devotion to her friends, but at the same time was
inquisitive, and hard to please: in short she was the least amiable
of Madame de B.'s friends. I feared her, though she had always shown
a regard for me; that is, in her own way. Severity and investigation
were its signs. I was too much accustomed to indulgence, not to fear
her justice. "Now that we are alone, my dear," said this lady to Madame
de B., "let me speak to you of Ourika. She is a charming girl; her
mind is nearly formed; she possesses wit, infinite natural grace, and
very superior talents; but what is to become of her? What do you intend
to do with her?" "That is the very thought that distresses me," cried
Madame de B. "I love her as my child: I should think no sacrifice too
great to make her happy, but the longer I reflect upon her situation,
the less remedy I find for it. Alas, poor Ourika! I see thee doomed to
be alone--eternally alone in the world!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It would be impossible for me to describe the effect these few words
produced upon me; lightning could not have been more prompt. I
discovered the extent of my misery. I saw what I was--a black girl, a
dependant, without fortune, without a being of my own kind to whom I
could unite my destiny; belonging to nobody; till now, the plaything of
my benefactress, but soon an outcast from a world that I was not made
for. I shuddered, and my heart beat so violently, that, for a moment,
I could not attend to this conversation, but I strove to master my

       *       *       *       *       *

"I fear," continued the Marchioness, "that you will make her very
miserable. What will satisfy her, now that she has passed her life with
you in the intimacy of your society?" "But will she not remain with
me?" said Madame de B. "Aye, as long as her childhood lasts, but she
is now nearly fifteen; and who can you marry her to, with the education
you have given her? Who will ever marry a negro girl? And if you should
find any man who, for the sake of money, would perhaps consent to have
negro children, must it not be some one of inferior condition, with
whom she would be unhappy? Will a man whom she would choose ever choose
her?" "Alas! this is true," cried Madame de B. "but she fortunately
does not suspect it, and her attachment for me will, I hope, prevent
her perceiving her situation for some time. To have made her happy, I
should have made an ordinary being of her; and frankly I believe that
impossible. Besides, as she has not remained in the station she was
first intended for, may not her mind rise superior to the restraints
of her present one?" "Never; you are forging chimeras," replied the
Marchioness; "Philosophy may raise our minds above the vicissitudes
of fortune, but can never prevail against the evils which arise from
having disturbed the laws of nature. Ourika has not fulfilled her
destiny, she has usurped a place in society to which she had no right,
and society will punish her for it." "But surely it is no fault of
her's? Poor child! with what severity you decide upon her happiness."
"I judge it more rationally than you have done.--I consider how it may
best be secured, whilst you will be the cause of its ruin." Madame de
B. answered this accusation with some warmth, and I was just becoming
the cause of a quarrel between the two friends, when the arrival of a
third person put an end to their discussion. I slid out at the door
behind the screen, and flew to my own room, there to solace my poor
heart for a moment by a flood of tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

Oh, how I felt my whole existence changed! How lost I was when the
illusions I had so constantly dwelt in vanished! They resembled the
light of day, and when they fled, utter darkness succeeded. So great
was the confusion of my mind under the new thoughts that assailed
it, that not one of my usual ideas ever occurred to me. I was struck
with terror. To be an object of pity to the world! Not to be fit for
the rank I lived in! Perhaps to meet with a man who for the sake
of money would consent to have negro children! These thoughts kept
rising successively over my mind, pursuing me like phantoms. But the
bitterest of all was the certainty of belonging to no one in the world.
To be alone! Ever, and for ever alone! Madame de B. had owned it, and I
repeated the words over and over. What cared I to be alone, but a few
minutes before. I knew it not, I felt it not; I had need of the beings
that I loved, but I was unconscious of their not wanting me. Now my
eyes were opened, and with misfortune came mistrust into my soul.

When I returned to Madame de B.'s apartment, every body was struck with
the change in my appearance. I pretended to be ill, and was believed.
Madame de B. sent for her physician, Barthez, who felt my pulse,
questioned me carefully, and then abruptly declared that nothing ailed
me. This quieted the uneasiness of my benefactress about my health;
but she sought every means of diverting my mind. I dare not own how
little gratitude I felt for her care. My heart seemed withered in
itself. As long as it had received favours with pleasure, it gladly
acknowledged the benefit; but now filled with the bitterest feelings,
it had no power to expand. My days were spent in the same thoughts,
differently combined and under various forms, but still the blackest
my imagination could invent. Often were my nights passed in weeping.
I exhausted my whole pity upon myself.--My face was become odious to
me;--I no longer dared to look in a glass;--and my black hands struck
me with horror;--they appeared to me like a monkey's. I dwelt upon
the idea of my ugliness, and my colour appeared to me the sign of my
reprobation: it was that alone which separated me from the rest of
my fellow creatures, and condemned me to live alone, and never to be
loved.--That a man should perhaps consent for the sake of money to have
negro children! My blood rose with indignation at the idea. I thought
for a moment of entreating Madame de B. to send me back to my own
country;--but even there I should have felt isolated.--Who would have
understood me? Who would have sympathised with my feelings? Alas! I
belonged to no one--I was estranged from the whole world!

It was not until long after that I understood the possibility of being
reconciled to such a fate. Madame de B. was no devotee; she had had
me instructed in the duties of my religion by a respectable priest,
from whom I imbibed my only notions on the subject. They were as
sincere as my own character; but I was not aware that piety is of no
succour, unless mingled with the daily actions of life. I had devoted
a few moments of each day to its practice, but left it a stranger to
the rest. My confessor was an indulgent, unsuspicious old man, whom
I saw twice or thrice a year; but as I did not imagine that my grief
could be a fault I never mentioned it to him; meanwhile it continued
to undermine mine my health, though, strange to say, it perfected my
understanding. "What doth the man know who hath not suffered?" says an
Eastern sage; and I soon perceived how true this was. What I had taken
for ideas were impressions. I did not judge--I liked. I was either
pleased or displeased with the words or actions of the persons I lived
with, but stopped not to consider why. Since I had found out that the
world would reject me, I began to examine and criticise almost every
thing that had hitherto enchanted me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such a tendency could not escape Madame de B.'s penetration; though I
never knew whether she guessed the cause. Possibly she was afraid of
letting me confide my chagrin to her, for fear of increasing it; but
she was even kinder to me than usual; she entrusted all her thoughts to
me, and tried to dissipate my own troubles by busying me with her's.
She judged my heart rightly, for nothing could attach me to life but
the idea of being necessary or even useful to my benefactress. To be
alone, to die, and leave no regret in the soul of any being, was the
dread that haunted me: but there I was unjust towards her, for she
sincerely loved me; still she had other and superior interests to mine.
I did not envy her tenderness for her grandchildren; but, oh! how I
longed like them to call her mother!

Family ties, above all, brought distressing recollections over me. I!
who was doomed never to be the sister, wife, or mother of any human
being! Perhaps I fancied these ties more endearing than they really
were; and because they were out of my reach, I foolishly neglected
those that were not. But I had no friend, no confidant. My feeling
for Madame de B. was that of worship rather than of affection; but
I believe that I felt the utmost love of a sister for Charles. His
studies were nearly finished, and he was setting out on his travels
with his eldest brother and their governor. They were to be two years
absent, and were to visit Italy, Germany, and England. Charles was
delighted to travel, and I was too well accustomed to rejoice at what
gave him pleasure, to feel any grief until the moment of our parting.
I never told him the distress that preyed upon me. We did not see each
other alone, and it would have taken me some time to explain my grief
to him. He would then have understood me, I am sure. His manners were
mild and grave, but he had a propensity to ridicule that intimidated
me; not that he ever gratified it but at the expense of affectation.
Sincerity completely disarmed him. However, I kept my secret; besides,
the chagrin of our parting was a relief to my mind, to which any grief
was more welcome than its accustomed one.

A short time after Charles' departure, the revolution began to assume
a serious turn: the great moral and political interests that were
agitated by it to their very source were daily discussed in Madame de
B.'s drawing-room. These were debates that superior minds delighted in;
and what could better form my own, than the contemplation of an arena
where men of distinguished talents were struggling against opinions
long since received, and investigating every subject, examining the
origin of every institution, unfortunately, to destroy and shake them
from their very foundation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Will you believe that, young as I was, without any share in the
interests of society, and nourishing my own wound in secret, the
revolution brought some change in my ideas, created a glimmering ray of
hope in them, and for a while, suspended their bitterness. It appeared
to me that, in the general confusion, my situation might change; and
that, when all ranks were levelled, fortunes upset, and prejudices
done away with, I might find myself less isolated in this new order of
things; and that, if I did possess any hidden qualities or superiority
of mind, my colour would no longer single me out, and prevent their
being appreciated: but it happened that these very qualities quickly
opposed my illusion. I could not desire my own happiness at the expense
of the misfortune of thousands; besides, I daily witnessed the folly
of persons who were struggling against events that they could not
control. I saw through the weakness of such characters, and guessed
their secret views. Their false philanthropy did not long deceive me,
and I quite gave up my hopes when I found that they would still feel
contempt for me, even in the midst of the severest adversity. The days
were gone when each sought to please, and remembered that the only
means of doing so in society is the very unconsciousness of one's own

No sooner did the revolution cease to be a grand theory,--no sooner did
it menace the interests of every high individual, than conversation
degenerated into dispute, and reasoning was exchanged for bitter
personality. Sometimes, in spite of my dejection, I could not help
being amused by the sudden violence of opinions which were excited
by ambition, affectation, or fear; but gaiety that is occasioned by
the observation of folly in others is too malignant to do good: the
heart delights in innocent joys, and the mirth of ridicule, far from
dispelling misfortune, is more likely to proceed from it, as it feeds
upon the same bitterness of soul.

       *       *       *       *       *

My hopes in the revolution having quickly vanished, I remained
dissatisfied as before with my situation. Madame de B.'s friendship and
confidence were my only solace. Often, in the midst of an acrimonious
political discussion, after vainly trying to restore good humour, she
would cast a sad look at me:--this look was a balm to my heart; it
seemed to say, "Ourika, you alone can sympathise with me."

       *       *       *       *       *

The negroes' right to liberty next began to be debated; and I, of
course, felt deeply interested in the question. One of my remaining
illusions was, that at least I had countrymen in another land, and
knowing them to be unhappy, I believed them virtuous, and pitied
their fate. Alas! here again I was undeceived. The massacre of St.
Domingo added fresh grief to my soul; and to my despair at belonging
to a proscribed race was added shame at their being likewise a race of

       *       *       *       *       *

The revolution having soon made rapid progress, and the most violent
men getting into power, inspired the greatest terror by their utter
disregard of the laws of justice. The horrid days of the twentieth of
June and tenth of August prepared for every other event. The greater
number of Madame de B.'s friends fled at this epoch; some sought
shelter abroad, others in the provinces or in secret retreats; but she
remained. The constant occupation of her heart fixed her to home.

       *       *       *       *       *

We had been living for some months in solitude, when towards the latter
end of the year 1792, the decree for the confiscation of the emigrants'
estates was issued. In the midst of such great disasters, Madame de
B. would have cared little for the loss of her fortune, had it not
belonged to her grandchildren; for by a family arrangement, she had
only the enjoyment of it during her lifetime. This made her decide upon
sending for Charles home, whilst his eldest brother, then nearly one
and twenty, went to join the army of the Prince of Condé. Their travels
were just completed, which two years before had been undertaken under
such different auspices. Charles arrived in Paris, in the beginning
of February, 1793, a short time after the King's death. Madame de B.
had given herself up to the most poignant grief, at the perpetration of
this deed. Her feeling mind proportioned its horror to the immensity
of the crime. Affliction in old age is a most moving spectacle, it
carries with it the authority of reason. Madame de B. suffered with
such energy, that it affected her health, and I did not conceive it
possible to console her, but I mingled my tears with hers, and sought
by elevating my own sentiments, to ally my soul more nearly to hers, so
that I might at least share her sufferings. My own distress scarcely
occurred to me while the reign of terror lasted. I should have felt
ashamed to think of it during such dreadful calamities. Besides, I
no longer felt so isolated, since every person round me was unhappy.
Opinion is like the link of country, it is the property of all, and
men are brothers to defend its cause. Sometimes I thought, that poor
negress as I was, still I was allied to noble minds, by the same need
of justice that I experienced in common with them. The return of truth
and justice to their country, would be a day of triumph for me as well
as for them; but, alas! it was far distant.

On Charles's return, Madame de B. went into the country. All her
friends had fled. The only society she had left, was that of an old
Abbé, who for ten years had turned religion into ridicule, but was now
highly irritated at the riches of the clergy being confiscated, because
he lost twenty thousand francs a year by it. He accompanied us to St.
Germain. His company was rather quiet than agreeable, and was more the
result of his disposition than of his heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de B. had had it in her power all her life to do good. She was
intimately, acquainted with the Count de Choiseul, and during his
long ministry, was useful to a number of persons. Two of the most
popular men during the terror, owed obligations to her, and remembered
it in those dreadful times. They watched over her preservation, and
risqued their own lives to save hers from the fury of the revolutionary
assassins; and it may here be remarked, that at this fatal epoch even
the chiefs of the most violent factions ran great danger in doing a
little good. It seemed as if our desolate land was only to be governed
by evil, for that alone took away or gave power. Madame de B. was not
sent to prison. She was guarded at home under pretext of bad health.
Charles, the Abbé, and myself remained with her, and attended her with

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing can equal the state of anxiety and terror in which we passed
our days: continually reading in the papers accounts of the sentences
of death passed against Madame de B.'s friends, and trembling lest
her protector should be deprived of the power of preserving her from
a similar fate. We discovered, indeed, that she was on the eve of
perishing, when the death of Robespierre put an end to so much horror.
We breathed again. The guards left our house, and we all remained in
the same solitude, like people who have escaped some great calamity
together. Misfortune seemed to have linked us closer to each other. I
felt in those moments that I was not a stranger. If I ever passed a
few happy moments since the fairy days of my childhood, it was during
the times that followed this disastrous epoch. Madame de B. possessed
to a supreme degree those qualities which constitute the charm of
domestic life; her temper was easy and indulgent; she always put the
most favourable construction upon what was said before her: no harsh or
captious judgment of hers ever cooled the confidence of her friends.
Thoughts were free, and might be uttered without responsibility before
her, merely passing for what they were worth. Such gifts, had they
been her only ones, would have made Madame de B's friends adore her;
but how many others she possessed! It was impossible to feel ennui in
her company. There was a charm in her wit and manner, that made even
trifles interesting the moment they engrossed her attention.

Charles bore some resemblance to his mother. His mind like her's was
liberal and just, but firm, and without modification, for youth allows
of none; it finds every thing either quite right or quite wrong, while
the failing of old age is to believe that nothing is ever quite right
or quite wrong. Charles was endowed with the two first qualities of his
age,--truth and justice. I have already said, that he hated the very
shadow of affectation; nay, he sometimes fancied it where it did not
exist. Reserve was habitual to him, and this made his confidence the
more flattering, as it was evidently the result of his esteem, and not
of his natural propensity; whatever portion of it he granted, was of
value, for he never acted inconsiderately, and yet was always natural
and sincere. He placed such full reliance in me, that his thoughts were
communicated to me as quickly as they came. When we were all seated
round our table of an evening, how interesting were our conversations.
Our old Abbé took his share in them; he had made out to himself such a
completely false set of ideas, and maintained them with so much good
faith, that he was an inexhaustible source of amusement to Madame
de B.; her clear and penetrating judgment drew out the poor man's
absurdities (he never taking it amiss), and she would throw in keen
traits of good sense over his orderly system, which we used to compare
to the heavy strokes of Charlemagne's or Roland's sword.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de B. was fond of exercise; we used to walk in the forest of
St. Germain every morning; she leaning on the Abbé, and I following
with Charles at a distance. It was then he would unburthen his mind
to me, and tell me his thoughts, his projects, his future hopes,
and above all, his opinion upon men and passing events. He had not
a secret feeling hidden from me, and was unconscious of disclosing
one. The habit of relying upon my friendship had made it like his own
life to him. He enjoyed it without knowing that he did. He demanded
neither attention nor expressions of interest from me; he knew that, in
speaking to me of his own concerns, it was as though he spoke to me
of mine, and that I felt more deeply for him than he did for himself.
Friendship like this was a charm that equalled the sensations of
happiness itself!

       *       *       *       *       *

I never thought of telling Charles what had so long oppressed me.
I listened to him, and, by I know not what magical effect, his
conversation banished from my mind the recollection of my sorrows.
Had he questioned me, I should have confessed them all, but he did
not imagine that I had any secret. Every body was accustomed to my
weak state of health, and Madame de B. had striven so much to make me
happy, that she had a right to think me so. So I ought to have been,
I felt it, and often accused myself of ingratitude and folly. I doubt
whether I should have ever dared to own how miserable the irreparable
misfortune of my colour made me. There is a sort of degradation in not
being able to submit to necessity, and when hopeless grief masters
the soul, it bears the character of despair. There was a rigidity in
Charles's notions, which likewise increased my timidity. One evening
our conversation turned upon pity, and it was asked, whether misfortune
inspires most compassion from its cause or from its effects. Charles
decided for the former; this was declaring that all grief should
be actuated by some powerful motive. But who can judge the motives
of another? All hearts have not the same wants; and does not real
misfortune consist in the heart's being deprived of its desires? It was
seldom, however, that our conversations thus led me to reflect upon
my own case, which I so earnestly sought to forget. I would have no
looking-glasses in my room. I constantly wore gloves, and dresses that
covered my throat and arms. I had a large hat and veil to walk out in,
which I often continued to wear in doors: in short, I would fain have
deceived myself, and, like a child, shut my own eyes, and thought that
no one saw me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Towards the end of the year 1795, the reign of terror being at an end,
friends began to seek each other out, and the scattered remains of
Madame de B.'s society rallied round her. With chagrin I beheld the
circle of her friends increase, for the station I held in the world was
so equivocal, that the more society returned to its natural order, the
more I felt myself excluded from it. Every time that strangers came to
visit us I underwent fresh misery. The expression of surprise, mingled
with disdain, that I observed upon their countenances when they first
beheld, me, put me to confusion. I was sure to become the subject of an
_aparté_ in the window-seat, or of a whisper in a corner, that it might
be explained how a negress came to be admitted as an inmate in Madame
de B.'s society. I used to suffer martyrdom during these explanations.
I longed to be transported back to my barbarous country and its savage
inhabitants, whom I should fear less than this cruel world that made
me responsible for its own evils. The recollection of a disdainful
look would remain upon me for whole days, appear to me in my dreams,
flit before me under the likeness of my own image. Alas! such were the
chimeras that I suffered to disturb me. Thou, my God! hadst not yet
taught me to dispel these phantoms; I knew not that repose was to be
found in thee.

I then sought for shelter in the heart of Charles. I was proud of his
virtues, and still prouder of his friendship. I admired him as the most
perfect being that I knew upon earth. I once thought that I felt for
him the most tender love of a sister; but now, worn by grief, it seemed
as if I had grown old, and my tenderness was become that of a mother.
Indeed, a mother only could feel the same passionate desire for his
success, and anxiety for his welfare through life. I would willingly
have given up my existence to save him from a moment's pain. I saw
the impression he made upon others long before he did. He was happy
enough neither to think nor care about it. This was natural, for he had
nothing to fear; nothing to give him that habitual uneasiness I felt
about the opinion of others. His fate was all harmony, mine was all

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning an old friend called upon Madame de B., confidentially
entrusted with a proposal of marriage for Charles. Mademoiselle de
Thémines had suddenly become a rich heiress in the most distressing
manner. Her whole family, excepting her great aunt, had perished on
the scaffold in one day. This lady (having reached her eightieth
year) as sole guardian of her niece, was exceedingly anxious to have
her married, lest her own death should leave her without a single
protector. Anais de Thémines, besides possessing the advantages of
birth, wealth, and education, was beautiful as an angel. It was
impossible that Madame de B, should hesitate; she spoke to her son,
who (though he at first showed some reluctance at marrying so early)
expressed a desire to see Mademoiselle de Thémines. The interview
took place, and his reluctance vanished. Anais was formed to please
him. She appeared so unconscious of her charms, and possessed modesty
so unassuming and quiet, that she could not fail endearing herself
to him; he was allowed to visit at her aunt's, and soon became
passionately in love with her. I knew the progress of his feelings,
and longed to behold this lovely creature to whom his happiness was
soon to be entrusted. She came one morning to St. Germains. Charles had
spoken of me to her, and I had no contemptuous scrutiny to undergo.
She appeared to me an angel of goodness; I assured her that Charles
would make her happy, and that his discretion was so much above his
years, that she need have no apprehensions on account of his youth. She
questioned me much about him, for she knew that we had been friends
from infancy, and I was so delighted at having an opportunity of
extolling his many virtues, that I could have talked for ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some weeks passed before the marriage took place for the settlement
of business, and Charles spent most part of that time at Madame de
Thémines, sometimes remaining two or three days at a time in Paris.
His absence pained me; I felt vexed at losing him, and vexed with
myself for preferring my own happiness to his. I had never done so
before. The days that he returned home were holidays for me. Then he
would tell me how he had passed his time, what progress he had made in
the affections of his mistress, and rejoice with me at the success he
had met with, Once, he began (describing to me the manner he intended
to live with her)--"I will obtain her conscience," said he, "and give
her mine. All my thoughts shall be open to her, every secret impulse
of heart will I tell her; in short, I wish the same mutual trust and
confidence to be between us as between you and me, Ourika." The same
confidence! How this pained me. I recollected that he knew not the only
secret I ever had, and determined never to let him know it.

By degrees his absences became longer and more frequent, until at
last he used merely to come to St. Germains for a few minutes at a
time (generally on horseback, to save time on the road), and always
returning to Paris the same afternoon, so that we completely lost
his company of an evening. Madame de B. used to joke him for having
deserted us, would I could have done so too! One morning, as we
were walking in the forest, I perceived him coming full gallop at a
distance. He had been absent nearly the whole week; as he approached
us, he jumped from his horse, and began walking with us. After a few
minutes general conversation, we remained behind, and began conversing
as in former times. I remarked it. "In former times!" cried he, "Had
I ever any thing to say in former times? I have only begun to exist
since I have known my Anais! Ah, Ourika, I never can express to you
what I feel for her. Sometimes it seems to me as if my whole soul were
passing into her's. When she looks at me I can no longer breathe;--if
she blushes, I long to throw myself in adoration at her feet;--and when
I think that I am to become the protector of this angel, and that she
trusts her happiness, her life, her fate to me, ah! how proud am I of
my own! I shall replace the parents she has lost, but I shall likewise
be her husband! her lover! Her first affections will be mine,--our
hearts will flow into each other, and our lives mingle into one; nor
during their whole current, shall she have to say that I have given her
an hour's pain.

"How rapturous are my feelings, Ourika, when I reflect that she will
be the mother of my children, and that they will owe their life to my
Anais! Ah! they will be beautiful and good as she is! Tell me, merciful
heaven, what have I done to deserve such happiness?"

Oh! what a different question was I then addressing there! I had
listened to his passionate discourse with the most unaccountable
sensations. Thou knowest, O Lord, that I envied not his happiness, but
why gavest thou life to poor Ourika? Why did she not perish on board
the slave ship she was snatched from, or on the bosom of her mother.
A little African sand would have covered her infant body, and light
would have been the burthen. Why was Ourika condemned to live? To live
alone? Ever and for ever alone? Never to be loved! O my God! do not
permit it! Take thy poor Ourika from hence! No creature wants her; must
she linger desolate through life!

       *       *       *       *       *

This heart-rending thought seized me with more violence than it ever
had. I felt my knees sinking under me. My eyes closed, and I thought
that I was dying.

       *       *       *       *       *

At these words the poor Nun's agitation increased. Her voice faultered,
and a few tears ran down her withered cheeks. I besought her to suspend
her narration, but she refused. "Do not heed me," said she, "grief has
no hold over my heart now: it has been rooted out of it. God has taken
pity on me, and has saved me from the abyss I had fallen into, for want
of knowing and of loving him. Remember that I am happy now, but alas!
how miserable I was then!"

Until the moment I have just been speaking of, I had borne with my
grief; it had undermined my health, but I still preserved a kind of
power over my reason. Like a worm in fruit, it ate through my very
heart, while all seemed full of life without. I liked conversation;
discussion animated me; I had even the gaiety of repartee. In short,
until then my strength had surpassed my sorrow, but I felt that my
sorrow would now surpass my strength.

Charles carried me home in his arms. Succour was promptly administered
to me, and I returned to my senses. I found Madame de B. by my
bed-side, and Charles holding one of my hands. They had both attended
me, and the sight of their anxious, sorrowful countenances penetrated
my very soul. I felt life flow again. My tears began to flow, Madame
de B. gently wiped them away. She said not a word, did not ask a
question, while Charles overwhelmed me with a thousand. I know not
what I answered. I attributed my indisposition to the heat and fatigue.
He believed it, and all my bitter feelings returned on perceiving that
he did; I immediately ceased weeping. How easy is it, thought I, to
deceive those whose interest lies not with you! I withdrew my hand,
which he was holding, and strove to assume a tranquil air.

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles left us as usual at five o'clock. I felt hurt at his doing so.
I would have wished him to be uneasy about me. Indeed I was suffering
greatly! He would still have gone to his Anais, for I should have
insisted on it, but he would have owed the pleasure of his evening to
me, and that might have consoled me. I carefully hid this sensation
from him. Delicate feelings have a sort of chastity about them. They
should be guessed, or they are thrown away. There must be sympathy on
both sides.

       *       *       *       *       *

Scarcely had Charles left us, than I was seized with a violent fever,
which augmented the two following days. Madame de B. watched me with
her usual tenderness. She was distracted at the state I was in, and at
the impossibility of removing me to Paris, whither the celebration of
her son's marriage obliged her to go the next day.

My physician answered for my life, if I remained at St. Germain, and
she at last consented to leave me. The excessive tenderness she showed
on parting with me, calmed me for an instant; but after her departure,
the real and complete loneliness I was left in for the first time,
threw me into despair. The vision was realized that my imagination
had so long dwelt upon; I was dying far away from those I loved; the
sound of my lamentations reached not their ear. Alas! it would but
have disturbed their joy. I fancied them given up to the most ecstatic
bliss, whilst I lay pining on my sickbed. They were all I cared for
in the world, but they wanted not my care. I had but them through
life, yet I was not wanted by them. The frightful conviction of the
uselessness of my existence made me sick of it. It was a pang not to
be endured, and sincerely I prayed that I might die of my illness.
I neither spoke or gave any sign of life. The only distinct idea I
could express in my mind was, _I wish I could die_. Then at other
times I became excessively agitated. All that had passed in my last
conversation with Charles rushed into my mind. I saw him lost in the
ocean of delight he had pictured to me, whilst I was abandoned to a
death as solitary as my life. This produced a kind of irritation, more
painful to endure than grief; I increased it by filling my brain with
chimeras; I fancied Charles coming to St Germain, being told that I was
dead, and being made miserable by my death. Can it be believed? The
idea, of grieving him rejoiced me. It would be a revenge. Revenge! for
what? for his goodness, for his having been the protecting angel of
my life? Such guilty thoughts were soon replaced by horror, at having
conceived them. My grief I thought no crime, but thus giving way to it,
might lead to one: then I tried to collect my inward strength, that it
might fight against this irritation; but even that I sought not where
I should have found it. I was ashamed of my ingratitude. Oh! let me
die, I exclaimed, but let no wicked passions enter my heart. Ourika is
a portionless orphan, but innocence is yet her's. Let her not tarnish
it by ingratitude. She will pass away like a shadow upon earth, but in
her grave she will at least rest in peace. Her friends are all happy,
then let Ourika be so, and die as the leaves fall in autumn? I fell
into a state of languor when this dangerous fever left me. Madame de B.
continued to reside at St. Germain, after Charles's marriage. He often
visited her, accompanied by his Anais, never without her. I always
suffered more when they were present. I know not whether the image of
their happiness made me feel my misfortune more acutely, or that the
sight of Charles renewed my remembrance of our old friendship, which
I sought to find what it once was, but could not. Yet he always spoke
to me just as before: it resembled the friendship he used to show me,
as the artificial flower does the natural one. It was the same, except
that it had neither life nor perfume.

Charles attributed the change in my temper to the weakness of my
constitution. I believe that Madame de B. knew more of its real cause:
she guessed my secret, and was sensibly affected by it.

Anais gave hopes of increasing her family, and we returned to Paris.
My languor increased daily. The spectacle of domestic happiness so
peaceful--of family bonds so endearing--of love so passionate and yet
so tender--was misery to a poor wretch who was doomed to live in no
other bonds but those of dependence and pity.

Days and months passed on thus. I took no share in conversation: my
talents were neglected: the only books I could endure were those in
which a feeble picture of my own sufferings was traced. I fed upon
these poisons,--I feasted on my tears,--and remained shut up in my room
whole hours giving way to them.

The birth of a son completed the measure of Charles's happiness.
He came, his heart overflowing with joy, to give me the news; and I
recognised in the expressions of his delight, some of the accents of
his former confidence. It was the voice of the friend that I had lost,
and brought painful remembrances back with it. The child of Anais was
as beautiful as herself. Every body felt moved at the sight of this
tender young mother and her sweet infant. I alone beheld them with
bitter envy. "What had I done that I should have been brought to this
land of exile? Why was I not left to follow my destiny?--Well, if
I had been the negro slave of some rich planter, sold to cultivate
his land, exposed all day to the burning heat of the sun; still when
evening came and my toils were over, I should have found repose in my
humble cottage. I should have a sharer in them, a companion through
life, and children of my own colour to call me mother! They would have
pressed their infant lips upon my cheek without disgust, and lain their
little heads to sleep upon my bosom.--Why am I never to experience the
only affection my heart was made for? Oh my God! take me I beseech thee
from this world,--I cannot, cannot endure life any longer!"

I was addressing this impious prayer to my Creator in agony, upon my
knees, when my door opened, and the Marchioness de C----, who was just
returned from England, entered the room. I beheld her approach with
terror, for I too well remembered that she had first revealed my fate
to me,--she had first caused my misery.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My dear Ourika," said she, "I want to speak with you. You know that I
have loved and admired you from your infancy, and I grieve to see you
giving way to such deep melancholy. How comes it that you make not a
better use of the ample resources of your mind?"

"The resources of the mind, Madam," answered I; "only serve to increase
misfortunes by showing them under a thousand different forms." "But if
those misfortunes are without remedy, is it not a folly to struggle
against them, instead of submitting to necessity, which can compel even
the strongest to yield?"--"True, Madam; but that only makes necessity a
hardship the more."--"Still, you must own, Ourika, that reason commands
us to resign ourselves, and divert our attention."--"We must have a
glimpse of happiness elsewhere to be able to do so."--"Then cannot you
try what occupation and forcing your mind to a little pleasure will
do?"--"Ah! Madam, pleasures that are forced upon us are more tedious
than melancholy."--"But why neglect your talents?"--"Talents must have
some object (when they charm not their possessor,) ere they can become
a resource. Mine would be like the flower of the English poet--

                  Born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness in the desert air."

"Are your friends then no object?" "I have no friends, Madam; I have
patrons." "Ourika, you make yourself very needlessly unhappy." "Every
thing in my life is needless, Madam, even my grief." "How can you
nourish such bitter thoughts. You, Ourika, who were so devoted to
Madame de B. during her distress, when every other friend had left
her." "Alas! Madam, I am like an evil genius, whose power lasts in
calamity, but who dies on the return of happiness." "Let me be your
confidant, my dear; open your heart to me. Tell me your secret. No one
can take a greater interest in you than I do, and I shall perhaps be
able to do you good." "I have no secret," replied I; "my colour and my
situation are my sole misfortunes, as you know, Madam." "Nay, do you
deny that you have a secret sorrow? It is impossible to behold you for
a moment without being certain of it." I persisted in what I had first
said. She grew impatient, and I saw the storm rising that was to burst
upon me. "Is this your good faith?" cried she. "Is this your vaunted
sincerity? Ourika, take care. Reserve sometimes leads to deceit."
"What, Madam, can I have to reveal to you? You, who foresaw my misery
so long ago, I can tell you nothing that you do not know already." "I
will not believe you," answered she; "and since you refuse to trust
your secret to me, and pretend that you have none, I will convince
you that I know it. Yes, Ourika; a senseless passion is the cause of
all your grief, and your regret; and were you not so desperately in
love with Charles, you would care very little about being a negress.
Adieu. I leave you, I must own, with much less regard than I felt in
coming here." So saying she quitted the room. I remained thunderstruck.
What had she revealed to me? What horrid interpretation had she put
upon my grief? Who? I nourish a criminal passion? I let it canker my
heart! Was my wish to hold a link in the chain of my fellow-creatures,
my longing after natural affections, and my grief at being desolate,
was that the despair of guilty love? And when I thought that I was
only envying the _picture_ of his bliss, did my impious wishes aspire
to the object itself? What cause had I given to be suspected of so
hopeless a passion? Might I not love him more than my own life, and
yet with innocence? Did the mother, when she threw herself into the
lion's jaw to save her son, or the brothers and sisters, who intreated
that they might die upon the same scaffold, and united their prayers to
heaven as they went up to it, did they feel influenced by guilty love?
Is not humanity alone the cause of the sublimest devotion of every
kind? And why might I not have the same feelings for Charles, my friend
from infancy, and the protector of my youth? And yet a secret voice
unheard before warns me that I am guilty! Oh, heaven! remorse must then
become a fresh torment to my wasted heart! Poor Ourika! Every species
of misery must then oppress her! Poor Ourika! and are even her tears
become a crime? Is she forbidden to think of him? Must she no longer
dare even to be unhappy!

       *       *       *       *       *

These thoughts threw me into a death-like stupor. Before night came I
was taken violently ill, and in three days my life was despaired of. My
physician declared that the sacrament should be promptly administered
to me, for there was not a moment to lose. My confessor had died a
short time since. Madame de B. sent for the parish priest, who could
only bestow extreme unction upon me, for I was perfectly insensible to
what was passing round me. But then when my death was hourly expected,
when all hopes were over, then it was that God took pity on my soul, by
preserving my life. Contrary to all expectation I continued to struggle
against my illness; at the end of which time my senses returned to
me. Madame de B. had never left me, and Charles's affection for me
seemed returned. The priest had visited me every day, anxious to find
an interval of reason to confess me; I desired it likewise as soon as
I had thought again; I seemed led by an involuntary impulse to seek
for repose in the bosom of religion. I made an avowal of my errors to
the priest. The state of my soul did not frighten him. Like an old
experienced mariner, he was accustomed to the tempest. He quieted my
fears as to the passion I was accused of. "Your heart is pure," said
he; "you have injured no one but yourself, and in that you were guilty.
You will have to account for your happiness to God, for he entrusted
it to you. It depended on yourself, since it lies in the performance of
your duty. Have you ever considered in what that duty consisted? God
should be the aim of man, but has your's been? Let not, however, let
not thy courage fail thee, Ourika; but pray to God. He hears you, and
will receive you in his arms. He knows no difference of men or colour.
All are of equal value in his eye, and do thou strive to render
thyself worthy of his favour."

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus did this venerable man open the path of consolation to me. His
simple words carried peace with them to my heart. I meditated on them,
and drew from them, as a fertile mine, a store of new thoughts. I saw
only that I had not known my duty; for there are duties for the lonely
as well as for those connected in the world to perform. Though they
are deprived of the ties of blood, heaven has granted them the whole
world for their family. The charity sister, thought I, is not isolated
on earth, though she has renounced its enjoyments. She has a family of
her own choosing. She is the orphan's mother, the daughter of the aged,
and a sister to the unhappy. How often have men of the world sought for
retirement, there to adore in solitude the Author of all that is great
and good, privately seeking to render their souls worthy of appearing
before the Lord.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sweet it is, oh God! to seek to please thee by purifying the heart
for the great day of thy appearance.--But I had not done so! A
senseless victim of each uncurbed impulse of my soul, I had pursued the
enjoyments of the world, and had thrown away my happiness. Still I lost
not all hope.--God was willing, perhaps, in throwing me on this foreign
land, to take me to himself. He snatched me from my savage state of
ignorance. He saved me from the vices of slavery, and permitted me
to learn his laws. They point out my duty to me, and I will pursue
it. Never more, oh Lord! will I offend thee for the favours thou hast
granted me, or accuse thee of my faults.

The new light in which I viewed my situation, brought peace to my
heart. I was astonished at the calm that it enjoyed after so many
storms. An outlet had been opened for the torrent, and it now floated
in peaceful tides, instead of carrying devastation with its current.

       *       *       *       *       *

I soon determined upon taking the veil, and intreated Madame de
B.'s permission to do so. "I shall be truly grieved, my dearest
Ourika," said she, "to part with you, but I have done you so much
harm by wanting to do you good, that I have no right to oppose your
determination." Charles pleaded against it with great earnestness: he
entreated, he conjured me to renounce it. "Hinder me not, Charles,"
cried I; "let me seek the only asylum where my prayers for you will be
equally pure with the friendship I have ever entertained for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Here the young Nun abruptly ended her narrative. I continued to attend
her, but all my endeavours to preserve her life were vain. She fell
with the last leaves of Autumn.


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