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by George Sand
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Armandine Lucile Aurore Dupin was born at Paris in July. At eighteen she married Casimir Dudevant the son of a colonel and baron of the empire, but after nine years they separated. She made her way to Paris, quickly gained literary success under the pen-name of George Sand and scandalised some by her very public love affairs.
For more works by George Sand, see The Index
I. - In Venice
Little Consuelo, at the age of fourteen, was the best of all the pupils of the Maestro Porpora, a famous Italian composer, of the eighteenth century.
At that time in Venice a certain number of children received a musical education at the expense of the state, and it was Porpora, the great musician - then a soured and disappointed man - who trained the voices of the girls. They were not equally poor, these young ladies, and among them were the daughters of needy artists, whose wandering existence did not permit them a long stay in Venice. Of such parentage was little Consuelo, born in Spain, and arriving in Italy by the strange routes of Bohemians. Not that Gonsuelo was really a gipsy. She was of good Spanish blood, and had a calmness of mind and manner quite foreign to the wandering races. A rare and happy temperament was hers, and, in spite of poverty and orphanhood - for her mother, who brought her to Venice, was dead - Consuelo worked on with Porpora, finding the labour an enjoyment, and overcoming the difficulties of her art as if by some invisible instinct.
When Consuelo was eighteen Count Zustiniani, having heard her sing in Porpora's choir, decided she must come out as a prima donna in his theatre. For the fame and success of this theatre Zustiniani cared more than for anything else in the world - not that he was eager for money, but because he was an enthusiast for music - a man of taste, an amateur, whose great business in life was to gratify his taste. He liked to be talked about and to have his theatre and his magnificence talked about.
The success of Consuelo was assured when she appeared for the first time in Gluck's "Ipermnestra." The debutante was at once self-possessed and serious, receiving the applause of the audience without fear or humility. For her art itself, and not the results of art, were the main thing, and her inward satisfaction in her performance did not depend on the amount of approbation manifested by the public.
But Zustiniani, gratified as he was by the triumph of his new prima donna, was not content with Consuelo's success on the stage; he also wanted her for himself. Consuelo gravely refused the jewels and ornaments he offered her, and the count was strangely annoyed. He was thrilled with unknown emotions by Consuelo's singing, and his patrician soul could not realise that this poor little pupil of Porpora's was not to be won by the ordinary methods, which he had hitherto employed successfully in the conquest of opera singers.
Porpora saved Consuelo from the count's threatening attentions.
The prima donna suddenly disappeared, and it was said she had gone to Vienna, that she had been engaged for the emperor's theatre, and that Porpora was also going there to conduct his new opera.
Count Zustiniani was particularly embarrassed by Consuelo's flight. He had led all Venice to believe this wonderful new singer favoured his addresses. Some, indeed, maintained for a time that, jealous of his treasure, the count had hidden her in one of his country houses. But when they heard Porpora say, with a blunt openness which could never deceive, that he had advised his pupil to go to Germany and wait for him, there was nothing left but to try and find out the motives for this extraordinary decision.
To all inquiries addressed to him Porpora answered that no one should ever know from him where Consuelo was to be found.
In real truth, it was not only Zustiniani who had driven Consuelo away. A youth named Anzoleto, who had grown up in Venice with Consuelo so that the two were as brother and sister, and who lacked both heart and constancy, made life too hard for Consuelo. Anxious to get all the advantages of Consuelo's friendship, and to be known as her betrothed, so that he could procure an engagement in the opera through her generous influence, he yet made love to another singer, a former favourite of Zustiniani's. Learning of Anzoleto's heartless unfaithfulness, and pressed by Zustiniani, Consuelo had turned to her old master for help, and had not been disappointed.
II. - In Bohemia
Among the mountains which separate Bohemia from Bavaria stood an old country house, known as the Castle of the Giant, the residence of the Lords of Rudolstadt. A strange mystery reigned over this ancient family. Count Christian Rudolstadt, the head of the house, a widower, his elder sister, the Canoness Wenceslawa, a venerable lady of seventy, and Count Albert, the only son and heir, lived alone with their retainers, never associating with their neighbours. The count's brother, Baron Frederick Rudolstadt, with his daughter Amelia, had for some time past taken up their abode in the Castle of the Giants, and it was the hope of the two brothers that Albert and Amelia would become betrothed. But the silence and gloom of the place were hateful to Amelia, and Albert's deep melancholy and absent-mindedness were not the tokens of a lover.
Albert, in fact, had so brooded over the horrors of the old wars between Catholic and Protestant in Bohemia, that when the fit was on him he believed himself living and acting in those terrible times, and it was this kind of madness in his son which made Count Christian shun all social intercourse. Albert was now thirty, and the doctors had predicted that this year he would either conquer the fancies which took such fierce hold on him, or succumb entirely.
One night, when the family were assembled round the hearth, the castle bell rang, and presently a letter was brought in. It was from Porpora to Count Christian, and the count, having read it, passed it on to Amelia.
It seemed that Christian had written to Porpora, whom he had long known and respected, to ask him to recommend him a companion for Amelia, and the letter now arrived not only recommended Consuelo, but Consuelo herself had brought it.
The old count at once hastened with his niece to welcome Porporpina, as the visitor was called, and the terror which the journey to the castle and the first impressions of the gloomy place had struck upon the young singer only melted at the warmth of Christian's praises of her old master, Porpora.
From the first the whole household treated Consuelo with every kindness, and Amelia very soon confided in her new friend all that she knew of the family history, explaining that her cousin Albert was certainly mad.
Albert himself seemed unaware of Consuelo's presence until one day when he heard her sing. Amelia's singing always made him uneasy and restless, but the first time Consuelo sang - she had chosen a religious piece from Palestrina - Albert suddenly appeared in the room, and remained motionless till the end. Then, falling on his knees, his large eyes swimming in tears, he exclaimed, in Spanish: "Oh, Consuelo, Consuelo! I have at last found thee!"
"Consuelo?" cried the astonished girl, replying in the same language. "Why, señor, do you call me by that name?"
"I call you Consolation, because a consolation has been promised to my desolate life, and because you are that consolation which God at last grants to my solitary and gloomy existence. Consuelo! If you leave me, my life is at an end, and I will never return to earth again!" Saying this he fell at her feet in a swoon; and the two girls, terrified, called the servants to carry him to his room and restore him to consciousness. But hardly had Albert been left alone before his apartment was empty, and he had disappeared.
Days passed, and the anxiety at the castle remained unrelieved. It was not the first time Albert had disappeared, but now his absence was longer than usual. Consuelo found out the secret of his hiding-place - a vaulted hall at the end of a long gallery in a cave in the forest was Albert's hermitage, and a secret passage from the moat of the castle enabled him to pass unseen to his solitude. She traced him to the chamber in the recesses of the cavern.
Already Consuelo had discovered the two natures in Albert - the one wise, the other mad; the one polished, tender, merciful; the other strange, untamed and violent She saw that sympathy and firmness were both needed in dealing with this lonely and unfortunate man - sympathy with his religious mysticism, and firmness in urging him not to yield to the images of his mind.
That Albert was in love with her, Consuelo understood; but to his pleadings she had but one answer:
"Do not speak of love, do not speak of marriage. My past life, my recollections, make the first impossible. The difference in our conditions would render the second humiliating and insupportable to me. Let it be enough that I will be your friend and your consoler, whenever you are disposed to open your heart to me."
And with this Albert, for a time, professed to be content. So determined was he, however, to win Consuelo's heart, that he readily obeyed her advice, and even promised never to return to his hermitage without first asking her to accompany him.
Gentle old Count Christian himself came later to plead his son's cause with Consuelo. Amelia and her father had left the Castle of the Giants, and Christian realised how much Consuelo had already done for the restoration of his son's health.
"You were afraid of me, dear Consuelo," said the old man. "You thought that the old Rudolstadt, with his aristocratic prejudices, would be ashamed to owe his son to you. But you are mistaken, and I go to bring my son to your feet, that together we may bless you for extending his happiness."
"Oh, stop, my dear lord!" said Consuelo, amazed. "I am not free. I have an object, a vocation, a calling. I belong to the art to which I have devoted myself since my childhood. I could only renounce all this - if - if I loved Albert. That is what I must find out. Give me at least a few days, that I may learn whether I have this love for him within my heart."
The arrival of the worthless Anzoleto at the Castle of the Giants drove Consuelo once more to flight. Anzoleto had enjoyed some success at Venice, but having incurred the wrath of Zustiniani, he was escaping to Prague. Passing through Bohemia, the fame of a beautiful singer at the castle of the Rudolstadts came to his ears, and Anzoleto resolved to recover the old place he had once held in Consuelo's heart. He gave himself out as Consuelo's brother, and was at once admitted to the castle and treated kindly. For Consuelo, the only course open now was to flee to Vienna, and take refuge with Porpora, and this she did, leaving in the dead of night, after writing explanations to Christian and Albert.
III. - In Vienna
The greater part of the journey to Vienna was accomplished on foot, and Consuelo had for her travelling companion a humble youth, whose name was Joseph Haydn, and whose great musical genius was yet to be recognized by the world.
Many months had elapsed since Consuelo had seen her master and benefactor, and to the joy which she experienced in pressing old Porpora in her arms a painful feeling soon succeeded. Vexation and sorrow had imprinted their marks on the brow of the old maestro. He looked far older, and the fire of his countenance seemed chilled by age. The unfortunate composer had flattered himself that he would find in Vienna fresh chances of success and fortune; but he was received there with cold esteem, and happier rivals were in possession of the imperial favour and the public admiration. Being neither a flatterer nor an intriguer, Porpora's rough frankness was no passport to influence, and his ill-humour made enemies rather than friends. He held out no hopes to Consuelo.
"There are no ears to listen, no hearts to comprehend you in this place, my child," he said sadly. "If you wish to succeed, you would do well to follow the master to whom they owe their skill and their fortune."
But when Consuelo told him of the proposal made by Count Albert, and of Count Christian's desire for her marriage with his son, the tyrannical old musician at once put his foot down.
"You must not think of the young count!" he said fiercely. "I positively forbid you! Such a union is not suitable. Count Christian would never permit you to become an artist again. I know the unconquerable pride of these nobles, and you cannot hesitate for an instant between the career of nobility and that of art."
So resolute was Porpora that Consuelo should not be tempted from the life he had trained her for, that he did not hesitate to destroy, unread, her letters to the Rudolstadts, and letters from Count Christian and Albert. He even wrote to Christian himself, declaring that Consuelo desired nothing but the career of a public singer.
But when, after many disappointments and rebuffs, Consuelo at last was appointed to take the prima donna's place for six days at the imperial opera house, she was frightened at the prospect of the toils and struggles before her feverish arena of the theatre seemed to her a place of terror and the Castle of the Giants a lost paradise, an abode of peace and virtue.
Consuelo's triumph at the opera had been indisputable. Her voice was sweeter and richer than when she sang in Venice, and a perfect storm of flowers fell upon the stage at the end of the performance. Amid these perfumed gifts Consuelo saw a green branch fall at her feet, and when the curtain was lowered for the last time she picked it up. It was a bunch of cypress, a symbol of grief and despair.
To add to her distress, she was now conscious that her love for Albert was a reality, and no answer had come from him or from Count Christian to the letters she had sent. Twice in the six days at the opera she had caught a glimpse, so it seemed to her, of Count Albert, but on both occasions the figure had melted away without a word, and unobserved by all at the theatre.
No further engagement followed at the opera, and Consuelo's thoughts turned more and more to the Rudolstadts. If only she could hear from Christian or his son, she would know whether she was free to devote herself absolutely to her art. For she had made her promise to Count Christian that she would send him word should she feel sure of being in love with Albert; and now that word had been sent, and no reply had come.
Porpora, with a promise of an engagement at the royal theatre in Berlin, and anxious to take Consuelo with him, had confessed, in answer to her objection to leaving Vienna before hearing from Christian, that letters had come from the Rudolstadts, which he had destroyed.
"The old count was not at all anxious to have a daughter-in-law picked up behind the scenes," said Porpora, "and so the good Albert sets you at liberty."
Consuelo never suspected her master of this profound deceit, and, taking the story he had invented for truth, signed an agreement to go to Berlin for two months.
IV. - The Return to Bohemia
The carriage containing Porpora and Consuelo had reached the city of Prague, and was on the bridge that spans the Moldau, when a horseman approached and looked in at the window, gazing with a tranquil curiosity. Porpora pushed him back, exclaiming:
"How dare you stare at ladies so closely."
The horseman replied in Bohemian, and Consuelo, seeing his face, called out:
"Is it the Baron Frederick of Rudolstadt?"
"Yes, it is I, signora!" replied the baron, in a dejected tone. "The brother of Christian, the uncle of Albert. And in truth, is it you also?"
The baron accompanied them to a hotel, and there explained to Consuelo that he had received a letter from the canoness, his sister, bidding him, at Albert's request, be on the bridge of Prague at seven o'clock that evening.
"The first carriage that passes you will stop; if the first person you see in it can leave for the castle that same evening, Albert, perhaps, will be saved. At least, he says it will give him a hold on eternal life. I do not know what he means, but he has the gift of prophecy and the perception of hidden things. The doctors have given up all hope for his life."
"Is the carriage ready, sir?" Consuelo said, when the latter was finished. "If so I am ready also, and we can set out instantly."
"I shall follow you," said Porpora. "Only we must be in Berlin in a week's time."
The carriage and horses were already in the courtyard, and in a few minutes the baron and Consuelo were on their journey to the castle of the Rudolstadts.
At the doorway of the castle they were met by the aged canoness, who, seizing Consuelo by the arm, said:
"We have not a moment to lose. Albert begins to grow impatient. He has counted the hours and minutes till your arrival, and announced your approach before we heard the sound of the carriage wheels. He was sure of your coming; but, he said, if any accident detained you, it would be too late. Signora, in the name of Heaven, do not oppose any of his wishes; promise all he asks; pretend to love him. Albert's hours are numbered; his life is close. All we ask of you is to soothe his sufferings." Then, as they approached the great saloon, she added, "Take courage, signora. You need not be afraid of surprising him, for he expects you, and has seen you coming hours ago."
The door opened and Consuelo darted forward to her lover. Albert was seated in a large arm-chair before the fire. It was no longer a man, it was a spectre, Consuelo saw. His face, still beautiful, was as a face of marble. There was no smile on his lips, no ray of joy in his eyes. Consuelo knelt before him; he looked fixedly at her, and then, giving a sign to the canoness, she placed his arms on Consuelo's shoulders. Then she made the young girl lay her head on Albert's breast, and the dying man whispered in her ear: "I am happy." With another sign, he made the canoness understand that she and his father were to kiss his betrothed.
"From my very heart!" exclaimed the canoness, with emotion. The old count who had been holding his brother's hand in one of his and Porpora's in the other, left them to embrace Consuelo fervently.
The doctor urged an immediate marriage.
"I can answer positively for nothing," he said, "but I venture to think much good may come of it. Your excellency consented to this marriage formerly - - "
"I always consented to it. I never opposed it," said the count. "It was Master Porpora who wrote to say that he would never consent, and that she likewise had renounced all idea. Alas, it was the death-blow to my unhappy child!"
"Do not grieve," murmured Albert to Consuelo. "I have understood for many days now that you were faithful. I know that you have endeavoured to love me, and have succeeded. But we have been deceived, and you must forgive your master, as I forgive him."
Consuelo looked at Porpora, and the old musician reproached himself for homicide, and burst into tears. Only Consuelo's consent was necessary, and this was given.
The marriage was hastened on. Porpora and the doctor served as witnesses. Albert found strength to pronounce a decisive "Yes," and the other responses in the service in a clear voice, and the family from this felt a new hope for his recovery. Hardly had the chaplain recited the closing prayer over the newly-married couple, before Albert arose and threw himself into his father's arms; then, seating himself again in his arm-chair, he pressed Consuelo to his heart, and exclaimed:
"I am saved!"
"It is nature's last effort," said the doctor.
Albert's arms loosed their hold, and fell forward on his knees. His gaze was riveted on Consuelo; gradually the shade crept from his forehead to his lips, and covered his face with a snowy veil.
"It is the hand of Death!" said the doctor, breaking the silence.
Consuelo would take neither her husband's title nor his riches.
"Stay with us, my daughter?" cried the canoness, "for you have a lofty soul and a great heart!"
But Consuelo tore herself away after the funeral, though her heart was wrung with grief. As she crossed the drawbridge with Porpora, Consuelo did not know that already the old count was dead, and that the Castle of the Giants, with its riches and its sufferings, had become the property of the Countess of Rudolstadt.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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