I took upon myself to obtain permission from Monsieur de la Bourdonnais to undertake this voyage; and I determined previously to mention the affair to Paul. But what was my surprise, when this young man said to me, with a degree of good sense above his age, "And why do you wish me to leave my family for this precarious pursuit of fortune? Is there any commerce in the world more advantageous than the culture of the ground, which yields sometimes fifty or a hundred-fold? If we wish to engage in commerce, can we not do so by carrying our superfluities to the town without my wandering to the Indies? Our mothers tell me, that Domingo is old and feeble; but I am young, and gather strength every day. If any accident should happen during my absence, above all to Virginia, who already suffers--Oh, no, no!--I cannot resolve to leave them."
So decided an answer threw me into great perplexity, for Madame de la Tour had not concealed from me the cause of Virginia's illness and want of spirits, and her desire of separating these young people till they were a few years older. I took care, however, not to drop any thing which could lead Paul to suspect the existence of these motives.
About this period a ship from France brought Madame de la Tour a letter from her aunt. The fear of death, without which hearts as insensible as hers would never feel, had alarmed her into compassion. When she wrote she was recovering from a dangerous illness, which had, however, left her incurably languid and weak. She desired her niece to return to France: or, if her health forbade her to undertake so long a voyage, she begged her to send Virginia, on whom she promised to bestow a good education, to procure for her a splendid marriage, and to leave her heiress of her whole fortune. She concluded by enjoining strict obedience to her will, in gratitude, she said, for her great kindness.
At the perusal of this letter general consternation spread itself through the whole assembled party. Domingo and Mary began to weep. Paul, motionless with surprise, appeared almost ready to burst with indignation; while Virginia, fixing her eyes anxiously upon her mother, had not power to utter a single word. "And can you now leave us?" cried Margaret to Madame de la Tour. "No, my dear friend, no, my beloved children," replied Madame de la Tour; "I will never leave you. I have lived with you, and with you I will die. I have known no happiness but in your affection. If my health be deranged, my past misfortunes are the cause. My heart has been deeply wounded by the cruelty of my relations, and by the loss of my beloved husband. But I have since found more consolation and more real happiness with you in these humble huts, than all the wealth of my family could now lead me to expect in my country."
At this soothing language every eye overflowed with tears of delight. Paul, pressing Madame de la Tour in his arms, exclaimed,--"Neither will I leave you! I will not go to the Indies. We will all labour for you, dear mamma; and you shall never feel any want with us." But of the whole society, the person who displayed the least transport, and who probably felt the most, was Virginia; and during the remainder of the day, the gentle gaiety which flowed from her heart, and proved that her peace of mind was restored, completed the general satisfaction.
At sun-rise the next day, just as they had concluded offering up, as usual, their morning prayer before breakfast, Domingo came to inform them that a gentleman on horseback, followed by two slaves, was coming towards the plantation. It was Monsieur de la Bourdonnais. He entered the cottage, where he found the family at breakfast. Virginia had prepared, according to the custom of the country, coffee, and rice boiled in water. To these she had added hot yams, and fresh plantains. The leaves of the plantain-tree, supplied the want of table-linen; and calabash shells, split in two, served for cups. The governor exhibited, at first, some astonishment at the homeliness of the dwelling; then, addressing himself to Madame de la Tour, he observed, that although public affairs drew his attention too much from the concerns of individuals, she had many claims on his good offices. "You have an aunt at Paris, madam," he added, "a woman of quality, and immensely rich, who expects that you will hasten to see her, and who means to bestow upon you her whole fortune." Madame de la Tour replied, that the state of her health would not permit her to undertake so long a voyage. "At least," resumed Monsieur de la Bourdonnais, "you cannot without injustice, deprive this amiable young lady, your daughter, of so noble an inheritance. I will not conceal from you, that your aunt has made use of her influence to secure your daughter being sent to her; and that I have received official letters, in which I am ordered to exert my authority, if necessary, to that effect. But as I only wish to employ my power for the purpose of rendering the inhabitants of this country happy, I expect from your good sense the voluntary sacrifice of a few years, upon which your daughter's establishment in the world, and the welfare of your whole life depends. Wherefore do we come to these islands? Is it not to acquire a fortune? And will it not be more agreeable to return and find it in your own country?"
He then took a large bag of piastres from one of his slaves, and placed it upon the table. "This sum," he continued, "is allotted by your aunt to defray the outlay necessary for the equipment of the young lady for her voyage." Gently reproaching Madame de la Tour for not having had recourse to him in her difficulties, he extolled at the same time her noble fortitude. Upon this Paul said to the governor,-- "My mother did apply to you, sir, and you received her ill."--"Have you another child, madam?" said Monsieur de la Bourdonnais to Madame de la Tour. "No, Sir," she replied; "this is the son of my friend; but he and Virginia are equally dear to us, and we mutually consider them both as our own children." "Young man," said the governor to Paul, "when you have acquired a little more experience of the world, you will know that it is the misfortune of people in place to be deceived, and bestow, in consequence, upon intriguing vice, that which they would wish to give to modest merit."
Monsieur de la Bourdonnais, at the request of Madame de la Tour, placed himself next to her at table, and breakfasted after the manner of the Creoles, upon coffee, mixed with rice boiled in water. He was delighted with the order and cleanliness which prevailed in the little cottage, the harmony of the two interesting families, and the zeal of their old servants. "Here," he exclaimed, "I discern only wooden furniture; but I find serene countenances and hearts of gold." Paul, enchanted with the affability of the governor, said to him,--"I wish to be your friend: for you are a good man." Monsieur de la Bourdonnais received with pleasure this insular compliment, and, taking Paul by the hand, assured him he might rely upon his friendship.