Though no thought of love entered his mind

Amongst the young men sent abroad by Peter the Great to acquire the
information necessary for a civilised country was his godson Ibrahim
the negro. He was educated in a Parisian military school, passed out
as a captain of the artillery, distinguished himself in the Spanish
war, and when seriously wounded returned to Paris. In the midst of his
enormous labours the emperor never ceased to ask after his favourite,
of whose progress and good conduct the accounts were always favourable.
Peter was exceedingly pleased with him, and frequently invited him to
Russia; but Ibrahim was in no hurry. He excused himself; either his
wound, or his wish to complete his education, or want of money, served
as the pretext; and Peter complied with his wishes, begged him to take
care of his health, thanked him for his assiduity in study, and though
exceedingly economical himself was lavish to his _protégé,_ and sent
together with gold pieces fatherly advice and warning.

Judging by all historical accounts, the flightiness, madness, and
luxury of the French of that period were unequalled. The latter years
of Louis XIV.’s reign, memorable for the strict piety, dignity,
and propriety of the court, have left no traces behind. The Duke
of Orleans, in whom many brilliant qualities united with vice of
every kind, unfortunately did not possess an atom of hypocrisy. The
orgies of the Palais Royal were no secret in Paris; the example was
infectious. At that time Law made his appearance. To the love of money
was united the thirst for pleasure and amusement. Estates dwindled,
morals perished, Frenchmen laughed and discussed, while the kingdom
crumbled to the jovial tunes of satirical vaudevilles. Meanwhile
society presented a most uninteresting picture. Culture and the
craving for amusement united all classes. Riches, amiability, renown,
accomplishments, even eccentricity, whatever nourished curiosity or
promised entertainment, was received with equal pleasure. Literature,
learning, and philosophy left the seclusion of the study to appear in
the great world and minister to fashion, the ruler of opinions. Women
reigned, but no longer exacted adoration. Superficial politeness took
the place of profound respect. The escapades of the Duke de Richelieu,
the Alcibiades of modern Athens, belong to history and display the
morals of that period:

“Temps Fortune, marqué par la licence,
Ou la folie, agitant son grelot,
D’un pied leger parcourt toute la France,
Ou nul mortel ne daigne être dévot,
Ou l’on fait tout excepté pénitence.”

Ibrahim’s arrival, his appearance, culture, and native wit, attracted
general attention in Paris. All the ladies fought for a visit from
the Tsar’s negro. More than once was he invited to the Regent’s merry
evenings; he was present at the suppers enlivened by the youth of
Voltaire and the age of Shollier, the conversations of Montesquieu
and Fontenelle. Not a ball, not a fête, not one first representation
did he miss; and he gave himself up to the general whirl with all the
passion of his youth and nature. But the idea of exchanging these
entertainments, these brilliant pleasures for the simplicity of the St.
Petersburg Court was not all that Ibrahim dreaded. Other and stronger
ties bound him to Paris. The young African was in love. No longer in
the first bloom of youth, the Countess L. was still celebrated for
her beauty. At seventeen, on leaving the convent, she was married to
a man for whom she had not learnt to feel the love which ultimately
he showed no care to win. Rumour assigned her lovers, but through
the leniency of society she still enjoyed a good repute; for nothing
ridiculous or scandalous could be brought against her. Her house was
the most fashionable, a centre of the best society in Paris. Ibrahim
was introduced by young G. de Merville, who was regarded generally
as her latest lover; an impression which he tried by every means to
strengthen. The Countess received Ibrahim with civility, but without
particular attention. He was flattered. Usually the young negro was
regarded with wonder, surrounded and overwhelmed with attention
and questions; and this curiosity, though veiled by a display of
friendliness, offended his vanity.

The delightful attention of women, almost the sole aim of our
exertions, not only gave him no pleas are, but even ailed him with
bitterness and wrath. He felt that he was for them a species of rare
animal, a strange peculiar creature, accidentally brought into a
world with which he had naught in common. He even envied those whom
no one noticed, and deemed their insignificance a blessing. The idea
that nature had not formed him for tender passion robbed him of all
self-assertion and conceit, and added a rare charm to his manner
towards women. His conversation was simple and dignified. He pleased
the Countess L., who was tired of the formal pleasantries and pointed
innuendoes of French, wit.

Ibrahim visited her often. Little by little she grew used to the young
negro’s looks, and even began to find something agreeable in that early
head, so black amid the powdered wigs that thronged her drawing-room
(Ibrahim had been wounded in the head and wore a bandage in the place
of a wig). He was twenty-seven, tall and well built, and more than one
beauty glanced at him with feelings more flattering to him than mere
curiosity. But Ibraham either did not observe them or thought their
notice merely coquetry. But when his gaze met that of the Countess his
mistrust vanished. Her eyes expressed so much kindness, her manner to
him was so simple, so easy, that it was impossible to suspect her of
the least coquetry or insincerity.

Though no thought of love entered his mind, to see the Countess daily
had become a necessity. He tried to meet her everywhere, and every
meeting seemed a godsend. The Countess guessed his feelings before he
did so himself. There is no doubt that a love which hopes nothing and
asks nothing touches the female heart more surely than all the arts of
the experienced. When Ibrahim was near, the Countess followed all his
movements, listened to all his words. Without him she became pensive,
and fell into her usual abstraction. Merville was first to notice their
mutual attraction, and congratulated Ibrahim. Nothing inflames love
like approving comments of outsiders. Love is blind, and putting no
trust in itself clings eagerly to every support.

Merville’s words roused Ibrahim. Hope suddenly dawned upon his soul;
he fell madly in love. In vain the Countess, alarmed by the vehemence
of his passion, wished to meet him with friendly warnings and sage
counsels; but she herself was growing weak.

Nothing escapes the eye of the vigilant world. The Countess’s new
attachment soon became known. Some ladies wondered at her choice;
many found him very ordinary. Some laughed; others considered her
inexcusably imprudent. In the first intoxication of their passion
Ibrahim and the Countess noticed nothing, but soon the jokes of the
men, the sarcasms of the women, began to reach them. Ibrahim’s formal
and cold manner had hitherto guarded him from such attacks; he bore
them with impatience, and knew not how to retaliate. The Countess,
accustomed to the respect of society, could not calmly endure to see
herself an object of ridicule and scandal. She complained to Ibrahim
either with tears or bitter reproaches; then she begged him not to
take her part, nor ruin her completely by useless disturbance.

Fresh circumstances complicated her position still more: results of her
imprudent love began to show themselves. The Countess in distress told
Ibrahim. Consolation, advice, suggestions were in turn exhausted and
rejected. She foresaw her inevitable ruin, and in despair awaited it.
Immediately the Countesses condition became known, reports circulated
with renewed vigour. Sensitive women exclaimed in horror; the men made
bets whether she would bear a white or a black child. Epigrams poured
in about her husband, who alone in all Paris suspected nothing. The
fatal moment approached, the Countess was in a terrible state. Ibrahim
called every day. He saw her strength of mind and body gradually
failing. Her tears and terror increased momentarily. At last she felt
the first throes. Measures were taken hurriedly. Means were found to
get the Count out of the way. The doctor arrived. Two days previous
to this a poor woman had been persuaded to resign into the hands of
strangers her new-born infant, for which a messenger was sent.

Ibrahim remained in the study next the bedroom where the unhappy
Countess lay, scarcely daring to breathe; he heard muffled groans, the
maidservants whispers, and the doctor’s directions. She suffered long.
Each groan lacerated Ibrahim’s heart, and every silent pause filled
him with dread; suddenly he heard the weak cry of a child, and unable
to control his delight rushed into the Countess’s room. A black infant
lay on the bed at her feet. Ibrahim approached it. His heart throbbed
violently. He blessed his son with a trembling hand. The Countess with
a faint smile stretched towards him a feeble hand, but the doctor,
fearing too much excitement for his patient, dragged Ibrahim away from
her bedside. The new-born babe was laid in a covered basket and carried
out by a secret staircase. The other child was brought in, and its
cradle placed in the bedroom. Ibrahim left feeling a trifle calmer. The
Count was expected. He returned late, heard of the happy confinement
of his wife, and was much pleased. Thus the public, which expected
a great scandal, was disappointed, and forced to be satisfied with
backbiting. Everything fell back into its usual routine. But Ibrahim
felt that his life must undergo a change, and that his intimacy must
sooner or later become known to Count L. In which case, whatever might
ensue, the Countess’s ruin was inevitable. Ibrahim loved and was loved
with passion; but the Countess was wilful and flighty; and this was
not her first love. Disgust and hatred might in her heart replace
the tenderest feelings. Ibrahim already foresaw the time of her
indifference. Hitherto he had not known jealousy, but now with horror
he anticipated, it. Convinced that the anguish of a separation would be
less painful, he resolved to break off this luckless connection, quit
Paris, and return to Russia, whither Peter and a dull sense of duty had
long been calling him.

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