Chapter III. THE LOVE STORY OF LAPEROUSE.
Then his mother, full of love for her son and of pride in his achievements, took a hand, and tried to arrange a more suitable match for him. An old friend of the family, Madame de Vesian had a marriageable daughter. She was rich and beautiful, and her lineage was noble. She had never seen Laperouse, and he had never seen her, but that was an insignificant detail in France under the old Regime. If the parents on each side thought the marriage suitable, that was enough. The wishes of the younger people concerned were, it is true, consulted before the betrothal, but it was often a consultation merely in form, and under pressure. We should think that way of making marriages most unsatisfactory; but then, a French family of position in the old days would have thought our freer system very shocking and loose. It is largely a matter of usage; and that the old plan, which seems so faulty to us, produced very many happy and lasting unions, there is much delightful French family history to prove.
Laperouse had now been many months away from Ile-de-France and the bright eyes of Eleonore. He was extremely fond of his mother, and anxious to meet her wishes. Moreover, he held Madame de Vesian in high esteem, and wrote that he "had always admired her, and felt sure that her daughter resembled her." These influences swayed him, and he gave way; but, being frank and honest by disposition, insisted that no secret should be made of his affair of the heart with the lady across the sea. He wrote to Madame de Vesian a candid letter, in which he said: -
"Being extremely sensitive, I should be the most unfortunate of men if I were not beloved by my wife, if I had not her complete confidence, if her life amongst her friends and children did not render her perfectly happy. I desire one day to regard you as a mother, and to-day I open my heart to you as my best friend. I authorise my mother to relate to you my old love affair. My heart has always been a romance (MON COEUR A TOUJOURS ETE UN ROMAN); and the more I sacrificed prudence to those whom I loved the happier I was. But I cannot forget the respect that I owe to my parents and to their wishes. I hope that in a little while I shall be free. If then I have a favourable reply from you, and if I can make your daughter happy and my character is approved, I shall fly to Albi and embrace you a thousand times. I shall not distinguish you from my mother and my sisters."
He also wrote to Monsieur de Vesian, begging him not to interfere with the free inclinations of his daughter, and to remember that "in order to be happy there must be no repugnance to conquer. I have, however," he added, "an affair to terminate which does not permit me to dispose of myself entirely. My mother will tell you the details. I hope to be free in six weeks or two months. My happiness will then be inexpressible if I obtain your consent and that of Madame de Vesian, with the certainty of not having opposed the wishes of Mademoiselle, your daughter."
"I hope to be free" - did he "hope"? That was his polite way of putting the matter. Or he may have believed that he had conquered his love for Eleonore Broudou, and that she, as a French girl who understood his obligations to his family, would - perhaps after making a few handkerchiefs damp with her tears - acquiesce.
So the negotiations went on, and at length, in May, 1783, the de Vesian family accepted Laperouse as the fiance of their daughter. "My project is to live with my family and yours," he wrote. "I hope that my wife will love my mother and my sisters, as I feel that I shall love you and yours. Any other manner of existence is frightful to me, and I have sufficient knowledge of the world and of myself to know that I can only be happy in living thus."
But in the very month that he wrote contracting himself - that is precisely the word - to marry the girl he had never seen, Eleonore, the girl whom he had seen, whom he had loved, and whom he still loved in his heart, came to Paris with her parents. Laperouse saw her again. He told her what had occurred. Of course she wept; what girl would not? She said, between her sobs, that if it was to be all over between them she would go into a convent. She could never marry anyone else.
"Mon histoire est un roman," and here beginneth the new chapter of this real love story. Why, we wonder, has not some novelist discovered these Laperouse letters and founded a tale upon them? Is it not a better story even told in bare outline in these few pages, than nine-tenths of the concoctions of the novelists, which are sold in thousands? Think of the wooing of these two delightful people, the beautiful girl and the gallant sailor, in the ocean isle, with its tropical perfumes and colours, its superb mountain and valley scenery, bathed in eternal sunshine by day and kissed by cool ocean breezes by night - the isle of Paul and Virginia, the isle which to Alexandre Dumas was the Paradise of the World, an enchanted oasis of the ocean, "all carpeted with greenery and refreshed with cooling streams, where, no matter what the season, you may gently sink asleep beneath the shade of palms and jamrosades, soothed by the babbling of a crystal spring."