Lausus and Lydia

(From the Moral Tales)

The character of Mezentius, King of Tyrrhene, is well known. A bad prince and a good father, cruel and tender by turns. He had nothing of the tyrant, nothing that showed violence as long as his desires knew no obstacle; but the calm of this haughty soul was the repose of a lion.

Mezentius had a son named Lausus, whose valor and beauty rendered him famous among the young heroes of Italy. Lausus had attended Mezentius in the war against the King of Praeneste. His father, at the very summit of joy, saw him, covered with blood, fighting and vanquishing by his side. The King of Praeneste, driven out of his territories and seeking safety in flight, had left in the hands of the conqueror a treasure more precious than his crown, a princess at that age wherein the heart has only the virtues of nature, and nature has all the charms of innocence and beauty. Everything that the Graces in tears possess, either noble or affecting, was painted on Lydia’s countenance. In her grief, courage, and dignity, one might discover the daughter of kings amongst the crowd of slaves. She received the first compliments of her enemies without haughtiness, without acknowledgment, as an homage due to her rank, the noble sentiments of which were not weakened by ill fortune.

She heard her father named, and at that name lifted up to heaven her fine eyes filled with tears. All hearts were moved. Mezentius himself, astonished, forgot his pride and age. Prosperity, which hardens weak souls, softens proud hearts, and nothing can be gentler than an hero after a victory. If the savage heart of old Mezentius was not able to resist the charms of his captive, what was the impression on the virtuous soul of young Lausus? He mourned over his exploits; he reproached himself with his victory: it cost Lydia tears. “Let her avenge herself,” said he; “let her hate me as much as I love her; I have deserved it but too much.” But an idea still more distressful presents itself to his imagination. He sees Mezentius, astonished, softened, pass on a sudden from rage to clemency. He judged rightly that humanity alone had not effected the revolution, and the fear of having his father for a rival completed his confusion.

At the age of Mezentius jealousy follows closely upon love. The tyrant observed the eyes of Lausus with an uneasy attention; he saw extinguished in them all at once the joy and ardor which had lighted up the face of the young hero on his first victory. He saw him disturbed: he caught some looks which it was but too easy to understand. From that instant he considered himself as betrayed; but nature interposed and suspended his rage. A tyrant, even in his fury, constrains himself to think that he is just; and before he condemned his son Mezentius labored to convict him. He began by dissembling his own passion with so much art that the prince looked on his former fears as vain, and considered the attentions of love as nothing more than the effects of clemency. At first he affected to allow Lydia all the appearances of liberty, but the tyrant’s court was full of spies and informers, the usual retinue of men of power who, not being able to make themselves beloved, place their greatness in being feared. His son was no longer afraid of paying Lydia a respectful homage. He mingled with his sentiments an interest so delicate and tender, that Lydia very soon began to reproach herself for the hatred which she thought she entertained for the blood of her enemy; while Lausus lamented that he had contributed to Lydia’s misfortunes. He called the gods to witness that he would do all in his power to repair them. “The King my father,” says he, “is as generous after victory as intractable before battle: satisfied with victory, he is incapable of oppression. It is easier than ever for the King of Praeneste to engage him to a peace that shall be glorious to both. That peace will dry up your tears, beautiful Lydia; but will it efface the remembrance of their crime who caused you to shed them? Why did I not see all my blood flow rather than those tears?”

Lydia’s replies, which were full of modesty and greatness, betrayed to Lausus no warmer emotion than that of gratitude: though at the bottom of her heart she was but too sensible of the care he took to console her. She sometimes blushed for having listened to him with complaisance; but her father’s interests made it a law to her to avail herself of such a support. In the meantime their conference growing more frequent became also more animated, more interesting, more intimate; and love made its way insensibly through respect and gratitude, as a flower which, in order to blow, opens the slight texture in which it is enfolded.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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