Part 4 out of 6
You are wedded (bless'd Englishman!) wedded to one
Whose past can be called into question by none:
And I (fickle Frenchman!) can still laugh to feel
I am lord of myself; and the Mode: and Lucile
Still shines from her pedestal, frigid and fair
As yon German moon o'er the linden-tops there!
A Dian in marble that scorns any troth
With the little love gods, whom I thank for us both,
While she smiles from her lonely Olympus apart,
That her arrows are marble as well as her heart.
Stay at Ems, Alfred Vargrave!"
The Duke, with a smile,
Turn'd and enter'd the Rooms which, thus talking, meanwhile,
They had reach'd.
Alfred Vargrave strode on (overthrown
Heart and mind!) in the darkness bewilder'd, alone:
"And so," to himself did he mutter, "and so
'Twas to rescue my life, gentle spirit! and, oh,
For this did I doubt her? . . . a light word--a look--
The mistake of a moment! . . . for this I forsook--
For this? Pardon, pardon, Lucile! O Lucile!"
Thought and memory rang, like a funeral peal,
Weary changes on one dirge-like note through his brain,
As he stray'd down the darkness.
The Casino, the Duke smiled. He turned to roulette,
And sat down, and play'd fast, and lost largely, and yet
He still smiled: night deepen'd: he play'd his last number:
Went home: and soon slept: and still smil'd in his slumber.
In his desolate Maxims, La Rochefoucauld wrote,
"In the grief or mischance of a friend you may note,
There is something which always gives pleasure."
That reflection fell short of the truth as it was.
La Rochefoucauld might have as truly set down--
"No misfortune, but what some one turns to his own
Advantage its mischief: no sorrow, but of it
There ever is somebody ready to profit:
No affliction without its stock-jobbers, who all
Gamble, speculate, play on the rise and the fall
Of another man's heart, and make traffic in it."
Burn thy book, O La Rochefoucauld!
Fool! one man's wit
All men's selfishness how should it fathom?
Dost thou satirize Nature?
She laughs at thy page.
COUSIN JOHN TO COUSIN ALFRED.
"My dear Alfred,
Your last letters put me in pain.
This contempt of existence, this listless disdain
Of your own life,--its joys and its duties,--the deuce
Take my wits if they find for it half an excuse!
I wish that some Frenchman would shoot off your leg,
And compel you to stump through the world on a peg.
I wish that you had, like myself (more's the pity!),
To sit seven hours on this cursed committee.
I wish that you knew, sir, how salt is the bread
Of another--(what is it that Dante has said?)
And the trouble of other men's stairs. In a word,
I wish fate had some real affliction conferr'd
On your whimsical self, that, at least, you had cause
For neglecting life's duties, and damning its laws!
This pressure against all the purpose of life,
This self-ebullition, and ferment, and strife,
Betoken'd, I grant that it may be in truth,
The richness and strength of the new wine of youth.
But if, when the wine should have mellow'd with time,
Being bottled and binn'd, to a flavor sublime,
It retains the same acrid, incongruous taste,
Why, the sooner to throw it away that we haste
The better, I take it. And this vice of snarling,
Self-love's little lapdog, the overfed darling
Of a hypochondriacal fancy appears,
To my thinking, at least, in a man of your years,
At the midnoon of manhood with plenty to do,
And every incentive for doing it too,
With the duties of life just sufficiently pressing
For prayer, and of joys more than most men for blessing;
With a pretty young wife, and a pretty full purse,
Like poltroonery, puerile truly, or worse!
I wish I could get you at least to agree
To take life as it is, and consider with me,
If it be not all smiles, that it is not all sneers;
It admits honest laughter, and needs honest tears.
Do you think none have known but yourself all the pain
Of hopes that retreat, and regrets that remain?
And all the wide distance fate fixes, no doubt,
'Twixt the life that's within, and the life that's without?
What one of us finds the world just as he likes?
Or gets what he wants when he wants it? Or strikes
Without missing the thing that he strikes at the first?
Or walks without stumbling? Or quenches his thirst
At one draught? Bah! I tell you! I, bachelor John,
Have had griefs of my own. But what then? I push on
All the faster perchance that I yet feel the pain
Of my last fall, albeit I may stumble again.
God means every man to be happy, be sure.
He sends us no sorrows that have not some cure.
Our duty down here is to do, not to know.
Live as though life were earnest, and life will be so.
Let each moment, like Time's last ambassador, come:
It will wait to deliver its message; and some
Sort of answer it merits. It is not the deed
A man does, but the way that he does it, should plead
For the man's compensation in doing it.
My next neighbor's a man with twelve thousand a year,
Who deems that life has not a pastime more pleasant
Than to follow a fox, or to slaughter a pheasant.
Yet this fellow goes through a contested election,
Lives in London, and sits, like the soul of dejection,
All the day through upon a committee, and late
To the last, every night, through the dreary debate,
As though he were getting each speaker by heart,
Though amongst them he never presumes to take part.
One asks himself why, without murmur or question,
He foregoes all his tastes, and destroys his digestion,
For a labor of which the result seems so small.
'The man is ambitious,' you say. Not at all.
He has just sense enough to be fully aware
That he never can hope to be Premier, or share
The renown of a Tully;--or even to hold
A subordinate office. He is not so bold
As to fancy the House for ten minutes would bear
With patience his modest opinions to hear.
'But he wants something!'
"What! with twelve thousand a year?
What could Government give him would be half so dear
To his heart as a walk with a dog and a gun
Through his own pheasant woods, or a capital run?
'No; but vanity fills out the emptiest brain;
The man would be more than his neighbor, 'tis plain;
And the drudgery drearily gone through in town
Is more than repaid by provincial renown.
Enough if some Marchioness, lively and loose,
Shall have eyed him with passing complaisance; the goose,
If the Fashion to him open one of its doors,
As proud as a sultan returns to his boors.'
Wrong again! if you think so,
"For, primo; my friend
Is the head of a family known from one end
Of his shire to the other as the oldest; and therefore
He despises fine lords and fine ladies. HE care for
A peerage? no truly! Secondo; he rarely
Or never goes out: dines at Bellamy's sparely,
And abhors what you call the gay world.
"Then, I ask,
What inspires, and consoles, such a self-imposed task
As the life of this man,--but the sense of its duty?
And I swear that the eyes of the haughtiest beauty
Have never inspired in my soul that intense,
Reverential, and loving, and absolute sense
Of heart-felt admiration I feel for this man,
As I see him beside me;--there, wearing the wan
London daylight away, on his humdrum committee;
So unconscious of all that awakens my pity,
And wonder--and worship, I might say?
There seems something nobler than genius to be
In that dull patient labor no genius relieves,
That absence of all joy which yet never grieves;
The humility of it! the grandeur withal!
The sublimity of it! And yet, should you call
The man's own very slow apprehension to this,
He would ask, with a stare, what sublimity is!
His work is the duty to which he was born;
He accepts it, without ostentation or scorn:
And this man is no uncommon type (I thank Heaven!)
Of this land's common men. In all other lands, even
The type's self is wanting. Perchance, 'tis the reason
That Government oscillates ever 'twixt treason
And tyranny elsewhere.
"I wander away
Too far, though, from what I was wishing to say.
You, for instance, read Plato. You know that the soul
Is immortal; and put this in rhyme, on the whole,
Very well, with sublime illustration. Man's heart
Is a mystery, doubtless. You trace it in art:--
The Greek Psyche,--that's beauty,--the perfect ideal.
But then comes the imperfect, perfectible real,
With its pain'd aspiration and strife. In those pale
Ill-drawn virgins of Giotto you see it prevail.
You have studied all this. Then, the universe, too,
Is not a mere house to be lived in, for you.
Geology opens the mind. So you know
Something also of strata and fossils; these show
The bases of cosmical structure: some mention
Of the nebulous theory demands your attention;
And so on.
"In short, it is clear the interior
Of your brain, my dear Alfred, is vastly superior
In fibre, and fulness, and function, and fire,
To that of my poor parliamentary squire;
But your life leaves upon me (forgive me this heat
Due to friendship) the sense of a thing incomplete.
You fly high. But what is it, in truth, you fly at?
My mind is not satisfied quite as to that.
An old illustration's as good as a new,
Provided the old illustration be true.
We are children. Mere kites are the fancies we fly,
Though we marvel to see them ascending so high;
Things slight in themselves,--long-tail'd toys, and no more:
What is it that makes the kite steadily soar
Through the realms where the cloud and the whirlwind have birth
But the tie that attaches the kite to the earth?
I remember the lessons of childhood, you see,
And the hornbook I learn'd on my poor mother's knee.
In truth, I suspect little else do we learn
From this great book of life, which so shrewdly we turn,
Saving how to apply, with a good or bad grace,
What we learn'd in the hornbook of childhood.
Is exactly in point.
"Fly your kite, if you please,
Out of sight: let it go where it will, on the breeze;
But cut not the one thread by which it is bound,
Be it never so high, to this poor human ground.
No man is the absolute lord of his life.
You, my friend, have a home, and a sweet and dear wife.
If I often have sigh'd by my own silent fire,
With the sense of a sometimes recurring desire
For a voice sweet and low, or a face fond and fair,
Some dull winter evening to solace and share
With the love which the world its good children allows
To shake hands with,--in short, a legitimate spouse,
This thought has consoled me: 'At least I have given
For my own good behavior no hostage to heaven.'
You have, though. Forget it not! faith, if you do,
I would rather break stones on a road than be you.
If any man wilfully injured, or led
That little girl wrong, I would sit on his head,
Even though you yourself were the sinner!
Leads me back (do not take it, dear cousin, amiss!)
To the matter I meant to have mention'd at once,
But these thoughts put it out of my head for the nonce.
Of all the preposterous humbugs and shams,
Of all the old wolves ever taken for lambs,
The wolf best received by the flock he devours
Is that uncle-in-law, my dear Alfred, of yours.
At least, this has long been my unsettled conviction,
And I almost would venture at once the prediction
That before very long--but no matter! I trust,
For his sake and our own, that I may be unjust.
But Heaven forgive me, if cautious I am on
The score of such men as with both God and Mammon
Seem so shrewdly familiar.
"Neglect not this warning.
There were rumors afloat in the City this morning
Which I scarce like the sound of. Who knows? would he fleece
At a pinch, the old hypocrite, even his own niece?
For the sake of Matilda I cannot importune
Your attention too early. If all your wife's fortune
Is yet in the hands of that specious old sinner,
Who would dice with the devil, and yet rise up winner,
I say, lose no time! get it out of the grab
Of her trustee and uncle, Sir Ridley McNab.
I trust those deposits, at least, are drawn out,
And safe at this moment from danger or doubt.
A wink is as good as a nod to the wise.
Verbum sap. I admit nothing yet justifies
My mistrust; but I have in my own mind a notion
That old Ridley's white waistcoat, and airs of devotion,
Have long been the only ostensible capital
On which he does business. If so, time must sap it all,
Sooner or later. Look sharp. Do not wait,
Draw at once. In a fortnight it may be too late.
I admit I know nothing. I can but suspect;
I give you my notions. Form yours and reflect.
My love to Matilda. Her mother looks well.
I saw her last week. I have nothing to tell
Worth your hearing. We think that the Government here
Will not last our next session. Fitz Funk is a peer,
You will see by the Times. There are symptoms which show
That the ministers now are preparing to go,
And finish their feast of the loaves and the fishes.
It is evident that they are clearing the dishes,
And cramming their pockets with bonbons. Your news
Will be always acceptable. Vere, of the Blues,
Has bolted with Lady Selina. And so
You have met with that hot-headed Frenchman? I know
That the man is a sad mauvais sujet. Take care
Of Matilda. I wish I could join you both there;
But before I am free, you are sure to be gone.
Good-by, my dear fellow. Yours, anxiously,
This is just the advice I myself would have given
To Lord Alfred, had I been his cousin, which, Heaven
Be praised, I am not. But it reach'd him indeed
In an unlucky hour, and received little heed.
A half-languid glance was the most that he lent at
That time to these homilies. Primum dementat
Quem Deus vult perdere. Alfred in fact
Was behaving just then in a way to distract
Job's self had Job known him. The more you'd have thought
The Duke's court to Matilda his eye would have caught,
The more did his aspect grow listless to hers,
And the more did it beam to Lucile de Nevers.
And Matilda, the less she found love in the look
Of her husband, the less did she shrink from the Duke.
With each day that pass'd o'er them, they each, heart from heart,
Woke to feel themselves further and further apart.
More and more of his time Alfred pass'd at the table;
Played high; and lost more than to lose he was able.
He grew feverish, querulous, absent, perverse,--
And here I must mention, what made matters worse,
That Lucile and the Duke at the selfsame hotel
With the Vargraves resided. It needs not to tell
That they all saw too much of each other. The weather
Was so fine that it brought them each day all together
In the garden, to listen, of course, to the band.
The house was a sort of phalanstery; and
Lucile and Matilda were pleased to discover
A mutual passion for music. Moreover,
The Duke was an excellent tenor; could sing
"Ange si pure" in a way to bring down on the wing
All the angels St. Cicely play'd to. My lord
Would also, at times, when he was not too bored,
Play Beethoven, and Wagner's new music, not ill;
With some little things of his own, showing skill.
For which reason, as well as for some others too,
Their rooms were a pleasant enough rendezvous.
Did Lucile, then, encourage (the heartless coquette!)
All the mischief she could not but mark?
In that garden, an arbor, withdrawn from the sun,
By laburnum and lilac with blooms overrun,
Form'd a vault of cool verdure, which made, when the heat
Of the noontide hung heavy, a gracious retreat.
And here, with some friends of their own little world,
In the warm afternoons, till the shadows uncurl'd
From the feet of the lindens, and crept through the grass,
Their blue hours would this gay little colony pass.
The men loved to smoke, and the women to bring,
Undeterr'd by tobacco, their work there, and sing
Or converse, till the dew fell, and homeward the bee
Floated, heavy with honey. Towards eve there was tea
(A luxury due to Matilda), and ice,
Fruit and coffee. [Greek text omitted]!
Such an evening it was, while Matilda presided
O'er the rustic arrangements thus daily provided,
With the Duke, and a small German Prince with a thick head,
And an old Russian Countess both witty and wicked,
And two Austrian Colonels,--that Alfred, who yet
Was lounging alone with his last cigarette,
Saw Lucile de Nevers by herself pacing slow
'Neath the shade of the cool linden-trees to and fro,
And joining her, cried, "Thank the good stars, we meet!
I have so much to say to you!"
"Yes? . . . "with her sweet
Serene voice, she replied to him. . . . "Yes? and I too
Was wishing, indeed, to say somewhat to you."
She was paler just then than her wont was. The sound
Of her voice had within it a sadness profound.
"You are ill?" he exclaim'd.
"No!" she hurriedly said.
"You alarm me!"
She droop'd down her head.
"If your thoughts have of late sought, or cared, to divine
The purpose of what has been passing in mine,
My farewell can scarcely alarm you."
Your farewell! you go!
Yes, Lord Alfred.
The cause of this sudden unkindness.
Yes! what else is this parting?
No, no! are you blind?
Look into your own heart and home. Can you see
No reason for this, save unkindness in me?
Look into the eyes of your wife--those true eyes,
Too pure and too honest in aught to disguise
The sweet soul shining through them.
Lucile! (first and last
Be the word, if you will!) let me speak of the past.
I know now, alas! though I know it too late,
What pass'd at that meeting which settled my fate.
Nay, nay, interrupt me not yet! let it be!
I but say what is due to yourself--due to me,
And must say it.
He rushed incoherently on,
Describing how, lately, the truth he had known,
To explain how, and whence, he had wrong'd her before,
All the complicate coil wound about him of yore,
All the hopes that had flown with the faith that was fled,
"And then, O Lucile, what was left me," he said,
"When my life was defrauded of you, but to take
That life, as 'twas left, and endeavor to make
Unobserved by another, the void which remain'd
Unconceal'd to myself? If I have not attain'd,
I have striven. One word of unkindness has never
Pass'd my lips to Matilda. Her least wish has ever
Received my submission. And if, of a truth,
I have fail'd to renew what I felt in my youth,
I at least have been loyal to what I DO feel,
Respect, duty, honor, affection. Lucile,
I speak not of love now, nor love's long regret:
I would not offend you, nor dare I forget
The ties that are round me. But may there not be
A friendship yet hallow'd between you and me?
May we not be yet friends--friends the dearest?"
She replied, "for one moment, perchance, did it pass
Through my own heart, that dream which forever hath brought
To those who indulge it in innocent thought
So fatal an evil awaking! But no.
For in lives such as ours are, the Dream-tree would grow
On the borders of Hades: beyond it, what lies?
The wheel of Ixion, alas! and the cries
Of the lost and tormented. Departed, for us,
Are the days when with innocence we could discuss
Dreams like these. Fled, indeed, are the dreams of my life!
Oh trust me, the best friend you have is your wife.
And I--in that pure child's pure virtue, I bow
To the beauty of virtue. I felt on my brow
Not one blush when I first took her hand. With no blush
Shall I clasp it to-night, when I leave you.
I would say what I wish'd to have said when you came.
Do not think that years leave us and find us the same!
The woman you knew long ago, long ago,
Is no more. You yourself have within you, I know,
The germ of a joy in the years yet to be,
Whereby the past years will bear fruit. As for me,
I go my own way,--onward, upward!
Let me thank you for that which ennobled regret
When it came, as it beautified hope ere it fled,--
The love I once felt for you. True, it is dead,
But it is not corrupted. I too have at last
Lived to learn that love is not--such love as is past,
Such love as youth dreams of at least--the sole part
Of life, which is able to fill up the heart;
Even that of a woman.
"Between you and me
Heaven fixes a gulf, over which you must see
That our guardian angels can bear us no more.
We each of us stand on an opposite shore.
Trust a woman's opinion for once. Women learn,
By an instinct men never attain, to discern
Each other's true natures. Matilda is fair,
Matilda is young--see her now, sitting there!--
How tenderly fashion'd--(oh, is she not? say,)
To love and be loved!"
He turn'd sharply away--
"Matilda is young, and Matilda is fair;
Of all that you tell me pray deem me aware;
But Matilda's a statue, Matilda's a child;
Matilda loves not--"
Lucile quietly smiled
As she answer'd him--"Yesterday, all that you say
Might be true; it is false, wholly false, though, today."
"How?--what mean you?"
"I mean that to-day," she replied,
"The statue with life has become vivified:
I mean that the child to a woman has grown:
And that woman is jealous."
"What, she!" with a tone
Of ironical wonder, he answer'd--what, she!
She jealous!--Matilda!--of whom, pray?--not me!"
"My lord, you deceive yourself; no one but you
Is she jealous of. Trust me. And thank Heaven, too,
That so lately this passion within her hath grown.
For who shall declare, if for months she had known
What for days she has known all too keenly, I fear,
That knowledge perchance might have cost you more dear?"
"Explain! explain, madam!" he cried, in surprise;
And terror and anger enkindled his eyes.
"How blind are you men!" she replied. "Can you doubt
That a woman, young, fair, and neglected--"
He gasp'd with emotion. "Lucile! you mean--what!
Do you doubt her fidelity?"
Listen to me, my friend. What I wish to explain
Is so hard to shape forth. I could almost refrain
From touching a subject so fragile. However,
Bear with me awhile, if I frankly endeavor
To invade for one moment your innermost life.
Your honor, Lord Alfred, and that of your wife,
Are dear to me,--most dear! And I am convinced
That you rashly are risking that honor."
And turn'd pale, as she spoke.
She had aim'd at his heart,
And she saw, by his sudden and terrified start,
That her aim had not miss'd.
"Stay, Lucile!" he exclaim'd,
"What in truth do you mean by these words, vaguely framed
To alarm me? Matilda?--my wife?--do you know?"--
"I know that your wife is as spotless as snow.
But I know not how far your continued neglect
Her nature, as well as her heart, might affect.
Till at last, by degrees, that serene atmosphere
Of her unconscious purity, faint and yet dear,
Like the indistinct golden and vaporous fleece
Which surrounded and hid the celestials in Greece
From the glances of men, would disperse and depart
At the sighs of a sick and delirious heart,--
For jealousy is to a woman, be sure,
A disease heal'd too oft by a criminal cure;
And the heart left too long to its ravage in time
May find weakness in virtue, reprisal in crime."
"Such thoughts could have never," he falter'd, "I know,
Reach'd the heart of Matilda."
"Matilda? oh no!
But reflect! when such thoughts do not come of themselves
To the heart of a woman neglected, like elves
That seek lonely places,--there rarely is wanting
Some voice at her side, with an evil enchanting
To conjure them to her."
"O lady, beware!
At this moment, around me I search everywhere
For a clew to your words"--
"You mistake them," she said,
Half fearing, indeed, the effect they had made.
"I was putting a mere hypothetical case."
With a long look of trouble he gazed in her face.
"Woe to him, . . ." he exclaim'd . . . "woe to him that shall feel
Such a hope! for I swear, if he did but reveal
One glimpse,--it should be the last hope of his life!"
The clench'd hand and bent eyebrow betoken'd the strife
She had roused in his heart.
"You forget," she began,
"That you menace yourself. You yourself are the man
That is guilty. Alas! must it ever be so?
Do we stand in our own light, wherever we go,
And fight our own shadows forever? O think!
The trial from which you, the stronger ones, shrink,
You ask woman, the weaker one, still to endure;
You bid her be true to the laws you abjure;
To abide by the ties you yourselves rend asunder,
With the force that has fail'd you; and that too, when under
The assumption of rights which to her you refuse,
The immunity claim'd for yourselves you abuse!
Where the contract exists, it involves obligation
To both husband and wife, in an equal relation.
You unloose, in asserting your own liberty,
A knot, which, unloosed, leaves another as free.
Then, O Alfred! be juster at heart: and thank Heaven
That Heaven to your wife such a nature has given
That you have not wherewith to reproach her, albeit
You have cause to reproach your own self, could you see it!"
In the silence that follow'd the last word she said,
In the heave of his chest, and the droop of his head,
Poor Lucile mark'd her words had sufficed to impart
A new germ of motion and life to that heart
Of which he himself had so recently spoken
As dead to emotion--exhausted, or broken!
New fears would awaken new hopes in his life.
In the husband indifferent no more to the wife
She already, as she had foreseen, could discover
That Matilda had gain'd at her hands, a new lover.
So after some moments of silence, whose spell
They both felt, she extended her hand to him. . . .
"Lucile," he replied, as that soft quiet hand
In his own he clasp'd warmly, "I both understand
And obey you."
"Thank Heaven!" she murmur'd.
One word, I beseech you! I cannot forget,"
He exclaim'd, "we are parting for life. You have shown
My pathway to me: but say, what is your own?"
The calmness with which until then she had spoken
In a moment seem'd strangely and suddenly broken.
She turn'd from him nervously, hurriedly.
I know not," she murmur'd, "I follow the way
Heaven leads me; I cannot foresee to what end.
I know only that far, far away it must tend
From all places in which we have met, or might meet.
Far away!--onward upward!"
A smile strange and sweet
As the incense that rises from some sacred cup
And mixes with music, stole forth, and breathed up
Her whole face, with those words.
"Wheresoever it be,
May all gentlest angels attend you!" sighed he,
"And bear my heart's blessing wherever you are!"
And her hand, with emotion, he kiss'd.
That kiss was, alas! by Matilda beheld.
With far other emotions: her young bosom swell'd,
And her young cheek with anger was crimson'd.
Adroitly attracted towards it her look
By a faint but significant smile.
Renown'd Bishop Berkeley has fully, for one, strew'd
With arguments page upon page to teach folks
That the world they inhabit is only a hoax.
But it surely is hard, since we can't do without them,
That our senses should make us so oft wish to doubt them!
When first the red savage call'd Man strode, a king,
Through the wilds of creation--the very first thing
That his naked intelligence taught him to feel
Was the shame of himself; and the wish to conceal
Was the first step in art. From the apron which Eve
In Eden sat down out of fig-leaves to weave,
To the furbelow'd flounce and the broad crinoline
Of my lady--you all know of course whom I mean--
This art of concealment has greatly increas'd.
A whole world lies cryptic in each human breast;
And that drama of passions as old as the hills,
Which the moral of all men in each man fulfils,
Is only reveal'd now and then to our eyes
In the newspaper-files and the courts of assize.
In the group seen so lately in sunlight assembled,
'Mid those walks over which the laburnum-bough trembled,
And the deep-bosom'd lilac, emparadising
The haunts where the blackbird and thrush flit and sing,
The keenest eye could but have seen, and seen only,
A circle of friends, minded not to leave lonely
The bird on the bough, or the bee on the blossom;
Conversing at ease in the garden's green bosom,
Like those who, when Florence was yet in her glories,
Cheated death and kill'd time with Boccaccian stories.
But at length the long twilight more deeply grew shaded,
And the fair night the rosy horizon invaded.
And the bee in the blossom, the bird on the bough,
Through the shadowy garden were slumbering now.
The trees only, o'er every unvisited walk,
Began on a sudden to whisper and talk.
And, as each little sprightly and garrulous leaf
Woke up with an evident sense of relief,
They all seem'd to be saying . . . "Once more we're alone,
And, thank Heaven, those tiresome people are gone!"
Through the deep blue concave of the luminous air,
Large, loving, and languid, the stars here and there,
Like the eyes of shy passionate women, look'd down
O'er the dim world whose sole tender light was their own,
When Matilda, alone, from her chamber descended,
And enter'd the garden, unseen, unattended.
Her forehead was aching and parch'd, and her breast
By a vague inexpressible sadness oppress'd:
A sadness which led her, she scarcely knew how,
And she scarcely knew why . . . (save, indeed, that just now
The house, out of which with a gasp she had fled
Half stifled, seem'd ready to sink on her head) . . .
Out into the night air, the silence, the bright
Boundless starlight, the cool isolation of night!
Her husband that day had look'd once in her face,
And press'd both her hands in a silent embrace,
And reproachfully noticed her recent dejection
With a smile of kind wonder and tacit affection.
He, of late so indifferent and listless! . . . at last
Was he startled and awed by the change which had pass'd
O'er the once radiant face of his young wife? Whence came
That long look of solicitous fondness? . . . the same
Look and language of quiet affection--the look
And the language, alas! which so often she took
For pure love in the simple repose of its purity--
Her own heart thus lull'd to a fatal security!
Ha! would he deceive her again by this kindness?
Had she been, then, O fool! in her innocent blindness,
The sport of transparent illusion? ah folly!
And that feeling, so tranquil, so happy, so holy,
She had taken, till then, in the heart, not alone
Of her husband, but also, indeed, in her own,
For true love, nothing else, after all, did it prove
But a friendship profanely familiar?
"And love? . . .
What was love, then? . . . not calm, not secure--scarcely kind,
But in one, all intensest emotions combined:
Life and death: pain and rapture?"
Thus wandering astray,
Led by doubt, through the darkness she wander'd away.
All silently crossing, recrossing the night.
With faint, meteoric, miraculous light,
The swift-shooting stars through the infinite burn'd,
And into the infinite ever return'd.
And silently o'er the obscure and unknown
In the heart of Matilda there darted and shone
Thoughts, enkindling like meteors the deeps, to expire,
Leaving traces behind them of tremulous fire.
She enter'd that arbor of lilacs, in which
The dark air with odors hung heavy and rich,
Like a soul that grows faint with desire.
'Twas the place
In which she so lately had sat face to face,
With her husband,--and her, the pale stranger detested
Whose presence her heart like a plague had infested.
The whole spot with evil remembrance was haunted.
Through the darkness there rose on the heart which it daunted,
Each dreary detail of that desolate day,
So full, and yet so incomplete. Far away
The acacias were muttering, like mischievous elves,
The whole story over again to themselves,
Each word,--and each word was a wound! By degrees
Her memory mingled its voice with the trees.
Like the whisper Eve heard, when she paused by the root
Of the sad tree of knowledge, and gazed on its fruit,
To the heart of Matilda the trees seem'd to hiss
Wild instructions, revealing man's last right, which is
The right of reprisals.
An image uncertain,
And vague, dimly shaped itself forth on the curtain
Of the darkness around her. It came, and it went;
Through her senses a faint sense of peril it sent:
It pass'd and repass'd her; it went and it came,
Forever returning; forever the same;
And forever more clearly defined; till her eyes
In that outline obscure could at last recognize
The man to whose image, the more and the more
That her heart, now aroused from its calm sleep of yore,
From her husband detach'd itself slowly, with pain.
Her thoughts had return'd, and return'd to, again,
As though by some secret indefinite law,--
The vigilant Frenchman--Eugene de Luvois!
A light sound behind her. She trembled. By some
Night-witchcraft her vision a fact had become.
On a sudden she felt, without turning to view,
That a man was approaching behind her. She knew
By the fluttering pulse which she could not restrain,
And the quick-beating heart, that this man was Eugene.
Her first instinct was flight; but she felt her slight foot
As heavy as though to the soil it had root.
And the Duke's voice retain'd her, like fear in a dream.
"Ah, lady! in life there are meetings which seem
Like a fate. Dare I think like a sympathy too?
Yet what else can I bless for this vision of you?
Alone with my thoughts, on this starlighted lawn,
By an instinct resistless, I felt myself drawn
To revisit the memories left in the place
Where so lately this evening I look'd in your face.
And I find,--you, yourself,--my own dream!
"Can there be
In this world one thought common to you and to me?
If so, . . . I, who deem'd but a moment ago
My heart uncompanion'd, save only by woe,
Should indeed be more bless'd than I dare to believe--
--Ah, but ONE word, but one from your lips to receive" . . .
Interrupting him quickly, she murmur'd, "I sought,
Here, a moment of solitude, silence, and thought,
Which I needed." . . .
"Lives solitude only for one?
Must its charm by my presence so soon be undone?
Ah, cannot two share it? What needs it for this?--
The same thought in both hearts,--be it sorrow or bliss;
If my heart be the reflex of yours, lady--you,
Are you not yet alone,--even though we be two?"
"For that," . . . said Matilda, . . . "needs were, you should read
What I have in my heart" . . .
"Think you, lady, indeed,
You are yet of that age when a woman conceals
In her heart so completely whatever she feels
From the heart of the man whom it interests to know
And find out what that feeling may be? Ah, not so,
Lady Alfred? Forgive me that in it I look,
But I read in your heart as I read in a book."
"Well, Duke! and what read you within it? unless
It be, of a truth, a profound weariness,
And some sadness?"
"No doubt. To all facts there are laws.
The effect has its cause, and I mount to the cause."
Matilda shrank back; for she suddenly found
That a finger was press'd on the yet bleeding wound
She, herself, had but that day perceived in her breast.
"You are sad," . . . said the Duke (and that finger yet press'd
With a cruel persistence the wound it made bleed)--
"You are sad, Lady Alfred, because the first need
Of a young and a beautiful woman is to be
Beloved, and to love. You are sad: for you see
That you are not beloved, as you deem'd that you were:
You are sad: for that knowledge hath left you aware
That you have not yet loved, though you thought that you had.
"Yes, yes! . . . you are sad--because knowledge is sad!"
He could not have read more profoundly her heart.
"What gave you," she cried, with a terrified start,
"Such strange power?"
"To read in your thoughts?" he exclaim'd
"O lady,--a love, deep, profound--be it blamed
Or rejected,--a love, true, intense--such, at least,
As you, and you only, could wake in my breast!"
"Hush, hush! . . . I beseech you . . . for pity!' she gasp'd,
Snatching hurriedly from him the hand he had clasp'd,
In her effort instinctive to fly from the spot.
"For pity?" . . . he echoed, "for pity! and what
Is the pity you owe him? his pity for you!
He, the lord of a life, fresh as new-fallen dew!
The guardian and guide of a woman, young, fair,
And matchless! (whose happiness did he not swear
To cherish through life?) he neglects her--for whom?
For a fairer than she? No! the rose in the bloom
Of that beauty which, even when hidd'n, can prevail
To keep sleepless with song the aroused nightingale,
Is not fairer; for even in the pure world of flowers
Her symbol is not, and this pure world of ours
Has no second Matilda! For whom? Let that pass!
'Tis not I, 'tis not you, that can name her, alas!
And I dare not question or judge her. But why,
Why cherish the cause of your own misery?
Why think of one, lady, who thinks not of you?
Why be bound by a chain which himself he breaks through?
And why, since you have but to stretch forth your hand,
The love which you need and deserve to command,
Why shrink? Why repel it?"
"O hush, sir! O hush!"
Cried Matilda, as though her whole heart were one blush.
"Cease, cease, I conjure you, to trouble my life!
Is not Alfred your friend? and am I not his wife?"
"And have I not, lady," he answer'd, . . . "respected
HIS rights as a friend, till himself he neglected
YOUR rights as a wife? Do you think 'tis alone
For three days I have loved you? My love may have grown,
I admit, day by day, since I first felt your eyes,
In watching their tears, and in sounding your sighs.
But, O lady! I loved you before I believed
That your eyes ever wept, or your heart ever grieved.
Then I deem'd you were happy--I deem'd you possess'd
All the love you deserved,--and I hid in my breast
My own love, till this hour--when I could not but feel
Your grief gave me the right my own grief to reveal!
I knew, years ago, of the singular power
Which Lucile o'er your husband possess'd. Till the hour
In which he revea'd it himself, did I,--say!--
By a word, or a look, such a secret betray?
No! no! do me justice. I never have spoken
Of this poor heart of mine, till all ties he had broken
Which bound YOUR heart to him. And now--now, that his love
For another hath left your own heart free to rove,
What is it,--even now,--that I kneel to implore you?
Only this, Lady Alfred! . . . to let me adore you
Unblamed: to have confidence in me: to spend
On me not one thought, save to think me your friend.
Let me speak to you,--ah, let me speak to you still!
Hush to silence my words in your heart if you will.
I ask no response: I ask only your leave
To live yet in your life, and to grieve when you grieve!"
"Leave me, leave me!" . . . she gasp'd, with a voice thick and low
From emotion. "For pity's sake, Duke, let me go!
I feel that to blame we should both of us be,
Did I linger."
"To blame? yes, no doubt!" . . . answer'd he,
"If the love of your husband, in bringing you peace,
Had forbidden you hope. But he signs your release
By the hand of another. One moment! but one!
Who knows when, alas! I may see you alone
As to-night I have seen you? or when we may meet
As to-night we have met? when, entranced at your feet,
As in this blessed hour, I may ever avow
The thoughts which are pining for utterance now?"
"Duke! Duke!" . . . she exclaim'd, . . . "for Heaven's sake let me go!
It is late. In the house they will miss me, I know.
We must not be seen here together. The night
Is advancing. I feel overwhelm'd with affright!
It is time to return to my lord."
"To your lord?"
He repeated, with lingering reproach on the word.
"To your lord? do you think he awaits you in truth?
Is he anxiously missing your presence, forsooth?
Return to your lord! . . . his restraint to renew?
And hinder the glances which are not for you?
No, no! . . . at this moment his looks seek the face
Of another! another is there in your place!
Another consoles him! another receives
The soft speech which from silence your absence relieves!"
"You mistake, sir!" . . . responded a voice, calm, severe,
And sad, . . . "You mistake, sir! that other is here."
Eugene and Matilda both started.
With a half-stifled scream, as she felt herself reel
From the place where she stood, cried Matilda.
What! eaves-dropping, madam?" . . . the Duke cried. . . "And so
You were listening?"
"Say, rather," she said, "that I heard,
Without wishing to hear it, that infamous word,--
Heard--and therefore reply."
"Belle Comtesse," said the Duke,
With concentrated wrath in the savage rebuke,
Which betray'd that he felt himself baffled . . . "you know
That your place is not HERE."
"Duke," she answer'd him slow,
"My place is wherever my duty is clear;
And therefore my place, at this moment, is here.
O lady, this morning my place was beside
Your husband, because (as she said this she sigh'd)
I felt that from folly fast growing to crime--
The crime of self-blindness--Heaven yet spared me time
To save for the love of an innocent wife
All that such love deserved in the heart and the life
Of the man to whose heart and whose life you alone
Can with safety confide the pure trust of your own."
She turn'd to Matilda, and lightly laid on her
Her soft quiet hand . . .
"'Tis, O lady, the honor
Which that man has confided to you, that, in spite
Of his friend, I now trust I may yet save to-night--
Save for both of you, lady! for yours I revere;
Duc de Luvois, what say you?--my place is not here?"
And, so saying, the hand of Matilda she caught,
Wound one arm round her waist unresisted and sought
Gently, softly, to draw her away from the spot.
The Duke stood confounded, and follow'd them not,
But not yet the house had they reach'd when Lucile
Her tender and delicate burden could feel
Sink and falter beside her. Oh, then she knelt down,
Flung her arms round Matilda, and press'd to her own
The poor bosom beating against her.
Bright, breathless, and buoyant, and brimful of June,
Floated up from the hillside, sloped over the vale,
And poised herself loose in mid-heaven, with one pale,
Minute, scintillescent, and tremulous star
Swinging under her globe like a wizard-lit car,
Thus to each of those women revealing the face
Of the other. Each bore on her features the trace
Of a vivid emotion. A deep inward shame
The cheek of Matilda had flooded with flame.
With her enthusiastic emotion, Lucile
Trembled visibly yet; for she could not but feel
That a heavenly hand was upon her that night,
And it touch'd her pure brow to a heavenly light.
"In the name of your husband, dear lady," she said,
"In the name of your mother, take heart! Lift your head,
For those blushes are noble. Alas! do not trust
To that maxim of virtue made ashes and dust,
That the fault of the husband can cancel the wife's.
Take heart! and take refuge and strength in your life's
Pure silence,--there, kneel, pray, and hope, weep, and wait!"
"Saved, Lucile!" sobb'd Matilda, "but saved to what fate?
Tears, prayers, yes! not hopes."
"Hush!" the sweet voice replied.
"Fool'd away by a fancy, again to your side
Must your husband return. Doubt not this. And return
For the love you can give, with the love that you yearn
To receive, lady. What was it chill'd you both now?
Not the absence of love, but the ignorance how
Love is nourish'd by love. Well! henceforth you will prove
Your heart worthy of love,--since it knows how to love."
"What gives you such power over me, that I feel
Thus drawn to obey you? What are you, Lucile?"
Sigh'd Matilda, and lifted her eyes to the face
There pass'd suddenly through it the trace
Of deep sadness; and o'er that fair forehead came down
A shadow which yet was too sweet for a frown.
"The pupil of sorrow, perchance," . . . she replied.
"Of sorrow?" Matilda exclaim'd . . . "O confide
To my heart your affliction. In all you made known
I should find some instruction, no doubt, for my own!"
"And I some consolation, no doubt; for the tears
Of another have not flow'd for me many years."
It was then that Matilda herself seized the hand
Of Lucile in her own, and uplifted her; and
Thus together they enter'd the house.
'Twas the room
The languid and delicate gloom
Of a lamp of pure white alabaster, aloft
From the ceiling suspended, around it slept soft.
The casement oped into the garden. The pale
Cool moonlight stream'd through it. One lone nightingale
Sung aloof in the laurels. And here, side by side,
Hand in hand, the two women sat down undescried,
Save by guardian angels.
As when, sparkling yet
From the rain, that, with drops that are jewels, leaves wet
The bright head it humbles, a young rose inclines
To some pale lily near it, the fair vision shines
As one flower with two faces, in hush'd, tearful speech,
Like the showery whispers of flowers, each to each
Link'd, and leaning together, so loving, so fair,
So united, yet diverse, the two women there
Look'd, indeed, like two flowers upon one drooping stem,
In the soft light that tenderly rested on them.
All that soul said to soul in that chamber, who knows?
All that heart gain'd from heart?
Leave the lily, the rose,
Undisturb'd with their secret within them. For who
To the heart of the floweret can follow the dew?
A night full of stars! O'er the silence, unseen,
The footsteps of sentinel angels between
The dark land and deep sky were moving. You heard
Pass'd from earth up to heaven the happy watchword
Which brighten'd the stars as amongst them it fell
From earth's heart, which it eased . . . "All is well! all is well!"
The Poets pour wine; and, when 'tis new, all decry it;
But, once let it be old, every trifler must try it.
And Polonius, who praises no wine that's not Massic,
Complains of my verse, that my verse is not classic.
And Miss Tilburina, who sings, and not badly,
My earlier verses, sighs "Commonplace sadly!"
As for you, O Polonius, you vex me but slightly;
But you, Tilburina, your eyes beam so brightly
In despite of their languishing looks, on my word,
That to see you look cross I can scarcely afford.
Yes! the silliest woman that smiles on a bard
Better far than Longinus himself can reward
The appeal to her feelings of which she approves;
And the critics I most care to please are the Loves.
Alas, friend! what boots it, a stone at his head
And a brass on his breast,--when a man is once dead?
Ay! were fame the sole guerdon, poor guerdon were then
Theirs who, stripping life bare, stand forth models for men.
The reformer's?--a creed by posterity learnt
A century after its author is burnt!
The poet's?--a laurel that hides the bald brow
It hath blighted! The painter's?--Ask Raphael now
Which Madonna's authentic! The stateman's?--a name
For parties to blacken, or boys to declaim!
The soldier's?--three lines on the cold Abbey pavement!
Were this all the life of the wise and the brave meant,
All it ends in, thrice better, Neaera, it were
Unregarded to sport with thine odorous hair,
Untroubled to lie at thy feet in the shade
And be loved, while the roses yet bloom overhead,
Than to sit by the lone hearth, and think the long thought,
A severe, sad, blind schoolmaster, envied for naught
Save the name of John Milton! For all men, indeed,
Who in some choice edition may graciously read,
With fair illustration, and erudite note,
The song which the poet in bitterness wrote,
Beat the poet, and notably beat him, in this--
The joy of the genius is theirs, whilst they miss
The grief of the man: Tasso's song--not his madness!
Dante's dreams--not his waking to exile and sadness!
Milton's music--but not Milton's blindness! . . .
My Milton, and answer, with those noble eyes
Which the glory of heaven hath blinded to earth!
Say--the life, in the living it, savors of worth:
That the deed, in the doing it, reaches its aim:
That the fact has a value apart from the fame:
That a deeper delight, in the mere labor, pays
Scorn of lesser delights, and laborious days:
And Shakespeare, though all Shakespeare's writings were lost,
And his genius, though never a trace of it crossed
Posterity's path, not the less would have dwelt
In the isle with Miranda, with Hamlet have felt
All that Hamlet hath uttered, and haply where, pure
On its death-bed, wrong'd Love lay, have moan'd with the Moor!
When Lord Alfred that night to the salon return'd
He found it deserted. The lamp dimly burn'd
As though half out of humor to find itself there
Forced to light for no purpose a room that was bare.
He sat down by the window alone. Never yet
Did the heavens a lovelier evening beget
Since Latona's bright childbed that bore the new moon!
The dark world lay still, in a sort of sweet swoon,
Wide open to heaven; and the stars on the stream
Were trembling like eyes that are loved on the dream
Of a lover; and all things were glad and at rest
Save the unquiet heart in his own troubled breast.
He endeavor'd to think--an unwonted employment,
Which appear'd to afford him no sort of enjoyment.
"Withdraw into yourself. But, if peace you seek there for,
Your reception, beforehand, be sure to prepare for,"
Wrote the tutor of Nero; who wrote, be it said,
Better far than he acted--but peace to the dead!
He bled for his pupil: what more could he do?
But Lord Alfred, when into himself he withdrew,
Found all there in disorder. For more than an hour
He sat with his head droop'd like some stubborn flower
Beaten down by the rush of the rain--with such force
Did the thick, gushing thoughts hold upon him the course
Of their sudden descent, rapid, rushing, and dim,
From the cloud that had darken'd the evening for him.
At one moment he rose--rose and open'd the door,
And wistfully look'd down the dark corridor
Toward the room of Matilda. Anon, with a sigh
Of an incomplete purpose, he crept quietly
Back again to his place in a sort of submission
To doubt, and return'd to his former position,--
That loose fall of the arms, that dull droop of the face,
And the eye vaguely fix'd on impalpable space.
The dream, which till then had been lulling his life,
As once Circe the winds, had seal'd thought; and his wife
And his home for a time he had quite, like Ulysses,
Forgotten; but now o'er the troubled abysses
Of the spirit within him, aeolian, forth leapt
To their freedom new-found, and resistlessly swept
All his heart into tumult, the thoughts which had been
Long pent up in their mystic recesses unseen.
How long he thus sat there, himself he knew not,
Till he started, as though he were suddenly shot,
To the sound of a voice too familiar to doubt,
Which was making some noise in the passage without.
A sound English voice; with a round English accent,
Which the scared German echoes resentfully back sent;
The complaint of a much disappointed cab-driver
Mingled with it, demanding some ultimate stiver;
Then, the heavy and hurried approach of a boot
Which reveal'd by its sound no diminutive foot:
And the door was flung suddenly open, and on
The threshold Lord Alfred by bachelor John
Was seized in that sort of affectionate rage or
Frenzy of hugs which some stout Ursa Major
On some lean Ursa Minor would doubtless bestow
With a warmth for which only starvation and snow
Could render one grateful. As soon as he could,
Lord Alfred contrived to escape, nor be food
Any more for those somewhat voracious embraces.
Then the two men sat down and scann'd each other's faces:
And Alfred could see that his cousin was taken
With unwonted emotion. The hand that had shaken
His own trembled somewhat. In truth he descried
At a glance, something wrong.
"What's the matter?" he cried.
"What have you to tell me?"
What! have you not heard?
This sad business--
I? no, not a word.
You received my last letter?
I think so. If not,
You have acted upon it?
The advice that I gave you--
Advice?--let me see?
You ALWAYS are giving advice, Jack, to me.
About Parliament, was it?
Hang Parliament! no,
The Bank, the Bank, Alfred!
Heavens! I know
You are careless;--but surely you have not forgotten,--
Or neglected . . . I warn'd you the whole thing was rotten.
You have drawn those deposits at least?
No, I meant
To have written to-day; but the note shall be sent
To-morrow? too late!
Too late! oh, what devil bewitch'd you to wait?
Mercy save us! you don't mean to say . . .
Yes, I do.
What! Sir Ridley?
Smash'd, broken, blown up, bolted too!
But his own niece? . . . In Heaven's name, Jack . . .
Oh, I told you
The old hypocritical scoundrel would . . .
Surely can't mean we are ruin'd?
A fortnight ago a report about town
Made me most apprehensive. Alas, and alas!
I at once wrote and warn'd you. Well, now let that pass.
A run on the Bank about five days ago
Confirm'd my forebodings too terribly, though.
I drove down to the city at once; found the door
Of the Bank close: the Bank had stopp'd payment at four.
Next morning the failure was known to be fraud:
Warrant out for McNab: but McNab was abroad:
Gone--we cannot tell where. I endeavor'd to get
Information: have learn'd nothing certain as yet--
Not even the way that old Ridley was gone:
Or with those securities what he had done:
Or whether they had been already call'd out:
If they are not, their fate is, I fear, past a doubt.
Twenty families ruin'd, they say: what was left,--
Unable to find any clew to the cleft
The old fox ran to earth in,--but join you as fast
As I could, my dear Alfred?*
*These events, it is needless to say, Mr. Morse,
Took place when Bad News as yet travell'd by horse;
Ere the world, like a cockchafer, buzz'd on a wire,
Or Time was calcined by electrical fire;
Ere a cable went under the hoary Atlantic,
Or the word Telegram drove grammarians frantic.
He stopp'd here, aghast
At the change in his cousin, the hue of whose face
Had grown livid; and glassy his eyes fix'd on space.
"Courage, courage!" . . . said John, . . . "bear the blow like a man!"
And he caught the cold hand of Lord Alfred. There ran
Through that hand a quick tremor. "I bear it," he said,
"But Matilda? the blow is to her!" And his head
Seem'd forced down, as he said it.
Matilda? Pooh, pooh!
I half think I know the girl better than you.
She has courage enough--and to spare. She cares less
Than most women for luxury, nonsense, and dress.
The fault has been mine.
Be it yours to repair it:
If you did not avert, you may help her to bear t.
I might have averted.
Perhaps so. But now
There is clearly no use in considering how,
Or whence, came the mischief. The mischief is here.
Broken shins are not mended by crying--that's clear!
One has but to rub them, and get up again,
And push on--and not think too much of the pain.
And at least it is much that you see that to her
You owe too much to think of yourself. You must stir
And arouse yourself Alfred, for her sake. Who knows?
Something yet may be saved from this wreck. I suppose
We shall make him disgorge all he can, at the least.
"O Jack, I have been a brute idiot! a beast!
A fool! I have sinn'd, and to HER I have sinn'd!
I have been heedless, blind, inexcusably blind!
And now, in a flash, I see all things!"
To shut out the vision, he bow'd his head low
On his hands; and the great tears in silence roll'd on
And fell momently, heavily, one after one.
John felt no desire to find instant relief
For the trouble he witness'd.
He guess'd, in the grief
Of his cousin, the broken and heartfelt admission
Of some error demanding a heartfelt contrition:
Some oblivion perchance which could plead less excuse
To the heart of a man re-aroused to the use
Of the conscience God gave him, than simply and merely
The neglect for which now he was paying so dearly.
So he rose without speaking, and paced up and down
The long room, much afflicted, indeed, in his own
Cordial heart for Matilda.
Thus, silently lost
In his anxious reflections, he cross'd and re-cross'd
The place where his cousin yet hopelessly hung
O'er the table; his fingers entwisted among
The rich curls they were knotting and dragging: and there,
That sound of all sounds the most painful to hear,
The sobs of a man! Yet so far in his own
Kindly thoughts was he plunged, he already had grown
Unconscious of Alfred.
And so for a space
There was silence between them.
At last, with sad face
He stopp'd short, and bent on his cousin awhile
A pain'd sort of wistful, compassionate smile,
Approach'd him,--stood o'er him,--and suddenly laid
One hand on his shoulder--
"Where is she?" he said.
Alfred lifted his face all disfigured with tears
And gazed vacantly at him, like one that appears
In some foreign language to hear himself greeted,
Unable to answer.
"Where is she?" repeated
He motioned his hand to the door;
"There, I think," he replied. Cousin John said no more,
And appear'd to relapse to his own cogitations,
Of which not a gesture vouchsafed indications.
So again there was silence.
A timepiece at last
Struck the twelve strokes of midnight.
Roused by them, he cast
A half-look to the dial; then quietly threw
His arm round the neck of his cousin, and drew
The hands down from his face.
"It is time she should know
What has happen'd," he said, . . . "let us go to her now."
Alfred started at once to his feet.
Drawn and wan
Though his face, he look'd more than his wont was--a man.
Strong for once, in his weakness. Uplifted, fill'd through
With a manly resolve.
If that axiom be true
Of the "Sum quia cogito," I must opine
That "id sum quod cogito;"--that which, in fine
A man thinks and feels, with his whole force of thought
And feeling, the man is himself.
He had fought
With himself, and rose up from his self-overthrow
The survivor of much which that strife had laid low
At his feet, as he rose at the name of his wife,
Lay in ruins the brilliant unrealized life
Which, though yet unfulfill'd, seem'd till then, in that name,
To be his, had he claim'd it. The man's dream of fame
And of power fell shatter'd before him; and only
There rested the heart of the woman, so lonely
In all save the love he could give her. The lord
Of that heart he arose. Blush not, Muse, to record
That his first thought, and last, at that moment was not
Of the power and fame that seem'd lost to his lot,
But the love that was left to it; not of the pelf
He had cared for, yet squander'd; and not of himself,
But of her; as he murmur'd,
"One moment, dear jack!
We have grown up from boyhood together. Our track
Has been through the same meadows in childhood: in youth
Through the same silent gateways, to manhood. In truth,
There is none that can know me as you do; and none
To whom I more wish to believe myself known.
Speak the truth; you are not wont to mince it, I know.
Nor I, shall I shirk it, or shrink from it now.
In despite of a wanton behavior, in spite
Of vanity, folly, and pride, Jack, which might
Have turn'd from me many a heart strong and true
As your own, I have never turn'd round and miss'd YOU
From my side in one hour of affliction or doubt
By my own blind and heedless self-will brought about.
Tell me truth. Do I owe this alone to the sake
Of those old recollections of boyhood that make
In your heart yet some clinging and crying appeal
From a judgment more harsh, which I cannot but feel
Might have sentenced our friendship to death long ago?
Or is it . . . (I would I could deem it were so!)
That, not all overlaid by a listless exterior,
Your heart has divined in me something superior
To that which I seem; from my innermost nature
Not wholly expell'd by the world's usurpature?
Some instinct of earnestness, truth, or desire
For truth? Some one spark of the soul's native fire
Moving under the ashes, and cinders, and dust
Which life hath heap'd o'er it? Some one fact to trust
And to hope in? Or by you alone am I deem'd
The mere frivolous fool I so often have seem'd
To my own self?"
No, Alfred! you will, I believe,
Be true, at the last, to what now makes you grieve
For having belied your true nature so long.
Necessity is a stern teacher. Be strong!
"Do you think," he resumed, . . . "what I feel while I speak
Is no more than a transient emotion, as weak
As these weak tears would seem to betoken it?"
Thank you, cousin! your hand then. And now I will go
Alone, Jack. Trust to me.
I do. But 'tis late.
If she sleeps, you'll not wake her?
No, no! it will wait
(Poor infant!) too surely, this mission of sorrow;
If she sleeps, I will not mar her dreams of tomorrow.
He open'd the door, and pass'd out.
Watch'd him wistful, and left him to seek her alone.
His heart beat so loud when he knock'd at her door,
He could hear no reply from within. Yet once more
He knock'd lightly. No answer. The handle he tried:
The door open'd: he enter'd the room undescried.
No brighter than is that dim circlet of light
Which enhaloes the moon when rains form on the night,
The pale lamp an indistinct radiance shed
Round the chamber, in which at her pure snowy bed
Matilda was kneeling; so wrapt in deep prayer
That she knew not her husband stood watching her there.
With the lamplight the moonlight had mingled a faint
And unearthly effulgence which seem'd to acquaint
The whole place with a sense of deep peace made secure
By the presence of something angelic and pure.
And not purer some angel Grief carves o'er the tomb
Where Love lies, than the lady that kneel'd in that gloom.
She had put off her dress; and she look'd to his eyes
Like a young soul escaped from its earthly disguise;
Her fair neck and innocent shoulders were bare,
And over them rippled her soft golden hair;
Her simple and slender white bodice unlaced
Confined not one curve of her delicate waist.
As the light that, from water reflected, forever,
Trembles up through the tremulous reeds of a river,
So the beam of her beauty went trembling in him,
Through the thoughts it suffused with a sense soft and dim.
Reproducing itself in the broken and bright
Lapse and pulse of a million emotions.
Bow'd his heart, bow'd his knee. Knowing scarce what he did,
To her side through the chamber he silently slid,
And knelt down beside her--and pray'd at her side.
Upstarting, she then for the first time descried
That her husband was near her; suffused with the blush
Which came o'er her soft pallid cheek with a gush
Where the tears sparkled yet.
As a young fawn uncouches,
Shy with fear from the fern where some hunter approaches,
She shrank back; he caught her, and circling his arm
Round her waist, on her brow press'd one kiss long and warm.
Then her fear changed in impulse; and hiding her face
On his breast, she hung lock'd in a clinging embrace
With her soft arms wound heavily round him, as though
She fear'd, if their clasp was relaxed, he would go:
Her smooth, naked shoulders, uncared for, convulsed
By sob after sob, while her bosom yet pulsed
In its pressure on his, as the effort within it
Lived and died with each tender tumultuous minute.
"O Alfred, O Alfred! forgive me," she cried--
"Forgive you, my poor child!" he sigh'd;
"But I never have blamed you for aught that I know,
And I have not one thought that reproaches you now."
From her arms he unwound himself gently. And so
He forced her down softly beside him. Below
The canopy shading their couch, they sat down.
And he said, clasping firmly her hand in his own,
"When a proud man, Matilda, has found out at length,
That he is but a child in the midst of his strength,
But a fool in his wisdom, to whom can he own
The weakness which thus to himself hath been shown?
From whom seek the strength which his need of is sore,
Although in his pride he might perish, before
He could plead for the one, or the other avow
'Mid his intimate friends? Wife of mine, tell me now,
Do you join me in feeling, in that darken'd hour,
The sole friend that CAN have the right or the power
To be at his side, is the woman that shares
His fate, if he falter; the woman that bears
The name dear for HER sake, and hallows the life
She has mingled her own with,--in short, that man's wife?"
"Yes," murmur'd Matilda, "O yes!"
"Then," he cried,
"This chamber in which we two sit, side by side,
(And his arm, as he spoke, seem'd more softly to press her),
Is now a confessional--you, my confessor!"
"I?" she falter'd, and timidly lifted her head.
"Yes! but first answer one other question," he said:
"When a woman once feels that she is not alone:
That the heart of another is warm'd by her own;
That another feels with her whatever she feel
And halves her existence in woe or in weal;
That a man, for her sake, will, so long as he lives,
Live to put forth the strength which the thought of her gives;
Live to shield her from want, and to share with her sorrow;
Live to solace the day, and provide for the morrow:
Will that woman feel less than another, O say,
The loss of what life, sparing this, takes away?
Will she feel (feeling this), when calamities come,
That they brighten the heart, though they darken the home?"
She turn'd, like a soft rainy heav'n, on him
Eyes that smiled through fresh tears, trustful, tender, and dim.
"That woman," she murmur'd, "indeed were thrice blest!"
"Then courage, true wife of my heart!" to his breast
As he folded and gather'd her closely, he cried.
"For the refuge, to-night in these arms open'd wide
To your heart, can be never closed to it again,
And this room is for both an asylum! For when
I pass'd through that door, at the door I left there
A calamity sudden and heavy to bear.
One step from that threshold, and daily, I fear,
We must face it henceforth; but it enters not here,
For that door shuts it out, and admits here alone
A heart which calamity leaves all your own!"
She started . . . "Calamity, Alfred, to you?"
"To both, my poor child, but 'twill bring with it too
The courage, I trust, to subdue it."
Speak!" she falter'd in tones timid, anxious, and weak.
"O yet for a moment," he said, "hear me on!
Matilda, this morn we went forth in the sun,
Like those children of sunshine, the bright summer flies,
That sport in the sunbeam, and play through the skies
While the skies smile, and heed not each other: at last,
When their sunbeam is gone, and their sky overcast,
Who recks in what ruin they fold their wet wings?
So indeed the morn found us,--poor frivolous things!
Now our sky is o'ercast, and our sunbeam is set,
And the night brings its darkness around us. Oh yet
Have we weather'd no storm through those twelve cloudless hours?
Yes; you, too, have wept!
"While the world was yet ours,
While its sun was upon us, its incense stream'd to us,
And its myriad voices of joy seem'd to woo us,
We stray'd from each other, too far, it may be,
Nor, wantonly wandering, then did I see
How deep was my need of thee, dearest, how great
Was thy claim on my heart and thy share in my fate!
But, Matilda, an angel was near us, meanwhile,
Watching o'er us to warn, and to rescue!
Which you saw with suspicion, that presence you eyed
With resentment, an angel's they were at your side
And at mine; nor perchance is the day all so far,
When we both in our prayers, when most heartfelt they are,
May murmur the name of that woman now gone
From our sight evermore.
"Here, this evening, alone,
I seek your forgiveness, in opening my heart
Unto yours,--from this clasp be it never to part!
Matilda, the fortune you brought me is gone,
But a prize richer far than that fortune has won
It is yours to confer, and I kneel for that prize,
'Tis the heart of my wife!" With suffused happy eyes
She sprang from her seat, flung her arms wide apart,
And tenderly closing them round him, his heart
Clasp'd in one close embrace to her bosom; and there
Droop'd her head on his shoulder; and sobb'd.
Not sorrow, not even the sense of her loss,
Flow'd in those happy tears, so oblivious she was
Of all save the sense of her own love! Anon,
However, his words rush'd back to her. "All gone,
The fortune you brought me!"
And eyes that were dim
With soft tears she upraised; but those tears were for HIM.
"Gone! my husband?" she said," tell me all! see! I need,
To sober this rapture, so selfish indeed,
Fuller sense of affliction."
"Poor innocent child!"
He kiss'd her fair forehead, and mournfully smiled,
As he told her the tale he had heard--something more,
The gain found in loss of what gain lost of yore.
"Rest, my heart, and my brain, and my right hand, for you;
And with these, my Matilda, what may I not do?
And know not, I knew not myself till this hour,
Which so sternly reveal'd it, my nature's full power."
"And I too," she murmur'd, "I too am no more
The mere infant at heart you have known me before.
I have suffer'd since then. I have learn'd much in life.
O take, with the faith I have pledged as a wife,
The heart I have learn'd as a woman to feel!
For I--love you, my husband!"
As though to conceal
Less from him, than herself, what that motion express'd,
She dropp'd her bright head, and hid all on his breast.
"O lovely as woman, beloved as wife!
Evening star of my heart, light forever my life!
If from eyes fix'd too long on this base earth thus far
You have miss'd your due homage, dear guardian star,
Believe that, uplifting those eyes unto heaven,
There I see you, and know you, and bless the light given
To lead me to life's late achievement; my own,
My blessing, my treasure, my all things in one!"
How lovely she look'd in the lovely moonlight,
That stream'd thro' the pane from the blue balmy night!
How lovely she look'd in her own lovely youth,
As she clung to his side, full of trust and of truth!
How lovely to HIM, as he tenderly press'd
Her young head on his bosom, and sadly caress'd
The glittering tresses which now shaken loose
Shower'd gold in his hand, as he smooth'd them!
Interpose not one pulse of thine own beating heart
Twixt these two silent souls! There's a joy beyond art,
And beyond sound the music it makes in the breast.
Here were lovers twice wed, that were happy at least!
No music, save such as the nightingales sung,
Breath'd their bridals abroad; and no cresset, up-hung,
Lit that festival hour, save what soft light was given
From the pure stars that peopled the deep-purple heaven.
He open'd the casement: he led her with him,
Hush'd in heart, to the terrace, dipp'd cool in the dim
Lustrous gloom of the shadowy laurels. They heard
Aloof, the invisible, rapturous bird,
With her wild note bewildering the woodlands: they saw
Not unheard, afar off, the hill-rivulet draw
His long ripple of moon-kindled wavelets with cheer
From the throat of the vale; o'er the dark sapphire sphere
The mild, multitudinous lights lay asleep,
Pastured free on the midnight, and bright as the sheep
Of Apollo in pastoral Thrace; from unknown
Hollow glooms freshen'd odors around them were blown
Intermittingly; then the moon dropp'd from their sight,
Immersed in the mountains, and put out the light
Which no longer they needed to read on the face
Of each other life's last revelation.
Slept sumptuous round them; and Nature, that never
Sleeps, but waking reposes, with patient endeavor
Continued about them, unheeded, unseen,
Her old, quiet toil in the heart of the green
Summer silence, preparing new buds for new blossoms,
And stealing a finger of change o'er the bosoms
Of the unconscious woodlands; and Time, that halts not
His forces, how lovely soever the spot
Where their march lies--the wary, gray strategist, Time,
With the armies of Life, lay encamp'd--Grief and Crime,
Love and Faith, in the darkness unheeded; maturing,
For his great war with man, new surprises; securing
All outlets, pursuing and pushing his foe
To his last narrow refuge--the grave.
Smiled the stars like new hopes out of heaven, and sweetly
Their hearts beat thanksgiving for all things, completely
Confiding in that yet untrodden existence
Over which they were pausing. To-morrow, resistance
And struggle; to-night, Love his hallow'd device
Hung forth, and proclaim'd his serene armistice.
When Lucile left Matilda, she sat for long hours
In her chamber, fatigued by long overwrought powers,
'Mid the signs of departure, about to turn back
To her old vacant life, on her old homeless track.
She felt her heart falter within her. She sat
Like some poor player, gazing dejectedly at
The insignia of royalty worn for a night;
Exhausted, fatigued, with the dazzle and light,
And the effort of passionate feigning; who thinks
Of her own meagre, rush-lighted garret, and shrinks
From the chill of the change that awaits her.
Oppressive, and comfortless, blank reveries,
Unable to sleep, she descended the stair
That led from her room to the garden.
With the chill of the dawn, yet unris'n, but at hand,
Strangely smote on her feverish forehead. The land
Lay in darkness and change, like a world in its grave:
No sound, save the voice of the long river wave
And the crickets that sing all the night!
She stood still,
Vaguely watching the thin cloud that curl'd on the hill.
Emotions, long pent in her breast, were at stir,
And the deeps of the spirit were troubled in her.
Ah, pale woman! what, with that heart-broken look,
Didst thou read then in nature's weird heart-breaking book?
Have the wild rains of heaven a father? and who
Hath in pity begotten the drops of the dew?
Orion, Arcturus, who pilots them both?
What leads forth in his season the bright Mazaroth?
Hath the darkness a dwelling,--save there, in those eyes?
And what name hath that half-reveal'd hope in the skies?
Ay, question, and listen! What answer?
Of the long river wave through its stone-troubled bound,
And the crickets that sing all the night.
There are hours
Which belong to unknown, supernatural powers,
Whose sudden and solemn suggestions are all
That to this race of worms,--stinging creatures, that crawl,
Lie, and fear, and die daily, beneath their own stings,--
Can excuse the blind boast of inherited wings.
When the soul, on the impulse of anguish, hath pass'd
Beyond anguish, and risen into rapture at last;
When she traverses nature and space, till she stands
In the Chamber of Fate; where, through tremulous hands,
Hum the threads from an old-fashion'd distaff uncurl'd,
And those three blind old women sit spinning the world.
The dark was blanch'd wan, overhead. One green star
Was slipping from sight in the pale void afar;
The spirits of change and of awe, with faint breath,
Were shifting the midnight, above and beneath.
The spirits of awe and of change were around
And about, and upon her.
A dull muffled sound,
Back to Full Books