Part 5 out of 6
And a hand on her hand, like a ghostly surprise,
And she felt herself fix'd by the hot hollow eyes
Of the Frenchman before her: those eyes seemed to burn,
And scorch out the darkness between them, and turn
Into fire as they fix'd her. He look'd like the shade
Of a creature by fancy some solitude made,
And sent forth by the darkness to scare and oppress
Some soul of a monk in a waste wilderness.
"At last, then,--at last, and alone,--I and thou,
Lucile de Nevers, have we met?
"Hush! I know
Not for me was the tryst. Never mind--it is mine;
And whatever led hither those proud steps of thine,
They remove not, until we have spoken. My hour
Is come; and it holds me and thee in its power,
As the darkness holds both the horizons. 'Tis well!
The timidest maiden that e'er to the spell
Of her first lover's vows listen'd, hush'd with delight,
When soft stars were brightly uphanging the night,
Never listen'd, I swear, more unquestioningly,
Than thy fate hath compell'd thee to listen to me!"
To the sound of his voice, as though out of a dream.
She appear'd with a start to awaken.
When he ceased, took the night with its moaning again,
Like the voices of spirits departing in pain.
"Continue," she answer'd, "I listen to hear."
For a moment he did not reply.
Through the drear
And dim light between them, she saw that his face
Was disturb'd. To and fro he continued to pace,
With his arms folded close, and the low restless stride
Of a panther, in circles around her, first wide.
Then narrower, nearer, and quicker. At last
He stood still, and one long look upon her he cast.
"Lucile, dost thou dare to look into my face?
Is the sight so repugnant? ha, well! canst thou trace
One word of thy writing in this wicked scroll,
With thine own name scrawl'd through it, defacing a soul?"
In his face there was something so wrathful and wild,
That the sight of it scared her.
He saw it, and smiled,
And then turn'd him from her, renewing again
That short restless stride; as though searching in vain
For the point of some purpose within him.
You shudder to look in my face: do you feel
No reproach when you look in your own heart?"
In my conscience I do not deserve your rebuke:
Not yours!" she replied.
"No," he mutter'd again,
"Gentle justice! you first bid Life hope not, and then
To Despair you say, 'Act not!'"
He watch'd her awhile
With a chill sort of restless and suffering smile.
They stood by the wall of the garden. The skies,
Dark, sombre, were troubled with vague prophecies
Of the dawn yet far distant. The moon had long set,
And all in a glimmering light, pale, and wet
With the night-dews, the white roses sullenly loom'd
Round about her. She spoke not. At length he resumed,
"Wrecked creatures we are! I and thou--one and all!
Only able to injure each other and fall,
Soon or late, in that void which ourselves we prepare
For the souls that we boast of! weak insects we are!
O heaven! and what has become of them? all
Those instincts of Eden surviving the Fall:
That glorious faith in inherited things:
That sense in the soul of the length of her wings;
Gone! all gone! and the wail of the night wind sounds human,
Bewailing those once nightly visitants! Woman,
Woman, what hast thou done with my youth? Give again,
Give me back the young heart that I gave thee . . . in vain!"
"Duke!" she falter'd.
"Yes, yes!" he went on, "I was not
Always thus! what I once was, I have not forgot."
As the wind that heaps sand in a desert, there stirr'd
Through his voice an emotion that swept every word
Into one angry wail; as, with feverish change,
He continued his monologue, fitful and strange.
"Woe to him in whose nature, once kindled, the torch
Of Passion burns downward to blacken and scorch!
But shame, shame and sorrow, O woman, to thee
Whose hand sow'd the seed of destruction in me!
Whose lip taught the lesson of falsehood to mine!
Whose looks made me doubt lies that look'd so divine!
My soul by thy beauty was slain in its sleep:
And if tears I mistrust, 'tis that thou too canst weep!
Well! . . . how utter soever it be, one mistake
In the love of a man, what more change need it make
In the steps of his soul through the course love began,
Than all other mistakes in the life of a man?
And I said to myself, 'I am young yet: too young
To have wholly survived my own portion among
The great needs of man's life, or exhausted its joys;
What is broken? one only of youth's pleasant toys!
Shall I be the less welcome, wherever I go,
For one passion survived? No! the roses will blow
As of yore, as of yore will the nightingales sing,
Not less sweetly for one blossom cancell'd from Spring!
Hast thou loved, O my heart? to thy love yet remains
All the wide loving-kindness of nature. The plains
And the hills with each summer their verdure renew.
Wouldst thou be as they are? do thou then as they do,
Let the dead sleep in peace. Would the living divine
Where they slumber? Let only new flowers be the sign!'
"Vain! all vain! . . . For when, laughing, the wine I would quaff,
I remember'd too well all it cost me to laugh.
Through the revel it was but the old song I heard,
Through the crowd the old footsteps behind me they stirr'd,
In the night-wind, the starlight, the murmurs of even,
In the ardors of earth, and the languors of heaven,
I could trace nothing more, nothing more through the spheres,
But the sound of old sobs, and the track of old tears!
It was with me the night long in dreaming or waking,
It abided in loathing, when daylight was breaking,
The burthen of the bitterness in me! Behold,
All my days were become as a tale that is told.
And I said to my sight, 'No good thing shalt thou see,
For the noonday is turned to darkness in me.
In the house of Oblivion my bed I have made.'
And I said to the grave, 'Lo, my father!' and said
To the worm, 'Lo, my sister!' The dust to the dust,
And one end to the wicked shall be with the just!"
He ceased, as a wind that wails out on the night
And moans itself mute. Through the indistinct light
A voice clear, and tender, and pure with a tone
Of ineffable pity, replied to his own.
"And say you, and deem you, that I wreck'd your life?
Alas! Duc de Luvois, had I been your wife
By a fraud of the heart which could yield you alone
For the love in your nature a lie in my own,
Should I not, in deceiving, have injured you worse?
Yes, I then should have merited justly your curse,
For I then should have wrong'd you!"
"Wrong'd! ah, is it so?
You could never have loved me?"
"Never? oh, no!"
(He broke into a fierce, angry laugh, as he said)
"Yet, lady, you knew that I loved you: you led
My love on to lay to its heart, hour by hour,
All the pale, cruel, beautiful, passionless power
Shut up in that cold face of yours! was this well?
But enough! not on you would I vent the wild hell
Which has grown in my heart. Oh, that man! first and last
He tramples in triumph my life! he has cast
His shadow 'twixt me and the sun . . . let it pass!
My hate yet may find him!"
She murmur'd, "Alas!
These words, at least, spare me the pain of reply.
Enough, Duc de Luvois! farewell. I shall try
To forget every word I have heard, every sight
That has grieved and appall'd me in this wretched night
Which must witness our final farewell. May you, Duke,
Never know greater cause your own heart to rebuke
Than mine thus to wrong and afflict you have had!
"Stay, Lucile, stay!" . . . he groaned, "I am mad,
Brutalized, blind with pain! I know not what I said.
I mean it not. But" (he moan'd, drooping his head)
"Forgive me! I--have I so wrong'd you, Lucile?
I . . . have I . . . forgive me, forgive me!"
Only sad, very sad to the soul," she said, "far,
Far too sad for resentment."
"Yet stand as you are
One moment," he murmur'd. "I think, could I gaze
Thus awhile on your face, the old innocent days
Would come back upon me, and this scorching heart
Free itself in hot tears. Do not, do not depart
Thus, Lucile! stay one moment. I know why you shrink,
Why you shudder; I read in your face what you think.
Do not speak to me of it. And yet, if you will,
Whatever you say, my own lips shall be still.
I lied. And the truth, now, could justify nought.
There are battles, it may be, in which to have fought
Is more shameful than, simply, to fail. Yet, Lucile,
Had you help'd me to bear what you forced me to feel--"
"Could I help you," she murmur'd, "but what can I say
That your life will respond to?" "My life?" he sigh'd. "Nay,
My life hath brought forth only evil, and there
The wild wind hath planted the wild weed: yet ere
You exclaim, 'Fling the weed to the flames,' think again
Why the field is so barren. With all other men
First love, though it perish from life, only goes
Like the primrose that falls to make way for the rose.
For a man, at least most men, may love on through life:
Love in fame; love in knowledge; in work: earth is rife
With labor, and therefor, with love, for a man.
If one love fails, another succeeds, and the plan
Of man's life includes love in all objects! But I?
All such loves from my life through its whole destiny
Fate excluded. The love that I gave you, alas!
Was the sole love that life gave to me. Let that pass!
It perish'd, and all perish'd with it. Ambition?
Wealth left nothing to add to my social condition.
Fame? But fame in itself presupposes some great
Field wherein to pursue and attain it. The State?
I, to cringe to an upstart? The Camp? I, to draw
From its sheath the old sword of the Dukes of Luvois
To defend usurpation? Books, then? Science, Art?
But, alas! I was fashion'd for action: my heart,
Wither'd thing though it be, I should hardly compress
'Twixt the leaves of a treatise on Statics: life's stress
Needs scope, not contraction! what rests? to wear out
At some dark northern court an existence, no doubt,
In wretched and paltry intrigues for a cause
As hopeless as is my own life! By the laws
Of a fate I can neither control nor dispute,
I am what I am!"
For a while she was mute.
Then she answer'd, "We are our own fates. Our own deeds
Are our doomsmen. Man's life was made not for men's creeds
But men's actions. And, Duc de Luvois, I might say
That all life attests, that 'the will makes the way.'
Is the land of our birth less the land of our birth,
Or its claim the less strong, or its cause the less worth
Our upholding, because the white lily no more
Is as sacred as all that it bloom'd for of yore?
Yet be that as it may be; I cannot perchance
Judge this matter. I am but a woman, and France
Has for me simpler duties. Large hope, though, Eugene
De Luvois, should be yours. There is purpose in pain,
Otherwise it were devilish. I trust in my soul
That the great master hand which sweeps over the whole
Of this deep harp of life, if at moments it stretch
To shrill tension some one wailing nerve, means to fetch
Its response the truest, most stringent, and smart,
Its pathos the purest, from out the wrung heart,
Whose faculties, flaccid it may be, if less
Sharply strung, sharply smitten, had fail'd to express
Just the one note the great final harmony needs.
And what best proves there's life in a heart?--that it bleeds?
Grant a cause to remove, grant an end to attain,
Grant both to be just, and what mercy in pain!
Cease the sin with the sorrow! See morning begin!
Pain must burn itself out if not fuel'd by sin.
There is hope in yon hill-tops, and love in yon light.
Let hate and despondency die with the night!"
He was moved by her words. As some poor wretch confined
In cells loud with meaningless laughter, whose mind
Wanders trackless amidst its own ruins, may hear
A voice heard long since, silenced many a year,
And now, 'mid mad ravings recaptured again,
Singing through the caged lattice a once well-known strain,
Which brings back his boyhood upon it, until
The mind's ruin'd crevices graciously fill
With music and memory, and, as it were,
The long-troubled spirit grows slowly aware
Of the mockery round it, and shrinks from each thing
It once sought,--the poor idiot who pass'd for a king,
Hard by, with his squalid straw crown, now confess'd
A madman more painfully mad than the rest.--
So the sound of her voice, as it there wander'd o'er
His echoing heart, seem'd in part to restore
The forces of thought: he recaptured the whole
Of his life by the light which, in passing, her soul
Reflected on his: he appear'd to awake
From a dream, and perceived he had dream'd a mistake:
His spirit was soften'd, yet troubled in him:
He felt his lips falter, his eyesight grow dim,
But he murmur'd . . .
"Lucile, not for me that sun's light
Which reveals--not restores--the wild havoc of night.
There are some creatures born for the night, not the day.
Broken-hearted the nightingale hides in the spray,
And the owl's moody mind in his own hollow tower
Dwells muffled. Be darkness henceforward my dower.
Light, be sure, in that darkness there dwells, by which eyes
Grown familiar with ruins may yet recognize
"The pride that claims here
On earth to itself (howsoever severe
To itself it may be) God's dread office and right
Of punishing sin, is a sin in heaven's sight,
And against heaven's service.
"Eugene de Luvois,
Leave the judgment to Him who alone knows the law.
Surely no man can be his own judge, least of all
His own doomsman."
Her words seem'd to fall
With a weight of tears in them.
He look'd up, and saw
That sad serene countenance, mournful as law
And tender as pity, bow'd o'er him: and heard
In some thicket the matinal chirp of a bird.
"Vulgar natures alone suffer vainly.
She continued, "in life we have met once again,
And once more life parts us. Yon day-spring for me
Lifts the veil of a future in which it may be
We shall meet nevermore. Grant, oh grant to me yet
The belief that it is not in vain we have met!
I plead for the future. A new horoscope
I would cast: will you read it? I plead for a hope:
I plead for a memory; yours, yours alone,
To restore or to spare. Let the hope be your own,
Be the memory mine.
"Once of yore, when for man
Faith yet lived, ere this age of the sluggard began,
Men aroused to the knowledge of evil, fled far
From the fading rose-gardens of sense, to the war
With the Pagan, the cave in the desert, and sought
Not repose, but employment in action or thought,
Life's strong earnest, in all things! oh, think not of me,
But yourself! for I plead for your own destiny:
I plead for your life, with its duties undone,
With its claims unappeased, and its trophies unwon;
And in pleading for life's fair fulfilment, I plead
For all that you miss, and for all that you need."
Through the calm crystal air, faint and far, as she spoke,
A clear, chilly chime from a church-turret broke;
And the sound of her voice, with the sound of the bell,
On his ear, where he kneel'd, softly, soothingly fell.
All within him was wild and confused, as within
A chamber deserted in some roadside inn,
Where, passing, wild travellers paused, over-night,
To quaff and carouse; in each socket each light
Is extinct; crash'd the glasses, and scrawl'd is the wall
With wild ribald ballads; serenely o'er all,
For the first time perceived, where the dawn-light creeps faint
Through the wrecks of that orgy, the face of a saint,
Seen through some broken frame, appears noting meanwhile
The ruin all round with a sorrowful smile.
And he gazed round. The curtains of Darkness half drawn
Oped behind her; and pure as the pure light of dawn
She stood, bathed in morning, and seem'd to his eyes
From their sight to be melting away in the skies
That expanded around her.
There pass'd through his head
A fancy--a vision. That woman was dead
He had loved long ago--loved and lost! dead to him,
Dead to all the life left him; but there, in the dim
Dewy light of the dawn, stood a spirit; 'twas hers;
And he said to the soul of Lucile de Nevers:
"O soul to its sources departing away!
Pray for mine, if one soul for another may pray.
I to ask have no right, thou to give hast no power,
One hope to my heart. But in this parting hour
I name not my heart, and I speak not to thine.
Answer, soul of Lucile, to this dark soul of mine,
Does not soul owe to soul, what to heart heart denies,
Hope, when hope is salvation? Behold, in yon skies,
This wild night is passing away while I speak:
Lo, above us, the day-spring beginning to break!
Something wakens within me, and warms to the beam:
Is it hope that awakens? or do I but dream?
I know not. It may be, perchance, the first spark
Of a new light within me to solace the dark
Unto which I return; or perchance it may be
The last spark of fires half extinguish'd in me.
I know not. Thou goest thy way: I my own;
For good or for evil, I know not. Alone
This I know; we are parting. I wish'd to say more,
But no matter! 'twill pass. All between us is o'er.
Forget the wild words of to-night. 'Twas the pain
For long years hoarded up, that rush'd from me again.
I was unjust: forgive me. Spare now to reprove
Other words, other deeds. It was madness, not love,
That you thwarted this night. What is done is now done.
Death remains to avenge it, or life to atone.
I was madden'd, delirious! I saw you return
To him--not to me; and I felt my heart burn
With a fierce thirst for vengeance--and thus . . . let it pass!
Long thoughts these, and so brief the moments, alas!
Thou goest thy way, and I mine. I suppose
'Tis to meet nevermore. Is it not so? Who knows,
Or who heeds, where the exile from Paradise flies?
Or what altars of his in the desert may rise?
Is it not so, Lucile? Well, well! Thus then we part
Once again, soul from soul, as before heart from heart!"
And again clearer far than the chime of a bell,
That voice on his sense softly, soothingly fell.
"Our two paths must part us, Eugene; for my own
Seems no more through that world in which henceforth alone
You must work out (as now I believe that you will)
The hope which you speak of. That work I shall still
(If I live) watch and welcome, and bless far away.
Doubt not this. But mistake not the thought, if I say
That the great moral combat between human life
And each human soul must be single. The strife
None can share, though by all its results may be known.
When the soul arms for battle, she goes forth alone.
I say not, indeed, we shall meet nevermore,
For I know not. But meet, as we have met of yore,
I know that we cannot. Perchance we may meet
By the death-bed, the tomb, in the crowd, in the street,
Or in solitude even, but never again
Shall we meet from henceforth as we have met, Eugene.
For we know not the way we are going, nor yet
Where our two ways may meet, or may cross. Life hath set
No landmarks before us. But this, this alone,
I will promise: whatever your path, or my own,
If, for once in the conflict before you, it chance
That the Dragon prevail, and with cleft shield, and lance
Lost or shatter'd, borne down by the stress of the war,
You falter and hesitate, if from afar
I, still watching (unknown to yourself, it may be)
O'er the conflict to which I conjure you, should see
That my presence could rescue, support you, or guide,
In the hour of that need I shall be at your side,
To warn, if you will, or incite, or control;
And again, once again, we shall meet, soul to soul!"
The voice ceased.
He uplifted his eyes.
He stood on the bare edge of dawn. She was gone,
Like a star, when up bay after bay of the night,
Ripples in, wave on wave, the broad ocean of light.
And at once, in her place was the Sunrise! It rose
In its sumptuous splendor and solemn repose,
The supreme revelation of light. Domes of gold,
Realms of rose, in the Orient! and breathless, and bold,
While the great gates of heaven roll'd back one by one,
The bright herald angel stood stern in the sun!
Thrice holy Eospheros! Light's reign began
In the heaven, on the earth, in the heart of the man.
The dawn on the mountains! the dawn everywhere!
Light! silence! the fresh innovations of air!
O earth, and O ether! A butterfly breeze
Floated up, flutter'd down, and poised blithe on the trees.
Through the revelling woods, o'er the sharp-rippled stream,
Up the vale slow uncoiling itself out of dream,
Around the brown meadows, adown the hill-slope,
The spirits of morning were whispering, "HOPE!"
He uplifted his eyes. In the place where she stood
But a moment before, and where now roll'd the flood
Of the sunrise all golden, he seem'd to behold,
In the young light of sunrise, an image unfold
Of his own youth,--its ardors--its promise of fame--
Its ancestral ambition; and France by the name
Of his sires seem'd to call him. There, hover'd in light,
That image aloft, o'er the shapeless and bright
And Aurorean clouds, which themselves seem'd to be
Brilliant fragments of that golden world, wherein he
Had once dwelt, a native!
There, rooted and bound
To the earth, stood the man, gazing at it! Around
The rims of the sunrise it hover'd and shone
Transcendent, that type of a youth that was gone;
And he--as the body may yearn for the soul,
So he yearn'd to embody that image. His whole
Heart arose to regain it.
"And is it too late?"
No! for Time is a fiction, and limits not fate.
Thought alone is eternal. Time thralls it in vain.
For the thought that springs upward and yearns to regain
The true source of spirit, there IS no TOO LATE.
As the stream to its first mountain levels, elate
In the fountain arises, the spirit in him
Arose to that image. The image waned dim
Into heaven; and heavenward with it, to melt
As it melted, in day's broad expansion, he felt
With a thrill, sweet and strange, and intense--awed, amazed--
Something soar and ascend in his soul, as he gazed.
Man is born on a battle-field. Round him, to rend
Or resist, the dread Powers he displaces attend,
By the cradle which Nature, amidst the stern shocks
That have shatter'd creation, and shapen it, rocks.
He leaps with a wail into being; and lo!
His own mother, fierce Nature herself, is his foe.
Her whirlwinds are roused into wrath o'er his head:
'Neath his feet roll her earthquakes: her solitudes spread
To daunt him: her forces dispute his command:
Her snows fall to freeze him: her suns burn to brand:
Her seas yawn to engulf him: her rocks rise to crush:
And the lion and leopard, allied, lurk to rush
On their startled invader.
In lone Malabar,
Where the infinite forest spreads breathless and far,
'Mid the cruel of eye and the stealthy of claw
(Striped and spotted destroyers!) he sees, pale with awe,
On the menacing edge of a fiery sky,
Grim Doorga, blue-limb'd and red-handed, go by,
And the first thing he worships is Terror.
Still impell'd by necessity hungrily on,
He conquers the realms of his own self-reliance,
And the last cry of fear wakes the first of defiance.
From the serpent he crushes its poisonous soul;
Smitten down in his path see the dead lion roll!
On toward Heaven the son of Alcmena strides high on
The heads of the Hydra, the spoils of the lion:
And man, conquering terror, is worshipp'd by man.
A camp has the world been since first it began!
From his tents sweeps the roving Arabian; at peace,
A mere wandering shepherd that follows the fleece;
But, warring his way through a world's destinies,
Lo from Delhi, from Bagdadt, from Cordova, rise
Domes of empiry, dower'd with science and art,
Schools, libraries, forums, the palace, the mart!
New realms to man's soul have been conquer'd. But those
Forthwith they are peopled for man by new foes!
The stars keep their secrets, the earth hides her own,
And bold must the man be that braves the Unknown!
Not a truth has to art or to science been given,
But brows have ached for it, and souls toil'd and striven;
And many have striven, and many have fail'd,
And many died, slain by the truth they assail'd,
But when Man hath tamed Nature, asserted his place
And dominion, behold! he is brought face to face
With a new foe--himself!
Nor may man on his shield
Ever rest, for his foe is ever afield,
Danger ever at hand, till the armed Archangel
Sound o'er him the trump of earth's final evangel.
Silence straightway, stern Muse, the soft cymbals of pleasure,
Be all bronzen these numbers, and martial the measure!
Breathe, sonorously breathe, o'er the spirit in me
One strain, sad and stern, of that deep Epopee
Which thou, from the fashionless cloud of far time,
Chantest lonely, when Victory, pale, and sublime
In the light of the aureole over her head,
Hears, and heeds not the wound in her heart fresh and red.
Blown wide by the blare of the clarion, unfold
The shrill clanging curtains of war!
The antique Heraclean seats;
And the long Black Sea billow that once bore those fleets,
Which said to the winds, "Be ye, too, Genoese!"
And the red angry sands of the chafed Cheronese;
And the two foes of man, War and Winter, allied
Round the Armies of England and France, side by side
Enduring and dying (Gaul and Briton abreast!)
Where the towers of the North fret the skies of the East.
Since that sunrise which rose through the calm linden stems
O'er Lucile and Eugene, in the garden of Ems,
Through twenty-five seasons encircling the sun,
This planet of ours on its pathway hath gone,
And the fates that I sing of have flowed with the fates
Of a world, in the red wake of war, round the gates
Of that doom'd and heroical city, in which
(Fire crowning the rampart, blood bathing the ditch!),
At bay, fights the Russian as some hunted bear,
Whom the huntsmen have hemm'd round at last in his lair.
A fang'd, arid plain, sapp'd with underground fire,
Soak'd with snow, torn with shot, mash'd to one gory mire!
There Fate's iron scale hangs in horrid suspense,
While those two famished ogres--the Siege, the Defence,
Face to face, through a vapor frore, dismal, and dun,
Glare, scenting the breath of each other.
Double-bodied, two-headed--by separate ways
Winding, serpent-wise, nearer; the other, each day's
Sullen toil adding size to,--concentrated, solid,
Indefatigable--the brass-fronted, embodied,
And audible [Greek text omitted] gone sombrely forth
To the world from that Autocrat Will of the north!
In the dawn of a moody October, a pale
Ghostly motionless vapor began to prevail
Over city and camp; like the garment of death
Which (is formed by) the face it conceals.
'Twas the breath
War, yet drowsily yawning, began to suspire;
Wherethrough, here and there, flash'd an eye of red fire,
And closed, from some rampart beginning to bellow
Hoarse challenge; replied to anon, through the yellow
And sulphurous twilight: till day reel'd and rock'd
And roar'd into dark. Then the midnight was mock'd
With fierce apparitions. Ring'd round by a rain
Of red fire, and of iron, the murtherous plain
Flared with fitful combustion; where fitfully fell
Afar off the fatal, disgorged scharpenelle,
And fired the horizon, and singed the coil'd gloom
With wings of swift flame round that City of Doom.
So the day--so the night! So by night, so by day,
With stern patient pathos, while time wears away,
In the trench flooded through, in the wind where it wails,
In the snow where it falls, in the fire where it hails
Shot and shell--link by link, out of hardship and pain,
Toil, sickness, endurance, is forged the bronze chain
Of those terrible siege-lines!
No change to that toil
Save the mine's sudden leap from the treacherous soil.
Save the midnight attack, save the groans of the maim'd,
And Death's daily obolus due, whether claim'd
By man or by nature.
Time passes. The dumb,
Bitter, snow-bound, and sullen November is come.
And its snows have been bathed in the blood of the brave;
And many a young heart has glutted the grave:
And on Inkerman yet the wild bramble is gory,
And those bleak heights henceforth shall be famous in story.
The moon, swathed in storm, has long set: through the camp
No sound save the sentinel's slow sullen tramp,
The distant explosion, the wild sleety wind,
That seems searching for something it never can find.
The midnight is turning: the lamp is nigh spent:
And, wounded and lone, in a desolate tent
Lies a young British soldier whose sword . . .
In this place,
However, my Muse is compell'd to retrace
Her precipitous steps and revert to the past.
The shock which had suddenly shatter'd at last
Alfred Vargrave's fantastical holiday nature,
Had sharply drawn forth to his full size and stature
The real man, conceal'd till that moment beneath
All he yet had appear'd. From the gay broider'd sheath
Which a man in his wrath flings aside, even so
Leaps the keen trenchant steel summon'd forth by a blow.
And thus loss of fortune gave value to life.
The wife gain'd a husband, the husband a wife,
In that home which, though humbled and narrow'd by fate,
Was enlarged and ennobled by love. Low their state,
But large their possessions.
Sir Ridley, forgiven
By those he unwittingly brought nearer heaven
By one fraudulent act, than through all his sleek speech
The hypocrite brought his own soul, safe from reach
Of the law, died abroad.
Cousin John, heart and hand,
Purse and person, henceforth (honest man!) took his stand
By Matilda and Alfred; guest, guardian, and friend
Of the home he both shared and assured, to the end,
With his large lively love. Alfred Vargrave meanwhile
Faced the world's frown, consoled by his wife's faithful smile.
Late in life he began life in earnest; and still,
With the tranquil exertion of resolute will,
Through long, and laborious, and difficult days,
Out of manifold failure, by wearisome ways,
Work'd his way through the world; till at last he began
(Reconciled to the work which mankind claims for man),
After years of unwitness'd, unwearied endeavor,
Years impassion'd yet patient, to realize ever
More clear on the broad stream of current opinion
The reflex of powers in himself--that dominion
Which the life of one man, if his life be a truth,
May assert o'er the life of mankind. Thus, his youth
In his manhood renew'd, fame and fortune he won
Working only for home, love, and duty.
Matilda had borne him; but scarce had the boy,
With all Eton yet fresh in his full heart's frank joy,
The darling of young soldier comrades, just glanced
Down the glad dawn of manhood at life, when it chanced
That a blight sharp and sudden was breath'd o'er the bloom
Of his joyous and generous years, and the gloom
Of a grief premature on their fair promise fell:
No light cloud like those which, for June to dispel,
Captious April engenders; but deep as his own
Deep nature. Meanwhile, ere I fully make known
The cause of this sorrow, I track the event.
When first a wild war-note through England was sent,
He, transferring without either token or word,
To friend, parent, or comrade, a yet virgin sword,
From a holiday troop, to one bound for the war,
Had march'd forth, with eyes that saw death in the star
Whence others sought glory. Thus fighting, he fell
On the red field of Inkerman; found, who can tell
By what miracle, breathing, though shatter'd, and borne
To the rear by his comrades, pierced, bleeding, and torn.
Where for long days and nights, with the wound in his side,
He lay, dark.
But a wound deeper far, undescried,
The young heart was rankling; for there, of a truth,
In the first earnest faith of a pure pensive youth,
A love large as life, deep and changeless as death,
Lay ensheath'd: and that love, ever fretting its sheath,
The frail scabbard of life pierced and wore through and through.
There are loves in man's life for which time can renew
All that time may destroy. Lives there are, though, in love,
Which cling to one faith, and die with it; nor move,
Though earthquakes may shatter the shrine.
Whence or how
Love laid claim to this young life, it matters not now.
Oh is it a phantom? a dream of the night?
A vision which fever hath fashion'd to sight?
The wind wailing ever, with motion uncertain,
Sways sighingly there the drench'd tent's tattered curtain,
To and fro, up and down.
But it is not the wind
That is lifting it now: and it is not the mind
That hath moulded that vision.
A pale woman enters,
As wan as the lamp's waning light, which concenters
Its dull glare upon her. With eyes dim and dimmer
There, all in a slumberous and shadowy glimmer,
The sufferer sees that still form floating on,
And feels faintly aware that he is not alone.
She is flitting before him. She pauses. She stands
By his bedside all silent. She lays her white hands
On the brow of the boy. A light finger is pressing
Softly, softly the sore wounds: the hot blood-stain'd dressing
Slips from them. A comforting quietude steals
Through the rack'd weary frame; and, throughout it, he feels
The slow sense of a merciful, mild neighborhood.
Something smooths the toss'd pillow. Beneath a gray hood
Of rough serge, two intense tender eyes are bent o'er him,
And thrill through and through him. The sweet form before him,
It is surely Death's angel Life's last vigil keeping!
A soft voice says . . . "Sleep!"
And he sleeps: he is sleeping.
He waked before dawn. Still the vision is there.
Still that pale woman moves not. A minist'ring care
Meanwhile has been silently changing and cheering
The aspect of all things around him.
Some power unknown, and benignant, he bless'd
In silence the sense of salvation. And rest
Having loosen'd the mind's tangled meshes, he faintly
Sigh'd . . . "Say what thou art, blessed dream of a saintly
And minist'ring spirit!"
A whisper serene
Slid, softer than silence . . . "The Soeur Seraphine,
A poor Sister of Charity. Shun to inquire
Aught further, young soldier. The son of thy sire,
For the sake of that sire, I reclaim from the grave.
Thou didst not shun death: shun not life: 'Tis more brave
To live than to die. Sleep!"
He sleeps: he is sleeping.
He waken'd again, when the dawn was just steeping
The skies with chill splendor. And there, never flitting,
Never flitting, that vision of mercy was sitting.
As the dawn to the darkness, so life seemed returning
Slowly, feebly within him. The night-lamp yet burning,
Made ghastly the glimmering daybreak.
"If thou be of the living, and not of the dead,
Sweet minister, pour out yet further the healing
Of that balmy voice; if it may be, revealing
Thy mission of mercy; whence art thou?"
Of Matilda and Alfred, it matters not! One
Who is not of the living nor yet of the dead:
To thee, and to others, alive yet" . . . she said . . .
"So long as there liveth the poor gift in me
Of this ministration; to them, and to thee,
Dead in all things beside. A French Nun, whose vocation
Is now by this bedside. A nun hath no nation.
Wherever man suffers, or woman may soothe,
There her land! there her kindred!"
She bent down to smooth
The hot pillow; and added . . . "Yet more than another
Is thy life dear to me. For thy father, thy mother,
I know them--I know them."
"Oh, can it be? you!
My dearest dear father! my mother! you knew,'
You know them?"
She bowed, half averting her head
He brokenly, timidly said,
"Do they know I am thus?"
"Hush!" . . . she smiled, as she drew
From her bosom two letters: and--can it be true?
That beloved and familiar writing!
Into tears . . . "My poor mother--my father! the worst
Will have reach'd them!"
"No, no!" she exclaimed, with a smile,
"They know you are living; they know that meanwhile
I am watching beside you. Young soldier, weep not!"
But still on the nun's nursing bosom, the hot
Fever'd brow of the boy weeping wildly is press'd.
There, at last, the young heart sobs itself into rest:
And he hears, as it were between smiling and weeping,
The calm voice say . . . "Sleep!"
And he sleeps, he is sleeping.
And day follow'd day. And, as wave follow'd wave,
With the tide, day by day, life, re-issuing, drave
Through that young hardy frame novel currents of health.
Yet some strange obstruction, which life's health by stealth
Seemed to cherish, impeded life's progress. And still
A feebleness, less of the frame than the will,
Clung about the sick man--hid and harbor'd within
The sad hollow eyes: pinch'd the cheek pale and thin:
And clothed the wan fingers with languor.
Day by day, night by night, unremitting in care,
Unwearied in watching, so cheerful of mien,
And so gentle of hand, sat the Soeur Seraphine!
A strange woman truly! not young; yet her face,
Wan and worn as it was, bore about it the trace
Of a beauty which time could not ruin. For the whole
Quiet cheek, youth's lost bloom left transparent, the soul
Seemed to fill with its own light, like some sunny fountain
Everlastingly fed from far off in the mountain
That pours, in a garden deserted, its streams,
And all the more lovely for loneliness seems.
So that, watching that face, you could scarce pause to guess
The years which its calm careworn lines might express,
Feeling only what suffering with these must have past
To have perfected there so much sweetness at last.
Thus, one bronzen evening, when day had put out,
His brief thrifty fires, and the wind was about,
The nun, watchful still by the boy, on his own
Laid a firm quiet hand, and the deep tender tone
Of her voice moved the silence.
She said . . . "I have heal'd
These wounds of the body. Why hast thou conceal'd,
Young soldier, that yet open wound in the heart?
Wilt thou trust NO hand near it?"
He winced, with a start,
As of one that is suddenly touched on the spot
From which every nerve derives suffering.
Lies my heart, then, so bare?" he moaned bitterly.
With compassionate accents she hastened to say,
"Do you think that these eyes are with sorrow, young man,
So all unfamiliar, indeed, as to scan
Her features, yet know them not?
"Oh, was it spoken,
'Go ye forth, heal the sick, lift the low, bind the broken!'
Of the body alone? Is our mission, then, done,
When we leave the bruised hearts, if we bind the bruised bone?
Nay, is not the mission of mercy twofold?
Whence twofold, perchance, are the powers that we hold
To fulfil it, of Heaven! For Heaven doth still
To us, Sisters, it may be, who seek it, send skill
Won from long intercourse with affliction, and art
Help'd of Heaven, to bind up the broken of heart.
Trust to me!" (His two feeble hands in her own
She drew gently.) "Trust to me!" (she said, with soft tone):
"I am not so dead in remembrance to all
I have died to in this world, but what I recall
Enough of its sorrow, enough of its trial,
To grieve for both--save from both haply! The dial
Receives many shades, and each points to the sun.
The shadows are many, the sunlight is one.
Life's sorrows still fluctuate: God's love does not.
And His love is unchanged, when it changes our lot.
Looking up to this light, which is common to all,
And down to these shadows, on each side, that fall
In time's silent circle, so various for each,
Is it nothing to know that they never can reach
So far, but what light lies beyond them forever?
Trust to me! Oh, if in this hour I endeavor
To trace the shade creeping across the young life
Which, in prayer till this hour, I have watch'd through its strife
With the shadow of death, 'tis with this faith alone,
That, in tracing the shade, I shall find out the sun.
Trust to me!"
She paused: he was weeping. Small need
Of added appeal, or entreaty, indeed,
Had those gentle accents to win from his pale
And parch'd, trembling lips, as it rose, the brief tale
Of a life's early sorrow. The story is old,
And in words few as may be shall straightway be told.
A few years ago, ere the fair form of Peace
Was driven from Europe, a young girl--the niece
Of a French noble, leaving an old Norman pile
By the wild northern seas, came to dwell for a while
With a lady allied to her race--an old dame
Of a threefold legitimate virtue, and name,
In the Faubourg Saint Germain.
Upon that fair child,
From childhood, nor father nor mother had smiled.
One uncle their place in her life had supplied,
And their place in her heart: she had grown at his side,
And under his roof-tree, and in his regard,
From childhood to girlhood.
This fair orphan ward
Seem'd the sole human creature that lived in the heart
Of that stern rigid man, or whose smile could impart
One ray of response to the eyes which, above
Her fair infant forehead, look'd down with a love
That seem'd almost stern, so intense was its chill
Lofty stillness, like sunlight on some lonely hill
Which is colder and stiller than sunlight elsewhere.
Grass grew in the court-yard; the chambers were bare
In that ancient mansion; when first the stern tread
Of its owner awaken'd their echoes long dead:
Bringing with him this infant (the child of a brother),
Whom, dying, the hands of a desolate mother
Had placed on his bosom. 'Twas said--right or wrong--
That, in the lone mansion, left tenantless long,
To which, as a stranger, its lord now return'd,
In years yet recall'd, through loud midnights had burn'd
The light of wild orgies. Be that false or true,
Slow and sad was the footstep which now wander'd through
Those desolate chambers; and calm and severe
Was the life of their inmate.
Men now saw appear
Every morn at the mass that firm sorrowful face,
Which seem'd to lock up in a cold iron case
Tears harden'd to crystal. Yet harsh if he were,
His severity seem'd to be trebly severe
In the rule of his own rigid life, which, at least,
Was benignant to others. The poor parish priest,
Who lived on his largess, his piety praised.
The peasant was fed, and the chapel was raised,
And the cottage was built, by his liberal hand.
Yet he seem'd in the midst of his good deeds to stand
A lone, and unloved, and unlovable man.
There appear'd some inscrutable flaw in the plan
Of his life, that love fail'd to pass over.
Alone did not fear him, nor shrink from him; smiled
To his frown, and dispell'd it.
The sweet sportive elf
Seem'd the type of some joy lost, and miss'd, in himself.
Ever welcome he suffer'd her glad face to glide
In on hours when to others his door was denied:
And many a time with a mute moody look
He would watch her at prattle and play, like a brook
Whose babble disturbs not the quietest spot,
But soothes us because we need answer it not.
But few years had pass'd o'er that childhood before
A change came among them. A letter, which bore
Sudden consequence with it, one morning was placed
In the hands of the lord of the chateau. He paced
To and fro in his chamber a whole night alone
After reading that letter. At dawn he was gone.
Weeks pass'd. When he came back again he return'd
With a tall ancient dame, from whose lips the child learn'd
That they were of the same race and name. With a face
Sad and anxious, to this wither'd stock of the race
He confided the orphan, and left them alone
In the old lonely house.
In a few days 'twas known,
To the angry surprise of half Paris, that one
Of the chiefs of that party which, still clinging on
To the banner that bears the white lilies of France,
Will fight 'neath no other, nor yet for the chance
Of restoring their own, had renounced the watchword
And the creed of his youth in unsheathing his sword,
For a Fatherland father'd no more (such is fate!)
By legitimate parents.
And meanwhile, elate
And in no wise disturbed by what Paris might say,
The new soldier thus wrote to a friend far away:--
"To the life of inaction farewell! After all,
Creeds the oldest may crumble, and dynasties fall,
But the sole grand Legitimacy will endure,
In whatever makes death noble, life strong and pure.
Freedom! action! . . . the desert to breathe in--the lance
Of the Arab to follow! I go! vive la France!"
Few and rare were the meetings henceforth, as years fled,
'Twixt the child and the soldier. The two women led
Lone lives in the lone house. Meanwhile the child grew
Into girlhood; and, like a sunbeam, sliding through
Her green quiet years, changed by gentle degrees
To the loveliest vision of youth a youth sees
In his loveliest fancies: as pure as a pearl,
And as perfect: a noble and innocent girl,
With eighteen sweet summers dissolved in the light
Of her lovely and lovable eyes, soft and bright!
Then her guardian wrote to the dame, . . . "Let Constance
Go with you to Paris. I trust that in France
I may be ere the close of the year. I confide
My life's treasure to you. Let her see, at your side,
The world which we live in."
To Paris then came
Constance to abide with that old stately dame
In that old stately Faubourg.
The young Englishman
Thus met her. 'Twas there their acquaintance began,
There it closed. That old miracle, Love-at-first-sight,
Needs no explanations. The heart reads aright
Its destiny sometimes. His love neither chidden
Nor check'd, the young soldier was graciously bidden
An habitual guest to that house by the dame.
His own candid graces, the world-honor'd name
Of his father (in him not dishonor'd) were both
Fair titles to favor. His love, nothing loath,
The old lady observed, was return'd by Constance.
And as the child's uncle his absence from France
Yet prolong'd, she (thus easing long self-gratulation)
Wrote to him a lengthen'd and moving narration
Of the graces and gifts of the young English wooer:
His father's fair fame; the boy's deference to her;
His love for Constance,--unaffected, sincere;
And the girl's love for him, read by her in those clear
Limpid eyes; then the pleasure with which she awaited
Her cousin's approval of all she had stated.
At length from that cousin an answer there came,
Brief, stern; such as stunn'd and astonish'd the dame.
"Let Constance leave Paris with you on the day
You receive this. Until my return she may stay
At her convent awhile. If my niece wishes ever
To behold me again, understand, she will never
Wed that man.
"You have broken faith with me. Farewell!"
No appeal from that sentence.
It needs not to tell
The tears of Constance, nor the grief of her lover:
The dream they had laid out their lives in was over.
Bravely strove the young soldier to look in the face
Of a life where invisible hands seemed to trace
O'er the threshold these words . . . "Hope no more!"
Had his love been, the strong manful heart would have spurn'd
That weakness which suffers a woman to lie
At the roots of man's life, like a canker, and dry
And wither the sap of life's purpose. But there
Lay the bitterer part of the pain! Could he dare
To forget he was loved? that he grieved not alone?
Recording a love that drew sorrow upon
The woman he loved, for himself dare he seek
Surcease to that sorrow, which thus held him weak,
Beat him down, and destroy'd him?
News reach'd him indeed,
Through a comrade, who brought him a letter to read
From the dame who had care of Constance (it was one
To whom, when at Paris, the boy had been known,
A Frenchman, and friend of the Faubourg), which said
That Constance, although never a murmur betray'd
What she suffer'd, in silence grew paler each day,
And seem'd visibly drooping and dying away.
It was then he sought death.
Thus the tale ends. 'Twas told
With such broken, passionate words, as unfold
In glimpses alone, a coil'd grief. Through each pause
Of its fitful recital, in raw gusty flaws,
The rain shook the canvas, unheeded; aloof,
And unheeded, the night-wind around the tent-roof
At intervals wirbled. And when all was said,
The sick man, exhausted, droop'd backward his head,
And fell into a feverish slumber.
Sat the Soeur Seraphine, in deep thought. The still smile
That was wont, angel-wise, to inhabit her face
And made it like heaven, was fled from its place
In her eyes, on her lips; and a deep sadness there
Seem'd to darken the lines of long sorrow and care,
As low to herself she sigh'd . . .
"Hath it, Eugene,
Been so long, then, the struggle? . . . and yet, all in vain!
Nay, not all in vain! shall the world gain a man,
And yet Heaven lose a soul? Have I done all I can?
Soul to soul, did he say? Soul to soul, be it so!
And then--soul of mine, whither? whither?"
Silent tears in those deep eyes ascended, and fell.
"HERE, at least, I have fail'd not" . . . she mused . . . "this is well!"
She drew from her bosom two letters.
A mother's heart, wild with alarm for her son,
Breathed bitterly forth its despairing appeal.
"The pledge of a love owed to thee, O Lucile!
The hope of a home saved by thee--of a heart
Which hath never since then (thrice endear'd as thou art!)
Ceased to bless thee, to pray for thee, save! save my son!
And if not" . . . the letter went brokenly on,
"Heaven help us!"
Then follow'd, from Alfred, a few
Blotted heart-broken pages. He mournfully drew,
With pathos, the picture of that earnest youth,
So unlike his own; how in beauty and truth
He had nurtured that nature, so simple and brave!
And how he had striven his son's youth to save
From the errors so sadly redeem'd in his own,
And so deeply repented: how thus, in that son,
In whose youth he had garner'd his age, he had seem'd
To be bless'd by a pledge that the past was redeem'd,
And forgiven. He bitterly went on to speak
Of the boy's baffled love; in which fate seem'd to break
Unawares on his dreams with retributive pain,
And the ghosts of the past rose to scourge back again
The hopes of the future. To sue for consent
Pride forbade: and the hope his old foe might relent
Experience rejected . . . "My life for the boy's!"
(He exclaim'd); "for I die with my son, if he dies!
Lucile! Heaven bless you for all you have done!
Save him, save him, Lucile! save my son! save my son!"
"Ay!" murmur'd the Soeur Seraphine . . . "heart to heart!
THERE, at least, I have fail'd not! Fulfill'd is my part?
Accomplish'd my mission? One act crowns the whole.
Do I linger? Nay, be it so, then! . . . Soul to soul!"
She knelt down, and pray'd. Still the boy slumber'd on,
Dawn broke. The pale nun from the bedside was gone.
Meanwhile, 'mid his aides-de-camp, busily bent
O'er the daily reports, in his well-order'd tent
There sits a French General--bronzed by the sun
And sear'd by the sands of Algeria. One
Who forth from the wars of the wild Kabylee
Had strangely and rapidly risen to be
The idol, the darling, the dream and the star
Of the younger French chivalry: daring in war,
And wary in council. He enter'd, indeed,
Late in life (and discarding his Bourbonite creed)
The Army of France: and had risen, in part
From a singular aptitude proved for the art
Of that wild desert warfare of ambush, surprise,
And stratagem, which to the French camp supplies
Its subtlest intelligence; partly from chance;
Partly, too, from a name and position which France
Was proud to put forward; but mainly, in fact,
From the prudence to plan, and the daring to act,
In frequent emergencies startlingly shown,
To the rank which he now held,--intrepidly won
With many a wound, trench'd in many a scar,
From fierce Milianah and Sidi-Sakhdar.
All within, and without, that warm tent seems to bear
Smiling token of provident order and care.
All about, a well-fed, well-clad soldiery stands
In groups round the music of mirth-breathing bands.
In and out of the tent, all day long, to and fro,
The messengers come and the messengers go,
Upon missions of mercy, or errands of toil:
To report how the sapper contends with the soil
In the terrible trench, how the sick man is faring
In the hospital tent: and, combining, comparing,
Constructing, within moves the brain of one man,
He is bending his brow o'er some plan
For the hospital service, wise, skilful, humane.
The officer standing behind him is fain
To refer to the angel solicitous cares
Of the Sisters of Charity: one he declares
To be known through the camp as a seraph of grace;
He has seen, all have seen her indeed, in each place
Where suffering is seen, silent, active--the Soeur . . .
Soeur . . . how do they call her?
"Ay, truly, of her
I have heard much," the General, musing, replies;
"And we owe her already (unless rumor lies)
The lives of not few of our bravest. You mean
Ah, how do they call her? . . . the Soeur--Seraphine
(Is it not so?). I rarely forget names once heard."
"Yes; the Soeur Seraphine. Her I meant."
"On my word,
I have much wish'd to see her. I fancy I trace,
In some facts traced to her, something more than the grace
Of an angel; I mean an acute human mind,
Ingenious, constructive, intelligent. Find,
And if possible, let her come to me. We shall,
I think, aid each other."
"Oui, mon General:
I believe she has lately obtained the permission
To tend some sick man in the Second Division
Of our Ally; they say a relation."
"'Tis said so."
"The name do you know?"
Non, mon General."
While they spoke yet, there went
A murmur and stir round the door of the tent.
"A Sister of Charity craves, in a case
Of urgent and serious importance, the grace
Of brief private speech with the General there.
Will the General speak with her?"
"Bid her declare
"She will not. She craves to be seen
And be heard."
"Well, her name, then?"
"The Soeur Seraphine."
"Clear the tent. She may enter."
The tent has been clear'd,
The chieftain stroked moodily somewhat his beard,
A sable long silver'd: and press'd down his brow
On his hand, heavy vein'd. All his countenance, now
Unwitness'd, at once fell dejected, and dreary,
As a curtain let fall by a hand that's grown weary,
Into puckers and folds. From his lips, unrepress'd,
Steals th' impatient sigh which reveals in man's breast
A conflict conceal'd, and experience at strife
With itself,--the vex'd heart's passing protest on life.
He turn'd to his papers. He heard the light tread
Of a faint foot behind him: and, lifting his head,
Said, "Sit, Holy Sister! your worth is well known
To the hearts of our soldiers; nor less to my own.
I have much wish'd to see you. I owe you some thanks;
In the name of all those you have saved to our ranks
I record them. Sit! Now then, your mission?"
Paused silent. The General eyed her anon
More keenly. His aspect grew troubled. A change
Darken'd over his features. He mutter'd "Strange! strange!
Any face should so strongly remind me of HER!
Fool! again the delirium, the dream! does it stir?
Does it move as of old? Psha!
"Sit, Sister! I wait
Your answer, my time halts but hurriedly. State
The cause why you seek me."
"The cause? ay, the cause!"
She vaguely repeated. Then, after a pause,--
As one who, awaked unawares, would put back
The sleep that forever returns in the track
Of dreams which, though scared and dispersed, not the less
Settle back to faint eyelids that yield 'neath their stress,
Like doves to a pent-house,--a movement she made,
Less toward him than away from herself; droop'd her head
And folded her hands on her bosom: long, spare,
Fatigued, mournful hands! Not a stream of stray hair
Escaped the pale bands; scarce more pale than the face
Which they bound and lock'd up in a rigid white case.
She fix'd her eyes on him. There crept a vague awe
O'er his sense, such as ghosts cast.
"Eugene de Luvois,
The cause which recalls me again to your side,
Is a promise that rests unfulfill'd," she replied.
"I come to fulfil it."
He sprang from the place
Where he sat, press'd his hand, as in doubt, o'er his face;
And, cautiously feeling each step o'er the ground
That he trod on (as one who walks fearing the sound
Of his footstep may startle and scare out of sight
Some strange sleeping creature on which he would 'light
Unawares), crept towards her; one heavy hand laid
On her shoulder in silence; bent o'er her his head,
Search'd her face with a long look of troubled appeal
Against doubt: stagger'd backward, and murmur'd . . . "Lucile?
Thus we meet then? . . . here! . . . thus?"
"Soul to soul, ay,
As I pledged you my word that we should meet again.
Dead, . . ." she murmur'd, "long dead! all that lived in our lives--
Thine and mine--saving that which ev'n life's self survives,
The soul! 'Tis my soul seeks thine own. What may reach
From my life to thy life (so wide each from each!)
Save the soul to the soul? To thy soul I would speak.
May I do so?"
He said (work'd and white was his cheek
As he raised it), "Speak to me!"
Deep, tender, serene,
And sad was the gaze which the Soeur Seraphine
Held on him. She spoke.
As some minstrel may fling,
Preluding the music yet mute in each string,
A swift hand athwart the hush'd heart of the whole,
Seeking which note most fitly must first move the soul;
And, leaving untroubled the deep chords below,
Move pathetic in numbers remote;--even so
The voice which was moving the heart of that man
Far away from its yet voiceless purpose began,
Far away in the pathos remote of the past;
Until, through her words, rose before him, at last,
Bright and dark in their beauty, the hopes that were gone
Unaccomplish'd from life.
He was mute.
She went on
And still further down the dim past did she lead
Each yielding remembrance, far, far off, to feed
'Mid the pastures of youth, in the twilight of hope,
And the valleys of boyhood, the fresh-flower'd slope
Of life's dawning land!
'Tis the heart of a boy,
With its indistinct, passionate prescience of joy!
The unproved desire--the unaim'd aspiration--
The deep conscious life that forestalls consummation
With ever a flitting delight--one arm's length
In advance of the august inward impulse.
Of the spirit which troubles the seed in the sand
With the birth of the palm-tree! Let ages expand
The glorious creature! The ages lie shut
(Safe, see!) in the seed, at time's signal to put
Forth their beauty and power, leaf by leaf, layer on layer,
Till the palm strikes the sun, and stands broad in blue air.
So the palm in the palm-seed! so, slowly--so, wrought
Year by year unperceived, hope on hope, thought by thought,
Trace the growth of the man from its germ in the boy.
Ah, but Nature, that nurtures, may also destroy!
Charm the wind and the sun, lest some chance intervene!
While the leaf's in the bud, while the stem's in the green,
A light bird bends the branch, a light breeze breaks the bough,
Which, if spared by the light breeze, the light bird, may grow
To baffle the tempest, and rock the high nest,
And take both the bird and the breeze to its breast.
Shall we save a whole forest in sparing one seed?
Save the man in the boy? in the thought save the deed?
Let the whirlwind uproot the grown tree, if it can!
Save the seed from the north wind. So let the grown man
Face our fate. Spare the man-seed in youth.
He was dumb.
She went one step further.
Lo! manhood is come.
And love, the wild song-bird, hath flown to the tree.
And the whirlwind comes after. Now prove we, and see:
What shade from the leaf? what support from the branch?
Spreads the leaf broad and fair? holds the bough strong and staunch?
There, he saw himself--dark, as he stood on that night,
The last when they met and they parted: a sight
For heaven to mourn o'er, for hell to rejoice!
An ineffable tenderness troubled her voice;
It grew weak, and a sigh broke it through.
Then he said
(Never looking at her, never lifting his head,
As though, at his feet, there lay visibly hurl'd
Those fragments), "It was not a love, 'twas a world,
'Twas a life that lay ruin'd, Lucile!"
She went on.
"So be it! Perish Babel, arise Babylon!
From ruins like these rise the fanes that shall last,
And to build up the future heaven shatters the past."
"Ay," he moodily murmur'd, "and who cares to scan
The heart's perish'd world, if the world gains a man?
From the past to the present, though late, I appeal;
To the nun Seraphine, from the woman Lucile!"
Lucile! . . . the old name--the old self! silenced long:
Heard once more! felt once more!
As some soul to the throng
Of invisible spirits admitted, baptized
By death to a new name and nature--surprised
'Mid the songs of the seraphs, hears faintly, and far,
Some voice from the earth, left below a dim star,
Calling to her forlornly; and (sadd'ning the psalms
Of the angels, and piercing the Paradise palms!)
The name borne 'mid earthly beloveds on earth
Sigh'd above some lone grave in the land of her birth;--
So that one word . . . Lucile! . . . stirr'd the Soeur Seraphine,
For a moment. Anon she resumed here serene
And concentrated calm.
"Let the Nun, then, retrace
The life of the soldier!" . . . she said, with a face
That glow'd, gladdening her words.
"To the present I come:
Leave the Past!"
There her voice rose, and seem'd as when some
Pale Priestess proclaims from her temple the praise
Of her hero whose brows she is crowning with bays.
Step by step did she follow his path from the place
Where their two paths diverged. Year by year did she trace
(Familiar with all) his, the soldier's existence.
Her words were of trial, endurance, resistance;
Of the leaguer around this besieged world of ours:
And the same sentinels that ascend the same towers
And report the same foes, the same fears, the same strife,
Waged alike to the limits of each human life.
She went on to speak of the lone moody lord,
Shut up in his lone moody halls: every word
Held the weight of a tear: she recorded the good
He had patiently wrought through a whole neighborhood;
And the blessing that lived on the lips of the poor,
By the peasant's hearthstone, or the cottager's door.
There she paused: and her accents seem'd dipp'd in the hue
Of his own sombre heart, as the picture she drew
Of the poor, proud, sad spirit, rejecting love's wages,
Yet working love's work; reading backwards life's pages
For penance; and stubbornly, many a time,
Both missing the moral, and marring the rhyme.
Then she spoke of the soldier! . . . the man's work and fame,
The pride of a nation, a world's just acclaim!
Life's inward approval!
Her voice reach'd his heart,
And sank lower. She spoke of herself: how, apart
And unseen,--far away,--she had watch'd, year by year,
With how many a blessing, how many a tear,
And how many a prayer, every stage in the strife:
Guess'd the thought in the deed: traced the love in the life:
Bless'd the man in the man's work!
"THY work . . . oh, not mine!
Thine, Lucile!" . . . he exclaim'd . . . "all the worth of it thine,
If worth there be in it!"
Her answer convey'd
His reward, and her own: joy that cannot be said
Alone by the voice . . . eyes--face--spoke silently:
All the woman, one grateful emotion!
A poor Sister of Charity! hers a life spent
In one silent effort for others! . . .
Her divine face above him, and fill'd up his heart
With the look that glow'd from it.
Then slow, with soft art,
Fix'd her aim, and moved to it.
He, the soldier humane,
He, the hero; whose heart hid in glory the pain
Of a youth disappointed; whose life had made known
The value of man's life! . . . that youth overthrown
And retrieved, had it left him no pity for youth
In another? his own life of strenuous truth
Accomplish'd in act, had it taught him no care
For the life of another? . . . oh no! everywhere
In the camp which she moved through, she came face to face
With some noble token, some generous trace
Of his active humanity . . .
"Well," he replied,
"If it be so?"
"I come from the solemn bedside
Of a man that is dying," she said. "While we speak,
A life is in jeopardy."
"Quick then! you seek
Aid or medicine, or what?"
"'Tis not needed," she said.
"Medicine? yes, for the mind! 'Tis a heart that needs aid!
You, Eugene de Luvois, you (and you only) can
Save the life of this man. Will you save it?"
How? . . . where? . . . can you ask?"
She went rapidly on
To her object in brief vivid words . . . The young son
Of Matilda and Alfred--the boy lying there
Half a mile from that tent door--the father's despair,
The mother's deep anguish--the pride of the boy
In the father--the father's one hope and one joy
In the son:---the son now--wounded, dying! She told
Of the father's stern struggle with life: the boy's bold,
Pure, and beautiful nature: the fair life before him
If that life were but spared . . . yet a word might restore him!
The boy's broken love for the niece of Eugene!
Its pathos: the girl's love for him; how, half slain
In his tent, she had found him: won from him the tale;
Sought to nurse back his life; found her efforts still fail
Beaten back by a love that was stronger than life;
Of how bravely till then he had stood in that strife
Wherein England and France in their best blood, at last,
Had bathed from remembrance the wounds of the past.
And shall nations be nobler than men? Are not great
Men the models of nations? For what is a state
But the many's confused imitation of one?
Shall he, the fair hero of France, on the son
Of his ally seek vengeance, destroying perchance
An innocent life,--here, when England and France
Have forgiven the sins of their fathers of yore,
And baptized a new hope in their sons' recent gore?
She went on to tell how the boy had clung still
To life, for the sake of life's uses, until
From his weak hands the strong effort dropp'd, stricken down
By the news that the heart of Constance, like his own,
Was breaking beneath . . .
But there "Hold!" he exclaim'd,
Interrupting, "Forbear!" . . . his whole face was inflamed
With the heart's swarthy thunder which yet, while she spoke,
Had been gathering silent--at last the storm broke
In grief or in wrath . . .
"'Tis to him, then," he cried, . . .
Checking suddenly short the tumultuous stride,
"That I owe these late greetings--for him you are here--
For his sake you seek me--for him, it is clear,
You have deign'd at the last to bethink you again
Of this long-forgotten existence!"
"Ha! fool that I was!" . . . he went on, . . . "and just now,
While you spoke yet, my heart was beginning to grow
Almost boyish again, almost sure of ONE friend!
Yet this was the meaning of all--this the end!
Be it so! There's a sort of slow justice (admit!)
In this--that the word that man's finger hath writ
In fire on my heart, I return him at last.
Let him learn that word--Never!"
"Ah, still to the past
Must the present be vassal?" she said. "In the hour
We last parted I urged you to put forth the power
Which I felt to be yours, in the conquest of life.
Yours, the promise to strive: mine--to watch o'er the strife.
I foresaw you would conquer; you HAVE conquer'd much,
Much, indeed, that is noble! I hail it as such,
And am here to record and applaud it. I saw
Not the less in your nature, Eugene de Luvois,
One peril--one point where I feared you would fail
To subdue that worst foe which a man can assail,--
Himself: and I promised that, if I should see
My champion once falter, or bend the brave knee,
That moment would bring me again to his side.
That moment is come! for that peril was pride,
And you falter. I plead for yourself, and another,
For that gentle child without father or mother,
To whom you are both. I plead, soldier of France,
For your own nobler nature--and plead for Constance!"
At the sound of that name he averted his head.
"Constance! . . . Ay, she enter'd MY lone life" (he said)
"When its sun was long set; and hung over its night
Her own starry childhood. I have but that light,
In the midst of much darkness! Who names me but she
With titles of love? And what rests there for me
In the silence of age save the voice of that child?
The child of my own better life, undefiled!
My creature, carved out of my heart of hearts!"
Said the Soeur Seraphine--"are you able to lay
Your hand as a knight on your heart as a man
And swear that, whatever may happen, you can
Feel assured for the life you thus cherish?"
He look'd up. "if the boy should die thus?"
"Yes, I know
What your look would imply . . . this sleek stranger forsooth!
Because on his cheek was the red rose of youth
The heart of my niece must break for it!"
"Nay, but hear me yet further!"
With slow heavy stride,
Unheeding her words, he was pacing the tent,
He was muttering low to himself as he went.
Ay, these young things lie safe in our heart just so long
As their wings are in growing; and when these are strong
They break it, and farewell! the bird flies!" . . .
Laid her hand on the soldier, and murmur'd, "The sun
Is descending, life fleets while we talk thus! oh, yet
Let this day upon one final victory set,
And complete a life's conquest!"
He said, "Understand!
If Constance wed the son of this man, by whose hand
My heart hath been robb'd, she is lost to my life!
Can her home be my home? Can I claim in the wife
Of that man's son the child of my age? At her side
Shall he stand on my hearth? Shall I sue to the bride
Of . . . enough!
"Ah, and you immemorial halls
Of my Norman forefathers, whose shadow yet falls
On my fancy, and fuses hope, memory, past,
Present,--all, in one silence! old trees to the blast
Of the North Sea repeating the tale of old days,
Nevermore, nevermore in the wild bosky ways
Shall I hear through your umbrage ancestral the wind
Prophesy as of yore, when it shook the deep mind
Of my boyhood, with whispers from out the far years
Of love, fame, the raptures life cools down with tears!
Henceforth shall the tread of a Vargrave alone
Rouse your echoes?"
"O think not," she said, "of the son
Of the man whom unjustly you hate; only think
Of this young human creature, that cries from the brink
Of a grave to your mercy!
"Recall your own words
(Words my memory mournfully ever records!)
How with love may be wreck'd a whole life! then, Eugene,
Look with me (still those words in our ears!) once again
At this young soldier sinking from life here--dragg'd down
By the weight of the love in his heart: no renown,
No fame comforts HIM! nations shout not above
The lone grave down to which he is bearing the love
Which life has rejected! Will YOU stand apart?
You, with such a love's memory deep in your heart!
You the hero, whose life hath perchance been led on
Through the deeds it hath wrought to the fame it hath won,
By recalling the visions and dreams of a youth,
Such as lies at your door now: who have but, in truth,
To stretch forth a hand, to speak only one word,
And by that word you rescue a life!"
He was stirr'd.
Still he sought to put from him the cup, bow'd his face
on his hand; and anon, as though wishing to chase
With one angry gesture his own thoughts aside,
He sprang up, brush'd past her, and bitterly cried,
"No!--Constance wed a Vargrave!"--I cannot consent!"
Then up rose the Soeur Seraphine.
The low tent
In her sudden uprising, seem'd dwarf'd by the height
From which those imperial eyes pour'd the light
Of their deep silent sadness upon him.
He felt, as it were, his own stature shrink under
The compulsion of that grave regard! For between
The Duc de Luvois and the Soeur Seraphine
At that moment there rose all the height of one soul
O'er another; she look'd down on him from the whole
Lonely length of a life. There were sad nights and days,
There were long months and years in that heart-searching gaze;
And her voice, when she spoke, with sharp pathos thrill'd through
And transfix'd him.
"Eugene de Luvois, but for you,
I might have been now--not this wandering nun,
But a mother, a wife--pleading, not for the son
Of another, but blessing some child of my own,
His,--the man's that I once loved! . . . Hush! that which is done
I regret not. I breathe no reproaches. That's best
Which God sends. 'Twas his will: it is mine. And the rest
Of that riddle I will not look back to. He reads
In your heart--He that judges of all thoughts and deeds.
With eyes, mine forestall not! This only I say:
You have not the right (read it, you, as you may!)
To say . . . 'I am the wrong'd."' . . .
"Have I wrong'd thee?--wrong'd THEE!"
He falter'd, "Lucile, ah, Lucile!"
"Nay, not me,"
She murmur'd, "but man! The lone nun standing here
Has no claim upon earth, and is pass'd from the sphere
Of earth's wrongs and earth's reparations. But she,
The dead woman, Lucile, she whose grave is in me,
Demands from her grave reparation to man,
Reparation to God. Heed, O heed, while you can,
This voice from the grave!"
"Hush!" he moan'd, "I obey
The Soeur Seraphine. There, Lucile! let this pay
Every debt that is due to that grave. Now lead on:
I follow you, Soeur Seraphine! . . . To the son
Of Lord Alfred Vargrave . . . and then," . . .
As he spoke
He lifted the tent-door, and down the dun smoke
Pointed out the dark bastions, with batteries crown'd,
Of the city beneath them . . .
"Then, THERE, underground,
And valete et plaudite, soon as may be!
Let the old tree go down to the earth--the old tree
With the worm at its heart! Lay the axe to the root!
Who will miss the old stump, so we save the young shoot?
A Vargrave! . . . this pays all . . . Lead on! In the seed
Save the forest! . . .
I follow . . . forth, forth! where you lead."
The day was declining; a day sick and damp.
In a blank ghostly glare shone the bleak ghostly camp
Of the English. Alone in his dim, spectral tent
(Himself the wan spectre of youth), with eyes bent
On the daylight departing, the sick man was sitting
Upon his low pallet. These thoughts, vaguely flitting,
Cross'd the silence between him and death, which seem'd near,
--"Pain o'erreaches itself, so is balk'd! else, how bear
This intense and intolerable solitude,
With its eye on my heart and its hand on my blood?
Pulse by pulse! Day goes down: yet she comes not again.
Other suffering, doubtless, where hope is more plain,
Claims her elsewhere. I die, strange! and scarcely feel sad.
Oh, to think of Constance THUS, and not to go mad!
But Death, it would seem, dulls the sense to his own
Dull doings . . ."
Between those sick eyes and the sun
A shadow fell thwart.
'Tis the pale nun once more!
But who stands at her side, mute and dark in the door?
How oft had he watch'd through the glory and gloom
Of the battle, with long, longing looks, that dim plume
Which now (one stray sunbeam upon it) shook, stoop'd
To where the tent-curtain, dividing, was loop'd!
How that stern face had haunted and hover'd about
The dreams it still scared! through what fond fear and doubt
Had the boy yearn'd in heart to the hero. (What's like
A boy's love for some famous man?) . . . Oh, to strike
A wild path through the battle, down striking perchance
Some rash foeman too near the great soldier of France,
And so fall in his glorious regard! . . . Oft, how oft,
Had his heart flash'd this hope out, whilst watching aloft
The dim battle that plume dance and dart--never seen
So near till this moment! how eager to glean
Every stray word, dropp'd through the camp-babble in praise
Of his hero--each tale of old venturous days
In the desert! And now . . . could he speak out his heart
Face to face with that man ere he died!
With a start
The sick soldier sprang up: the blood sprang up in him,
To his throat, and o'erthrew him: he reel'd back: a dim
Sanguine haze fill'd his eyes; in his ears rose the din
And rush, as of cataracts loosen'd within,
Through which he saw faintly, and heard, the pale nun
(Looking larger than life, where she stood in the sun)
Point to him and murmur, "Behold!" Then that plume
Seem'd to wave like a fire, and fade off in the gloom
Which momently put out the world.
To his side
Moved the man the boy dreaded yet loved . . . "Ah!" . . . he sigh'd,
"The smooth brow, the fair Vargrave face! and those eyes,
All the mother's! The old things again!
"Do not rise.
You suffer, young man?"
Sir, I die.
Not so young!
So young? yes! and yet I have tangled among
The fray'd warp and woof of this brief life of mine
Other lives than my own. Could my death but untwine
The vext skein . . . but it will not. Yes, Duke, young--so young!
And I knew you not? yet I have done you a wrong
Irreparable! . . . late, too late to repair.
If I knew any means . . . but I know none! . . . I swear,
If this broken fraction of time could extend
Into infinite lives of atonement, no end
Would seem too remote for my grief (could that be!)
To include it! Not too late, however, for me
To entreat: is it too late for you to forgive?
You wrong--my forgiveness--explain.
Could I live!
Such a very few hours left to life, yet I shrink,
I falter . . . Yes, Duke, your forgiveness I think
Should free my soul hence.
Ah! you could not surmise
That a boy's beating heart, burning thoughts, longing eyes
Were following you evermore (heeded not!)
While the battle was flowing between us: nor what
Eager, dubious footsteps at nightfall oft went
With the wind and the rain, round and round your blind tent,
Persistent and wild as the wind and the rain,
Unnoticed as these, weak as these, and as vain!
Oh, how obdurate then look'd your tent! The waste air
Grew stern at the gleam which said . . . "Off! he is there!"
I know not what merciful mystery now
Brings you here, whence the man whom you see lying low
Other footsteps (not those!) must soon bear to the grave.
But death is at hand, and the few words I have
Yet to speak, I must speak them at once.
Duke, I swear,
As I lie here, (Death's angel too close not to hear!)
That I meant not this wrong to you. Duc de Luvois,
I loved your niece--loved? why, I LOVE her! I saw,
And, seeing, how could I but love her? I seem'd
Born to love her. Alas, were that all! Had I dream'd
Of this love's cruel consequence as it rests now
Ever fearfully present before me, I vow
That the secret, unknown, had gone down to the tomb
Into which I descend . . . Oh why, whilst there was room
In life left for warning, had no one the heart
To warn me? Had any one whisper'd . . . "Depart!"
To the hope the whole world seem'd in league then to nurse!
Had any one hinted . . . "Beware of the curse
Which is coming!" There was not a voice raised to tell,
Not a hand moved to warn from the blow ere it fell,
And then . . . then the blow fell on BOTH! This is why
I implore you to pardon that great injury
Wrought on her, and, through her, wrought on you, Heaven knows
Ah! . . . and, young soldier, suppose
That I came here to seek, not grant, pardon?--
Duke, I bear in my heart to the tomb
No boyish resentment; not one lonely thought
That honors you not. In all this there is naught
'Tis for me to forgive.
Every glorious act
Of your great life starts forward, an eloquent fact,
To confirm in my boy's heart its faith in your own.
And have I not hoarded, to ponder upon,
A hundred great acts from your life? Nay, all these,
Were they so many lying and false witnesses,
Does there rest not ONE voice which was never untrue?
I believe in Constance, Duke, as she does in you!
In this great world around us, wherever we turn,
Some grief irremediable we discern;
And yet--there sits God, calm in Heaven above!
Do we trust one whit less in his justice or love?
I judge not.
Enough! Hear at last, then, the truth
Your father and I--foes we were in our youth.
It matters not why. Yet thus much understand:
The hope of my youth was sign'd out by his hand.
I was not of those whom the buffets of fate
Tame and teach; and my heart buried slain love in hate.
If your own frank young heart, yet unconscious of all
Which turns the heart's blood in its springtide to gall,
And unable to guess even aught that the furrow
Across these gray brows hides of sin or of sorrow,
Comprehends not the evil and grief of my life,
'Twill at least comprehend how intense was the strife
Which is closed in this act of atonement, whereby
I seek in the son of my youth's enemy
The friend of my age. Let the present release
Here acquitted the past! In the name of my niece,
Whom for my life in yours as a hostage I give,
Are you great enough, boy, to forgive me,--and live?
Back to Full Books