Part 1 out of 6
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Owen Meredith
"Why, let the stricken deer go weep.
The hart ungalled play:
For some must watch, while some must sleep;
Thus runs the world away."
TO MY FATHER.
I dedicate to you a work, which is submitted to the public with a
diffidence and hesitation proportioned to the novelty of the effort
it represents. For in this poem I have abandoned those forms of
verse with which I had most familiarized my thoughts, and have
endeavored to follow a path on which I could discover no footprints
before me, either to guide or to warn.
There is a moment of profound discouragement which succeeds to
prolonged effort; when, the labor which has become a habit having
ceased, we miss the sustaining sense of its companionship, and
stand, with a feeling of strangeness and embarrassment, before the
abrupt and naked result. As regards myself, in the present
instance, the force of all such sensations is increased by the
circumstances to which I have referred. And in this moment of
discouragement and doubt, my heart instinctively turns to you, from
whom it has so often sought, from whom it has never failed to
I do not inscribe to you this book because it contains anything
that is worthy of the beloved and honored name with which I thus
seek to associate it; nor yet because I would avail myself of a
vulgar pretext to display in public an affection that is best
honored by the silence which it renders sacred.
Feelings only such as those with which, in days when there existed
for me no critic less gentle than yourself, I brought to you my
childish manuscripts; feelings only such as those which have, in
later years, associated with your heart all that has moved or
occupied my own,--lead me once more to seek assurance from the
grasp of that hand which has hitherto been my guide and comfort
through the life I owe to you.
And as in childhood, when existence had no toil beyond the day's
simple lesson, no ambition beyond the neighboring approval of the
night, I brought to you the morning's task for the evening's
sanction, so now I bring to you this self-appointed taskwork of
maturer years; less confident indeed of your approval, but not less
confident of your love; and anxious only to realize your presence
between myself and the public, and to mingle with those severer
voices to whose final sentence I submit my work the beloved and
gracious accents of your own.
LETTER FROM THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO LORD ALFRED VARGRAVE.
"I hear from Bigorre you are there. I am told
You are going to marry Miss Darcy. Of old,
So long since you may have forgotten it now
(When we parted as friends, soon mere strangers to grow),
Your last words recorded a pledge--what you will--
A promise--the time is now come to fulfil.
The letters I ask you, my lord, to return,
I desire to receive from your hand. You discern
My reasons, which, therefore, I need not explain.
The distance to Luchon is short. I remain
A month in these mountains. Miss Darcy, perchance,
Will forego one brief page from the summer romance
Of her courtship, and spare you one day from your place
At her feet, in the light of her fair English face.
I desire nothing more, and trust you will feel
I desire nothing much.
"Your friend always,
Now in May Fair, of course,--in the fair month of May--
When life is abundant, and busy, and gay:
When the markets of London are noisy about
Young ladies, and strawberries,--"only just out;"
Fresh strawberries sold under all the house-eaves,
And young ladies on sale for the strawberry-leaves:
When cards, invitations, and three-cornered notes
Fly about like white butterflies--gay little motes
In the sunbeam of Fashion; and even Blue Books
Take a heavy-wing'd flight, and grow busy as rooks;
And the postman (that Genius, indifferent and stern,
Who shakes out even-handed to all, from his urn,
Those lots which so often decide if our day
Shall be fretful and anxious, or joyous and gay)
Brings, each morning, more letters of one sort or other
Than Cadmus, himself, put together, to bother
The heads of Hellenes;--I say, in the season
Of Fair May, in May Fair, there can be no reason
Why, when quietly munching your dry toast and butter,
Your nerves should be suddenly thrown in a flutter
At the sight of a neat little letter, address'd
In a woman's handwriting, containing, half guess'd,
An odor of violets faint as the Spring,
And coquettishly seal'd with a small signet-ring.
But in Autumn, the season of sombre reflection,
When a damp day, at breakfast, begins with dejection;
Far from London and Paris, and ill at one's ease,
Away in the heart of the blue Pyrenees,
Where a call from the doctor, a stroll to the bath,
A ride through the hills on a hack like a lath,
A cigar, a French novel, a tedious flirtation,
Are all a man finds for his day's occupation,
The whole case, believe me, is totally changed,
And a letter may alter the plans we arranged
Over-night, for the slaughter of time--a wild beast,
Which, though classified yet by no naturalist,
Abounds in these mountains, more hard to ensnare,
And more mischievous, too, than the Lynx or the Bear.
I marvel less, therefore, that, having already
Torn open this note, with a hand most unsteady,
Lord Alfred was startled.
The month is September;
Time, morning; the scene at Bigorre; (pray remember
These facts, gentle reader, because I intend
To fling all the unities by at the end.)
He walk'd to the window. The morning was chill:
The brown woods were crisp'd in the cold on the hill:
The sole thing abroad in the streets was the wind:
And the straws on the gust, like the thoughts in his mind,
Rose, and eddied around and around, as tho' teasing
Each other. The prospect, in truth, was unpleasing:
And Lord Alfred, whilst moodily gazing around it,
To himself more than once (vex'd in soul) sigh'd
. . . . . "Confound it!"
What the thoughts were which led to this bad interjection,
Sir, or madam, I leave to your future detection;
For whatever they were, they were burst in upon,
As the door was burst through, by my lord's Cousin John.
A fool, Alfred, a fool, a most motley fool!
The man who has anything better to do;
And yet so far forgets himself, so far degrades
His position as Man, to this worst of all trades,
Which even a well-brought-up ape were above,
To travel about with a woman in love,--
Unless she's in love with himself.
Are you here then, dear Jack?
Can't you guess it?
Because I HAVE nothing that's better to do.
I had rather be bored, my dear Alfred, by you,
On the whole (I must own), than be bored by myself.
That perverse, imperturbable, golden-hair'd elf--
Your Will-o'-the-wisp--that has led you and me
Such a dance through these hills--
Of course! who but she could contrive so to keep
One's eyes, and one's feet too, from falling asleep
For even one half-hour of the long twenty-four?
What's the matter?
Why, she is--a matter, the more
I consider about it, the more it demands
An attention it does not deserve; and expands
Beyond the dimensions which ev'n crinoline,
When possess'd by a fair face, and saucy Eighteen,
Is entitled to take in this very small star,
Already too crowded, as I think, by far.
You read Malthus and Sadler?
To what use,
When you countenance, calmly, such monstrous abuse
Of one mere human creature's legitimate space
In this world? Mars, Apollo, Virorum! the case
Wholly passes my patience.
My own is worse tried.
Read this, if you doubt, and decide,
JOHN (reading the letter).
"I hear from Bigorre you are there. I am told
You are going to marry Miss Darcy. Of old--"
What is this?
Read it on to the end, and you'll know.
JOHN (continues reading).
"When we parted, your last words recorded a vow--
What you will" . . .
Hang it! this smells all over, I swear,
Of adventurers and violets. Was it your hair
You promised a lock of?
Read on. You'll discern.
"Those letters I ask you, my lord, to return." . . .
Humph! . . . Letters! . . . the matter is worse than I guess'd;
I have my misgivings--
Well, read out the rest,
Eh? . . . Where was I?
"Miss Darcy, perchance,
Will forego one brief page from the summer romance
Of her courtship." . . .
Egad! a romance, for my part,
I'd forego every page of, and not break my heart!
"And spare you one day from your place
At her feet." . . .
Pray forgive me the passing grimace.
I wish you had MY place!
"I trust you will feel
I desire nothing much. Your friend," . . .
Bless me! "Lucile?"
The Countess de Nevers?
What will you do?
You ask me just what I would rather ask you.
You can't go.
You must manage!
Must I? I decline it, though, flat.
In an hour the horses will be at the door,
And Matilda is now in her habit. Before
I have finished my breakfast, of course I receive
A message for "dear Cousin John!" . . . I must leave
At the jeweller's the bracelet which YOU broke last night;
I must call for the music. "Dear Alfred is right:
The black shawl looks best: WILL I change it? Of course
I can just stop, in passing, to order the horse.
Then Beau has the mumps, or St. Hubert knows what;
WILL I see the dog-doctor?" Hang Beau! I will NOT.
Tush, tush! this is serious.
You must think--
What excuse will you make, tho'?
Mrs. Darcy that . . . lend me your wits, Jack! . . . The deuce!
Can you not stretch your genius to fit a friend's use?
Excuses are clothes which, when ask'd unawares,
Good Breeding to Naked Necessity spares,
You must have a whole wardrobe, no doubt.
My dear fellow,
Matilda is jealous, you know, as Othello.
I am serious. Why go to Luchon?
Don't ask me. I have not a choice, my dear John.
Besides, shall I own a strange sort of desire,
Before I extinguish forever the fire
Of youth and romance, in whose shadowy light
Hope whisper'd her first fairy tales, to excite
The last spark, till it rise, and fade far in that dawn
Of my days where the twilights of life were first drawn
By the rosy, reluctant auroras of Love;
In short, from the dead Past the gravestone to move;
Of the years long departed forever to take
One last look, one final farewell; to awake
The Heroic of youth from the Hades of joy,
And once more be, though but for an hour, Jack--a boy!
You had better go hang yourself.
No! were it but
To make sure that the Past from the Future is shut,
It were worth the step back. Do you think we should live
With the living so lightly, and learn to survive
That wild moment in which to the grave and its gloom
We consign'd our heart's best, if the doors of the tomb
Were not lock'd with a key which Fate keeps for our sake?
If the dead could return or the corpses awake?
Not wholly. The man who gets up
A fill'd guest from the banquet, and drains off his cup,
Sees the last lamp extinguish'd with cheerfulness, goes
Well contented to bed, and enjoys its repose.
But he who hath supp'd at the tables of kings,
And yet starved in the sight of luxurious things;
Who hath watch'd the wine flow, by himself but half tasted;
Heard the music, and yet miss'd the tune; who hath wasted
One part of life's grand possibilities:--friend,
That man will bear with him, be sure, to the end,
A blighted experience, a rancor within:
You may call it a virtue, I call it a sin.
I see you remember the cynical story
Of that wicked old piece Experience--a hoary
Lothario, whom dying, the priest by his bed
(Knowing well the unprincipled life he had led,
And observing, with no small amount of surprise,
Resignation and calm in the old sinner's eyes)
Ask'd if he had nothing that weigh'd on his mind:
"Well, . . . no," . . . says Lothario, "I think not. I find,
On reviewing my life, which in most things was pleasant,
I never neglected, when once it was present,
An occasion of pleasing myself. On the whole,
I have naught to regret;" . . . and so, smiling, his soul
Took its flight from this world.
Well, Regret or Remorse,
Which is best?
No; Remorse, Jack, of course:
For the one is related, be sure, to the other.
Regret is a spiteful old maid: but her brother,
Remorse, though a widower certainly, yet
HAS been wed to young Pleasure. Dear Jack, hang Regret!
Bref! you mean, then, to go?
Bref! I do.
One word . . . stay!
Are you really in love with Matilda?
What a question! Of course.
WERE you really in love
With Madame de Nevers?
What; Lucile? No, by Jove,
At least, so she was, some ten summers ago.
As soft, and as sallow as Autumn--with hair
Neither black, nor yet brown, but that tinge which the air
Takes at eve in September, when night lingers lone
Through a vineyard, from beams of a slow-setting sun.
Eyes--the wistful gazelle's; the fine foot of a fairy;
And a hand fit a fay's wand to wave,--white and airy;
A voice soft and sweet as a tune that one knows.
Something in her there was, set you thinking of those
Strange backgrounds of Raphael . . . that hectic and deep
Brief twilight in which southern suns fall asleep.
Not at all. 'Twas her one fault. Not she!
I had loved her the better, had she less loved me.
The heart of a man's like that delicate weed
Which requires to be trampled on, boldly indeed,
Ere it give forth the fragrance you wish to extract.
'Tis a simile, trust me, if not new, exact.
Women change so.
And, unless rumor errs,
I believe, that last year, the Comtesse de Nevers*
Was at Baden the rage--held an absolute court
Of devoted adorers, and really made sport
Of her subjects.
* O Shakespeare! how couldst thou ask "What's in a name?"
'Tis the devil's in it, when a bard has to frame
English rhymes for alliance with names that are French:
And in these rhymes of mine, well I know that I trench
All too far on that license which critics refuse,
With just right, to accord to a well-brought-up Muse.
Yet, tho' faulty the union, in many a line,
'Twixt my British-born verse and my French heroine,
Since, however auspiciously wedded they be,
There is many a pair that yet cannot agree,
Your forgiveness for this pair, the author invites,
Whom necessity, not inclination, unites.
When she broke off with you
Her engagement, her heart did not break with it?
Pray would you have had her dress always in black,
And shut herself up in a convent, dear Jack?
Besides, 'twas my fault the engagement was broken.
Most likely. How was it?
The tale is soon spoken.
She bored me. I show'd it. She saw it. What next?
She reproach'd. I retorted. Of course she was vex'd.
I was vex'd that she was so. She sulk'd. So did I.
If I ask'd her to sing, she look'd ready to cry.
I was contrite, submissive. She soften'd. I harden'd.
At noon I was banish'd. At eve I was pardon'd.
She said I had no heart. I said she had no reason.
I swore she talk'd nonsense. She sobb'd I talk'd treason.
In short, my dear fellow, 'twas time, as you see,
Things should come to a crisis, and finish. 'Twas she
By whom to that crisis the matter was brought.
She released me. I linger'd. I linger'd, she thought,
With too sullen an aspect. This gave me, of course,
The occasion to fly in a rage, mount my horse,
And declare myself uncomprehended. And so
We parted. The rest of the story you know.
Well, we parted. Of course we could not
Continue to meet, as before, in one spot.
You conceive it was awkward? Even Don Ferdinando
Can do, you remember, no more than he can do.
I think that I acted exceedingly well,
Considering the time when this rupture befell,
For Paris was charming just then. It deranged
All my plans for the winter. I ask'd to be changed--
Wrote for Naples, then vacant--obtain'd it--and so
Join'd my new post at once; but scarce reach'd it, when lo!
My first news from Paris informs me Lucile
Is ill, and in danger. Conceive what I feel.
I fly back. I find her recover'd, but yet
Looking pale. I am seized with a contrite regret;
I ask to renew the engagement.
Reflects, but declines. We part, swearing to be
Friends ever, friends only. All that sort of thing!
We each keep our letters . . . a portrait . . . a ring . . .
With a pledge to return them whenever the one
Or the other shall call for them back.
Pray go on.
My story is finish'd. Of course I enjoin
On Lucile all those thousand good maxims we coin
To supply the grim deficit found in our days,
When love leaves them bankrupt. I preach. She obeys.
She goes out in the world; takes to dancing once more--
A pleasure she rarely indulged in before.
I go back to my post, and collect (I must own
'Tis a taste I had never before, my dear John)
Antiques and small Elzevirs. Heigho! now, Jack,
You know all.
JOHN (after a pause).
You are really resolved to go. back?
To that worst of all places--the past.
You remember Lot's wife?
'Twas a promise when last
We parted. My honor is pledged to it.
What is it you wish me to do?
You must tell
Matilda, I meant to have call'd--to leave word--
To explain--but the time was so pressing--
Your lordship's obedient! I really can't do . . .
You wish then to break off my marriage?
But indeed I can't see why yourself you need take
Not see? would you have me, then, break
A promise my honor is pledged to?
And away! said the stranger" . . .
Oh, good! oh, you scoff!
At what, my dear Alfred?
At all things!
Yes; I see that your heart is as dry as a reed:
That the dew of your youth is rubb'd off you: I see
You have no feeling left in you, even for me!
At honor you jest; you are cold as a stone
To the warm voice of friendship. Belief you have none;
You have lost faith in all things. You carry a blight
About with you everywhere. Yes, at the sight
Of such callous indifference, who could be calm?
I must leave you at once, Jack, or else the last balm
That is left me in Gilead you'll turn into gall.
Heartless, cold, unconcern'd . . .
Have you done? Is that all?
Well, then, listen to me! I presume when you made
up your mind to propose to Miss Darcy, you weigh'd
All the drawbacks against the equivalent gains,
Ere you finally settled the point. What remains
But to stick to your choice? You want money: 'tis here.
A settled position: 'tis yours. A career:
You secure it. A wife, young, and pretty as rich,
Whom all men will envy you. Why must you itch
To be running away, on the eve of all this,
To a woman whom never for once did you miss
All these years since you left her? Who knows what may hap?
This letter--to ME--is a palpable trap.
The woman has changed since you knew her. Perchance
She yet seeks to renew her youth's broken romance.
When women begin to feel youth and their beauty
Slip from them, they count it a sort of a duty
To let nothing else slip away unsecured
Which these, while they lasted, might once have procured.
Lucile's a coquette to the end of her fingers,
I will stake my last farthing. Perhaps the wish lingers
To recall the once reckless, indifferent lover
To the feet he has left; let intrigue now recover
What truth could not keep. 'Twere a vengeance, no doubt--
A triumph;--but why must YOU bring it about?
You are risking the substance of all that you schemed
To obtain; and for what? some mad dream you have dream'd.
But there's nothing to risk. You exaggerate, Jack,
You mistake. In three days, at the most, I am back.
Ay, but how? . . . discontented, unsettled, upset,
Bearing with you a comfortless twinge of regret.
Preoccupied, sulky, and likely enough
To make your betroth'd break off all in a huff.
Three days, do you say? But in three days who knows
What may happen? I don't, nor do you, I suppose.
Of all the good things in this good world around us,
The one most abundantly furnish'd and found us,
And which, for that reason, we least care about,
And can best spare our friends, is good counsel, no doubt.
But advice, when 'tis sought from a friend (though civility
May forbid to avow it), means mere liability
In the bill we already have drawn on Remorse,
Which we deem that a true friend is bound to indorse.
A mere lecture on debt from that friend is a bore.
Thus, the better his cousin's advice was, the more
Alfred Vargrave with angry resentment opposed it.
And, having the worst of the contest, he closed it
With so firm a resolve his bad ground to maintain,
That, sadly perceiving resistance was vain,
And argument fruitless, the amiable Jack
Came to terms and assisted his cousin to pack
A slender valise (the one small condescension
Which his final remonstrance obtain'd), whose dimension
Excluded large outfits; and, cursing his stars, he
Shook hands with his friend and return'd to Miss Darcy.
Lord Alfred, when last to the window he turn'd,
Ere he lock'd up and quitted his chamber, discern'd
Matilda ride by, with her cheek beaming bright
In what Virgil has call'd, "Youth's purpureal light"
(I like the expression, and can't find a better).
He sigh'd as he look'd at her. Did he regret her?
In her habit and hat, with her glad golden hair,
As airy and blithe as a blithe bird in air,
And her arch rosy lips, and her eager blue eyes,
With her little impertinent look of surprise,
And her round youthful figure, and fair neck, below
The dark drooping feather, as radiant as snow,--
I can only declare, that if I had the chance
Of passing three days in the exquisite glance
Of those eyes, or caressing the hand that now petted
That fine English mare, I should much have regretted
Whatever might lose me one little half-hour
Of a pastime so pleasant, when once in my power.
For, if one drop of milk from the bright Milky Way
Could turn into a woman, 'twould look, I dare say,
Not more fresh than Matilda was looking that day.
But, whatever the feeling that prompted the sigh
With which Alfred Vargrave now watched her ride by,
I can only affirm that, in watching her ride,
As he turned from the window he certainly sigh'd.
LETTER FROM LORD ALFRED VARGRAVE TO THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS.
"Your note, Madam, reach'd me to-day, at Bigorre,
And commands (need I add?) my obedience. Before
The night I shall be at Luchon--where a line,
If sent to Duval's, the hotel where I dine,
Will find me, awaiting your orders. Receive
In an hour."
In an hour from the time he wrote this
Alfred Vargrave, in tracking a mountain abyss,
Gave the rein to his steed and his thoughts, and pursued,
In pursuing his course through the blue solitude,
The reflections that journey gave rise to.
(Because, without some such precaution, I fear
You might fail to distinguish, them each from the rest
Of the world they belong to; whose captives are drest,
As our convicts, precisely the same one and all,
While the coat cut for Peter is pass'd on to Paul)
I resolve, one by one, when I pick from the mass
The persons I want, as before you they pass,
To label them broadly in plain black and white
On the backs of them. Therefore whilst yet he's in sight,
I first label my hero.
The age is gone o'er
When a man may in all things be all. We have more
Painters, poets, musicians, and artists, no doubt,
Than the great Cinquecento gave birth to; but out
Of a million of mere dilettanti, when, when
Will a new LEONARDO arise on our ken?
He is gone with the age which begat him. Our own
Is too vast, and too complex, for one man alone
To embody its purpose, and hold it shut close
In the palm of his hand. There were giants in those
Irreclaimable days; but in these days of ours,
In dividing the work, we distribute the powers.
Yet a dwarf on a dead giant's shoulders sees more
Than the 'live giant's eyesight availed to explore;
And in life's lengthen'd alphabet what used to be
To our sires X Y Z is to us A B C.
A Vanini is roasted alive for his pains,
But a Bacon comes after and picks up his brains.
A Bruno is angrily seized by the throttle
And hunted about by thy ghost, Aristotle,
Till a More or Lavater step into his place:
Then the world turns and makes an admiring grimace.
Once the men were so great and so few, they appear,
Through a distant Olympian atmosphere,
Like vast Caryatids upholding the age.
Now the men are so many and small, disengage
One man from the million to mark him, next moment
The crowd sweeps him hurriedly out of your comment;
And since we seek vainly (to praise in our songs)
'Mid our fellows the size which to heroes belongs,
We take the whole age for a hero, in want
Of a better; and still, in its favor, descant
On the strength and the beauty which, failing to find
In any one man, we ascribe to mankind.
Alfred Vargrave was one of those men who achieve
So little, because of the much they conceive:
With irresolute finger he knock'd at each one
Of the doorways of life, and abided in none.
His course, by each star that would cross it, was set,
And whatever he did he was sure to regret.
That target, discuss'd by the travellers of old,
Which to one appear'd argent, to one appear'd gold,
To him, ever lingering on Doubt's dizzy margent,
Appear'd in one moment both golden and argent.
The man who seeks one thing in life, and but one,
May hope to achieve it before life be done;
But he who seeks all things, wherever he goes,
Only reaps from the hopes which around him he sows
A harvest of barren regrets. And the worm
That crawls on in the dust to the definite term
Of its creeping existence, and sees nothing more
Than the path it pursues till its creeping be o'er,
In its limited vision, is happier far
Than the Half-Sage, whose course, fix'd by no friendly star
Is by each star distracted in turn, and who knows
Each will still be as distant wherever he goes.
Both brilliant and brittle, both bold and unstable,
Indecisive yet keen, Alfred Vargrave seem'd able
To dazzle, but not to illumine mankind.
A vigorous, various, versatile mind;
A character wavering, fitful, uncertain,
As the shadow that shakes o'er a luminous curtain,
Vague, flitting, but on it forever impressing
The shape of some substance at which you stand guessing:
When you said, "All is worthless and weak here," behold!
Into sight on a sudden there seem'd to unfold
Great outlines of strenuous truth in the man:
When you said, "This is genius," the outlines grew wan,
And his life, though in all things so gifted and skill'd,
Was, at best, but a promise which nothing fulfill'd.
In the budding of youth, ere wild winds can deflower
The shut leaves of man's life, round the germ of his power
Yet folded, his life had been earnest. Alas!
In that life one occasion, one moment, there was
When this earnestness might, with the life-sap of youth,
Lusty fruitage have borne in his manhood's full growth;
But it found him too soon, when his nature was still
The delicate toy of too pliant a will,
The boisterous wind of the world to resist,
Or the frost of the world's wintry wisdom.
That occasion, too rathe in its advent.
He had made it a law, in his commerce with men,
That intensity in him, which only left sore
The heart it disturb'd, to repel and ignore.
And thus, as some Prince by his subjects deposed,
Whose strength he, by seeking to crush it, disclosed,
In resigning the power he lack'd power to support
Turns his back upon courts, with a sneer at the court,
In his converse this man for self-comfort appeal'd
To a cynic denial of all he conceal'd
In the instincts and feelings belied by his words.
Words, however, are things: and the man who accords
To his language the license to outrage his soul,
Is controll'd by the words he disdains to control.
And, therefore, he seem'd in the deeds of each day
The light code proclaim'd on his lips to obey;
And, the slave of each whim, follow'd wilfully aught
That perchance fool'd the fancy, or flatter'd the thought.
Yet, indeed, deep within him, the spirits of truth,
Vast, vague aspirations, the powers of his youth,
Lived and breathed, and made moan--stirr'd themselves--strove to start
Into deeds--though deposed, in that Hades, his heart.
Like those antique Theogonies ruin'd and hurl'd,
Under clefts of the hills, which, convulsing the world,
Heaved, in earthquake, their heads the rent caverns above,
To trouble at times in the light court of Jove
All its frivolous gods, with an undefined awe,
Of wrong'd rebel powers that own'd not their law.
For his sake, I am fain to believe that, if born
To some lowlier rank (from the world's languid scorn
Secured by the world's stern resistance) where strife,
Strife and toil, and not pleasure, gave purpose to life,
He possibly might have contrived to attain
Not eminence only, but worth. So, again,
Had he been of his own house the first-born, each gift
Of a mind many-gifted had gone to uplift
A great name by a name's greatest uses.
He stood isolated, opposed, as it were,
To life's great realities; part of no plan;
And if ever a nobler and happier man
He might hope to become, that alone could be when
With all that is real in life and in men
What was real in him should have been reconciled;
When each influence now from experience exiled
Should have seized on his being, combined with his nature,
And form'd as by fusion, a new human creature:
As when those airy elements viewless to sight
(The amalgam of which, if our science be right,
The germ of this populous planet doth fold)
Unite in the glass of the chemist, behold!
Where a void seem'd before, there a substance appears,
From the fusion of forces whence issued the spheres!
But the permanent cause why his life fail'd and miss'd
The full value of life was,--where man should resist
The world, which man's genius is call'd to command,
He gave way, less from lack of the power to withstand,
Than from lack of the resolute will to retain
Those strongholds of life which the world strives to gain.
Let this character go in the old-fashion'd way,
With the moral thereof tightly tack'd to it. Say--
"Let any man once show the world that he feels
Afraid of its bark, and 'twill fly at his heels:
Let him fearlessly face it, 'twill leave him alone:
But 'twill fawn at his feet if he flings it a bone."
The moon of September, now half at the full,
Was unfolding from darkness and dreamland the lull
Of the quiet blue air, where the many-faced hills
Watch'd, well-pleased, their fair slaves, the light, foam-footed rills,
Dance and sing down the steep marble stairs of their courts,
And gracefully fashion a thousand sweet sports,
Lord Alfred (by this on his journeying far)
Was pensively puffing his Lopez cigar,
And brokenly humming an old opera strain,
And thinking, perchance, of those castles in Spain
Which that long rocky barrier hid from his sight;
When suddenly, out of the neighboring night,
A horseman emerged from a fold of the hill,
And so startled his steed that was winding at will
Up the thin dizzy strip of a pathway which led
O'er the mountain--the reins on its neck, and its head
Hanging lazily forward--that, but for a hand
Light and ready, yet firm, in familiar command,
Both rider and horse might have been in a trice
Hurl'd horribly over the grim precipice.
As soon as the moment's alarm had subsided,
And the oath with which nothing can find unprovided
A thoroughbred Englishman, safely exploded,
Lord Alfred unbent (as Apollo his bow did
Now and then) his erectness; and looking, not ruder
Than such inroad would warrant, survey'd the intruder,
Whose arrival so nearly cut short in his glory
My hero, and finished abruptly this story.
The stranger, a man of his own age or less,
Well mounted, and simple though rich in his dress,
Wore his beard and mustache in the fashion of France.
His face, which was pale, gather'd force from the glance
Of a pair of dark, vivid, and eloquent eyes.
With a gest of apology, touch'd with surprise,
He lifted his hat, bow'd and courteously made
Some excuse in such well-cadenced French as betray'd,
At the first word he spoke, the Parisian.
I have wander'd about in the world everywhere;
From many strange mouths have heard many strange tongues;
Strain'd with many strange idioms my lips and my lungs;
Walk'd in many a far land, regretting my own;
In many a language groaned many a groan;
And have often had reason to curse those wild fellows
Who built the high house at which Heaven turn'd jealous,
Making human audacity stumble and stammer
When seized by the throat in the hard gripe of Grammar.
But the language of languages dearest to me
Is that in which once, O ma toute cherie,
When, together, we bent o'er your nosegay for hours,
You explain'd what was silently said by the flowers,
And, selecting the sweetest of all, sent a flame
Through my heart, as, in laughing, you murmur'd
The Italians have voices like peacocks; the Spanish
Smell, I fancy, of garlic; the Swedish and Danish
Have something too Runic, too rough and unshod, in
Their accents for mouths not descended from Odin;
German gives me a cold in the head, sets me wheezing
And coughing; and Russian is nothing but sneezing;
But, by Belus and Babel! I never have heard,
And I never shall hear (I well know it), one word
Of that delicate idiom of Paris without
Feeling morally sure, beyond question or doubt,
By the wild way in which my heart inwardly flutter'd
That my heart's native tongue to my heart had been utter'd
And whene'er I hear French spoken as I approve
I feel myself quietly falling in love.
Lord Alfred, on hearing the stranger, appeased
By a something, an accent, a cadence, which pleased
His ear with that pledge of good breeding which tells
At once of the world in whose fellowship dwells
The speaker that owns it, was glad to remark
In the horseman a man one might meet after dark
And thus, not disagreeably impress'd,
As it seem'd, with each other, the two men abreast
Rode on slowly a moment.
I see, Sir, you are
A smoker. Allow me!
Pray take a cigar.
Many thanks! . . . Such cigars are a luxury here.
Do you go to Luchon?
Yes; and you?
Yes. I fear,
Since our road is the same, that our journey must be
Somewhat closer than is our acquaintance. You see
How narrow the path is. I'm tempted to ask
Your permission to finish (no difficult task!)
The cigar you have given me (really a prize!)
In your company.
Charm'd, Sir, to find your road lies
In the way of my own inclinations! Indeed
The dream of your nation I find in this weed.
In the distant Savannahs a talisman grows
That makes all men brothers that use it . . . who knows?
That blaze which erewhile from the Boulevart out-broke,
It has ended where wisdom begins, Sir,--in smoke.
Messieurs Lopez (whatever your publicists write)
Have done more in their way human kind to unite,
Perchance, than ten Prudhons.
Yes. Ah, what a scene!
Humph! Nature is here too pretentious. Her mien
Is too haughty. One likes to be coax'd, not compell'd,
To the notice such beauty resents if withheld.
She seems to be saying too plainly, "Admire me!"
And I answer, "Yes, madam, I do: but you tire me."
That sunset, just now though . . .
A very old trick!
One would think that the sun by this time must be sick
Of blushing at what, by this time, he must know
Too well to be shocked by--this world.
Ah, 'tis so
With us all. 'Tis the sinner that best knew the world
At Twenty, whose lip is, at sixty, most curl'd
With disdain of its follies. You stay at Luchon?
A day or two only.
The season is done.
'Twas shorter this year than the last.
Folly soon wears her shoes out. She dances so fast
We are all of us tired.
You know the place well?
I have been there two seasons.
Pray who is the Belle
Of the Baths at this moment?
The same who has been
The belle of all places in which she is seen;
The belle of all Paris last winter; last spring
The belle of all Baden.
An uncommon thing!
Sir, an uncommon beauty! . . . I rather should say
An uncommon character. Truly, each day
One meets women whose beauty is equal to hers,
But none with the charm of Lucile de Nevers.
Madame de Nevers!
Do you know her?
Or, rather, I knew her--a long time ago.
I almost forget . . .
What a wit! what a grace
In her language! her movements! what play in her face!
And yet what a sadness she seems to conceal!
You speak like a lover.
I speak as I feel,
But not like a lover. What interests me so
In Lucile, at the same time forbids me, I know,
To give to that interest, whate'er the sensation,
The name we men give to an hour's admiration,
A night's passing passion, an actress's eyes,
A dancing girl's ankles, a fine lady's sighs.
Yes, I quite comprehend. But this sadness--this shade
Which you speak of? . . . it almost would make me afraid
Your gay countrymen, Sir, less adroit must have grown,
Since when, as a stripling, at Paris, I own
I found in them terrible rivals,--if yet
They have all lack'd the skill to console this regret
(If regret be the word I should use), or fulfil
This desire (if desire be the word), which seems still
To endure unappeased. For I take it for granted,
From all that you say, that the will was not wanted.
The stranger replied, not without irritation:
"I have heard that an Englishman--one of your nation
I presume--and if so, I must beg you, indeed,
To excuse the contempt which I . . ."
Pray, Sir, proceed
With your tale. My compatriot, what was his crime?
Oh, nothing! His folly was not so sublime
As to merit that term. If I blamed him just now,
It was not for the sin, but the silliness.
I own I hate Botany. Still, . . . dmit,
Although I myself have no passion for it,
And do not understand, yet I cannot despise
The cold man of science, who walks with his eyes
All alert through a garden of flowers, and strips
The lilies' gold tongues, and the roses' red lips,
With a ruthless dissection; since he, I suppose,
Has some purpose beyond the mere mischief he does.
But the stupid and mischievous boy, that uproots
The exotics, and tramples the tender young shoots,
For a boy's brutal pastime, and only because
He knows no distinction 'twixt heartsease and haws,--
One would wish, for the sake of each nursling so nipp'd,
To catch the young rascal and have him well whipp'd!
Some compatriot of mine, do I then understand,
With a cold Northern heart, and a rude English hand,
Has injured your Rosebud of France?
Sir, I know
But little, or nothing. Yet some faces show
The last act of a tragedy in their regard:
Though the first scenes be wanting, it yet is not hard
To divine, more or less, what the plot may have been,
And what sort of actors have pass'd o'er the scene.
And whenever I gaze on the face of Lucile,
With its pensive and passionless languor, I feel
That some feeling hath burnt there . . . burnt out, and burnt up
Health and hope. So you feel when you gaze down the cup
Of extinguish'd volcanoes: you judge of the fire
Once there, by the ravage you see;--the desire,
By the apathy left in its wake, and that sense
Of a moral, immovable, mute impotence.
Humph! . . . I see you have finished, at last, your cigar;
Can I offer another?
No, thank you. We are
Not two miles from Luchon.
You know the road well?
I have often been over it.
Here a pause fell
On their converse. Still musingly on, side by side,
In the moonlight, the two men continued to ride
Down the dim mountain pathway. But each for the rest
Of their journey, although they still rode on abreast,
Continued to follow in silence the train
Of the different feelings that haunted his brain;
And each, as though roused from a deep revery,
Almost shouted, descending the mountain, to see
Burst at once on the moonlight the silvery Baths,
The long lime-tree alley, the dark gleaming paths,
With the lamps twinkling through them--the quaint wooden roofs--
The little white houses.
The clatter of hoofs,
And the music of wandering bands, up the walls
Of the steep hanging hill, at remote intervals
Reached them, cross'd by the sound of the clacking of whips,
And here and there, faintly, through serpentine slips
Of verdant rose-gardens deep-sheltered with screens
Of airy acacias and dark evergreens,
They could mark the white dresses and catch the light songs
Of the lovely Parisians that wander'd in throngs,
Led by Laughter and Love through the old eventide
Down the dream-haunted valley, or up the hillside.
At length, at the door of the inn l'HERISSON,
Pray go there, if ever you go to Luchon!)
The two horsemen, well pleased to have reached it, alighted
And exchanged their last greetings.
The Frenchman invited
Lord Alfred to dinner. Lord Alfred declined.
He had letters to write, and felt tired. So he dined
In his own rooms that night.
With an unquiet eye
He watched his companion depart; nor knew why,
Beyond all accountable reason or measure,
He felt in his breast such a sovran displeasure.
"The fellow's good looking," he murmur'd at last,
"And yet not a coxcomb." Some ghost of the past
Vex'd him still.
"If he love her," he thought, "let him win her."
Then he turn'd to the future--and order'd his dinner.
O hour of all hours, the most bless'd upon earth,
Blessed hour of our dinners!
The land of his birth;
The face of his first love; the bills that he owes;
The twaddle of friends and the venom of foes;
The sermon he heard when to church he last went;
The money he borrow'd, the money he spent;--
All of these things, a man, I believe, may forget,
And not be the worse for forgetting; but yet
Never, never, oh never! earth's luckiest sinner
Hath unpunish'd forgotten the hour of his dinner!
Indigestion, that conscience of every bad stomach,
Shall relentlessly gnaw and pursue him with some ache
Or some pain; and trouble, remorseless, his best ease,
As the Furies once troubled the sleep of Orestes.
We may live without poetry, music, and art:
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books,--what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope,--what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love,--what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?
Lord Alfred found, waiting his coming, a note
"Your last letter has reach'd me," she wrote.
"This evening, alas! I must go to the ball,
And shall not be at home till too late for your call;
But to-morrow, at any rate, sans faute, at One
You will find me at home, and will find me alone.
Meanwhile, let me thank you sincerely, milord,
For the honor with which you adhere to your word.
Yes, I thank you, Lord Alfred! To-morrow then.
I find myself terribly puzzled to tell
The feelings with which Alfred Vargrave flung down
This note, as he pour'd out his wine. I must own
That I think he, himself, could have hardly explain'd
Those feelings exactly.
"Yes, yes," as he drain'd
The glass down, he mutter'd, "Jack's right, after all.
"Does milord mean to go to the ball?"
Ask'd the waiter, who linger'd.
"Perhaps. I don't know.
You may keep me a ticket, in case I should go."
Oh, better, no doubt, is a dinner of herbs,
When season'd by love, which no rancor disturbs,
And sweeten'd by all that is sweetest in life,
Than turbot, bisque, ortolans, eaten in strife!
But if, out of humor, and hungry, alone,
A man should sit down to a dinner, each one
Of the dishes of which the cook chooses to spoil
With a horrible mixture of garlic and oil,
The chances are ten against one, I must own,
He gets up as ill-temper'd as when he sat down.
And if any reader this fact to dispute is
Disposed, I say . . . "Allium edat cicutis
Over the fruit and the wine
Undisturb'd the wasp settled. The evening was fine.
Lord Alfred his chair by the window had set,
And languidly lighted his small cigarette.
The window was open. The warm air without
Waved the flame of the candles. The moths were about.
In the gloom he sat gloomy.
Gay sounds from below
Floated up like faint echoes of joys long ago,
And night deepen'd apace; through the dark avenues
The lamps twinkled bright; and by threes and by twos,
The idlers of Luchon were strolling at will,
As Lord Alfred could see from the cool window-sill,
Where his gaze, as he languidly turn'd it, fell o'er
His late travelling companion, now passing before
The inn, at the window of which he still sat,
In full toilet,--boots varnish'd, and snowy cravat,
Gayly smoothing and buttoning a yellow kid glove,
As he turned down the avenue.
From his window, the stranger, who stopp'd as he walk'd
To mix with those groups, and now nodded, now talk'd,
To the young Paris dandies, Lord Alfred discern'd,
By the way hats were lifted, and glances were turn'd,
That this unknown acquaintance, now bound for the hall,
Was a person of rank or of fashion; for all
Whom he bow'd to in passing, or stopped with and chatter'd,
Walk'd on with a look which implied . . . "I feel flatter'd!"
His form was soon lost in the distance and gloom.
Lord Alfred still sat by himself in his room.
He had finish'd, one after the other, a dozen
Or more cigarettes. He had thought of his cousin;
He had thought of Matilda, and thought of Lucile:
He had thought about many things; thought a great deal
Of himself, of his past life, his future, his present:
He had thought of the moon, neither full moon nor crescent;
Of the gay world, so sad! life, so sweet and so sour!
He had thought, too, of glory, and fortune, and power:
Thought of love, and the country, and sympathy, and
A poet's asylum in some distant land:
Thought of man in the abstract, and woman, no doubt,
In particular; also he had thought much about
His digestion, his debts, and his dinner: and last,
He thought that the night would be stupidly pass'd
If he thought any more of such matters at all:
So he rose and resolved to set out for the ball.
I believe, ere he finish'd his tardy toilet,
That Lord Alfred had spoil'd, and flung by in a pet,
Half a dozen white neckcloths, and look'd for the nonce
Twenty times in the glass, if he look'd in it once.
I believe that he split up, in drawing them on,
Three pair of pale lavender gloves, one by one.
And this is the reason, no doubt, that at last,
When he reach'd the Casino, although he walk'd fast,
He heard, as he hurriedly enter'd the door,
The church clock strike Twelve.
The last waltz was just o'er.
The chaperons and dancers were all in a flutter.
A crowd block'd the door: and a buzz and a mutter
Went about in the room as a young man, whose face
Lord Alfred had seen ere he enter'd that place,
But a few hours ago, through the perfumed and warm
Flowery porch, with a lady that lean'd on his arm
Like a queen in a fable of old fairy days,
Left the ballroom.
The hubbub of comment and praise
Reach'd Lord Alfred as just then he enter'd.
Said a Frenchman beside him, . . . "That lucky Luvois
Has obtained all the gifts of the gods . . . rank and wealth,
And good looks, and then such inexhaustible health!
He that hath shall have more; and this truth, I surmise,
Is the cause why, to-night, by the beautiful eyes
Of la charmante Lucile more distinguish'd than all,
He so gayly goes off with the belle of the ball."
"Is it true," asked a lady aggressively fat,
Who, fierce as a female Leviathan, sat
By another that look'd like a needle, all steel
And tenuity--"Luvois will marry Lucile?"
The needle seem'd jerk'd by a virulent twitch,
As though it were bent upon driving a stitch
Through somebody's character.
Interposing, a young man who sat by their side,
And was languidly fanning his face with his hat,
"I am ready to bet my new Tilbury that,
If Luvois has proposed, the Comtesse has refused."
The fat and thin ladies were highly amused.
"Refused! . . . what! a young Duke, not thirty, my dear,
With at least half a million (what is it?) a year!"
"That may be," said a third; "yet I know some time since
Castelmar was refused, though as rich, and a Prince.
But Luvois, who was never before in his life
In love with a woman who was not a wife,
Is now certainly serious."
The music once more
Said Lord Alfred, "This ball is a bore!"
And return'd to the inn, somewhat worse than before.
There, whilst musing he lean'd the dark valley above,
Through the warm land were wand'ring the spirits of love.
A soft breeze in the white window drapery stirr'd;
In the blossom'd acacia the lone cricket chirr'd;
The scent of the roses fell faint o'er the night,
And the moon on the mountain was dreaming in light.
Repose, and yet rapture! that pensive wild nature
Impregnate with passion in each breathing feature!
A stone's throw from thence, through the large lime-trees peep'd
In a garden of roses, a white chalet, steep'd
In the moonbeams. The windows oped down to the lawn;
The casements were open; the curtains were drawn;
Lights stream'd from the inside; and with them the sound
Of music and song. In the garden, around
A table with fruits, wine, tea, ices, there set,
Half a dozen young men and young women were met.
Light, laughter, and voices, and music all stream'd
Through the quiet-leaved limes. At the window there seem'd
For one moment the outline, familiar and fair,
Of a white dress, white neck, and soft dusky hair,
Which Lord Alfred remember'd . . . a moment or so
It hover'd, then pass'd into shadow; and slow
The soft notes, from a tender piano upflung,
Floated forth, and a voice unforgotten thus sung:--
"Hear a song that was born in the land of my birth!
The anchors are lifted, the fair ship is free,
And the shout of the mariners floats in its mirth
'Twixt the light in the sky and the light on the sea.
"And this ship is a world. She is freighted with souls,
She is freighted with merchandise: proudly she sails
With the Labor that stores, and the Will that controls
The gold in the ingots, the silk in the bales.
"From the gardens of Pleasure where reddens the rose,
And the scent of the cedar is faint on the air,
Past the harbors of Traffic, sublimely she goes,
Man's hopes o'er the world of the waters to bear!
"Where the cheer from the harbors of Traffic is heard,
Where the gardens of Pleasure fade fast on the sight,
O'er the rose, o'er the cedar, there passes a bird;
'Tis the Paradise Bird, never known to alight.
"And that bird, bright and bold as a poet's desire,
Roams her own native heavens, the realms of her birth.
There she soars like a seraph, she shines like a fire,
And her plumage hath never been sullied by earth.
"And the mariners greet her; there's song on each lip,
For that bird of good omen, and joy in each eye.
And the ship and the bird, and the bird and the ship,
Together go forth over ocean and sky.
"Fast, fast fades the land! far the rose-gardens flee,
And far fleet the harbors. In regions unknown
The ship is alone on a desert of sea,
And the bird in a desert of sky is alone.
"In those regions unknown, o'er that desert of air,
Down that desert of waters--tremendous in wrath--
The storm-wind Euroclydon leaps from his lair,
And cleaves, thro' the waves of the ocean, his path.
"And the bird in the cloud, and the ship on the wave,
Overtaken, are beaten about by wild gales;
And the mariners all rush their cargo to save,
Of the gold in the ingots, the silk in the bales.
"Lo! a wonder, which never before hath been heard,
For it never before hath been given to sight;
On the ship bath descended the Paradise Bird,
The Paradise Bird, never known to alight!
"The bird which the mariners bless'd, when each lip
Had a song for the omen that gladden'd each eye;
The bright bird for shelter hath flown to the ship
From the wrath on the sea and the wrath in the sky.
"But the mariners heed not the bird any more.
They are felling the masts--they are cutting the sails;
Some are working, some weeping, and some wrangling o'er
Their gold in the ingots, their silk in the bales.
"Souls of men are on board; wealth of man in the hold;
And the storm-wind Euroclydon sweeps to his prey;
And who heeds the bird? 'Save the silk and the gold!'
And the bird from her shelter the gust sweeps away!
"Poor Paradise Bird! on her lone flight once more
Back again in the wake of the wind she is driven--
To be 'whelmed in the storm, or above it to soar,
And, if rescued from ocean, to vanish in heaven!
"And the ship rides the waters and weathers the gales:
From the haven she nears the rejoicing is heard.
All hands are at work on the ingots, the bales,
Save a child sitting lonely, who misses--the bird!"
With stout iron shoes be my Pegasus shod!
For my road is a rough one: flint, stubble, and clod,
Blue clay, and black quagmire, brambles no few,
And I gallop up-hill, now.
There's terror that's true
In that tale of a youth who, one night at a revel,
Amidst music and mirth lured and wiled by some devil,
Follow'd ever one mask through the mad masquerade,
Till, pursued to some chamber deserted ('tis said),
He unmasked, with a kiss, the strange lady, and stood
Face to face with a Thing not of flesh nor of blood.
In this Mask of the Passions, call'd Life, there's no human
Emotion, though mask'd, or in man or in woman,
But, when faced and unmask'd, it will leave us at last
Struck by some supernatural aspect aghast.
For truth is appalling and eldrich, as seen
By this world's artificial lamplights and we screen
From our sight the strange vision that troubles our life.
Alas! why is Genius forever at strife
With the world, which, despite the world's self, it ennobles?
Why is it that Genius perplexes and troubles
And offends the effete life it comes to renew?
'Tis the terror of truth! 'tis that Genius is true!
Lucile de Nevers (if her riddle I read)
Was a woman of genius: whose genius, indeed,
With her life was at war. Once, but once, in that life
The chance had been hers to escape from this strife
In herself; finding peace in the life of another
From the passionate wants she, in hers, failed to smother.
But the chance fell too soon, when the crude restless power
Which had been to her nature so fatal a dower,
Only wearied the man it yet haunted and thrall'd;
And that moment, once lost, had been never recall'd.
Yet it left her heart sore: and, to shelter her heart
From approach, she then sought, in that delicate art
Of concealment, those thousand adroit strategies
Of feminine wit, which repel while they please,
A weapon, at once, and a shield to conceal
And defend all that women can earnestly feel.
Thus, striving her instincts to hide and repress,
She felt frighten'd at times by her very success:
She pined for the hill-tops, the clouds, and the stars:
Golden wires may annoy us as much as steel bars
If they keep us behind prison windows: impassion'd
Her heart rose and burst the light cage she had fashion'd
Out of glittering trifles around it.
To herself, all her instincts, without hesitation,
Embraced the idea of self-immolation.
The strong spirit in her, had her life been but blended
With some man's whose heart had her own comprehended,
All its wealth at his feet would have lavishly thrown.
For him she had struggled and striven alone;
For him had aspired; in him had transfused
All the gladness and grace of her nature; and used
For him only the spells of its delicate power:
Like the ministering fairy that brings from her bower
To some maze all the treasures, whose use the fond elf,
More enrich'd by her love, disregards for herself.
But standing apart, as she ever had done,
And her genius, which needed a vent, finding none
In the broad fields of action thrown wide to man's power,
She unconsciously made it her bulwark and tower,
And built in it her refuge, whence lightly she hurl'd
Her contempt at the fashions and forms of the world.
And the permanent cause why she now miss'd and fail'd
That firm hold upon life she so keenly assail'd,
Was, in all those diurnal occasions that place
Say--the world and the woman opposed face to face,
Where the woman must yield, she, refusing to stir,
Offended the world, which in turn wounded her.
As before, in the old-fashion'd manner, I fit
To this character, also, its moral: to wit,
Say--the world is a nettle; disturb it, it stings:
Grasp it firmly, it stings not. On one of two things,
If you would not be stung, it behoves you to settle
Avoid it, or crush it. She crush'd not the nettle;
For she could not; nor would she avoid it: she tried
With the weak hand of woman to thrust it aside,
And it stung her. A woman is too slight a thing
To trample the world without feeling its sting.
One lodges but simply at Luchon; yet, thanks
To the season that changes forever the banks
Of the blossoming mountains, and shifts the light cloud
O'er the valley, and hushes or rouses the loud
Wind that wails in the pines, or creeps murmuring down
The dark evergreen slopes to the slumbering town,
And the torrent that falls, faintly heard from afar,
And the blue-bells that purple the dapple-gray scaur,
One sees with each month of the many-faced year
A thousand sweet changes of beauty appear.
The chalet where dwelt the Comtesse de Nevers
Rested half up the base of a mountain of firs,
In a garden of roses, reveal'd to the road,
Yet withdrawn from its noise: 'twas a peaceful abode.
And the walls, and the roofs, with their gables like hoods
Which the monks wear, were built of sweet resinous woods.
The sunlight of noon, as Lord Alfred ascended
The steep garden paths, every odor had blended
Of the ardent carnations, and faint heliotropes,
With the balms floated down from the dark wooded slopes:
A light breeze at the window was playing about,
And the white curtains floated, now in, and now out.
The house was all hush'd when he rang at the door,
Which was open'd to him in a moment, or more,
By an old nodding negress, whose sable head shined
In the sun like a cocoa-nut polished in Ind,
'Neath the snowy foulard which about it was wound.
Lord Alfred sprang forward at once, with a bound.
He remembered the nurse of Lucile. The old dame,
Whose teeth and whose eyes used to beam when he came,
With a boy's eager step, in the blithe days of yore,
To pass, unannounced, her young mistress's door.
The old woman had fondled Lucile on her knee
When she left, as an infant, far over the sea,
In India, the tomb of a mother, unknown,
To pine, a pale flow'ret, in great Paris town.
She had sooth'd the child's sobs on her breast, when she read
The letter that told her, her father was dead.
An astute, shrewd adventurer, who, like Ulysses,
Had studied men, cities, laws, wars, the abysses
Of statecraft, with varying fortunes, was he.
He had wander'd the world through, by land and by sea,
And knew it in most of its phases. Strong will,
Subtle tact, and soft manners, had given him skill
To conciliate Fortune, and courage to brave
Her displeasure. Thrice shipwreck'd, and cast by the wave
On his own quick resources, they rarely had fail'd
His command: often baffled, he ever prevail'd,
In his combat with fate: to-day flatter'd and fed
By monarchs, to-morrow in search of mere bread
The offspring of times trouble-haunted, he came
Of a family ruin'd, yet noble in name.
He lost sight of his fortune, at twenty, in France,
And, half statesman, half soldier, and wholly Freelance,
Had wander'd in search of it, over the world
But scarce had the nomad unfurl'd
His wandering tent at Mysore, in the smile
Of a Rajah (whose court he controll'd for a while,
And whose council he prompted and govern'd by stealth);
Scarce, indeed, had he wedded an Indian of wealth,
Who died giving birth to this daughter, before
He was borne to the tomb of his wife at Mysore.
His fortune, which fell to his orphan, perchance
Had secured her a home with his sister in France,
A lone woman, the last of the race left. Lucile
Neither felt, nor affected, the wish to conceal
The half-Eastern blood, which appear'd to bequeath
(Reveal'd now and then, though but rarely, beneath