Part 3 out of 6
Well, madam, in those words what words do you see
That threatens the honor of woman?
See! . . . what,
What word, do you ask? Every word! would you not,
Had I taken your hand thus, have felt that your name
Was soil'd and dishonor'd by more than mere shame
If the woman that bore it had first been the cause
Of the crime which in these words is menaced? You pause!
Woman's honor, you ask? Is there, sir, no dishonor
In the smile of a woman, when men, gazing on her,
Can shudder, and say, "In that smile is a grave"?
No! you can have no cause, Duke, for no right you have
In the contest you menace. That contest but draws
Every right into ruin. By all human laws
Of man's heart I forbid it, by all sanctities
Of man's social honor!
The Duke droop'd his eyes.
"I obey you," he said, "but let woman beware
How she plays fast and loose thus with human despair,
And the storm in man's heart. Madam, yours was the right,
When you saw that I hoped, to extinguish hope quite.
But you should from the first have done this, for I feel
That you knew from the first that I loved you."
This sudden reproach seem'd to startle.
A slow, wistful regard to his features, and gazed
On them silent awhile. His own looks were downcast.
Through her heart, whence its first wild alarm was now pass'd,
Pity crept, and perhaps o'er her conscience a tear,
Falling softly, awoke it.
Were they unjust, these sudden upbraidings, to her?
Had she lightly misconstrued this man's character,
Which had seem'd, even when most impassion'd it seem'd,
Too self-conscious to lose all in love? Had she deem'd
That this airy, gay, insolent man of the world,
So proud of the place the world gave him, held furl'd
In his bosom no passion which once shaken wide
Might tug, till it snapped, that erect lofty pride?
Were those elements in him, which once roused to strife
Overthrow a whole nature, and change a whole life?
There are two kinds of strength. One, the strength of the river
Which through continents pushes its pathway forever
To fling its fond heart in the sea; if it lose
This, the aim of its life, it is lost to its use,
It goes mad, is diffused into deluge, and dies.
The other, the strength of the sea; which supplies
Its deep life from mysterious sources, and draws
The river's life into its own life, by laws
Which it heeds not. The difference in each case is this:
The river is lost, if the ocean it miss;
If the sea miss the river, what matter? The sea
Is the sea still, forever. Its deep heart will be
Self-sufficing, unconscious of loss as of yore;
Its sources are infinite; still to the shore,
With no diminution of pride, it will say,
"I am here; I, the sea! stand aside, and make way!"
Was his love, then, the love of the river? and she,
Had she taken that love for the love of the sea?
At that thought, from her aspect whatever had been
Stern or haughty departed; and, humble in mien,
She approach'd him and brokenly murmur'd, as though
To herself more than him, "Was I wrong? is it so?
Hear me, Duke! you must feel that, whatever you deem
Your right to reproach me in this, your esteem
I may claim on ONE ground--I at least am sincere.
You say that to me from the first it was clear
That you loved me. But what if this knowledge were known
At a moment in life when I felt most alone,
And least able to be so? a moment, in fact,
When I strove from one haunting regret to retract
And emancipate life, and once more to fulfil
Woman's destinies, duties, and hopes? would you still
So bitterly blame me, Eugene de Luvois,
If I hoped to see all this, or deem'd that I saw
For a moment the promise of this in the plighted
Affection of one who, in nature, united
So much that from others affection might claim,
If only affection were free? Do you blame
The hope of that moment? I deem'd my heart free
From all, saving sorrow. I deem'd that in me
There was yet strength to mould it once more to my will,
To uplift it once more to my hope. Do you still
Blame me, Duke, that I did not then bid you refrain
From hope? alas! I too then hoped!"
Yet again, say that thrice blessed word! say, Lucile,
That you then deign'd to hope--
Yes! to hope I could feel,
And could give to you, that without which all else given
Were but to deceive, and to injure you even:--
A heart free from thoughts of another. Say, then,
Do you blame that one hope?
She resumed, gazing down, and with faltering tone,
"Do you blame me that, when I at last had to own
To my heart that the hope it had cherish'd was o'er,
And forever, I said to you then, 'Hope no more'?
I myself hoped no more!"
With but ill-suppressed wrath
The Duke answer'd . . . "What, then! he recrosses your path,
This man, and you have but to see him, despite
Of his troth to another, to take back that light
Worthless heart to your own, which he wrong'd years ago!"
Lucile faintly, brokenly murmur'd . . . "No! no!
'Tis not that--but alas!--but I cannot conceal
That I have not forgotten the past--but I feel
That I cannot accept all these gifts on your part,--
In return for what . . . ah, Duke, what is it? . . . a heart
Which is only a ruin!"
With words warm and wild,
"Though a ruin it be, trust me yet to rebuild
And restore it," Luvois cried; "though ruin'd it be,
Since so dear is that ruin, ah, yield it to me!"
He approach'd her. She shrank back. The grief in her eyes
An emotion more fierce seem'd to rise
And to break into flame, as though fired by the light
Of that look, in his heart. He exclaim'd, "Am I right?
You reject ME! Accept HIM?"
"I have not done so,"
She said firmly. He hoarsely resumed, "Not yet--no!
But can you with accents as firm promise me
That you will not accept him?"
"Accept? Is he free?
Free to offer?" she said.
"You evade me, Lucile,"
He replied; "ah, you will not avow what you feel!
He might make himself free? Oh, you blush--turn away!
Dare you openly look in my face, lady, say!
While you deign to reply to one question from me?
I may hope not, you tell me: but tell me, may he?
What! silent? I alter my question. If quite
Freed in faith from this troth, might he hope then?"
She said softly.
Those two whisper'd words, in his breast,
As he heard them, in one maddening moment releast
All that's evil and fierce in man's nature, to crush
And extinguish in man all that's good. In the rush
Of wild jealousy, all the fierce passions that waste
And darken and devastate intellect, chased
From its realm human reason. The wild animal
In the bosom of man was set free. And of all
Human passions the fiercest, fierce jealousy, fierce
As the fire, and more wild than the whirlwind, to pierce
And to rend, rush'd upon him; fierce jealousy, swell'd
By all passions bred from it, and ever impell'd
To involve all things else in the anguish within it,
And on others inflict its own pangs!
At that minute
What pass'd through his mind, who shall say? who may tell
The dark thoughts of man's heart, which the red glare of hell
Can illumine alone?
He stared wildly around
That lone place, so lonely! That silence! no sound
Reach'd that room, through the dark evening air, save drear
Drip and roar of the cataract ceaseless and near!
It was midnight all round on the weird silent weather;
Deep midnight in him! They two,--alone and together,
Himself and that woman defenceless before him!
The triumph and bliss of his rival flash'd o'er him.
The abyss of his own black despair seem'd to ope
At his feet, with that awful exclusion of hope
Which Dante read over the city of doom.
All the Tarquin pass'd into his soul in the gloom,
And uttering words he dared never recall,
Words of insult and menace, he thunder'd down all
The brew'd storm-cloud within him: its flashes scorch'd blind
His own senses. His spirit was driven on the wind
Of a reckless emotion beyond his control;
A torrent seem'd loosen'd within him. His soul
Surged up from that caldron of passion that hiss'd
And seeth'd in his heart.
He had thrown, and had miss'd
His last stake.
For, transfigured, she rose from the place
Where he rested o'erawed: a saint's scorn on her face;
Such a dread vade retro was written in light
On her forehead, the fiend would himself, at that sight,
Have sunk back abash'd to perdition. I know
If Lucretia at Tarquin but once had looked so,
She had needed no dagger next morning.
And swept to the door, like that phantom the snows
Feel at nightfall sweep o'er them, when daylight is gone,
And Caucasus is with the moon all alone.
There she paused; and, as though from immeasurable,
Insurpassable distance, she murmur'd--
We, alas! have mistaken each other. Once more
Illusion, to-night, in my lifetime is o'er.
Duc de Luvois, adieu!"
From the heart-breaking gloom
Of that vacant, reproachful, and desolate room,
He felt she was gone--gone forever!
The sharpest that ever was edged like a sword,
Could have pierced to his heart with such keen accusation
As the silence, the sudden profound isolation,
In which he remain'd.
"O return; I repent!"
He exclaimed; but no sound through the stillness was sent,
Save the roar of the water, in answer to him,
And the beetle that, sleeping, yet humm'd her night-hymn:
An indistinct anthem, that troubled the air
With a searching, and wistful, and questioning prayer.
"Return," sung the wandering insect. The roar
Of the waters replied, "Nevermore! nevermore!"
He walked to the window . The spray on his brow
Was flung cold from the whirlpools of water below;
The frail wooden balcony shook in the sound
Of the torrent. The mountains gloom'd sullenly round.
A candle one ray from a closed casement flung.
O'er the dim balustrade all bewilder'd he hung,
Vaguely watching the broken and shimmering blink
Of the stars on the veering and vitreous brink
Of that snake-like prone column of water; and listing
Aloof o'er the languors of air the persisting
Sharp horn of the gray gnat. Before he relinquish'd
His unconscious employment, that light was extinguish'd.
Wheels at last, from the inn door aroused him. He ran
Down the stairs; reached the door--just to see her depart.
Down the mountain the carriage was speeding.
Peal'd the knell of its last hope. He rush'd on; but whither
He knew not--on, into the dark cloudy weather--
The midnight--the mountains--on, over the shelf
Of the precipice--on, still--away from himself!
Till exhausted, he sank 'mid the dead leaves and moss
At the mouth of the forest. A glimmering cross
Of gray stone stood for prayer by the woodside. He sank
Prayerless, powerless, down at its base, 'mid the dank
Weeds and grasses; his face hid amongst them. He knew
That the night had divided his whole life in two.
Behind him a past that was over forever:
Before him a future devoid of endeavor
And purpose. He felt a remorse for the one,
Of the other a fear. What remain'd to be done?
Whither now should he turn? Turn again, as before,
To his old easy, careless existence of yore
He could not. He felt that for better or worse
A change had pass'd o'er him; an angry remorse
Of his own frantic failure and error had marr'd
Such a refuge forever. The future seem'd barr'd
By the corpse of a dead hope o'er which he must tread
To attain it. Life's wilderness round him was spread,
What clew there to cling by?
He clung by a name
To a dynasty fallen forever. He came
Of an old princely house, true through change to the race
And the sword of Saint Louis--a faith 'twere disgrace
To relinquish, and folly to live for! Nor less
Was his ancient religion (once potent to bless
Or to ban; and the crozier his ancestors kneel'd
To adore, when they fought for the Cross, in hard field
With the Crescent) become, ere it reach'd him, tradition;
A mere faded badge of a social position;
A thing to retain and say nothing about,
Lest, if used, it should draw degradation from doubt.
Thus, the first time he sought them, the creeds of his youth
Wholly fail'd the strong needs of his manhood, in truth!
And beyond them, what region of refuge? what field
For employment, this civilized age, did it yield,
In that civilized land? or to thought? or to action?
Blind deliriums, bewilder'd and endless distraction!
Not even a desert, not even the cell
Of a hermit to flee to, wherein he might quell
The wild devil-instincts which now, unreprest,
Ran riot through that ruin'd world in his breast.
So he lay there, like Lucifer, fresh from the sight
Of a heaven scaled and lost; in the wide arms of night
O'er the howling abysses of nothingness! There
As he lay, Nature's deep voice was teaching him prayer;
But what had he to pray to?
The winds in the woods,
The voices abroad o'er those vast solitudes,
Were in commune all round with the invisible
Power that walk'd the dim world by Himself at that hour.
But their language he had not yet learn'd--in despite
Of the much he HAD learn'd--or forgotten it quite,
With its once native accents. Alas! what had he
To add to that deep-toned sublime symphony
Of thanksgiving? . . . A fiery finger was still
Scorching into his heart some dread sentence. His will,
Like a wind that is put to no purpose, was wild
At its work of destruction within him. The child
Of an infidel age, he had been his own god,
His own devil.
He sat on the damp mountain sod,
and stared sullenly up at the dark sky.
Had heap'd themselves over the bare west in crowds
Of misshapen, incongruous potents. A green
Streak of dreary, cold, luminous ether, between
The base of their black barricades, and the ridge
Of the grim world, gleam'd ghastly, as under some bridge,
Cyclop-sized, in a city of ruins o'erthrown
By sieges forgotten, some river, unknown
And unnamed, widens on into desolate lands.
While he gazed, that cloud-city invisible hands
Dismantled and rent; and reveal'd, through a loop
In the breach'd dark, the blemish'd and half-broken hoop
Of the moon, which soon silently sank; and anon
The whole supernatural pageant was gone.
The wide night, discomforted, conscious of loss,
Darken'd round him. One object alone--that gray cross--
Glimmer'd faint on the dark. Gazing up, he descried,
Through the void air, its desolate arms outstretch'd, wide,
As though to embrace him.
He turn'd from the sight,
Set his face to the darkness, and fled.
When the light
Of the dawn grayly flicker'd and glared on the spent
Wearied ends of the night, like a hope that is sent
To the need of some grief when its need is the sorest,
He was sullenly riding across the dark forest
Thus riding, with eyes of defiance
Set against the young day, as disclaiming alliance
With aught that the day brings to man, he perceived
Faintly, suddenly, fleetingly, through the damp-leaved
Autumn branches that put forth gaunt arms on his way,
The face of a man pale and wistful, and gray
With the gray glare of morning. Eugene de Luvois,
With the sense of a strange second sight, when he saw
That phantom-like face, could at once recognize,
By the sole instinct now left to guide him, the eyes
Of his rival, though fleeting the vision and dim,
With a stern sad inquiry fix'd keenly on him,
And, to meet it, a lie leap'd at once to his own;
A lie born of that lying darkness now grown
Over all in his nature! He answer'd that gaze
With a look which, if ever a man's look conveys
More intensely than words what a man means convey'd
Beyond doubt in its smile an announcement which said,
"I have triumph'd. The question your eyes would imply
Comes too late, Alfred Vargrave!"
And so he rode by,
And rode on, and rode gayly, and rode out of sight,
Leaving that look behind him to rankle and bite.
And it bit, and it rankled.
Lord Alfred, scarce knowing,
Or choosing, or heeding the way he was going,
By one wild hope impell'd, by one wild fear pursued,
And led by one instinct, which seem'd to exclude
From his mind every human sensation, save one
The torture of doubt--had stray'd moodily on,
Down the highway deserted, that evening in which
With the Duke he had parted; stray'd on, through rich
Haze of sunset, or into the gradual night,
Which darken'd, unnoticed, the land from his sight,
Toward Saint Saviour; nor did the changed aspect of all
The wild scenery around him avail to recall
To his senses their normal perceptions, until,
As he stood on the black shaggy brow of the hill
At the mouth of the forest, the moon, which had hung
Two dark hours in a cloud, slipp'd on fire from among
The rent vapors, and sunk o'er the ridge of the world.
Then he lifted his eyes, and saw round him unfurl'd,
In one moment of splendor, the leagues of dark trees,
And the long rocky line of the wild Pyrenees.
And he knew by the milestone scored rough on the face
Of the bare rock, he was but two hours from the place
Where Lucile and Luvois must have met. This same track
The Duke must have traversed, perforce, to get back
To Luchon; not yet then the Duke had returned!
He listen'd, he look'd up the dark, but discern'd
Not a trace, not a sound of a horse by the way.
He knew that the night was approaching to day.
He resolved to proceed to Saint Saviour. The morn,
Which, at last, through the forest broke chill and forlorn,
Reveal'd to him, riding toward Luchon, the Duke.
'Twas then that the two men exchanged look for look.
And the Duke's rankled in him.
He rush'd on. He tore
His path through the thicket. He reach'd the inn door,
Roused the yet drowsing porter, reluctant to rise,
And inquired for the Countess. The man rubb'd his eyes,
The Countess was gone. And the Duke?
The man stared
A sleepy inquiry.
With accents that scared
The man's dull sense awake, "He, the stranger," he cried,
"Who had been there that night!"
The man grinn'd and replied,
With a vacant intelligence, "He, oh ay, ay!
He went after the lady."
No further reply
Could he give. Alfred Vargrave demanded no more,
Flung a coin to the man, and so turn'd from the door.
"What! the Duke, then, the night in that lone inn had pass'd?
In that lone inn--with her!" Was that look he had cast
When they met in the forest, that look which remain'd
On his mind with its terrible smile, thus explain'd?
The day was half turn'd to the evening, before
He re-entered Luchon, with a heart sick and sore.
In the midst of a light crowd of babblers, his look,
By their voices attracted, distinguished the Duke,
Gay, insolent, noisy, with eyes sparkling bright,
With laughter, shrill, airy, continuous.
Through the throng Alfred Vargrave, with swift sombre stride,
Glided on. The Duke noticed him, turn'd, stepp'd aside,
And, cordially grasping his hand, whisper'd low,
"O, how right have you been! There can never be--no,
Never--any more contest between us! Milord,
Let us henceforth be friends!"
Having utter'd that word,
He turn'd lightly round on his heel, and again
His gay laughter was heard, echoed loud by that train
Of his young imitators.
Lord Alfred stood still,
Rooted, stunn'd, to the spot. He felt weary and ill,
Out of heart with his own heart, and sick to the soul
With a dull, stifling anguish he could not control.
Does he hear in a dream, through the buzz of the crowd,
The Duke's blithe associates, babbling aloud
Some comment upon his gay humor that day?
He never was gayer: what makes him so gay?
'Tis, no doubt, say the flatterers, flattering in tune,
Some vestal whose virtue no tongue dare impugn
Has at last found a Mars--who, of course, shall be nameless,
That vestal that yields to Mars ONLY is blameless!
Hark! hears he a name which, thus syllabled, stirs
All his heart into tumult? . . . Lucile de Nevers
With the Duke's coupled gayly, in some laughing, light,
Free allusion? Not so as might give him the right
To turn fiercely round on the speaker, but yet
To a trite and irreverent compliment set!
Slowly, slowly, usurping that place in his soul
Where the thought of Lucile was enshrined, did there roll
Back again, back again, on its smooth downward course
O'er his nature, with gather'd momentum and force,
"No!" he mutter'd, "she cannot have sinn'd!
True! women there are (self-named women of mind!)
Who love rather liberty--liberty, yes!
To choose and to leave--than the legalized stress
Of the lovingest marriage. But she--is she so?
I will not believe it. Lucile! O no, no!
"But the world? and, ah, what would it say?
O the look of that man, and his laughter, to-day!
The gossip's light question! the slanderous jest!
She is right! no, we could not be happy. 'Tis best
As it is. I will write to her--write, O my heart!
And accept her farewell. OUR farewell! must we part--
Part thus, then--forever, Lucile? Is it so?
Yes! I feel it. We could not be happy, I know.
'Twas a dream! we must waken!"
With head bow'd, as though
By the weight of the heart's resignation, and slow
Moody footsteps, he turned to his inn.
From the gate, in the courtyard, and ready to start,
Postboys mounted, portmanteaus packed up and made fast,
A travelling-carriage, unnoticed, he pass'd.
He order'd his horse to be ready anon:
Sent, and paid, for the reckoning, and slowly pass'd on,
And ascended the staircase, and enter'd his room.
It was twilight. The chamber was dark in the gloom
Of the evening. He listlessly kindled a light
On the mantel-piece; there a large card caught his sight--
A large card, a stout card, well-printed and plain,
Nothing flourishing, flimsy, affected, or vain.
It gave a respectable look to the slab
That it lay on. The name was--
SIR RIDLEY MACNAB.
Full familiar to him was the name that he saw,
For 'twas that of his own future uncle-in-law.
Mrs. Darcy's rich brother, the banker, well known
As wearing the longest philacteried gown
Of all the rich Pharisees England can boast of,
A shrewd Puritan Scot, whose sharp wits made the most of
This world and the next; having largely invested
Not only where treasure is never molested
By thieves, moth, or rust; but on this earthly ball
Where interest was high, and security small.
Of mankind there was never a theory yet
Not by some individual instance upset:
And so to that sorrowful verse of the Psalm
Which declares that the wicked expand like the palm
In a world where the righteous are stunted and pent,
A cheering exception did Ridley present.
Like the worthy of Uz, Heaven prosper'd his piety.
The leader of every religious society,
Christian knowledge he labor'd t though life to promote
With personal profit, and knew how to quote
Both the Stocks and the Scripture, with equal advantage
To himself and admiring friends, in this Cant-Age.
Whilst over this card Alfred vacantly brooded,
A waiter his head through the doorway protruded;
"Sir Ridley MacNab with Milord wish'd to speak."
Alfred Vargrave could feel there were tears on his cheek;
He brushed them away with a gesture of pride.
He glanced at the glass; when his own face he eyed,
He was scared by its pallor. Inclining his head,
He with tones calm, unshaken, and silvery, said,
"Sir Ridley may enter."
In three minutes more
That benign apparition appeared at the door.
Sir Ridley, released for a while from the cares
Of business, and minded to breathe the pure airs
Of the blue Pyrenees, and enjoy his release,
In company there with his sister and niece,
Found himself now at Luchon--distributing tracts,
Sowing seed by the way, and collecting new facts
For Exeter Hall; he was starting that night
For Bigorre: he had heard, to his cordial delight,
That Lord Alfred was there, and, himself, setting out
For the same destination: impatient, no doubt!
Here some commonplace compliments as to "the marriage
Through his speech trickled softly, like honey: his carriage
Was ready. A storm seem'd to threaten the weather;
If his young friend agreed, why not travel together?
With a footstep uncertain and restless, a frown
Of perplexity, during this speech, up and down
Alfred Vargrave was striding; but, after a pause
And a slight hesitation, the which seem'd to cause
Some surprise to Sir Ridley, he answer'd--"My dear
Sir Ridley, allow me a few moments here--
Half an hour at the most--to conclude an affair
Of a nature so urgent as hardly to spare
My presence (which brought me, indeed, to this spot),
Before I accept your kind offer."
Said Sir Ridley, and smiled. Alfred Vargrave, before
Sir Ridley observed it, had pass'd through the door.
A few moments later, with footsteps revealing
Intense agitation of uncontroll'd feeling,
He was rapidly pacing the garden below.
What pass'd through his mind then is more than I know.
But before one half-hour into darkness had fled,
In the courtyard he stood with Sir Ridley. His tread
Was firm and composed. Not a sign on his face
Betrayed there the least agitation. "The place
You so kindly have offer'd," he said, "I accept."
And he stretch'd out his hand. The two travellers stepp'd
Smiling into the carriage.
And thus, out of sight,
They drove down the dark road, and into the night.
Sir Ridley was one of those wise men who, so far
As their power of saying it goes, say with Zophar,
"We, no doubt, are the people, and wisdom shall die with us!"
Though of wisdom like theirs there is no small supply with us.
Side by side in the carriage ensconced, the two men
Began to converse somewhat drowsily, when
Alfred suddenly thought--"Here's a man of ripe age,
At my side, by his fellows reputed as sage,
Who looks happy, and therefore who must have been wise;
Suppose I with caution reveal to his eyes
Some few of the reasons which make me believe
That I neither am happy nor wise? 'twould relieve
And enlighten, perchance, my own darkness and doubt."
For which purpose a feeler he softly put out.
It was snapp'd up at once.
"What is truth? "jesting Pilate
Ask'd, and pass'd from the question at once with a smile at
Its utter futility. Had he address'd it
To Ridley MacNab, he at least had confess'd it
Admitted discussion! and certainly no man
Could more promptly have answer'd the sceptical Roman
Than Ridley. Hear some street astronomer talk!
Grant him two or three hearers, a morsel of chalk,
And forthwith on the pavement he'll sketch you the scheme
Of the heavens. Then hear him enlarge on his theme!
Not afraid of La Place, nor of Arago, he!
He'll prove you the whole plan in plain A B C.
Here's your sun--call him A; B's the moon; it is clear
How the rest of the alphabet brings up the rear
Of the planets. Now ask Arago, ask La Place,
(Your sages, who speak with the heavens face to face!)
Their science in plain A B C to accord
To your point-blank inquiry, my friends! not a word
Will you get for your pains from their sad lips. Alas!
Not a drop from the bottle that's quite full will pass.
'Tis the half-empty vessel that freest emits
The water that's in it. 'Tis thus with men's wits;
Or at least with their knowledge. A man's capability
Of imparting to others a truth with facility
Is proportion'd forever with painful exactness
To the portable nature, the vulgar compactness,
The minuteness in size, or the lightness in weight,
Of the truth he imparts. So small coins circulate
More freely than large ones. A beggar asks alms,
And we fling him a sixpence, nor feel any qualms;
But if every street charity shook an investment,
Or each beggar to clothe we must strip off a vestment,
The length of the process would limit the act;
And therefore the truth that's summ'd up in a tract
Is most lightly dispensed.
As for Alfred, indeed,
On what spoonfuls of truth he was suffer'd to feed
By Sir Ridley, I know not. This only I know,
That the two men thus talking continued to go
Onward somehow, together--on into the night--
The midnight--in which they escape from our sight.
And meanwhile a world had been changed in its place,
And those glittering chains that o'er blue balmy space
Hang the blessing of darkness, had drawn out of sight
To solace unseen hemispheres, the soft night;
And the dew of the dayspring benignly descended,
And the fair morn to all things new sanction extended,
In the smile of the East. And the lark soaring on,
Lost in light, shook the dawn with a song from the sun.
And the world laugh'd.
It wanted but two rosy hours
From the noon, when they pass'd through the thick passion flowers
Of the little wild garden that dimpled before
The small house where their carriage now stopp'd at Bigorre.
And more fair than the flowers, more fresh than the dew,
With her white morning robe flitting joyously through
The dark shrubs with which the soft hillside was clothed,
Alfred Vargrave perceived, where he paused, his betrothed.
Matilda sprang to him, at once, with a face
Of such sunny sweetness, such gladness, such grace,
And radiant confidence, childlike delight,
That his whole heart upbraided itself at that sight.
And he murmur'd, or sigh'd, "O, how could I have stray'd
From this sweet child, or suffer'd in aught to invade
Her young claim on my life, though it were for an hour,
The thought of another?"
"Look up, my sweet flower!"
He whisper'd her softly," my heart unto thee
Is return'd, as returns to the rose the wild bee!"
"And will wander no more?" laughed Matilda.
He repeated. And, low to himself, "Yes, 'tis o'er!
My course, too, is decided, Lucile! Was I blind
To have dream'd that these clever Frenchwomen of mind
Could satisfy simply a plain English heart,
Or sympathize with it?"
And here the first part
Of the drama is over. The curtain falls furl'd
On the actors within it--the Heart, and the World.
Woo'd and wooer have play'd with the riddle of life,--
Have they solved it?
Appear! answer, Husband and Wife.
Yet, ere bidding farewell to Lucile de Nevers,
Hear her own heart's farewell in this letter of hers.
THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO A FRIEND IN INDIA.
"Once more, O my friend, to your arms and your heart,
And the places of old . . . never, never to part!
Once more to the palm, and the fountain! Once more
To the land of my birth, and the deep skies of yore
From the cities of Europe, pursued by the fret
Of their turmoil wherever my footsteps are set;
From the children that cry for the birth, and behold,
There is no strength to bear them--old Time is SO old!
From the world's weary masters, that come upon earth
Sapp'd and mined by the fever they bear from their birth:
From the men of small stature, mere parts of a crowd,
Born too late, when the strength of the world hath been bow'd;
Back,--back to the Orient, from whose sunbright womb
Sprang the giants which now are no more, in the bloom
And the beauty of times that are faded forever!
To the palms! to the tombs! to the still Sacred River!
Where I too, the child of a day that is done,
First leaped into life, and look'd up at the sun,
Back again, back again, to the hill-tops of home
I come, O my friend, my consoler, I come!
Are the three intense stars, that we watch'd night by night
Burning broad on the band of Orion, as bright?
Are the large Indian moons as serene as of old,
When, as children, we gather'd the moonbeams for gold?
Do you yet recollect me, my friend? Do you still
Remember the free games we play'd on the hill,
'Mid those huge stones up-heav'd, where we recklessly trod
O'er the old ruin'd fane of the old ruin'd god?
How he frown'd while around him we carelessly play'd!
That frown on my life ever after hath stay'd,
Like the shade of a solemn experience upcast
From some vague supernatural grief in the past.
For the poor god, in pain, more than anger, he frown'd,
To perceive that our youth, though so fleeting, had found,
In its transient and ignorant gladness, the bliss
Which his science divine seem'd divinely to miss.
Alas! you may haply remember me yet
The free child, whose glad childhood myself I forget.
I come--a sad woman, defrauded of rest:
I bear to you only a laboring breast:
My heart is a storm-beaten ark, wildly hurl'd
O'er the whirlpools of time, with the wrecks of a world:
The dove from my bosom hath flown far away:
It is flown and returns not, though many a day
Have I watch'd from the windows of life for its coming.
Friend, I sigh for repose, I am weary of roaming.
I know not what Ararat rises for me
Far away, o'er the waves of the wandering sea:
I know not what rainbow may yet, from far hills,
Lift the promise of hope, the cessation of ills:
But a voice, like the voice of my youth, in my breast
Wakes and whispers me on--to the East! to the East!
Shall I find the child's heart that I left there? or find
The lost youth I recall with its pure peace of mind?
Alas! who shall number the drops of the rain?
Or give to the dead leaves their greenness again?
Who shall seal up the caverns the earthquake hath rent?
Who shall bring forth the winds that within them are pent?
To a voice who shall render an image? or who
From the heats of the noontide shall gather the dew?
I have burn'd out within me the fuel of life.
Wherefore lingers the flame? Rest is sweet after strife.
I would sleep for a while. I am weary.
I had meant in these lines to regather, and send
To our old home, my life's scatter'd links. But 'tis vain!
Each attempt seems to shatter the chaplet again;
Only fit now for fingers like mine to run o'er,
Who return, a recluse, to those cloisters of yore
Whence too far I have wander'd.
"How many long years
Does it seem to me now since the quick, scorching tears,
While I wrote to you, splash'd out a girl's premature
Moans of pain at what women in silence endure!
To your eyes, friend of mine, and to your eyes alone,
That now long-faded page of my life hath been shown
Which recorded my heart's birth, and death, as you know,
Many years since,--how many!
"A few months ago
I seem'd reading it backward, that page! Why explain
Whence or how? The old dream of my life rose again.
The old superstition! the idol of old!
It is over. The leaf trodden down in the mould
Is not to the forest more lost than to me
That emotion. I bury it here by the sea
Which will bear me anon far away from the shore
Of a land which my footsteps will visit no more.
And a heart's requiescat I write on that grave.
Hark! the sigh of the wind, and the sound of the wave,
Seem like voices of spirits that whisper me home!
I come, O you whispering voices, I come!
My friend, ask me nothing.
"Receive me alone
As a Santon receives to his dwelling of stone
In silence some pilgrim the midnight may bring:
It may be an angel that, weary of wing,
Hath paused in his flight from some city of doom,
Or only a wayfarer stray'd in the gloom.
This only I know: that in Europe at least
Lives the craft or the power that must master our East.
Wherefore strive where the gods must themselves yield at last?
Both they and their altars pass by with the Past.
The gods of the household Time thrust from the shelf;
And I seem as unreal and weird to myself
As those idols of old.
"Other times, other men,
Other men, other passions!
"So be it! yet again
I turned to my birthplace, the birthplace of morn,
And the light of those lands where the great sun is born!
Spread your arms, O my friend! on your breast let me feel
The repose which hath fled from my own.
Hail, Muse! But each Muse by this time has, I know,
Been used up, and Apollo has bent his own bow
All too long; so I leave unassaulted the portal
Of Olympus, and only invoke here a mortal.
Hail, Murray!--not Lindley,--but Murray and Son.
Hail, omniscient, beneficent, great Two-in-One!
In Albermarle Street may thy temple long stand!
Long enlighten'd and led by thine erudite hand,
May each novice in science nomadic unravel
Statistical mazes of modernized travel!
May each inn-keeper knave long thy judgment revere,
And the postboys of Europe regard thee with fear;
While they feel, in the silence of baffled extortion,
That knowledge is power! Long, long, like that portion
Of the national soil which the Greek exile took
In his baggage wherever he went, may thy book
Cheer each poor British pilgrim, who trusts to thy wit
Not to pay through his nose just for following it!
May'st thou long, O instructor! preside o'er his way,
And teach him alike what to praise and to pay!
Thee, pursuing this pathway of song, once again
I invoke, lest, unskill'd, I should wander in vain.
To my call be propitious, nor, churlish, refuse
Thy great accents to lend to the lips of my Muse;
For I sing of the Naiads who dwell 'mid the stems
Of the green linden-trees by the waters of Ems.
Yes! thy spirit descends upon mine, O John Murray!
And I start--with thy book--for the Baths in a hurry.
"At Coblentz a bridge of boats crosses the Rhine;
And from thence the road, winding by Ehrenbreitstein,
Passes over the frontier of Nassua.
No custom-house here since the Zollverein." See
Murray, paragraph 30.)
"The route, at each turn,
Here the lover of nature allows to discern,
In varying prospect, a rich wooded dale:
The vine and acacia-tree mostly prevail
In the foliage observable here: and, moreover,
The soil is carbonic. The road, under cover
Of the grape-clad and mountainous upland that hems
Round this beautiful spot, brings the traveller to--"EMS.
A Schnellpost from Frankfort arrives every day.
At the Kurhaus (the old Ducal mansion) you pay
Eight florins for lodgings. A Restaurateur
Is attach'd to the place; but most travellers prefer
(Including, indeed, many persons of note)
To dine at the usual-priced table d'hote.
Through the town runs the Lahn, the steep green banks of which
Two rows of white picturesque houses enrich;
And between the high road and the river is laid
Out a sort of a garden, call'd 'THE Promenade.'
Female visitors here, who may make up their mind
To ascend to the top of these mountains, will find
On the banks of the stream, saddled all the day long,
Troops of donkeys--sure-footed--proverbially strong;"
And the traveller at Ems may remark, as he passes,
Here, as elsewhere, the women run after the asses.
'Mid the world's weary denizens bound for these springs
In the month when the merle on the maple-bough sings,
Pursued to the place from dissimilar paths
By a similar sickness, there came to the Baths
Four sufferers--each stricken deep through the heart,
Or the head, by the self-same invisible dart
Of the arrow that flieth unheard in the noon,
From the sickness that walketh unseen in the moon,
Through this great lazaretto of life, wherein each
Infects with his own sores the next within reach.
First of these were a young English husband and wife,
Grown weary ere half through the journey of life.
O Nature, say where, thou gray mother of earth,
Is the strength of thy youth? that thy womb brings to birth
Only old men to-day! On the winds, as of old,
Thy voice in its accent is joyous and bold;
Thy forests are green as of yore; and thine oceans
Yet move in the might of their ancient emotions:
But man--thy last birth and thy best--is no more
Life's free lord, that look'd up to the starlight of yore,
With the faith on the brow, and the fire in the eyes,
The firm foot on the earth, the high heart in the skies;
But a gray-headed infant, defrauded of youth,
Born too late or too early.
The lady, in truth,
Was young, fair, and gentle; and never was given
To more heavenly eyes the pure azure of heaven.
Never yet did the sun touch to ripples of gold
Tresses brighter than those which her soft hand unroll'd
From her noble and innocent brow, when she rose,
An Aurora, at dawn, from her balmy repose,
And into the mirror the bloom and the blush
Of her beauty broke, glowing; like light in a gush
From the sunrise in summer.
Love, roaming, shall meet
But rarely a nature more sound or more sweet--
Eyes brighter--brows whiter--a figure more fair--
Or lovelier lengths of more radiant hair--
Than thine, Lady Alfred! And here I aver
(May those that have seen thee declare if I err)
That not all the oysters in Britain contain
A pearl pure as thou art.
Let some one explain,--
Who may know more than I of the intimate life
Of the pearl with the oyster,--why yet in his wife,
In despite of her beauty--and most when he felt
His soul to the sense of her loveliness melt--
Lord Alfred miss'd something he sought for: indeed,
The more that he miss'd it the greater the need;
Till it seem'd to himself he could willingly spare
All the charms that he found for the one charm not there.
For the blessings Life lends us, it strictly demands
The worth of their full usufruct at our hands.
And the value of all things exists, not indeed
In themselves, but man's use of them, feeding man's need.
Alfred Vargrave, in wedding with beauty and youth,
Had embraced both Ambition and Wealth. Yet in truth
Unfulfill'd the ambition, and sterile the wealth
(In a life paralyzed by a moral ill-health),
Had remain'd, while the beauty and youth, unredeem'd
From a vague disappointment at all things, but seem'd
Day by day to reproach him in silence for all
That lost youth in himself they had fail'd to recall.
No career had he follow'd, no object obtain'd
In the world by those worldly advantages gain'd
From nuptials beyond which once seem'd to appear,
Lit by love, the broad path of a brilliant career.
All that glitter'd and gleam'd through the moonlight of youth
With a glory so fair, now that manhood in truth
Grasp'd and gather'd it, seem'd like that false fairy gold
Which leaves in the hand only moss, leaves, and mould!
Fairy gold! moss and leaves! and the young Fairy Bride?
Lived there yet fairy-lands in the face at his side?
Say, O friend, if at evening thou ever hast watch'd
Some pale and impalpable vapor, detach'd
From the dim and disconsolate earth, rise and fall
O'er the light of a sweet serene star, until all
The chill'd splendor reluctantly waned in the deep
Of its own native heaven? Even so seem'd to creep
O'er that fair and ethereal face, day by day,
While the radiant vermeil, subsiding away,
Hid its light in the heart, the faint gradual veil
Of a sadness unconscious.
The lady grew pale
As silent her lord grew: and both, as they eyed
Each the other askance, turn'd, and secretly sigh'd.
Ah, wise friend, what avails all experience can give?
True, we know what life is--but, alas! do we live?
The grammar of life we have gotten by heart,
But life's self we have made a dead language--an art,
Not a voice. Could we speak it, but once, as 'twas spoken
When the silence of passion the first time was broken!
Cuvier knew the world better than Adam, no doubt;
But the last man, at best, was but learned about
What the first, without learning, ENJOYED. What art thou
To the man of to-day, O Leviathan, now?
A science. What wert thou to him that from ocean
First beheld thee appear? A surprise,--an emotion!
When life leaps in the veins, when it beats in the heart,
When it thrills as it fills every animate part,
Where lurks it? how works it? . . . We scarcely detect it.
But life goes: the heart dies: haste, O leech, and dissect it!
This accursed aesthetical, ethical age
Hath so finger'd life's hornbook, so blurr'd every page,
That the old glad romance, the gay chivalrous story
With its fables of faery, its legends of glory,
Is turn'd to a tedious instruction, not new
To the children that read it insipidly through.
We know too much of Love ere we love. We can trace
Nothing new, unexpected, or strange in his face
When we see it at last. 'Tis the same little Cupid,
With the same dimpled cheek, and the smile almost stupid,
We have seen in our pictures, and stuck on our shelves,
And copied a hundred times over, ourselves,
And wherever we turn, and whatever we do,
Still, that horrible sense of the deja connu!
Perchance 'twas the fault of the life that they led;
Perchance 'twas the fault of the novels they read;
Perchance 'twas a fault in themselves; I am bound not
To say: this I know--that these two creatures found not
In each other some sign they expected to find
Of a something unnamed in the heart or the mind;
And, missing it, each felt a right to complain
Of a sadness which each found no word to explain.
Whatever it was, the world noticed not it
In the light-hearted beauty, the light-hearted wit.
Still, as once with the actors in Greece, 'tis the case,
Each must speak to the crowd with a mask on his face.
Praise follow'd Matilda wherever she went,
She was flatter'd. Can flattery purchase content?
Yes. While to its voice for a moment she listen'd,
The young cheek still bloom'd and the soft eyes still glisten'd;
And her lord, when, like one of those light vivid things
That glide down the gauzes of summer with wings
Of rapturous radiance, unconscious she moved
Through that buzz of inferior creatures, which proved
Her beauty, their envy, one moment forgot,
'Mid the many charms there, the one charm that was not:
And when o'er her beauty enraptured he bow'd,
(As they turn'd to each other, each flush'd from the crowd,)
And murmur'd those praises which yet seem'd more dear
Than the praises of others had grown to her ear,
She, too, ceased awhile her own fate to regret:
"Yes! . . . he loves me," she sigh'd; "this is love, then--and YET!"
Ah, that YET! fatal word! 'tis the moral of all
Thought and felt, seen or done, in this world since the Fall!
It stands at the end of each sentence we learn;
It flits in the vista of all we discern;
It leads us, forever and ever, away
To find in to-morrow what flies with to-day.
'Twas the same little fatal and mystical word
That now, like a mirage, led my lady and lord
To the waters of Ems from the waters of Marah;
Drooping Pilgrims in Fashion's blank, arid Sahara!
At the same time, pursued by a spell much the same,
To these waters two other worn pilgrims there came:
One a man, one a woman: just now, at the latter,
As the Reader I mean by and by to look at her
And judge for himself, I will not even glance.
Of the self-crown'd young kings of the Fashion in France
Whose resplendent regalia so dazzled the sight,
Whose horse was so perfect, whose boots were so bright,
Who so hail'd in the salon, so mark'd in the Bois,
Who so welcomed by all, as Eugene de Luvois?
Of all the smooth-brow'd premature debauchees
In that town of all towns, where Debauchery sees
On the forehead of youth her mark everywhere graven,--
In Paris I mean,--where the streets are all paven
By those two fiends whom Milton saw bridging the way
From Hell to this planet,--who, haughty and gay,
The free rebel of life, bound or led by no law,
Walk'd that causeway as bold as Eugene de Luvois?
Yes! he march'd through the great masquerade, loud of tongue,
Bold of brow: but the motley he mask'd in, it hung
So loose, trail'd so wide, and appear'd to impede
So strangely at times the vex'd effort at speed,
That a keen eye might guess it was made--not for him,
But some brawler more stalwart of stature and limb.
That it irk'd him, in truth, you at times could divine,
For when low was the music, and spilt was the wine,
He would clutch at the garment, as though it oppress'd
And stifled some impulse that choked in his breast.
What! he, . . . the light sport of his frivolous ease!
Was he, too, a prey to a mortal disease?
My friend, hear a parable: ponder it well:
For a moral there is in the tale that I tell.
One evening I sat in the Palais Royal,
And there, while I laugh'd at Grassot and Arnal,
My eye fell on the face of a man at my side;
Every time that he laugh'd I observed that he sigh'd,
As though vex'd to be pleased. I remark'd that he sat
Ill at ease on his seat, and kept twirling his hat
In his hand, with a look of unquiet abstraction.
I inquired the cause of his dissatisfaction.
"Sir," he said, "if what vexes me here you would know,
Learn that, passing this way some few half-hours ago,
I walk'd into the Francais, to look at Rachel.
(Sir, that woman in Phedre is a miracle!)--Well,
I ask'd for a box: they were occupied all:
For a seat in the balcony: all taken! a stall:
Taken too: the whole house was as full as could be,--
Not a hole for a rat! I had just time to see
The lady I love tete-a-tete with a friend
In a box out of reach at the opposite end:
Then the crowd push'd me out. What was left me to do?
I tried for the tragedy . . . que voulez-vous?
Every place for the tragedy book'd! . . . mon ami.
The farce was close by: . . . at the farce me voici.
The piece is a new one: and Grassot plays well:
There is drollery, too, in that fellow Ravel:
And Hyacinth's nose is superb: . . . yet I meant
My evening elsewhere, and not thus to have spent.
Fate orders these things by her will, not by ours!
Sir, mankind is the sport of invisible powers."
I once met the Duc de Luvois for a moment;
And I mark'd, when his features I fix'd in my comment,
O'er those features the same vague disquietude stray
I had seen on the face of my friend at the play;
And I thought that he too, very probably, spent
His evenings not wholly as first he had meant.
O source of the holiest joys we inherit,
O Sorrow, thou solemn, invisible spirit!
Ill fares it with man when, through life's desert sand,
Grown impatient too soon for the long-promised land,
He turns from the worship of thee, as thou art,
An expressless and imageless truth in the heart,
And takes of the jewels of Egypt, the pelf
And the gold of the Godless, to make to himself
A gaudy, idolatrous image of thee,
And then bows to the sound of the cymbal the knee.
The sorrows we make to ourselves are false gods:
Like the prophets of Baal, our bosoms with rods
We may smite, we may gash at our hearts till they bleed,
But these idols are blind, deaf, and dumb to our need.
The land is athirst, and cries out! . . . 'tis in vain;
The great blessing of Heaven descends not in rain.
It was night; and the lamps were beginning to gleam
Through the long linden-trees, folded each in his dream,
From that building which looks like a temple . . . and is
The Temple of--Health? Nay, but enter! I wis
That never the rosy-hued deity knew
One votary out of that sallow-cheek'd crew
Of Courlanders, Wallacs, Greeks, affable Russians,
Explosive Parisians, potato-faced Prussians;
Jews--Hamburghers chiefly;--pure patriots,--Suabians;--
"Cappadocians and Elamites, Cretes and Arabians,
And the dwellers in Pontus" . . . My muse will not weary
More lines with the list of them . . . cur fremuere?
What is it they murmur, and mutter, and hum?
Into what Pandemonium is Pentecost come?
Oh, what is the name of the god at whose fane
Every nation is mix'd in so motley a train?
What weird Kabala lies on those tables outspread?
To what oracle turns with attention each head?
What holds these pale worshippers each so devout,
And what are those hierophants busied about?
Here passes, repasses, and flits to and fro,
And rolls without ceasing the great Yes and No:
Round this altar alternate the weird Passions dance,
And the God worshipp'd here is the old God of Chance.
Through the wide-open doors of the distant saloon
Flute, hautboy, and fiddle are squeaking in tune;
And an indistinct music forever is roll'd,
That mixes and chimes with the chink of the gold,
From a vision, that flits in a luminous haze,
Of figures forever eluding the gaze;
It fleets through the doorway, it gleams on the glass,
And the weird words pursue it--Rouge, Impair, et Passe!
Like a sound borne in sleep through such dreams as encumber
With haggard emotions the wild wicked slumber
Of some witch when she seeks, through a nightmare, to grab at
The hot hoof of the fiend, on her way to the Sabbat.
The Duc de Luvois and Lord Alfred had met
Some few evenings ago (for the season as yet
Was but young) in this selfsame Pavilion of Chance.
The idler from England, the idler from France,
Shook hands, each, of course, with much cordial pleasure:
An acquaintance at Ems is to most men a treasure,
And they both were too well-bred in aught to betray
One discourteous remembrance of things pass'd away.
'Twas a sight that was pleasant, indeed, to be seen,
These friends exchange greetings;--the men who had been
Foes so nearly in days that were past.
This, no doubt,
Is why, on the night I am speaking about,
My Lord Alfred sat down by himself at roulette,
Without one suspicion his bosom to fret,
Although he had left, with his pleasant French friend,
Matilda, half vex'd, at the room's farthest end.
Lord Alfred his combat with Fortune began
With a few modest thalers--away they all ran--
The reserve follow'd fast in the rear. As his purse
Grew lighter his spirits grew sensibly worse.
One needs not a Bacon to find a cause for it:
'Tis an old law in physics--Natura abhorret
Vacuum--and my lord, as he watch'd his last crown
Tumble into the bank, turn'd away with a frown
Which the brows of Napoleon himself might have deck'd
On that day of all days when an empire was wreck'd
On thy plain, Waterloo, and he witness'd the last
Of his favorite Guard cut to pieces, aghast!
Just then Alfred felt, he could scarcely tell why,
Within him the sudden strange sense that some eye
Had long been intently regarding him there,--
That some gaze was upon him too searching to bear.
He rose and look'd up. Was it fact? Was it fable?
Was it dream? Was it waking? Across the green table,
That face, with its features so fatally known--
Those eyes, whose deep gaze answer'd strangely his own
What was it? Some ghost from its grave come again?
Some cheat of a feverish, fanciful brain?
Or was it herself with those deep eyes of hers,
And that face unforgotten?--Lucile de Nevers!
Ah, well that pale woman a phantom might seem,
Who appear'd to herself but the dream of a dream!
'Neath those features so calm, that fair forehead so hush'd,
That pale cheek forever by passion unflush'd,
There yawn'd an insatiate void, and there heaved
A tumult of restless regrets unrelieved.
The brief noon of beauty was passing away,
And the chill of the twilight fell, silent and gray,
O'er that deep, self-perceived isolation of soul.
And now, as all around her the dim evening stole,
With its weird desolations, she inwardly grieved
For the want of that tender assurance received
From the warmth of a whisper, the glance of an eye,
Which should say, or should look, "Fear thou naught,--I am by!"
And thus, through that lonely and self-fix'd existence,
Crept a vague sense of silence, and horror, and distance:
A strange sort of faint-footed fear,--like a mouse
That comes out, when 'tis dark, in some old ducal house
Long deserted, where no one the creature can scare,
And the forms on the arras are all that move there.
In Rome,--in the Forum,--there open'd one night
A gulf. All the augurs turn'd pale at the sight.
In this omen the anger of Heaven they read.
Men consulted the gods: then the oracle said:--
"Ever open this gulf shall endure, till at last
That which Rome hath most precious within it be cast."
The Romans threw in it their corn and their stuff,
But the gulf yawn'd as wide. Rome seem'd likely enough
To be ruin'd ere this rent in her heart she could choke.
Then Curtius, revering the oracle, spoke:
"O Quirites! to this Heaven's question is come:
What to Rome is most precious? The manhood of Rome."
He plunged, and the gulf closed.
The tale is not new;
But the moral applies many ways, and is true.
How, for hearts rent in twain, shall the curse be destroy'd?
'Tis a warm human one that must fill up the void.
Through many a heart runs the rent in the fable;
But who to discover a Curtius is able?
Back she came from her long hiding-place, at the source
Of the sunrise; where, fair in their fabulous course,
Run the rivers of Eden: an exile again,
To the cities of Europe--the scenes, and the men,
And the life, and the ways, she had left: still oppress'd
With the same hungry heart, and unpeaceable breast.
The same, to the same things! The world she had quitted
With a sigh, with a sigh she re-enter'd. Soon flitted
Through the salons and clubs, to the great satisfaction
Of Paris, the news of a novel attraction.
The enchanting Lucile, the gay Countess, once more,
To her old friend, the World, had reopen'd her door;
The World came, and shook hands, and was pleased and amused
With what the World then went away and abused.
From the woman's fair fame it in naught could detract:
'Twas the woman's free genius it vex'd and attack'd
With a sneer at her freedom of action and speech.
But its light careless cavils, in truth, could not reach
The lone heart they aim'd at. Her tears fell beyond
The world's limit, to feel that the world could respond
To that heart's deepest, innermost yearning, in naught,
'Twas no longer this earth's idle inmates she sought:
The wit of the woman sufficed to engage
In the woman's gay court the first men of the age.
Some had genius; and all, wealth of mind to confer
On the world: but that wealth was not lavish'd for her.
For the genius of man, though so human indeed,
When call'd out to man's help by some great human need,
The right to a man's chance acquaintance refuses
To use what it hoards for mankind's nobler uses.
Genius touches the world at but one point alone
Of that spacious circumference, never quite known
To the world; all the infinite number of lines
That radiate thither a mere point combines,
But one only,--some central affection apart
From the reach of the world, in which Genius is Heart,
And love, life's fine centre, includes heart and mind,
And therefore it was that Lucile sigh'd to find
Men of genius appear, one and all in her ken,
When they stoop'd themselves to it, as mere clever men;
Artists, statesmen, and they in whose works are unfurl'd
Worlds new-fashioned for man, as mere men of the world.
And so, as alone now she stood, in the sight
Of the sunset of youth, with her face from the light,
And watch'd her own shadow grow long at her feet,
As though stretch'd out, the shade of some OTHER to meet,
The woman felt homeless and childless: in scorn
She seem'd mock'd by the voices of children unborn;
And when from these sombre reflections away
She turn'd, with a sigh, to that gay world, more gay
For her presence within it, she knew herself friendless;
That her path led from peace, and that path appear'd endless!
That even her beauty had been but a snare,
And her wit sharpen'd only the edge of despair.
With a face all transfigured and flush'd by surprise,
Alfred turn'd to Lucile. With those deep searching eyes
She look'd into his own. Not a word that she said,
Not a look, not a blush, one emotion betray'd.
She seem'd to smile through him, at something beyond:
When she answer'd his questions, she seem'd to respond
To some voice in herself. With no trouble descried,
To each troubled inquiry she calmly replied.
Not so he. At the sight of that face back again
To his mind came the ghost of a long-stifled pain,
A remember'd resentment, half check'd by a wild
And relentful regret like a motherless child
Softly seeking admittance, with plaintive appeal,
To the heart which resisted its entrance.
And himself thus, however, with freedom allow'd
To old friends, talking still side by side, left the crowd
By the crowd unobserved. Not unnoticed, however,
By the Duke and Matilda. Matilda had never
Seen her husband's new friend.
She had follow'd by chance,
Or by instinct, the sudden half-menacing glance
Which the Duke, when he witness'd their meeting, had turn'd
On Lucile and Lord Alfred; and, scared, she discern'd
On his feature the shade of a gloom so profound
That she shudder'd instinctively. Deaf to the sound
Of her voice, to some startled inquiry of hers
He replied not, but murmur'd, "Lucile de Nevers
Once again then? so be it!" In the mind of that man,
At that moment, there shaped itself vaguely the plan
Of a purpose malignant and dark, such alone
(To his own secret heart but imperfectly shown)
As could spring from the cloudy, fierce chaos of thought
By which all his nature to tumult was wrought.
"So!" he thought, "they meet thus: and reweave the old charm!
And she hangs on his voice, and she leans on his arm,
And she heeds me not, seeks me not, recks not of me!
Oh, what if I show'd her that I, too, can be
Loved by one--her own rival--more fair and more young?"
The serpent rose in him; a serpent which, stung,
Sought to sting.
Each unconscious, indeed, of the eye
Fix'd upon them, Lucile and my lord saunter'd by,
In converse which seem'd to be earnest. A smile
Now and then seem'd to show where their thoughts touch'd. Meanwhile
The muse of this story, convinced that they need her,
To the Duke and Matilda returns, gentle Reader.
The Duke with that sort of aggressive false praise
Which is meant a resentful remonstrance to raise
From a listener (as sometimes a judge, just before
He pulls down the black cap, very gently goes o'er
The case for the prisoner, and deals tenderly
With the man he is minded to hang by and by),
Had referr'd to Lucile, and then stopp'd to detect
In the face of Matilda the growing effect
Of the words he had dropp'd. There's no weapon that slays
Its victim so surely (if well aim'd) as praise.
Thus, a pause on their converse had fallen: and now
Each was silent, preoccupied; thoughtful.
There are moments when silence, prolong'd and unbroken,
More expressive may be than all words ever spoken.
It is when the heart has an instinct of what
In the heart of another is passing. And that
In the heart of Matilda, what was it? Whence came
To her cheek on a sudden that tremulous flame?
What weighed down her head?
All your eye could discover
Was the fact that Matilda was troubled. Moreover
That trouble the Duke's presence seem'd to renew.
She, however, broke silence, the first of the two.
The Duke was too prudent to shatter the spell
Of a silence which suited his purpose so well.
She was plucking the leaves from a pale blush rose blossom
Which had fall'n from the nosegay she wore in her bosom.
"This poor flower," she said, "seems it not out of place
In this hot, lamplit air, with its fresh, fragile grace?"
She bent her head low as she spoke. With a smile
The Duke watch'd her caressing the leaves all the while,
And continued on his side the silence. He knew
This would force his companion their talk to renew
At the point that he wish'd; and Matilda divined
The significant pause with new trouble of mind.
She lifted one moment her head; but her look
Encounter'd the ardent regard of the Duke,
And dropp'd back on her flowret abash'd. Then, still seeking
The assurance she fancied she show'd him by speaking,
She conceived herself safe in adopting again
The theme she should most have avoided just then.
"Duke," she said, . . . and she felt, as she spoke, her cheek burn'd,
"You know, then, this . . . lady?"
"Too well!" he return'd.
True; you drew with emotion her portrait just now.
Yes, yes! you described her, I know,
As possess'd of a charm all unrivall'd.
You mistook me completely! You, madam, surpass
This lady as moonlight does lamplight; as youth
Surpasses its best imitations; as truth
The fairest of falsehood surpasses; as nature
Surpasses art's masterpiece; ay, as the creature
Fresh and pure in its native adornment surpasses
All the charms got by heart at the world's looking-glasses!
"Yet you said,"--she continued with some trepidation,
"That you quite comprehended" . . . a slight hesitation
Shook the sentence, . . . "a passion so strong as" . . .
But not in a man that had once look'd at you.
Nor can I conceive, or excuse, or" . . .
She broke in, all more fair for one innocent blush.
"Between man and woman these things differ so!
It may be that the world pardons . . . (how should I know?)
In you what it visits on us; or 'tis true,
It may be that we women are better than you."
Who denies it? Yet, madam, once more you mistake.
The world, in its judgment, some difference may make
'Twixt the man and the woman, so far as respects
Its social enchantments; but not as affects
The one sentiment which it were easy to prove,
Is the sole law we look to the moment we love.
That may be. Yet I think I should be less severe.
Although so inexperienced in such things, I fear
I have learn'd that the heart cannot always repress
Or account for the feelings which sway it.
That is too true, indeed!" . . . the Duke sigh'd.
For one moment in silence continued the twain.
At length the Duke slowly, as though he had needed
All this time to repress his emotions, proceeded:
"And yet! . . . what avails, then, to woman the gift
Of a beauty like yours, if it cannot uplift
Her heart from the reach of one doubt, one despair,
One pang of wrong'd love, to which women less fair
Are exposed, when they love?"
With a quick change of tone,
As though by resentment impell'd he went on:--
"The name that you bear, it is whisper'd, you took
From love, not convention. Well, lady, . . . that look
So excited, so keen, on the face you must know
Throughout all its expressions--that rapturous glow,
Those eloquent features--significant eyes--
Which that pale woman sees, yet betrays no surprise,"
(He pointed his hand, as he spoke, to the door,
Fixing with it Lucile and Lord Alfred) . . . "before,
Have you ever once seen what just now you may view
In that face so familiar? . . . no, lady, 'tis new.
Young, lovely, and loving, no doubt, as you are,
Are you loved?" . . .
He look'd at her--paused--felt if thus far
The ground held yet. The ardor with which he had spoken,
This close, rapid question, thus suddenly broken,
Inspired in Matilda a vague sense of fear,
As though some indefinite danger were near.
With composure, however, at once she replied:--
"'Tis three years since the day when I first was a bride,
And my husband I never had cause to suspect;
Nor ever have stoop'd, sir, such cause to detect.
Yet if in his looks or his acts I should see--
See, or fancy--some moment's oblivion of me,
I trust that I too should forget it,--for you
Must have seen that my heart is my husband's."
On her cheek, with the effort wherewith to the Duke
She had uttered this vague and half-frightened rebuke,
Was white as the rose in her hand. The last word
Seem'd to die on her lip, and could scarcely be heard.
There was silence again.
A great step had been made
By the Duke in the words he that evening had said.
There, half drown'd by the music, Matilda, that night,
Had listen'd--long listen'd--no doubt, in despite
Of herself, to a voice she should never have heard,
And her heart by that voice had been troubled and stirr'd.
And so having suffer'd in silence his eye
To fathom her own, he resumed, with a sigh:
"Will you suffer me, lady, your thoughts to invade
By disclosing my own? The position," he said,
"In which we so strangely seem placed may excuse
The frankness and force of the words which I use.
You say that your heart is your husband's: You say
That you love him. You think so, of course, lady . . . nay,
Such a love, I admit, were a merit, no doubt.
But, trust me, no true love there can be without
Its dread penalty--jealousy.
"Well, do not start!
Until now,--either thanks to a singular art
Of supreme self-control, you have held them all down
Unreveal'd in your heart,--or you never have known
Even one of those fierce irresistible pangs
Which deep passion engenders; that anguish which hangs
On the heart like a nightmare, by jealousy bred.
But if, lady, the love you describe, in the bed
Of a blissful security thus hath reposed
Undisturb'd, with mild eyelids on happiness closed,
Were it not to expose to a peril unjust,
And most cruel, that happy repose you so trust,
To meet, to receive, and, indeed, it may be,
For how long I know not, continue to see
A woman whose place rivals yours in the life
And the heart which not only your title of wife,
But also (forgive me!) your beauty alone,
Should have made wholly yours?--You, who gave all your own!
Reflect!--'tis the peace of existence you stake
On the turn of a die. And for whose--for his sake?
While you witness this woman, the false point of view
From which she must now be regarded by you
Will exaggerate to you, whatever they be,
The charms I admit she possesses. To me
They are trivial indeed; yet to your eyes, I fear
And foresee, they will true and intrinsic appear.
Self-unconscious, and sweetly unable to guess
How more lovely by far is the grace you possess,
You will wrong your own beauty. The graces of art,
You will take for the natural charm of the heart;
Studied manners, the brilliant and bold repartee,
Will too soon in that fatal comparison be
To your fancy more fair than the sweet timid sense
Which, in shrinking, betrays its own best eloquence.
O then, lady, then, you will feel in your heart
The poisonous pain of a fierce jealous dart!
While you see her, yourself you no longer will see,--
You will hear her, and hear not yourself,--you will be
Unhappy; unhappy, because you will deem
Your own power less great than her power will seem.
And I shall not be by your side, day by day,
In despite of your noble displeasure, to say
'You are fairer than she, as the star is more fair
Than the diamond, the brightest that beauty can wear'"
This appeal, both by looks and by language, increased
The trouble Matilda felt grow in her breast.
Still she spoke with what calmness she could--
"Sir, the while
I thank you," she said, with a faint scornful smile,
"For your fervor in painting my fancied distress:
Allow me the right some surprise to express
At the zeal you betray in disclosing to me
The possible depth of my own misery."
"That zeal would not startle you, madam," he said,
"Could you read in my heart, as myself I have read,
The peculiar interest which causes that zeal--"
Matilda her terror no more could conceal.
"Duke," she answer'd in accents short, cold and severe,
As she rose from her seat, "I continue to hear;
But permit me to say, I no more understand."
"Forgive!" with a nervous appeal of the hand,
And a well-feign'd confusion of voice and of look,
"Forgive, oh, forgive me!" at once cried the Duke
"I forgot that you know me so slightly. Your leave
I entreat (from your anger those words to retrieve)
For one moment to speak of myself,--for I think
That you wrong me--"
His voice, as in pain, seem'd to sink
And tears in his eyes, as he lifted them, glisten'd.
Matilda, despite of herself, sat and listen'd.
"Beneath an exterior which seems, and may be,
Worldly, frivolous, careless, my heart hides in me,"
He continued, "a sorrow which draws me to side
With all things that suffer. Nay, laugh not," he cried,
"At so strange an avowal.
"I seek at a ball,
For instance,--the beauty admired by all?
No! some plain, insignificant creature, who sits
Scorn'd of course by the beauties, and shunn'd by the wits.
All the world is accustom'd to wound, or neglect,
Or oppress, claims my heart and commands my respect.
No Quixote, I do not affect to belong,
I admit, to those charter'd redressers of wrong;
But I seek to console, where I can. 'Tis a part
Not brilliant, I own, yet its joys bring no smart."
These trite words, from the tone which he gave them, received
An appearance of truth which might well be believed
By a heart shrewder yet than Matilda's.
He continued . . . "O lady! alas, could you know
What injustice and wrong in this world I have seen!
How many a woman, believed to have been
Without a regret, I have known turn aside
To burst into heartbroken tears undescried!
On how many a lip have I witness'd the smile
Which but hid what was breaking the poor heart the while!"
Said Matilda, "Your life, it would seem, then, must be
One long act of devotion"
"Perhaps so," said he;
"But at least that devotion small merit can boast,
For one day may yet come,--if ONE day at the most,--
When, perceiving at last all the difference--how great!--
Twixt the heart that neglects, and the heart that can wait,
Twixt the natures that pity, the natures that pain,
Some woman, that else might have pass'd in disdain
Or indifference by me,--in passing that day
Might pause with a word or a smile to repay
This devotion,--and then" . . .
To Matilda's relief
At that moment her husband approach'd.
With some grief
I must own that her welcome, perchance, was express'd
The more eagerly just for one twinge in her breast
Of a conscience disturb'd, and her smile not less warm,
Though she saw the Comtesse de Nevers on his arm.
The Duke turn'd and adjusted his collar.
"Good! the gods fight my battle to-night. I foresee
That the family doctor's the part I must play.
Very well! but the patients my visits shall pay."
Lord Alfred presented Lucile to his wife;
And Matilda, repressing with effort the strife
Of emotions which made her voice shake, murmur'd low
Some faint, troubled greeting. The Duke, with a bow
Which betoken'd a distant defiance, replied
To Lucile's startled cry, as surprised she descried
Her former gay wooer. Anon, with the grace
Of that kindness which seeks to win kindness, her place
She assumed by Matilda, unconscious, perchance,
Or resolved not to notice the half-frighten'd glance,
That follow'd that movement.
The Duke to his feet
Arose; and, in silence, relinquish'd his seat.
One must own that the moment was awkward for all
But nevertheless, before long, the strange thrall
Of Lucile's gracious tact was by every one felt,
And from each the reserve seem'd, reluctant, to melt;
Thus, conversing together, the whole of the four
Thro' the crowd saunter'd smiling.
Approaching the door,
Eugene de Luvois, who had fallen behind,
By Lucile, after some hesitation, was join'd.
With a gesture of gentle and kindly appeal,
Which appear'd to imply, without words, "Let us feel
That the friendship between us in years that are fled,
Has survived one mad moment forgotten," she said:
"You remain, Duke, at Ems?"
He turn'd on her a look
Of frigid, resentful, and sullen rebuke;
And then, with a more than significant glance
At Matilda, maliciously answer'd, "Perchance.
I have here an attraction. And you?" he return'd.
Lucile's eyes had follow'd his own, and discern'd
The boast they implied.
He repeated, "And you?"
And, still watching Matilda, she answer'd, "I too."
And he thought, as with that word she left him, she sigh'd.
The next moment her place she resumed by the side
Of Matilda; and they soon shook hands at the gate
Of the selfsame hotel.
One depress'd, one elate,
The Duke and Lord Alfred again, thro' the glooms
Of the thick linden alley, return'd to the Rooms.
His cigar each had lighted, a moment before,
At the inn, as they turn'd, arm-in-arm, from the door.
Ems cigars do not cheer a man's spirits, experto
(Me miserum quoties!) crede Roberto.
In silence, awhile, they walk'd onward.
The Duke's thoughts to language half consciously pass'd.
Once more! yet once more!
We meet her, once more,
The woman for whom we two madmen of yore
(Laugh, mon cher Alfred, laugh!) were about to destroy
It is not with laughter that I
Raise the ghost of that once troubled time. Say! can you
Recall it with coolness and quietude now?
Now? yes! I, mon cher, am a true Parisien:
Now, the red revolution, the tocsin, and then
The dance and the play. I am now at the play.
At the play, are you now? Then perchance I now may
Presume, Duke, to ask you what, ever until
Such a moment, I waited . . .
Oh! ask what you will.
Franc jeu! on the table my cards I spread out.
Duke, you were called to a meeting (no doubt
You remember it yet) with Lucile. It was night
When you went; and before you return'd it was light.
We met: you accosted me then with a brow
Bright with triumph: your words (you remember them now!)
Were "Let us be friends!"
How then, after that
Can you and she meet as acquaintances?
Did she not then, herself, the Comtesse de Nevers,
Solve your riddle to-night with those soft lips of hers?
In our converse to-night we avoided the past.
But the question I ask should be answer'd at last:
By you, if you will; if you will not, by her.
Indeed? but that question, milord, can it stir
Such an interest in you, if your passion be o'er?
Yes. Esteem may remain, although love be no more.
Lucile ask'd me, this night, to my wife (understand,
To MY WIFE!) to present her. I did so. Her hand
Has clasp'd that of Matilda. We gentlemen owe
Respect to the name that is ours: and, if so,
To the woman that bears it a twofold respect.
Answer, Duc de Luvois! Did Lucile then reject
The proffer you made of your hand and your name?
Or did you on her love then relinquish a claim
Urged before? I ask bluntly this question, because
My title to do so is clear by the laws
That all gentlemen honor. Make only one sign
That you know of Lucile de Nevers aught, in fine,
For which, if your own virgin sister were by,
From Lucile you would shield her acquaintance, and I
And Matilda leave Ems on the morrow.
Hesitated and paused. He could tell, by the look
Of the man at his side, that he meant what he said,
And there flash'd in a moment these thoughts through his head:
"Leave Ems! would that suit me? no! that were again
To mar all. And besides, if I do not explain,
She herself will . . . et puis, il a raison: on est
Gentilhomme avant tout!" He replied therefore,
Madame de Nevers had rejected me. I,
In those days, I was mad; and in some mad reply
I threatened the life of the rival to whom
That rejection was due, I was led to presume.
She fear'd for his life; and the letter which then
She wrote me, I show'd you; we met: and again
My hand was refused, and my love was denied,
And the glance you mistook was the vizard which Pride
Lends to Humiliation.
"And so," half in jest,
He went on, "in this best world, 'tis all for the best;