Part 4 out of 7
myself such a name among good men that, poor parson though I be, your
family need be ashamed of nothing about me, save my poverty? Tell me,
now and for ever, could it be possible--"
He stopped. She walked on, silent, in her turn.
"Say no, as a matter of course, and end it!" said he, bitterly.
She drew a long breath, as if heaving off a weight.
"I cannot--dare not say it."
"It? Which of the two? yes, or no?"
She was silent.
He stopped, and spoke calmly and slowly. "Say that again, and tell me
that I am not dreaming. You? the admired! the worshipped! the
luxurious!--and no blame to you that you are what you were born--could
you endure a little parsonage, the teaching village school-children,
tending dirty old women, and petty cares the whole year round?"
"Mr. Headley," answered she, slowly and calmly, in her turn, "I could
endure a cottage,--a prison, I fancy, at moments,--to escape from this
world, of which I am tired, which will soon be tired of me: from women
who envy me, impute to me ambitions as base as their own; from men who
admire--not me, for they do not know me, and never will--but what in me
--I hate them!--will give them pleasure. I hate it all, despise it all;
despise myself for it all every morning when I wake! What does it do for
me, but rouse in me the very parts of my own character which are most
despicable, most tormenting? If it goes on, I feel I could become as
frivolous, as mean, aye, as wicked as the worst. You do not know--you do
not know--. I have envied the nuns their convents. I have envied Selkirk
his desert island. I envy now the milkmaids there below: anything to
escape and be in earnest, anything for some one to teach me to be of
use! Yes, this cholera--and this war--though only, only its coming
shadow has passed over me,--and your words too--" cried she, and stopped
and hesitated, as if afraid to tell too much--"they have wakened me--to
a new life--at least to the dream of a new life!"
"Have you not Major Campbell?" said Headley, with a terrible effort of
"Yes--but has he taught me? He is dear, and good, and wise; but he is
too wise, too great for me. He plays with me as a lion might with a
mouse; he is like a grand angel far above in another planet, who can
pity and advise, but who cannot--What am I saying?" and she covered her
face with her hand.
She dropped her glove as she did so. Headley picked it up and gave it to
her: as he did so their hands met; and their hands did not part again.
"You know that I love you, Valencia St. Just."
"Too well! too well!"
"But you know, too, that you do not love me."
"Who told you so? What do you know? What do I know? Only that I long for
some one to make me--to make me as good as you are!" and she burst into
"Valencia, will you trust me?"
"Yes!" cried she, looking up at him suddenly: "if you will not go to the
"No--no--no! Would you have me turn traitor and coward to God; and now,
of all moments in my life?"
"Noble creature!" said she; "you will make me love you whether I wish or
What was it, after all, by which Frank Headley won Valencia's love? I
cannot tell. Can you tell, sir, how you won the love of your wife? As
little as you can tell of that still greater miracle--how you have kept
her love since she found out what manner of man you were.
So they paced homeward, hand in hand, beside the shining ripples, along
the Dinas shore. The birches breathed fragrance on them; the night-hawk
churred softly round their path; the stately mountains smiled above them
in the moonlight, and seemed to keep watch and ward over their love, and
to shut out the noisy world, and the harsh babble and vain fashions of
the town. The summer lightning flickered to the westward; but round them
the rich soft night seemed full of love,--as full of love as their own
hearts were, and, like them, brooding silently upon its joy. At last the
walk was over; the kind moon sank low behind the hills; and the darkness
hid their blushes as they paced into the sleeping village, and their
hands parted unwillingly at last.
When they came into the hall, through the group of lounging gownsmen and
tourists, they found Bowie arguing with Mrs. Lewis, in his dogmatic
"So ye see, madam, there's no use defending the drunken loon any-more at
all; and here will my leddies have just walked their bonny legs off, all
through that carnal sin of drunkenness, which is the curse of your Welsh
"And not quite unknown north of Tweed either, Bowie," said Valencia,
laughing. "There now, say no more about it. We have had a delightful
walk, and nobody is the least tired. Don't say any more, Mrs. Lewis: but
tell them to get us some supper. Bowie, so my lord has come in?"
"This half-hour good!"
"Has he had any sport?"
"Sport! aye, troth! Five fish in the day. That's a river indeed at
Bettws! Not a pawky wee burn, like this Aberglaslyn thing."
"Only five fish?" said Valencia, in a frightened tone.
"Fish, my leddy, not trouts, I said. I thought ye knew better than that
by this time."
"Oh, salmon?" cried Valencia, relieved. "Delightful. I'll go to him
And upstairs to Scoutbush's room she went.
He was sitting in dressing-gown and slippers, sipping his claret, and
fondling his fly-book (the only one he ever studied _con amore_), with a
most complacent face. She came in and stood demurely before him, holding
her broad hat in both hands before her knees, like a school-girl, her
face half-hidden in the black curls. Scoutbush looked up and smiled
affectionately, as he caught the light of her eyes and the arch play of
"Ah! there you are, at a pretty time of night! How beautiful you look,
Val! I wish my wife may be half as pretty!"
Valencia made him a prim curtsey.
"I am delighted to hear of my lord's good sport. He will choose to be in
a good humour, I suppose."
"Good humour? _ca va sans dire_! Three stone of fish in three hours!"
"Then his little sister is going to do a very foolish thing, and wants
his leave to do it; which if he will grant, she will let him do as many
foolish things as he likes without scolding him, as long as they both
"Do it then, I beg. What is it? Do you want to go up Snowdon with
Headley to-morrow, to see the sun rise? You'll kill yourself!"
"No," said Valencia very quietly; "I only want to marry him."
"Marry him?" cried Scoutbush, starting up.
"Don't try to look majestic, my dear little brother, for you are really
not tall enough; as it is, you have only hooked all your flies into your
Scoutbush dashed himself down into his chair again.
"I'll be shot if you shall!"
"You may be shot just as surely, whether I do or not," said she softly;
and she knelt down before him, and put her arms round him, and laid her
head upon his lap. "There, you can't run away now; so you must hear me
quietly. And you know it may not be often that we shall be together
again thus; and oh, Scoutbush! brother! if anything was to happen to
you--I only say if--in this horrid war, you would not like to think that
you had refused the last thing your little Val asked for, and that she
was miserable and lonely at home."
"I'll be shot if you shall!" was all the poor Viscount could get out.
"Yes, miserable and lonely; you gone away, and mon Saint Pere too: and
Lucia, she has her children--and I am so wild and weak--I must have some
one to guide me and protect me--indeed I must!"
"Why, that was what I always said! That was why I wanted you so to marry
this season! Why did not you take Chalkclere, or half-a-dozen good
matches who were dying for you, and not this confounded black parson, of
all birds in the air?"
"I did not take Lord Chalkclere for the very reason that I do take Mr.
Headley. I want a husband who will guide me, not one whom I must guide."
"Guide?" said Scoutbush bitterly, with one of those little sparks of
practical shrewdness which sometimes fell from him. "Aye, I see how it
is! These intriguing rascals of parsons--they begin as father
confessors, like so many popish priests; and one fine morning they
blossom out into lovers, and so they get all the pretty women, and all
the good fortunes,--the sneaking, ambitious, low-bred--"
"He is neither! You are unjust, Scoutbush!" cried Valencia, looking up.
"He is the very soul of honour. He might be rich now, and have had a
fine living, if he had not been too conscientious to let his uncle buy
him one; and that offended his uncle, and he would allow him nothing.
And as for being low-bred, he is a gentleman, as you know; and if his
uncle be in business, his mother is a lady, and he will be well enough
off one day."
"You seem to know a great deal about his affairs."
"He told me all, months ago--before there was any dream of this. And, my
dear," she went on, relapsing into her usual arch tone, "there is no
fear but his uncle will be glad enough to patronise him again, when he
finds that he has married a viscount's sister."
Scoutbush laughed. "You scheming little Irish rogue! But I won't! I've
said it, and I won't. It's enough to have one sister married to a poor
poet, without having another married to a poor parson. Oh! what have I
done that I should be bothered in this way? Isn't it bad enough to be a
landlord, and to have an estate, and be responsible for a lot of people
that will die of the cholera, and have to vote in the house about a lot
of things I don't understand, or anybody else, I believe, but that, over
and above, I must be the head of the family, and answerable to all the
world for whom my mad sisters many? I won't, I say!"
"Then I shall just go and marry without your leave! I'm of age, you
know, and my fortune's my own; and then we shall come in as the runaway
couples do in a play, while you sit there in your dressing-gown as the
stern father--Won't you borrow a white wig for the occasion, my lord?--
And we shall fall down on our knees so,"--and she put herself in the
prettiest attitude in the world,--"and beg your blessing--please forgive
us this time, and we'll never do so any more! And then you will turn
your face away, like the baron in the ballad,--
'And brushed away the springing tear
He proudly strove to hide,'
Et cetera, et cetera,--Finish the scene for yourself, with a 'Bless ye,
my children; bless ye!'"
"Go along, and marry the cat if you like! You are mad; and I am mad; and
all the world's mad, I think."
"There," she said, "I knew that he would be a good boy at last!" And she
sprang up, threw her arms round his neck, and, to his great
astonishment, burst into the most violent fit of crying.
"Good gracious, Valencia! do be reasonable! You'll go into a fit, or
somebody will hear you! You know how I hate a scene. Do be good, there's
a darling! Why didn't you tell me at first how much you wished for it,
and I would have said yes in a moment."
"Because I didn't know myself," cried she passionately. "There, I will
be good, and love you better than all the world, except one. And if you
let those horrid Russians hurt you, I will hate you as long as I live,
and be miserable all my life afterwards."
"Why, Valencia, do you know, that sounds very like a bull?"
"Am I not a wild Irish girl?" said she, and hurried out, leaving
Scoutbush to return to his flies.
She bounded into Lucia's room, there to pour out a bursting heart--and
Lucia was sitting on the bed, her shawl and bonnet tossed upon the
floor, her head sunk on her bosom, her arms sunk by her side.
"Lucia, what is it? Speak to me, Lucia!"
She pointed faintly to a letter on the floor--Valencia caught it up--
Lucia made a gesture as if to stop her.
"No, you must not read it. Too dreadful!"
But Valencia read it; while Lucia covered her face in her hands, and
uttered a long, low, shuddering moan of bitter agony.
Valencia read, with flashing eyes and bursting brow. It was a hideous
letter. The words of a man trying to supply the place of strength by
virulence. A hideous letter, unfit to be written here.
"Valencia! Valencia! It is false--a mistake--he is dreaming. You know it
is false! You will not leave me too!"
Valencia dashed it on the ground, clasped her sister in her arms, and
covered her head with kisses.
"My Lucia! My own sweet good sister! Base, cowardly," sobbed she, in her
rage; while Lucia's agony began to find a vent in words, and she moaned
"What have I done? All that flower, that horrid flower: but who would
have dreamed--and Major Campbell, too, of all men upon earth! Valencia,
it is some horrid delusion of the devil. Why, he was there all the
while--and you too. Could he think that I should before his very face?
What must he fancy me? Oh, it is a delusion of the devil, and nothing
"He is a wretch! I will take the letter to my brother; he shall right
"Ah no! no! never! Let me tear it to atoms--hide it! It is all a
mistake! He did not mean it! He will recollect himself to-morrow and
"Let him come back if he dare!" cried Valencia, in a tone which said, "I
could kill him with my own hands!"
"Oh, he will come back! He cannot have the heart to leave his poor
little Lucia. Oh, cruel, cowardly, not to have said one word--not one
word to explain all--but it was all my fault, my wicked, odious temper;
and after I had seen how vexed he was, too!--Oh, Elsley, Elsley, come
back, only come back, and I will beg your pardon on my knees! anything?
Scold me, beat me, if you will! I deserve it all! Only come back, and
let me see your face, and hear your voice, instead of leaving me here
all alone, and the poor children too! Oh, what shall I say to them
to-morrow, when they wake and find no father!"
Valencia's indignation had no words. She could only sit on the bed, with
Lucia in her arms, looking defiance at all the world above that fair
head which one moment dropped on her bosom, and the next gazed up into
her face in pitiful child-like pleading.
"Oh, if I but knew where he was gone! If I could but find him! One word
--one word would set all right! It always did, Valencia, always! He was
so kind, so dear in a moment, when I put away my naughty, naughty
temper, and smiled in his face like a good wife. Wicked creature that I
was! and this is my punishment. Oh, Elsley, one word, one word! I must
find him if I went barefoot over the mountains--I must go, I must--"
And she tried to rise: but Valencia held her down, while she entreated
"I will go, and see about finding him!" she said at last as her only
resource. "Promise me to be quiet here, and I will."
"Quiet? Yes! quiet here!" and she threw herself upon her face on the
She looked up eagerly. "You will not tell Scoutbush?"
"He is so--so hasty. He will kill him! Valencia, he will kill him!
Promise me not to tell him, or I shall go mad!" And she sat up again,
pressing her hands upon her head, and rocking from side to side.
"Oh, Valencia, if I dared only scream! but keeping it in kills me. It is
like a sword through my brain now!"
"Let me call Clara."
"No, no! not Clara. Do not tell her, I will be quiet; indeed I will;
only come back soon, soon; for I am all alone, alone!" And she threw
herself down again upon her face.
Valencia went out. Certain as she was of her sister's innocence, there
was one terrible question in her heart which must be answered, or her
belief in all truth, goodness, religion, would reel and rock to its very
foundations. And till she had an answer to that, she could not sit still
She walked hurriedly, with compressed lips, but quivering limbs, down
stairs, and into the sitting-room. Scoutbush was gone to bed. Campbell
and Mellot sat chatting still.
"Where is my brother?"
"Gone to bed, as some one else ought to be; for it is past twelve. Is
Vavasour come in yet?"
"Very odd," said Claude; "I never saw him after I left you."
"He said certainly that he was going to find you," said Campbell.
"There is no need for speculating," said Valencia quietly; "my sister
has a note from Mr. Vavasour at Pen-y-gwryd."
"Pen-y-gwryd?" cried both men at once.
"Yes. Major Campbell, I wish to show it to you."
Valencia's tone and manner was significant enough to make Claude Mellot
bid them both good-night.
When he had shut the door behind him, Valencia put the letter into the
He was too much absorbed in it to look up at her; but if he had done so,
he would have been startled by the fearful capacity of passion which
changed, for the moment, that gay Queen Whims into a terrible Roxana, as
she stood, leaning against the mantelpiece, but drawn up to her full
height, her lips tight shut, eyes which gazed through and through him in
awful scrutiny, holding her very breath, while a nervous clutching of
the little hand said, "If you have tampered with my sister's heart,
better for you that you were dead!"
He read it through, once, twice, with livid face; then clashed it on the
"Fool!--cur!--liar!--she is as pure as God's sunlight."
"You need not tell me that," said Valencia, through her closed teeth.
"Fool!--fool!" And then, in a moment, his voice changed from indignation
to the bitterest self-reproach.
"And fool I; thrice fool! Who am I, to rail on him? Oh God! what have I
done?" And he covered his face with his hands.
"What have you done?" literally shrieked Valencia.
"Nothing that you or man can blame, Miss St. Just! Can you dream that,
sinful as I am, I could ever harbour a thought toward her of which I
should be ashamed before the angels of God?"
He looked up as he spoke, with an utter humility and an intense honesty,
which unnerved her at once.
"Oh, my Saint Pere!" and she held out both her hands. "Forgive me, if--
only for a moment--"
"I am not your Saint Pere, nor any one's! I am a poor, weak, conceited,
miserable man, who by his accursed impertinence has broken the heart of
the being whom he loves best on earth."
Valencia started: but ere she could ask for an explanation, he rejoined
"How is she? Tell me only that, this once! Has it killed her? Does she
"Adores him more than ever. Oh, Major Campbell! it is too piteous, too
He covered his face with his hands, shuddering. "Thank God! yes, thank
God! So it should be. Let her love him to the last, and win her martyr's
crown! Now, Valencia St. Just, sit down, if but for five minutes; and
listen, once for all, to the last words, perhaps, you will ever hear me
speak; unless she wants you--?"
"No, no! Tell me all, Saint Pere!" said Valencia, "for I am walking in a
dream--a double dream!" as the new thought of Headley, and that walk,
came over her. "Tell me all at once, while I have wits left to
"Miss St. Just," said he, in a clear calm voice, "it is fit, for her
honour and for mine, that you should know all. The first day that I ever
saw your sister, I loved her; as a man loves who can never cease to
love, or love a second time. I was a raw awkward Scotchman then, and she
used to laugh at me. Why not? I kept my secret, and determined to become
a man at whom no one would wish to laugh. I was in the Company's service
then. You recollect her jesting once about the Indian army, and my
commanding black people, and saying that the Line only was fit for--some
"No; I recollect nothing of it."
"I never forgot it. I threw up all my prospects, and went into the Line.
Whether I won honour there or not I need not tell you. I came back to
England years after, not unworthy, as I fancied, to look your sister in
the face as an equal. I found her married."
He paused a little, and then went on, in a quiet, business-like tone.
"Good. Her choice was sure to be a worthy one, and that was enough for
me. You need not doubt that I kept my secret then more sacredly than
ever. I returned to India, and tried to die. I dared not kill myself,
for I was a soldier and a Christian, and belonged to God and my Queen.
The Sikhs would not kill me, do what I would to help them. Then I threw
myself into science, that I might stifle passion; and I stifled it. I
fancied myself cured, and I was cured; and I returned to England again.
I loved your brother for her sake; I loved you at first for her sake,
then for your own. But I presumed upon my cure; I accepted your
brother's invitation; I caught at the opportunity of seeing her again--
happy--as I fancied; and of proving to myself my own soundness. I
considered myself a sort of Melchisedek, neither young nor old, without
passions, without purpose on earth--a fakeer who had licence to do and
to dare what others might not. But I kept my secret proudly inviolate. I
do not believe at this moment she dreams that--Do you?"
"She does not."
"Thank God! I was a most conceited fool, puffed up with spiritual pride,
tempting God needlessly. I went, I saw her. Heaven is my witness, that
as far as passion goes, my heart is as pure as yours: but I found that I
still cared more for her than for any being on earth: and I found too
the sort of man upon whom--God forgive me! I must not talk of that--I
despised him, hated him, pretended to teach him his duty, by behaving
better to her than he did--the spiritual coxcomb that I was! What
business had I with it? Why not have left all to God and her good sense?
The devil tempted me to-day, in the shape of an angel of courtesy and
chivalry; and here the end is come. I must find that man, Miss St. Just,
if I travel the world in search of him. I must ask his pardon frankly,
humbly, for my impertinence. Perhaps so I may bring him back to her, and
not die with a curse on my head for having parted those whom God has
joined. And then to the old fighting-trade once more--the only one, I
believe, I really understand; and see whether a Russian bullet will not
fly straighter than a clumsy Sikh's."
Valencia listened, awe-stricken; and all the more so because this was
spoken in a calm, half-abstracted voice, without a note of feeling, save
where he alluded to his own mistakes. When it was over, she rose without
a word, and took both his hands in her own, sobbing bitterly.
"You forgive me, then, all the misery which I have caused!"
"Do not talk so! Only forgive me having fancied for one moment that you
were anything but what you are, an angel out of heaven."
Campbell hung down his head.
"Angel, truly! Azrael, the angel of death, then. Go to her now--go, and
leave a humbled penitent man alone with God."
"Oh, my Saint Pere!" cried she, bursting into tears. "This is too
wretched--all a horrid dream--and when, too--when I had been counting on
telling you something so different!--I cannot now, I have not the
"What, more misery?"
"Oh no! no! no! You will know all to-morrow. Ask Scoutbush."
"I shall be gone in search of that man long before Scoutbush is awake."
"Impossible! you do not know whither he is gone."
"If I employ every detective in Bow Street, I will find him."
"Wait, only wait, till the post comes in to-morrow. He will surely
write, if not to her,--wretch that he is!--at least to some of us."
"If he be alive. No. I must go up to Pen-y-gwryd, where he was last
seen, and find out what I can."
"They will be all in bed at this hour of the night; and if--if anything
has happened, it will be over by now," added she with a shudder.
"God forgive me! It will indeed: but he may write--perhaps to me. He is
no coward, I believe: and he may send me a challenge. Yes, I will wait
for the post."
"Shall you accept it if he does?"
Major Campbell smiled sadly.
"No, Miss St. Just; you may set your mind at rest upon that point. I
have done quite enough harm already to your family. Now, good-bye! I
will wait for the post to-morrow: do you go to your sister."
Valencia went, utterly bewildered. She had forgotten Frank, but Frank
had not forgotten her. He had hurried to his room; lay till morning,
sleepless with delight, and pouring out his pure spirit in thanks for
this great and unexpected blessing. A new life had begun for him, even
in the jaws of death. He would still go to the East. It seemed easy to
him to go there in search of a grave; how much more now, when he felt so
full of magic life, that fever, cholera, the chances of war, could not
harm him! After this proof of God's love, how could he doubt, how fear?
Little he thought that three doors off from him, Valencia was sitting up
the whole night through, vainly trying to quiet Lucia, who refused to
undress, and paced up and down her room, hour after hour in wild misery,
which I have no skill to detail.
What, then, had become of Elsley? And whence had he written the fatal
letter? He had hurried up the high road for half an hour and more, till
the valley on the left sloped upward more rapidly, in dark dreary bogs,
the moonlight shining on their runnels; while the mountain on his right
sloped downwards more rapidly in dark dreary down, strewn with rocks
which stood out black against the sky. He was nearing the head of the
watershed; soon he saw slate roofs glittering in the moonlight, and
found himself at the little inn of Pen-y-gwryd, at the meeting of the
three great valleys, the central heart of the mountains.
And a genial, jovial little heart it is, and an honest, kindly little
heart too, with warm life-blood within. So it looked that night, with
every window red with comfortable light, and a long stream of glare
pouring across the road from the open door, gilding the fir-tree tops in
front: but its geniality only made him shudder. He had been there more
than once, and knew the place and the people; and knew, too, that of all
people in the world, they were the least like him. He hurried past the
doorway, and caught one glimpse of the bright kitchen. A sudden thought
struck him. He would go in and write his letter there. But not yet--he
could not go in yet; for through the open door came some sweet Welsh
air, so sweet, that even he paused to listen. Men were singing in three
parts, in that rich metallic temper of voice, and that perfect time and
tune, which is the one gift still left to that strange Cymry race, worn
out with the long burden of so many thousand years. He knew the air; it
was "The Rising of the Lark." Heavens! what a bitter contrast to his own
thoughts! But he stood rooted, as if spell-bound, to hear it to the end.
The lark's upward flight was over; and Elsley heard him come quivering
down from heaven's gate, fluttering, sinking, trilling self-complacently,
springing aloft in one bar, only to sink lower in the next, and call
more softly to his brooding mate below; till, worn out with his ecstasy,
he murmured one last sigh of joy, and sank into the nest. The picture
flashed through Elsley's brain as swiftly as the notes did through his
ears. He breathed more freely when it vanished with the sounds. He
strode hastily in, and down the little passage to the kitchen.
It was a low room, ceiled with dark beams, from which hung bacon and
fishing-rods, harness and drying stockings, and all the miscellanea of a
fishing inn kept by a farmer, and beneath it the usual happy, hearty,
honest group. There was Harry Owen, bland and stalwart, his baby in his
arms, smiling upon the world in general; old Mrs. Pritchard, bending
over the fire, putting the last touch to one of those miraculous
soufflets, compact of clouds and nectar, which transport alike palate
and fancy, at the first mouthful, from Snowdon to Belgrave Square. A
sturdy fair-haired Saxon Gourbannelig sat with his back to the door, and
two of the beautiful children on his knee, their long locks flowing over
the elbows of his shooting jacket, as, with both arms round them, he
made Punch for them with his handkerchief and his fingers, and chattered
to them in English, while they chattered in Welsh. By him sat another
Englishman, to whom the three tuneful Snowdon guides, their music-score
upon their knees, sat listening approvingly, as he rolled out, with
voice as of a jolly blackbird, or jollier monk of old, the good old
"My dog he has his master's nose,
To smell a knave through silken hose;
If friends or honest men go by,
Welcome, quoth my dog and I!
"Of foreign tongues let scholars brag,
With fifteen names for a pudding-bag:
Two tongues I know ne'er told a lie;
And their wearers be, my dog and I!"
"That ought to be Harry's song, and the colly's too, eh?" said he,
pointing to the dear old dog, who sat with his head on Owen's knee--"eh,
my men? Here's a health to the honest man and his dog!"
And all laughed and drank; while Elsley's dark face looked in at the
doorway, and half turned to escape. Handsome lady-like Mrs. Owen,
bustling out of the kitchen with a supper-tray, ran full against him,
and uttered a Welsh scream.
"Show me a room, and bring me a pen and paper," said he; and then
started in his turn, as all had started at him; for the two Englishmen
looked round, and, behold, to his disgust, the singer was none other
than Naylor; the actor of Punch was Wynd.
To have found his _betes noires_ even here, and at such a moment! And
what was worse, to hear Mrs. Owen say,--"We have no room, sir, unless
"Of course," said Wynd, jumping up, a child under each arm. "Mr.
Vavasour! we shall be most happy to have your company,--for a week if
"Ten minutes' solitude is all I ask, sir, if I am not intruding too
"Two hours, if you like. We'll stay here. Mrs. Owen,--the thicker the
merrier." But Elsley had vanished into a chamber bestrewn with plaids,
pipes, hob-nail boots, fishing-tackle, mathematical books, scraps of
ore, and the wild confusion of a gownsman's den.
"The party is taken ill with a poem," said Wynd.
Naylor stuck out his heavy under-lip and glanced sidelong at his friend.
"With something worse, Ned. That man's eye and voice had something
uncanny in them. Mellot said he would go crazed some day; and be hanged
if I don't think he is so now."
Another five minutes, and Elsley rang the bell violently for hot
Mrs. Owen came back looking a little startled, a letter in her hand.
"The gentleman had drunk the liquor off at one draught, and ran out of
the house like a wild man. Harry Owen must go down to Beddgelert
instantly with the letter; and there was five shillings to pay for all."
Harry Owen rises, like a strong and patient beast of burden, ready for
any amount of walking, at any hour in the twenty-four. He has been up
Snowdon once to-day already. He is going up again at twelve to-night,
with a German who wants to see the sun rise; he deputes that office to
John Roberts and strides out.
"Which way did the gentleman go, Mrs. Owen?" asks Naylor.
"Capel Curig road."
Naylor whispers to Wynd, who sets the two little girls on the table, and
hurries out with him. They look up the road, and see no one; run a
couple of hundred yards, where they catch a sight of the next turn,
clear in the moonlight. There is no one on the road.
"Run to the bridge, Wynd," whispers Naylor. "He may have thrown himself
"Tally ho!" whispers Wynd in return, laying his hand on Naylor's arm,
and pointing to the left of the road.
A hundred yards from them, over the boggy upland, among scattered
boulders, a dark figure is moving. Now he stops short, gesticulating;
turns right and left irresolutely. At last he hurries on and upward; he
is running, springing from stone to stone.
"There is but one thing, Wynd. After him, or he'll drown himself in Llyn
"No, he's striking to the right. Can he be going up the Glyder?"
"We'll see that in five minutes. All in the day's work, my boy. I could
go up Mont Blanc with such a dinner in me."
The two gallant men run in, struggle into their wet boots again, and
provisioned with meat and bread, whiskey, tobacco, and plaids, are away
upon Elsley's tracks, having left Mrs. Owen disconsolate by their
announcement, that a sudden fancy to sleep on the Glyder has seized
them. Nothing more will they tell her, or any one; being gentlemen,
however much slang they may talk in private.
Elsley left the door of Pen-y-gwryd, careless whither he went, if he
went only far enough.
In front of him rose the Glyder Vawr, its head shrouded in soft mist,
through which the moonlight gleamed upon the chequered quarries of that
enormous desolation, the dead bones of the eldest-born of time. A wild
longing seized him; he would escape up thither; up into those clouds, up
anywhere to be alone--alone with his miserable self. That was dreadful
enough: but less dreadful than having a companion,--ay, even a stone by
him--which could remind him of the scene which he had left; even remind
him that there was another human being on earth beside himself. Yes,--to
put that cliff between him and all the world! Away he plunged from the
high road, splashing over boggy uplands, scrambling among scattered
boulders, across a stony torrent bed, and then across another and
another:--when would he reach that dark marbled wall, which rose into
the infinite blank,--looking within a stone-throw of him, and yet no
nearer after he had walked a mile?
He reached it at last, and rushed up the talus of boulders, springing
from stone to stone; till his breath failed him, and he was forced to
settle into a less frantic pace. But upward he would go, and upward he
went, with a strength which he never had felt before. Strong? How should
he not be strong, while every vein felt filled with molten lead; while
some unseen power seemed not so much to attract him upwards, as to drive
him by magical repulsion from all that he had left below?
So upward and upward ever, driven on by the terrible gad-fly, like Io of
old he went; stumbling upwards along torrent beds of slippery slate,
writhing himself upward through crannies where the waterfall splashed
cold upon his chest and face, yet could not cool the inward fire;
climbing, hand and knee, up cliffs of sharp-edged rock; striding over
downs where huge rocks lay crouched in the grass, like fossil monsters
of some ancient world, and seemed to stare at him with still and angry
brows. Upward still, to black terraces of lava, standing out hard and
black against the grey cloud, gleaming like iron in the moonlight, stair
above stair, like those over which Vathek and the Princess climbed up to
the halls of Eblis. Over their crumbling steps, up through their cracks
and crannies, out upon a dreary slope of broken stones, and then,--
before he dives upward into the cloud ten yards above his head,--one
breathless look back upon the world.
The horizontal curtain of mist; gauzy below, fringed with white tufts
and streamers, deepening above into the blackness of utter night. Below
it a long gulf of soft yellow haze in which, as in a bath of gold, lie
delicate bars of far-off western cloud; and the faint glimmer of the
western sea, above long knotted spurs of hill, in deepest shades, like a
bunch of purple grapes flecked here and there from behind with gleams of
golden light; and beneath them again, the dark woods sleeping over
Gwynnant, and their dark double sleeping in the bright lake below.
On the right hand Snowdon rises. Vast sheets of utter blackness--vast
sheets of shining light. He can see every crag which juts from the green
walls of Galt-y-Wennalt; and far past it into the Great Valley of Cwn
Dyli; and then the red peak, now as black as night, shuts out the world
with its huge mist-topped cone. But on the left hand all is deepest
shade. From the highest saw-edges, where Moel Meirch cuts the golden
sky, down to the very depth of the abyss, all is lustrous darkness,
sooty, and yet golden still. Let the darkness lie upon it for ever!
Hidden be those woods where she stood an hour ago! Hidden that road down
which, even now, they may be pacing home together!--Curse the thought!
He covers his face in his hands, and shudders in every limb.
He lifts his hands from his eyes at last:--what has befallen?
Before the golden haze a white veil is falling fast. Sea, mountain,
lake, are vanishing, fading as in a dream. Soon he can see nothing, but
the twinkle of a light in Pen-y-gwryd, a thousand feet below; happy
children are nestling there in innocent sleep. Jovial voices are
chatting round the fire. What has he to do with youth, and health, and
joy? Lower, lower, ye clouds!--Shut out that insolent and intruding
spark, till nothing be seen but the silver sheet of Cwm Fynnon, and the
silver zig-zag lines which wander into it among black morass, while down
the mountain side go, softly sliding, troops of white mist-angels.
Softly they slide, swift and yet motionless, as if by some inner will,
which needs no force of limbs; gliding gently round the crags, diving
gently off into the abyss, their long white robes trailing about their
feet in upward-floating folds. "Let us go hence," they seem to whisper
to the God-forsaken, as legends say they whispered, when they left their
doomed shrine in old Jerusalem. Let the white fringe fall between him
and the last of that fair troop; let the grey curtain follow, the black
pall above descend; till he is alone in darkness that may be felt, and
in the shadow of death.
Now he is safe at last; hidden from all living things--hidden it may be,
from God; for at least God is hidden from him. He has desired to be
alone: and he is alone; the centre of the universe, if universe there
be. All created things, suns and planets, seem to revolve round him, and
he a point of darkness, not of light. He seems to float self-poised in
the centre of the boundless nothing, upon an ell-broad slab of stone--
and yet not even on that: for the very ground on which he stands he does
not feel. He does not feel the mist which wets his cheek, the blood
which throbs within his veins. He only is; and there is none beside.
Horrible thought! Permitted but to few, and to them--thank God!--but
rarely. For two minutes of that absolute self-isolation would bring
madness; if, indeed, it be not the very essence of madness itself.
There he stood; he knew not how long; without motion, without thought,
without even rage or hate, now--in one blank paralysis of his whole
nature; conscious only of self, and of a dull, inward fire, as if his
soul were a dark vault, lighted with lurid smoke.
* * * * *
What was that? He started: shuddered--as well he might. Had he seen
heaven opened? or another place? So momentary was the vision, that he
scarce knew what he saw. There it was again! Lasting but for a moment: but
long enough to let him see the whole western heaven transfigured into
one sheet of pale blue gauze, and before it Snowdon towering black as
ink, with every saw and crest cut out, hard and terrible, against the
lightning-glare:--and then the blank of darkness.
Again! The awful black giant, towering high in air, before the gates of
that blue abyss of flame: but a black crown of cloud has settled upon
his head; and out of it the lightning sparks leap to and fro, ringing
his brows with a coronet of fire.
Another moment, and the roar of that great battle between earth and
heaven crashed full on Elsley's ears.
He heard it leap from Snowdon, sharp and rattling, across the gulf
toward him, till it crashed full upon the Glyder overhead, and rolled
and flapped from crag to crag, and died away along the dreary downs. No!
There it boomed out again, thundering full against Siabod on the left;
and Siabod tossed it on to Moel Meirch, who answered from all her clefts
and peaks with a long confused battle-growl, and then tossed it across
to Aran; and Aran, with one dull, bluff report from her flat cliff, to
nearer Lliwedd; till, worn out with the long bufferings of that giant
ring, it sank and died on Gwynnant far below--but ere it died, another
and another thunder-crash burst, sharper and nearer every time, to hurry
round the hills after the one which roared before it.
Another minute, and the blue glare filled the sky once more: but no
black Titan towered before it now. The storm had leapt Llanberris pass,
and all around Elsley was one howling chaos of cloud, and rain, and
blinding flame. He turned and fled again.
By the sensation of his feet, he knew that he was going up hill; and if
he but went upward, he cared not whither he went. The rain gushed
through, where the lightning pierced the cloud, in drops like musket
balls. He was drenched to the skin in a moment; dazzled and giddy from
the flashes; stunned by the everlasting roar, peal over-rushing peal,
echo out-shooting echo, till rocks and air quivered alike beneath the
continuous battle-cannonade.--"What matter? What fitter guide for such a
path as mine than the blue lightning flashes?"
Poor wretch! He had gone out of his way for many a year, to give himself
up, a willing captive, to the melodramatic view of Nature, and had let
sights and sounds, not principles and duties, mould his feelings for
him: and now, in his utter need and utter weakness, he had met her in a
mood which was too awful for such as he was to resist. The Nemesis had
come; and swept away helplessly, without faith and hope, by those
outward impressions of things on which he had feasted his soul so long,
he was the puppet of his own eyes and ears; the slave of glare and
Breathless, but still untired, he toiled up a steep incline, where he
could feel beneath him neither moss nor herb. Now and then his feet
brushed through a soft tuft of parsley fern: but soon even that sign of
vegetation ceased; his feet only rasped over rough bare rock, and he was
alone in a desert of stone.
What was that sudden apparition above him, seen for a moment dim and
gigantic through the mist, hid the next in darkness? The next flash
showed him a line of obelisks, like giants crouching side by side,
staring down on him from the clouds. Another five minutes, he was at
their feet, and past them; to see above them again another line of awful
watchers through the storms and rains of many a thousand years, waiting,
grim and silent, like those doomed senators in the Capitol of Rome, till
their own turn should come, and the last lightning stroke hurl them too
down, to lie for ever by their fallen brothers, whose mighty bones
bestrewed the screes below.
He groped his way between them; saw some fifty yards beyond a higher
peak; gained it by fierce struggles and many falls; saw another beyond
that; and, rushing down and up two slopes of moss, reached a region
where the upright lava-ledges had been split asunder into chasms,
crushed together again into caves, toppled over each other, hurled up
into spires, in such chaotic confusion, that progress seemed impossible.
A flash of lightning revealed a lofty cairn above his head. There was
yet, then, a higher point! He would reach it, if he broke every limb in
the attempt! and madly he hurried on, feeling his way from ledge to
ledge, squeezing himself through crannies, crawling on hands and knees
along the sharp chines of the rocks, till he reached the foot of the
cairn; climbed it, and threw himself at full length on the summit of the
An awful place it always is; and Elsley saw it at an awful time, as the
glare unveiled below him a sea of rock-waves, all sharp on edge,
pointing toward him on every side: or rather one wave-crest of a sea;
for twenty yards beyond, all sloped away into the abysmal dark.
Terrible were those rocks below; and ten times more terrible as seen
through the lurid glow of his distempered brain. All the weird peaks and
slabs seemed pointing up at him: sharp-toothed jaws gaped upward--
tongues hissed upward--arms pointed upward--hounds leaped upward--
monstrous snake-heads peered upward out of cracks and caves. Did he not
see them move, writhe? or was it the ever-shifting light of the flashes?
Did he not hear them howl, yell at him? or was it but the wind, tortured
in their labyrinthine caverns?
The next moment, and all was dark again; but the images which had been
called up remained, and fastened on his brain, and grew there; and when,
in the light of the next flash, the scene returned, he could see the red
lips of the phantom hounds, the bright eyes of the phantom snakes; the
tongues wagged in mockery; the hands brandished great stones to hurl at
him; the mountain-top was instinct with fiendish life,--a very
Blocksberg of all hideous shapes and sins.
And yet he did not shrink. Horrible it was; he was going mad before it.
And yet he took a strange and fierce delight in making it more horrible;
in maddening himself yet more and more; in clothing those fantastic
stones with every fancy which could inspire another man with dread. But
he had no dread. Perfect rage, like perfect love, casts out fear. He
rejoiced in his own misery, in his own danger. His life hung on a
thread; any instant might hurl him from that cairn, a blackened corpse.
What better end? Let it come! He was Prometheus on the peak of Caucasus,
hurling defiance at the unjust Jove! His hopes, his love, his very
honour--curse it!--ruined! Let the lightning stroke come! He were a
coward to shrink from it. Let him face the worst, unprotected,
bare-headed, naked, and do battle, himself, and nothing but himself,
against the universe! And, as men at such moments will do, in the mad
desire to free the self-tortured spirit from some unseen and choking
bond, he began wildly tearing off his clothes.
But merciful nature brought relief, and stopped him in his mad efforts,
or he had been a frozen corpse long ere the dawn. His hands, stiff with
cold, refused to obey him; as he delayed he was saved. After the
paroxysm came the collapse; he sank upon the top of the cairn half
senseless. He felt himself falling over its edge; and the animal
instinct of self-preservation, unconsciously to him, made him slide down
gently, till he sank into a crack between two rocks, sheltered somewhat,
as it befell happily, from the lashing of the rain.
Another minute, and he slept a dreamless sleep.
But there are two men upon that mountain, whom neither rock nor rain,
storm nor thunder have conquered, because they are simply brave honest
men; and who are, perhaps, far more "poetic" characters at this moment
than Elsley Vavasour, or any dozen of mere verse-writers, because they
are hazarding their lives, on an errand of mercy, and all the while have
so little notion that they are hazarding their lives, or doing anything
dangerous or heroic, that, instead of being touched for a moment by
Nature's melodrama, they are jesting at each other's troubles, greeting
each interval of darkness with mock shouts of misery and despair,
likening the crags to various fogies of their acquaintance, male and
female, and only pulling the cutty pipes out of their mouths to chant
snatches of jovial songs. They are Wynd and Naylor, the two Cambridge
boating-men, in bedrabbled flannel trousers, and shooting-jackets
pocketful of water; who are both fully agreed, that hunting a mad poet
over the mountains in a thunder-storm is, on the whole, "the jolliest
lark they ever had in their lives."
"He must have gone up here somewhere. I saw the poor beggar against the
sky as plain as I see you,--which I don't--" for darkness cut the speech
"Where be you, William? says the keeper."
"Here I be, sir, says the beater, with my 'eels above my 'ed."
"Wery well, William; when you get your 'ed above your 'eels, gae on."
"But I'm stuck fast between two stones! Hang the stones!" And Naylor
bursts into an old seventeenth century ditty of the days of "three-man
"They stoans, they stoans, they stoans, they stoans--
They stoans that built George Riddler's oven,
O they was fetched from Blakeney quarr';
And George he was a jolly old man,
And his head did grow above his har'.
"One thing in George Riddler I must commend,
And I hold it for a valiant thing;
With any three brothers in Gloucestershire
He swore that his three sons should sing.
"There was Dick the tribble, and Tom the mane,
Let every man sing in his own place;
And William he was the eldest brother,
And therefore he should sing the base.--
I'm down again! This is my thirteenth fall."
"So am I! I shall just lie and light a pipe."
"Come on, now, and look round the lee side of this crag. We shall find
him bundled up under the lee of one of them."
"He don't know lee from windward, I dare say." "He'll soon find out the
difference by his skin;--if it's half as wet, at least, as mine is."
"I'll tell you what, Naylor, if the poor fellow has crossed the ridge,
and tried to go down on the Twll du, he's a dead man by this time."
"He'll have funked it, when he comes to the edge, and sees nothing but
mist below. But if he has wandered on to the cliffs above Trifaen, he's
a dead man, then, at all events. Get out of the way of that flash! A
close shave, that! I believe my whiskers are singed."
"'Pon my honour, Wynd, we ought to be saying our prayers rather than
joking in this way."
"We may do both, and be none the worse. As for coming to grief, old boy,
we're on a good errand, I suppose, and the devil himself can't harm us.
Still, shame to him who's ashamed of saying his prayers, as Arnold used
And all the while, these two brave lads have been thrusting their
lanthorn into every crack and cranny, and beating round every crag
carefully and cunningly, till long past two in the morning.
"Here's the ordnance cairn, at last; and--here am I astride of a
carving-knife, I think! Come and help me off, or I shall be split to the
"I'm coming! What's this soft under my feet? Who-o-o-oop! Run him to
earth at last!"
And diving down into a crack, Wynd drags out by the collar the
"What a swab! Like a piece of wet blotting-paper. Lucky he's not made of
"He's dead!" says Naylor.
"Not a bit. I can feel his heart. There's life in the old dog yet."
And they begin, under the lee of a rock, chafing him, wrapping him in
their plaids, and pouring whiskey down his throat.
It was some time before Vavasour recovered his consciousness. The first
use which he made of it was to bid his preservers leave him; querulously
at first; and then fiercely, when he found out who they were.
"Leave me, I say! Cannot I be alone if I choose? What right have you to
dog me in this way?"
"My dear sir, we have as much right here as any one else; and if we find
a man dying here of cold and fatigue--"
"What business of yours, if I choose to die?"
"There is no harm in your dying, sir," says Naylor. "The harm is in our
letting you die; I assure you it is entirely to satisfy our own
consciences we are troubling you thus;" and he begins pressing him to
"No, sir; nothing from you! You have shown me impertinence enough in the
last few weeks, without pressing on me benefits for which I do not wish.
Let me go! If you will not leave me, I shall leave you!"
And he tried to rise: but, stiffened with cold, sank back again upon the
In vain they tried to reason with him; begged his pardon for all past
jests: he made effort after effort to get up; and at last, his limbs,
regaining strength by the fierceness of his passion, supported him; and
he struggled onward toward the northern slope of the mountain.
"You must not go down till it is light; it is as much as your life is
"I am going to Bangor, sir; and go I will!"
"I tell you, there is fifteen hundred feet of slippery screes below
"As steep as a house-roof, and with every tile on it loose. You will
roll from top to bottom before you have gone a hundred yards."
"What care I? Let me go, I say! Curse you, sir! Do you mean to use
"I do," said Wynd quietly, as he took him round arms and body, and set
him down on the rock like a child.
"You have assaulted me, sir! The law shall avenge this insult, if there
be law in England!"
"I know nothing about law: but I suppose it will justify me in saving
any man's life who is rushing to certain death."
"Look here, sir!" said Naylor. "Go down, if you will, when it grows
light: but from this place you do not stir yet. Whatever you may think
of our conduct to-night, you will thank us for it to-morrow morning,
when you see where you are."
The unhappy man stamped with rage. The red glare of the lanthorn showed
him his two powerful warders, standing right and left. He felt that
there was no escape from them, but in darkness; and suddenly he dashed
at the lanthorn, and tried to tear it out of Wynd's hands.
"Steady, sir!" said Wynd, springing back, and parrying his outstretched
hand. "If you wish us to consider you in your senses, you will be
"And if you don't choose to appear sane," said Naylor, "you must not be
surprised if we treat you as men are treated who--you understand me."
Elsley was silent awhile; his rage, finding itself impotent, subsided
into dark cunning. "Really, gentlemen," he said at length, "I believe
you are right; I have been very foolish, and you very kind; but you
would excuse my absurdities if you knew their provocation."
"My dear sir," said Naylor, "we are bound to believe that you have good
cause enough for what you are doing. We have no wish to interfere
impertinently. Only wait till daylight, and wrap yourself in one of our
plaids, as the only possible method of carrying out your own intentions;
for dead men can't go to Bangor, whithersoever else they may go."
"You really are too kind; but I believe I must accept your offer, under
penalty of being called mad;" and Elsley laughed a hollow laugh; for he
was by no means sure that he was not mad. He took the proffered wrapper;
lay down; and seemed to sleep.
Wynd and Naylor, congratulating themselves on his better mind, lay down
also beneath the other plaid, intending to watch him. But worn out with
fatigue, they were both fast asleep ere ten minutes had passed.
Elsley had determined to keep himself awake at all risks; and he paid a
bitter penalty for so doing; for now that the fury had passed away, his
brain began to work freely again, and inflicted torture so exquisite,
that he looked back with regret on the unreasoning madness of last
night, as a less fearful hell than that of thought; of deliberate, acute
recollections, suspicions, trains of argument, which he tried to thrust
from him, and yet could not. Who has not known in the still, sleepless
hours of night, how dark thoughts will possess the mind with terrors,
which seem logical, irrefragable, inevitable?
So it was then with the wretched Elsley; within his mind a whole train
of devil's advocates seemed arguing, with triumphant subtlety, the
certainty of Lucia's treason; and justifying to him his rage, his
hatred, his flight, his desertion of his own children,--if indeed (so
far had the devil led him astray) they were his own. At last he could
bear it no longer. He would escape to Bangor, and then to London, cross
to France, to Italy, and there bury himself amid the forests of the
Apennines, or the sunny glens of Calabria. And for a moment the vision
of a poet's life in that glorious land brightened his dark imagination.
Yes! He would escape thither, and be at peace; and if the world heard of
him again, it should be in such a thunder-voice, as those with which
Shelley and Byron, from their southern seclusion, had shaken the
ungrateful motherland which cast them out. He would escape; and now was
the time to do it! For the rain had long since ceased; the dawn was
approaching fast; the cloud was thinning from black to pearly grey. Now
was his time--were it not for those two men! To be kept, guarded,
stopped by them, or by any man! Shameful! intolerable! He had fled
hither to be free, and even here he found himself a prisoner. True, they
had promised to let him go if he waited till daylight; but perhaps they
were deceiving him, as he was deceiving them--why not? They thought him
mad. It was a ruse, a stratagem, to keep him quiet awhile, and then
bring him back,--"restore him to his afflicted friends." His friends,
truly! He would be too cunning for them yet. And even if they meant to
let him go, would he accept liberty from them, or any man? No; he was
free! He had a right to go; and go he would, that moment!
He raised himself cautiously. The lanthorn had burned to the socket: and
he could not see the men, though they were not four yards off; but by
their regular and heavy breathing he could tell that they both slept
soundly. He slipped from under the plaid; drew off his shoes, for fear
of noise among the rocks, and rose. What if he did make a noise? What if
they woke, chased him, brought him back by force? Curse the thought!--
And gliding close to them, he listened again to their heavy breathing.
How could he prevent their following him?
A horrible, nameless temptation came over him. Every vein in his body
throbbed fire; his brain seemed to swell to bursting; and ere he was
aware, he found himself feeling about in the darkness for a loose stone.
He could not find one. Thank God that he could not find one! But after
that dreadful thought had once crossed his mind, he must flee from that
place ere the brand of Cain be on his brow.
With a cunning and activity utterly new to him, he glided away, like a
snake; downward over crags and boulders, he knew not how long or how
far; all he knew was, that he was going down, down, down, into a dim
abyss. There was just light enough to discern the upper surface of a
rock within arm's length; beyond that all was blank. He seemed to be
hours descending; to be going down miles after miles: and still he
reached no level spot. The mountain-side was too steep for him to stand
upright, except at moments. It seemed one uniform quarry of smooth
broken slate, slipping down for ever beneath his feet.--Whither? He grew
giddy, and more giddy; and a horrible fantastic notion seized him, that
he had lost his way; that somehow, the precipice had no bottom, no end
at all; that he was going down some infinite abyss, into the very depths
of the earth, and the molten roots of the mountains, never to reascend.
He stopped, trembling, only to slide down again; terrified, he tried to
struggle upward: but the shale gave way beneath his feet, and go he
What was that noise above his head? A falling stone? Were his enemies in
pursuit? Down to the depth of hell rather than that they should take
him! He drove his heels into the slippery shale, and rushed forward
blindly, springing, slipping, falling, rolling, till he stopped
breathless on a jutting slab. And lo! below him, through the thin pearly
veil of cloud, a dim world of dark cliffs, blue lakes, grey mountains
with their dark heads wrapped in cloud, and the straight vale of Nant
Francon, magnified in mist, till it seemed to stretch for hundreds of
leagues towards the rosy north-east dawning and the shining sea.
With a wild shout he hurried onward. In five minutes he was clear of the
cloud. He reached the foot of that enormous slope, and hurried over
rocky ways, till he stopped at the top of a precipice, full six hundred
feet above the lonely tarn of Idwal.
Never mind. He knew where he was now; he knew that there was a passage
somewhere, for he had once seen one from below. He found it, and almost
ran along the boggy shore of Idwal, looking back every now and then at
the black wall of the Twll du, in dread lest he should see two moving
specks in hot pursuit.
And now he had gained the shore of Ogwen, and the broad coach-road; and
down it he strode, running at times, past the roaring cataract, past the
enormous cliffs of the Carnedds, past Tin-y-maes, where nothing was
stirring but a barking dog; on through the sleeping streets of Bethesda,
past the black stairs of the Penrhyn quarry. The huge clicking ant-heap
was silent now, save for the roar of Ogwen, as he swirled and bubbled
down, rich coffee-brown from last night's rain.
On, past rich woods, past trim cottages, gardens gay with flowers; past
rhododendron shrubberies, broad fields of golden stubble, sweet clover,
and grey swedes, with Ogwen making music far below. The sun is up at
last, and Colonel Pennant's grim slate castle, towering above black
woods, glitters metallic in its rays, like Chaucer's house of fame. He
stops, to look back once. Far up the vale, eight miles away, beneath a
roof of cloud, the pass of Nant Francon gapes high in air between the
great jaws of the Carnedd and the Glyder, its cliffs marked with the
upright white line of the waterfall. He is clear of the mountains; clear
of that cursed place, and all its cursed thoughts! On, past Llandegai
and all its rose-clad cottages; past yellow quarrymen walking out to
their work, who stare as they pass at his haggard face, drenched
clothes, and streaming hair. He does not see them. One fixed thought is
in his mind, and that is, the railway station at Bangor.
He is striding through Bangor streets now, beside the summer sea, from
which fresh scents of shore-weed greet him. He had rather smell the
smoke and gas of the Strand.
The station is shut. He looks at the bill outside. There is no train for
full two hours; and he throws himself, worn out with fatigue, upon the
Now a new terror seizes him. Has he money enough to reach London? Has he
his purse at all? Too dreadful to find himself stopped short, on the
very brink of deliverance! A cold perspiration breaks from his forehead,
as he feels in every pocket. Yes, his purse is there: but he turns sick
as he opens it, and dare hardly look. Hurrah! Five pounds, six--eight!
That will take him as far as Paris. He can walk; beg the rest of the
way, if need be.
What will he do now? Wander over the town, and gaze vacantly at one
little object and another about the house fronts. One thing he will not
look at; and that is the bright summer sea, all golden in the sun rays,
flecked with gay white sails. From all which is bright and calm, and
cheerful, his soul shrinks as from an impertinence; he longs for the
lurid gas-light of London, and the roar of the Strand, and the
everlasting stream of faces among whom he may wander free, sure that no
one will recognise him, the disgraced, the desperate.
The weary hours roll on. Too tired to stand longer, he sits down on the
shafts of a cart, and tries not to think. It is not difficult. Body and
mind are alike worn out, and his brain seems filled with uniform dull
A shop-door opens in front of him; a boy comes out. He sees bottles
inside, and shelves, the look of which he knows too well.
The bottle-boy, whistling, begins to take the shutters down. How often,
in Whitbury of old, had Elsley done the same! Half amused, he watched
the lad, and wondered how he spent his evenings, and what works he read,
and whether he ever thought of writing poetry.
And as he watched, all his past life rose up before him, ever since he
served out medicines fifteen years ago;--his wild aspirations, heavy
labours, struggles, plans, brief triumphs, long disappointments: and
here was what it had all come to,--a failure,--a miserable, shameful
failure! Not that he thought of it with repentance, with a single wish
that he had done otherwise: but only with disappointed rage. "Yes!" he
said bitterly to himself--
"'We poets in our youth begin in gladness,
But after come despondency and madness.'
This is the way of the world with all who have nobler feelings in them
than will fit into its cold rules. Curse the world! what on earth had I
to do with mixing myself up in it, and marrying a fine lady? Fool that I
was! I might have known from the first that she could not understand me;
that she would go back to her own! Let her go! I will forget her, and
the world, and everything--and I know how!"
And springing up, he walked across to the druggist's shop.
Years before, Elsley had tried opium, and found, unhappily for him, that
it fed his fancy without inflicting those tortures of indigestion which
keep many, happily for them, from its magic snare. He had tried it more
than once of late: but Lucia had had a hint of the fact from Thurnall;
and in just terror had exacted from him a solemn promise never to touch
opium again. Elsley was a man of honour, and the promise had been kept.
But now--"I promised her, and therefore I will break my promise! She has
broken hers, and I am free!"
And he went in and bought his opium. He took a little on the spot to
allay the cravings of hunger. He reserved a full dose for the
railway-carriage. It would bridge over the weary gulf of time which lay
between him and town.
He took his second-class place at last; not without stares and whispers
from those round at the wild figure which was starting for London,
without bag or baggage. But as the clerks agreed, "If he was running
away from his creditors, it was a shame to stop him. If he was running
from the police, they would have the more sport the longer the run. At
least it was no business of theirs."
There was one thing more to do, and he did it. He wrote to Campbell a
"If, as I suppose, you expect from me 'the satisfaction of a gentleman,'
you will find me at ... Adelphi. I am not escaping from you but from the
whole world. If, by shooting me you can quicken my escape, you will do
me the first and last favour which I am likely to ask from you."
He posted his letter, settled himself in a corner of the carriage, and
took his second dose of opium. From that moment he recollected little
more. A confused whirl of hedges and woods, rattling stations, screaming
and flashing trains, great red towns, white chalk cuttings; while the
everlasting roar and rattle of the carriages shaped themselves in his
brain into a hundred snatches of old tunes, all full of a strange
merriment, as if mocking at his misery, striving to keep him awake and
conscious of who and what he was. He closed his eyes and shut out the
hateful garish world: but that sound he could not shut out. Too tired to
sleep, too tired even to think, he could do nothing but submit to the
ridiculous torment; watching in spite of himself every note, as one
jig-tune after another was fiddled by all the imps close to his ear,
mile after mile, and county after county, for all that weary day, which
seemed full seven years long.
At Euston Square the porter called him several times ere he could rouse
him. He could hear nothing for awhile but that same imps' melody, even
though it had stopped. At last he got out, staring round him, shook
himself awake by one strong effort, and hurried away, not knowing
whither he went.
Wrapt up in self, he wandered on till dark, slept on a doorstep, and
awoke, not knowing at first where he was. Gradually all the horror came
back to him, and with the horror the craving for opium wherewith to
He looked round to see his whereabouts. Surely this must be Golden
Square? A sudden thought struck him. He went to a chemist's shop, bought
a fresh supply of his poison, and, taking only enough to allay the
cravings of his stomach, hurried tottering in the direction of Drury
FOND, YET NOT FOOLISH.
Next morning, only Claude and Campbell made their appearance at
Frank came in; found that Valencia was not down: and, too excited to
eat, went out to walk till she should appear. Neither did Lord Scoutbush
come. Where was he?
Ignorant of the whole matter, he had started at four o'clock to fish in
the Traeth Mawr; half for fishing's sake, half (as he confessed) to gain
time for his puzzled brains before those explanations with Frank
Headley, of which he stood in mortal fear.
Mellot and Campbell sat down together to breakfast; but in silence.
Claude saw that something had gone very wrong; Campbell ate nothing, and
looked nervously out of the window every now and then.
At last Bowie entered with the letters and a message. There were two
gentlemen from Pen-y-gwryd must speak with Mr. Mellot immediately.
He went out and found Wynd and Naylor. What they told him we know
already. He returned instantly, and met Campbell leaving the room.
"I have news of Vavasour," whispered he. "I have a letter from him.
Bowie, order me a car instantly for Bangor. I am off to London, Claude.
You and Bowie will take care of my things, and send them after me."
"Major Cawmill has only to command," said Bowie, and vanished down the
"Now, Claude, quick; read that and counsel me. I ought to ask
Scoutbush's opinion; but the poor dear fellow is out, you see."
Claude read the note written at Bangor.
"Fight him I will not! I detest the notion: a soldier should never fight
a duel. His life is the Queen's, and not his own. And yet if the honour
of the family has been compromised by my folly, I must pay the penalty,
if Scoutbush thinks it proper."
So said Campbell, who, in the over-sensitiveness of his conscience, had
actually worked himself round during the past night into this new fancy,
as a chivalrous act of utter self-abasement. The proud self-possession
of the man was gone, and nothing but self-distrust and shame remained.
"In the name of all wit and wisdom, what is the meaning of all this?"
"You do not know, then, what passed last night?"
"I? I can only guess that Vavasour has had one of his rages."
"Then you must know," said Campbell with an effort; "for you must
explain all to Scoutbush when he returns; and I know no one more fit for
the office." And he briefly told him the story.
Mellot was much affected. "The wretched ape! Campbell, your first
thought was the true one: you must not fight that cur. After all, it's a
farce: you won't fire at him, and he can't hit you--so leave ill alone.
Beside, for Scoutbush's sake, her sake, every one's sake, the thing must
be hushed up. If the fellow chooses to duck under into the London mire,
let him lie there, and forget him!"
"No, Claude; his pardon I must beg, ere I go out to the war: or I shall
die with a sin upon my soul."
"My dear, noble creature! if you must go, I go with you. I must see fair
play between you and that madman; and give him a piece of my mind, too,
while I am about it. He is in my power: or if not quite that, I know one
in whose power he is! and to reason he shall be brought."
"No; you must stay here. I cannot trust Scoutbush's head, and these poor
dear souls will have no one to look to but you. I can trust you with
them, I know. Me you will perhaps never see again."
"You can trust me!" said the affectionate little painter, the tears
starting to his eyes, as he wrung Campbell's hand.
"Mind one thing! If that Vavasour shows his teeth, there is a spell will
turn him to stone. Use it!"
"Heaven forbid! Let him show his teeth. It is I who am in the wrong. Why
should I make him more my enemy than he is?"
"Be it so. Only, if the worst comes to the worst, call him not Elsley
Vavasour, but plain John Briggs--and see what follows."
"The post has come in! Oh, dear Major Campbell, is there a letter?"
He put the note into her hand in silence. She read it, and darted back
to Lucia's room.
"Thank God that she did not see that I was going! One more pang on earth
spared!" said Campbell to himself.
Valencia hurried to Lucia's door. She was holding it ajar and looking
out with pale face, and wild hungry eyes.--"A letter? Don't be silent or
I shall go mad! Tell me the worst! Is he alive?"
She gasped, and staggered against the door-post.
"Where? Why does he not come back to me?" asked she, in a confused,
It was best to tell the truth, and have it over.
"He has gone to London, Lucia. He will think over it all there, and be
sorry for it, and then all will be well again."
But Lucia did not hear the end of that sentence. Murmuring to herself,
"To London! To London!" she hurried back into the room.
"Clara! Clara! have the children had their breakfast?"
"Yes, ma'am!" says Clara, appearing from the inner room.
"Then help me to pack up, quick! Your master is gone to London on
business; and we are to follow him immediately."
And she began bustling about the room.
"My dearest Lucia, you are not fit to travel now!"
"I shall die if I stay here; die if I do nothing! I must find him!"
whispered she. "Don't speak loud, or Clara will hear. I can find him,
and nobody can but me! Why don't you help me to pack, Valencia?"
"My dearest! but what will Scoutbush say when he comes home, and finds
"What right has he to interfere? I am Elsley's wife, am I not? and may
follow my husband if I like:" and she went on desperately collecting,
not her own things, but Elsley's.
Valencia watched her with tear-brimming eyes; collecting all his papers,
counting over his clothes, murmuring to herself that he would want this
and that in London. Her sanity seemed failing her, under the fixed idea
that she had only to see him, and set all right with, a word.
"I will go and get you some breakfast," said she at last.
"I want none. I am too busy to eat. Why don't you help me?"
Valencia had not the heart to help, believing, as she did, that Lucia's
journey would be as bootless as it would be dangerous to her health.
"I will bring you some breakfast, and you must try; then I will help to
pack:" and utterly bewildered she went out; and the thought uppermost in
her mind was,--"Oh, that I could find Frank Headley?"
Happy was it for Frank's love, paradoxical as it may seem, that it had
conquered just at that moment of terrible distress. Valencia's
acceptance of him had been hasty, founded rather on sentiment and
admiration than on deep affection; and her feeling might have faltered,
waned, died away in self-distrust of its own reality, if giddy
amusement, if mere easy happiness, had followed it. But now the fire of
affliction was branding in the thought of him upon her softened heart.
Living at the utmost strain of her character, Campbell gone, her brother
useless, and Lucia and the children depending utterly on her, there was
but one to whom she could look for comfort while she needed it most
utterly; and happy for her and for her lover that she could go to him.
"Poor Lucia! thank God that I have some one who will never treat me so!
who will lift me up and shield me, instead of crushing me!--dear
creature!--Oh that I may find him!" And her heart went out after Frank
with a gush of tenderness which she had never felt before.
"Is this, then, love?" she asked herself; and she found time to slip
into her own room for a moment and arrange her dishevelled hair, ere she
entered the breakfast-room.
Frank was there, luckily alone, pacing nervously up and down. He hurried
up to her, caught both her hands in his, and gazed into her wan and
haggard face with the intensest tenderness and anxiety.
Valencia's eyes looked into the depths of his, passive and confiding,
till they failed before the keenness of his gaze, and swam in glittering
"Ah!" thought she; "sorrow is a light price to pay for the feeling of
being so loved by such a man!"
"You are tired,--ill? What a night you must have had! Mellot has told me
"Oh, my poor sister!" and wildly she poured out to Frank her wrath
against Elsley, her inability to comfort Lucia, and all the misery and
confusion of the past night.
"This is a sad dawning for the day of my triumph!" thought Frank, who
longed to pour out his heart to her on a thousand very different
matters: but he was content; it was enough for him that she could tell
him all, and confide in him; a truer sign of affection than any selfish
love-making; and he asked, and answered, with such tenderness and
thoughtfulness for poor Lucia, with such a deep comprehension of
Elsley's character, pitying while he blamed, that he won his reward at
"Oh! it would he intolerable, if I had not through it all the thought"
and blushing crimson, her head drooped on her bosom. She seemed ready to
drop with exhaustion.
"Sit down, sit down, or you will fall!" said Frank, leading her to a
chair; and as he led her, he whispered with fluttering heart, new to its
own happiness, and longing to make assurance sure--"What thought?"
She was silent still; but he felt her hand tremble in his.
"The thought of me?"
She looked up in his face; how beautiful! And in another moment, neither
knew how, she was clasped to his bosom.
He covered her face, her hair with kisses: she did not move; from that
moment she felt that he was her husband.
"Oh, guide me! counsel me! pray for me!" sobbed she. "I am all alone,
and my poor sister, she is going mad, I think, and I have no one to
trust but you; and you--you will leave me to go to those dreadful wars;
and then, what will become of me? Oh, stay! only a few days!" and
holding him convulsively, she answered his kisses with her own.
Frank stood as in a dream, while the room reeled round and vanished; and
he was alone for a moment upon earth with her and his great love.
"Tell me," said he, at last, trying to awaken himself to action. "Tell
me! Is she really going to seek him?"
"Yes, selfish and forgetful that I am! You must help me! she will go to
London, nothing can stop her;--and it will kill her!"
"It may drive her mad to keep her here."
"It will! and that drives me mad also. What can I choose!"
"Follow where God leads. It is she, after all, who must reclaim him.
Leave her in God's hands, and go with her to London."
"But my brother?"
"Mellot or I will see him. Let it be me. Mellot shall go with you to
"Oh that you were going!"
"Oh that I were! I will follow, though. Do you think that I can be long
away from you?... But I must tell your brother. I had a very different
matter on which to speak to him this morning," said he, with a sad
smile: "but better as it is. He shall find me, I hope, reasonable and
trustworthy in this matter; perhaps enough so to have my Valencia
committed to me. Precious jewel! I must learn to be a man now, at least;
now that I have you to care for."
"And yet you go and leave me?"
"Valencia! Because God has given us to each other, shall our
thank-offering be to shrink cowardly from His work?"
He spoke more sternly than he intended, to awe into obedience rather
himself than her; for he felt, poor fellow, his courage failing fast,
while he held that treasure in his arms.
She shuddered in silence.
"Forgive me!" he cried; "I was too harsh, Valencia!"
"No!" she cried, looking up at him with a glorious smile. "Scold me! Be
harsh to me! It is so delicious now to be reproved by you!" and as she
spoke she felt as if she would rather endure torture from that man's
hand than bliss from any other. How many strange words of Lucia's that
new feeling explained to her; words at which she had once grown angry,
as doting weaknesses, unjust and degrading to self-respect. Poor Lucia!
She might be able to comfort her now, for she had learnt to sympathise
with her by experience the very opposite to hers. Yet there must have
been a time when Lucia clung to Elsley as she to Frank. How horrible to
have her eyes opened thus!--To be torn and flung away from the bosom
where she longed to rest! It could never happen to her. Of course her
Frank was true, though all the world were false: but poor Lucia! She
must go to her. This was mere selfishness at such a moment.
"You will find Scoutbush, then!"
"This moment. I will order the car now, if you will only eat. You must!"
And he rang the bell, and then made her sit down and eat, almost feeding
her with his own hand. That, too, was a new experience; and one so
strangely pleasant, that when Bowie entered, and stared solemnly at the
pair, she only looked up smiling, though blushing a little.
"Get a car instantly," said she.
"For Mrs. Vavasour, my lady? She has ordered hers already."
"No; for Mr. Headley. He is going to find my lord. Frank, pour me out a
cup of tea for Lucia."
Bowie vanished, mystified. "It's no concern of mine; but better tak' up
wi' a godly meenister than a godless pawet," said the worthy warrior to
himself as he marched down stairs.
"You see that I am asserting our rights already before all the world,"
said she, looking up.
"I see you are not ashamed of me."
"Ashamed of you?"
"And now I must go to Lucia."
"And to London."
Valencia began to cry like any baby; but rose and carried away the tea
in her hand. "Must I go? and before you come back, too?"
"Is she determined to start instantly?"
"I cannot stop her. You see she has ordered the car."
"Then go, my darling! My own! my Valencia! Oh, a thousand things to ask
you, and no time to ask them in! I can write?" said Frank, with an
"Write? Yes; every day,--twice a day. I shall live upon those letters.
Good-bye!" And out she went, while Frank sat himself down at the table,
and laid his head upon his hands, stupefied with delight, till Bowie
"The car, sir."
"Which? Who?" asked Frank, looking up as from a dream.
"The car, sir."
Frank rose, and walked downstairs abstractedly. Bowie kept close to his
"Ye'll pardon me, sir," said he in a low voice; "but I see how it is,--
the more blessing for you. Ye'll be pleased, I trust, to take more care
of this jewel than others have of that one: or--"
"Or you'll shoot me yourself, Bowie?" said Frank, half amused, half
awed, too, by the stern tone of the guardsman. "I'll give you leave to
do it if I deserve it"
"It's no my duty, either as a soldier or as a valet. And, indeed, I've
that opeenion of you, sir, that I don't think it'll need to be any one's
else's duty either."
And so did Mr. Bowie signify his approbation of the new family romance,
and went off to assist Mrs. Clara in getting the trunks down stairs.
Clara was in high dudgeon. She had not yet completed her flirtation with
Mr. Bowie, and felt it hard to have her one amusement in life snatched
out of her hard-worked hands.
"I'm sure I don't know why we're moving. I don't believe it's business.
Some of his tantrums, I daresay. I heard her walking up and down the
room all last night, I'll swear. Neither she nor Miss Valencia have been
to bed. He'll kill her at last, the brute!"
"It's no concern of either of us, that. Have ye got another trunk to
"No concern? Just like your hard-heartedness, Mr. Bowie. And as soon as
I'm gone, of course you will be flirting with these impudent Welshwomen,
in their horrid hats."
"Maybe, yes; maybe, no. But flirting's no marrying, Mrs. Clara."
"True for you, sir! Men were deceivers ever," quoth Clara, and flounced
up stairs; while Bowie looked after her with a grim smile, and caught
her, when she came down again, long enough to give her a great kiss; the
only language which he used in wooing, and that but rarely.
"Dinna fash, lassie. Mind your lady and the poor bairns like a godly
handmaiden, and I'll buy the ring when the sawmon fishing's over, and
we'll just be married ere I start for the Crimee"
"The sawmon!" cried Clara. "I'll see you turned into a mermaid first,
and married to a sawmon!"
"And ye won't do anything o' the kind," said Bowie to himself, and
shouldered a valise.
In ten minutes the ladies were packed into the carriage, and away, under
Mellot's care. Frank watched Valencia looking back, and smiling through
her tears, as they rolled through the village; and then got into his
car, and rattled down the southern road to Pont Aberglaslyn, his hand
still tingling with the last pressure of Valencia's.
THE BROAD STONE OF HONOUR.
But where has Stangrave been all this while?
Where any given bachelor has been, for any given month, is difficult to
say, and no man's business but his own. But where he happened to be on a
certain afternoon in the first week of October, on which he had just
heard the news of Alma, was,--upon the hills between Ems and Coblentz.
Walking over a high table-land of stubbles, which would be grass in
England; and yet with all its tillage is perhaps not worth more than
English grass would be, thanks to that small-farm system much be-praised
by some who know not wheat from turnips. Then along a road, which might
be a Devon one, cut in the hill-side, through authentic "Devonian"
slate, where the deep chocolate soil is lodged on the top of the upright
strata, and a thick coat of moss and wood sedge clusters about the
oak-scrub roots, round which the delicate and rare oak-fern mingles its
fronds with great blue campanulas; while the "white admirals" and
silver-washed "fritillaries" flit round every bramble bed, and the great
"purple emperors" come down to drink in the road puddles, and sit,
fearless flashing off their velvet wings a blue as of that empyrean
which is "dark by excess of light."
Down again through cultivated lands, corn and clover, flax and beet, and
all the various crops with which the industrious German yeoman ekes out
his little patch of soil. Past the thrifty husbandman himself, as he
guides the two milch-kine in his tiny plough, and stops at the furrow's
end, to greet you with the hearty German smile and bow; while the little
fair-haired maiden, walking beneath the shade of standard cherries,
walnuts, and pears, all grey with fruit, fills the cows' mouths with
chicory, and wild carnations, and pink saintfoin, and many a fragrant
weed which richer England wastes.
Down once more, into a glen; but such a glen as neither England nor
America has ever seen; or, please God, ever will see, glorious as it is.
Stangrave, who knew all Europe well, had walked the path before; but he
stopped then, as he had done the first time, in awe. On the right, slope
up the bare slate downs, up to the foot of cliffs; but only half of
those cliffs God has made. Above the grey slate ledges rise cliffs of
man's handiwork, pierced with a hundred square black embrasures; and
above them the long barrack-ranges of a soldier's town; which a foeman
stormed once, when it was young: but what foeman will ever storm it
again [Transcriber's note: punctuation missing from the end of this
sentence in original. Possibly question mark.] What conqueror's foot
will ever tread again upon the "broad stone of honour," and call
Ehrenbreitstein his? On the left the clover and the corn range on,
beneath the orchard boughs, up to yon knoll of chestnut and acacia, tall
poplar, feathered larch:--but what is that stonework which gleams grey
beneath their stems'? A summer-house for some great duke, looking out
over the glorious Rhine vale, and up the long vineyards of the bright
Moselle, from whence he may bid his people eat, drink, and take their
ease, for they have much goods laid up for many years?--
Bank over bank of earth and stone, cleft by deep embrasures, from which
the great guns grin across the rich gardens, studded with standard
fruit-trees, which close the glacis to its topmost edge. And there,
below him, lie the vineyards: every rock-ledge and narrow path of soil
tossing its golden tendrils to the sun, grey with ripening clusters,
rich with noble wine; but what is that wall which winds among them, up
and down, creeping and sneaking over every ledge and knoll of vantage
ground, pierced with eyelet-holes, backed by strange stairs and
galleries of stone; till it rises close before him, to meet the low
round tower full in his path, from whose deep casemates, as from dark
scowling eye-holes, the ugly cannon-eyes stare up the glen?
Stangrave knows them all--as far as any man can know. The wards of the
key which locks apart the nations; the yet maiden Troy of Europe; the
greatest fortress of the world.
He walks down, turns into the vineyards, and lies down beneath the
mellow shade of vines. He has no sketch-book--articles forbidden; his
passport is in his pocket; and he speaks all tongues of German men. So,
fearless of gendarmes and soldiers, he lies down, in the blazing German
afternoon, upon the shaly soil; and watches the bright-eyed lizards hunt
flies along the roasting-walls, and the great locusts buzz and pitch and
leap; green locusts with red wings, and grey locusts with blue wings; he
notes the species, for he is tired and lazy, and has so many thoughts
within his head, that he is glad to toss them all away, and give up his
soul, if possible, to locusts and lizards, vines and shade.
And far below him fleets the mighty Rhine, rich with the memories of two
thousand stormy years; and on its further bank the grey-walled Coblentz
town, and the long arches of the Moselle-bridge, and the rich flats of
Kaiser Franz, and the long poplar-crested uplands, which look so gay,
and are so stern; for everywhere between the poplar-stems the
saw-toothed outline of the western forts cuts the blue sky.
And far beyond it all sleeps, high in air, the Eifel with its hundred
crater peaks; blue mound behind blue mound, melting into white haze.--
Stangrave has walked upon those hills, and stood upon the crater-lip of
the great Moselkopf, and dreamed beside the Laacher See, beneath the
ancient abbey walls; and his thoughts flit across the Moselle flats
towards his ancient haunts, as he asks himself--How long has that old
Eifel lain in such soft sleep? How long ere it awake again?
It may awake, geologists confess,--why not? and blacken all the skies
with smoke of Tophet, pouring its streams of boiling mud once more to
dam the Rhine, whelming the works of men in flood, and ash, and fire.
Why not? The old earth seems so solid at first sight: but look a little
nearer, and this is the stuff of which she is made!--The wreck of past
earthquakes, the leavings of old floods, the washings of cold cinder
heaps--which are smouldering still below.
Stangrave knew that well enough. He had climbed Vesuvius, Etna,
Popocatepetl. He had felt many an earthquake shock; and knew how far to
trust the everlasting hills. And was old David right, he thought that
day, when he held the earthquake and the volcano as the truest symbols
of the history of human kind, and of the dealings of their Maker with
them? All the magnificent Plutonic imagery of the Hebrew poets, had it
no meaning for men now? Did the Lord still uncover the foundations of
the world, spiritual as well as physical, with the breath of His
displeasure? Was the solfa-tara of Tophet still ordained for tyrants?
And did the Lord still arise out of His place to shake terribly the
earth? Or, had the moral world grown as sleepy as the physical one had
seemed to have done? Would anything awful, unexpected, tragical, ever
burst forth again from the heart of earth, or from the heart of man?
Surprising question! What can ever happen henceforth, save infinite
railroads and crystal palaces, peace and plenty, cockaigne and
dilettantism, to the end of time? Is it not full sixty whole years since
the first French revolution, and six whole years since the revolution of
all Europe? Bah!--change is a thing of the past, and tragedy a myth of
our forefathers; war a bad habit of old barbarians, eradicated by the
spread of an enlightened philanthropy. Men know now how to govern the
world far too well to need any divine visitations, much less divine
punishments; and Stangrave was an Utopian dreamer, only to be excused by
the fact that he had in his pocket the news that three great nations
were gone forth to tear each other as of yore.
Nevertheless, looking round upon those grim earth-mounds and embrasures,
he could not but give the men who put them there credit for supposing
that they might be wanted. Ah! but that might be only one of the direful
necessities of the decaying civilisation of the old world. What a
contrast to the unarmed and peaceful prosperity of his own country!
Thank heaven, New England needed no fortresses, military roads, or
standing armies! True, but why that flush of contemptuous pity for the
poor old world, which could only hold its own by such expensive and ugly
He asked himself that very question, a moment after, angrily; for he was
out of humour with himself, with his country, and indeed with the
universe in general. And across his mind flashed a memorable
conversation at Constantinople long since, during which he had made some
such unwise remark to Thurnall, and received from him a sharp answer,
which parted them for years.
It was natural enough that that conversation should come back to him
just then; for, in his jealousy, he was thinking of Tom Thurnall often
enough every day; and in spite of his enmity, he could not help
suspecting more and more that Thurnall had had some right on his side of
He had been twitting Thurnall with the miserable condition of the
labourers in the south of England, and extolling his own country at the
expense of ours. Tom, unable to deny the fact, had waxed all the more
wroth at having it pressed on him; and at last had burst forth--
"Well, and what right have you to crow over us on that score? I suppose,
if you could hire a man in America for eighteen-pence a day instead of a
dollar and a half, you would do it? You Americans are not accustomed to
give more for a thing than it's worth in the market, are you?"
"But," Stangrave had answered, "the glory of America is, that you cannot
get the man for less than the dollar and a half; that he is too well
fed, too prosperous, too well educated, to be made a slave of."
"And therefore makes slaves of the niggers instead? I'll tell you what,
I'm sick of that shallow fallacy--the glory of America! Do you mean by
America, the country, or the people? You boast, all of you, of your
country, as if you had made it yourselves; and quite forget that God
made America, and America has made you."
"Made us, sir?" quoth Stangrave fiercely enough.
"Made you!" replied Thurnall, exaggerating his half truth from anger.
"To what is your comfort, your high feeding, your very education, owing,
but to your having a thin population, a virgin soil, and unlimited means
of emigration? What credit to you if you need no poor laws, when you
pack off your children, as fast as they grow up, to clear more ground
westward? What credit to your yeomen that they have read more books than
our clods have, while they can earn more in four hours than our poor
fellows in twelve? It all depends on the mere physical fact of your
being in a new country, and we in an old one: and as for moral
superiority, I shan't believe in that while I see the whole of the
northern states so utterly given up to the 'almighty dollar,' that they
leave the honour of their country to be made ducks and drakes of by a
few southern slaveholders. Moral superiority? We hold in England that
an honest man is a match for three rogues. If the same law holds good in
the United States, I leave you to settle whether Northerners or
Southerners are the honester men."
Whereupon (and no shame to Stangrave) there was a heavy quarrel, and the
two men had not met since.
But now, those words of Thurnall's, backed by far bitterer ones of
Marie's, were fretting Stangrave's heart.--What if they were true? They
were not the whole truth. There was beside, and above them all, a
nobleness in the American heart, which could, if it chose, and when it
chose, give the lie to that bitter taunt: but had it done so already?
At least he himself had not.... If Thurnall and Marie were unjust to his
nation, they had not been unjust to him. He, at least, had been making,
all his life, mere outward blessings causes of self-congratulation, and
not of humility. He had been priding himself on wealth, ease, luxury,
cultivation, without a thought that these were God's gifts, and that God
would require an account of them. If Thurnall were right, was he himself
too truly the typical American? And bitterly enough he accused at once
himself and his people.
"Noble? Marie is right! We boast of our nobleness: better to take the
only opportunity of showing it which we have had since we have become a
nation! Heaped with every blessing which God could give; beyond the
reach of sorrow, a check, even an interference; shut out from all the
world in God's new Eden, that we might freely eat of all the trees of
the garden, and grow and spread, and enjoy ourselves like the birds of
heaven--God only laid on us one duty, one command, to right one simple,
confessed, conscious wrong....
"And what have we done?--what have even I done? We have steadily,
deliberately cringed at the feet of the wrong-doer, even while we