A Bushman.

A Love Story online

. (page 4 of 21)
Online LibraryA BushmanA Love Story → online text (page 4 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

would sit on deck till a late hour, lost in reverie. _There_ would he
remain, until each idle mariner was sunk to rest; and nothing but the
distant tread of the wakeful watch, or the short cough of the helmsman,
bespoke a sentinel over the habitation on the waters. How would the
recollections of his life crowd upon him! - the loss of his parent - the
world's first opening - bitter partings - painful misgivings - the lone
bivouac - the marshalling of squadrons - the fierce charge - the
excitement of victory, whose charm was all but flown, for where were the
comrades who had fought beside him? These things were recalled, and
brought with them alternate pain and pleasure. And a less remote era of
his life would be presented him; when he tasted the welcome of home - saw
hands uplifted in gratitude - was cheered by a brother's greeting, and
subdued by a sister's kiss. But there _was_ a thought, which let him
dwell as he might on others, remained the uppermost of all. It was of
Julia Vernon, and met him as a reproach. If his feelings were not of
that enthusiastic nature, which they might have been were he now in his
green youth, they were not on this account the less intense. They were
coloured by the energy of manhood. He had lost a portion of his
self-respect: for he knew that his conduct had been vacillating with
regard to one, whom each traversed league, each fleeting hour, proved to
be yet dearer than he had deemed her.

In the first few days of their passage, the winds shaped their vessel's
course towards the Genoese gulf. They then took a direction nearly
south, steering between Corsica and Sardinia on the one hand - Italy on
the other.

Delmé had an opportunity of noting the outward aspect of Napoleon's
birth-place; and still more nearly, that of its opposite island, which
also forms so memorable a link in the history of that demi-god of modern
times. How could weaker spirits deem that _there_, invested with
monarchy's semblance, the ruler of the petty isle could forget that he
had been master of the world?

How think that diplomacy's cobweb fibre could hold the eagle, panting
for an upward flight?

They fearfully misjudged! What a transcendent light did his star give,
as it shot through the appalled heavens, ere it sunk for ever in
endless night!

The commander of the yacht pointed out the rock, which is traditionally
said to be the one, on which Napoleon has been represented - his arms
folded - watching intently the ocean - and ambition's votary gleaning his
moral from the stormy waves below. As they advanced farther in their
course, other associations were not wanting; and Delmé, whose mind,
like that of most Englishmen, was deeply tinctured with classic lore,
was not insensible to their charms. They swept by the Latian coast.
Every creek and promontory, attested the fidelity of the poet's
description, by vividly recalling it to the mind. On the seventh day,
they doubled Cape Maritime, on the western coast of Sicily; and two
days afterwards, the vessel neared what has been styled the abode of
Calypso, the island of Gozzo. As they continued to advance, picturesque
trading boats, with awnings and numerous rowers, became more
frequent - the low land appeared - they were signalled from the
palace - the point of St. Elmo was turned - and a wide forest of masts
met the gaze. The vessel took up her moorings; and in the novelty of
the scene, and surrounding bustle, Sir Henry for a time rested from
misgivings, and forgot his real causes for melancholy. The harbour of
Malta is not easily forgotten. The sun was just sinking, tinging with
hues of amber, the usually purple waters of the harbour, and bronzing
with its fiery orb, the batteries and lofty Baraca, where lie entombed
the remains of Sir Thomas Maitland. Between the Baraca's pillars,
might be discerned many a faldette, with pretty face beneath, peering
over to mark the little yacht, as she took her station, amidst the more
gigantic line of battle ships.

The native boatmen, in their gilded barks with high prows, were seen
surrounding the vessel; and as they exerted themselves in passing each
other, their dress and action had the most picturesque appearance. Their
language, a corrupted Arabic, is not unpleasing to the ear; and their
costume is remarkably graceful. A red turban hangs droopingly on one
side, and their waistcoats are loaded with large silver buttons, the
only remains of their uncommon wealth during the war, when this little
island was endowed with a fictitious importance, it can never hope to
resume. Just as the yacht cast anchor, a gun from the saluting battery
was fired. It was the signal for sunset, and every flag was lowered.
Down came in most seaman-like style the proud flag of merry England - the
_then_ spotless banner of France - and the great cross, hanging
ungracefully, over the stout, but clumsy, Russian man of war. All these
flags were then in the harbour of Valletta, although it was not at that
eventful time when - the Moslem humbled - they met with the cordiality of
colleagues in victory.

The harbour was full of vessels. Every nation had its representative.
The intermediate spaces were studded by Maltese boats, crowded with
passengers indiscriminately mingled. The careless English soldier, with
scarlet coat and pipe-clayed belt - priests and friars - Maltese women in
national costume sat side by side. Occasionally, a gig, pulled by man of
war's men, might be seen making towards the town, with one or more
officers astern, whose glittering epaulettes announced them as either
diners out, or amateurs of the opera. The scene to Delmé was entirely
novel; although it had previously been his lot to scan more than one
foreign country.

The arrival of the health officers was the first circumstance that
diverted his mind from the surrounding scene. There had been an epidemic
disease at Marseilles, and there appeared to be some doubts, whether, as
a precaution, some quarantine would not be imposed. The superintendent
of quarantine was rowed alongside, chiefly for the purpose of regulating
this. The spirited little commander of the yacht, however, was not at
all desirous of any such arrangement; and after some energetic appeals
on his part, met by cautious remonstrances on the part of the other,
their pratique was duly accorded.

During the discussion with the superintendent, Sir Henry had enquired
from the health officer, as to where he should find George, and was
informed that his regiment was quartered at Floriana, one of Valletta's
suburbs. In a short time a boat from the yacht was lowered, and the
commander prepared to accompany the government courier with his
dispatches to the palace.

Previous to leaving the deck, he hailed a boat alongside - addressed the
boatmen in their native language - and consigned Sir Henry to their
charge. Twilight was deepening into night as Delmé left the vessel. The
harbour had lost much of its bustle; lights were already gleaming from
the town, and as seen in some of the loftiest houses, looked as if
suspended in the air above. Our traveller folded his cloak around him,
and was rowed swiftly towards the shore.

Chapter VII.

The Young Greek.

"But not in silence pass Calypso's isles,
The sister tenants of the middle deep."

* * * * *

"Her reign is past, her gentle glories gone,
But trust not this; too easy youth, beware!
A mortal sovereign holds her dangerous throne.
And thou mayst find a new Calypso there."

Night had set in before Sir Henry reached the shore. The boatmen, in
broken, but intelligible English, took the trouble of explaining, that
they must row him to a point higher up the harbour, than the landing
place towards which the commander's gig was directing its course, on
account of his brother's regiment being quartered at Floriana. Landing
on the quay, they took charge of Delmé's portmanteau, and conducted him
through an ascending road, which seemed to form a part of the
fortifications, till they arrived in front of a closed gate. They were
challenged by the sentinel, and obliged to explain their business to a
non-commissioned officer, before they were admitted.

This form having been gone through, a narrow wicket was opened for their
passage. They crossed a species of common, and, after a few minutes'
walk, found themselves in front of the barrack. This was a plain stone
building, enclosing a small court, in the centre of which stood a marble
bason. The taste of some of the officers had peopled this with golden
fish; whilst on the bason's brim were placed stands for exotics, whose
fragrance charmed our sea-worn traveller, so lately emancipated from
those sad drawbacks to a voyage, the odours of tar and bilge water.

On either side, were staircases leading to the rooms above. A sentry was
slowly pacing the court, and gave Delmé the necessary directions for
finding George's room. Delmé's hand was on the latch, but he paused for
a moment ere he pressed it, for he pictured to himself his brother lying
on the bed of sickness. This temporary irresolution soon gave way to the
impulse of affection, and he hastily entered the chamber. George was
reading, and had his back turned towards him. As he heard the footsteps,
he half turned round; an enquiry was on his lip, when his eye caught
Henry's figure - a hectic flush suffused his cheek - he rose eagerly, and
threw himself into his brother's arms.

Ah! sweet is fraternal affection! As boys, we own its just, its
proper influence; but as men - how few of us can lay our hands on our
hearts, and in the time of manhood feel, that the thought of a
brother, still calls up the kindly glow which it did in earlier
years. Delmé strained his brother to his heart, whilst poor George's
tears flowed like a woman's.

"Ah, how," he exclaimed, "can I ever repay you for this?"

The first burst of joyful meeting over - Sir Henry scanned his brother's
features, and was shocked at the apparent havoc a few short years had
wrought. It was not that the cheek - whose carnation tint had once drawn
a comment from all who saw it - it was not that the cheek was bronzed by
an eastern sun. The alabaster forehead, showed that this was the natural
result, of exposure to climate. But the wan, the sunken features - the
unnatural brilliancy of the eye - the almost impetuous agitation of
manner - all these bespoke that more than even sickness had produced the
change: - that the mind, as well as body, must have had its sufferings.

"My dear, dear brother," said Henry, "tell me, I implore you, the
meaning of this. You look ill and distressed, and yet from you I did not
hear of sickness, nor do I know any reason for grief." George smiled
evasively; then, as if recollecting himself, struck his forehead. He
pressed his brother's arm, and led him towards a room adjoining the one
in which they were.

"It were in vain to tell you now, Henry, the eventful history of the
last few months; but see!" said he, as they together entered, "the
innocent cause of much that I have gone through."

Sir Henry Delmé started at the sight that greeted him. The room was
dimly lighted by a lamp, but the moon was up, and shed her full light
through part of the chamber. On a small French bed, whose silken linings
threw their rosy hue on the face of its fair occupant, lay as lovely a
girl as ever eye reposed on.

The heat had already commenced to become oppressive; the jalousies and
windows were thrown open. As the night breeze swept over the curtains,
and the tint these gave, trembled on that youthful beauty; Delmé might
well be forgiven, for deeming it was very long since he had seen a
countenance so exquisitely lovely. The face did indeed bear the stamp of
youth. Delmé would have guessed that the being before him, had barely
attained her fifteenth year, but that her bosom heaved like playful
billows, as she breathed her sighs in a profound slumber. Her style of
beauty for a girl was most rare. It had an almost infantine simplicity
of character, which in sleep was still more remarkable; for awake, those
eyes, now so still, did not throw unmeaning glances.

Such as these must Guarini have apostrophised, as he looked at his
slumbering love.

"Occhi! stelle mortale!
Ministri de miei mali!
Se chiusi m'uccidete,
Aperti, - che farete?"

Or, as Clarendon Gage translated it.

"Ye mortal stars! ye eyes that, e'en in sleep,
Can thus my senses chain'd in wonder keep,
Say, if when closed, your beauties thus I feel,
Oh, what when open, would ye not reveal?"

Her beauty owed not its peculiar charm to any regularity of feature; but
to an ineffable sweetness of expression, and to youth's freshest bloom.
Hafiz would have compared that smooth cheek to the tulip's flower. Her
eye-lashes, of the deepest jet, and silken gloss, were of uncommon
length. Her lips were apart, and disclosed small but exquisitely formed
teeth. Their hue was not that of ivory, but the more delicate though
more transient one of the pearl. One arm supported her head - its hand
tangled in the raven tresses - of the other, the snowy rounded elbow was
alone visible.

She met the eye, like a vision conjured up by fervid youth; when, ere
our waking thoughts dare to run riot in beauty's contemplation - sleep,
the tempter, gives to our disordered imaginations, forms and scenes,
which in after life we pant for, but meet them - never!

George put his finger to his lips, as Delmé regarded her - kissed her
silken cheek, and whispered,

"Acmé, carissima mia!"

The slumberer started - the envious eye-lid shrouded no more its lustrous
jewel - the wondering eyes dilated, as they met her lover's - and she
murmured something with that sweet Venetian lisp, in which the Greek
women breathe their Italian. But, as she saw the stranger, her face and
neck became suffused with crimson, and her small hand wrapped the snowy
sheet round her beauteous form.

Sir Henry, who felt equally embarrassed, returned to the room they
had left; whilst George lingered by the bedside of his mistress, and
told her it was his brother. Once more together, Sir Henry turned
towards George.

"For God's sake," said he, "unravel this mystery! Who is this young

"Not now!" said his brother, "let us reserve it for to-morrow, and talk
only of home. Acmé has retired earlier than usual - she has been
complaining." And he commenced with a flushed brow and rapid voice, to
ask after those he loved.

"And so, dearest Emily will soon be married. I am glad of it; you speak
so well of Gage! I wish I had stayed three weeks longer in England, and
I should have seen him. We shall miss her in the flower garden, Henry!
Yes! and every where else! And how is my kind aunt? I forgot to thank
her when I last wrote to Delmé, for making Fidèle a parlour inmate! - and
I don't think she likes dogs generally either! - And Mrs. Wilcox! as
demure as ever? - Do you recollect the trick I played her the last April
I was at home? - And my favourite pony! does _he_ still adorn the
paddock, or is he gone at last? Emily wrote me he could hardly support
himself out of the shed. And the old oak - have you railed it round as I
advised? And the deer - Is my aunt still as tenacious of killing them? I
suppose Emily's pet fawn is a fine antlered gentleman by this time. And
your charger, Henry - how is he? And Mr. Sims? and the new green house?
Does the aviary succeed? did you get my slips of the blood orange? have
the Zante melon seeds answered? And the daisy of Delmé, Fanny Porter - is
she married? I stole a kiss the day I left. And so the coachman is dead?
and you have given the reins to Jenkins, and have taken my little fellow
on your own establishment? And Ponto? and Ranger? and my friend Guess?"

Here George paused, quite out of breath; and his brother, viewing with
some alarm his nervous agitation, attempted to answer his many queries;
determined in his own mind, not to seek the explanation he so much
longed for, until a more favourable period for demanding it arrived. The
brothers continued conversing on English topics till a late hour, when
Henry rose to retire.

"I cannot," said George, "give you a bed here to-night; but my servant
shall show you the way to an hotel; and in the course of to-morrow, we
will take care to have a room provided for you. You must feel harassed:
will nine be too early an hour for breakfast?"

It was a beautiful night, still and starry. Till they arrived in the
busy street, no sound could be heard, but the cautious opening of the
lattice, answering the signal of the guitar. Escorted by his guide,
Delmé entered Valletta, which is bustling always, even at night; but was
more than usually so, as there happened to be a fête at the palace. As
they passed through the Strado Teatro, the soldier pointed out the
Opera-house; although from the lateness of the hour, Rossini's melodies
were hushed. From a neighbouring café, however, festive sounds
proceeded; and Delmé, catching the words of an unfamiliar language,
paused before the door to recognise the singer. The table at which he
sat, was so densely enveloped in smoke, that it was some time before he
could make out the forms of the party, which consisted of some jovial
British midshipmen, and some Tartar-looking Russians. One of the Russian
officers was charming his audience with a chanson à boire, acquired on
the banks of the Vistula, His compatriots were yelling the chorus most
unmercifully. A few calèche drivers, waiting for their fares, and two or
three idle Maltese, were pacing outside the cafe, and appeared to regard
the scene as one of frequent occurrence, and calculated to excite but
little interest. His guide showed Delmé the hotel, and was dismissed;
and Sir Henry, preceded by an obsequious waiter, was introduced to a
spacious apartment facing the street.

It was long ere sleep visited him. He had many subjects on which to
ruminate; there were many points which the morrow would clear up. His
mind was too busy to permit him to rest.

When he did, however, close his eyes; he slept soundly, and did not
awake till the broad glare of day, penetrating through the Venetian
blinds, disclosed to him the unfamiliar apartment at Beverley's.

Chapter VIII.

The Invalid.

"'Mid many things most new to ear and eye,
The pilgrim rested here his weary feet."

As Sir Henry Delmé stepped from the hotel into the street, the sun's
rays commenced to be oppressive, and, although it was only entering the
month of May, served to remind him that he was in a warmer clime. The
scene was already a bustling one. The shopkeepers were throwing water
on the hot flag stones, and erecting canvas awnings in front of their
doors. In the various cafés might be seen the subservient waiters,
handing round the small gilded cup, which contained thick Turkish
coffee, or carrying to some old smoker the little pipkin, whence he was
to light his genial cigar. In front of one of these cafés, some
English officers were collected, sipping ices, and criticising the
relieving of the guard. Turning a corner of the principal street, a
group of half black and three-parts naked children assaulted our
traveller, and vociferously invoked carità. They accompanied this
demand by the corrupted cry of "nix munjay" - nothing to eat, - which
they enforced by most expressive gestures, extending their mouths, and
exhibiting rows of ravenous-looking teeth. The calèche drivers, too,
were on the alert, and respectfully taking off their turbans, proffered
their services to convey the Signore to Floriana. Delmé declined their
offers, and, passing a draw-bridge which divides Valletta from the
country, made his way through an embrasure, and descending some half
worn stone steps - during which operation he was again surrounded by
beggars - he found himself within sight of the barracks. Acmé and George
were ready to receive him. The latter's eye lit, as it was wont to do,
on seeing his brother, whilst the young Greek appeared in doubt,
whether to rejoice at what gave him pleasure, or to stand in awe of a
relation, whose influence over George might shake her own. This did
not, however, prevent her offering Delmé her hand, with an air of great
frankness and grace. Nor was he less struck with her peculiar beauty
than he had been on the night previous. Her dress was well adapted to
exhibit her charms to the greatest advantage. Her hair was parted in
front, and smoothly combed over her neck and shoulders, descending to
her waist. Over her bosom, and fastened by a chased silver clasp, was
one of the saffron handkerchiefs worn by the Parganot women. A jacket
of purple velvet, embroidered with gold, fitted closely to her figure.
Round her waist was a crimson girdle, fastened by another enormous
broach, or rather embossed plate of silver. A Maltese gold rose chain
of exquisite workmanship was flung round her neck, to which depended a
locket, one side of which held, encased in glass, George's hair braided
with her own; the other had a cameo, representing the death of the
patriot Marco Bozzaris.

"Giorgio tells me," said she, "that you speak Italian, at which I am
very glad; for his efforts to teach me English have quite failed. Do you
know you quite alarmed me last night, and I really think it was too bad
of George introducing you when he did;" and she placed her hand on her
lover's shoulder, and looked in his face confidingly. In spite of the
substance of her speech, and the circumstances under which Delmé saw
her, he could not avoid feeling an involuntary prepossession in her
favour. Her manner had little of the polish of art, but much of nature's
witching simplicity; and Sir Henry felt surprised at the ease and
animation of the whole party. Acmé presided at the breakfast table, with
a grace which many a modern lady of fashion might envy; and during the
meal, her conversation, far from being dull or listless, showed that she
had much talent, and that to a quick perception of nature's charms, she
united great enthusiasm in their pursuit. The meal was over, when the
surgeon of the regiment was announced, and introduced by George to Sir
Henry. After making a few inquiries as to the invalid's state of health,
he proposed to Delmé, taking a turn in the botanical garden, which was
immediately in front of their windows.

Sir Henry eagerly grasped at the proposition; anxious, as he felt
himself, to ascertain the real circumstances connected with his
brother's indisposition. They strolled through the garden, which was
almost deserted - for none but dogs and Englishmen, to use the expression
of the natives, court the Maltese noon-day sun, - and the surgeon at once
entered into George's history. He was a man of most refined manners, and
a cultivated intellect, and his professional familiarity with horrors,
had not diminished his natural delicacy of feeling. His narrative was
briefly thus: -

George Delmé's bosom companion had been an officer of his own age and
standing in the service, with whom he had embarked when leaving England.
Their intercourse had ripened into the closest friendship. George had
met Acmé, although the surgeon knew not the particulars of the
rencontre, - had confided to his friend the acquaintance he had made - and
had himself introduced Delancey at the house where Acmé resided. Whether
her charms really tempted the friend to endeavour to supplant George,
or whether he considered the latter's attentions to the young Greek to
be without definite object, and undertaken in a spirit of indifference,
the narrator could not explain; but it was not long before Delancey
considered himself as a principal in the transaction. Acmé, whose
knowledge of the world was slight, and whose previous seclusion from
society, had rendered her timidity excessive, considered that her best
mode of avoiding importunities she disliked, and attentions that were
painful to her, would be to speak to George himself on the subject.

By this time, the latter, quite fascinated by her beauty and
simplicity, and deeming, as was indeed the fact, that his love was
returned, needed not other inquietudes than those his attachment gave
him. The pride of ancestry and station on the one hand - on the other,
a deep affection, and a wish to act nobly by Acmé - caused an internal
struggle which made him open to any excitement, nervously alive to any
wrong. He sought his friend, and used reproaches, which rendered it
imperative that they should meet as foes. Delancey was wounded; and
as _he_ thought - and it was long doubtful whether it _were_
so - _mortally_. He beckoned George Delmé to his bedside - begged him to

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryA BushmanA Love Story → online text (page 4 of 21)