A Bushman.

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and in the fulness of his despair, he knelt and prayed, that though he
had long neglected his God, his God would not now forsake him. And, as
if to mock his sufferings, sleep came; but it was short, very short; and
a weight, a leaden weight, oppressed his eye-lids even in slumber. And
he gave one start, and awoke a prey to mental agony. His despair flashed
on him - he sprung up wildly in his bed. "Liar! liar!" said he, as with
clenched teeth, and hand upraised, he recalled that fond look given to
another. Drops of sweat started to his brow - his pulse beat quick and
audibly - quicker - quicker yet. A feeling of suffocation came over
him - and God forgive him! Oliver Delancey deemed that hour his last. He
staggered blindly to the bell, and with fearful energy pulled its cord,
till it fell clattering on the marble hearth stone. The domestics found
him speechless and insensible on the floor - the blood oozing from his
mouth and ears.

It may be said that this picture is overcharged; that no vitiated mind
could have thus felt. But it is not so. In life's spring we all feel
acutely: and to the effects of disappointed love, and wounded pride,
there are few limits.

Woman! dearest woman! born to alleviate our sorrow, and soothe our
anguish! who canst bid feeling's tear trickle down the obdurate cheek,
or mould the iron heart, till it be pliable as a child's - why stain thy
gentle dominion by inconstancy? why dismiss the first form that haunted
thy maiden pillow, until - or that vision is a dear reality beside
thee - or thou liest pale and hushed, on thy last couch of repose?

And then - shall not thy virgin spirit hail him? Why first fetter us,
slaves to virtue and to thee; _then_ become the malevolent Typhoon, on
whose wings our good genius flies for ever? In this - far worse than the
iconoclasts of yore art thou! _They_ but disfigured images of man's rude
fashioning: whilst _thou_ wouldst injure the _once_ loved form of God's
high creation, - wouldst entail on the body a premature decay - and on
that which dieth not, an irradicable blight.

"Then the mortal coldness of the soul, like death itself comes down;
It cannot feel for others woes - it dares not dream its own.
That heavy chill has frozen o'er the fountain of our tears;
And though the eye may sparkle still, 'tis where the ice appears."

On such a character as was Delancey's, the blow did indeed fall heavy.
Not that his paroxysms of grief were more lasting, or his pangs more
acute, than is usual in similar cases; but to his moral worth it was
death. An infliction of this nature, falling on a comparatively virtuous
man, is productive of few evil consequences. It may give a holier turn
to his thoughts - wean him from sublunary vanities - and purify his
nature. On an utterly depraved man, its effects may be fleeting also;
for few can _here_ expect a moral regeneration. But falling on Delancey,
it was not thus. The slender thread that bound him to virtue, was snapt
asunder; the germ whence the good of his nature might have sprung,
destroyed for ever. Such a man could not love purely again. To expect
him to wander to another font, and imbibe from as clear a stream, would
be madness. The love of a man of the world, let it be the first and
best, is gross and earthly enough; but let him be betrayed in that
love - let him see the staff on which he confidingly leant, break from
under him - and he becomes from henceforth the deceiver - but never the
deceived. When Delmé saw him, Delancey was writhing under his
affliction. When he again entered the world, and it was soon, he
regarded it as a wide mart, where he might gratify his appetites, and
unrestrainedly indulge his evil propensities. He believed not that
virtue and true nobility were there; could he but find them. He looked
at the blow his happiness had sustained, and thought it afforded a fair
sample of human nature. Oliver Delancey became a selfish and a
profligate man.

He was to be pitied; and from his soul did Delmé pity him. He had been
one of promise and of talent; but _now_ his lot is cast on the die of
apathy; - and it is to be feared - without a miracle intervene - and
should his life be spared - that when the wavy locks of youth are
changed to the silver hairs of age - that he will then be that thing of
all others to be scoffed at - the hoary sensualist. Let us hope not! Let
us hope that she who hath brought him to this, may rest her head on the
bosom of her right lord, and forget the one, whose hand used to be
locked in her own, for hours - hours which flew quick as summer's
evening shadows! Let us trust that remorse may be absent from her;
that she may never know that worst of reflections - the having injured
one who had loved her, irremediably; that she may gaze on her
fair-haired children, and her cheek blanch not as she recals another
form than the father's; that her life may be irreproachable, her end
calm and dignified; that dutiful children may attend the inanimate clay
to its resting place; that filial tears may bedew her grave; and, when
the immortal stands appalled before its Judge, that the destruction of
that soul may not be laid to her charge.

Chapter XIV.

The Spitfire.

"And I have loved thee! Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne like thy bubbles onward."

* * * * *

"Pull away! yo ho! boys!"

Delmé continued to reside with his brother, whose health seemed to amend
daily. George generally managed to accompany him in his sight-seeing,
from which Henry derived great gratification.

He mused over the antique tombs of some of the departed knights; and
admired the rich mosaics in that splendid church, dedicated to Saint
John; than which the traveller may voyage long, and meet nothing
worthier his notice. He visited the ancient armoury - dined at the
palace, and at the different messes - inspected the laborious
travailings of the silkworm at the boschetto - conversed with the
original of Byron's Leila - a sweet creature she is! - looked with
wondering eye on the ostrich of Fort Manuel - and heard the then
commandant's wife relate her tale thereanent. He went to Gozzo too - shot
rabbits - and crossed in a basket to the fungus rock. He saw a festa in
the town, and a festa in the country - rode to St. Antonio, and St.
Paul's Bay - and was told he had seen the lions. Nor must we pass over
that most interesting of spectacles; viz., some figures enveloped in
monkish cowl, and placed in convenient niches; but beneath the close
hood, the blood mounts not with devotion's glow, nor do eyes glare from
sockets shrunk by abstinence. Skeletons alone are there!

These, curious reader, are the bodies of saintly Capuchins; thus
exhibited - dried and baked - to excite beholders to a life of virtue!

One morning, George said he felt rather unwell, and would stay at home.
An oar happened to be wanted in the regimental gig, which Sir Henry
offered to take. He was soon accoutred in the dress of an absent
member, and in a short time was discharging the duties of his office to
the satisfaction of all; for he knew every secret of _feathering,_ and
had not _caught a crab_ for years.

It was a beautifully calm day - not a speck in the azure heaven. It was
hot too - but for this they cared not. They had porter; and on such
occasions, what better beverage would you ask? Swiftly and gaily did the
slim bark cleave through the glassy sea. Its hue was a dark crimson,
with one black stripe - its nom de guerre, the Spitfire.

As the - - - regiment particularly prided itself on its aquatic costume,
we shall describe it. Small chased pearl buttons on the blue jacket and
white shirt; a black band round the neck, to match the one on the
narrow-brimmed thick straw hat; white trousers; couleur de rose silk
collar, fastened to the throat by a golden clasp; and stockings of the
same colour. How joyously did the gig hold her course! What a thrilling
sensation expanded the soul, as the steersman, a handsome little fellow
with large black whiskers, gave the encouraging word, "Stroke! my good
ones!" Then were exerted all the energies of the body - then was
developed each straining muscle - then were the arms thrown back in
sympathy, to give a long pull, and a strong pull - till the bark reeled
beneath them, and shot through the wave.

The tall ship - the slender mole - the busy deck - the porticoed
palace - the strong fort - the bristling battery - the astonished fisher's
bark as it sluggishly crept on - were all cheeringly swept by, as the
bending oars in perfect unison, kissed the erst slumbering water. What
sensation can be more glorious? The only thing to compete with it, is
the being in a crack coach on the western road; the opposition slightly
in front - a knowing whip driving - when the horses are at their utmost
speed - the traces tight as traces can be - the ladies inside pale and
screaming - one little child cramming out her head, her mouth stuffed
with Banbury cakes, adding her shrill affetuoso - whilst the odd-looking
man in the white hat, seated behind, is blue from terror, and with
chattering teeth, mumbles undistinguishable sentences of furious
driving and prosecution. Surely such moments half redeem our miseries!
What bitter thought can travel twelve miles an hour?

And ever and anon would the Spitfire dart into some little creek, and
the thirsty rowers would rest on their oars, whose light drip fell on
purple ocean, tinged by a purple sky. And now would the jovial steersman
introduce the accommodating corkscrew, first into one bottle and then
into another, as these were successively emptied, and thrown overboard,
to give the finny philosophers somewhat to speculate on.

Delmé landed weary; but it was a beneficial weariness. He felt he had
taken manly exercise, and that it would do him good. He was walking
towards the barrack, with his jacket slung over his shoulder, when he
was met by George's servant.

"Oh, Sir!" said the man, "I am so glad you are come. The Signora is
terribly afraid for my young master. I fear, Sir, he is in one of
his fits."

Delmé hurried forward, and entered his brother's room. George held a
riding whip in his hand. He had thrown off his cravat - his throat was
bare - his eyes glanced wildly.

"And who are you, Sir?" said he, as Henry entered.

"What! not know me, dearest George?" replied his brother, in agony.

"I do not understand your insolence, Sir; but if you are a dun, go to my
servant. Thompson," continued he, "give me my spurs! I shall ride."

"Ride!" said Delmé.

Thompson made him a quiet sign. "I am very sorry, Sir," said he, "but
the Arab is quite lame, and is not fit for the saddle."

"Give me a glass of sangaree then, you rascal! Port - do you hear?"

The glass was brought him. He drained its contents at a draught.

"Now, kick that scoundrel out of the room, Thompson, and let me sleep."

He threw himself listlessly on the sofa. Acmé was weeping bitterly,
but he seemed not to notice her. It was late in the day. The surgeon
had been sent for. He now arrived, and stated that nothing could be
done; but recommended his being watched closely, and the removing
all dangerous weapons. He begged Henry, however, to indulge him in
all his caprices, in order that he might the better observe the
state of his mind.

While George slept, Delmé entered another room, and ordering the servant
to inform him when he awoke, he sat down to dinner alone and dispirited;
for Acmé refused to leave George. It was indeed a sad, and to Sir Henry
Delmé an unforeseen shock.

In a couple of hours, Thompson came with a message from Acmé. "Master
is awake, Sir - knows the Signora - and seems much better. He has
desired me to brush his cloak, as he intends going out. Shall I do so,
Sir, or not?"

"Do so!" said Delmé, "but fail not to inform me when he is about to go;
and be yourself in readiness. We will watch him."

Chapter XV.

The Charnel House.

"And when at length the mind shall be all free,
From what it hates in this degraded form,
Reft of its carnal life, save what shall be
Existent happier in the fly or worm;
When elements to elements conform,
And dust is as it should be."

The last grey tinge of twilight, was fast giving place to the sombre
hues of night, as a figure, enveloped in a military cloak, issued from
the barrack at Floriana.

Henry at once recognised George; and only delaying till a short distance
had intervened between his brother and himself, Delmé and Thompson
followed his footsteps.

George Delmé walked swiftly, as if intent on some deep design. The long
shadow thrown out by his figure, enabled his pursuers to distinguish him
very clearly. He did not turn his head, but, with hurried step, strode
the species of common which divides Floriana from La Valette. Crossing
the drawbridge, and passing through the porch which guards the entrance
to the town, he turned down an obscure street, and, folding his cloak
closer around him, rapidly - yet with an appearance of caution - continued
his route, diving from one street to another, till he entered a small
court-yard, in which stood an isolated gloomy-looking house. No light
appeared in the windows, and its exterior bespoke it uninhabited. Henry
and the domestic paused, expecting George either to knock or return to
the street. He walked on, however, and, turning to one side of the
porch, descended a flight of stone steps, and entered the lower part of
the house.

"Perhaps we had better not both follow him," said the servant.

"No, Thompson! do you remain here, only taking care that your master
does not pass you: and I think you may as well go round the house, and
see if there is any other way of leaving it."

Sir Henry descended the steps in silence. Arrived at the foot of the
descent, a narrow passage, diverging to the left, presented itself.
Beyond appeared a distant glimmering of light. Delmé groped along the
passage, using the precaution to crouch as low as possible, until he
came before a large comfortless room in the centre of which, was placed
a brass lamp, whose light was what he had discerned at the extremity of
the passage. He could distinctly observe the furniture and inmates of
the room. Of the former, the only articles were a table - on which were
placed the remains of a homely meal - an iron bedstead, and a barrel,
turned upside down, which served as a substitute for a chair. The
bedstead had no curtains, but in lieu of them, there were hangings
around it, which struck Delmé as resembling mourning habiliments.
Whilst the light operated thus favourably, in enabling Sir Henry to
note the interior of the apartment, it was hardly possible, from its
situation, that he himself could be observed. Its rays did not reach
the passage; and he was also shrouded in some degree by a door, which
was off its hinges, and which was placed against the wall. Fastened to
the side of the room were two deep shelves - the lower one containing
some bottles and plates; the upper, a number of human sculls. In a
corner were some more of these, intermingled in a careless heap, with a
few bleached bones.

George Delmé was standing opposite the door, conversing earnestly with a
Maltese, evidently of the lowest caste. The latter was seated on the
barrel we have mentioned, and was listening with apparently a mixture of
surprise and exultation to what George was saying. George's voice sunk
to an inaudible whisper, as the conversation continued, and he was
evidently trying to remove some scruples, which this man either affected
to feel, or really felt. The man's answers were given in a gruff and
loud tone of voice, but from the Maltese dialect of his Italian, Sir
Henry could not understand what was said. His countenance was very
peculiar. It was of that derisive character rarely met with in one of
his class of life, except when called forth by peculiar habits, or
extraordinary circumstances. His eyes were very small, but bright and
deeply set. His lips wore a constant sarcastic smile, which gave him the
air of a bold but cunning man. His throat and bosom were bare, and of a
deep copper colour; and his muscular chest was covered with short curly
hair. The conversation on George's part became more animated, and he at
length made use of what seemed an unanswerable argument. Taking out a
beaded purse, which Sir Henry knew well - it had been Emily's last
present to George - he emptied the contents into the bronzed hand of his
companion, who grasped the money with avidity. The Maltese _now_
appeared to acquiesce in all George's wishes; and rising, went towards
the bed, and selected some of the articles of wearing apparel Delmé had
already noticed. He addressed some words to George, who sat on the
bedside quiescently, while the man went to the table, and took up a
knife that was upon it. For a moment, Delmé felt alarm lest his design
might be a murderous one; but it was not so. He laughed savagely, as he
made use of the knife, to cut off the luxuriant chestnut ringlets, which
shaded George's eyes and forehead. He then applied to the face some
darkening liquid, and commenced choosing a sable dress. George threw off
his cloak, and was attired by the Maltese, in a long black cotton robe
of the coarsest material, which, descending to the feet, came in a hood
over his face, which it almost entirely concealed. During the whole of
this scene, George Delmé's features wore an air of dogged apathy, which
alarmed his brother, even more than his agitation in the earlier part of
the day. After his being metamorphosed in the way we have described, it
would have been next to an impossibility to have recognised him. His
companion put on a dress of the same nature, and Sir Henry was preparing
to make his retreat, presuming that they would now leave the building,
when he was induced to stay for the purpose of remarking the conduct of
the Maltese. He took up a scull, and placing his finger through an
eyeless hole, whence _once_ love beamed or hate flashed, he made some
savage comment, which he accompanied by a long and malignant laugh. This
would at another time have shocked Sir Henry, but there was another
laugh, wilder and more discordant, that curdled the blood in Delmé's
veins. It proceeded from his brother, the gay - the happy George Delmé;
and as it re-echoed through the gloomy passage, it seemed that of a
remorseless demon, gloating on the misfortunes of the human race. Delmé
turned away in agony, and, unperceived, regained the anxious domestic.
Screened by an angle of the building, they saw George and his companion
ascend the stone steps, cross the yard, and turn into the street. They
followed him cautiously - Delmé's ears ringing with that fiendish laugh.
George's companion stopped for a moment, at a house in the street, where
they were joined by a sallow-looking priest, apparently one of the most
disgusting of his tribe. He was accompanied by a boy, also drest in
sacerdotal robes, in one hand bearing a silver-ornamented staff, of the
kind frequently used in processions, and in other observances of the
Catholic religion; and in the other, a rude lanthorn, whose light
enabled Delmé to note these particulars. As the four figures swept
through the streets, the lower orders prostrated themselves, before the
figure of the crucified and dying Saviour which surmounted the staff.
They again stopped, and the priest entered a house alone. On coming
back, he was followed by a coffin, borne on the shoulders of four of the
lower order of Maltese. At the moment these were leaving the house,
Henry heard a solitary scream, apparently of a woman. It was wild and
thrilling; such an one as we hear from the hovering sea bird, as the
tempest gathers to a head. To Delmé, coming as it did at that lone hour
from one he saw not, it seemed superhuman. In the front of the house
stood two calèches, the last of which, Sir Henry observed was without
doors. At a sign from the Maltese, George and his strange companion
entered it. They were followed by the coffin, which was placed
lengthways, with the two ends projecting into the street. In the
_leading_ calèche were the priest and boy, the latter of whom thrust
the figure of the bleeding Jesus out at the window, whilst with the
other hand he held up the lanthorn. Twice more did the calèche
stop - twice receive corpses. Another light was produced, and placed in
the last conveyance, and Delmé took the opportunity of their arranging
this, to pass by the calèche. The light that had been placed in it shone
full on George. The coffins were on a level with the lower part of his
face. Nothing of his body, which was jammed in between the seat and the
coffins, could be seen. But the features, which glared over the pall,
were indeed terrific; apathy no longer marked them. George seemed wound
up to an extraordinary state of excitement. Gone was the glazed
expression of his eye, which now gleamed like that of a famished eagle.
The Maltese leant back in the carriage, with a sardonic smile, his dark
face affording a strange contrast to the stained, but yet ghastly hue of
George Delmé's.

"They intend to take them to the vault at Floriana, your honor," said
the servant, "shall I call a calèche, and we can follow them?"

Without waiting a reply, for the man saw that Sir Henry's faculties,
were totally absorbed in the strange scene he had witnessed; Thompson
called a carriage, which passed the other two - now commencing at a
funeral pace to proceed to the vault - and, taking the same direction
which they had done on entering the town, a short time sufficed to put
them down immediately opposite the church. They had time allowed them to
dismiss their carriage, and screen themselves from observation, before
the funeral procession arrived.

This stopped in front of the vault, and Delmé anxiously scrutinised the
proceedings. Another man - probably the one whose place George had
supplied - had joined them outside the town, and now walked by the side
of the calèche. He assisted George's companion in bearing out the
coffins. The huge door grated on its hinges, as they opened it. The
coffins were borne in, and the whole party entered; the priest mumbling
a short Latin prayer. In a short time, the priest alone returned; and
looking cautiously around, and seeing no one, struck a light from a
tinder box, and lighted his cigar. The other two men brought back the
coffins, evidently relieved of their weight; and the priest - the
boy - with the man who had last joined them, and who had also lit his
cigar - entered the first calèche, after exchanging some jokes with
George's companion, and returned at a rapid pace towards the town.
During this time, George Delmé had been left alone in the vault. His
companion returned to him, after taking the precaution to fasten its
doors inside.

Sir Henry was now at a loss what plan to adopt; but Thompson, after a
moment's hesitation, suggested one.

"There is an iron grating, Sir, over part of the vault, through which,
when a bar was loose, I know one of our soldiers went down. Shall I
get a cord?"

The man ran towards his barrack, and returned with it. To wrench by
their united efforts, one bar from its place, and to fasten the rope to
another, was the work of an instant. Space was just left them to creep
through the aperture. Sir Henry was the first to breathe the confined
air of the sepulchre. A voice warned him in what direction to proceed;
and not waiting for the domestic, he groped his way forward through a
narrow passage. At first, Delmé thought there was a wall on either side
him; but as he made a false step, and the bones crumbled beneath, he
knew that it was a wall, formed of the bleached remains of the bygone
dead. As he drew nearer the voice, he was guided by the lanthorn brought
by George's companion; and towards this he proceeded, almost overpowered
by the horrible stench of the charnel house, As he drew near enough to
distinguish objects, what a scene presented itself! In one corner of the
vault, lay a quantity of lime used to consume the bodies, whilst nearer
the light, lay corpses in every stage of putrefaction. In some, the lime
had but half accomplished its purpose; and while in parts of the body,
the bones lay bare and exposed; in others, corruption in its most
loathsome form prevailed. Here the meaner reptiles - active and
prolific - might be seen busily at work, battening on human decay. Sir
Henry stepped over a dead body, and started, as a rat, scared from its
prey, rustled through a wreath of withered flowers, and hid itself amid
a mouldering heap of bones. But there were some forms lovely still! In

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Online LibraryA BushmanA Love Story → online text (page 8 of 21)