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Produced by Donald Lainson





LUCILE

by Owen Meredith




"Why, let the stricken deer go weep.
The hart ungalled play:
For some must watch, while some must sleep;
Thus runs the world away."

Hamlet.




DEDICATION.

TO MY FATHER.


I dedicate to you a work, which is submitted to the public with a
diffidence and hesitation proportioned to the novelty of the effort
it represents. For in this poem I have abandoned those forms of
verse with which I had most familiarized my thoughts, and have
endeavored to follow a path on which I could discover no footprints
before me, either to guide or to warn.

There is a moment of profound discouragement which succeeds to
prolonged effort; when, the labor which has become a habit having
ceased, we miss the sustaining sense of its companionship, and
stand, with a feeling of strangeness and embarrassment, before the
abrupt and naked result. As regards myself, in the present
instance, the force of all such sensations is increased by the
circumstances to which I have referred. And in this moment of
discouragement and doubt, my heart instinctively turns to you, from
whom it has so often sought, from whom it has never failed to
receive, support.

I do not inscribe to you this book because it contains anything
that is worthy of the beloved and honored name with which I thus
seek to associate it; nor yet because I would avail myself of a
vulgar pretext to display in public an affection that is best
honored by the silence which it renders sacred.

Feelings only such as those with which, in days when there existed
for me no critic less gentle than yourself, I brought to you my
childish manuscripts; feelings only such as those which have, in
later years, associated with your heart all that has moved or
occupied my own, - lead me once more to seek assurance from the
grasp of that hand which has hitherto been my guide and comfort
through the life I owe to you.

And as in childhood, when existence had no toil beyond the day's
simple lesson, no ambition beyond the neighboring approval of the
night, I brought to you the morning's task for the evening's
sanction, so now I bring to you this self-appointed taskwork of
maturer years; less confident indeed of your approval, but not less
confident of your love; and anxious only to realize your presence
between myself and the public, and to mingle with those severer
voices to whose final sentence I submit my work the beloved and
gracious accents of your own.

OWEN MEREDITH.




LUCILE




PART I.




CANTO I.


I.


LETTER FROM THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO LORD ALFRED VARGRAVE.


"I hear from Bigorre you are there. I am told
You are going to marry Miss Darcy. Of old,
So long since you may have forgotten it now
(When we parted as friends, soon mere strangers to grow),
Your last words recorded a pledge - what you will -
A promise - the time is now come to fulfil.
The letters I ask you, my lord, to return,
I desire to receive from your hand. You discern
My reasons, which, therefore, I need not explain.
The distance to Luchon is short. I remain
A month in these mountains. Miss Darcy, perchance,
Will forego one brief page from the summer romance
Of her courtship, and spare you one day from your place
At her feet, in the light of her fair English face.
I desire nothing more, and trust you will feel
I desire nothing much.
"Your friend always,
"LUCILE."


II.


Now in May Fair, of course, - in the fair month of May -
When life is abundant, and busy, and gay:
When the markets of London are noisy about
Young ladies, and strawberries, - "only just out;"
Fresh strawberries sold under all the house-eaves,
And young ladies on sale for the strawberry-leaves:
When cards, invitations, and three-cornered notes
Fly about like white butterflies - gay little motes
In the sunbeam of Fashion; and even Blue Books
Take a heavy-wing'd flight, and grow busy as rooks;
And the postman (that Genius, indifferent and stern,
Who shakes out even-handed to all, from his urn,
Those lots which so often decide if our day
Shall be fretful and anxious, or joyous and gay)
Brings, each morning, more letters of one sort or other
Than Cadmus, himself, put together, to bother
The heads of Hellenes; - I say, in the season
Of Fair May, in May Fair, there can be no reason
Why, when quietly munching your dry toast and butter,
Your nerves should be suddenly thrown in a flutter
At the sight of a neat little letter, address'd
In a woman's handwriting, containing, half guess'd,
An odor of violets faint as the Spring,
And coquettishly seal'd with a small signet-ring.
But in Autumn, the season of sombre reflection,
When a damp day, at breakfast, begins with dejection;
Far from London and Paris, and ill at one's ease,
Away in the heart of the blue Pyrenees,
Where a call from the doctor, a stroll to the bath,
A ride through the hills on a hack like a lath,
A cigar, a French novel, a tedious flirtation,
Are all a man finds for his day's occupation,
The whole case, believe me, is totally changed,
And a letter may alter the plans we arranged
Over-night, for the slaughter of time - a wild beast,
Which, though classified yet by no naturalist,
Abounds in these mountains, more hard to ensnare,
And more mischievous, too, than the Lynx or the Bear.


III.


I marvel less, therefore, that, having already
Torn open this note, with a hand most unsteady,
Lord Alfred was startled.
The month is September;
Time, morning; the scene at Bigorre; (pray remember
These facts, gentle reader, because I intend
To fling all the unities by at the end.)
He walk'd to the window. The morning was chill:
The brown woods were crisp'd in the cold on the hill:
The sole thing abroad in the streets was the wind:
And the straws on the gust, like the thoughts in his mind,
Rose, and eddied around and around, as tho' teasing
Each other. The prospect, in truth, was unpleasing:
And Lord Alfred, whilst moodily gazing around it,
To himself more than once (vex'd in soul) sigh'd
..... "Confound it!"


IV.


What the thoughts were which led to this bad interjection,
Sir, or madam, I leave to your future detection;
For whatever they were, they were burst in upon,
As the door was burst through, by my lord's Cousin John.

COUSIN JOHN.

A fool, Alfred, a fool, a most motley fool!

LORD ALFRED.

Who?

JOHN.

The man who has anything better to do;
And yet so far forgets himself, so far degrades
His position as Man, to this worst of all trades,
Which even a well-brought-up ape were above,
To travel about with a woman in love, -
Unless she's in love with himself.

ALFRED.

Indeed! why
Are you here then, dear Jack?

JOHN.

Can't you guess it?

ALFRED.

Not I.

JOHN.

Because I HAVE nothing that's better to do.
I had rather be bored, my dear Alfred, by you,
On the whole (I must own), than be bored by myself.
That perverse, imperturbable, golden-hair'd elf -
Your Will-o'-the-wisp - that has led you and me
Such a dance through these hills -

ALFRED.

Who, Matilda?

JOHN.

Yes! she,
Of course! who but she could contrive so to keep
One's eyes, and one's feet too, from falling asleep
For even one half-hour of the long twenty-four?

ALFRED.

What's the matter?

JOHN.

Why, she is - a matter, the more
I consider about it, the more it demands
An attention it does not deserve; and expands
Beyond the dimensions which ev'n crinoline,
When possess'd by a fair face, and saucy Eighteen,
Is entitled to take in this very small star,
Already too crowded, as I think, by far.
You read Malthus and Sadler?

ALFRED.

Of course.

JOHN.

To what use,
When you countenance, calmly, such monstrous abuse
Of one mere human creature's legitimate space
In this world? Mars, Apollo, Virorum! the case
Wholly passes my patience.

ALFRED.

My own is worse tried.

JOHN.

Yours, Alfred?

ALFRED.

Read this, if you doubt, and decide,

JOHN (reading the letter).

"I hear from Bigorre you are there. I am told
You are going to marry Miss Darcy. Of old - "
What is this?

ALFRED.

Read it on to the end, and you'll know.

JOHN (continues reading).

"When we parted, your last words recorded a vow -
What you will"...
Hang it! this smells all over, I swear,
Of adventurers and violets. Was it your hair
You promised a lock of?

ALFRED.

Read on. You'll discern.

JOHN (continues).

"Those letters I ask you, my lord, to return."...
Humph!... Letters!... the matter is worse than I guess'd;
I have my misgivings -

ALFRED.

Well, read out the rest,
And advise.

JOHN.

Eh?... Where was I?
(continues.)
"Miss Darcy, perchance,
Will forego one brief page from the summer romance
Of her courtship."...
Egad! a romance, for my part,
I'd forego every page of, and not break my heart!

ALFRED.

Continue.

JOHN (reading).

"And spare you one day from your place
At her feet."...
Pray forgive me the passing grimace.
I wish you had MY place!
(reads)
"I trust you will feel
I desire nothing much. Your friend,". . .
Bless me! "Lucile?"
The Countess de Nevers?

ALFRED.

Yes.

JOHN.

What will you do?

ALFRED.

You ask me just what I would rather ask you.

JOHN.

You can't go.

ALFRED

I must.

JOHN.

And Matilda?

ALFRED.

Oh, that
You must manage!

JOHN.

Must I? I decline it, though, flat.
In an hour the horses will be at the door,
And Matilda is now in her habit. Before
I have finished my breakfast, of course I receive
A message for "dear Cousin John!"... I must leave
At the jeweller's the bracelet which YOU broke last night;
I must call for the music. "Dear Alfred is right:
The black shawl looks best: WILL I change it? Of course
I can just stop, in passing, to order the horse.
Then Beau has the mumps, or St. Hubert knows what;
WILL I see the dog-doctor?" Hang Beau! I will NOT.

ALFRED.

Tush, tush! this is serious.

JOHN.

It is.

ALFRED.

Very well,
You must think -

JOHN.

What excuse will you make, tho'?

ALFRED.

Oh, tell
Mrs. Darcy that... lend me your wits, Jack!... The deuce!
Can you not stretch your genius to fit a friend's use?
Excuses are clothes which, when ask'd unawares,
Good Breeding to Naked Necessity spares,
You must have a whole wardrobe, no doubt.

JOHN.

My dear fellow,
Matilda is jealous, you know, as Othello.

ALFRED.

You joke.

JOHN.

I am serious. Why go to Luchon?

ALFRED.

Don't ask me. I have not a choice, my dear John.
Besides, shall I own a strange sort of desire,
Before I extinguish forever the fire
Of youth and romance, in whose shadowy light
Hope whisper'd her first fairy tales, to excite
The last spark, till it rise, and fade far in that dawn
Of my days where the twilights of life were first drawn
By the rosy, reluctant auroras of Love;
In short, from the dead Past the gravestone to move;
Of the years long departed forever to take
One last look, one final farewell; to awake
The Heroic of youth from the Hades of joy,
And once more be, though but for an hour, Jack - a boy!

JOHN.

You had better go hang yourself.

ALFRED.

No! were it but
To make sure that the Past from the Future is shut,
It were worth the step back. Do you think we should live
With the living so lightly, and learn to survive
That wild moment in which to the grave and its gloom
We consign'd our heart's best, if the doors of the tomb
Were not lock'd with a key which Fate keeps for our sake?
If the dead could return or the corpses awake?

JOHN.

Nonsense!

ALFRED.

Not wholly. The man who gets up
A fill'd guest from the banquet, and drains off his cup,
Sees the last lamp extinguish'd with cheerfulness, goes
Well contented to bed, and enjoys its repose.
But he who hath supp'd at the tables of kings,
And yet starved in the sight of luxurious things;
Who hath watch'd the wine flow, by himself but half tasted;
Heard the music, and yet miss'd the tune; who hath wasted
One part of life's grand possibilities: - friend,
That man will bear with him, be sure, to the end,
A blighted experience, a rancor within:
You may call it a virtue, I call it a sin.

JOHN.

I see you remember the cynical story
Of that wicked old piece Experience - a hoary
Lothario, whom dying, the priest by his bed
(Knowing well the unprincipled life he had led,
And observing, with no small amount of surprise,
Resignation and calm in the old sinner's eyes)
Ask'd if he had nothing that weigh'd on his mind:
"Well,... no,"... says Lothario, "I think not. I find,
On reviewing my life, which in most things was pleasant,
I never neglected, when once it was present,
An occasion of pleasing myself. On the whole,
I have naught to regret;"... and so, smiling, his soul
Took its flight from this world.

ALFRED.

Well, Regret or Remorse,
Which is best?

JOHN.

Why, Regret.

ALFRED.

No; Remorse, Jack, of course:
For the one is related, be sure, to the other.
Regret is a spiteful old maid: but her brother,
Remorse, though a widower certainly, yet
HAS been wed to young Pleasure. Dear Jack, hang Regret!

JOHN.

Bref! you mean, then, to go?

ALFRED.

Bref! I do.

JOHN.

One word... stay!
Are you really in love with Matilda?

ALFRED.

Love, eh?
What a question! Of course.

JOHN.

WERE you really in love
With Madame de Nevers?

ALFRED.

What; Lucile? No, by Jove,
Never REALLY.

JOHN.

She's pretty?

ALFRED.

Decidedly so.
At least, so she was, some ten summers ago.
As soft, and as sallow as Autumn - with hair
Neither black, nor yet brown, but that tinge which the air
Takes at eve in September, when night lingers lone
Through a vineyard, from beams of a slow-setting sun.
Eyes - the wistful gazelle's; the fine foot of a fairy;
And a hand fit a fay's wand to wave, - white and airy;
A voice soft and sweet as a tune that one knows.
Something in her there was, set you thinking of those
Strange backgrounds of Raphael... that hectic and deep
Brief twilight in which southern suns fall asleep.

JOHN.

Coquette?

ALFRED.

Not at all. 'Twas her one fault. Not she!
I had loved her the better, had she less loved me.
The heart of a man's like that delicate weed
Which requires to be trampled on, boldly indeed,
Ere it give forth the fragrance you wish to extract.
'Tis a simile, trust me, if not new, exact.

JOHN.

Women change so.

ALFRED.

Of course.

JOHN.

And, unless rumor errs,
I believe, that last year, the Comtesse de Nevers*
Was at Baden the rage - held an absolute court
Of devoted adorers, and really made sport
Of her subjects.


* O Shakespeare! how couldst thou ask "What's in a name?"
'Tis the devil's in it, when a bard has to frame
English rhymes for alliance with names that are French:
And in these rhymes of mine, well I know that I trench
All too far on that license which critics refuse,
With just right, to accord to a well-brought-up Muse.
Yet, tho' faulty the union, in many a line,
'Twixt my British-born verse and my French heroine,
Since, however auspiciously wedded they be,
There is many a pair that yet cannot agree,
Your forgiveness for this pair, the author invites,
Whom necessity, not inclination, unites.


ALFRED.

Indeed!

JOHN.

When she broke off with you
Her engagement, her heart did not break with it?

ALFRED.

Pooh!
Pray would you have had her dress always in black,
And shut herself up in a convent, dear Jack?
Besides, 'twas my fault the engagement was broken.

JOHN.

Most likely. How was it?

ALFRED.

The tale is soon spoken.
She bored me. I show'd it. She saw it. What next?
She reproach'd. I retorted. Of course she was vex'd.
I was vex'd that she was so. She sulk'd. So did I.
If I ask'd her to sing, she look'd ready to cry.
I was contrite, submissive. She soften'd. I harden'd.
At noon I was banish'd. At eve I was pardon'd.
She said I had no heart. I said she had no reason.
I swore she talk'd nonsense. She sobb'd I talk'd treason.
In short, my dear fellow, 'twas time, as you see,
Things should come to a crisis, and finish. 'Twas she
By whom to that crisis the matter was brought.
She released me. I linger'd. I linger'd, she thought,
With too sullen an aspect. This gave me, of course,
The occasion to fly in a rage, mount my horse,
And declare myself uncomprehended. And so
We parted. The rest of the story you know.

JOHN.

No, indeed.

ALFRED.

Well, we parted. Of course we could not
Continue to meet, as before, in one spot.
You conceive it was awkward? Even Don Ferdinando
Can do, you remember, no more than he can do.
I think that I acted exceedingly well,
Considering the time when this rupture befell,
For Paris was charming just then. It deranged
All my plans for the winter. I ask'd to be changed -
Wrote for Naples, then vacant - obtain'd it - and so
Join'd my new post at once; but scarce reach'd it, when lo!
My first news from Paris informs me Lucile
Is ill, and in danger. Conceive what I feel.
I fly back. I find her recover'd, but yet
Looking pale. I am seized with a contrite regret;
I ask to renew the engagement.

JOHN.

And she?

ALFRED.

Reflects, but declines. We part, swearing to be
Friends ever, friends only. All that sort of thing!
We each keep our letters... a portrait... a ring...
With a pledge to return them whenever the one
Or the other shall call for them back.

JOHN.

Pray go on.

ALFRED.

My story is finish'd. Of course I enjoin
On Lucile all those thousand good maxims we coin
To supply the grim deficit found in our days,
When love leaves them bankrupt. I preach. She obeys.
She goes out in the world; takes to dancing once more -
A pleasure she rarely indulged in before.
I go back to my post, and collect (I must own
'Tis a taste I had never before, my dear John)
Antiques and small Elzevirs. Heigho! now, Jack,
You know all.

JOHN (after a pause).

You are really resolved to go back?

ALFRED.

Eh, where?

JOHN.

To that worst of all places - the past.
You remember Lot's wife?

ALFRED.

'Twas a promise when last
We parted. My honor is pledged to it.

JOHN.

Well,
What is it you wish me to do?

ALFRED.

You must tell
Matilda, I meant to have call'd - to leave word -
To explain - but the time was so pressing -

JOHN.

My lord,
Your lordship's obedient! I really can't do...

ALFRED.

You wish then to break off my marriage?

JOHN.

No, no!
But indeed I can't see why yourself you need take
These letters.

ALFRED.

Not see? would you have me, then, break
A promise my honor is pledged to?

JOHN (humming).

"Off, off
And away! said the stranger"...

ALFRED.

Oh, good! oh, you scoff!

JOHN.

At what, my dear Alfred?

ALFRED.

At all things!
JOHN.
Indeed?


ALFRED.

Yes; I see that your heart is as dry as a reed:
That the dew of your youth is rubb'd off you: I see
You have no feeling left in you, even for me!
At honor you jest; you are cold as a stone
To the warm voice of friendship. Belief you have none;
You have lost faith in all things. You carry a blight
About with you everywhere. Yes, at the sight
Of such callous indifference, who could be calm?
I must leave you at once, Jack, or else the last balm
That is left me in Gilead you'll turn into gall.
Heartless, cold, unconcern'd...

JOHN.

Have you done? Is that all?
Well, then, listen to me! I presume when you made
up your mind to propose to Miss Darcy, you weigh'd
All the drawbacks against the equivalent gains,
Ere you finally settled the point. What remains
But to stick to your choice? You want money: 'tis here.
A settled position: 'tis yours. A career:
You secure it. A wife, young, and pretty as rich,
Whom all men will envy you. Why must you itch
To be running away, on the eve of all this,
To a woman whom never for once did you miss
All these years since you left her? Who knows what may hap?
This letter - to ME - is a palpable trap.
The woman has changed since you knew her. Perchance
She yet seeks to renew her youth's broken romance.
When women begin to feel youth and their beauty
Slip from them, they count it a sort of a duty
To let nothing else slip away unsecured
Which these, while they lasted, might once have procured.


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