Copyright
Owen Meredith.

Lucile online

. (page 11 of 18)
Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 11 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


We met: you accosted me then with a brow
Bright with triumph: your words (you remember them now!)
Were "Let us be friends!"

LUVOIS.

Well?

ALFRED.

How then, after that
Can you and she meet as acquaintances?

LUVOIS.

What!
Did she not then, herself, the Comtesse de Nevers,
Solve your riddle to-night with those soft lips of hers?

ALFRED.

In our converse to-night we avoided the past.
But the question I ask should be answer'd at last:
By you, if you will; if you will not, by her.

LUVOIS.

Indeed? but that question, milord, can it stir
Such an interest in you, if your passion be o'er?

ALFRED.

Yes. Esteem may remain, although love be no more.
Lucile ask'd me, this night, to my wife (understand,
To MY WIFE!) to present her. I did so. Her hand
Has clasp'd that of Matilda. We gentlemen owe
Respect to the name that is ours: and, if so,
To the woman that bears it a twofold respect.
Answer, Duc de Luvois! Did Lucile then reject
The proffer you made of your hand and your name?
Or did you on her love then relinquish a claim
Urged before? I ask bluntly this question, because
My title to do so is clear by the laws
That all gentlemen honor. Make only one sign
That you know of Lucile de Nevers aught, in fine,
For which, if your own virgin sister were by,
From Lucile you would shield her acquaintance, and I
And Matilda leave Ems on the morrow.


XXXI.


The Duke
Hesitated and paused. He could tell, by the look
Of the man at his side, that he meant what he said,
And there flash'd in a moment these thoughts through his head:
"Leave Ems! would that suit me? no! that were again
To mar all. And besides, if I do not explain,
She herself will... et puis, il a raison: on est
Gentilhomme avant tout!" He replied therefore,
"Nay!
Madame de Nevers had rejected me. I,
In those days, I was mad; and in some mad reply
I threatened the life of the rival to whom
That rejection was due, I was led to presume.
She fear'd for his life; and the letter which then
She wrote me, I show'd you; we met: and again
My hand was refused, and my love was denied,
And the glance you mistook was the vizard which Pride
Lends to Humiliation.
"And so," half in jest,
He went on, "in this best world, 'tis all for the best;
You are wedded (bless'd Englishman!) wedded to one
Whose past can be called into question by none:
And I (fickle Frenchman!) can still laugh to feel
I am lord of myself; and the Mode: and Lucile
Still shines from her pedestal, frigid and fair
As yon German moon o'er the linden-tops there!
A Dian in marble that scorns any troth
With the little love gods, whom I thank for us both,
While she smiles from her lonely Olympus apart,
That her arrows are marble as well as her heart.
Stay at Ems, Alfred Vargrave!"


XXXII.


The Duke, with a smile,
Turn'd and enter'd the Rooms which, thus talking, meanwhile,
They had reach'd.


XXXIII.


Alfred Vargrave strode on (overthrown
Heart and mind!) in the darkness bewilder'd, alone:
"And so," to himself did he mutter, "and so
'Twas to rescue my life, gentle spirit! and, oh,
For this did I doubt her?... a light word - a look -
The mistake of a moment!... for this I forsook -
For this? Pardon, pardon, Lucile! O Lucile!"
Thought and memory rang, like a funeral peal,
Weary changes on one dirge-like note through his brain,
As he stray'd down the darkness.


XXXIV.


Re-entering again
The Casino, the Duke smiled. He turned to roulette,
And sat down, and play'd fast, and lost largely, and yet
He still smiled: night deepen'd: he play'd his last number:
Went home: and soon slept: and still smil'd in his slumber.


XXXV.


In his desolate Maxims, La Rochefoucauld wrote,
"In the grief or mischance of a friend you may note,
There is something which always gives pleasure."
Alas!
That reflection fell short of the truth as it was.
La Rochefoucauld might have as truly set down -
"No misfortune, but what some one turns to his own
Advantage its mischief: no sorrow, but of it
There ever is somebody ready to profit:
No affliction without its stock-jobbers, who all
Gamble, speculate, play on the rise and the fall
Of another man's heart, and make traffic in it."
Burn thy book, O La Rochefoucauld!
Fool! one man's wit
All men's selfishness how should it fathom?
O sage,
Dost thou satirize Nature?
She laughs at thy page.




CANTO II.


I.


COUSIN JOHN TO COUSIN ALFRED.

LONDON, 18 -

"My dear Alfred,
Your last letters put me in pain.
This contempt of existence, this listless disdain
Of your own life, - its joys and its duties, - the deuce
Take my wits if they find for it half an excuse!
I wish that some Frenchman would shoot off your leg,
And compel you to stump through the world on a peg.
I wish that you had, like myself (more's the pity!),
To sit seven hours on this cursed committee.
I wish that you knew, sir, how salt is the bread
Of another - (what is it that Dante has said?)
And the trouble of other men's stairs. In a word,
I wish fate had some real affliction conferr'd
On your whimsical self, that, at least, you had cause
For neglecting life's duties, and damning its laws!
This pressure against all the purpose of life,
This self-ebullition, and ferment, and strife,
Betoken'd, I grant that it may be in truth,
The richness and strength of the new wine of youth.
But if, when the wine should have mellow'd with time,
Being bottled and binn'd, to a flavor sublime,
It retains the same acrid, incongruous taste,
Why, the sooner to throw it away that we haste
The better, I take it. And this vice of snarling,
Self-love's little lapdog, the overfed darling
Of a hypochondriacal fancy appears,
To my thinking, at least, in a man of your years,
At the midnoon of manhood with plenty to do,
And every incentive for doing it too,
With the duties of life just sufficiently pressing
For prayer, and of joys more than most men for blessing;
With a pretty young wife, and a pretty full purse,
Like poltroonery, puerile truly, or worse!
I wish I could get you at least to agree
To take life as it is, and consider with me,
If it be not all smiles, that it is not all sneers;
It admits honest laughter, and needs honest tears.
Do you think none have known but yourself all the pain
Of hopes that retreat, and regrets that remain?
And all the wide distance fate fixes, no doubt,
'Twixt the life that's within, and the life that's without?
What one of us finds the world just as he likes?
Or gets what he wants when he wants it? Or strikes
Without missing the thing that he strikes at the first?
Or walks without stumbling? Or quenches his thirst
At one draught? Bah! I tell you! I, bachelor John,
Have had griefs of my own. But what then? I push on
All the faster perchance that I yet feel the pain
Of my last fall, albeit I may stumble again.
God means every man to be happy, be sure.
He sends us no sorrows that have not some cure.
Our duty down here is to do, not to know.
Live as though life were earnest, and life will be so.
Let each moment, like Time's last ambassador, come:
It will wait to deliver its message; and some
Sort of answer it merits. It is not the deed
A man does, but the way that he does it, should plead
For the man's compensation in doing it.
"Here,
My next neighbor's a man with twelve thousand a year,
Who deems that life has not a pastime more pleasant
Than to follow a fox, or to slaughter a pheasant.
Yet this fellow goes through a contested election,
Lives in London, and sits, like the soul of dejection,
All the day through upon a committee, and late
To the last, every night, through the dreary debate,
As though he were getting each speaker by heart,
Though amongst them he never presumes to take part.
One asks himself why, without murmur or question,
He foregoes all his tastes, and destroys his digestion,
For a labor of which the result seems so small.
'The man is ambitious,' you say. Not at all.
He has just sense enough to be fully aware
That he never can hope to be Premier, or share
The renown of a Tully; - or even to hold
A subordinate office. He is not so bold
As to fancy the House for ten minutes would bear
With patience his modest opinions to hear.
'But he wants something!'
"What! with twelve thousand a year?
What could Government give him would be half so dear
To his heart as a walk with a dog and a gun
Through his own pheasant woods, or a capital run?
'No; but vanity fills out the emptiest brain;
The man would be more than his neighbor, 'tis plain;
And the drudgery drearily gone through in town
Is more than repaid by provincial renown.
Enough if some Marchioness, lively and loose,
Shall have eyed him with passing complaisance; the goose,
If the Fashion to him open one of its doors,
As proud as a sultan returns to his boors.'
Wrong again! if you think so,
"For, primo; my friend
Is the head of a family known from one end
Of his shire to the other as the oldest; and therefore
He despises fine lords and fine ladies. HE care for
A peerage? no truly! Secondo; he rarely
Or never goes out: dines at Bellamy's sparely,
And abhors what you call the gay world.
"Then, I ask,
What inspires, and consoles, such a self-imposed task
As the life of this man, - but the sense of its duty?
And I swear that the eyes of the haughtiest beauty
Have never inspired in my soul that intense,
Reverential, and loving, and absolute sense
Of heart-felt admiration I feel for this man,
As I see him beside me; - there, wearing the wan
London daylight away, on his humdrum committee;
So unconscious of all that awakens my pity,
And wonder - and worship, I might say?
"To me
There seems something nobler than genius to be
In that dull patient labor no genius relieves,
That absence of all joy which yet never grieves;
The humility of it! the grandeur withal!
The sublimity of it! And yet, should you call
The man's own very slow apprehension to this,
He would ask, with a stare, what sublimity is!
His work is the duty to which he was born;
He accepts it, without ostentation or scorn:
And this man is no uncommon type (I thank Heaven!)
Of this land's common men. In all other lands, even
The type's self is wanting. Perchance, 'tis the reason
That Government oscillates ever 'twixt treason
And tyranny elsewhere.
"I wander away
Too far, though, from what I was wishing to say.
You, for instance, read Plato. You know that the soul
Is immortal; and put this in rhyme, on the whole,
Very well, with sublime illustration. Man's heart
Is a mystery, doubtless. You trace it in art: -
The Greek Psyche, - that's beauty, - the perfect ideal.
But then comes the imperfect, perfectible real,
With its pain'd aspiration and strife. In those pale
Ill-drawn virgins of Giotto you see it prevail.
You have studied all this. Then, the universe, too,
Is not a mere house to be lived in, for you.
Geology opens the mind. So you know
Something also of strata and fossils; these show
The bases of cosmical structure: some mention
Of the nebulous theory demands your attention;
And so on.
"In short, it is clear the interior
Of your brain, my dear Alfred, is vastly superior
In fibre, and fulness, and function, and fire,
To that of my poor parliamentary squire;
But your life leaves upon me (forgive me this heat
Due to friendship) the sense of a thing incomplete.
You fly high. But what is it, in truth, you fly at?
My mind is not satisfied quite as to that.
An old illustration's as good as a new,
Provided the old illustration be true.
We are children. Mere kites are the fancies we fly,
Though we marvel to see them ascending so high;
Things slight in themselves, - long-tail'd toys, and no more:
What is it that makes the kite steadily soar
Through the realms where the cloud and the whirlwind have birth
But the tie that attaches the kite to the earth?
I remember the lessons of childhood, you see,
And the hornbook I learn'd on my poor mother's knee.
In truth, I suspect little else do we learn
From this great book of life, which so shrewdly we turn,
Saving how to apply, with a good or bad grace,
What we learn'd in the hornbook of childhood.
"Your case
Is exactly in point.
"Fly your kite, if you please,
Out of sight: let it go where it will, on the breeze;
But cut not the one thread by which it is bound,
Be it never so high, to this poor human ground.
No man is the absolute lord of his life.
You, my friend, have a home, and a sweet and dear wife.
If I often have sigh'd by my own silent fire,
With the sense of a sometimes recurring desire
For a voice sweet and low, or a face fond and fair,
Some dull winter evening to solace and share
With the love which the world its good children allows
To shake hands with, - in short, a legitimate spouse,
This thought has consoled me: 'At least I have given
For my own good behavior no hostage to heaven.'
You have, though. Forget it not! faith, if you do,
I would rather break stones on a road than be you.
If any man wilfully injured, or led
That little girl wrong, I would sit on his head,
Even though you yourself were the sinner!
"And this
Leads me back (do not take it, dear cousin, amiss!)
To the matter I meant to have mention'd at once,
But these thoughts put it out of my head for the nonce.
Of all the preposterous humbugs and shams,
Of all the old wolves ever taken for lambs,
The wolf best received by the flock he devours
Is that uncle-in-law, my dear Alfred, of yours.
At least, this has long been my unsettled conviction,
And I almost would venture at once the prediction
That before very long - but no matter! I trust,
For his sake and our own, that I may be unjust.
But Heaven forgive me, if cautious I am on
The score of such men as with both God and Mammon
Seem so shrewdly familiar.
"Neglect not this warning.
There were rumors afloat in the City this morning
Which I scarce like the sound of. Who knows? would he fleece
At a pinch, the old hypocrite, even his own niece?
For the sake of Matilda I cannot importune
Your attention too early. If all your wife's fortune
Is yet in the hands of that specious old sinner,
Who would dice with the devil, and yet rise up winner,
I say, lose no time! get it out of the grab
Of her trustee and uncle, Sir Ridley McNab.
I trust those deposits, at least, are drawn out,
And safe at this moment from danger or doubt.
A wink is as good as a nod to the wise.
Verbum sap. I admit nothing yet justifies
My mistrust; but I have in my own mind a notion
That old Ridley's white waistcoat, and airs of devotion,
Have long been the only ostensible capital
On which he does business. If so, time must sap it all,
Sooner or later. Look sharp. Do not wait,
Draw at once. In a fortnight it may be too late.
I admit I know nothing. I can but suspect;
I give you my notions. Form yours and reflect.
My love to Matilda. Her mother looks well.
I saw her last week. I have nothing to tell
Worth your hearing. We think that the Government here
Will not last our next session. Fitz Funk is a peer,
You will see by the Times. There are symptoms which show
That the ministers now are preparing to go,
And finish their feast of the loaves and the fishes.
It is evident that they are clearing the dishes,
And cramming their pockets with bonbons. Your news
Will be always acceptable. Vere, of the Blues,
Has bolted with Lady Selina. And so
You have met with that hot-headed Frenchman? I know
That the man is a sad mauvais sujet. Take care
Of Matilda. I wish I could join you both there;
But before I am free, you are sure to be gone.
Good-by, my dear fellow. Yours, anxiously,
JOHN."


II.


This is just the advice I myself would have given
To Lord Alfred, had I been his cousin, which, Heaven
Be praised, I am not. But it reach'd him indeed
In an unlucky hour, and received little heed.
A half-languid glance was the most that he lent at
That time to these homilies. Primum dementat
Quem Deus vult perdere. Alfred in fact
Was behaving just then in a way to distract
Job's self had Job known him. The more you'd have thought
The Duke's court to Matilda his eye would have caught,
The more did his aspect grow listless to hers,
And the more did it beam to Lucile de Nevers.
And Matilda, the less she found love in the look
Of her husband, the less did she shrink from the Duke.
With each day that pass'd o'er them, they each, heart from heart,
Woke to feel themselves further and further apart.
More and more of his time Alfred pass'd at the table;
Played high; and lost more than to lose he was able.
He grew feverish, querulous, absent, perverse, -
And here I must mention, what made matters worse,
That Lucile and the Duke at the selfsame hotel
With the Vargraves resided. It needs not to tell
That they all saw too much of each other. The weather
Was so fine that it brought them each day all together
In the garden, to listen, of course, to the band.
The house was a sort of phalanstery; and
Lucile and Matilda were pleased to discover
A mutual passion for music. Moreover,
The Duke was an excellent tenor; could sing
"Ange si pure" in a way to bring down on the wing
All the angels St. Cicely play'd to. My lord
Would also, at times, when he was not too bored,
Play Beethoven, and Wagner's new music, not ill;
With some little things of his own, showing skill.
For which reason, as well as for some others too,
Their rooms were a pleasant enough rendezvous.
Did Lucile, then, encourage (the heartless coquette!)
All the mischief she could not but mark?
Patience yet!

III.


In that garden, an arbor, withdrawn from the sun,
By laburnum and lilac with blooms overrun,
Form'd a vault of cool verdure, which made, when the heat
Of the noontide hung heavy, a gracious retreat.
And here, with some friends of their own little world,
In the warm afternoons, till the shadows uncurl'd
From the feet of the lindens, and crept through the grass,
Their blue hours would this gay little colony pass.
The men loved to smoke, and the women to bring,
Undeterr'd by tobacco, their work there, and sing
Or converse, till the dew fell, and homeward the bee
Floated, heavy with honey. Towards eve there was tea
(A luxury due to Matilda), and ice,
Fruit and coffee. [Greek text omitted]!
Such an evening it was, while Matilda presided
O'er the rustic arrangements thus daily provided,
With the Duke, and a small German Prince with a thick head,
And an old Russian Countess both witty and wicked,
And two Austrian Colonels, - that Alfred, who yet
Was lounging alone with his last cigarette,
Saw Lucile de Nevers by herself pacing slow
'Neath the shade of the cool linden-trees to and fro,
And joining her, cried, "Thank the good stars, we meet!
I have so much to say to you!"
"Yes?... "with her sweet
Serene voice, she replied to him.... "Yes? and I too
Was wishing, indeed, to say somewhat to you."
She was paler just then than her wont was. The sound
Of her voice had within it a sadness profound.
"You are ill?" he exclaim'd.
"No!" she hurriedly said.
"No, no!"
"You alarm me!"
She droop'd down her head.
"If your thoughts have of late sought, or cared, to divine
The purpose of what has been passing in mine,
My farewell can scarcely alarm you."

ALFRED.

Lucile!
Your farewell! you go!

LUCILE.

Yes, Lord Alfred.

ALFRED.

Reveal
The cause of this sudden unkindness.

LUCILE.

Unkind?

ALFRED.

Yes! what else is this parting?

LUCILE.

No, no! are you blind?
Look into your own heart and home. Can you see
No reason for this, save unkindness in me?
Look into the eyes of your wife - those true eyes,
Too pure and too honest in aught to disguise
The sweet soul shining through them.

ALFRED.

Lucile! (first and last
Be the word, if you will!) let me speak of the past.
I know now, alas! though I know it too late,
What pass'd at that meeting which settled my fate.
Nay, nay, interrupt me not yet! let it be!
I but say what is due to yourself - due to me,
And must say it.
He rushed incoherently on,
Describing how, lately, the truth he had known,
To explain how, and whence, he had wrong'd her before,
All the complicate coil wound about him of yore,
All the hopes that had flown with the faith that was fled,
"And then, O Lucile, what was left me," he said,
"When my life was defrauded of you, but to take
That life, as 'twas left, and endeavor to make
Unobserved by another, the void which remain'd
Unconceal'd to myself? If I have not attain'd,
I have striven. One word of unkindness has never
Pass'd my lips to Matilda. Her least wish has ever
Received my submission. And if, of a truth,
I have fail'd to renew what I felt in my youth,
I at least have been loyal to what I DO feel,
Respect, duty, honor, affection. Lucile,
I speak not of love now, nor love's long regret:
I would not offend you, nor dare I forget
The ties that are round me. But may there not be
A friendship yet hallow'd between you and me?
May we not be yet friends - friends the dearest?"
"Alas!"
She replied, "for one moment, perchance, did it pass


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 11 of 18)