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Owen Meredith.

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Through my own heart, that dream which forever hath brought
To those who indulge it in innocent thought
So fatal an evil awaking! But no.
For in lives such as ours are, the Dream-tree would grow
On the borders of Hades: beyond it, what lies?
The wheel of Ixion, alas! and the cries
Of the lost and tormented. Departed, for us,
Are the days when with innocence we could discuss
Dreams like these. Fled, indeed, are the dreams of my life!
Oh trust me, the best friend you have is your wife.
And I - in that pure child's pure virtue, I bow
To the beauty of virtue. I felt on my brow
Not one blush when I first took her hand. With no blush
Shall I clasp it to-night, when I leave you.
"Hush! hush!
I would say what I wish'd to have said when you came.
Do not think that years leave us and find us the same!
The woman you knew long ago, long ago,
Is no more. You yourself have within you, I know,
The germ of a joy in the years yet to be,
Whereby the past years will bear fruit. As for me,
I go my own way, - onward, upward!
"O yet,
Let me thank you for that which ennobled regret
When it came, as it beautified hope ere it fled, -
The love I once felt for you. True, it is dead,
But it is not corrupted. I too have at last
Lived to learn that love is not - such love as is past,
Such love as youth dreams of at least - the sole part
Of life, which is able to fill up the heart;
Even that of a woman.
"Between you and me
Heaven fixes a gulf, over which you must see
That our guardian angels can bear us no more.
We each of us stand on an opposite shore.
Trust a woman's opinion for once. Women learn,
By an instinct men never attain, to discern
Each other's true natures. Matilda is fair,
Matilda is young - see her now, sitting there! -
How tenderly fashion'd - (oh, is she not? say,)
To love and be loved!"


IV.


He turn'd sharply away -
"Matilda is young, and Matilda is fair;
Of all that you tell me pray deem me aware;
But Matilda's a statue, Matilda's a child;
Matilda loves not - "
Lucile quietly smiled
As she answer'd him - "Yesterday, all that you say
Might be true; it is false, wholly false, though, today."
"How? - what mean you?"
"I mean that to-day," she replied,
"The statue with life has become vivified:
I mean that the child to a woman has grown:
And that woman is jealous."
"What, she!" with a tone
Of ironical wonder, he answer'd - what, she!
She jealous! - Matilda! - of whom, pray? - not me!"
"My lord, you deceive yourself; no one but you
Is she jealous of. Trust me. And thank Heaven, too,
That so lately this passion within her hath grown.
For who shall declare, if for months she had known
What for days she has known all too keenly, I fear,
That knowledge perchance might have cost you more dear?"

"Explain! explain, madam!" he cried, in surprise;
And terror and anger enkindled his eyes.
"How blind are you men!" she replied. "Can you doubt
That a woman, young, fair, and neglected - "
"Speak out!"
He gasp'd with emotion. "Lucile! you mean - what!
Do you doubt her fidelity?"
"Certainly not.
Listen to me, my friend. What I wish to explain
Is so hard to shape forth. I could almost refrain
From touching a subject so fragile. However,
Bear with me awhile, if I frankly endeavor
To invade for one moment your innermost life.
Your honor, Lord Alfred, and that of your wife,
Are dear to me, - most dear! And I am convinced
That you rashly are risking that honor."
He winced,
And turn'd pale, as she spoke.
She had aim'd at his heart,
And she saw, by his sudden and terrified start,
That her aim had not miss'd.
"Stay, Lucile!" he exclaim'd,
"What in truth do you mean by these words, vaguely framed
To alarm me? Matilda? - my wife? - do you know?" -

"I know that your wife is as spotless as snow.
But I know not how far your continued neglect
Her nature, as well as her heart, might affect.
Till at last, by degrees, that serene atmosphere
Of her unconscious purity, faint and yet dear,
Like the indistinct golden and vaporous fleece
Which surrounded and hid the celestials in Greece
From the glances of men, would disperse and depart
At the sighs of a sick and delirious heart, -
For jealousy is to a woman, be sure,
A disease heal'd too oft by a criminal cure;
And the heart left too long to its ravage in time
May find weakness in virtue, reprisal in crime."


V.


"Such thoughts could have never," he falter'd, "I know,
Reach'd the heart of Matilda."
"Matilda? oh no!
But reflect! when such thoughts do not come of themselves
To the heart of a woman neglected, like elves
That seek lonely places, - there rarely is wanting
Some voice at her side, with an evil enchanting
To conjure them to her."
"O lady, beware!
At this moment, around me I search everywhere
For a clew to your words" -
"You mistake them," she said,
Half fearing, indeed, the effect they had made.
"I was putting a mere hypothetical case."
With a long look of trouble he gazed in her face.
"Woe to him,..." he exclaim'd... "woe to him that shall feel
Such a hope! for I swear, if he did but reveal
One glimpse, - it should be the last hope of his life!"
The clench'd hand and bent eyebrow betoken'd the strife
She had roused in his heart.
"You forget," she began,
"That you menace yourself. You yourself are the man
That is guilty. Alas! must it ever be so?
Do we stand in our own light, wherever we go,
And fight our own shadows forever? O think!
The trial from which you, the stronger ones, shrink,
You ask woman, the weaker one, still to endure;
You bid her be true to the laws you abjure;
To abide by the ties you yourselves rend asunder,
With the force that has fail'd you; and that too, when under
The assumption of rights which to her you refuse,
The immunity claim'd for yourselves you abuse!
Where the contract exists, it involves obligation
To both husband and wife, in an equal relation.
You unloose, in asserting your own liberty,
A knot, which, unloosed, leaves another as free.
Then, O Alfred! be juster at heart: and thank Heaven
That Heaven to your wife such a nature has given
That you have not wherewith to reproach her, albeit
You have cause to reproach your own self, could you see it!"


VI.


In the silence that follow'd the last word she said,
In the heave of his chest, and the droop of his head,
Poor Lucile mark'd her words had sufficed to impart
A new germ of motion and life to that heart
Of which he himself had so recently spoken
As dead to emotion - exhausted, or broken!
New fears would awaken new hopes in his life.
In the husband indifferent no more to the wife
She already, as she had foreseen, could discover
That Matilda had gain'd at her hands, a new lover.
So after some moments of silence, whose spell
They both felt, she extended her hand to him....


VII.

"Well?"


VIII.


"Lucile," he replied, as that soft quiet hand
In his own he clasp'd warmly, "I both understand
And obey you."
"Thank Heaven!" she murmur'd.
"O yet,
One word, I beseech you! I cannot forget,"
He exclaim'd, "we are parting for life. You have shown
My pathway to me: but say, what is your own?"
The calmness with which until then she had spoken
In a moment seem'd strangely and suddenly broken.
She turn'd from him nervously, hurriedly.
"Nay,
I know not," she murmur'd, "I follow the way
Heaven leads me; I cannot foresee to what end.
I know only that far, far away it must tend
From all places in which we have met, or might meet.
Far away! - onward upward!"
A smile strange and sweet
As the incense that rises from some sacred cup
And mixes with music, stole forth, and breathed up
Her whole face, with those words.
"Wheresoever it be,
May all gentlest angels attend you!" sighed he,
"And bear my heart's blessing wherever you are!"
And her hand, with emotion, he kiss'd.


IX.


From afar
That kiss was, alas! by Matilda beheld.
With far other emotions: her young bosom swell'd,
And her young cheek with anger was crimson'd.
The Duke
Adroitly attracted towards it her look
By a faint but significant smile.


X.


Much ill-construed,
Renown'd Bishop Berkeley has fully, for one, strew'd
With arguments page upon page to teach folks
That the world they inhabit is only a hoax.
But it surely is hard, since we can't do without them,
That our senses should make us so oft wish to doubt them!




CANTO III.


I.


When first the red savage call'd Man strode, a king,
Through the wilds of creation - the very first thing
That his naked intelligence taught him to feel
Was the shame of himself; and the wish to conceal
Was the first step in art. From the apron which Eve
In Eden sat down out of fig-leaves to weave,
To the furbelow'd flounce and the broad crinoline
Of my lady - you all know of course whom I mean -
This art of concealment has greatly increas'd.
A whole world lies cryptic in each human breast;
And that drama of passions as old as the hills,
Which the moral of all men in each man fulfils,
Is only reveal'd now and then to our eyes
In the newspaper-files and the courts of assize.


II.


In the group seen so lately in sunlight assembled,
'Mid those walks over which the laburnum-bough trembled,
And the deep-bosom'd lilac, emparadising
The haunts where the blackbird and thrush flit and sing,
The keenest eye could but have seen, and seen only,
A circle of friends, minded not to leave lonely
The bird on the bough, or the bee on the blossom;
Conversing at ease in the garden's green bosom,
Like those who, when Florence was yet in her glories,
Cheated death and kill'd time with Boccaccian stories.
But at length the long twilight more deeply grew shaded,
And the fair night the rosy horizon invaded.
And the bee in the blossom, the bird on the bough,
Through the shadowy garden were slumbering now.
The trees only, o'er every unvisited walk,
Began on a sudden to whisper and talk.
And, as each little sprightly and garrulous leaf
Woke up with an evident sense of relief,
They all seem'd to be saying... "Once more we're alone,
And, thank Heaven, those tiresome people are gone!"


III.


Through the deep blue concave of the luminous air,
Large, loving, and languid, the stars here and there,
Like the eyes of shy passionate women, look'd down
O'er the dim world whose sole tender light was their own,
When Matilda, alone, from her chamber descended,
And enter'd the garden, unseen, unattended.
Her forehead was aching and parch'd, and her breast
By a vague inexpressible sadness oppress'd:
A sadness which led her, she scarcely knew how,
And she scarcely knew why... (save, indeed, that just now
The house, out of which with a gasp she had fled
Half stifled, seem'd ready to sink on her head)...
Out into the night air, the silence, the bright
Boundless starlight, the cool isolation of night!
Her husband that day had look'd once in her face,
And press'd both her hands in a silent embrace,
And reproachfully noticed her recent dejection
With a smile of kind wonder and tacit affection.
He, of late so indifferent and listless!... at last
Was he startled and awed by the change which had pass'd
O'er the once radiant face of his young wife? Whence came
That long look of solicitous fondness?... the same
Look and language of quiet affection - the look
And the language, alas! which so often she took
For pure love in the simple repose of its purity -
Her own heart thus lull'd to a fatal security!
Ha! would he deceive her again by this kindness?
Had she been, then, O fool! in her innocent blindness,
The sport of transparent illusion? ah folly!
And that feeling, so tranquil, so happy, so holy,
She had taken, till then, in the heart, not alone
Of her husband, but also, indeed, in her own,
For true love, nothing else, after all, did it prove
But a friendship profanely familiar?
"And love?...
What was love, then?... not calm, not secure - scarcely kind,
But in one, all intensest emotions combined:
Life and death: pain and rapture?"
Thus wandering astray,
Led by doubt, through the darkness she wander'd away.
All silently crossing, recrossing the night.
With faint, meteoric, miraculous light,
The swift-shooting stars through the infinite burn'd,
And into the infinite ever return'd.
And silently o'er the obscure and unknown
In the heart of Matilda there darted and shone
Thoughts, enkindling like meteors the deeps, to expire,
Leaving traces behind them of tremulous fire.


IV.


She enter'd that arbor of lilacs, in which
The dark air with odors hung heavy and rich,
Like a soul that grows faint with desire.
'Twas the place
In which she so lately had sat face to face,
With her husband, - and her, the pale stranger detested
Whose presence her heart like a plague had infested.
The whole spot with evil remembrance was haunted.
Through the darkness there rose on the heart which it daunted,
Each dreary detail of that desolate day,
So full, and yet so incomplete. Far away
The acacias were muttering, like mischievous elves,
The whole story over again to themselves,
Each word, - and each word was a wound! By degrees
Her memory mingled its voice with the trees.


V.


Like the whisper Eve heard, when she paused by the root
Of the sad tree of knowledge, and gazed on its fruit,
To the heart of Matilda the trees seem'd to hiss
Wild instructions, revealing man's last right, which is
The right of reprisals.
An image uncertain,
And vague, dimly shaped itself forth on the curtain
Of the darkness around her. It came, and it went;
Through her senses a faint sense of peril it sent:
It pass'd and repass'd her; it went and it came,
Forever returning; forever the same;
And forever more clearly defined; till her eyes
In that outline obscure could at last recognize
The man to whose image, the more and the more
That her heart, now aroused from its calm sleep of yore,
From her husband detach'd itself slowly, with pain.
Her thoughts had return'd, and return'd to, again,
As though by some secret indefinite law, -
The vigilant Frenchman - Eugene de Luvois!


VI.


A light sound behind her. She trembled. By some
Night-witchcraft her vision a fact had become.
On a sudden she felt, without turning to view,
That a man was approaching behind her. She knew
By the fluttering pulse which she could not restrain,
And the quick-beating heart, that this man was Eugene.
Her first instinct was flight; but she felt her slight foot
As heavy as though to the soil it had root.
And the Duke's voice retain'd her, like fear in a dream.


VII.


"Ah, lady! in life there are meetings which seem
Like a fate. Dare I think like a sympathy too?
Yet what else can I bless for this vision of you?
Alone with my thoughts, on this starlighted lawn,
By an instinct resistless, I felt myself drawn
To revisit the memories left in the place
Where so lately this evening I look'd in your face.
And I find, - you, yourself, - my own dream!
"Can there be
In this world one thought common to you and to me?
If so,... I, who deem'd but a moment ago
My heart uncompanion'd, save only by woe,
Should indeed be more bless'd than I dare to believe -
- Ah, but ONE word, but one from your lips to receive"...
Interrupting him quickly, she murmur'd, "I sought,
Here, a moment of solitude, silence, and thought,
Which I needed."...
"Lives solitude only for one?
Must its charm by my presence so soon be undone?
Ah, cannot two share it? What needs it for this? -
The same thought in both hearts, - be it sorrow or bliss;
If my heart be the reflex of yours, lady - you,
Are you not yet alone, - even though we be two?"

"For that,"... said Matilda,... "needs were, you should read
What I have in my heart"...
"Think you, lady, indeed,
You are yet of that age when a woman conceals
In her heart so completely whatever she feels
From the heart of the man whom it interests to know
And find out what that feeling may be? Ah, not so,
Lady Alfred? Forgive me that in it I look,
But I read in your heart as I read in a book."

"Well, Duke! and what read you within it? unless
It be, of a truth, a profound weariness,
And some sadness?"
"No doubt. To all facts there are laws.
The effect has its cause, and I mount to the cause."


VIII.


Matilda shrank back; for she suddenly found
That a finger was press'd on the yet bleeding wound
She, herself, had but that day perceived in her breast.

"You are sad,"... said the Duke (and that finger yet press'd
With a cruel persistence the wound it made bleed) -
"You are sad, Lady Alfred, because the first need
Of a young and a beautiful woman is to be
Beloved, and to love. You are sad: for you see
That you are not beloved, as you deem'd that you were:
You are sad: for that knowledge hath left you aware
That you have not yet loved, though you thought that you had.
"Yes, yes!... you are sad - because knowledge is sad!"

He could not have read more profoundly her heart.
"What gave you," she cried, with a terrified start,
"Such strange power?"
"To read in your thoughts?" he exclaim'd
"O lady, - a love, deep, profound - be it blamed
Or rejected, - a love, true, intense - such, at least,
As you, and you only, could wake in my breast!"

"Hush, hush!... I beseech you... for pity!' she gasp'd,
Snatching hurriedly from him the hand he had clasp'd,
In her effort instinctive to fly from the spot.

"For pity?"... he echoed, "for pity! and what
Is the pity you owe him? his pity for you!
He, the lord of a life, fresh as new-fallen dew!
The guardian and guide of a woman, young, fair,
And matchless! (whose happiness did he not swear
To cherish through life?) he neglects her - for whom?
For a fairer than she? No! the rose in the bloom
Of that beauty which, even when hidd'n, can prevail
To keep sleepless with song the aroused nightingale,
Is not fairer; for even in the pure world of flowers
Her symbol is not, and this pure world of ours
Has no second Matilda! For whom? Let that pass!
'Tis not I, 'tis not you, that can name her, alas!
And I dare not question or judge her. But why,
Why cherish the cause of your own misery?
Why think of one, lady, who thinks not of you?
Why be bound by a chain which himself he breaks through?
And why, since you have but to stretch forth your hand,
The love which you need and deserve to command,
Why shrink? Why repel it?"
"O hush, sir! O hush!"
Cried Matilda, as though her whole heart were one blush.
"Cease, cease, I conjure you, to trouble my life!
Is not Alfred your friend? and am I not his wife?"


IX.


"And have I not, lady," he answer'd,... "respected
HIS rights as a friend, till himself he neglected
YOUR rights as a wife? Do you think 'tis alone
For three days I have loved you? My love may have grown,
I admit, day by day, since I first felt your eyes,
In watching their tears, and in sounding your sighs.
But, O lady! I loved you before I believed
That your eyes ever wept, or your heart ever grieved.
Then I deem'd you were happy - I deem'd you possess'd
All the love you deserved, - and I hid in my breast
My own love, till this hour - when I could not but feel
Your grief gave me the right my own grief to reveal!
I knew, years ago, of the singular power
Which Lucile o'er your husband possess'd. Till the hour
In which he revea'd it himself, did I, - say! -
By a word, or a look, such a secret betray?
No! no! do me justice. I never have spoken
Of this poor heart of mine, till all ties he had broken
Which bound YOUR heart to him. And now - now, that his love
For another hath left your own heart free to rove,
What is it, - even now, - that I kneel to implore you?
Only this, Lady Alfred!... to let me adore you
Unblamed: to have confidence in me: to spend
On me not one thought, save to think me your friend.
Let me speak to you, - ah, let me speak to you still!
Hush to silence my words in your heart if you will.
I ask no response: I ask only your leave
To live yet in your life, and to grieve when you grieve!"


X.


"Leave me, leave me!"... she gasp'd, with a voice thick and low
From emotion. "For pity's sake, Duke, let me go!
I feel that to blame we should both of us be,
Did I linger."
"To blame? yes, no doubt!"... answer'd he,
"If the love of your husband, in bringing you peace,
Had forbidden you hope. But he signs your release
By the hand of another. One moment! but one!
Who knows when, alas! I may see you alone
As to-night I have seen you? or when we may meet
As to-night we have met? when, entranced at your feet,
As in this blessed hour, I may ever avow
The thoughts which are pining for utterance now?"
"Duke! Duke!"... she exclaim'd,... "for Heaven's sake let me go!
It is late. In the house they will miss me, I know.
We must not be seen here together. The night
Is advancing. I feel overwhelm'd with affright!
It is time to return to my lord."
"To your lord?"
He repeated, with lingering reproach on the word.
"To your lord? do you think he awaits you in truth?
Is he anxiously missing your presence, forsooth?
Return to your lord!... his restraint to renew?
And hinder the glances which are not for you?
No, no!... at this moment his looks seek the face
Of another! another is there in your place!
Another consoles him! another receives
The soft speech which from silence your absence relieves!"


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 12 of 18)