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XI.


"You mistake, sir!"... responded a voice, calm, severe,
And sad,. . . "You mistake, sir! that other is here."
Eugene and Matilda both started.
"Lucile!"
With a half-stifled scream, as she felt herself reel
From the place where she stood, cried Matilda.
"Ho, oh!
What! eaves-dropping, madam?"... the Duke cried... "And so
You were listening?"
"Say, rather," she said, "that I heard,
Without wishing to hear it, that infamous word, -
Heard - and therefore reply."
"Belle Comtesse," said the Duke,
With concentrated wrath in the savage rebuke,
Which betray'd that he felt himself baffled... "you know
That your place is not HERE."
"Duke," she answer'd him slow,
"My place is wherever my duty is clear;
And therefore my place, at this moment, is here.
O lady, this morning my place was beside
Your husband, because (as she said this she sigh'd)
I felt that from folly fast growing to crime -
The crime of self-blindness - Heaven yet spared me time
To save for the love of an innocent wife
All that such love deserved in the heart and the life
Of the man to whose heart and whose life you alone
Can with safety confide the pure trust of your own."

She turn'd to Matilda, and lightly laid on her
Her soft quiet hand...
"'Tis, O lady, the honor
Which that man has confided to you, that, in spite
Of his friend, I now trust I may yet save to-night -
Save for both of you, lady! for yours I revere;
Duc de Luvois, what say you? - my place is not here?"


XII.


And, so saying, the hand of Matilda she caught,
Wound one arm round her waist unresisted and sought
Gently, softly, to draw her away from the spot.
The Duke stood confounded, and follow'd them not,
But not yet the house had they reach'd when Lucile
Her tender and delicate burden could feel
Sink and falter beside her. Oh, then she knelt down,
Flung her arms round Matilda, and press'd to her own
The poor bosom beating against her.
The moon,
Bright, breathless, and buoyant, and brimful of June,
Floated up from the hillside, sloped over the vale,
And poised herself loose in mid-heaven, with one pale,
Minute, scintillescent, and tremulous star
Swinging under her globe like a wizard-lit car,
Thus to each of those women revealing the face
Of the other. Each bore on her features the trace
Of a vivid emotion. A deep inward shame
The cheek of Matilda had flooded with flame.
With her enthusiastic emotion, Lucile
Trembled visibly yet; for she could not but feel
That a heavenly hand was upon her that night,
And it touch'd her pure brow to a heavenly light.
"In the name of your husband, dear lady," she said,
"In the name of your mother, take heart! Lift your head,
For those blushes are noble. Alas! do not trust
To that maxim of virtue made ashes and dust,
That the fault of the husband can cancel the wife's.
Take heart! and take refuge and strength in your life's
Pure silence, - there, kneel, pray, and hope, weep, and wait!"
"Saved, Lucile!" sobb'd Matilda, "but saved to what fate?
Tears, prayers, yes! not hopes."
"Hush!" the sweet voice replied.
"Fool'd away by a fancy, again to your side
Must your husband return. Doubt not this. And return
For the love you can give, with the love that you yearn
To receive, lady. What was it chill'd you both now?
Not the absence of love, but the ignorance how
Love is nourish'd by love. Well! henceforth you will prove
Your heart worthy of love, - since it knows how to love."


XIII.


"What gives you such power over me, that I feel
Thus drawn to obey you? What are you, Lucile?"
Sigh'd Matilda, and lifted her eyes to the face
Of Lucile.
There pass'd suddenly through it the trace
Of deep sadness; and o'er that fair forehead came down
A shadow which yet was too sweet for a frown.
"The pupil of sorrow, perchance,"... she replied.
"Of sorrow?" Matilda exclaim'd... "O confide
To my heart your affliction. In all you made known
I should find some instruction, no doubt, for my own!"

"And I some consolation, no doubt; for the tears
Of another have not flow'd for me many years."

It was then that Matilda herself seized the hand
Of Lucile in her own, and uplifted her; and
Thus together they enter'd the house.


XIV.


'Twas the room
Of Matilda.
The languid and delicate gloom
Of a lamp of pure white alabaster, aloft
From the ceiling suspended, around it slept soft.
The casement oped into the garden. The pale
Cool moonlight stream'd through it. One lone nightingale
Sung aloof in the laurels. And here, side by side,
Hand in hand, the two women sat down undescried,
Save by guardian angels.
As when, sparkling yet
From the rain, that, with drops that are jewels, leaves wet
The bright head it humbles, a young rose inclines
To some pale lily near it, the fair vision shines
As one flower with two faces, in hush'd, tearful speech,
Like the showery whispers of flowers, each to each
Link'd, and leaning together, so loving, so fair,
So united, yet diverse, the two women there
Look'd, indeed, like two flowers upon one drooping stem,
In the soft light that tenderly rested on them.
All that soul said to soul in that chamber, who knows?
All that heart gain'd from heart?
Leave the lily, the rose,
Undisturb'd with their secret within them. For who
To the heart of the floweret can follow the dew?
A night full of stars! O'er the silence, unseen,
The footsteps of sentinel angels between
The dark land and deep sky were moving. You heard
Pass'd from earth up to heaven the happy watchword
Which brighten'd the stars as amongst them it fell
From earth's heart, which it eased... "All is well! all is well!"




CANTO IV.


I.


The Poets pour wine; and, when 'tis new, all decry it;
But, once let it be old, every trifler must try it.
And Polonius, who praises no wine that's not Massic,
Complains of my verse, that my verse is not classic.
And Miss Tilburina, who sings, and not badly,
My earlier verses, sighs "Commonplace sadly!"

As for you, O Polonius, you vex me but slightly;
But you, Tilburina, your eyes beam so brightly
In despite of their languishing looks, on my word,
That to see you look cross I can scarcely afford.
Yes! the silliest woman that smiles on a bard
Better far than Longinus himself can reward
The appeal to her feelings of which she approves;
And the critics I most care to please are the Loves.

Alas, friend! what boots it, a stone at his head
And a brass on his breast, - when a man is once dead?
Ay! were fame the sole guerdon, poor guerdon were then
Theirs who, stripping life bare, stand forth models for men.
The reformer's? - a creed by posterity learnt
A century after its author is burnt!
The poet's? - a laurel that hides the bald brow
It hath blighted! The painter's? - Ask Raphael now
Which Madonna's authentic! The stateman's? - a name
For parties to blacken, or boys to declaim!
The soldier's? - three lines on the cold Abbey pavement!
Were this all the life of the wise and the brave meant,
All it ends in, thrice better, Neaera, it were
Unregarded to sport with thine odorous hair,
Untroubled to lie at thy feet in the shade
And be loved, while the roses yet bloom overhead,
Than to sit by the lone hearth, and think the long thought,
A severe, sad, blind schoolmaster, envied for naught
Save the name of John Milton! For all men, indeed,
Who in some choice edition may graciously read,
With fair illustration, and erudite note,
The song which the poet in bitterness wrote,
Beat the poet, and notably beat him, in this -
The joy of the genius is theirs, whilst they miss
The grief of the man: Tasso's song - not his madness!
Dante's dreams - not his waking to exile and sadness!
Milton's music - but not Milton's blindness!...
Yet rise,
My Milton, and answer, with those noble eyes
Which the glory of heaven hath blinded to earth!
Say - the life, in the living it, savors of worth:
That the deed, in the doing it, reaches its aim:
That the fact has a value apart from the fame:
That a deeper delight, in the mere labor, pays
Scorn of lesser delights, and laborious days:
And Shakespeare, though all Shakespeare's writings were lost,
And his genius, though never a trace of it crossed
Posterity's path, not the less would have dwelt
In the isle with Miranda, with Hamlet have felt
All that Hamlet hath uttered, and haply where, pure
On its death-bed, wrong'd Love lay, have moan'd with the Moor!


II.


When Lord Alfred that night to the salon return'd
He found it deserted. The lamp dimly burn'd
As though half out of humor to find itself there
Forced to light for no purpose a room that was bare.
He sat down by the window alone. Never yet
Did the heavens a lovelier evening beget
Since Latona's bright childbed that bore the new moon!
The dark world lay still, in a sort of sweet swoon,
Wide open to heaven; and the stars on the stream
Were trembling like eyes that are loved on the dream
Of a lover; and all things were glad and at rest
Save the unquiet heart in his own troubled breast.
He endeavor'd to think - an unwonted employment,
Which appear'd to afford him no sort of enjoyment.


III.


"Withdraw into yourself. But, if peace you seek there for,
Your reception, beforehand, be sure to prepare for,"
Wrote the tutor of Nero; who wrote, be it said,
Better far than he acted - but peace to the dead!
He bled for his pupil: what more could he do?
But Lord Alfred, when into himself he withdrew,
Found all there in disorder. For more than an hour
He sat with his head droop'd like some stubborn flower
Beaten down by the rush of the rain - with such force
Did the thick, gushing thoughts hold upon him the course
Of their sudden descent, rapid, rushing, and dim,
From the cloud that had darken'd the evening for him.
At one moment he rose - rose and open'd the door,
And wistfully look'd down the dark corridor
Toward the room of Matilda. Anon, with a sigh
Of an incomplete purpose, he crept quietly
Back again to his place in a sort of submission
To doubt, and return'd to his former position, -
That loose fall of the arms, that dull droop of the face,
And the eye vaguely fix'd on impalpable space.
The dream, which till then had been lulling his life,
As once Circe the winds, had seal'd thought; and his wife
And his home for a time he had quite, like Ulysses,
Forgotten; but now o'er the troubled abysses
Of the spirit within him, aeolian, forth leapt
To their freedom new-found, and resistlessly swept
All his heart into tumult, the thoughts which had been
Long pent up in their mystic recesses unseen.


IV.


How long he thus sat there, himself he knew not,
Till he started, as though he were suddenly shot,
To the sound of a voice too familiar to doubt,
Which was making some noise in the passage without.
A sound English voice; with a round English accent,
Which the scared German echoes resentfully back sent;
The complaint of a much disappointed cab-driver
Mingled with it, demanding some ultimate stiver;
Then, the heavy and hurried approach of a boot
Which reveal'd by its sound no diminutive foot:
And the door was flung suddenly open, and on
The threshold Lord Alfred by bachelor John
Was seized in that sort of affectionate rage or
Frenzy of hugs which some stout Ursa Major
On some lean Ursa Minor would doubtless bestow
With a warmth for which only starvation and snow
Could render one grateful. As soon as he could,
Lord Alfred contrived to escape, nor be food
Any more for those somewhat voracious embraces.
Then the two men sat down and scann'd each other's faces:
And Alfred could see that his cousin was taken
With unwonted emotion. The hand that had shaken
His own trembled somewhat. In truth he descried
At a glance, something wrong.


V.


"What's the matter?" he cried.
"What have you to tell me?"

JOHN.

What! have you not heard?

ALFRED.

Heard what?

JOHN.

This sad business -

ALFRED.

I? no, not a word.

JOHN.

You received my last letter?

ALFRED.

I think so. If not,
What then?

JOHN.

You have acted upon it?

ALFRED.

On what?

JOHN.

The advice that I gave you -

ALFRED.

Advice? - let me see?
You ALWAYS are giving advice, Jack, to me.
About Parliament, was it?

JOHN.

Hang Parliament! no,
The Bank, the Bank, Alfred!

ALFRED.

What Bank?

JOHN.

Heavens! I know
You are careless; - but surely you have not forgotten, -
Or neglected... I warn'd you the whole thing was rotten.
You have drawn those deposits at least?

ALFRED.

No, I meant
To have written to-day; but the note shall be sent
To-morrow, however.

JOHN.

To-morrow? too late!
Too late! oh, what devil bewitch'd you to wait?

ALFRED.

Mercy save us! you don't mean to say...

JOHN.

Yes, I do.

ALFRED.

What! Sir Ridley?

JOHN.

Smash'd, broken, blown up, bolted too!

ALFRED.

But his own niece?... In Heaven's name, Jack...

JOHN.

Oh, I told you
The old hypocritical scoundrel would...

ALFRED.

Hold! you
Surely can't mean we are ruin'd?

JOHN.

Sit down!
A fortnight ago a report about town
Made me most apprehensive. Alas, and alas!
I at once wrote and warn'd you. Well, now let that pass.
A run on the Bank about five days ago
Confirm'd my forebodings too terribly, though.
I drove down to the city at once; found the door
Of the Bank close: the Bank had stopp'd payment at four.
Next morning the failure was known to be fraud:
Warrant out for McNab: but McNab was abroad:
Gone - we cannot tell where. I endeavor'd to get
Information: have learn'd nothing certain as yet -
Not even the way that old Ridley was gone:
Or with those securities what he had done:
Or whether they had been already call'd out:
If they are not, their fate is, I fear, past a doubt.
Twenty families ruin'd, they say: what was left, -
Unable to find any clew to the cleft
The old fox ran to earth in, - but join you as fast
As I could, my dear Alfred?*


*These events, it is needless to say, Mr. Morse,
Took place when Bad News as yet travell'd by horse;
Ere the world, like a cockchafer, buzz'd on a wire,
Or Time was calcined by electrical fire;
Ere a cable went under the hoary Atlantic,
Or the word Telegram drove grammarians frantic.


VI.


He stopp'd here, aghast
At the change in his cousin, the hue of whose face
Had grown livid; and glassy his eyes fix'd on space.
"Courage, courage!"... said John,... "bear the blow like a man!"
And he caught the cold hand of Lord Alfred. There ran
Through that hand a quick tremor. "I bear it," he said,
"But Matilda? the blow is to her!" And his head
Seem'd forced down, as he said it.

JOHN.

Matilda? Pooh, pooh!
I half think I know the girl better than you.
She has courage enough - and to spare. She cares less
Than most women for luxury, nonsense, and dress.

ALFRED.

The fault has been mine.

JOHN.

Be it yours to repair it:
If you did not avert, you may help her to bear t.

ALFRED.

I might have averted.

JOHN.

Perhaps so. But now
There is clearly no use in considering how,
Or whence, came the mischief. The mischief is here.
Broken shins are not mended by crying - that's clear!
One has but to rub them, and get up again,
And push on - and not think too much of the pain.
And at least it is much that you see that to her
You owe too much to think of yourself. You must stir
And arouse yourself Alfred, for her sake. Who knows?
Something yet may be saved from this wreck. I suppose
We shall make him disgorge all he can, at the least.

"O Jack, I have been a brute idiot! a beast!
A fool! I have sinn'd, and to HER I have sinn'd!
I have been heedless, blind, inexcusably blind!
And now, in a flash, I see all things!"
As though
To shut out the vision, he bow'd his head low
On his hands; and the great tears in silence roll'd on
And fell momently, heavily, one after one.
John felt no desire to find instant relief
For the trouble he witness'd.
He guess'd, in the grief
Of his cousin, the broken and heartfelt admission
Of some error demanding a heartfelt contrition:
Some oblivion perchance which could plead less excuse
To the heart of a man re-aroused to the use
Of the conscience God gave him, than simply and merely
The neglect for which now he was paying so dearly.
So he rose without speaking, and paced up and down
The long room, much afflicted, indeed, in his own
Cordial heart for Matilda.
Thus, silently lost
In his anxious reflections, he cross'd and re-cross'd
The place where his cousin yet hopelessly hung
O'er the table; his fingers entwisted among
The rich curls they were knotting and dragging: and there,
That sound of all sounds the most painful to hear,
The sobs of a man! Yet so far in his own
Kindly thoughts was he plunged, he already had grown
Unconscious of Alfred.
And so for a space
There was silence between them.


VII.


At last, with sad face
He stopp'd short, and bent on his cousin awhile
A pain'd sort of wistful, compassionate smile,
Approach'd him, - stood o'er him, - and suddenly laid
One hand on his shoulder -
"Where is she?" he said.
Alfred lifted his face all disfigured with tears
And gazed vacantly at him, like one that appears
In some foreign language to hear himself greeted,
Unable to answer.
"Where is she?" repeated
His cousin.
He motioned his hand to the door;
"There, I think," he replied. Cousin John said no more,
And appear'd to relapse to his own cogitations,
Of which not a gesture vouchsafed indications.
So again there was silence.
A timepiece at last
Struck the twelve strokes of midnight.
Roused by them, he cast
A half-look to the dial; then quietly threw
His arm round the neck of his cousin, and drew
The hands down from his face.
"It is time she should know
What has happen'd," he said,... "let us go to her now."
Alfred started at once to his feet.
Drawn and wan
Though his face, he look'd more than his wont was - a man.
Strong for once, in his weakness. Uplifted, fill'd through
With a manly resolve.
If that axiom be true
Of the "Sum quia cogito," I must opine
That "id sum quod cogito;" - that which, in fine
A man thinks and feels, with his whole force of thought
And feeling, the man is himself.
He had fought
With himself, and rose up from his self-overthrow
The survivor of much which that strife had laid low
At his feet, as he rose at the name of his wife,
Lay in ruins the brilliant unrealized life
Which, though yet unfulfill'd, seem'd till then, in that name,
To be his, had he claim'd it. The man's dream of fame
And of power fell shatter'd before him; and only
There rested the heart of the woman, so lonely
In all save the love he could give her. The lord
Of that heart he arose. Blush not, Muse, to record
That his first thought, and last, at that moment was not
Of the power and fame that seem'd lost to his lot,
But the love that was left to it; not of the pelf
He had cared for, yet squander'd; and not of himself,
But of her; as he murmur'd,
"One moment, dear jack!
We have grown up from boyhood together. Our track
Has been through the same meadows in childhood: in youth
Through the same silent gateways, to manhood. In truth,
There is none that can know me as you do; and none
To whom I more wish to believe myself known.
Speak the truth; you are not wont to mince it, I know.
Nor I, shall I shirk it, or shrink from it now.
In despite of a wanton behavior, in spite
Of vanity, folly, and pride, Jack, which might
Have turn'd from me many a heart strong and true
As your own, I have never turn'd round and miss'd YOU
From my side in one hour of affliction or doubt
By my own blind and heedless self-will brought about.
Tell me truth. Do I owe this alone to the sake
Of those old recollections of boyhood that make
In your heart yet some clinging and crying appeal
From a judgment more harsh, which I cannot but feel
Might have sentenced our friendship to death long ago?
Or is it... (I would I could deem it were so!)
That, not all overlaid by a listless exterior,
Your heart has divined in me something superior
To that which I seem; from my innermost nature
Not wholly expell'd by the world's usurpature?
Some instinct of earnestness, truth, or desire
For truth? Some one spark of the soul's native fire
Moving under the ashes, and cinders, and dust
Which life hath heap'd o'er it? Some one fact to trust
And to hope in? Or by you alone am I deem'd
The mere frivolous fool I so often have seem'd
To my own self?"

JOHN.

No, Alfred! you will, I believe,
Be true, at the last, to what now makes you grieve
For having belied your true nature so long.
Necessity is a stern teacher. Be strong!

"Do you think," he resumed,... "what I feel while I speak
Is no more than a transient emotion, as weak
As these weak tears would seem to betoken it?"


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 13 of 18)