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Owen Meredith.

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JOHN.

No!

ALFRED.

Thank you, cousin! your hand then. And now I will go
Alone, Jack. Trust to me.


VIII.


JOHN.

I do. But 'tis late.
If she sleeps, you'll not wake her?

ALFRED.

No, no! it will wait
(Poor infant!) too surely, this mission of sorrow;
If she sleeps, I will not mar her dreams of tomorrow.
He open'd the door, and pass'd out.
Cousin John
Watch'd him wistful, and left him to seek her alone.


IX.


His heart beat so loud when he knock'd at her door,
He could hear no reply from within. Yet once more
He knock'd lightly. No answer. The handle he tried:
The door open'd: he enter'd the room undescried.


X.


No brighter than is that dim circlet of light
Which enhaloes the moon when rains form on the night,
The pale lamp an indistinct radiance shed
Round the chamber, in which at her pure snowy bed
Matilda was kneeling; so wrapt in deep prayer
That she knew not her husband stood watching her there.
With the lamplight the moonlight had mingled a faint
And unearthly effulgence which seem'd to acquaint
The whole place with a sense of deep peace made secure
By the presence of something angelic and pure.
And not purer some angel Grief carves o'er the tomb
Where Love lies, than the lady that kneel'd in that gloom.
She had put off her dress; and she look'd to his eyes
Like a young soul escaped from its earthly disguise;
Her fair neck and innocent shoulders were bare,
And over them rippled her soft golden hair;
Her simple and slender white bodice unlaced
Confined not one curve of her delicate waist.
As the light that, from water reflected, forever,
Trembles up through the tremulous reeds of a river,
So the beam of her beauty went trembling in him,
Through the thoughts it suffused with a sense soft and dim.
Reproducing itself in the broken and bright
Lapse and pulse of a million emotions.
That sight
Bow'd his heart, bow'd his knee. Knowing scarce what he did,
To her side through the chamber he silently slid,
And knelt down beside her - and pray'd at her side.


XI.


Upstarting, she then for the first time descried
That her husband was near her; suffused with the blush
Which came o'er her soft pallid cheek with a gush
Where the tears sparkled yet.
As a young fawn uncouches,
Shy with fear from the fern where some hunter approaches,
She shrank back; he caught her, and circling his arm
Round her waist, on her brow press'd one kiss long and warm.
Then her fear changed in impulse; and hiding her face
On his breast, she hung lock'd in a clinging embrace
With her soft arms wound heavily round him, as though
She fear'd, if their clasp was relaxed, he would go:
Her smooth, naked shoulders, uncared for, convulsed
By sob after sob, while her bosom yet pulsed
In its pressure on his, as the effort within it
Lived and died with each tender tumultuous minute.
"O Alfred, O Alfred! forgive me," she cried -
"Forgive me!"
"Forgive you, my poor child!" he sigh'd;
"But I never have blamed you for aught that I know,
And I have not one thought that reproaches you now."
From her arms he unwound himself gently. And so
He forced her down softly beside him. Below
The canopy shading their couch, they sat down.
And he said, clasping firmly her hand in his own,
"When a proud man, Matilda, has found out at length,
That he is but a child in the midst of his strength,
But a fool in his wisdom, to whom can he own
The weakness which thus to himself hath been shown?
From whom seek the strength which his need of is sore,
Although in his pride he might perish, before
He could plead for the one, or the other avow
'Mid his intimate friends? Wife of mine, tell me now,
Do you join me in feeling, in that darken'd hour,
The sole friend that CAN have the right or the power
To be at his side, is the woman that shares
His fate, if he falter; the woman that bears
The name dear for HER sake, and hallows the life
She has mingled her own with, - in short, that man's wife?"
"Yes," murmur'd Matilda, "O yes!"
"Then," he cried,
"This chamber in which we two sit, side by side,
(And his arm, as he spoke, seem'd more softly to press her),
Is now a confessional - you, my confessor!"
"I?" she falter'd, and timidly lifted her head.
"Yes! but first answer one other question," he said:
"When a woman once feels that she is not alone:
That the heart of another is warm'd by her own;
That another feels with her whatever she feel
And halves her existence in woe or in weal;
That a man, for her sake, will, so long as he lives,
Live to put forth the strength which the thought of her gives;
Live to shield her from want, and to share with her sorrow;
Live to solace the day, and provide for the morrow:
Will that woman feel less than another, O say,
The loss of what life, sparing this, takes away?
Will she feel (feeling this), when calamities come,
That they brighten the heart, though they darken the home?"
She turn'd, like a soft rainy heav'n, on him
Eyes that smiled through fresh tears, trustful, tender, and dim.
"That woman," she murmur'd, "indeed were thrice blest!"
"Then courage, true wife of my heart!" to his breast
As he folded and gather'd her closely, he cried.
"For the refuge, to-night in these arms open'd wide
To your heart, can be never closed to it again,
And this room is for both an asylum! For when
I pass'd through that door, at the door I left there
A calamity sudden and heavy to bear.
One step from that threshold, and daily, I fear,
We must face it henceforth; but it enters not here,
For that door shuts it out, and admits here alone
A heart which calamity leaves all your own!"
She started... "Calamity, Alfred, to you?"
"To both, my poor child, but 'twill bring with it too
The courage, I trust, to subdue it."
"O speak!
Speak!" she falter'd in tones timid, anxious, and weak.
"O yet for a moment," he said, "hear me on!
Matilda, this morn we went forth in the sun,
Like those children of sunshine, the bright summer flies,
That sport in the sunbeam, and play through the skies
While the skies smile, and heed not each other: at last,
When their sunbeam is gone, and their sky overcast,
Who recks in what ruin they fold their wet wings?
So indeed the morn found us, - poor frivolous things!
Now our sky is o'ercast, and our sunbeam is set,
And the night brings its darkness around us. Oh yet
Have we weather'd no storm through those twelve cloudless hours?
Yes; you, too, have wept!
"While the world was yet ours,
While its sun was upon us, its incense stream'd to us,
And its myriad voices of joy seem'd to woo us,
We stray'd from each other, too far, it may be,
Nor, wantonly wandering, then did I see
How deep was my need of thee, dearest, how great
Was thy claim on my heart and thy share in my fate!
But, Matilda, an angel was near us, meanwhile,
Watching o'er us to warn, and to rescue!
"That smile
Which you saw with suspicion, that presence you eyed
With resentment, an angel's they were at your side
And at mine; nor perchance is the day all so far,
When we both in our prayers, when most heartfelt they are,
May murmur the name of that woman now gone
From our sight evermore.
"Here, this evening, alone,
I seek your forgiveness, in opening my heart
Unto yours, - from this clasp be it never to part!
Matilda, the fortune you brought me is gone,
But a prize richer far than that fortune has won
It is yours to confer, and I kneel for that prize,
'Tis the heart of my wife!" With suffused happy eyes
She sprang from her seat, flung her arms wide apart,
And tenderly closing them round him, his heart
Clasp'd in one close embrace to her bosom; and there
Droop'd her head on his shoulder; and sobb'd.
Not despair,
Not sorrow, not even the sense of her loss,
Flow'd in those happy tears, so oblivious she was
Of all save the sense of her own love! Anon,
However, his words rush'd back to her. "All gone,
The fortune you brought me!"
And eyes that were dim
With soft tears she upraised; but those tears were for HIM.
"Gone! my husband?" she said," tell me all! see! I need,
To sober this rapture, so selfish indeed,
Fuller sense of affliction."
"Poor innocent child!"
He kiss'd her fair forehead, and mournfully smiled,
As he told her the tale he had heard - something more,
The gain found in loss of what gain lost of yore.
"Rest, my heart, and my brain, and my right hand, for you;
And with these, my Matilda, what may I not do?
And know not, I knew not myself till this hour,
Which so sternly reveal'd it, my nature's full power."
"And I too," she murmur'd, "I too am no more
The mere infant at heart you have known me before.
I have suffer'd since then. I have learn'd much in life.
O take, with the faith I have pledged as a wife,
The heart I have learn'd as a woman to feel!
For I - love you, my husband!"
As though to conceal
Less from him, than herself, what that motion express'd,
She dropp'd her bright head, and hid all on his breast.
"O lovely as woman, beloved as wife!
Evening star of my heart, light forever my life!
If from eyes fix'd too long on this base earth thus far
You have miss'd your due homage, dear guardian star,
Believe that, uplifting those eyes unto heaven,
There I see you, and know you, and bless the light given
To lead me to life's late achievement; my own,
My blessing, my treasure, my all things in one!"


XII.


How lovely she look'd in the lovely moonlight,
That stream'd thro' the pane from the blue balmy night!
How lovely she look'd in her own lovely youth,
As she clung to his side, full of trust and of truth!
How lovely to HIM, as he tenderly press'd
Her young head on his bosom, and sadly caress'd
The glittering tresses which now shaken loose
Shower'd gold in his hand, as he smooth'd them!


XIII.


O Muse,
Interpose not one pulse of thine own beating heart
Twixt these two silent souls! There's a joy beyond art,
And beyond sound the music it makes in the breast.


XIV.


Here were lovers twice wed, that were happy at least!
No music, save such as the nightingales sung,
Breath'd their bridals abroad; and no cresset, up-hung,
Lit that festival hour, save what soft light was given
From the pure stars that peopled the deep-purple heaven.
He open'd the casement: he led her with him,
Hush'd in heart, to the terrace, dipp'd cool in the dim
Lustrous gloom of the shadowy laurels. They heard
Aloof, the invisible, rapturous bird,
With her wild note bewildering the woodlands: they saw
Not unheard, afar off, the hill-rivulet draw
His long ripple of moon-kindled wavelets with cheer
From the throat of the vale; o'er the dark sapphire sphere
The mild, multitudinous lights lay asleep,
Pastured free on the midnight, and bright as the sheep
Of Apollo in pastoral Thrace; from unknown
Hollow glooms freshen'd odors around them were blown
Intermittingly; then the moon dropp'd from their sight,
Immersed in the mountains, and put out the light
Which no longer they needed to read on the face
Of each other life's last revelation.
The place
Slept sumptuous round them; and Nature, that never
Sleeps, but waking reposes, with patient endeavor
Continued about them, unheeded, unseen,
Her old, quiet toil in the heart of the green
Summer silence, preparing new buds for new blossoms,
And stealing a finger of change o'er the bosoms
Of the unconscious woodlands; and Time, that halts not
His forces, how lovely soever the spot
Where their march lies - the wary, gray strategist, Time,
With the armies of Life, lay encamp'd - Grief and Crime,
Love and Faith, in the darkness unheeded; maturing,
For his great war with man, new surprises; securing
All outlets, pursuing and pushing his foe
To his last narrow refuge - the grave.


XV.


Sweetly though
Smiled the stars like new hopes out of heaven, and sweetly
Their hearts beat thanksgiving for all things, completely
Confiding in that yet untrodden existence
Over which they were pausing. To-morrow, resistance
And struggle; to-night, Love his hallow'd device
Hung forth, and proclaim'd his serene armistice.




CANTO V.


I.


When Lucile left Matilda, she sat for long hours
In her chamber, fatigued by long overwrought powers,
'Mid the signs of departure, about to turn back
To her old vacant life, on her old homeless track.
She felt her heart falter within her. She sat
Like some poor player, gazing dejectedly at
The insignia of royalty worn for a night;
Exhausted, fatigued, with the dazzle and light,
And the effort of passionate feigning; who thinks
Of her own meagre, rush-lighted garret, and shrinks
From the chill of the change that awaits her.


II.

From these
Oppressive, and comfortless, blank reveries,
Unable to sleep, she descended the stair
That led from her room to the garden.
The air,
With the chill of the dawn, yet unris'n, but at hand,
Strangely smote on her feverish forehead. The land
Lay in darkness and change, like a world in its grave:
No sound, save the voice of the long river wave
And the crickets that sing all the night!
She stood still,
Vaguely watching the thin cloud that curl'd on the hill.
Emotions, long pent in her breast, were at stir,
And the deeps of the spirit were troubled in her.
Ah, pale woman! what, with that heart-broken look,
Didst thou read then in nature's weird heart-breaking book?
Have the wild rains of heaven a father? and who
Hath in pity begotten the drops of the dew?
Orion, Arcturus, who pilots them both?
What leads forth in his season the bright Mazaroth?
Hath the darkness a dwelling, - save there, in those eyes?
And what name hath that half-reveal'd hope in the skies?
Ay, question, and listen! What answer?
The sound
Of the long river wave through its stone-troubled bound,
And the crickets that sing all the night.
There are hours
Which belong to unknown, supernatural powers,
Whose sudden and solemn suggestions are all
That to this race of worms, - stinging creatures, that crawl,
Lie, and fear, and die daily, beneath their own stings, -
Can excuse the blind boast of inherited wings.
When the soul, on the impulse of anguish, hath pass'd
Beyond anguish, and risen into rapture at last;
When she traverses nature and space, till she stands
In the Chamber of Fate; where, through tremulous hands,
Hum the threads from an old-fashion'd distaff uncurl'd,
And those three blind old women sit spinning the world.


III.


The dark was blanch'd wan, overhead. One green star
Was slipping from sight in the pale void afar;
The spirits of change and of awe, with faint breath,
Were shifting the midnight, above and beneath.
The spirits of awe and of change were around
And about, and upon her.
A dull muffled sound,
And a hand on her hand, like a ghostly surprise,
And she felt herself fix'd by the hot hollow eyes
Of the Frenchman before her: those eyes seemed to burn,
And scorch out the darkness between them, and turn
Into fire as they fix'd her. He look'd like the shade
Of a creature by fancy some solitude made,
And sent forth by the darkness to scare and oppress
Some soul of a monk in a waste wilderness.


IV.


"At last, then, - at last, and alone, - I and thou,
Lucile de Nevers, have we met?
"Hush! I know
Not for me was the tryst. Never mind - it is mine;
And whatever led hither those proud steps of thine,
They remove not, until we have spoken. My hour
Is come; and it holds me and thee in its power,
As the darkness holds both the horizons. 'Tis well!
The timidest maiden that e'er to the spell
Of her first lover's vows listen'd, hush'd with delight,
When soft stars were brightly uphanging the night,
Never listen'd, I swear, more unquestioningly,
Than thy fate hath compell'd thee to listen to me!"
To the sound of his voice, as though out of a dream.
She appear'd with a start to awaken.
The stream,
When he ceased, took the night with its moaning again,
Like the voices of spirits departing in pain.
"Continue," she answer'd, "I listen to hear."
For a moment he did not reply.
Through the drear
And dim light between them, she saw that his face
Was disturb'd. To and fro he continued to pace,
With his arms folded close, and the low restless stride
Of a panther, in circles around her, first wide.
Then narrower, nearer, and quicker. At last
He stood still, and one long look upon her he cast.
"Lucile, dost thou dare to look into my face?
Is the sight so repugnant? ha, well! canst thou trace
One word of thy writing in this wicked scroll,
With thine own name scrawl'd through it, defacing a soul?"
In his face there was something so wrathful and wild,
That the sight of it scared her.
He saw it, and smiled,
And then turn'd him from her, renewing again
That short restless stride; as though searching in vain
For the point of some purpose within him.
"Lucile,
You shudder to look in my face: do you feel
No reproach when you look in your own heart?"
"No, Duke,
In my conscience I do not deserve your rebuke:
Not yours!" she replied.
"No," he mutter'd again,
"Gentle justice! you first bid Life hope not, and then
To Despair you say, 'Act not!'"


V.


He watch'd her awhile
With a chill sort of restless and suffering smile.
They stood by the wall of the garden. The skies,
Dark, sombre, were troubled with vague prophecies
Of the dawn yet far distant. The moon had long set,
And all in a glimmering light, pale, and wet
With the night-dews, the white roses sullenly loom'd
Round about her. She spoke not. At length he resumed,
"Wrecked creatures we are! I and thou - one and all!
Only able to injure each other and fall,
Soon or late, in that void which ourselves we prepare
For the souls that we boast of! weak insects we are!
O heaven! and what has become of them? all
Those instincts of Eden surviving the Fall:
That glorious faith in inherited things:
That sense in the soul of the length of her wings;
Gone! all gone! and the wail of the night wind sounds human,
Bewailing those once nightly visitants! Woman,
Woman, what hast thou done with my youth? Give again,
Give me back the young heart that I gave thee... in vain!"
"Duke!" she falter'd.
"Yes, yes!" he went on, "I was not
Always thus! what I once was, I have not forgot."


VI.


As the wind that heaps sand in a desert, there stirr'd
Through his voice an emotion that swept every word
Into one angry wail; as, with feverish change,
He continued his monologue, fitful and strange.
"Woe to him in whose nature, once kindled, the torch
Of Passion burns downward to blacken and scorch!
But shame, shame and sorrow, O woman, to thee
Whose hand sow'd the seed of destruction in me!
Whose lip taught the lesson of falsehood to mine!
Whose looks made me doubt lies that look'd so divine!
My soul by thy beauty was slain in its sleep:
And if tears I mistrust, 'tis that thou too canst weep!
Well!... how utter soever it be, one mistake
In the love of a man, what more change need it make
In the steps of his soul through the course love began,
Than all other mistakes in the life of a man?
And I said to myself, 'I am young yet: too young
To have wholly survived my own portion among
The great needs of man's life, or exhausted its joys;
What is broken? one only of youth's pleasant toys!
Shall I be the less welcome, wherever I go,
For one passion survived? No! the roses will blow
As of yore, as of yore will the nightingales sing,
Not less sweetly for one blossom cancell'd from Spring!
Hast thou loved, O my heart? to thy love yet remains
All the wide loving-kindness of nature. The plains
And the hills with each summer their verdure renew.
Wouldst thou be as they are? do thou then as they do,
Let the dead sleep in peace. Would the living divine
Where they slumber? Let only new flowers be the sign!'

"Vain! all vain!... For when, laughing, the wine I would quaff,
I remember'd too well all it cost me to laugh.
Through the revel it was but the old song I heard,
Through the crowd the old footsteps behind me they stirr'd,
In the night-wind, the starlight, the murmurs of even,
In the ardors of earth, and the languors of heaven,
I could trace nothing more, nothing more through the spheres,
But the sound of old sobs, and the track of old tears!
It was with me the night long in dreaming or waking,
It abided in loathing, when daylight was breaking,
The burthen of the bitterness in me! Behold,
All my days were become as a tale that is told.
And I said to my sight, 'No good thing shalt thou see,
For the noonday is turned to darkness in me.
In the house of Oblivion my bed I have made.'
And I said to the grave, 'Lo, my father!' and said
To the worm, 'Lo, my sister!' The dust to the dust,
And one end to the wicked shall be with the just!"


VII.


He ceased, as a wind that wails out on the night
And moans itself mute. Through the indistinct light
A voice clear, and tender, and pure with a tone
Of ineffable pity, replied to his own.
"And say you, and deem you, that I wreck'd your life?
Alas! Duc de Luvois, had I been your wife
By a fraud of the heart which could yield you alone
For the love in your nature a lie in my own,
Should I not, in deceiving, have injured you worse?
Yes, I then should have merited justly your curse,
For I then should have wrong'd you!"
"Wrong'd! ah, is it so?


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 14 of 18)