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Owen Meredith.

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Shall I hear through your umbrage ancestral the wind
Prophesy as of yore, when it shook the deep mind
Of my boyhood, with whispers from out the far years
Of love, fame, the raptures life cools down with tears!
Henceforth shall the tread of a Vargrave alone
Rouse your echoes?"
"O think not," she said, "of the son
Of the man whom unjustly you hate; only think
Of this young human creature, that cries from the brink
Of a grave to your mercy!
"Recall your own words
(Words my memory mournfully ever records!)
How with love may be wreck'd a whole life! then, Eugene,
Look with me (still those words in our ears!) once again
At this young soldier sinking from life here - dragg'd down
By the weight of the love in his heart: no renown,
No fame comforts HIM! nations shout not above
The lone grave down to which he is bearing the love
Which life has rejected! Will YOU stand apart?
You, with such a love's memory deep in your heart!
You the hero, whose life hath perchance been led on
Through the deeds it hath wrought to the fame it hath won,
By recalling the visions and dreams of a youth,
Such as lies at your door now: who have but, in truth,
To stretch forth a hand, to speak only one word,
And by that word you rescue a life!"
He was stirr'd.
Still he sought to put from him the cup, bow'd his face
on his hand; and anon, as though wishing to chase
With one angry gesture his own thoughts aside,
He sprang up, brush'd past her, and bitterly cried,
"No! - Constance wed a Vargrave!" - I cannot consent!"
Then up rose the Soeur Seraphine.
The low tent
In her sudden uprising, seem'd dwarf'd by the height
From which those imperial eyes pour'd the light
Of their deep silent sadness upon him.
No wonder
He felt, as it were, his own stature shrink under
The compulsion of that grave regard! For between
The Duc de Luvois and the Soeur Seraphine
At that moment there rose all the height of one soul
O'er another; she look'd down on him from the whole
Lonely length of a life. There were sad nights and days,
There were long months and years in that heart-searching gaze;
And her voice, when she spoke, with sharp pathos thrill'd through
And transfix'd him.
"Eugene de Luvois, but for you,
I might have been now - not this wandering nun,
But a mother, a wife - pleading, not for the son
Of another, but blessing some child of my own,
His, - the man's that I once loved!... Hush! that which is done
I regret not. I breathe no reproaches. That's best
Which God sends. 'Twas his will: it is mine. And the rest
Of that riddle I will not look back to. He reads
In your heart - He that judges of all thoughts and deeds.
With eyes, mine forestall not! This only I say:
You have not the right (read it, you, as you may!)
To say... 'I am the wrong'd."'...
"Have I wrong'd thee? - wrong'd THEE!"
He falter'd, "Lucile, ah, Lucile!"
"Nay, not me,"
She murmur'd, "but man! The lone nun standing here
Has no claim upon earth, and is pass'd from the sphere
Of earth's wrongs and earth's reparations. But she,
The dead woman, Lucile, she whose grave is in me,
Demands from her grave reparation to man,
Reparation to God. Heed, O heed, while you can,
This voice from the grave!"
"Hush!" he moan'd, "I obey
The Soeur Seraphine. There, Lucile! let this pay
Every debt that is due to that grave. Now lead on:
I follow you, Soeur Seraphine!... To the son
Of Lord Alfred Vargrave... and then,"...
As he spoke
He lifted the tent-door, and down the dun smoke
Pointed out the dark bastions, with batteries crown'd,
Of the city beneath them...
"Then, THERE, underground,
And valete et plaudite, soon as may be!
Let the old tree go down to the earth - the old tree
With the worm at its heart! Lay the axe to the root!
Who will miss the old stump, so we save the young shoot?
A Vargrave!... this pays all... Lead on! In the seed
Save the forest!...
I follow... forth, forth! where you lead."


XXX.


The day was declining; a day sick and damp.
In a blank ghostly glare shone the bleak ghostly camp
Of the English. Alone in his dim, spectral tent
(Himself the wan spectre of youth), with eyes bent
On the daylight departing, the sick man was sitting
Upon his low pallet. These thoughts, vaguely flitting,
Cross'd the silence between him and death, which seem'd near,
- "Pain o'erreaches itself, so is balk'd! else, how bear
This intense and intolerable solitude,
With its eye on my heart and its hand on my blood?
Pulse by pulse! Day goes down: yet she comes not again.
Other suffering, doubtless, where hope is more plain,
Claims her elsewhere. I die, strange! and scarcely feel sad.
Oh, to think of Constance THUS, and not to go mad!
But Death, it would seem, dulls the sense to his own
Dull doings..."


XXXI.


Between those sick eyes and the sun
A shadow fell thwart.


XXXII.


'Tis the pale nun once more!
But who stands at her side, mute and dark in the door?
How oft had he watch'd through the glory and gloom
Of the battle, with long, longing looks, that dim plume
Which now (one stray sunbeam upon it) shook, stoop'd
To where the tent-curtain, dividing, was loop'd!
How that stern face had haunted and hover'd about
The dreams it still scared! through what fond fear and doubt
Had the boy yearn'd in heart to the hero. (What's like
A boy's love for some famous man?)... Oh, to strike
A wild path through the battle, down striking perchance
Some rash foeman too near the great soldier of France,
And so fall in his glorious regard!... Oft, how oft,
Had his heart flash'd this hope out, whilst watching aloft
The dim battle that plume dance and dart - never seen
So near till this moment! how eager to glean
Every stray word, dropp'd through the camp-babble in praise
Of his hero - each tale of old venturous days
In the desert! And now... could he speak out his heart
Face to face with that man ere he died!


XXXIII.


With a start
The sick soldier sprang up: the blood sprang up in him,
To his throat, and o'erthrew him: he reel'd back: a dim
Sanguine haze fill'd his eyes; in his ears rose the din
And rush, as of cataracts loosen'd within,
Through which he saw faintly, and heard, the pale nun
(Looking larger than life, where she stood in the sun)
Point to him and murmur, "Behold!" Then that plume
Seem'd to wave like a fire, and fade off in the gloom
Which momently put out the world.


XXXIV.


To his side
Moved the man the boy dreaded yet loved... "Ah!"... he sigh'd,
"The smooth brow, the fair Vargrave face! and those eyes,
All the mother's! The old things again!
"Do not rise.
You suffer, young man?"

THE BOY.

Sir, I die.

THE DUKE.

Not so young!

THE BOY.

So young? yes! and yet I have tangled among
The fray'd warp and woof of this brief life of mine
Other lives than my own. Could my death but untwine
The vext skein... but it will not. Yes, Duke, young - so young!
And I knew you not? yet I have done you a wrong
Irreparable!... late, too late to repair.
If I knew any means... but I know none!... I swear,
If this broken fraction of time could extend
Into infinite lives of atonement, no end
Would seem too remote for my grief (could that be!)
To include it! Not too late, however, for me
To entreat: is it too late for you to forgive?

THE DUKE.

You wrong - my forgiveness - explain.

THE BOY.

Could I live!
Such a very few hours left to life, yet I shrink,
I falter... Yes, Duke, your forgiveness I think
Should free my soul hence.
Ah! you could not surmise
That a boy's beating heart, burning thoughts, longing eyes
Were following you evermore (heeded not!)
While the battle was flowing between us: nor what
Eager, dubious footsteps at nightfall oft went
With the wind and the rain, round and round your blind tent,
Persistent and wild as the wind and the rain,
Unnoticed as these, weak as these, and as vain!
Oh, how obdurate then look'd your tent! The waste air
Grew stern at the gleam which said... "Off! he is there!"
I know not what merciful mystery now
Brings you here, whence the man whom you see lying low
Other footsteps (not those!) must soon bear to the grave.
But death is at hand, and the few words I have
Yet to speak, I must speak them at once.
Duke, I swear,
As I lie here, (Death's angel too close not to hear!)
That I meant not this wrong to you. Duc de Luvois,
I loved your niece - loved? why, I LOVE her! I saw,
And, seeing, how could I but love her? I seem'd
Born to love her. Alas, were that all! Had I dream'd
Of this love's cruel consequence as it rests now
Ever fearfully present before me, I vow
That the secret, unknown, had gone down to the tomb
Into which I descend... Oh why, whilst there was room
In life left for warning, had no one the heart
To warn me? Had any one whisper'd... "Depart!"
To the hope the whole world seem'd in league then to nurse!
Had any one hinted... "Beware of the curse
Which is coming!" There was not a voice raised to tell,
Not a hand moved to warn from the blow ere it fell,
And then... then the blow fell on BOTH! This is why
I implore you to pardon that great injury
Wrought on her, and, through her, wrought on you, Heaven knows
How unwittingly!

THE DUKE.

Ah!... and, young soldier, suppose
That I came here to seek, not grant, pardon? -

THE BOY.

Of whom?

THE DUKE.

Of yourself.

THE BOY.

Duke, I bear in my heart to the tomb
No boyish resentment; not one lonely thought
That honors you not. In all this there is naught
'Tis for me to forgive.
Every glorious act
Of your great life starts forward, an eloquent fact,
To confirm in my boy's heart its faith in your own.
And have I not hoarded, to ponder upon,
A hundred great acts from your life? Nay, all these,
Were they so many lying and false witnesses,
Does there rest not ONE voice which was never untrue?
I believe in Constance, Duke, as she does in you!
In this great world around us, wherever we turn,
Some grief irremediable we discern;
And yet - there sits God, calm in Heaven above!
Do we trust one whit less in his justice or love?
I judge not.

THE DUKE.

Enough! Hear at last, then, the truth
Your father and I - foes we were in our youth.
It matters not why. Yet thus much understand:
The hope of my youth was sign'd out by his hand.
I was not of those whom the buffets of fate
Tame and teach; and my heart buried slain love in hate.
If your own frank young heart, yet unconscious of all
Which turns the heart's blood in its springtide to gall,
And unable to guess even aught that the furrow
Across these gray brows hides of sin or of sorrow,
Comprehends not the evil and grief of my life,
'Twill at least comprehend how intense was the strife
Which is closed in this act of atonement, whereby
I seek in the son of my youth's enemy
The friend of my age. Let the present release
Here acquitted the past! In the name of my niece,
Whom for my life in yours as a hostage I give,
Are you great enough, boy, to forgive me, - and live?

Whilst he spoke thus, a doubtful tumultuous joy
Chased its fleeting effects o'er the face of the boy:
As when some stormy moon, in a long cloud confined,
Struggles outward through shadows, the varying wind
Alternates, and bursts, self-surprised, from her prison,
So that slow joy grew clear in his face. He had risen
To answer the Duke; but strength fail'd every limb;
A strange, happy feebleness trembled through him.
With a faint cry of rapturous wonder, he sank
On the breast of the nun, who stood near.
"Yes, boy! thank
This guardian angel," the Duke said. "I - you,
We owe all to her. Crown her work. Live! be true
To your young life's fair promise, and live for her sake!"
"Yes, Duke: I will live. I MUST live - live to make
My whole life the answer you claim," the boy said,
"For joy does not kill!"
Back again the faint head
Declined on the nun's gentle bosom. She saw
His lips quiver, and motion'd the Duke to withdraw
And leave them a moment together.
He eyed
Them both with a wistful regard; turn'd and sigh'd,
And lifted the tent-door, and pass'd from the tent.


XXXV.


Like a furnace, the fervid, intense occident
From its hot seething levels a great glare struck up
On the sick metal sky. And, as out of a cup
Some witch watches boiling wild portents arise,
Monstrous clouds, mass'd, misshapen, and ting'd with strange dyes,
Hover'd over the red fume, and changed to weird shapes
As of snakes, salamanders, efts, lizards, storks, apes,
Chimeras, and hydras: whilst - ever the same
In the midst of all these (creatures fused by his flame,
And changed by his influence!) changeless, as when,
Ere he lit down to death generations of men,
O'er that crude and ungainly creation, which there
With wild shapes this cloud-world seem'd to mimic in air,
The eye of Heaven's all-judging witness, he shone.
And shall shine on the ages we reach not - the sun!



XXXVI.


Nature posted her parable thus in the skies,
And the man's heart bore witness. Life's vapors arise
And fall, pass and change, group themselves and revolve
Round the great central life, which is love: these dissolve
And resume themselves, here assume beauty, there terror;
And the phantasmagoria of infinite error,
And endless complexity, lasts but a while;
Life's self, the immortal, immutable smile
Of God, on the soul in the deep heart of Heaven
Lives changeless, unchanged: and our morning and even
Are earth's alternations, not Heaven's.


XXXVII.


While he yet
Watched the skies, with this thought in his heart; while he set
Thus unconsciously all his life forth in his mind,
Summ'd it up, search'd it out, proved it vapor and wind,
And embraced the new life which that hour had reveal'd, -
Love's life, which earth's life had defaced and conceal'd;
Lucile left the tent and stood by him.
Her tread
Aroused him; and, turning towards her, he said:
"O Soeur Seraphine, are you happy?"
"Eugene,
What is happier than to have hoped not in vain?"
She answer'd, - "And you?"
"Yes."
"You do not repent?"
"No."
"Thank Heaven!" she murmur'd. He musingly bent
His looks on the sunset, and somewhat apart
Where he stood, sigh'd, as though to his innermost heart,
"O bless'd are they, amongst whom I was not,
Whose morning unclouded, without stain or spot,
Predicts a pure evening; who, sunlike, in light
Have traversed, unsullied, the world, and set bright!"
But she in response, "Mark yon ship far away,
Asleep on the wave, in the last light of day,
With all its hush'd thunders shut up! Would you know
A thought which came to me a few days ago,
Whilst watching those ships?... When the great Ship of Life
Surviving, though shatter'd, the tumult and strife
Of earth's angry element, - masts broken short,
Decks drench'd, bulwarks beaten - drives safe into port;
When the Pilot of Galilee, seen on the strand,
Stretches over the waters a welcoming hand;
When, heeding no longer the sea's baffled roar,
The mariner turns to his rest evermore;
What will then be the answer the helmsman must give?
Will it be... 'Lo our log-book! Thus once did we live
In the zones of the South; thus we traversed the seas
Of the Orient; there dwelt with the Hesperides;
Thence follow'd the west wind; here, eastward we turn'd;
The stars fail'd us there; just here land we discern'd
On our lee; there the storm overtook us at last;
That day went the bowsprit, the next day the mast;
There the mermen came round us, and there we saw bask
A siren?' The Captain of Port will he ask
Any one of such questions? I cannot think so!
But... 'What is the last Bill of Health you can show?'
Not - How fared the soul through the trials she pass'd?
But - What is the state of that soul at the last?"

"May it be so!" he sigh'd. "There the sun drops, behold!"
And indeed, whilst he spoke all the purple and gold
In the west had turn'd ashen, save one fading strip
Of light that yet gleam'd from the dark nether lip
Of a long reef of cloud; and o'er sullen ravines
And ridges the raw damps were hanging white screens
Of melancholy mist.
"Nunc dimittis?" she said.
"O God of the living! whilst yet 'mid the dead
And the dying we stand here alive, and thy days
Returning, admit space for prayer and for praise,
In both these confirm us!
"The helmsman, Eugene,
Needs the compass to steer by. Pray always. Again
We two part: each to work out Heaven's will: you, I trust,
In the world's ample witness; and I, as I must,
In secret and silence: you, love, fame, await;
Me, sorrow and sickness. We meet at one gate
When all's over. The ways they are many and wide,
And seldom are two ways the same. Side by side
May we stand at the same little door when all's done!
The ways they are many, the end it is one.
He that knocketh shall enter: who asks shall obtain:
And who seeketh, he findeth. Remember, Eugene!"
She turn'd to depart.
"Whither? whither?"... he said.
She stretch'd forth her hand where, already outspread
On the darken'd horizon, remotely they saw
The French camp-fires kindling.
"See yonder vast host, with its manifold heart
Made as one man's by one hope! The hope 'tis your part
To aid towards achievement, to save from reverse
Mine, through suffering to soothe, and through sickness to nurse.
I go to my work: you to yours."


XXXVIII.


Whilst she spoke,
On the wide wasting evening there distantly broke
The low roll of musketry. Straightway, anon,
From the dim Flag-staff Battery bellow'd a gun.
"Our chasseurs are at it!" he mutter'd.
She turn'd,
Smiled, and pass'd up the twilight.
He faintly discern'd
Her form, now and then, on the flat lurid sky
Rise, and sink, and recede through the mists: by and by
The vapors closed round, and he saw her no more.


XXXIX.


Nor shall we. For her mission, accomplish'd, is o'er.
The mission of genius on earth! To uplift,
Purify, and confirm by its own gracious gift,
The world, in despite of the world's dull endeavor
To degrade, and drag down, and oppose it forever.
The mission of genius: to watch, and to wait,
To renew, to redeem, and to regenerate.
The mission of woman on earth! to give birth
To the mercy of Heaven descending on earth.
The mission of woman: permitted to bruise
The head of the serpent, and sweetly infuse,
Through the sorrow and sin of earth's register'd curse,
The blessing which mitigates all: born to nurse,
And to soothe, and to solace, to help and to heal
The sick world that leans on her. This was Lucile.


XL.


A power hid in pathos: a fire veil'd in cloud:
Yet still burning outward: a branch which, though bow'd
By the bird in its passage, springs upward again:
Through all symbols I search for her sweetness - in vain!
Judge her love by her life. For our life is but love
In act. Pure was hers: and the dear God above,
Who knows what His creatures have need of for life,
And whose love includes all loves, through much patient strife
Led her soul into peace. Love, though love may be given
In vain, is yet lovely. Her own native heaven
More clearly she mirror'd, as life's troubled dream
Wore away; and love sigh'd into rest, like a stream
That breaks its heart over wild rocks toward the shore
Of the great sea which hushes it up evermore
With its little wild wailing. No stream from its source
Flows seaward, how lonely soever its course,
But what some land is gladden'd. No star ever rose
And set, without influence somewhere. Who knows
What earth needs from earth's lowest creature? No life
Can be pure in its purpose and strong in its strife
And all life not be purer and stronger thereby.
The spirits of just men made perfect on high,
The army of martyrs who stand by the Throne
And gaze into the face that makes glorious their own,
Know this, surely, at last. Honest love, honest sorrow,
Honest work for the day, honest hope for the morrow,
Are these worth nothing more than the hand they make weary,
The heart they have sadden'd, the life they leave dreary?
Hush! the sevenhold heavens to the voice of the Spirit
Echo: He that o'ercometh shall all things inherit.


XLI.


The moon was, in fire, carried up through the fog;
The loud fortress bark'd at her like a chained dog.
The horizon pulsed flame, the air sound. All without,
War and winter, and twilight, and terror, and doubt;
All within, light, warmth, calm!
In the twilight, longwhile
Eugene de Luvois with a deep, thoughtful smile
Linger'd, looking, and listening, lone by the tent.
At last he withdrew, and night closed as he went.







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