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Of their journey, although they still rode on abreast,
Continued to follow in silence the train
Of the different feelings that haunted his brain;
And each, as though roused from a deep revery,
Almost shouted, descending the mountain, to see
Burst at once on the moonlight the silvery Baths,
The long lime-tree alley, the dark gleaming paths,
With the lamps twinkling through them - the quaint wooden roofs -
The little white houses.
The clatter of hoofs,
And the music of wandering bands, up the walls
Of the steep hanging hill, at remote intervals
Reached them, cross'd by the sound of the clacking of whips,
And here and there, faintly, through serpentine slips
Of verdant rose-gardens deep-sheltered with screens
Of airy acacias and dark evergreens,
They could mark the white dresses and catch the light songs
Of the lovely Parisians that wander'd in throngs,
Led by Laughter and Love through the old eventide
Down the dream-haunted valley, or up the hillside.


XVII.


At length, at the door of the inn l'HERISSON,
Pray go there, if ever you go to Luchon!
The two horsemen, well pleased to have reached it, alighted
And exchanged their last greetings.
The Frenchman invited
Lord Alfred to dinner. Lord Alfred declined.
He had letters to write, and felt tired. So he dined
In his own rooms that night.
With an unquiet eye
He watched his companion depart; nor knew why,
Beyond all accountable reason or measure,
He felt in his breast such a sovran displeasure.
"The fellow's good looking," he murmur'd at last,
"And yet not a coxcomb." Some ghost of the past
Vex'd him still.
"If he love her," he thought, "let him win her."
Then he turn'd to the future - and order'd his dinner.


XVIII.


O hour of all hours, the most bless'd upon earth,
Blessed hour of our dinners!
The land of his birth;
The face of his first love; the bills that he owes;
The twaddle of friends and the venom of foes;
The sermon he heard when to church he last went;
The money he borrow'd, the money he spent; -
All of these things, a man, I believe, may forget,
And not be the worse for forgetting; but yet
Never, never, oh never! earth's luckiest sinner
Hath unpunish'd forgotten the hour of his dinner!
Indigestion, that conscience of every bad stomach,
Shall relentlessly gnaw and pursue him with some ache
Or some pain; and trouble, remorseless, his best ease,
As the Furies once troubled the sleep of Orestes.


XIX.


We may live without poetry, music, and art:
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books, - what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope, - what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love, - what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?


XX.


Lord Alfred found, waiting his coming, a note
From Lucile.
"Your last letter has reach'd me," she wrote.
"This evening, alas! I must go to the ball,
And shall not be at home till too late for your call;
But to-morrow, at any rate, sans faute, at One
You will find me at home, and will find me alone.
Meanwhile, let me thank you sincerely, milord,
For the honor with which you adhere to your word.
Yes, I thank you, Lord Alfred! To-morrow then.
"L."

XXI.


I find myself terribly puzzled to tell
The feelings with which Alfred Vargrave flung down
This note, as he pour'd out his wine. I must own
That I think he, himself, could have hardly explain'd
Those feelings exactly.
"Yes, yes," as he drain'd
The glass down, he mutter'd, "Jack's right, after all.
The coquette!"
"Does milord mean to go to the ball?"
Ask'd the waiter, who linger'd.
"Perhaps. I don't know.
You may keep me a ticket, in case I should go."


XXII.


Oh, better, no doubt, is a dinner of herbs,
When season'd by love, which no rancor disturbs,
And sweeten'd by all that is sweetest in life,
Than turbot, bisque, ortolans, eaten in strife!
But if, out of humor, and hungry, alone,
A man should sit down to a dinner, each one
Of the dishes of which the cook chooses to spoil
With a horrible mixture of garlic and oil,
The chances are ten against one, I must own,
He gets up as ill-temper'd as when he sat down.
And if any reader this fact to dispute is
Disposed, I say... "Allium edat cicutis
Nocentius!"
Over the fruit and the wine
Undisturb'd the wasp settled. The evening was fine.
Lord Alfred his chair by the window had set,
And languidly lighted his small cigarette.
The window was open. The warm air without
Waved the flame of the candles. The moths were about.
In the gloom he sat gloomy.


XXIII.


Gay sounds from below
Floated up like faint echoes of joys long ago,
And night deepen'd apace; through the dark avenues
The lamps twinkled bright; and by threes and by twos,
The idlers of Luchon were strolling at will,
As Lord Alfred could see from the cool window-sill,
Where his gaze, as he languidly turn'd it, fell o'er
His late travelling companion, now passing before
The inn, at the window of which he still sat,
In full toilet, - boots varnish'd, and snowy cravat,
Gayly smoothing and buttoning a yellow kid glove,
As he turned down the avenue.
Watching above,
From his window, the stranger, who stopp'd as he walk'd
To mix with those groups, and now nodded, now talk'd,
To the young Paris dandies, Lord Alfred discern'd,
By the way hats were lifted, and glances were turn'd,
That this unknown acquaintance, now bound for the hall,
Was a person of rank or of fashion; for all
Whom he bow'd to in passing, or stopped with and chatter'd,
Walk'd on with a look which implied... "I feel flatter'd!"


XXIV.


His form was soon lost in the distance and gloom.


XXV.


Lord Alfred still sat by himself in his room.
He had finish'd, one after the other, a dozen
Or more cigarettes. He had thought of his cousin;
He had thought of Matilda, and thought of Lucile:
He had thought about many things; thought a great deal
Of himself, of his past life, his future, his present:
He had thought of the moon, neither full moon nor crescent;
Of the gay world, so sad! life, so sweet and so sour!
He had thought, too, of glory, and fortune, and power:
Thought of love, and the country, and sympathy, and
A poet's asylum in some distant land:
Thought of man in the abstract, and woman, no doubt,
In particular; also he had thought much about
His digestion, his debts, and his dinner: and last,
He thought that the night would be stupidly pass'd
If he thought any more of such matters at all:
So he rose and resolved to set out for the ball.


XXVI.


I believe, ere he finish'd his tardy toilet,
That Lord Alfred had spoil'd, and flung by in a pet,
Half a dozen white neckcloths, and look'd for the nonce
Twenty times in the glass, if he look'd in it once.
I believe that he split up, in drawing them on,
Three pair of pale lavender gloves, one by one.
And this is the reason, no doubt, that at last,
When he reach'd the Casino, although he walk'd fast,
He heard, as he hurriedly enter'd the door,
The church clock strike Twelve.


XXVII.


The last waltz was just o'er.
The chaperons and dancers were all in a flutter.
A crowd block'd the door: and a buzz and a mutter
Went about in the room as a young man, whose face
Lord Alfred had seen ere he enter'd that place,
But a few hours ago, through the perfumed and warm
Flowery porch, with a lady that lean'd on his arm
Like a queen in a fable of old fairy days,
Left the ballroom.


XXVIII.


The hubbub of comment and praise
Reach'd Lord Alfred as just then he enter'd.
"Ma foi!"
Said a Frenchman beside him,... "That lucky Luvois
Has obtained all the gifts of the gods... rank and wealth,
And good looks, and then such inexhaustible health!
He that hath shall have more; and this truth, I surmise,
Is the cause why, to-night, by the beautiful eyes
Of la charmante Lucile more distinguish'd than all,
He so gayly goes off with the belle of the ball."
"Is it true," asked a lady aggressively fat,
Who, fierce as a female Leviathan, sat
By another that look'd like a needle, all steel
And tenuity - "Luvois will marry Lucile?"
The needle seem'd jerk'd by a virulent twitch,
As though it were bent upon driving a stitch
Through somebody's character.
"Madam," replied,
Interposing, a young man who sat by their side,
And was languidly fanning his face with his hat,
"I am ready to bet my new Tilbury that,
If Luvois has proposed, the Comtesse has refused."
The fat and thin ladies were highly amused.
"Refused!... what! a young Duke, not thirty, my dear,
With at least half a million (what is it?) a year!"
"That may be," said a third; "yet I know some time since
Castelmar was refused, though as rich, and a Prince.
But Luvois, who was never before in his life
In love with a woman who was not a wife,
Is now certainly serious."


XXIX.


The music once more
Recommenced.


XXX.


Said Lord Alfred, "This ball is a bore!"
And return'd to the inn, somewhat worse than before.


XXXI.


There, whilst musing he lean'd the dark valley above,
Through the warm land were wand'ring the spirits of love.
A soft breeze in the white window drapery stirr'd;
In the blossom'd acacia the lone cricket chirr'd;
The scent of the roses fell faint o'er the night,
And the moon on the mountain was dreaming in light.
Repose, and yet rapture! that pensive wild nature
Impregnate with passion in each breathing feature!
A stone's throw from thence, through the large lime-trees peep'd
In a garden of roses, a white chalet, steep'd
In the moonbeams. The windows oped down to the lawn;
The casements were open; the curtains were drawn;
Lights stream'd from the inside; and with them the sound
Of music and song. In the garden, around
A table with fruits, wine, tea, ices, there set,
Half a dozen young men and young women were met.
Light, laughter, and voices, and music all stream'd
Through the quiet-leaved limes. At the window there seem'd
For one moment the outline, familiar and fair,
Of a white dress, white neck, and soft dusky hair,
Which Lord Alfred remember'd... a moment or so
It hover'd, then pass'd into shadow; and slow
The soft notes, from a tender piano upflung,
Floated forth, and a voice unforgotten thus sung: -


"Hear a song that was born in the land of my birth!
The anchors are lifted, the fair ship is free,
And the shout of the mariners floats in its mirth
'Twixt the light in the sky and the light on the sea.

"And this ship is a world. She is freighted with souls,
She is freighted with merchandise: proudly she sails
With the Labor that stores, and the Will that controls
The gold in the ingots, the silk in the bales.

"From the gardens of Pleasure where reddens the rose,
And the scent of the cedar is faint on the air,
Past the harbors of Traffic, sublimely she goes,
Man's hopes o'er the world of the waters to bear!

"Where the cheer from the harbors of Traffic is heard,
Where the gardens of Pleasure fade fast on the sight,
O'er the rose, o'er the cedar, there passes a bird;
'Tis the Paradise Bird, never known to alight.

"And that bird, bright and bold as a poet's desire,
Roams her own native heavens, the realms of her birth.
There she soars like a seraph, she shines like a fire,
And her plumage hath never been sullied by earth.

"And the mariners greet her; there's song on each lip,
For that bird of good omen, and joy in each eye.
And the ship and the bird, and the bird and the ship,
Together go forth over ocean and sky.

"Fast, fast fades the land! far the rose-gardens flee,
And far fleet the harbors. In regions unknown
The ship is alone on a desert of sea,
And the bird in a desert of sky is alone.

"In those regions unknown, o'er that desert of air,
Down that desert of waters - tremendous in wrath -
The storm-wind Euroclydon leaps from his lair,
And cleaves, thro' the waves of the ocean, his path.

"And the bird in the cloud, and the ship on the wave,
Overtaken, are beaten about by wild gales;
And the mariners all rush their cargo to save,
Of the gold in the ingots, the silk in the bales.

"Lo! a wonder, which never before hath been heard,
For it never before hath been given to sight;
On the ship bath descended the Paradise Bird,
The Paradise Bird, never known to alight!

"The bird which the mariners bless'd, when each lip
Had a song for the omen that gladden'd each eye;
The bright bird for shelter hath flown to the ship
From the wrath on the sea and the wrath in the sky.

"But the mariners heed not the bird any more.
They are felling the masts - they are cutting the sails;
Some are working, some weeping, and some wrangling o'er
Their gold in the ingots, their silk in the bales.

"Souls of men are on board; wealth of man in the hold;
And the storm-wind Euroclydon sweeps to his prey;
And who heeds the bird? 'Save the silk and the gold!'
And the bird from her shelter the gust sweeps away!

"Poor Paradise Bird! on her lone flight once more
Back again in the wake of the wind she is driven -
To be 'whelmed in the storm, or above it to soar,
And, if rescued from ocean, to vanish in heaven!

"And the ship rides the waters and weathers the gales:
From the haven she nears the rejoicing is heard.
All hands are at work on the ingots, the bales,
Save a child sitting lonely, who misses - the bird!"




CANTO III.

I.


With stout iron shoes be my Pegasus shod!
For my road is a rough one: flint, stubble, and clod,
Blue clay, and black quagmire, brambles no few,
And I gallop up-hill, now.

There's terror that's true
In that tale of a youth who, one night at a revel,
Amidst music and mirth lured and wiled by some devil,
Follow'd ever one mask through the mad masquerade,
Till, pursued to some chamber deserted ('tis said),
He unmasked, with a kiss, the strange lady, and stood
Face to face with a Thing not of flesh nor of blood.
In this Mask of the Passions, call'd Life, there's no human
Emotion, though mask'd, or in man or in woman,
But, when faced and unmask'd, it will leave us at last
Struck by some supernatural aspect aghast.
For truth is appalling and eldrich, as seen
By this world's artificial lamplights and we screen
From our sight the strange vision that troubles our life.
Alas! why is Genius forever at strife
With the world, which, despite the world's self, it ennobles?
Why is it that Genius perplexes and troubles
And offends the effete life it comes to renew?
'Tis the terror of truth! 'tis that Genius is true!


II.


Lucile de Nevers (if her riddle I read)
Was a woman of genius: whose genius, indeed,
With her life was at war. Once, but once, in that life
The chance had been hers to escape from this strife
In herself; finding peace in the life of another
From the passionate wants she, in hers, failed to smother.
But the chance fell too soon, when the crude restless power
Which had been to her nature so fatal a dower,
Only wearied the man it yet haunted and thrall'd;
And that moment, once lost, had been never recall'd.
Yet it left her heart sore: and, to shelter her heart
From approach, she then sought, in that delicate art
Of concealment, those thousand adroit strategies
Of feminine wit, which repel while they please,
A weapon, at once, and a shield to conceal
And defend all that women can earnestly feel.
Thus, striving her instincts to hide and repress,
She felt frighten'd at times by her very success:
She pined for the hill-tops, the clouds, and the stars:
Golden wires may annoy us as much as steel bars
If they keep us behind prison windows: impassion'd
Her heart rose and burst the light cage she had fashion'd
Out of glittering trifles around it.

Unknown
To herself, all her instincts, without hesitation,
Embraced the idea of self-immolation.
The strong spirit in her, had her life been but blended
With some man's whose heart had her own comprehended,
All its wealth at his feet would have lavishly thrown.
For him she had struggled and striven alone;
For him had aspired; in him had transfused
All the gladness and grace of her nature; and used
For him only the spells of its delicate power:
Like the ministering fairy that brings from her bower
To some maze all the treasures, whose use the fond elf,
More enrich'd by her love, disregards for herself.
But standing apart, as she ever had done,
And her genius, which needed a vent, finding none
In the broad fields of action thrown wide to man's power,
She unconsciously made it her bulwark and tower,
And built in it her refuge, whence lightly she hurl'd
Her contempt at the fashions and forms of the world.

And the permanent cause why she now miss'd and fail'd
That firm hold upon life she so keenly assail'd,
Was, in all those diurnal occasions that place
Say - the world and the woman opposed face to face,
Where the woman must yield, she, refusing to stir,
Offended the world, which in turn wounded her.

As before, in the old-fashion'd manner, I fit
To this character, also, its moral: to wit,
Say - the world is a nettle; disturb it, it stings:
Grasp it firmly, it stings not. On one of two things,
If you would not be stung, it behoves you to settle
Avoid it, or crush it. She crush'd not the nettle;
For she could not; nor would she avoid it: she tried
With the weak hand of woman to thrust it aside,
And it stung her. A woman is too slight a thing
To trample the world without feeling its sting.


III.


One lodges but simply at Luchon; yet, thanks
To the season that changes forever the banks
Of the blossoming mountains, and shifts the light cloud
O'er the valley, and hushes or rouses the loud
Wind that wails in the pines, or creeps murmuring down
The dark evergreen slopes to the slumbering town,
And the torrent that falls, faintly heard from afar,
And the blue-bells that purple the dapple-gray scaur,
One sees with each month of the many-faced year
A thousand sweet changes of beauty appear.
The chalet where dwelt the Comtesse de Nevers
Rested half up the base of a mountain of firs,
In a garden of roses, reveal'd to the road,
Yet withdrawn from its noise: 'twas a peaceful abode.
And the walls, and the roofs, with their gables like hoods
Which the monks wear, were built of sweet resinous woods.
The sunlight of noon, as Lord Alfred ascended
The steep garden paths, every odor had blended
Of the ardent carnations, and faint heliotropes,
With the balms floated down from the dark wooded slopes:
A light breeze at the window was playing about,
And the white curtains floated, now in, and now out.
The house was all hush'd when he rang at the door,
Which was open'd to him in a moment, or more,
By an old nodding negress, whose sable head shined
In the sun like a cocoa-nut polished in Ind,
'Neath the snowy foulard which about it was wound.


IV.


Lord Alfred sprang forward at once, with a bound.
He remembered the nurse of Lucile. The old dame,
Whose teeth and whose eyes used to beam when he came,
With a boy's eager step, in the blithe days of yore,
To pass, unannounced, her young mistress's door.
The old woman had fondled Lucile on her knee
When she left, as an infant, far over the sea,
In India, the tomb of a mother, unknown,
To pine, a pale flow'ret, in great Paris town.
She had sooth'd the child's sobs on her breast, when she read
The letter that told her, her father was dead.
An astute, shrewd adventurer, who, like Ulysses,
Had studied men, cities, laws, wars, the abysses
Of statecraft, with varying fortunes, was he.
He had wander'd the world through, by land and by sea,
And knew it in most of its phases. Strong will,
Subtle tact, and soft manners, had given him skill
To conciliate Fortune, and courage to brave
Her displeasure. Thrice shipwreck'd, and cast by the wave
On his own quick resources, they rarely had fail'd
His command: often baffled, he ever prevail'd,
In his combat with fate: to-day flatter'd and fed
By monarchs, to-morrow in search of mere bread
The offspring of times trouble-haunted, he came
Of a family ruin'd, yet noble in name.
He lost sight of his fortune, at twenty, in France,
And, half statesman, half soldier, and wholly Freelance,
Had wander'd in search of it, over the world
Into India.

But scarce had the nomad unfurl'd
His wandering tent at Mysore, in the smile
Of a Rajah (whose court he controll'd for a while,
And whose council he prompted and govern'd by stealth);
Scarce, indeed, had he wedded an Indian of wealth,
Who died giving birth to this daughter, before
He was borne to the tomb of his wife at Mysore.
His fortune, which fell to his orphan, perchance
Had secured her a home with his sister in France,
A lone woman, the last of the race left. Lucile
Neither felt, nor affected, the wish to conceal
The half-Eastern blood, which appear'd to bequeath
(Reveal'd now and then, though but rarely, beneath
That outward repose that concealed it in her)
A something half wild to her strange character.
The nurse with the orphan, awhile broken-hearted,
At the door of a convent in Paris had parted.
But later, once more, with her mistress she tarried,
When the girl, by that grim maiden aunt, had been married
To a dreary old Count, who had sullenly died,
With no claim on her tears - she had wept as a bride.
Said Lord Alfred, "Your mistress expects me."

The crone
Oped the drawing-room door, and there left him alone.


V.


O'er the soft atmosphere of this temple of grace
Rested silence and perfume. No sound reach'd the place.
In the white curtains waver'd the delicate shade
Of the heaving acacias, through which the breeze play'd.
O'er the smooth wooden floor, polished dark as a glass,


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 3 of 18)