Fragrant white Indian matting allowed you to pass.
In light olive baskets, by window and door,
Some hung from the ceiling, some crowding the floor,
Rich wild flowers pluck'd by Lucile from the hill,
Seem'd the room with their passionate presence to fill:
Blue aconite, hid in white roses, reposed;
The deep belladonna its vermeil disclosed;
And the frail saponaire, and the tender blue-bell,
And the purple valerian, - each child of the fell
And the solitude flourish'd, fed fair from the source
Of waters the huntsman scarce heeds in his course
Where the chamois and izard, with delicate hoof,
Pause or flit through the pinnacled silence aloof.
Here you felt, by the sense of its beauty reposed,
That you stood in a shrine of sweet thoughts. Half unclosed
In the light slept the flowers; all was pure and at rest;
All peaceful; all modest; all seem'd self-possess'd,
And aware of the silence. No vestige nor trace
Of a young woman's coquetry troubled the place.
He stood by the window. A cloud pass'd the sun.
A light breeze uplifted the leaves, one by one.
Just then Lucile enter'd the room, undiscern'd
By Lord Alfred, whose face to the window was turned,
In a strange revery.
The time was, when Lucile,
In beholding that man, could not help but reveal
The rapture, the fear, which wrench'd out every nerve
In the heart of the girl from the woman's reserve.
And now - she gazed at him, calm, smiling, - perchance
Indifferently turning his glance,
Alfred Vargrave encounter'd that gaze unaware.
O'er a bodice snow-white stream'd her soft dusky hair:
A rose-bud half blown in her hand; in her eyes
A half-pensive smile.
A sharp cry of surprise
Escaped from his lips: some unknown agitation.
An invincible trouble, a strange palpitation,
Confused his ingenious and frivolous wit;
Overtook, and entangled, and paralyzed it.
That wit so complacent and docile, that ever
Lightly came at the call of the lightest endeavor,
Ready coin'd, and availably current as gold,
Which, secure of its value, so fluently roll'd
In free circulation from hand on to hand
For the usage of all, at a moment's command;
For once it rebell'd, it was mute and unstirr'd,
And he looked at Lucile without speaking a word.
Perhaps what so troubled him was, that the face
On whose features he gazed had no more than a trace
Of the face his remembrance had imaged for years.
Yes! the face he remember'd was faded with tears:
Grief had famish'd the figure, and dimmed the dark eyes,
And starved the pale lips, too acquainted with sighs,
And that tender, and gracious, and fond coquetterie
Of a woman who knows her least ribbon to be
Something dear to the lips that so warmly caress
Every sacred detail of her exquisite dress,
In the careless toilet of Lucile - then too sad
To care aught to her changeable beauty to add -
Lord Alfred had never admired before!
Alas! poor Lucile, in those weak days of yore,
Had neglected herself, never heeding, or thinking
(While the blossom and bloom of her beauty were shrinking)
That sorrow can beautify only the heart -
Not the face - of a woman; and can but impart
Its endearment to one that has suffer'd. In truth
Grief hath beauty for grief; but gay youth loves gay youth.
The woman that now met, unshrinking his gaze,
Seem'd to bask in the silent but sumptuous haze
Of that soft second summer, more ripe than the first,
Which returns when the bud to the blossom hath burst
In despite of the stormiest April. Lucile
Had acquired that matchless unconscious appeal
To the homage which none but a churl would withhold -
That caressing and exquisite grace - never bold,
Ever present - which just a few women possess.
From a healthful repose, undisturb'd by the stress
Of unquiet emotions, her soft cheek had drawn
A freshness as pure as the twilight of dawn.
Her figure, though slight, had revived everywhere
The luxurious proportions of youth; and her hair -
Once shorn as an offering to passionate love -
Now floated or rested redundant above
Her airy pure forehead and throat; gather'd loose
Under which, by one violet knot, the profuse
Milk-white folds of a cool modest garment reposed,
Rippled faint by the breast they half hid, half disclosed,
And her simple attire thus in all things reveal'd
The fine art which so artfully all things conceal'd.
Lord Alfred, who never conceived that Lucile
Could have look'd so enchanting, felt tempted to kneel
At her feet, and her pardon with passion implore;
But the calm smile that met him sufficed to restore
The pride and the bitterness needed to meet
The occasion with dignity due and discreet.
"Madam," - thus he began with a voice reassured, -
"You see that your latest command has secured
My immediate obedience - presuming I may
Consider my freedom restored from this day." -
"I had thought," said Lucile, with a smile gay yet sad,
"That your freedom from me not a fetter has had.
Indeed!... in my chains have you rested till now?
I had not so flattered myself, I avow!"
"For Heaven's sake, Madam," Lord Alfred replied,
"Do not jest! has the moment no sadness?" he sigh'd.
"'Tis an ancient tradition," she answer'd, "a tale
Often told - a position too sure to prevail
In the end of all legends of love. If we wrote,
When we first love, foreseeing that hour yet remote,
Wherein of necessity each would recall
From the other the poor foolish records of all
Those emotions, whose pain, when recorded, seem'd bliss,
Should we write as we wrote? But one thinks not of this!
At Twenty (who does not at Twenty?) we write
Believing eternal the frail vows we plight;
And we smile with a confident pity, above
The vulgar results of all poor human love:
For we deem, with that vanity common to youth,
Because what we feel in our bosoms, in truth,
Is novel to us - that 'tis novel to earth,
And will prove the exception, in durance and worth,
To the great law to which all on earth must incline.
The error was noble, the vanity fine!
Shall we blame it because we survive it? ah, no;
'Twas the youth of our youth, my lord, is it not so?"
Lord Alfred was mute. He remember'd her yet
A child - the weak sport of each moment's regret,
Blindly yielding herself to the errors of life,
The deceptions of youth, and borne down by the strife
And the tumult of passion; the tremulous toy
Of each transient emotion of grief or of joy.
But to watch her pronounce the death-warrant of all
The illusions of life - lift, unflinching, the pall
From the bier of the dead Past - that woman so fair,
And so young, yet her own self-survivor; who there
Traced her life's epitaph with a finger so cold!
'Twas a picture that pain'd his self-love to behold.
He himself knew - none better - the things to be said
Upon subjects like this. Yet he bow'd down his head:
And as thus, with a trouble he could not command,
He paused, crumpling the letters he held in his hand,
"You know me enough," she continued, "or what
I would say is, you yet recollect (do you not,
Lord Alfred?) enough of my nature, to know
That these pledges of what was perhaps long ago
A foolish affection, I do not recall
From those motives of prudence which actuate all
Or most women when their love ceases. Indeed,
If you have such a doubt, to dispel it I need
But remind you that ten years these letters have rested
Unreclaim'd in your hands." A reproach seem'd suggested
By these words. To meet it, Lord Alfred look'd up
(His gaze had been fix'd on a blue Sevres cup
With a look of profound connoisseurship - a smile
Of singular interest and care, all this while.)
He look'd up, and look'd long in the face of Lucile,
To mark if that face by a sign would reveal
At the thought of Miss Darcy the least jealous pain.
He look'd keenly and long, yet he look'd there in vain.
"You are generous, Madam," he murmur'd at last,
And into his voice a light irony pass'd.
He had look'd for reproaches, and fully arranged
His forces. But straightway the enemy changed
"Come!" gayly Lucile interposed,
With a smile whose divinely deep sweetness disclosed
Some depth in her nature he never had known,
While she tenderly laid her light hand on his own,
"Do not think I abuse the occasion. We gain
Justice, judgment, with years, or else years are in vain.
From me not a single reproach can you hear.
I have sinn'd to myself - to the world - nay, I fear
To you chiefly. The woman who loves should, indeed,
Be the friend of the man that she loves. She should heed
Not her selfish and often mistaken desires,
But his interest whose fate her own interest inspires;
And rather than seek to allure, for her sake,
His life down the turbulent, fanciful wake
Of impossible destinies, use all her art
That his place in the world find its place in her heart.
I, alas! - I perceived not this truth till too late;
I tormented your youth, I have darken'd your fate.
Forgive me the ill I have done for the sake
Of its long expiation!"
Lord Alfred, awake,
Seem'd to wander from dream on to dream. In that seat
Where he sat as a criminal, ready to meet
His accuser, he found himself turn'd by some change,
As surprising and all unexpected as strange,
To the judge from whose mercy indulgence was sought.
All the world's foolish pride in that moment was naught;
He felt all his plausible theories posed;
And, thrill'd by the beauty of nature disclosed
In the pathos of all he had witness'd, his head
He bow'd, and faint words self-reproachfully said,
As he lifted her hand to his lips. 'Twas a hand
White, delicate, dimpled, warm, languid, and bland.
The hand of a woman is often, in youth,
Somewhat rough, somewhat red, somewhat graceless, in truth;
Does its beauty refine, as its pulses grow calm,
Or as Sorrow has cross'd the life-line in the palm?
The more that he look'd, that he listen'd, the more
He discover'd perfections unnoticed before.
Less salient than once, less poetic, perchance,
This woman who thus had survived the romance
That had made him its hero, and breathed him its sighs,
Seem'd more charming a thousand times o'er to his eyes.
Together they talk'd of the years since when last
They parted, contrasting the present, the past.
Yet no memory marr'd their light converse. Lucile
Question'd much, with the interest a sister might feel,
Of Lord Alfred's new life, - of Miss Darcy - her face,
Her temper, accomplishments - pausing to trace
The advantage derived from a hymen so fit.
Of herself, she recounted with humor and wit
Her journeys, her daily employments, the lands
She had seen, and the books she had read, and the hands
She had shaken.
In all that she said there appear'd
An amiable irony. Laughing, she rear'd
The temple of reason, with ever a touch
Of light scorn at her work, reveal'd only so much
As their gleams, in the thyrsus that Bacchanals bear,
Through the blooms of a garland the point of a spear.
But above, and beneath, and beyond all of this,
To that soul, whose experience had paralyzed bliss,
A benignant indulgence, to all things resign'd,
A justice, a sweetness, a meekness of mind,
Gave a luminous beauty, as tender and faint
And serene as the halo encircling a saint.
Unobserved by Lord Alfred the time fleeted by.
To each novel sensation spontaneously
He abandon'd himself with that ardor so strange
Which belongs to a mind grown accustom'd to change.
He sought, with well-practised and delicate art,
To surprise from Lucile the true state of her heart;
But his efforts were vain, and the woman, as ever,
More adroit than the man, baffled every endeavor.
When he deem'd he had touch'd on some chord in her being,
At the touch it dissolved, and was gone. Ever fleeing
As ever he near it advanced, when he thought
To have seized, and proceeded to analyze aught
Of the moral existence, the absolute soul,
Light as vapor the phantom escaped his control.
From the hall, on a sudden, a sharp ring was heard.
In the passage without a quick footstep there stirr'd;
At the door knock'd the negress, and thrust in her head,
"The Duke de Luvois had just enter'd," she said,
"And insisted" -
"The Duke!" cried Lucile (as she spoke,
The Duke's step, approaching, a light echo woke).
"Say I do not receive till the evening. Explain,"
As she glanced at Lord Alfred, she added again,
"I have business of private importance."
O'er Lord Alfred at once, at the sound of that name,
An invincible sense of vexation. He turn'd
To Lucile, and he fancied he faintly discern'd
On her face an indefinite look of confusion.
On his mind instantaneously flash'd the conclusion
That his presence had caused it.
He said, with a sneer
Which he could not repress, "Let not ME interfere
With the claims on your time, lady! when you are free
From more pleasant engagements, allow me to see
And to wait on you later."
The words were not said
Ere he wish'd to recall them. He bitterly read
The mistake he had made in Lucile's flashing eye.
Inclining her head as in haughty reply,
More reproachful perchance than all utter'd rebuke,
She said merely, resuming her seat, "Tell the Duke
He may enter."
And vex'd with his own words and hers,
Alfred Vargrave bow'd low to Lucile de Nevers,
Pass'd the casement and enter'd the garden. Before
His shadow was fled the Duke stood at the door.
When left to his thoughts in the garden alone,
Alfred Vargrave stood, strange to himself. With dull tone
Of importance, through cities of rose and carnation,
Went the bee on his business from station to station.
The minute mirth of summer was shrill all around;
Its incessant small voices like stings seem'd to sound
On his sore angry sense. He stood grieving the hot
Solid sun with his shadow, nor stirr'd from the spot.
The last look of Lucile still bewilder'd, perplex'd,
And reproach'd him. The Duke's visit goaded and vex'd.
He had not yet given the letters. Again
He must visit Lucile. He resolved to remain
Where he was till the Duke went. In short, he would stay,
Were it only to know when the Duke went away.
But just as he form'd this resolve, he perceived
Approaching towards him, between the thick-leaved
And luxuriant laurels, Lucile and the Duke.
Thus surprised, his first thought was to seek for some nook
Whence he might, unobserved, from the garden retreat.
They had not yet seen him. The sound of their feet
And their voices had warn'd him in time. They were walking
Towards him. The Duke (a true Frenchman) was talking
With the action of Talma. He saw at a glance
That they barr'd the sole path to the gateway. No chance
Of escape save in instant concealment! Deep-dipp'd
In thick foliage, an arbor stood near. In he slipp'd,
Saved from sight, as in front of that ambush they pass'd,
Still conversing. Beneath a laburnum at last
They paused, and sat down on a bench in the shade,
So close that he could not but hear what they said.
Duke, I scarcely conceive...
Ah! forgive!... I desired
So deeply to see you to-day. You retired
So early last night from the ball... this whole week
I have seen you pale, silent, preoccupied... speak,
Speak, Lucile, and forgive me!... I know that I am
A rash fool - but I love you! I love you, Madame.
More than language can say! Do not deem, O Lucile,
That the love I no longer have strength to conceal
Is a passing caprice! It is strange to my nature,
It has made me, unknown to myself, a new creature.
I implore you to sanction and save the new life
Which I lay at your feet with this prayer - Be my wife
Stoop, and raise me!
Lord Alfred could scarcely restrain
The sudden, acute pang of anger and pain
With which he had heard this. As though to some wind
The leaves of the hush'd, windless laurels behind
The two thus in converse were suddenly stirr'd.
The sound half betrayed him. They started. He heard
The low voice of Lucile; but so faint was its tone
That her answer escaped him.
Luvois hurried on,
As though in remonstrance with what had been spoken.
"Nay, I know it, Lucile! but your heart was not broken
By the trial in which all its fibres were proved.
Love, perchance, you mistrust, yet you need to be loved.
You mistake your own feelings. I fear you mistake
What so ill I interpret, those feelings which make
Words like these vague and feeble. Whatever your heart
May have suffer'd of yore, this can only impart
A pity profound to the love which I feel.
Hush! hush! I know all. Tell me nothing, Lucile."
"You know all, Duke?" she said; "well then, know that, in truth,
I have learn'd from the rude lesson taught to my youth
From my own heart to shelter my life; to mistrust
The heart of another. We are what we must,
And not what we would be. I know that one hour
Assures not another. The will and the power
"O madam!" he answer'd, "you fence
With a feeling you know to be true and intense.
'Tis not MY life, Lucile, that I plead for alone:
If your nature I know, 'tis no less for your own.
That nature will prey on itself; it was made
To influence others. Consider," he said,
"That genius craves power - what scope for it here?
Gifts less noble to ME give command of that sphere
In which genius IS power. Such gifts you despise?
But you do not disdain what such gifts realize!
I offer you, Lady, a name not unknown -
A fortune which worthless, without you, is grown -
All my life at your feet I lay down - at your feet
A heart which for you, and you only, can beat."
That heart, Duke, that life - I respect both. The name
And position you offer, and all that you claim
In behalf of their nobler employment, I feel
To deserve what, in turn, I now ask you -
I ask you to leave me -
You do not reject?
I ask you to leave me the time to reflect.
You ask me?
- The time to reflect.
Say - One word!
May I hope?
The reply of Lucile was not heard
By Lord Alfred; for just then she rose, and moved on.
The Duke bow'd his lips o'er her hand, and was gone.
Not a sound save the birds in the bushes. And when
Alfred Vargrave reel'd forth to the sunlight again,
He just saw the white robe of the woman recede
As she entered the house.
Scarcely conscious indeed
Of his steps, he too follow'd, and enter'd.
Unnoticed; Lucile never stirr'd: so concentred
And wholly absorb'd in her thoughts she appear'd.
Her back to the window was turn'd. As he near'd
The sofa, her face from the glass was reflected.
Her dark eyes were fix'd on the ground. Pale, dejected,
And lost in profound meditation she seem'd.
Softly, silently, over her droop'd shoulders stream'd
The afternoon sunlight. The cry of alarm
And surprise which escaped her, as now on her arm
Alfred Vargrave let fall a hand icily cold
And clammy as death, all too cruelly told
How far he had been from her thoughts.
All his cheek
Was disturb'd with the effort it cost him to speak.
"It was not my fault. I have heard all," he said.
"Now the letters - and farewell, Lucile! When you wed
May - "
The sentence broke short, like a weapon that snaps
When the weight of a man is upon it.
Said Lucile (her sole answer reveal'd in the flush
Of quick color which up to her brow seem'd to rush
In reply to those few broken words), "this farewell
Is our last, Alfred Vargrave, in life. Who can tell?
Let us part without bitterness. Here are your letters.
Be assured I retain you no more in my fetters!" -
She laughed, as she said this, a little sad laugh,
And stretched out her hand with the letters. And half
Wroth to feel his wrath rise, and unable to trust
His own powers of restraint, in his bosom he thrust
The packet she gave, with a short angry sigh,
Bow'd his head, and departed without a reply.
And Lucile was alone. And the men of the world
Were gone back to the world. And the world's self was furl'd
Far away from the heart of the woman. Her hand
Droop'd, and from it, unloosed from their frail silken band,
Fell those early love-letters, strewn, scatter'd, and shed
At her feet - life's lost blossoms! Dejected, her head
On her bosom was bow'd. Her gaze vaguely stray'd o'er
Those strewn records of passionate moments no more.
From each page to her sight leapt some words that belied
The composure with which she that day had denied
Every claim on her heart to those poor perish'd years.
They avenged themselves now, and she burst into tears.
LETTER FROM COUSIN JOHN TO COUSIN ALFRED.
"Time up, you rascal! Come back, or be hang'd.
Matilda grows peevish. Her mother harangued
For a whole hour this morning about you. The deuce!
What on earth can I say to you? - nothing's of use.
And the blame of the whole of your shocking behavior
Falls on ME, sir! Come back, - do you hear? - or I leave your
Affairs, and, abjure you forever. Come back
To your anxious betroth'd; and perplexed
Alfred needed, in truth, no entreaties from John
To increase his impatience to fly from Luchon.
All the place was now fraught with sensations of pain
Which, whilst in it, he strove to escape from in vain.
A wild instinct warn'd him to fly from a place
Where he felt that some fatal event, swift of pace,
Was approaching his life. In despite his endeavor
To think of Matilda, her image forever
Was effaced from his fancy by that of Lucile.
From the ground which he stood on he felt himself reel.
Scared, alarm'd by those feelings to which, on the day