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Owen Meredith.

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Just before, all his heart had so soon given way,
When he caught, with a strange sense of fear, for assistance,
And what was, till then, the great fact in existence,
'Twas a phantom he grasp'd.


III.


Having sent for his guide,
He order'd his horse, and determin'd to ride
Back forthwith to Bigorre.
Then, the guide, who well knew
Every haunt of those hills, said the wild lake of Oo
Lay a league from Luchon; and suggested a track
By the lake to Bigorre, which, transversing the back
Of the mountain, avoided a circuit between
Two long valleys; and thinking, "Perchance change of scene
May create change of thought," Alfred Vargrave agreed,
Mounted horse, and set forth to Bigorre at full speed.


IV.


His guide rode beside him.
The king of the guides!
The gallant Bernard! ever boldly he rides,
Ever gayly he sings! For to him, from of old,
The hills have confided their secrets, and told
Where the white partridge lies, and the cock o' the woods;
Where the izard flits fine through the cold solitudes;
Where the bear lurks perdu; and the lynx on his prey
At nightfall descends, when the mountains are gray;
Where the sassafras blooms, and the bluebell is born,
And the wild rhododendron first reddens at morn;
Where the source of the waters is fine as a thread;
How the storm on the wild Maladetta is spread;
Where the thunder is hoarded, the snows lie asleep,
Whence the torrents are fed, and the cataracts leap;
And, familiarly known in the hamlets, the vales
Have whisper'd to him all their thousand love-tales;
He has laugh'd with the girls, he has leap'd with the boys;
Ever blithe, ever bold, ever boon, he enjoys
An existence untroubled by envy or strife,
While he feeds on the dews and the juices of life.
And so lightly he sings, and so gayly he rides,
For BERNARD LE SAUTEUR is the king of all guides!


V.


But Bernard found, that day, neither song not love-tale,
Nor adventure, nor laughter, nor legend avail
To arouse from his deep and profound revery
Him that silent beside him rode fast as could be.


VI.


Ascending the mountain they slacken'd their pace,
And the marvellous prospect each moment changed face.
The breezy and pure inspirations of morn
Breathed about them. The scarp'd ravaged mountains, all worn
By the torrents, whose course they watch'd faintly meander,
Were alive with the diamonded shy salamander.
They paused o'er the bosom of purple abysses,
And wound through a region of green wildernesses;
The waters went whirling above and around,
The forests hung heap'd in their shadows profound.
Here the Larboust, and there Aventin, Castellon,
Which the Demon of Tempest, descending upon,
Had wasted with fire, and the peaceful Cazeaux
They mark'd; and far down in the sunshine below,
Half dipp'd in a valley of airiest blue,
The white happy homes of the valley of Oo,
Where the age is yet golden.
And high overhead
The wrecks of the combat of Titans were spread.
Red granite, and quartz; in the alchemic sun,
Fused their splendors of crimson and crystal in one;
And deep in the moss gleam'd the delicate shells,
And the dew linger'd fresh in the heavy harebells;
The large violet burn'd; the campanula blue;
And Autumn's own flower, the saffron, peer'd through
The red-berried brambles and thick sassafras;
And fragrant with thyme was the delicate grass;
And high up, and higher, and highest of all,
The secular phantom of snow!
O'er the wall
Of a gray sunless glen gaping drowsy below,
That aerial spectre, reveal'd in the glow
Of the great golden dawn, hovers faint on the eye
And appears to grow in, and grow out of, the sky
And plays with the fancy, and baffles the sight.
Only reach'd by the vast rosy ripple of light,
And the cool star of eve, the Imperial Thing,
Half unreal, like some mythological king
That dominates all in a fable of old,
Takes command of a valley as fair to behold
As aught in old fables; and, seen or unseen,
Dwells aloof over all, in the vast and serene
Sacred sky, where the footsteps of spirits are furl'd
'Mid the clouds beyond which spreads the infinite world
Of man's last aspirations, unfathom'd, untrod,
Save by Even and Morn, and the angels of God.


VII.


Meanwhile, as they journey'd, that serpentine road,
Now abruptly reversed, unexpectedly show'd
A gay cavalcade some few feet in advance.
Alfred Vargrave's heart beat; for he saw at a glance
The slight form of Lucile in the midst. His next look
Show'd him, joyously ambling beside her, the Duke
The rest of the troop which had thus caught his ken
He knew not, nor noticed them (women and men).
They were laughing and talking together. Soon after
His sudden appearance suspended their laughter.


VIII.


"You here!... I imagined you far on your way
To Bigorre!"... said Lucile. "What has caused you to stay?"
"I AM on my way to Bigorre," he replied,
"But since MY way would seem to be YOURS, let me ride
For one moment beside you." And then, with a stoop
At her ear,... "and forgive me!"


IX.


By this time the troop
Had regather'd its numbers.
Lucile was as pale
As the cloud 'neath their feet, on its way to the vale.
The Duke had observed it, nor quitted her side,
For even one moment, the whole of the ride.
Alfred smiled, as he thought, "he is jealous of her!"
And the thought of this jealousy added a spur
To his firm resolution and effort to please.
He talk'd much; was witty, and quite at his ease.


X.


After noontide, the clouds, which had traversed the east
Half the day, gather'd closer, and rose and increased.
The air changed and chill'd. As though out of the ground,
There ran up the trees a confused hissing sound,
And the wind rose. The guides sniff'd, like chamois, the air,
And look'd at each other, and halted, and there
Unbuckled the cloaks from the saddles. The white
Aspens rustled, and turn'd up their frail leaves in fright.
All announced the approach of the tempest.
Erelong,
Thick darkness descended the mountains among,
And a vivid, vindictive, and serpentine flash
Gored the darkness, and shore it across with a gash.
The rain fell in large heavy drops. And anon
Broke the thunder.
The horses took fright, every one.
The Duke's in a moment was far out of sight.
The guides whoop'd. The band was obliged to alight;
And, dispersed up the perilous pathway, walk'd blind
To the darkness before from the darkness behind.


XI.


And the Storm is abroad in the mountains!
He fills
The crouch'd hollows and all the oracular hills
With dread voices of power. A roused million or more
Of wild echoes reluctantly rise from their hoar
Immemorial ambush, and roll in the wake
Of the cloud, whose reflection leaves vivid the lake.
And the wind, that wild robber, for plunder descends
From invisible lands, o'er those black mountain ends;
He howls as he hounds down his prey; and his lash
Tears the hair of the timorous wan mountain-ash,
That clings to the rocks, with her garments all torn,
Like a woman in fear; then he blows his hoarse horn
And is off, the fierce guide of destruction and terror,
Up the desolate heights, 'mid an intricate error
Of mountain and mist.


XII.


There is war in the skies!
Lo! the black-winged legions of tempest arise
O'er those sharp splinter'd rocks that are gleaming below
In the soft light, so fair and so fatal, as though
Some seraph burn'd through them, the thunderbolt searching
Which the black cloud unbosom'd just now. Lo! the lurching
And shivering pine-trees, like phantoms, that seem
To waver above, in the dark; and yon stream,
How it hurries and roars, on its way to the white
And paralyzed lake there, appall'd at the sight
of the things seen in heaven!


XIII.


Through the darkness and awe
That had gather'd around him, Lord Alfred now saw,
Reveal'd in the fierce and evanishing glare
Of the lightning that momently pulsed through the air
A woman alone on a shelf of the hill,
With her cheek coldly propp'd on her hand, - and as still
As the rock that she sat on, which beetled above
The black lake beneath her.
All terror, all love
Added speed to the instinct with which he rush'd on.
For one moment the blue lightning swathed the whole stone
In its lurid embrace: like the sleek dazzling snake
That encircles a sorceress, charm'd for her sake
And lull'd by her loveliness; fawning, it play'd
And caressingly twined round the feet and the head
Of the woman who sat there, undaunted and calm
As the soul of that solitude, listing the psalm
Of the plangent and laboring tempests roll slow
From the caldron of midnight and vapor below.
Next moment from bastion to bastion, all round,
Of the siege-circled mountains, there tumbled the sound
Of the battering thunder's indefinite peal,
And Lord Alfred had sprung to the feet of Lucile.


XIV.


She started. Once more, with its flickering wand,
The lightning approach'd her. In terror, her hand
Alfred Vargrave had seized within his; and he felt
The light fingers, that coldly and lingeringly dwelt
In the grasp of his own, tremble faintly.
"See! see!
Where the whirlwind hath stricken and strangled yon tree!"
She exclaim'd,... "like the passion that brings on its breath,
To the being it embraces, destruction and death!
Alfred Vargrave, the lightning is round you!"
"Lucile!
I hear - I see - naught but yourself. I can feel
Nothing here but your presence. My pride fights in vain
With the truth that leaps from me. We two meet again
'Neath yon terrible heaven that is watching above
To avenge if I lie when I swear that I love, -
And beneath yonder terrible heaven, at your feet,
I humble my head and my heart. I entreat
Your pardon, Lucile, for the past - I implore
For the future your mercy - implore it with more
Of passion than prayer ever breathed. By the power
Which invisibly touches us both in this hour,
By the rights I have o'er you, Lucile, I demand - "
"The rights!"... said Lucile, and drew from him her hand.

"Yes, the rights! for what greater to man may belong
Than the right to repair in the future the wrong
To the past? and the wrong I have done you, of yore,
Hath bequeath'd to me all the sad right to restore,
To retrieve, to amend! I, who injured your life,
Urge the right to repair it, Lucile! Be my wife,
My guide, my good angel, my all upon earth,
And accept, for the sake of what yet may give worth
To my life, its contrition!"


XV.


He paused, for there came
O'er the cheek of Lucile a swift flush like the flame
That illumined at moments the darkness o'erhead.
With a voice faint and marr'd by emotion, she said,
"And your pledge to another?"


XVI.


"Hush, hush!" he exclaim'd,
"My honor will live where my love lives, unshamed.
'Twere poor honor indeed, to another to give
That life of which YOU keep the heart. Could I live
In the light of those young eyes, suppressing a lie?
Alas, no! YOUR hand holds my whole destiny.
I can never recall what my lips have avow'd;
In your love lies whatever can render me proud.
For the great crime of all my existence hath been
To have known you in vain. And the duty best seen,
And most hallow'd - the duty most sacred and sweet,
Is that which hath led me, Lucile, to your feet.
O speak! and restore me the blessing I lost
When I lost you - my pearl of all pearls beyond cost!
And restore to your own life its youth, and restore
The vision, the rapture, the passion of yore!
Ere our brows had been dimm'd in the dust of the world,
When our souls their white wings yet exulting unfurl'd!
For your eyes rest no more on the unquiet man,
The wild star of whose course its pale orbit outran,
Whom the formless indefinite future of youth,
With its lying allurements, distracted. In truth
I have wearily wander'd the world, and I feel
That the least of your lovely regards, O Lucile,
Is worth all the world can afford, and the dream
Which, though follow'd forever, forever doth seem
As fleeting, and distant, and dim, as of yore
When it brooded in twilight, at dawn, on the shore
Of life's untraversed ocean! I know the sole path
To repose, which my desolate destiny hath,
Is the path by whose course to your feet I return.
And who else, O Lucile, will so truly discern,
And so deeply revere, all the passionate strength,
The sublimity in you, as he whom at length
These have saved from himself, for the truth they reveal
To his worship?"


XVII.


She spoke not; but Alfred could feel
The light hand and arm, that upon him reposed,
Thrill and tremble. Those dark eyes of hers were half closed.
But, under their languid mysterious fringe,
A passionate softness was beaming. One tinge
Of faint inward fire flush'd transparently through
The delicate, pallid, and pure olive hue
Of the cheek, half averted and droop'd. The rich bosom
Heaved, as when in the heart of a ruffled rose-blossom
A bee is imprison'd and struggles.


XVIII.


Meanwhile
The sun, in his setting, sent up the last smile
Of his power, to baffle the storm. And, behold!
O'er the mountains embattled, his armies, all gold,
Rose and rested: while far up the dim airy crags,
Its artillery silenced, its banners in rags,
The rear of the tempest its sullen retreat
Drew off slowly, receding in silence, to meet
The powers of the night, which, now gathering afar,
Had already sent forward one bright, signal star
The curls of her soft and luxuriant hair,
From the dark riding-hat, which Lucile used to wear,
Had escaped; and Lord Alfred now cover'd with kisses
The redolent warmth of those long falling tresses.
Neither he, nor Lucile, felt the rain, which not yet
Had ceased falling around them; when, splash'd, drench'd, and wet,
The Duc de Luvois down the rough mountain course
Approached them as fast as the road, and his horse,
Which was limping, would suffer. The beast had just now
Lost his footing, and over the perilous brow
Of the storm-haunted mountain his master had thrown;
But the Duke, who was agile, had leap'd to a stone,
And the horse, being bred to the instinct which fills
The breast of the wild mountaineer in these hills,
Had scrambled again to his feet; and now master
And horse bore about them the signs of disaster,
As they heavily footed their way through the mist,
The horse with his shoulder, the Duke with his wrist,
Bruised and bleeding.


XIX.


If ever your feet, like my own,
O reader, have traversed these mountains alone,
Have you felt your identity shrink and contract
At the sound of the distant and dim cataract,
In the presence of nature's immensities? Say,
Have you hung o'er the torrent, bedew'd with its spray,
And, leaving the rock-way, contorted and roll'd,
Like a huge couchant Typhon, fold heaped over fold,
Track'd the summits from which every step that you tread
Rolls the loose stones, with thunder below, to the bed
Of invisible waters, whose mistical sound
Fills with awful suggestions the dizzy profound?
And, laboring onwards, at last through a break
In the walls of the world, burst at once on the lake?
If you have, this description I might have withheld.
You remember how strangely your bosom has swell'd
At the vision reveal'd. On the overwork'd soil
Of this planet, enjoyment is sharpen'd by toil;
And one seems, by the pain of ascending the height,
To have conquer'd a claim of that wonderful sight.


XX.


Hail, virginal daughter of cold Espingo!
Hail, Naiad, whose realm is the cloud and the snow;
For o'er thee the angels have whiten'd their wings,
And the thirst of the seraphs is quench'd at thy springs.
What hand hath, in heaven, upheld thine expanse?
When the breath of creation first fashion'd fair France,
Did the Spirit of Ill, in his downthrow appalling,
Bruise the world, and thus hollow thy basin while falling?
Ere the mammoth was born hath some monster unnamed
The base of thy mountainous pedestal framed?
And later, when Power to Beauty was wed,
Did some delicate fairy embroider thy bed
With the fragile valerian and wild columbine?


XXI.


But thy secret thou keepest, and I will keep mine;
For once gazing on thee, it flash'd on my soul,
All that secret! I saw in a vision the whole
Vast design of the ages; what was and shall be!
Hands unseen raised the veil of a great mystery
For one moment. I saw, and I heard; and my heart
Bore witness within me to infinite art,
In infinite power proving infinite love;
Caught the great choral chant, mark'd the dread pageant move -
The divine Whence and Whither of life! But, O daughter
Of Oo, not more safe in the deep silent water
Is thy secret, than mine in my heart. Even so.
What I then saw and heard, the world never shall know.


XXII.


The dimness of eve o'er the valleys had closed,
The rain had ceased falling, the mountains reposed.
The stars had enkindled in luminous courses
Their slow-sliding lamps, when, remounting their horses,
The riders retraversed that mighty serration
Of rock-work. Thus left to its own desolation,
The lake, from whose glimmering limits the last
Transient pomp of the pageants of sunset had pass'd,
Drew into its bosom the darkness, and only
Admitted within it one image - a lonely
And tremulous phantom of flickering light
That follow'd the mystical moon through the night.


XXIII.


It was late when o'er Luchon at last they descended.
To her chalet, in silence, Lord Alfred attended
Lucile. As they parted, she whispered him low,
"You have made to me, Alfred, an offer I know
All the worth of, believe me. I cannot reply
Without time for reflection. Good night! - not good by."
"Alas! 'tis the very same answer you made
To the Duc de Luvois but a day since," he said.
"No, Alfred! the very same, no," she replied.
Her voice shook. "If you love me, obey me. Abide
My answer to-morrow."


XXIV.


Alas, Cousin Jack!
You Cassandra in breeches and boots! turn your back
To the ruins of Troy. Prophet, seek not for glory
Amongst thine own people.
I follow my story.




CANTO V.


I.


Up! - forth again, Pegasus! - "Many's the slip,"
Hath the proverb well said, "'twixt the cup and the lip!"
How blest should we be, have I often conceived,
Had we really achieved what we nearly achieved!
We but catch at the skirts of the thing we would be,
And fall back on the lap of a false destiny.
So it will be, so has been, since this world began!
And the happiest, noblest, and best part of man
Is the part which he never hath fully play'd out:
For the first and last word in life's volume is -
Doubt.
The face of the most fair to our vision allow'd
Is the face we encounter and lose in the crowd.
The thought that most thrills our existence is one
Which, before we can frame it in language, is gone.
O Horace! the rustic still rests by the river,
But the river flows on, and flows past him forever!
Who can sit down, and say... "What I will be, I will"?
Who stand up, and affirm... "What I was, I am still"?
Who is that must not, if question'd, say......
"What
I would have remain'd or become, I am not"?
We are ever behind, or beyond, or beside
Our intrinsic existence. Forever at hide
And seek with our souls. Not in Hades alone
Doth Sisyphus roll, ever frustrate, the stone,
Do the Danaids ply, ever vainly, the sieve.
Tasks as futile does earth to its denizens give.
Yet there's none so unhappy, but what he hath been
Just about to be happy, at some time, I ween;
And none so beguiled and defrauded by chance,
But what once in his life, some minute circumstance
Would have fully sufficed to secure him the bliss
Which, missing it then, he forever must miss.
And to most of us, ere we go down to the grave,
Life, relenting, accords the good gift we would have;
But, as though by some strange imperfection in fate,
The good gift, when it comes, comes a moment too late.
The Future's great veil our breath fitfully flaps,
And behind it broods ever the mighty Perhaps.
Yet! there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip;
But while o'er the brim of life's beaker I dip,
Though the cup may next moment be shatter'd, the wine
Spilt, one deep health I'll pledge, and that health shall be thine,
O being of beauty and bliss! seen and known
In the deeps of my soul, and possess'd there alone!
My days know thee not; and my lips name thee never.
Thy place in my poor life is vacant forever.
We have met: we have parted. No more is recorded
In my annals on earth. This alone was afforded
To the man whom men know me, or deem me, to be.
But, far down, in the depth of my life's mystery,
(Like the siren that under the deep ocean dwells,
Whom the wind as it wails, and the wave as it swells,
Cannot stir in the calm of her coralline halls,
'Mid the world's adamantine and dim pedestals;
At whose feet sit the sylphs and sea fairies; for whom
The almondine glimmers, the soft samphires bloom) -
Thou abidest and reignest forever, O Queen
Of that better world which thou swayest unseen!
My one perfect mistress! my all things in all!
Thee by no vulgar name known to men do I call;
For the Seraphs have named thee to me in my sleep,
And that name is a secret I sacredly keep.
But, wherever this nature of mine is most fair,
And its thoughts are the purest - belov'd, thou art there!
And whatever is noblest in aught that I do,
Is done to exalt and to worship thee too.
The world gave thee not to me, no! and the world
Cannot take thee away from me now. I have furl'd
The wings of my spirit above thy bright head;
At thy feet are my soul's immortalities spread.
Thou mightest have been to me much. Thou art more.
And in silence I worship, in darkness adore.
If life be not that which without us we find -
Chance, accident, merely - but rather the mind,
And the soul which, within us, surviveth these things,
If our real existence have truly its springs


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 5 of 18)