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Owen Meredith.

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Less in that which we do than in that which we feel,
Not in vain do I worship, not hopeless I kneel!
For then, though I name thee not mistress or wife,
Thou art mine - and mine only, - O life of my life!
And though many's the slip 'twixt the cup and the lip,
Yet while o'er the brim of life's beaker I dip,
While there's life on the lip, while there's warmth in the wine,
One deep health I'll pledge, and that health shall be thine!


II.


This world, on whose peaceable breast we repose
Unconvulsed by alarm, once confused in the throes
Of a tumult divine, sea and land, moist and dry,
And in fiery fusion commix'd earth and sky.
Time cool'd it, and calm'd it, and taught it to go
The round of its orbit in peace, long ago.
The wind changeth and whirleth continually:
All the rivers run down and run into the sea:
The wind whirleth about, and is presently still'd:
All the rivers run down, yet the sea is not fill'd:
The sun goeth forth from his chambers; the sun
Ariseth, and lo! he descendeth anon.
All returns to its place. Use and Habit are powers
Far stronger than Passion, in this world of ours.
The great laws of life readjust their infraction,
And to every emotion appoint a reaction.


III.


Alfred Vargrave had time, after leaving Lucile,
To review the rash step he had taken, and feel
What the world would have call'd "his erroneous position."
Thought obtruded its claim, and enforced recognition:
Like a creditor who, when the gloss is worn out
On the coat which we once wore with pleasure, no doubt,
Sends us in his account for the garment we bought.
Ev'ry spendthrift to passion is debtor to thought.


IV.


He felt ill at ease with himself. He could feel
Little doubt what the answer would be from Lucile.
Her eyes, when they parted - her voice, when they met,
Still enraptured his heart, which they haunted. And yet,
Though, exulting, he deem'd himself loved, where he loved,
Through his mind a vague self-accusation there moved.
O'er his fancy, when fancy was fairest, would rise
The infantine face of Matilda, with eyes
So sad, so reproachful, so cruelly kind,
That his heart fail'd within him. In vain did he find
A thousand just reasons for what he had done;
The vision that troubled him would not be gone.
In vain did he say to himself, and with truth,
"Matilda has beauty, and fortune, and youth;
And her heart is too young to have deeply involved
All its hopes in the tie which must now be dissolved.
'Twere a false sense of honor in me to suppress
The sad truth which I owe it to her to confess.
And what reason have I to presume this poor life
Of my own, with its languid and frivolous strife,
And without what alone might endear it to her,
Were a boon all so precious, indeed, to confer,
Its withdrawal can wrong her?
It is not as though
I were bound to some poor village maiden, I know,
Unto whose simple heart mine were all upon earth,
Or to whose simple fortunes mine own could give worth.
Matilda, in all the world's gifts, will not miss
Aught that I could procure her. 'Tis best as it is!"


V.


In vain did he say to himself, "When I came
To this fatal spot, I had nothing to blame
Or reproach myself for, in the thoughts of my heart.
I could not foresee that its pulses would start
Into such strange emotion on seeing once more
A woman I left with indifference before.
I believed, and with honest conviction believed,
In my love for Matilda. I never conceived
That another could shake it. I deem'd I had done
With the wild heart of youth, and looked hopefully on
To the soberer manhood, the worthier life,
Which I sought in the love that I vow'd to my wife.
Poor child! she shall learn the whole truth. She shall know
What I knew not myself but a few days ago.
The world will console her - her pride will support -
Her youth will renew its emotions. In short,
There is nothing in me that Matilda will miss
When once we have parted. 'Tis best as it is!"


VI.


But in vain did he reason and argue. Alas!
He yet felt unconvinced that 'TWAS best as it was.
Out of reach of all reason, forever would rise
That infantine face of Matilda, with eyes
So sad, so reproachful, so cruelly kind,
That they harrow'd his heart and distracted his mind.


VII.


And then, when he turned from these thoughts to Lucile,
Though his heart rose enraptured he could not but feel
A vague sense of awe of her nature. Behind
All the beauty of heart, and the graces of mind,
Which he saw and revered in her, something unknown
And unseen in that nature still troubled his own.
He felt that Lucile penetrated and prized
Whatever was noblest and best, though disguised,
In himself; but he did not feel sure that he knew,
Or completely possess'd, what, half hidden from view,
Remained lofty and lonely in HER.
Then, her life,
So untamed and so free! would she yield as a wife
Independence, long claimed as a woman? Her name
So link'd by the world with that spurious fame
Which the beauty and wit of a woman assert,
In some measure, alas! to her own loss and hurt
In the serious thoughts of a man!... This reflection
O'er the love which he felt cast a shade of dejection,
From which he forever escaped to the thought
Doubt could reach not... "I love her, and all else is naught!"


VIII.


His hand trembled strangely in breaking the seal
Of the letter which reach'd him at last from Lucile.
At the sight of the very first words that he read,
That letter dropp'd down from his hand like the dead
Leaf in autumn, that, falling, leaves naked and bare
A desolate tree in a wide wintry air.
He pass'd his hand hurriedly over his eyes,
Bewilder'd, incredulous. Angry surprise
And dismay, in one sharp moan, broke from him. Anon
He picked up the page, and read rapidly on.


IX.


THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO LORD ALFRED VARGRAVE:

"No, Alfred!
If over the present, when last
We two met, rose the glamour and mist of the past,
It hath now rolled away, and our two paths are plain,
And those two paths divide us.
"That hand which again
Mine one moment has clasp'd as the hand of a brother,
That hand and your honor are pledged to another!
Forgive, Alfred Vargrave, forgive me, if yet
For that moment (now past!) I have made you forget
What was due to yourself and that other one. Yes,
Mine the fault, and be mine the repentance. Not less,
In now owning this fault, Alfred, let me own, too,
I foresaw not the sorrow involved in it.
"True,
That meeting, which hath been so fatal, I sought,
I alone! But oh! deem not it was with the thought
Of your heart to regain, or the past to rewaken.
No! believe me, it was with the firm and unshaken
Conviction, at least, that our meeting would be
Without peril to YOU, although haply to me
The salvation of all my existence.
"I own,
When the rumor first reach'd me, which lightly made known
To the world your engagement, my heart and my mind
Suffer'd torture intense. It was cruel to find
That so much of the life of my life, half unknown
To myself, had been silently settled on one
Upon whom but to think it would soon be a crime.
Then I said to myself, 'From the thraldom which time
Hath not weaken'd there rests but one hope of escape.
That image which Fancy seems ever to shape
From the solitude left round the ruins of yore,
Is a phantom. The Being I loved is no more.
What I hear in the silence, and see in the lone
Void of life, is the young hero born of my own
Perish'd youth: and his image, serene and sublime
In my heart rests unconscious of change and of time,
Could I see it but once more, as time and as change
Have made it, a thing unfamiliar and strange,
See, indeed, that the Being I loved in my youth
Is no more, and what rests now is only, in truth,
The hard pupil of life and the world: then, oh, then,
I should wake from a dream, and my life be again
Reconciled to the world; and, released from regret,
Take the lot fate accords to my choice.'
"So we met.
But the danger I did not foresee has occurr'd:
The danger, alas, to yourself! I have err'd.
But happy for both that this error hath been
Discover'd as soon as the danger was seen!
We meet, Alfred Vargrave, no more. I, indeed,
Shall be far from Luchon when this letter you read.
My course is decided; my path I discern:
Doubt is over; my future is fix'd now.
"Return,
O return to the young living love! Whence, alas!
If, one moment, you wander'd, think only it was
More deeply to bury the past love.
"And, oh!
Believe, Alfred Vargrave, that I, where I go
On my far distant pathway through life, shall rejoice
To treasure in memory all that your voice
Has avow'd to me, all in which others have clothed
To my fancy with beauty and worth your betrothed!
In the fair morning light, in the orient dew
Of that young life, now yours, can you fail to renew
All the noble and pure aspirations, the truth,
The freshness, the faith, of your own earnest youth?
Yes! YOU will be happy. I, too, in the bliss
I foresee for you, I shall be happy. And this
Proves me worthy your friendship. And so - let it prove
That I cannot - I do not respond to your love.
Yes, indeed! be convinced that I could not (no, no,
Never, never!) have render'd you happy. And so,
Rest assured that, if false to the vows you have plighted,
You would have endured, when the first brief, excited
Emotion was o'er, not alone the remorse
Of honor, but also (to render it worse)
Disappointed affection.
"Yes, Alfred; you start?
But think! if the world was too much in your heart,
And too little in mine, when we parted ten years
Ere this last fatal meeting, that time (ay, and tears!)
Have but deepen'd the old demarcations which then
Placed our natures asunder; and we two again,
As we then were, would still have been strangely at strife.
In that self-independence which is to my life
Its necessity now, as it once was its pride,
Had our course through the world been henceforth side by side,
I should have revolted forever, and shock'd
Your respect for the world's plausibilities, mock'd,
Without meaning to do so, and outraged, all those
Social creeds which you live by.
"Oh! do not suppose
That I blame you. Perhaps it is you that are right.
Best, then, all as it is!
"Deem these words life's Good-night
To the hope of a moment: no more! If there fell
Any tear on this page, 'twas a friend's.
"So farewell
To the past - and to you, Alfred Vargrave.
"LUCILE."


X.


So ended that letter.
The room seem'd to reel
Round and round in the mist that was scorching his eyes
With a fiery dew. Grief, resentment, surprise,
Half chocked him; each word he had read, as it smote
Down some hope, rose and grasped like a hand at his throat,
To stifle and strangle him.
Gasping already
For relief from himself, with a footstep unsteady,
He pass'd from his chamber. He felt both oppress'd
And excited. The letter he thrust in his breast,
And, in search of fresh air and of solitude, pass'd
The long lime-trees of Luchon. His footsteps at last
Reach'd a bare narrow heath by the skirts of a wood:
It was sombre and silent, and suited his mood.
By a mineral spring, long unused, now unknown,
Stood a small ruin'd abbey. He reach'd it, sat down
On a fragment of stone, 'mid the wild weed and thistle,
And read over again that perplexing epistle.


XI.


In re-reading that letter, there roll'd from his mind
The raw mist of resentment which first made him blind
To the pathos breath'd through it. Tears rose in his eyes,
And a hope sweet and strange in his heart seem'd to rise.
The truth which he saw not the first time he read
That letter, he now saw - that each word betray'd
The love which the writer had sought to conceal.
His love was received not, he could not but feel,
For one reason alone, - that his love was not free.
True! free yet he was not: but could he not be
Free erelong, free as air to revoke that farewell,
And to sanction his own hopes? he had but to tell
The truth to Matilda, and she were the first
To release him: he had but to wait at the worst.
Matilda's relations would probably snatch
Any pretext, with pleasure, to break off a match
In which they had yielded, alone at the whim
Of their spoil'd child, a languid approval to him.
She herself, careless child! was her love for him aught
Save the first joyous fancy succeeding the thought
She last gave to her doll? was she able to feel
Such a love as the love he divined in Lucile?
He would seek her, obtain his release, and, oh! then
He had but to fly to Lucile, and again
Claim the love which his heart would be free to command.
But to press on Lucile any claim to her hand,
Or even to seek, or to see, her before
He could say, "I am free! free, Lucile, to implore
That great blessing on life you alone can confer,"
'Twere dishonor in him, 'twould be insult to her.
Thus still with the letter outspread on his knee
He follow'd so fondly his own revery,
That he felt not the angry regard of a man
Fix'd upon him; he saw not a face stern and wan
Turn'd towards him; he heard not a footstep that pass'd
And repass'd the lone spot where he stood, till at last
A hoarse voice aroused him.
He look'd up and saw,
On the bare heath before him, the Duc de Luvois.


XII.


With aggressive ironical tones, and a look
Of concentrated insolent challenge, the Duke
Address'd to Lord Alfred some sneering allusion
To "the doubtless sublime reveries his intrusion
Had, he fear'd, interrupted. Milord would do better,
He fancied, however, to fold up a letter
The writing of which was too well known, in fact,
His remark as he pass'd to have failed to attract."


XIII.


It was obvious to Alfred the Frenchman was bent
Upon picking a quarrel! and doubtless 'twas meant
From HIM to provoke it by sneers such as these.
A moment sufficed his quick instinct to seize
The position. He felt that he could not expose
His own name, or Lucile's, or Matilda's, to those
Idle tongues that would bring down upon him the ban
Of the world, if he now were to fight with this man.
And indeed, when he look'd in the Duke's haggard face,
He was pain'd by the change there he could not but trace.
And he almost felt pity.
He therefore put by
Each remark from the Duke with some careless reply,
And coldly, but courteously, waving away
The ill-humor the Duke seem'd resolved to display,
Rose, and turn'd, with a stern salutation, aside.


XIV.


Then the Duke put himself in the path, made one stride
In advance, raised a hand, fix'd upon him his eyes,
And said...
"Hold, Lord Alfred! Away with disguise!
I will own that I sought you, a moment ago,
To fix on you a quarrel. I still can do so
Upon any excuse. I prefer to be frank.
I admit not a rival in fortune or rank
To the hand of a woman, whatever be hers
Or her suitor's. I love the Comtesse de Nevers.
I believed, ere you cross'd me, and still have the right
To believe, that she would have been mine. To her sight
You return, and the woman is suddenly changed.
You step in between us: her heart is estranged.
You! who now are betrothed to another, I know:
You! whose name with Lucile's nearly ten years ago
Was coupled by ties which you broke: you! the man
I reproach'd on the day our acquaintance began.
You! that left her so lightly, - I cannot believe
That you love, as I love, her; nor can I conceive
You, indeed, have the right so to love her.
Milord,
I will not thus tamely concede at your word,
What, a few days ago, I believed to be mine!
I shall yet persevere: I shall yet be, in fine,
A rival you dare not despise. It is plain
That to settle this contest there can but remain
One way - need I say what it is?"


XV.


Not unmoved
With regretful respect for the earnestness proved
By the speech he had heard, Alfred Vargrave replied
In words which he trusted might yet turn aside
The quarrel from which he felt bound to abstain,
And, with stately urbanity, strove to explain
To the Duke that he too (a fair rival at worst!)
Had not been accepted.


XVI.


"Accepted! say first
Are you free to have offer'd?"
Lord Alfred was mute.


XVII.


"Ah, you dare not reply!" cried the Duke. "Why dispute,
Why palter with me? You are silent! and why?
Because, in your conscience, you cannot deny
'Twas from vanity, wanton and cruel withal,
And the wish an ascendancy lost to recall,
That you stepp'd in between me and her. If, milord,
You be really sincere, I ask only one word.
Say at once you renounce her. At once, on my part,
I will ask your forgiveness with all truth of heart,
And there CAN be no quarrel between us. Say on!"
Lord Alfred grew gall'd and impatient. This tone
Roused a strong irritation he could not repress.
"You have not the right, sir," he said, "and still less
The power, to make terms and conditions with me.
I refuse to reply."


XVIII.


As diviners may see
Fates they cannot avert in some figure occult,
He foresaw in a moment each evil result
Of the quarrel now imminent.
There, face to face,
'Mid the ruins and tombs of a long-perish'd race,
With, for witness, the stern Autumn Sky overhead,
And beneath them, unnoticed, the graves, and the dead,
Those two men had met, as it were on the ridge
Of that perilous, narrow, invisible bridge
Dividing the Past from the Future, so small
That if one should pass over, the other must fall.


XIX.


On the ear, at that moment, the sound of a hoof,
Urged with speed, sharply smote; and from under the roof
Of the forest in view, where the skirts of it verged
On the heath where they stood, at full gallop emerged
A horseman.
A guide he appear'd, by the sash
Of red silk round the waist, and the long leathern lash
With a short wooden handle, slung crosswise behind
The short jacket; the loose canvas trouser, confined
By the long boots; the woollen capote; and the rein,
A mere hempen cord on a curb.
Up the plain
He wheel'd his horse, white with the foam on his flank,
Leap'd the rivulet lightly, turn'd sharp from the bank,
And, approaching the Duke, raised his woollen capote,
Bow'd low in the selle, and deliver'd a note.


XX.


The two stood astonish'd. The Duke, with a gest
Of apology, turnd, stretch'd his hand, and possess'd
Himself of the letter, changed color, and tore
The page open and read.
Ere a moment was o'er
His whole aspect changed. A light rose to his eyes,
And a smile to his lips. While with startled surprise
Lord Alfred yet watch'd him, he turn'd on his heel,
And said gayly, "A pressing request from Lucile!
You are quite right, Lord Alfred! fair rivals at worst,
Our relative place may perchance be reversed.
You are not accepted, - nor free to propose!
I, perchance, am accepted already; who knows?
I had warned you, milord, I should still persevere.
This letter - but stay! you can read it - look here!"


XXI.


It was now Alfred's turn to feel roused and enraged.
But Lucile to himself was not pledged or engaged
By aught that could sanction resentment. He said
Not a word, but turn'd round, took the letter, and read...

THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO THE DUC DE LUVOIS.


"SAINT SAVIOUR.

"Your letter, which follow'd me here, makes me stay
Till I see you again. With no moment's delay
I entreat, I conjure you, by all that you feel
Or profess, to come to me directly.
"LUCILE."


XXII.


"Your letter!" He then had been writing to her!
Coldly shrugging his shoulders, Lord Alfred said, "Sir,
Do not let me detain you!"
The Duke smiled and bow'd;
Placed the note in his bosom; address'd, half aloud,
A few words to the messenger,... "Say your despatch
Will be answer'd ere nightfall;" then glanced at his watch,
And turn'd back to the Baths.


XXIII.


Alfred Vargrave stood still,
Torn, distracted in heart, and divided in will.
He turn'd to Lucile's farewell letter to him.
And read over her words; rising tears made them dim:
"Doubt is over; my future is fix'd now," they said.
"My course is decided." Her course? what! to wed
With this insolent rival! With that thought there shot
Through his heart an acute jealous anguish. But not
Even thus could his clear worldly sense quite excuse
Those strange words to the Duke. She was free to refuse
Himself, free the Duke to accept, it was true:
Even then, though, this eager and strange rendezvous,
How imprudent! To some unfrequented lone inn,
And so late (for the night was about to begin) -
She, companionless there! - had she bidden that man?
A fear, vague, and formless, and horrible, ran
Through his heart.


XXIV.


At that moment he look'd up, and saw,
Riding fast through the forest, the Duc de Luvois,
Who waved his hand to him, and sped out of sight.
The day was descending. He felt 'twould be night
Ere that man reached Saint Saviour.


XXV.


He walk'd on, but not
Back toward Luchon: he walk'd on, but knew not in what
Direction, nor yet with what object, indeed,
He was walking, but still he walk'd on without heed.


XXVI.


The day had been sullen; but, towards his decline,
The sun sent a stream of wild light up the pine.
Darkly denting the red light reveal'd at its back,
The old ruin'd abbey rose roofless and black.
The spring that yet oozed through the moss-paven floor
Had suggested, no doubt, to the monks there, of yore,
The sight of that refuge where back to its God
How many a heart, now at rest 'neath the sod,
Had borne from the world all the same wild unrest


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 6 of 18)