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That now prey'd on his own!


XXVII.


By the thoughts in his breast
With varying impulse divided and torn,
He traversed the scant heath, and reach'd the forlorn
Autumn woodland, in which but a short while ago
He had seen the Duke rapidly enter; and so
He too enter'd. The light waned around him, and pass'd
Into darkness. The wrathful, red Occident cast
One glare of vindictive inquiry behind,
As the last light of day from the high wood declined,
And the great forest sigh'd its farewell to the beam,
And far off on the stillness the voice of the stream
Fell faintly.


XXVIII.


O Nature, how fair is thy face,
And how light is thy heart, and how friendless thy grace!
Thou false mistress of man! thou dost sport with him lightly
In his hours of ease and enjoyment; and brightly
Dost thou smile to his smile; to his joys thou inclinest,
But his sorrows, thou knowest them not, nor divinest.
While he woos, thou art wanton; thou lettest him love thee;
But thou art not his friend, for his grief cannot move thee;
And at last, when he sickens and dies, what dost thou?
All as gay are thy garments, as careless thy brow,
And thou laughest and toyest with any new comer,
Not a tear more for winter, a smile less for summer!
Hast thou never an anguish to heave the heart under
That fair breast of thine, O thou feminine wonder!
For all those - the young, and the fair, and the strong,
Who have loved thee, and lived with thee gayly and long,
And who now on thy bosom lie dead? and their deeds
And their days are forgotten! O hast thou no weeds
And not one year of mourning, - one out of the many
That deck thy new bridals forever, - nor any
Regrets for thy lost loves, conceal'd from the new,
O thou widow of earth's generations? Go to!
If the sea and the night wind know aught of these things,
They do not reveal it. We are not thy kings.




CANTO VI.


I.


"The huntsman has ridden too far on the chase,
And eldrich, and eerie, and strange is the place!
The castle betokens a date long gone by.
He crosses the courtyard with curious eye:
He wanders from chamber to chamber, and yet
From strangeness to strangeness his footsteps are set;
And the whole place grows wilder and wilder, and less
Like aught seen before. Each in obsolete dress,
Strange portraits regard him with looks of surprise,
Strange forms from the arras start forth to his eyes;
Strange epigraphs, blazon'd, burn out of the wall:
The spell of a wizard is over it all.
In her chamber, enchanted, the Princess is sleeping
The sleep which for centuries she has been keeping.
If she smile in her sleep, it must be to some lover
Whose lost golden locks the long grasses now cover:
If she moan in her dream, it must be to deplore
Some grief which the world cares to hear of no more.
But how fair is her forehead, how calm seems her cheek!
And how sweet must that voice be, if once she would speak!
He looks and he loves her; but knows he (not he!)
The clew to unravel this old mystery?
And he stoops to those shut lips. The shapes on the wall,
The mute men in armor around him, and all
The weird figures frown, as though striving to say,
'Halt! invade not the Past, reckless child of Today!
And give not, O madman! the heart in thy breast
To a phantom, the soul of whose sense is possess'd
By an Age not thine own!'
"But unconscious is he,
And he heeds not the warning, he cares not to see
Aught but ONE form before him!
"Rash, wild words are o'er,
And the vision is vanish'd from sight evermore!
And the gray morning sees, as it drearily moves
O'er a land long deserted, a madman that roves
Through a ruin, and seeks to recapture a dream.
Lost to life and its uses, withdrawn from the scheme
Of man's waking existence, he wanders apart."
And this is an old fairy-tale of the heart.
It is told in all lands, in a different tongue;
Told with tears by the old, heard with smiles by the young.
And the tale to each heart unto which it is known
Has a different sense. It has puzzled my own.


II.


Eugene de Luvois was a man who, in part
From strong physical health, and that vigor of heart
Which physical health gives, and partly, perchance,
From a generous vanity native to France,
With the heart of a hunter, whatever the quarry,
Pursued it, too hotly impatient to tarry
Or turn, till he took it. His trophies were trifles:
But trifler he was not. When rose-leaves it rifles,
No less than when oak-trees it ruins, the wind
Its pleasure pursues with impetuous mind.
Both Eugene de Luvois and Lord Alfred had been
Men of pleasure: but men's pleasant vices, which, seen
Floating faint in the sunshine of Alfred's soft mood,
Seem'd amiable foibles, by Luvois pursued
With impetuous passion, seemed semi-Satanic.
Half pleased you see brooks play with pebbles; in panic
You watch them whirl'd down by the torrent.
In truth,
To the sacred political creed of his youth
The century which he was born to denied
All realization. Its generous pride
To degenerate protest on all things was sunk;
Its principles each to a prejudice shrunk.
Down the path of a life that led nowhere he trod,
Where his whims were his guides, and his will was his god,
And his pastime his purpose.
From boyhood possess'd
Of inherited wealth, he had learned to invest
Both his wealth and those passions wealth frees from the cage
Which penury locks, in each vice of an age
All the virtues of which, by the creed he revered,
Were to him illegitimate.
Thus, he appear'd
To the world what the world chose to have him appear, -
The frivolous tyrant of Fashion, a mere
Reformer in coats, cards, and carriages! Still
'Twas the vigor of nature, and tension of will,
That found for the first time - perhaps for the last -
In Lucile what they lacked yet to free from the Past,
Force, and faith, in the Future.
And so, in his mind,
To the anguish of losing the woman was join'd
The terror of missing his life's destination,
Which in her had its mystical representation.


III.


And truly, the thought of it, scaring him, pass'd
O'er his heart, while he now through the twilight rode fast
As a shade from the wing of some great bird obscene
In a wide silent land may be suddenly seen,
Darkening over the sands, where it startles and scares
Some traveller stray'd in the waste unawares,
So that thought more than once darken'd over his heart
For a moment, and rapidly seem'd to depart.
Fast and furious he rode through the thickets which rose
Up the shaggy hillside: and the quarrelling crows
Clang'd above him, and clustering down the dim air
Dropp'd into the dark woods. By fits here and there
Shepherd fires faintly gleam'd from the valleys. Oh, how
He envied the wings of each wild bird, as now
He urged the steed over the dizzy ascent
Of the mountain! Behind him a murmur was sent
From the torrent - before him a sound from the tracts
Of the woodlands that waved o'er the wild cataracts,
And the loose earth and loose stones roll'd momently down
From the hoofs of his steed to abysses unknown.
The red day had fallen beneath the black woods,
And the Powers of the night through the vast solitudes
Walk'd abroad and conversed with each other. The trees
Were in sound and in motion, and mutter'd like seas
In Elfland. The road through the forest was hollow'd.
On he sped through the darkness, as though he were follow'd
Fast, fast by the Erl King!
The wild wizard-work
Of the forest at last open'd sharp, o'er the fork
Of a savage ravine, and behind the black stems
Of the last trees, whose leaves in the light gleam'd like gems,
Broke the broad moon above the voluminous
Rock-chaos, - the Hecate of that Tartarus!
With his horse reeking white, he at last reach'd the door
Of a small mountain inn, on the brow of a hoar
Craggy promontory, o'er a fissure as grim,
Through which, ever roaring, there leap'd o'er the limb
Of the rent rock a torrent of water, from sight,
Into pools that were feeding the roots of the night.
A balcony hung o'er the water. Above
In a glimmering casement a shade seem'd to move.
At the door the old negress was nodding her head
As he reach'd it. "My mistress awaits you," she said.
And up the rude stairway of creeking pine rafter
He follow'd her silent. A few moments after,
His heart almost stunned him, his head seem'd to reel,
For a door closed - Luvois was alone with Lucile.


IV.


In a gray travelling dress, her dark hair unconfined
Streaming o'er it, and tossed now and then by the wind
From the lattice, that waved the dull flame in a spire
From a brass lamp before her - a faint hectic fire
On her cheek, to her eyes lent the lustre of fever:
They seem'd to have wept themselves wider than ever,
Those dark eyes - so dark and so deep!
"You relent?
And your plans have been changed by the letter I sent?"
There his voice sank, borne down by a strong inward strife.

LUCILE.

Your letter! yes, Duke. For it threaten'd man's life -
Woman's honor.

Luvois.

The last, madam, NOT?

LUCILE.

Both. I glance
At your own words; blush, son of the knighthood of France,
As I read them! You say, in this letter...
"I know
Why now you refuse me: 'tis (is it not so?)
For the man who has trifled before, wantonly,
And now trifles again with the heart you deny
To myself. But he shall not! By man's last wild law,
I will seize on the right (the right, Duc de Luvois!)
To avenge for you, woman, the past, and to give
To the future its freedom. That man shalt not live
To make you as wretched as you have made me!"

LUVOIS.

Well, madam, in those words what words do you see
That threatens the honor of woman?

LUCILE.

See!... what,
What word, do you ask? Every word! would you not,
Had I taken your hand thus, have felt that your name
Was soil'd and dishonor'd by more than mere shame
If the woman that bore it had first been the cause
Of the crime which in these words is menaced? You pause!
Woman's honor, you ask? Is there, sir, no dishonor
In the smile of a woman, when men, gazing on her,
Can shudder, and say, "In that smile is a grave"?
No! you can have no cause, Duke, for no right you have
In the contest you menace. That contest but draws
Every right into ruin. By all human laws
Of man's heart I forbid it, by all sanctities
Of man's social honor!
The Duke droop'd his eyes.
"I obey you," he said, "but let woman beware
How she plays fast and loose thus with human despair,
And the storm in man's heart. Madam, yours was the right,
When you saw that I hoped, to extinguish hope quite.
But you should from the first have done this, for I feel
That you knew from the first that I loved you."
Lucile
This sudden reproach seem'd to startle.
She raised
A slow, wistful regard to his features, and gazed
On them silent awhile. His own looks were downcast.
Through her heart, whence its first wild alarm was now pass'd,
Pity crept, and perhaps o'er her conscience a tear,
Falling softly, awoke it.
However severe,
Were they unjust, these sudden upbraidings, to her?
Had she lightly misconstrued this man's character,
Which had seem'd, even when most impassion'd it seem'd,
Too self-conscious to lose all in love? Had she deem'd
That this airy, gay, insolent man of the world,
So proud of the place the world gave him, held furl'd
In his bosom no passion which once shaken wide
Might tug, till it snapped, that erect lofty pride?
Were those elements in him, which once roused to strife
Overthrow a whole nature, and change a whole life?
There are two kinds of strength. One, the strength of the river
Which through continents pushes its pathway forever
To fling its fond heart in the sea; if it lose
This, the aim of its life, it is lost to its use,
It goes mad, is diffused into deluge, and dies.
The other, the strength of the sea; which supplies
Its deep life from mysterious sources, and draws
The river's life into its own life, by laws
Which it heeds not. The difference in each case is this:
The river is lost, if the ocean it miss;
If the sea miss the river, what matter? The sea
Is the sea still, forever. Its deep heart will be
Self-sufficing, unconscious of loss as of yore;
Its sources are infinite; still to the shore,
With no diminution of pride, it will say,
"I am here; I, the sea! stand aside, and make way!"
Was his love, then, the love of the river? and she,
Had she taken that love for the love of the sea?


V.


At that thought, from her aspect whatever had been
Stern or haughty departed; and, humble in mien,
She approach'd him and brokenly murmur'd, as though
To herself more than him, "Was I wrong? is it so?
Hear me, Duke! you must feel that, whatever you deem
Your right to reproach me in this, your esteem
I may claim on ONE ground - I at least am sincere.
You say that to me from the first it was clear
That you loved me. But what if this knowledge were known
At a moment in life when I felt most alone,
And least able to be so? a moment, in fact,
When I strove from one haunting regret to retract
And emancipate life, and once more to fulfil
Woman's destinies, duties, and hopes? would you still
So bitterly blame me, Eugene de Luvois,
If I hoped to see all this, or deem'd that I saw
For a moment the promise of this in the plighted
Affection of one who, in nature, united
So much that from others affection might claim,
If only affection were free? Do you blame
The hope of that moment? I deem'd my heart free
From all, saving sorrow. I deem'd that in me
There was yet strength to mould it once more to my will,
To uplift it once more to my hope. Do you still
Blame me, Duke, that I did not then bid you refrain
From hope? alas! I too then hoped!"

LUVOIS.

Oh, again,
Yet again, say that thrice blessed word! say, Lucile,
That you then deign'd to hope -

LUCILE.

Yes! to hope I could feel,
And could give to you, that without which all else given
Were but to deceive, and to injure you even: -
A heart free from thoughts of another. Say, then,
Do you blame that one hope?

LUVOIS.

O Lucile!
"Say again,"
She resumed, gazing down, and with faltering tone,
"Do you blame me that, when I at last had to own
To my heart that the hope it had cherish'd was o'er,
And forever, I said to you then, 'Hope no more'?
I myself hoped no more!"
With but ill-suppressed wrath
The Duke answer'd... "What, then! he recrosses your path,
This man, and you have but to see him, despite
Of his troth to another, to take back that light
Worthless heart to your own, which he wrong'd years ago!"
Lucile faintly, brokenly murmur'd... "No! no!
'Tis not that - but alas! - but I cannot conceal
That I have not forgotten the past - but I feel
That I cannot accept all these gifts on your part, -
In return for what... ah, Duke, what is it?... a heart
Which is only a ruin!"
With words warm and wild,
"Though a ruin it be, trust me yet to rebuild
And restore it," Luvois cried; "though ruin'd it be,
Since so dear is that ruin, ah, yield it to me!"
He approach'd her. She shrank back. The grief in her eyes
Answer'd, "No!"
An emotion more fierce seem'd to rise
And to break into flame, as though fired by the light
Of that look, in his heart. He exclaim'd, "Am I right?
You reject ME! Accept HIM?"
"I have not done so,"
She said firmly. He hoarsely resumed, "Not yet - no!
But can you with accents as firm promise me
That you will not accept him?"
"Accept? Is he free?
Free to offer?" she said.
"You evade me, Lucile,"
He replied; "ah, you will not avow what you feel!
He might make himself free? Oh, you blush - turn away!
Dare you openly look in my face, lady, say!
While you deign to reply to one question from me?
I may hope not, you tell me: but tell me, may he?
What! silent? I alter my question. If quite
Freed in faith from this troth, might he hope then?"
"He might,"
She said softly.


VI.


Those two whisper'd words, in his breast,
As he heard them, in one maddening moment releast
All that's evil and fierce in man's nature, to crush
And extinguish in man all that's good. In the rush
Of wild jealousy, all the fierce passions that waste
And darken and devastate intellect, chased
From its realm human reason. The wild animal
In the bosom of man was set free. And of all
Human passions the fiercest, fierce jealousy, fierce
As the fire, and more wild than the whirlwind, to pierce
And to rend, rush'd upon him; fierce jealousy, swell'd
By all passions bred from it, and ever impell'd
To involve all things else in the anguish within it,
And on others inflict its own pangs!
At that minute
What pass'd through his mind, who shall say? who may tell
The dark thoughts of man's heart, which the red glare of hell
Can illumine alone?
He stared wildly around
That lone place, so lonely! That silence! no sound
Reach'd that room, through the dark evening air, save drear
Drip and roar of the cataract ceaseless and near!
It was midnight all round on the weird silent weather;
Deep midnight in him! They two, - alone and together,
Himself and that woman defenceless before him!
The triumph and bliss of his rival flash'd o'er him.
The abyss of his own black despair seem'd to ope
At his feet, with that awful exclusion of hope
Which Dante read over the city of doom.
All the Tarquin pass'd into his soul in the gloom,
And uttering words he dared never recall,
Words of insult and menace, he thunder'd down all
The brew'd storm-cloud within him: its flashes scorch'd blind
His own senses. His spirit was driven on the wind
Of a reckless emotion beyond his control;
A torrent seem'd loosen'd within him. His soul
Surged up from that caldron of passion that hiss'd
And seeth'd in his heart.


VII.


He had thrown, and had miss'd
His last stake.


VIII.


For, transfigured, she rose from the place
Where he rested o'erawed: a saint's scorn on her face;
Such a dread vade retro was written in light
On her forehead, the fiend would himself, at that sight,
Have sunk back abash'd to perdition. I know
If Lucretia at Tarquin but once had looked so,
She had needed no dagger next morning.
She rose
And swept to the door, like that phantom the snows
Feel at nightfall sweep o'er them, when daylight is gone,
And Caucasus is with the moon all alone.
There she paused; and, as though from immeasurable,
Insurpassable distance, she murmur'd -
"Farewell!
We, alas! have mistaken each other. Once more
Illusion, to-night, in my lifetime is o'er.
Duc de Luvois, adieu!"
From the heart-breaking gloom
Of that vacant, reproachful, and desolate room,
He felt she was gone - gone forever!


IX.


No word,
The sharpest that ever was edged like a sword,
Could have pierced to his heart with such keen accusation
As the silence, the sudden profound isolation,
In which he remain'd.
"O return; I repent!"
He exclaimed; but no sound through the stillness was sent,
Save the roar of the water, in answer to him,
And the beetle that, sleeping, yet humm'd her night-hymn:
An indistinct anthem, that troubled the air
With a searching, and wistful, and questioning prayer.
"Return," sung the wandering insect. The roar
Of the waters replied, "Nevermore! nevermore!"
He walked to the window. The spray on his brow
Was flung cold from the whirlpools of water below;
The frail wooden balcony shook in the sound
Of the torrent. The mountains gloom'd sullenly round.
A candle one ray from a closed casement flung.
O'er the dim balustrade all bewilder'd he hung,
Vaguely watching the broken and shimmering blink
Of the stars on the veering and vitreous brink
Of that snake-like prone column of water; and listing
Aloof o'er the languors of air the persisting
Sharp horn of the gray gnat. Before he relinquish'd
His unconscious employment, that light was extinguish'd.
Wheels at last, from the inn door aroused him. He ran
Down the stairs; reached the door - just to see her depart.
Down the mountain the carriage was speeding.


X.


His heart
Peal'd the knell of its last hope. He rush'd on; but whither
He knew not - on, into the dark cloudy weather -
The midnight - the mountains - on, over the shelf
Of the precipice - on, still - away from himself!
Till exhausted, he sank 'mid the dead leaves and moss
At the mouth of the forest. A glimmering cross
Of gray stone stood for prayer by the woodside. He sank
Prayerless, powerless, down at its base, 'mid the dank
Weeds and grasses; his face hid amongst them. He knew
That the night had divided his whole life in two.
Behind him a past that was over forever:
Before him a future devoid of endeavor
And purpose. He felt a remorse for the one,
Of the other a fear. What remain'd to be done?
Whither now should he turn? Turn again, as before,
To his old easy, careless existence of yore
He could not. He felt that for better or worse
A change had pass'd o'er him; an angry remorse
Of his own frantic failure and error had marr'd
Such a refuge forever. The future seem'd barr'd
By the corpse of a dead hope o'er which he must tread
To attain it. Life's wilderness round him was spread,
What clew there to cling by?
He clung by a name
To a dynasty fallen forever. He came
Of an old princely house, true through change to the race


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 7 of 18)