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And the sword of Saint Louis - a faith 'twere disgrace
To relinquish, and folly to live for! Nor less
Was his ancient religion (once potent to bless
Or to ban; and the crozier his ancestors kneel'd
To adore, when they fought for the Cross, in hard field
With the Crescent) become, ere it reach'd him, tradition;
A mere faded badge of a social position;
A thing to retain and say nothing about,
Lest, if used, it should draw degradation from doubt.
Thus, the first time he sought them, the creeds of his youth
Wholly fail'd the strong needs of his manhood, in truth!
And beyond them, what region of refuge? what field
For employment, this civilized age, did it yield,
In that civilized land? or to thought? or to action?
Blind deliriums, bewilder'd and endless distraction!
Not even a desert, not even the cell
Of a hermit to flee to, wherein he might quell
The wild devil-instincts which now, unreprest,
Ran riot through that ruin'd world in his breast.


XI.


So he lay there, like Lucifer, fresh from the sight
Of a heaven scaled and lost; in the wide arms of night
O'er the howling abysses of nothingness! There
As he lay, Nature's deep voice was teaching him prayer;
But what had he to pray to?
The winds in the woods,
The voices abroad o'er those vast solitudes,
Were in commune all round with the invisible
Power that walk'd the dim world by Himself at that hour.
But their language he had not yet learn'd - in despite
Of the much he HAD learn'd - or forgotten it quite,
With its once native accents. Alas! what had he
To add to that deep-toned sublime symphony
Of thanksgiving?... A fiery finger was still
Scorching into his heart some dread sentence. His will,
Like a wind that is put to no purpose, was wild
At its work of destruction within him. The child
Of an infidel age, he had been his own god,
His own devil.
He sat on the damp mountain sod,
and stared sullenly up at the dark sky.
The clouds
Had heap'd themselves over the bare west in crowds
Of misshapen, incongruous potents. A green
Streak of dreary, cold, luminous ether, between
The base of their black barricades, and the ridge
Of the grim world, gleam'd ghastly, as under some bridge,
Cyclop-sized, in a city of ruins o'erthrown
By sieges forgotten, some river, unknown
And unnamed, widens on into desolate lands.
While he gazed, that cloud-city invisible hands
Dismantled and rent; and reveal'd, through a loop
In the breach'd dark, the blemish'd and half-broken hoop
Of the moon, which soon silently sank; and anon
The whole supernatural pageant was gone.
The wide night, discomforted, conscious of loss,
Darken'd round him. One object alone - that gray cross -
Glimmer'd faint on the dark. Gazing up, he descried,
Through the void air, its desolate arms outstretch'd, wide,
As though to embrace him.
He turn'd from the sight,
Set his face to the darkness, and fled.


XII.


When the light
Of the dawn grayly flicker'd and glared on the spent
Wearied ends of the night, like a hope that is sent
To the need of some grief when its need is the sorest,
He was sullenly riding across the dark forest
Toward Luchon.
Thus riding, with eyes of defiance
Set against the young day, as disclaiming alliance
With aught that the day brings to man, he perceived
Faintly, suddenly, fleetingly, through the damp-leaved
Autumn branches that put forth gaunt arms on his way,
The face of a man pale and wistful, and gray
With the gray glare of morning. Eugene de Luvois,
With the sense of a strange second sight, when he saw
That phantom-like face, could at once recognize,
By the sole instinct now left to guide him, the eyes
Of his rival, though fleeting the vision and dim,
With a stern sad inquiry fix'd keenly on him,
And, to meet it, a lie leap'd at once to his own;
A lie born of that lying darkness now grown
Over all in his nature! He answer'd that gaze
With a look which, if ever a man's look conveys
More intensely than words what a man means convey'd
Beyond doubt in its smile an announcement which said,
"I have triumph'd. The question your eyes would imply
Comes too late, Alfred Vargrave!"
And so he rode by,
And rode on, and rode gayly, and rode out of sight,
Leaving that look behind him to rankle and bite.


XIII.


And it bit, and it rankled.


XIV.


Lord Alfred, scarce knowing,
Or choosing, or heeding the way he was going,
By one wild hope impell'd, by one wild fear pursued,
And led by one instinct, which seem'd to exclude
From his mind every human sensation, save one
The torture of doubt - had stray'd moodily on,
Down the highway deserted, that evening in which
With the Duke he had parted; stray'd on, through rich
Haze of sunset, or into the gradual night,
Which darken'd, unnoticed, the land from his sight,
Toward Saint Saviour; nor did the changed aspect of all
The wild scenery around him avail to recall
To his senses their normal perceptions, until,
As he stood on the black shaggy brow of the hill
At the mouth of the forest, the moon, which had hung
Two dark hours in a cloud, slipp'd on fire from among
The rent vapors, and sunk o'er the ridge of the world.
Then he lifted his eyes, and saw round him unfurl'd,
In one moment of splendor, the leagues of dark trees,
And the long rocky line of the wild Pyrenees.
And he knew by the milestone scored rough on the face
Of the bare rock, he was but two hours from the place
Where Lucile and Luvois must have met. This same track
The Duke must have traversed, perforce, to get back
To Luchon; not yet then the Duke had returned!
He listen'd, he look'd up the dark, but discern'd
Not a trace, not a sound of a horse by the way.
He knew that the night was approaching to day.
He resolved to proceed to Saint Saviour. The morn,
Which, at last, through the forest broke chill and forlorn,
Reveal'd to him, riding toward Luchon, the Duke.
'Twas then that the two men exchanged look for look.


XV.


And the Duke's rankled in him.


XVI.


He rush'd on. He tore
His path through the thicket. He reach'd the inn door,
Roused the yet drowsing porter, reluctant to rise,
And inquired for the Countess. The man rubb'd his eyes,
The Countess was gone. And the Duke?
The man stared
A sleepy inquiry.
With accents that scared
The man's dull sense awake, "He, the stranger," he cried,
"Who had been there that night!"
The man grinn'd and replied,
With a vacant intelligence, "He, oh ay, ay!
He went after the lady."
No further reply
Could he give. Alfred Vargrave demanded no more,
Flung a coin to the man, and so turn'd from the door.
"What! the Duke, then, the night in that lone inn had pass'd?
In that lone inn - with her!" Was that look he had cast
When they met in the forest, that look which remain'd
On his mind with its terrible smile, thus explain'd?


XVII.


The day was half turn'd to the evening, before
He re-entered Luchon, with a heart sick and sore.
In the midst of a light crowd of babblers, his look,
By their voices attracted, distinguished the Duke,
Gay, insolent, noisy, with eyes sparkling bright,
With laughter, shrill, airy, continuous.
Right
Through the throng Alfred Vargrave, with swift sombre stride,
Glided on. The Duke noticed him, turn'd, stepp'd aside,
And, cordially grasping his hand, whisper'd low,
"O, how right have you been! There can never be - no,
Never - any more contest between us! Milord,
Let us henceforth be friends!"
Having utter'd that word,
He turn'd lightly round on his heel, and again
His gay laughter was heard, echoed loud by that train
Of his young imitators.
Lord Alfred stood still,
Rooted, stunn'd, to the spot. He felt weary and ill,
Out of heart with his own heart, and sick to the soul
With a dull, stifling anguish he could not control.
Does he hear in a dream, through the buzz of the crowd,
The Duke's blithe associates, babbling aloud
Some comment upon his gay humor that day?
He never was gayer: what makes him so gay?
'Tis, no doubt, say the flatterers, flattering in tune,
Some vestal whose virtue no tongue dare impugn
Has at last found a Mars - who, of course, shall be nameless,
That vestal that yields to Mars ONLY is blameless!
Hark! hears he a name which, thus syllabled, stirs
All his heart into tumult?... Lucile de Nevers
With the Duke's coupled gayly, in some laughing, light,
Free allusion? Not so as might give him the right
To turn fiercely round on the speaker, but yet
To a trite and irreverent compliment set!


XVIII.


Slowly, slowly, usurping that place in his soul
Where the thought of Lucile was enshrined, did there roll
Back again, back again, on its smooth downward course
O'er his nature, with gather'd momentum and force,
THE WORLD.


XIX.


"No!" he mutter'd, "she cannot have sinn'd!
True! women there are (self-named women of mind!)
Who love rather liberty - liberty, yes!
To choose and to leave - than the legalized stress
Of the lovingest marriage. But she - is she so?
I will not believe it. Lucile! O no, no!
Not Lucile!
"But the world? and, ah, what would it say?
O the look of that man, and his laughter, to-day!
The gossip's light question! the slanderous jest!
She is right! no, we could not be happy. 'Tis best
As it is. I will write to her - write, O my heart!
And accept her farewell. OUR farewell! must we part -
Part thus, then - forever, Lucile? Is it so?
Yes! I feel it. We could not be happy, I know.
'Twas a dream! we must waken!"


XX.


With head bow'd, as though
By the weight of the heart's resignation, and slow
Moody footsteps, he turned to his inn.
Drawn apart
From the gate, in the courtyard, and ready to start,
Postboys mounted, portmanteaus packed up and made fast,
A travelling-carriage, unnoticed, he pass'd.
He order'd his horse to be ready anon:
Sent, and paid, for the reckoning, and slowly pass'd on,
And ascended the staircase, and enter'd his room.
It was twilight. The chamber was dark in the gloom
Of the evening. He listlessly kindled a light
On the mantel-piece; there a large card caught his sight -
A large card, a stout card, well-printed and plain,
Nothing flourishing, flimsy, affected, or vain.
It gave a respectable look to the slab
That it lay on. The name was -

SIR RIDLEY MACNAB.

Full familiar to him was the name that he saw,
For 'twas that of his own future uncle-in-law.
Mrs. Darcy's rich brother, the banker, well known
As wearing the longest philacteried gown
Of all the rich Pharisees England can boast of,
A shrewd Puritan Scot, whose sharp wits made the most of
This world and the next; having largely invested
Not only where treasure is never molested
By thieves, moth, or rust; but on this earthly ball
Where interest was high, and security small.
Of mankind there was never a theory yet
Not by some individual instance upset:
And so to that sorrowful verse of the Psalm
Which declares that the wicked expand like the palm
In a world where the righteous are stunted and pent,
A cheering exception did Ridley present.
Like the worthy of Uz, Heaven prosper'd his piety.
The leader of every religious society,
Christian knowledge he labor'd t though life to promote
With personal profit, and knew how to quote
Both the Stocks and the Scripture, with equal advantage
To himself and admiring friends, in this Cant-Age.


XXI.


Whilst over this card Alfred vacantly brooded,
A waiter his head through the doorway protruded;
"Sir Ridley MacNab with Milord wish'd to speak."
Alfred Vargrave could feel there were tears on his cheek;
He brushed them away with a gesture of pride.
He glanced at the glass; when his own face he eyed,
He was scared by its pallor. Inclining his head,
He with tones calm, unshaken, and silvery, said,
"Sir Ridley may enter."
In three minutes more
That benign apparition appeared at the door.
Sir Ridley, released for a while from the cares
Of business, and minded to breathe the pure airs
Of the blue Pyrenees, and enjoy his release,
In company there with his sister and niece,
Found himself now at Luchon - distributing tracts,
Sowing seed by the way, and collecting new facts
For Exeter Hall; he was starting that night
For Bigorre: he had heard, to his cordial delight,
That Lord Alfred was there, and, himself, setting out
For the same destination: impatient, no doubt!
Here some commonplace compliments as to "the marriage
Through his speech trickled softly, like honey: his carriage
Was ready. A storm seem'd to threaten the weather;
If his young friend agreed, why not travel together?
With a footstep uncertain and restless, a frown
Of perplexity, during this speech, up and down
Alfred Vargrave was striding; but, after a pause
And a slight hesitation, the which seem'd to cause
Some surprise to Sir Ridley, he answer'd - "My dear
Sir Ridley, allow me a few moments here -
Half an hour at the most - to conclude an affair
Of a nature so urgent as hardly to spare
My presence (which brought me, indeed, to this spot),
Before I accept your kind offer."
"Why not?"
Said Sir Ridley, and smiled. Alfred Vargrave, before
Sir Ridley observed it, had pass'd through the door.
A few moments later, with footsteps revealing
Intense agitation of uncontroll'd feeling,
He was rapidly pacing the garden below.
What pass'd through his mind then is more than I know.
But before one half-hour into darkness had fled,
In the courtyard he stood with Sir Ridley. His tread
Was firm and composed. Not a sign on his face
Betrayed there the least agitation. "The place
You so kindly have offer'd," he said, "I accept."
And he stretch'd out his hand. The two travellers stepp'd
Smiling into the carriage.
And thus, out of sight,
They drove down the dark road, and into the night.


XXII.


Sir Ridley was one of those wise men who, so far
As their power of saying it goes, say with Zophar,
"We, no doubt, are the people, and wisdom shall die with us!"
Though of wisdom like theirs there is no small supply with us.
Side by side in the carriage ensconced, the two men
Began to converse somewhat drowsily, when
Alfred suddenly thought - "Here's a man of ripe age,
At my side, by his fellows reputed as sage,
Who looks happy, and therefore who must have been wise;
Suppose I with caution reveal to his eyes
Some few of the reasons which make me believe
That I neither am happy nor wise? 'twould relieve
And enlighten, perchance, my own darkness and doubt."
For which purpose a feeler he softly put out.
It was snapp'd up at once.
"What is truth? "jesting Pilate
Ask'd, and pass'd from the question at once with a smile at
Its utter futility. Had he address'd it
To Ridley MacNab, he at least had confess'd it
Admitted discussion! and certainly no man
Could more promptly have answer'd the sceptical Roman
Than Ridley. Hear some street astronomer talk!
Grant him two or three hearers, a morsel of chalk,
And forthwith on the pavement he'll sketch you the scheme
Of the heavens. Then hear him enlarge on his theme!
Not afraid of La Place, nor of Arago, he!
He'll prove you the whole plan in plain A B C.
Here's your sun - call him A; B's the moon; it is clear
How the rest of the alphabet brings up the rear
Of the planets. Now ask Arago, ask La Place,
(Your sages, who speak with the heavens face to face!)
Their science in plain A B C to accord
To your point-blank inquiry, my friends! not a word
Will you get for your pains from their sad lips. Alas!
Not a drop from the bottle that's quite full will pass.
'Tis the half-empty vessel that freest emits
The water that's in it. 'Tis thus with men's wits;
Or at least with their knowledge. A man's capability
Of imparting to others a truth with facility
Is proportion'd forever with painful exactness
To the portable nature, the vulgar compactness,
The minuteness in size, or the lightness in weight,
Of the truth he imparts. So small coins circulate
More freely than large ones. A beggar asks alms,
And we fling him a sixpence, nor feel any qualms;
But if every street charity shook an investment,
Or each beggar to clothe we must strip off a vestment,
The length of the process would limit the act;
And therefore the truth that's summ'd up in a tract
Is most lightly dispensed.
As for Alfred, indeed,
On what spoonfuls of truth he was suffer'd to feed
By Sir Ridley, I know not. This only I know,
That the two men thus talking continued to go
Onward somehow, together - on into the night -
The midnight - in which they escape from our sight.


XXIII.


And meanwhile a world had been changed in its place,
And those glittering chains that o'er blue balmy space
Hang the blessing of darkness, had drawn out of sight
To solace unseen hemispheres, the soft night;
And the dew of the dayspring benignly descended,
And the fair morn to all things new sanction extended,
In the smile of the East. And the lark soaring on,
Lost in light, shook the dawn with a song from the sun.
And the world laugh'd.
It wanted but two rosy hours
From the noon, when they pass'd through the thick passion flowers
Of the little wild garden that dimpled before
The small house where their carriage now stopp'd at Bigorre.
And more fair than the flowers, more fresh than the dew,
With her white morning robe flitting joyously through
The dark shrubs with which the soft hillside was clothed,
Alfred Vargrave perceived, where he paused, his betrothed.
Matilda sprang to him, at once, with a face
Of such sunny sweetness, such gladness, such grace,
And radiant confidence, childlike delight,
That his whole heart upbraided itself at that sight.
And he murmur'd, or sigh'd, "O, how could I have stray'd
From this sweet child, or suffer'd in aught to invade
Her young claim on my life, though it were for an hour,
The thought of another?"
"Look up, my sweet flower!"
He whisper'd her softly," my heart unto thee
Is return'd, as returns to the rose the wild bee!"
"And will wander no more?" laughed Matilda.
"No more,"
He repeated. And, low to himself, "Yes, 'tis o'er!
My course, too, is decided, Lucile! Was I blind
To have dream'd that these clever Frenchwomen of mind
Could satisfy simply a plain English heart,
Or sympathize with it?"


XXIV.


And here the first part
Of the drama is over. The curtain falls furl'd
On the actors within it - the Heart, and the World.
Woo'd and wooer have play'd with the riddle of life, -
Have they solved it?
Appear! answer, Husband and Wife.


XXV.


Yet, ere bidding farewell to Lucile de Nevers,
Hear her own heart's farewell in this letter of hers.

THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS TO A FRIEND IN INDIA.

"Once more, O my friend, to your arms and your heart,
And the places of old... never, never to part!
Once more to the palm, and the fountain! Once more
To the land of my birth, and the deep skies of yore
From the cities of Europe, pursued by the fret
Of their turmoil wherever my footsteps are set;
From the children that cry for the birth, and behold,
There is no strength to bear them - old Time is SO old!
From the world's weary masters, that come upon earth
Sapp'd and mined by the fever they bear from their birth:
From the men of small stature, mere parts of a crowd,
Born too late, when the strength of the world hath been bow'd;
Back, - back to the Orient, from whose sunbright womb
Sprang the giants which now are no more, in the bloom
And the beauty of times that are faded forever!
To the palms! to the tombs! to the still Sacred River!
Where I too, the child of a day that is done,
First leaped into life, and look'd up at the sun,
Back again, back again, to the hill-tops of home
I come, O my friend, my consoler, I come!
Are the three intense stars, that we watch'd night by night
Burning broad on the band of Orion, as bright?
Are the large Indian moons as serene as of old,
When, as children, we gather'd the moonbeams for gold?
Do you yet recollect me, my friend? Do you still
Remember the free games we play'd on the hill,
'Mid those huge stones up-heav'd, where we recklessly trod
O'er the old ruin'd fane of the old ruin'd god?
How he frown'd while around him we carelessly play'd!
That frown on my life ever after hath stay'd,
Like the shade of a solemn experience upcast
From some vague supernatural grief in the past.
For the poor god, in pain, more than anger, he frown'd,
To perceive that our youth, though so fleeting, had found,
In its transient and ignorant gladness, the bliss
Which his science divine seem'd divinely to miss.
Alas! you may haply remember me yet
The free child, whose glad childhood myself I forget.
I come - a sad woman, defrauded of rest:
I bear to you only a laboring breast:
My heart is a storm-beaten ark, wildly hurl'd
O'er the whirlpools of time, with the wrecks of a world:
The dove from my bosom hath flown far away:
It is flown and returns not, though many a day
Have I watch'd from the windows of life for its coming.
Friend, I sigh for repose, I am weary of roaming.
I know not what Ararat rises for me
Far away, o'er the waves of the wandering sea:
I know not what rainbow may yet, from far hills,
Lift the promise of hope, the cessation of ills:
But a voice, like the voice of my youth, in my breast
Wakes and whispers me on - to the East! to the East!
Shall I find the child's heart that I left there? or find
The lost youth I recall with its pure peace of mind?
Alas! who shall number the drops of the rain?
Or give to the dead leaves their greenness again?
Who shall seal up the caverns the earthquake hath rent?
Who shall bring forth the winds that within them are pent?
To a voice who shall render an image? or who
From the heats of the noontide shall gather the dew?


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 8 of 18)