The library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) online

. (page 61 of 75)
Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 61 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


guest, rose suddenly from his chair. " I do
not ask you," he said, "to conduct me to your
daughter's apartment I know where it is situ-
ated, and by what means to enter it. Neither
do I ask you to wait here patiently till my re-
turn. You dare not follow me."

He spoke truth; and had the Boyar dared to
follow him, his surprise would not have been
lessened by the unhesitating boldness of the
stranger's steps through the avenues of his
house, and the intricate staircases that led to
Feodorowna's chamber.

The young countess was alone in sorrowful
thought when her extraordinary visitor entered.
His proposal was made to her in terms nearly as
concise as to her father. When she started up to
claim help from her servants, he informed her
that her father's life and reputation were at his
mercy, not less than her own; adding, "You
are no stranger to the vengeance of a Strelitz."

Feodorowna shuddered at this allusion to the
fate of a man whose widow she considered her-
self, and his next words convinced her he not
only knew the circumstances of Biron's death,
but all the secrets of their interviews. In
little more than the time he mentioned, he re-
turned to the Boyar's presence, and announced
his daughter's assent. It was agreed that the
unknown bridegroom should not remove his
bride from her father's roof, unless she volun-
tarily consented to accompany him, nor visit
her oftener than once in every month. lie
made a further condition, that the priest should
be provided by himself, and the ceremony un-
witnessed, except by the father of Feodorowna.
To these, and to any other conditions, Mieren-
hoff would have acceded willingly, hoping to
elude or resist them when the day arrived.
When the stranger rose to depart, he pointed
to a timepiece which ornamented the Boyar's

"I depend on your honour; and if I did
not, I know my own power too well to doubt
your obedience. Count twenty movements of
this minute hand before you quit your seat
after I am gone."

So saying, he disappeared, and the father-
in-law elect of this mysterious man remained
stupid with consternation and amaze till the
period expired.

What passed between the father and daughter
cannot be explained. If he was surprised at
her ready acquiescence, she was no less indig-
nant at his tame surrender of his only child to
a ruffian who had demanded her, she supposed,
as the seal of some guilty confederacy. But
this supposition wronged her father. Cowardly,
yet not cruel, and ambitious, without sufficient

craft, the Boyar was only enough advanced,
into the mysteries of the Strelitz faction t(i
know that his own danger would be equally
great whether he betrayed the conspirators o:
the government. This man had passed unop-
posed among his servants, had learned all the
secrets of his house, and must consequently
possess means to purchase both. He felt him-
self surrounded by an invisible chain, and by
a mist which magnified, while it confused his
fears. The Countess Feodorowna, from whom
he had expected the most eager questions and
piercing complaints, was silent, sullen, and
entirely passive. When the next midnight
arrived, she sat by her father's side, with her
arms folded in her fur pelisse, and her loose
hair covered with a mourning veil, while the
Strelitz entered with a Greek priest. The rites
of the Muscovite church were performed without
opposition; and the father, with a sudden pang
of remorse and horror, as if till then he had
believed the marriage would have been pre-
vented by some unknown power, resigned
Feodorowna to her husband. She clung to
the Boyar, earnestly insisting on his part of
the contract, while this mysterious son-in-law
professed his faithful respect for all his pro-

"Depend on my word," he added, "you
will never be removed from your father's house,
except to take your seat on the throne of all
the Itussias."

This was the first intimation ever given by
him of his expectations or his rank; and cer-
tain flattering hopes, which had always clung
to the Boyar's fancy, seemed on the verge of
probability. Perhaps this pretended Strelitz
was the Czar himself, whose fondness for adven-
ture and skill in political intrigue, had induced
him to assume the garb and stamp of the con-
federacy he meant to baffle. Feodorowna was
not without ambition, and the diamond brace-
let which her new husband placed on her wrist
was worthy to bind an empress's hand. Every
month, on the second day of the new moon, he
appeared at her father's supper table, and de-
parted before daylight; but by what means he
gained ingress and egress was not to be dis-
covered. The servants of the Boyar professed
entire ignorance, nor did he venture to pro-
secute his inquiries very strictly. But his
daughter's curiosity was more acute; and not-
withstanding the solemn oath imposed on her
to forbear from questions, and to respect the
mask which covered his face, she resolved on
trying the effect of female blandishment. Gra-
dually, and by very cautious advances, she
tempted the Strelitz to exceed his studied tern-



perance at a supper prepared with unusual
care. Her music and her smiles were not
wholly without effect, and he suddenly said,

" Do you know, Feodore, I had never seen
or desired to see you, if Biron had not talked
of your beauty with such passionate fondness
among my guards. He piqued my fancy, for
he seemed to act the part of the English Athel-
wold to the island-king Edgar, and his fate
was not far unlike."

At this allusion to her first husband's affec-
tion and tragic end, Feodorowna shrunk in
horror, scarcely suppressed by the secret hope
this speech justified. He spoke of his guards,
and compared himself to a sovereign prince.
The inference was natural, and the pride of
her heart increased the beauty of her coun-
tenance. He filled another cup of cognac to
the brim, and holding it to her lips, bade her
wish health to the Emperor of Russia at the
same hour next night. There was a cold and
stony dampness in his hand, which did not
agree with the purple light in his eyes. He
quitted her instantly, for the first cock had
crown and day was breaking; but she resolved
that day should end her uncertainty.

Dull in intellect and selfish in heart, her
father had little claim to her confidence ; but
his life, perhaps her sovereign's, might be in-
volved in the desperate plots of the Strelitz
faction. She covered herself in a common
woollen garment and a peasant's hood, deter-
mining to seek the emperor in Moscow, and
beg a pardon for her husband arid her father
as the price of her discovery. Thus resolved,
and not without hope of a still higher price,
she left her chamber unseen and visited the
hut of his Tartar servant. She asked him
whether he dared depart from her father's
house and accompany her to Moscow on foot.
The old man answered by filling a wallet with
provisions; and digging up a square stone
which lay under his pillow, took three rubles
and the emerald ring from beneath it, and put
them into his mistress's hand.

" This is all you have in the world, Usbeck!"
said the young countess, "and I may never
repay you. "

"No, not all," he answered; "I have still
the axe which split the trees for you when you
ate the wild bees' honey." There" needed no
farther assurance of his faith to the child of
his master.

The travellers entered Moscow before noon,
but the emperor was absent from his palace.
"What is your business with him?" asked a
man of meagre and muscular figure, who stood
in a plain mechanic's dress near one of the

Feodorowna answered that she had a
petition of great importance to present to him.
The stranger perused her countenance, and
advised her to wait till the captain of the
guards appeared.

"That would avail nothing," said she; "I
must see him and deliver this paper into his
own hands. "

"Why not into mine?" returned the ques-
tioner, rudely snatching the paper and thrust-
ing himself behind the gates: but riot so rapidly
as to escape a blow levelled at his head by

" Keep that blow in mind, my good friend,"
said the thief, laughing, ''I shall not forget
my part of the debt." And slily twitching
the long lock which hung behind Usbeck's ear
in the Black Cossack's fashion, he disappeared.

Feodorowna stood resolutely at the gateway
of the palace, still expecting to see the empe-
ror, and determining to communicate all that
had happened to herself, her first husband,
and her father. Presently the artizan returned
again, and laying his hand familiarly on her
arm, whispered:

" The emperor is in the guard-house, follow
me !"

There was an expression, an ardent and full
authority in his eye which instantly announced
his rank. She was going to kneel, but he
prevented her. "Be of good cheer, Feodo-
rowna! your husband is greater and less than
he appears. Return home and drink the
Emperor of Russia's health to-night, as he

Usbeck stood listening anxiously near his
mistress; and when she turned to him with a
smiling countenance, beckoned her to follow
him. But it was too late: a guard of twelve
men had drawn up behind, and now surrounded
them. They were forcibly separated, and each
conveyed to prison, where sentinels, regularly
changed, attended till about the eleventh hour
of the next day, when two persons in the habit
of Russian senators entered and conducted
Feodorowna to another room in the fortress.
This room was filled with senators ; and a
i bishop, whose face she recognized, stood near
a couch on which a young man sat with silver
fetters on his hands. His dress was slovenly
and squalid, but his person tall and well made;
his complexion healthfully brown, and his eves
! and hair of a brilliant black. Another man,
1 whose form and countenance were entirely
muffled, stood behind the group, but suffi-
ciently near to direct and observe them.

Count Tolstoi, the chief senator, obeyed a
glance from his eye; and addressing himself


to the manacled prisoner, said, in a low and
respectful voice, "Does your highness know
this woman?" He answered in German, and
the muffled man gave a signal to the bishop,
who approached the couch, and joining the
hands of Feodorowna to the prisoner, declared
their marriage lawful from that hour, but from
that only.

Though the face of her husband had been
concealed from her during their mysterious
intercourse, Feodorowna knew the strong, stern
voice, the dark hair and eyes, and the perfect
symmetry of this unknown prisoner; and her
heart smote itself when the letter she had
written to the emperor was read aloud to him.
He made no reply, and the witnesses of this
strange ceremony laid before him another
paper, stating, that finding himself unqualified
for government, he disclaimed all right of suc-
cession to the crown, acknowledging his brother
Peter its lawful heir. He signed it with the
same unbending countenance: and thestanders-
by having each repeated an oath of allegiance
to the chosen successor, departed one by one,
solemnly bowing their heads to the bishop and
the muffled man who stood at his right hand.
They, with Feodorowna, were then left alone
in the room, until a signal-bell had sounded
twice. A man whom she knew to be Field-
Marshal Wreyde entered as it tolled the last
time, bearing a silver cup and cover. His
countenance was frightfully pale, and he stag-
gered like one convulsed or intoxicated. The
prisoner fixed his eyes sternly on Feodorowna,
and bowing his head to the muffled stranger,
took it with an unshaking hand and emptied
it to the last drop. AVhile he held it to his
lips, the bishop opened a long official paper,
but the prisoner interrupted him

" I have already heard my sentence of death,
and know this is its execution."

Even as he spoke, the change in his com-
plexion began, and Feodorowna, uttering dis-
mal screams, was forced from his presence.
Five days after she was carried in a covered
litter to the church of the Holy Trinity, where
a coffin lay in state under a pall of rich gold
tissue. . Her conductor withdrew into the dark-
ness of the outer aisle, leaving her to contem-
plate the terrible conclusion of her father's
ambitious dreams, and the last scene of human
greatness. But she was yet uncertain how
far the guilt of the detected faction had ex-
tended, and whether he who lay under the
splendid pall, and had once called himself her
husband, was the treacherous governor of
Siberia, Prince Gngarin, or a still more illus-
trious criminal. There was no name upon the

velvet covering of the coffin, no banner, no
armorial bearing; and the attendant, seeing
the silent and stony stupor of the miserable
widow, conducted her compassionately back to
the covered litter. It conveyed her to a con-'
vent, where, a few hours after her arrival, a
white veil was presented to her, with this man-
date, bearing the imperial signet of Peter the

" The widow of Alexis, Czarowitz of Russia,
could enter no asylum less than the most
sacred and distinguished convent of the empire.
It is not her crime that he instigated foreign
sovereigns and Russian renegades to assassinate
his father, depose his mother-in-law, and expel
his kindred. Neither is it her crime that her
father was the dupe of a faction, whose only
purpose was to elevate a man fond of the vices
of the lowest herd, and therefore fit to be their
leader. Nor can a woman, bold enough to
risk the life of her husband, blame a father,
whose justice required him to sacrifice his son.
He spared him the shame of a public execution,
and gave him a title to the tears of a lawful

Thus perished Alexis, heir apparent of the
widest empire and the most celebrated sovereign
then existing in Europe. The decree that con-
signed him to death was passed in the senate-
house of Moscow by all the chief nobility and
clergy, the high officers of the army and navy,
the governors of provinces, and others of inferior
degree, unanimously ; but referring the mode
to his sovereign and father, whose extraordinary
character, combining the sternness of a Junius
Brutus with the romance of a Haroun Alras-
chid, enabled him to fulfil the terrible office of
his son's judge. But even Peter the Great had
not hardihood enough to be a public execu-
tioner; and his unhappy son, though his sen-
tence might have been justified by the base-
ness of his habits and associates, was never
openly abandoned by his father. His death
was ascribed to apoplexy, caused by shame and
fear, at the reading of his sentence; and the
Czar, with his Czarina Catherine, attended the
funeral. Feodorowna died in the convent of
Susdale, of which the former Czarina, mother
of the Czarowitz, was abbess when he perished;
and Usbeck, her faithful servant, easily escaped
from the prison of the emperor, who did not
forget his blow. Once on his way from Moscow
to Novogorod. attended only by four servants,
Peter was stopped by a party of Rashbonicks,
and leaping from his sledge, with a pistol
cocked, demanded to know what they desired.
One of the troop replied, he was their lord and
master, and ought to supply the wants of his



(bstitute subjects. The emperor knew Usbeck's
voice, and giving him an order for a thousand
rubles on the governor of Novogorod, bade him
go, and remember how Peter of Kussia paid his
debts, either of honour or of justice.


[Gerald Massey, boru at Tring, Hertfordshire, 29th
May, 18'28. Poet, critic, and lecturer. His most im-
portant works are : The Ballad of Babe Ckristabel. with
other hric poems; The War Waits; Ci-aiycrok Castle ;
ami A Tale of JJtenuty, and other poems (Strahau <fc Co).
>'rom the latter volume we quote. The Edinburgh
Review says: ''There is a real glow about all that Mr.
Massey writes." The Athennuiti: "The faculty divine
is there, lu him we have a genuine songster a man
whose ear is sensitive to rhythm ; whose pulse and brain
throb musically ; whose imagination throws out images
in sonorous woids, each full and fitting to the other per-
fectly, so that sound and image seem identical."]

The glad spring-green grows luminous

With coming Summer's golden glow;
Merry Birds sing as they sang to us

In far-off seasons, long ago :
The old place brings the young Dawn back,

That moist eyes mirage in their dew ;
My heart goes forth along the track

Where oft it danced, dear Winnie, with you.
A world of Time, a sea of change,

Have rolled between the paths we tread.
Since you were my " Cousin Winnie." arid I

Was your ''own little, good little Ned."

There's where I nearly broke my neck,

Climbing for nests ! and hid my pain :
And then I thought your heart would break,

To have the Birds put back again.
Yonder, with lordliest tenderness,

I carried you across the Brook ;
So happy in my arms to press

You, triumphing in your timid look :
So lovingly you leaned to mine

Your cheek of sweet and dusky red :
You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Was your " own little, good little Ned."

My Being in your presence bask'd,

And kitten-like for pleasure purr'd;
A higher heaven I never ask'd,

Than watching, wistful as a bird,
To hear that voice so rich and low ;

Or sun me in the rosy rise
Of some sonl-ripening smile, and know

The thrill of opening paradise.
The Boy might look too tenderly,

All lightly 'twas interpreted :
You were my " Con/tin Winnie," and I

Was your "own little, good little. Ned."

Ay me, but I remember how

I felt the heart-break, bitterly,
When the Well-handle smote your brow,

Because the blow fell not on me !
Such holy longing fill'd my life,

I could have died, Dear, for your sake ;
But, never thought of you as Wife ;

A cure to clasp for love's heart-ache.
You enter'd my soul's temple, Dear,

Something to worship, not to wed :
You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Was your "own little, good little Ned."

I saw you, heaven on heaven higher,

Grow into stately womanhood;
Your beauty kindling with the fire

That swims in proud old English blood.
Away from me, a radiant joy !

You snar'd ; fit for a Hero's bride :
While I a Man in soul, a Boy

In stature, shiver'd at your side !
You saw not how the poor wee love

Pined dumbly, and thus doubly pled :
You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Was your "own little, good little Ned."

And then that other voice came in !

There my Life's music suddenly stopp'd,
Silence and darkness fell between

Us, and my Star from heaven dropp'd.
I led Him by the hand to you

He was my Friend whose name you bear :
I had prayed for some great task to do,

To prove my love. I did it, Dear !
He was not jealous of poor me ;

Nor saw my life bleed under his tread:
You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Was your " own little, good little Ned."

I smiled, Dear, at your happiness

So Martyrs smile upon the spears
The smile of your reflected bliss

Flasht from my heart's dark tarn of tears !
In love, that made the suffering sweet,

My blessing with the rest was given
' ' God's softest flowers kiss her feet

On Earth, and crown her head in Heaven."
And lest the heart should leap to tell

Its tale i' the eyes, I bow'd the head :
You were my " Cousin Winnie." and I

Was your '' own little, good little Ned."

I do not blame you. Darling mine ;

You could not know the love that lurkt
To make my life so intertwine

With yours, and with mute mystery workt.
And, had you known, how distantly

Your calm eyes would have lookt it down,



Darkling with all the majesty

Of Midnight weariug her star-crown !

Into its virgin veil of cloud,

The startled dearness would have fled.

You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I
Was your " own little, good little Ned."

I stretch my hand across the years ;

Feel, Dear, the heart still pulses true :
I have often dropp'd internal tears,

Thinking the kindest thoughts of you.
I have fought like one in iron, they said,

Who through the battle follow'd me.
I struck the blows for you, and bled

Within my armour secretly.
Not caring for the cheers, my heart

Far into the golden time had fled :
You were my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Was your " own little, good little Ned."

I sometimes see you in my dreams,

Asking for aid I may not give :
Down from your eyes the sorrow streams,

And helplessly I look and grieve
At arms that toss with wild heartache,

And secrets writhing to be told :
I start to hear your voice, and wake.

There's nothing tint the moaning cold!
Sometimes I pillow in mine arms

The darling little rosy head.
You are my " Cousin Winnie," and I

Am your " own little, good little Ned."

I wear the name of Hero now,

And flowers at my feet are cast;
I feel the crown about my brow

So keen the thorns that hold it fast!
Ay rne, and I would rather wear

The cooling green and luminous glow
Of one you made with Cowslips, Dear,

A many golden Springs ago.
Your gentle fingers did not give

This ache of heart, this throb of head,
When you were my " Counin Winnie,' 1 '' and I

Was your "own little, yood little Ned."

Unwearying, lonely, year by year,

I go on laying up my love,
I think God makes no promise here

But it shall be fulfilled above ;
I think my wild weed of the waste

Will one clay prove a flower most sweet ;
My love shall bear its fruit at last

'Twill all be righted when we meet ;
And I shall find them gather'd up

In pearls for you the tears I've shed
Since you were my " Cousin Winnie" and I

Was your "own little, good little Ned."


You shall know the man I speak of by the
vivacity of his eye, the "morn elastic" tread
of his foot, the lightness of his brow, and the
dawning smile of pleasantry in his countenance.
The muscles of his mouth, unlike those of
Monsieur Melancholy (whose mouth has a
"downward drag austere"), curl upward like
a Spaniard's mustachios. He is a man who
cares for nothing so much as a "mirth-moving
jest;" give him that, and he has "food and
raiment." He will not see what men have to
care for, beyond to-day; and is for To-morrow's
providing for himself. He is also for a new
reading of Jonson's old play of "Everyman
in his Humour;" he would have it "Every
man in Humour." He leaves money and
misery to misers; ambition and blood to war-
riors and highwaymen; fame to court-laureates
and lord-mayors; honours to court-panders and
city knights; the dread of death to such as are
not worthy of life; the dread of heaven to
those who are not good enough even for earth;
the grave to parish-clerks and undertakers;
tombs to proud worms; and palaces to paup-

It is enough for him if he may laugh the
"hours away;" and break a jest where tem-
pers more humorous break a head. He would
not barter with you one wakeful jest for a
hundred sleepy sermons; or one laugh for a
thousand sighs. He says that if he could
allow himself to sigh about anything, it
would be that he had been serious when he
might have laughed; if he could weep for any-
thing, it would be for mankind, because they
will not laugh more and lament less. Yet he
hath tears for the orphan and the unhappy;
but his tears die even where they are born
in his " heart of hearts ;" he makes no show of
them; like April showers, they refresh where
they fall, and turn to smiles, as all tears will
that are not selfish. His grief has a humanity
in it which is not satisfied with tears only; it
teaches him the difference between poverty and
riches, between wealth and want, and moves
his heart to pity and his hand to charity.
He loves no face more than a smiling one; a
needlessly serious one serves him for the kindl-
ing of his wit, as cold flints strike out sparks
of fire.

His humour shows itself to all men and on

i From "The Posthumous Paj>ers. Facetious and
Fanciful, of a Person lately about Town." London.



all occasions. I found him once bowing on
the stairs to a poor alarmed wretch of a rat, who
was cringing up in a corner; he was ottering
him the retreat honourable, with a polite
" After you, sir, if you would oblige me." I
settled the point of etiquette by kicking the
rat down stairs, and received a frown from my
humane friend for my impatient inhumanity.
It must have been my humorous friend, and
not the atrabilarious Bard of Twickenham,
who, coming to a corn-field, pulled off his hat,
and bowing profoundly, requested of his
wheaten audience, that, as he was a poor poet,
they would lend him their ears.

His opinions of men and things have some
spice of singularity in them. He conceives it

Online LibraryUnknownThe library of choice literature : poetry and prose selected from the most admired authors (Volume 4) → online text (page 61 of 75)