3329195Eugene Aram — Book 3, Chapter XI.Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer



"Not my own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love controul."

"Commend me to their love, and I am proud, say,
That my occasions have found time to use them
Toward a supply of money; let the request
Be fifty talents. Timon of Athens.

The next morning the whole village was alive and bustling with terror and consternation. Another, and a yet more daring robbery, had been committed in the neighbourhood, and the police of the county town had been summoned, and were now busy in search of the offenders. Aram had been early disturbed by the officious anxiety of some of his neighbours; and it wanted yet some hours of noon, when Lester himself came to seek and consult with the Student.

Aram was alone in his large and gloomy chamber, surrounded, as usual, by his books, but not as usual engaged in their contents. With his face leaning on his hand, and his eyes gazing on a dull fire, that crept heavily upward through the damp fuel, he sate by his hearth, listless, but wrapt in thought.

"Well, my friend," said Lester, displacing the books from one of the chairs, and drawing the seat near the Student's—"you have ere this heard the news, and indeed in a county so quiet as ours, these outrages appear the more fearful, from their being so unlooked for. We must set a guard in the village, Aram, and you must leave this defenceless hermitage and come down to us; not for your own sake,—but consider you will be an additional safeguard to Madeline. You will lock up the house, dismiss your poor old governante to her friends in the village, and walk back with me at once to the hall."

Aram turned uneasily in his chair.

"I feel your kindness," said he after a pause, "but I cannot accept it—Madeline," he stopped short at that name, and added in an altered voice; "no, I will be one of the watch, Lester; I will look to her—to your—safety; but I cannot sleep under another roof. I am superstitious, Lester—superstitious. I have made a vow, a foolish one perhaps, but I dare not break it. And my vow binds me, save on indispensable and urgent necessity, not to pass a night any where but in my own home."

"But there is necessity."

"My conscience says not," said Aram smiling: "peace, my good friend, we cannot conquer men's foibles, or wrestle with men's scruples."

Lester in vain attempted to shake Aram's resolution on this head; he found him immoveable, and gave up the effort in despair.

"Well," said he, "at all events we have set up a watch, and can spare you a couple of defenders. They shall reconnoitre in the neighbourhood of your house, if you persevere in your determination, and this will serve in some slight measure to satisfy poor Madeline."

"Be it so," replied Aram; "and dear Madeline herself, is she so alarmed?"

And now in spite of all the more wearing and haggard thoughts that preyed upon his breast, and the dangers by which he conceived himself beset, the Student's face, as he listened with eager attention to every word that Lester uttered concerning his niece, testified how alive he yet was to the least incident that related to Madeline, and how easily her innocent and peaceful remembrance could allure him from himself.

"This room," said Lester, looking round, "will be, I conclude, after Madeline's own heart; but will you always suffer her here? students do not sometimes like even the gentlest interruption."

"I have not forgotten that Madeline's comfort requires some more cheerful retreat than this," said Aram, with a melancholy expression of countenance. "Follow me, Lester; I meant this for a little surprise to her. But Heaven only knows if I shall ever show it to herself?"

"Why? what doubt of that can even your boding temper discover?"

"We are as the wanderers in the desert," answered Aram, "who are taught wisely to distrust their own senses: that which they gaze upon as the waters of existence, is often but a faithless vapour that would lure them to destruction."

In thus speaking he had traversed the room, and, opening a door, showed a small chamber with which it communicated, and which Aram had fitted up with evident, and not ungraceful care. Every article of furniture that Madeline might most fancy, he had sent for from the neighbouring town. And some of the lighter and more attractive books that he possessed, were ranged around on shelves, above which were vases, intended for flowers; the window opened upon a little plot that had been lately broken up into a small garden, and was already intersected with walks, and rich with shrubs.

There was something in this chamber that so entirely contrasted the one it adjoined, something so light, and cheerful, and even gay in its decoration and its tout ensemble, that Lester uttered an exclamation of delight and surprise. And indeed it did appear to him touching, that this austere scholar, so wrapt in thought, and so inattentive to the common forms of life, should have manifested this tender and delicate consideration. In another it would have been nothing, but in Aram, it was a trait, that brought involuntary tears to the eyes of the good Lester. Aram observed them: he walked hastily away to the window, and sighed heavily; this did not escape his friend's notice, and after commenting on the attractions of the little room—Lester said:

"You seem oppressed in spirits, Eugene: can any thing have chanced to disturb you, beyond, at least, these alarms which are enough to agitate the nerves of the hardiest of us?"

"No," said Aram; "I had no sleep last night, and my health is easily affected, and with my health my mind; but let us go to Madeline; the sight of her will revive me."

They then strolled down to the Manor-house, and met by the way a band of the younger heroes of the village, who had volunteered to act as a patrole, and who were now marshalled by Peter Dealtry, in a fit of heroic enthusiasm.

Although it was broad daylight, and, consequently, there was little cause of immediate alarm, the worthy publican carried on his shoulder a musket on full cock; and each moment he kept peeping about, as if not only every bush, but every blade of grass contained an ambuscade, ready to spring up the instant he was off his guard. By his side the redoubted Jacobina, who had transferred to her new master, the attachment she had originally possessed for the Corporal, trotted peeringly along, her tail perpendicularly cocked, and her ears moving to and fro, with a most incomparable air of vigilant sagacity. The cautious Peter every now and then checked her ardour, as she was about to quicken her step, and enliven the march by the gambols better adapted to serener times.

"Soho, Jacobina, soho! gently, girl, gently; thou little knowest the dangers that may beset thee. Come up, my good fellows, come to the Spotted Dog; I will tap a barrel on purpose for you; and we will settle the plan of defence for the night. Jacobina, come in, I say, come in,

'Lest, like a lion, they thee tear,
And rend in pieces small;
While there is none to succour thee,
And rid thee out of thrall.'

What ho, there! Oh! I beg your honour's pardon! Your servant, Mr. Aram."

"What, patroling already?" said the squire; "your men will be tired before they are wanted; reserve their ardour for the night."

"Oh, your Honour, I have only been beating up for recruits; and we are going to consult a bit at home. Ah! what a pity the Corporal isn't here: he would have been a tower of strength unto the righteous. But howsomever, I do my best to supply his place—Jacobina, child, be still: I can't say as I knows the musket-sarvice, your honour; but I fancy's as how, like Joe Roarjug, the Methodist, we can do it extemporaneous-like at a pinch."

"A bold heart, Peter, is the best preparation," said the squire.

"And," quoth Peter quickly, "what saith the worshipful Mister Sternhold, in the 45th psalm, 5th verse,

'Go forth with godly speed, in meekness, truth, and might,
And thy right hand shall thee instruct in works of dreadful might.'"

Peter quoted these verses, especially the last, with a truculent frown, and a brandishing of the musket, that surprisingly encouraged the hearts of his little armament; and with a general murmur of enthusiasm, the warlike band marched off to The Spotted Dog.

Lester and his companion found Madeline and Ellinor standing at the window of the hall; and Madeline's light step was the first that sprang forward to welcome their return: even the face of the Student brightened, when he saw the kindling eye, the parted lip, the buoyant form, from which the pure and innocent gladness she felt on seeing him broke forth.

There was a remarkable trustingness, if I may so speak, in Madeline's disposition. Thoughtful and grave as she was, by nature, she was yet ever inclined to the more sanguine colourings of life; she never turned to the future with fear—a placid sentiment of Hope slept at her heart—she was one who surrendered herself with a fond and implicit faith to the guidance of all she loved; and to the chances of life. It was a sweet indolence of the mind, which made one of her most beautiful traits of character; there is something so unselfish in tempers reluctant to despond. You see that such persons are not occupied with their own existence; they are not fretting the calm of the present life, with the egotisms of care, and conjecture, and calculation: if they learn anxiety, it is for another; but in the heart of that other, how entire is their trust!

It was this disposition in Madeline which perpetually charmed, and yet perpetually wrung, the soul of her wild lover; and as she now delightedly hung upon his arm, uttering her joy at seeing him safe, and presently forgetting that there ever had been cause for alarm, his heart was filled with the most gloomy sense of horror and desolation. "What," thought he, "if this poor, unconscious girl could dream that at this moment I am girded with peril, from which I see no ultimate escape? Delay it as I will, it seems as if the blow must come at last. What, if she could think how fearful is my interest in these outrages, that in all probability, if their authors are detected, there is one who will drag me into their ruin; that I am given over, bound and blinded, into the hands of another; and that other, a man steeled to mercy, and withheld from my destruction by a thread—a thread that a blow on himself would snap. Great God! wherever I turn, I see despair! And she—she clings to me; and beholding me, thinks the whole earth is filled with hope!"

While these thoughts darkened his mind, Madeline drew him onward into the more sequestered walks of the garden, to show him some flowers she had transplanted. And when an hour afterwards he returned to the hall, so soothing had been the influence of her looks and words upon Aram, that if he had not forgotten the situation in which he stood, he had at least calmed himself to regard with a steady eye the chances of escape.

The meal of the day passed as cheerfully as usual, and when Aram and his host were left over their abstemious potations, the former proposed a walk before the evening deepened. Lester readily consented, and they sauntered into the fields. The Squire soon perceived that something was on Aram's mind, of which he felt evident embarrassment in ridding himself: at length the Student said rather abruptly:

"My dear friend, I am but a bad beggar, and therefore let me get over my request as expeditiously as possible. You said to me once that you intended bestowing some dowry upon Madeline; a dowry I would and could willingly dispense with; but should you of that sum be now able to spare me some portion as a loan,—should you have some three hundred pounds with which you could accommodate me.—"

"Say no more, Eugene, say no more," interrupted the Squire,—"you can have double that amount. Your preparations for your approaching marriage, I ought to have foreseen, must have occasioned you some inconvenience; you can have six hundred pounds from me to-morrow."

Aram's eyes brightened. "It is too much, too much, my generous friend," said he; "the half suffices—but, but, a debt of old standing presses me urgently, and to-morrow, or rather Monday morning, is the time fixed for payment."

"Consider it arranged," said Lester, putting his hand on Aram's arm, and then leaning on it gently, he added, "And now that we are on this subject, let me tell you what I intended as a gift to you, and my dear Madeline; it is but small, but my estates are rigidly entailed on Walter, and of poor value in themselves, and it is half the savings of many years."

The Squire then named a sum, which, however small it may seem to our reader, was not considered a despicable portion for the daughter of a small country squire at that day, and was in reality, a generous sacrifice for one whose whole income was scarcely, at the most, seven hundred a year. The sum mentioned doubled that now to be lent, and which was of course a part of it; an equal portion was reserved for Ellinor.

"And to tell you the truth," said the Squire, "you must give me some little time for the remainder—for not thinking some months ago it would be so soon wanted, I laid out eighteen hundred pounds, in the purchase of Winclose Farm, six of which, (the remainder of your share,) I can pay off at the end of the year; the other twelve, Ellinor's portion, will remain a mortgage on the farm itself. And between us," added the Squire, "I do hope that I need be in no hurry respecting her, dear girl. When Walter returns, I trust matters may be arranged, in a manner, and through a channel, that would gratify the most cherished wish of my heart. I am convinced that Ellinor is exactly suited to him; and, unless he should lose his senses for some one else in the course of his travels, I trust that he will not be long returned before he will make the same discovery. I think of writing to him very shortly after your marriage, and making him promise, at all events, to revisit us at Christmas. Ah! Eugene, we shall be a happy party, then, I trust. And be assured, that we shall beat up your quarters, and put your hospitality, and Madeline's housewifery to the test."

Therewith the good Squire ran on for some minutes in the warmth of his heart, dilating on the fireside prospects before them, and rallying the Student on those secluded habits, which he promised him he should no longer indulge with impunity.

"But it is growing dark," said he, awakening from the theme which had carried him away, "and by this time Peter and our patrole will be at the hall. I told them to look up in the evening, in order to appoint their several duties and stations—let us turn back. Indeed, Aram, I can assure you, that I, for my own part, have some strong reasons to take precautions against any attack; for besides the old family plate, (though that's not much,) I have,—you know the bureau in the parlour to the left of the hall—well, I have in that bureau three hundred guineas, which I have not as yet been able to take to safe hands at ——, and which, by the way, will be your's to-morrow. So, you see, it would be no light misfortune to me to be robbed."

"Hist!" said Aram, stopping short, "I think I heard steps on the other side of the hedge."

The Squire listened, but heard nothing; the senses of his companion were, however, remarkably acute, more especially that of hearing.

"There is certainly some one; nay, I catch the steps of two persons," whispered he to Lester. "Let us come round the hedge by the gap below."

They both quickened their pace, and gaining the other side of the hedge, did indeed perceive two men in carters' frocks, strolling on towards the village.

"They are strangers too," said the Squire suspiciously, "not Grassdale men. Humph! could they have overheard us, think you?"

"If men whose business it is to overhear their neighbours—yes; but not if they be honest men," answered Aram, in one of those shrewd remarks which he often uttered, and which seemed almost incompatible with the tenor of the quiet and abstruse pursuits that he had adopted, and that generally deaden the mind to worldly wisdom.

They had now approached the strangers, who, however, appeared mere rustic clowns, and who pulled off their hats with the wonted obeisance of their tribe.

"Hollo, my men," said the Squire, assuming his magisterial air, for the mildest Squire in Christendom can play the Bashaw, when he remembers he is a Justice of the Peace. "Hollo! what are you doing here this time of day? you are not after any good, I fear."

"We ax pardon, your honour," said the elder clown, in the peculiar accent of the country, "but we be come from Gladsmuir; and be going to work at Squire Nixon's at Mow-hall, on Monday; so as I has a brother living on the green afore the Squire's, we be a-going to sleep there to-night and spend the Sunday, your honour."

"Humph! humph! What's your name?"

"Joe Wood, your honour, and this here chap is, Will Hutchings."

"Well, well, go along with you," said the Squire: "And mind what you are about. I should not be surprised if you snare one of Squire Nixon's hares by the way."

"Oh, well and indeed, your honour."—

"Go along, go along," said the Squire, and away went the men.

"They seem honest bumpkins enough," observed Lester.

"It would have pleased me better," said Aram, "had the speaker of the two particularized less; and you observed that he seemed eager not to let his companion speak; that is a little suspicious."

"Shall I call them back?" asked the Squire.

"Why it is scarcely worth while," said Aram; "perhaps I over refine. And now I look again at them, they seem really what they affect to be. No, it is useless to molest the poor wretches any more. There is something, Lester, humbling to human pride in a rustic's life. It grates against the heart to think of the tone in which we unconsciously permit ourselves to address him. We see in him humanity in its simple state; it is a sad thought to feel that we despise it; that all we respect in our species is what has been created by art; the gaudy dress, the glittering equipage, or even the cultivated intellect; the mere and naked material of Nature, we eye with indifference or trample on with disdain. Poor child of toil, from the grey dawn to the setting sun, one long task!—no idea elicited—no thought awakened beyond those that suffice to make him the machine of others—the serf of the hard soil! And then too, mark how we scowl upon his scanty holidays, how we hedge in his mirth with laws, and turn his hilarity into crime! We make the whole of the gay world, wherein we walk and take our pleasure, to him a place of snares and perils. If he leave his labour for an instant, in that instant how many temptations spring up to him! And yet we have no mercy for his errors; the gaol—the transport-ship—the gallows; those are our sole lecture-books, and our only methods of expostulation—ah, fie on the disparities of the world! They cripple the heart, they blind the sense, they concentrate the thousand links between man and man, into the two basest of earthly ties—servility, and pride. Methinks the devils laugh out when they hear us tell the boor that his soul is as glorious and eternal as our own; and yet when in the grinding drudgery of his life, not a spark of that soul can be called forth; when it sleeps, walled around in its lumpish clay, from the cradle to the grave, without a dream to stir the deadness of its torpor."

"And yet, Aram," said Lester, "the Lords of science have their ills. Exalt the soul as you will, you cannot raise it above pain. Better, perhaps, to let it sleep, when in waking it looks only upon a world of trial."

"You say well, you say well," said Aram smiting his heart, "and I suffered a foolish sentiment to carry me beyond the sober boundaries of our daily sense."