3331296Eugene Aram — Book 3, Chapter XIII.Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer



Juliet.— My true love is grown to such excess,
I cannot sum up half my sum of wealth.

Eros.—Oh, a man in arms;
His weapon drawn, too!—The False One.

It was a custom with the two sisters, when they repaired to their chamber for the night, to sit conversing, sometimes even for hours, before they finally retired to bed. This indeed was the usual time for their little confidences, and their mutual dilations over those hopes and plans for the future, which always occupy the larger share of the thoughts and conversation of the young. I do not know any thing in the world more lovely than such conferences between two beings who have no secrets to relate but what arise, all fresh, from the springs of a guiltless heart,—those pure and beautiful mysteries of an unsullied nature which warm us to hear; and we think with a sort of wonder when we feel how arid experience has made ourselves, that so much of the dew and sparkle of existence still linger in the nooks and valleys, which are as yet virgin of the sun and of mankind.

The sisters this night were more than commonly indifferent to sleep. Madeline sate by the small but bright hearth of the chamber, in her night dress, and Ellinor, who was much prouder of her sister's beauty than her own, was employed in knotting up the long and lustrous hair which fell in rich luxuriance over Madeline's throat and shoulders.

"There certainly never was such beautiful hair!" said Ellinor admiringly; "and, let me see,—yes,—on Thursday fortnight I may be dressing it, perhaps, for the last time—heigho!"

"Don't flatter yourself that you are so near the end of your troublesome duties," said Madeline, with her pretty smile, which had been much brighter and more frequent of late than it was formerly wont to be, so that Lester had remarked "That Madeline really appeared to have become the lighter and gayer of the two."

"You will often come to stay with us for weeks together, at least till—till you have a double right to be mistress here. Ah! my poor hair,—you need not pull it so hard."

"Be quiet, then," said Ellinor, half laughing, and wholly blushing.

"Trust me, I have not been in love myself without learning its signs; and I venture to prophesy that within six months you will come to consult me whether or not,—for there is a great deal to be said on both sides of the question,—you can make up your mind to sacrifice your own wishes, and marry Walter Lester. Ah!—gently, gently. Nell—"

"Promise to be quiet."

"I will—I will; but you began it."

As Ellinor now finished her task, and kissed her sister's forehead, she sighed deeply.

"Happy Walter!" said Madeline.

"I was not sighing for Walter, but for you."

"For me?—impossible! I cannot imagine any part of my future life that can cost you a sigh. Ah! that I were more worthy of my happiness."

"Well, then," said Ellinor, "I sighed for myself;—I sighed to think we should so soon be parted, and that the continuance of your society would then depend not on our mutual love, but the will of another."

"What, Ellinor, and can you suppose that Eugene,—my Eugene,—would not welcome you as warmly as myself? Ah! you misjudge him; I know you have not yet perceived how tender a heart lies beneath all that melancholy and reserve."

"I feel, indeed," said Ellinor warmly, "as if it were impossible that one whom you love should not be all that is good and noble; yet if this reserve of his should increase, as is at least possible, with increasing years; if our society should become again, as it once was, distasteful to him, should I not lose you, Madeline?"

"But his reserve cannot increase: do you not perceive how much it is softened already? Ah! be assured that I will charm it away."

"But what is the cause of the melancholy that even now, at times, evidently preys upon him?—has he never revealed it to you?"

"It is merely the early and long habit of solitude and study, Ellinor," replied Madeline; "and shall I own to you I would scarcely wish that away; his tenderness itself seems linked with his melancholy. It is like a sad but gentle music, that brings tears into our eyes, but which we would not change for gayer airs for the world."

"Well, I must own," said Ellinor, reluctantly, "that I no longer wonder at your infatuation; I can no longer chide you as I once did; there is, assuredly, something in his voice, his look, which irresistibly sinks into the heart. And there are moments when, what with his eyes and forehead, his countenance seems more beautiful, more impressive, than any I ever beheld. Perhaps, too, for you, it is better, that your lover should be no longer in the first flush of youth. Your nature seems to require something to venerate, as well as to love. And I have ever observed at prayers, that you seem more especially rapt and carried beyond yourself, in those passages which call peculiarly for worship and adoration."

"Yes, dearest," said Madeline fervently, "I own that Eugene is of all beings, not only of all whom I ever knew, but of whom I ever dreamed, or imagined, the one that I am most fitted to love and to appreciate. His wisdom, but more than that, the lofty tenor of his mind, calls forth all that is highest and best in my own nature. I feel exalted when I listen to him;—and yet, how gentle, with all that nobleness! And to think that he should descend to love me, and so to love me. It is as if a star were to leave its sphere!"

"Hark! one o'clock," said Ellinor, as the deep voice of the clock told the first hour of morning. "Heavens! how much louder the winds rave. And how the heavy sleet drives against the window! Our poor watch without! but you may be sure my uncle was right, and they are safe at home by this time; nor is it likely, I should think, that even robbers would be abroad in such weather!"

"I have heard," said Madeline, "that robbers generally choose these dark, stormy nights for their designs, but I confess I don't feel much alarm, and he is in the house. Draw nearer to the fire, Ellinor; is it not pleasant to see how serenely it burns, while the storm howls without! it is like my Eugene's soul, luminous, and lone, amidst the roar and darkness of this unquiet world!"

"There spoke himself," said Ellinor smiling to perceive how invariably women, who love, imitate the tone of the beloved one. And Madeline felt it, and smiled too.

"Hist!" said Ellinor abruptly, "did you not hear a low, grating noise below? Ah! the winds now prevent your catching the sound; but hush, hush!—now the wind pauses,—there it is again!"

"Yes, I hear it," said Madeline, turning pale, "it seems in the little parlour; a continued, harsh, but very low, noise. Good heavens! it seems at the window below."

"It is like a file," whispered Ellinor: "perhaps——"

"You are right," said Madeline, suddenly rising, "it is a file, and at the bars my father had fixed against the window yesterday. Let us go down, and alarm the house."

"No, no; for God's sake, don't be so rash," cried Ellinor, losing all presence of mind: "hark! the sound ceases, there is a louder noise below,—and steps. Let us lock the door."

But Madeline was of that fine and high order of spirit which rises in proportion to danger, and calming her sister as well as she could, till she found her attempts wholly ineffectual, she seized the light with a steady hand, opened the door, and Ellinor still clinging to her, passed the landing-place, and hastened to her father's room; he slept at the opposite corner of the staircase. Aram's chamber was at the extreme end of the house. Before she reached the door of Lester's apartment, the noise below grew loud and distinct—a scuffle—voices—curses—and now—the sound of a pistol!—in a moment more the whole house was stirring. Lester in his night robe, his broadsword in his hand, and his long grey hair floating behind, was the first to appear; the servants, old and young, male and female, now came thronging simultaneously round; and in a general body, Lester several paces at their head, his daughters following next to him, they rushed to the apartment whence the noise, now suddenly stilled, had proceeded.

The window was opened, evidently by force; an instrument like a wedge was fixed in the bureau containing Lester's money, and seemed to have been left there, as if the person using it had been disturbed before the design for which it was introduced had been accomplished, and, (the only evidence of life,) Aram stood, dressed, in the centre of the room, a pistol in his left hand, a sword in his right; a bludgeon severed in two lay at his feet, and on the floor within two yards of him, towards the window, drops of blood yet warm, showed that the pistol had not been discharged in vain.

"And is it you, my brave friend, that I have to thank for our safety?" cried Lester in great emotion.

"You, Eugene!" repeated Madeline, sinking on his breast.

"But thanks hereafter," continued Lester; "let us now to the pursuit,—perhaps the villain may have perished beneath your bullet?"

"Ha!" muttered Aram, who had hitherto seemed unconscious of all around him; so fixed had been his eye, so colourless his cheek, so motionless his posture. "Ha! say you so?—think you I have slain him?—no, it cannot be—the ball did not slay, I saw him stagger; but he rallied—not so one who receives a mortal wound!—ha! ha!—there is blood, you say, that is true; but what then!—it is not the first wound that kills, you must strike again—pooh, pooh, what is a little blood!"

While he was thus muttering, Lester and the more active of the servants had already sallied through the window, but the night was so intensely dark that they could not penetrate a step beyond them. Lester returned, therefore, in a few moments; and met Aram's dark eye fixed upon him with an unutterable expression of anxiety.

"You have found no one," said he, "no dying man?—Ha!—well—well—well! they must both have escaped; the night must favour them."

"Do you fancy the villain was severely wounded?"

"Not so—I trust not so; he seemed able to——But stop—oh God!—stop!—your foot is dabbling in blood—blood shed by me,—off! off!"

Lester moved aside with a quick abhorrence, as he saw that his feet were indeed smearing the blood over the polished and slippery surface of the oak boards, and in moving he stumbled against a dark lantern in which the light still burnt, and which the robbers in their flight had left.

"Yes," said Aram observing it. "It was by that—their own light that I saw them—saw their faces—and—and—(bursting into a loud, wild laugh) they were both strangers!"

"Ah, I thought so, I knew so," said Lester plucking the instrument from the bureau. "I knew they could be no Grassdale men. What, did you fancy, they could be? But—bless me, Madeline—what ho! help!—Aram, she has fainted at your feet."

And it was indeed true and remarkable, that so utter had been the absorption of Aram's mind, that he had been insensible not only to the entrance of Madeline, but even that she had thrown herself on his breast. And she, overcome by her feelings, had slid to the ground from that momentary resting-place, in a swoon which Lester, in the general tumult and confusion, was now the first to perceive.

At this exclamation, at the sound of Madeline's name, the blood rushed back from Aram's heart, where it had gathered, icy and curdling; and, awakened thoroughly and at once to himself, he knelt down, and weaving his arms around her, supported her head on his breast, and called upon her with the most passionate and moving exclamations.

But when the faint bloom retinged her cheek, and her lips stirred, he printed a long kiss on that cheek—on those lips, and surrendered his post to Ellinor; who, blushingly gathering the robe over the beautiful breast from which it had been slightly drawn; now entreated all, save the women of the house, to withdraw till her sister was restored.

Lester, eager to hear what his guest could relate, therefore took Aram to his own apartment, where the particulars were briefly told.

Suspecting, which indeed was the chief reason that excused him to himself in yielding to Madeline's request, that the men Lester and himself had encountered in their evening walk, might be other than they seemed, and that they might have well overheard Lester's communication, as to the sum in his house, and the place where it was stored; he had not undressed himself, but kept the door of his room open to listen if any thing stirred. The keen sense of hearing, which we have before remarked him to possess, enabled him to catch the sound of the file at the bars, even before Ellinor, notwithstanding the distance of his own chamber from the place, and seizing the sword which had been left in his room, (the pistol was his own) he had descended to the room below.

"What!" said Lester, "and without a light?"

"The darkness is familiar to me," said Aram. "I could walk by the edge of a precipice in the darkest night without one false step, if I had but once passed it before. I did not gain the room, however, till the window had been forced; and by the light of a dark lantern which one of them held, I perceived two men standing by the bureau—the rest you can imagine; my victory was easy, for the bludgeon, with which one of them aimed at me, gave way at once to the edge of your good sword, and my pistol delivered me of the other.—There ends the history."

Lester overwhelmed him with thanks and praises, but Aram, glad to escape them, hurried away to see after Madeline, whom he now met on the landing-place, leaning on Ellinor's arm and still pale.

She gave him her hand, which he for one moment pressed passionately to his lips, but dropped, the next, with an altered and chilled air. And hastily observing he would not now detain her from a rest which she must so much require, he turned away and descended the stairs. Some of the servants were grouped around the place of encounter; he entered the room, and again started at the sight of the blood.

"Bring water," said he fiercely: "will you let the stagnant gore ooze and rot into the boards, to startle the eye, and still the heart with its filthy, and unutterable stain—water, I say! water!"

They hurried to obey him, and Lester coming into the room to see the window reclosed by the help of boards &c., found the Student bending over the servants as they performed their reluctant task, and rating them with a raised and harsh voice for the hastiness with which he accused them of seeking to slur it over.