Eugene Aram/Chapter 31
"Her thoughts as pure as the chaste morning's breath,
When from the Night's cold arms it creeps away.
Were clothed in words."
"——Urticæ proxima sæpe rosa est."—Ovid.
"You positively leave us then to-day, Eugene?" said the Squire.
"Indeed," answered Aram, "I hear from my creditor, (now no longer so, thanks to you,) that my relation is so dangerously ill, that if I have any wish to see her alive, I have not an hour to lose. It is the last surviving relative I have in the world."
"I can say no more, then," rejoined the Squire shrugging his shoulders: "When do you expect to return?"
"At least, ere the day fixed for the wedding," answered Aram, with a grave and melancholy smile.
"Well, can you find time, think you, to call at the lodging in which my nephew proposed to take up his abode,—my old lodging;—I will give you the address,—and inquire if Walter has been heard of there: I confess that I feel considerable alarm on his account. Since that short and hurried letter which I read to you, I have heard nothing of him."
"You may rely on my seeing him if in London, and faithfully reporting to you all that I can learn towards removing your anxiety."
"I do not doubt it; no heart is so kind as yours, Eugene. You will not depart without receiving the additional sum you are entitled to claim from me, since you think it may be useful to you in London, should you find a favourable opportunity of increasing your annuity. And now I will no longer detain you from taking your leave of Madeline."
The plausible story which Aram had invented of the illness and approaching death of his last living relation, was readily believed by the simple family to whom it was told; and Madeline herself checked her tears that she might not, for his sake, sadden a departure that seemed inevitable. Aram accordingly repaired to London that day,—the one that followed the night which witnessed his fearful visit to the "Devil's Crag."
It is precisely at this part of my history that I love to pause for a moment; a sort of breathing interval between the cloud that has been long gathering, and the storm that is about to burst. And this interval is not without its fleeting gleam of quiet and holy sunshine.
It was Madeline's first absence from her lover since their vows had plighted them to each other; and that first absence, when softened by so many hopes as smiled upon her, is perhaps one of the most touching passages in the history of a woman's love. It is marvellous how many things, unheeded before, suddenly become dear. She then feels what a power of consecration there was in the mere presence of the one beloved; the spot he touched, the book he read, have become a part of him—are no longer inanimate—are inspired, and have a being and a voice. And the heart, too, soothed in discovering so many new treasures, and opening so delightful a world of memory, is not yet acquainted with that weariness—that sense of exhaustion and solitude which are the true pains of absence, and belong to the absence not of hope but regret.
"You are cheerful, dear Madeline," said Ellinor, "though you did not think it possible, and he not here!"
"I am occupied," replied Madeline, "in discovering how much I loved him."
We do wrong when we censure a certain exaggeration in the sentiments of those who love. True passion is necessarily heightened by its very ardour to an elevation that seems extravagant only to those who cannot feel it. The lofty language of a hero is a part of his character; without that largeness of idea he had not been a hero. With love, it is the same as with glory: what common minds would call natural in sentiment, merely because it is homely, is not natural, except to tamed affections. That is a very poor, nay, a very coarse, love, in which the imagination makes not the greater part. And the Frenchman, who censured the love of his mistress because it was so mixed with the imagination, quarrelled with the body, for the soul which inspired and preserved it.
Yet we do not say that Madeline was so possessed by the confidence of her love, that she did not admit the intrusion of a single doubt or fear; when she recalled the frequent gloom and moody fitfulness of her lover—his strange and mysterious communings with self—the sorrow which, at times, as on that Sabbath eve when he wept upon her bosom, appeared suddenly to come upon a nature so calm and stately, and without a visible cause; when she recalled all these symptoms of a heart not now at rest, it was not possible for her to reject altogether a certain vague and dreary apprehension. Nor did she herself, although to Ellinor she so affected, ascribe this cloudiness and caprice of mood merely to the result of a solitary and meditative life; she attributed them to the influence of an early grief, perhaps linked with the affections, and did not doubt but that one day or another she should learn its secret. As for remorse—the memory of any former sin—a life so austerely blameless, a disposition so prompt to the activity of good, and so enamoured of its beauty—a mind so cultivated, a temper so gentle, and a heart so easily moved—all would have forbidden, to natures far more suspicious than Madeline's, the conception of such a thought. And so, with a patient gladness, though not without some mixture of anxiety, she suffered herself to glide onward to a future, which, come cloud, come shine, was, she believed at least, to be shared with him.
On looking over the various papers from which I have woven this tale, I find a letter from Madeline to Aram, dated at this time. The characters, traced in the delicate and fair Italian hand coveted at that period, are fading, and, in one part, wholly obliterated by time; but there seems to me so much of what is genuine in the heart's beautiful romance in this effusion, that I will lay it before the reader without adding or altering a word.
"Thank you—thank you, dearest Eugene!—I have received, then, the first letter you ever wrote me. I cannot tell you how strange it seemed to me, and how agitated I felt on seeing it, more so, I think, than if it had been yourself who had returned. However, when the first delight of reading it faded away, I found that it had not made me so happy as it ought to have done—as I thought at first it had done. You seem sad and melancholy; a certain nameless gloom appears to me to hang over your whole letter. It affects my spirits—why I know not—and my tears fall even while I read the assurances of your unaltered, unalterable love—and yet this assurance your Madeline—vain girl!—never for a moment disbelieves. I have often read and often heard of the distrust and jealousy that accompany love; but I think that such a love must be a vulgar and low sentiment. To me there seems a religion in love, and its very foundation is in faith. You say, dearest, that the noise and stir of the great city oppress and weary you even more than you had expected. You say those harsh faces, in which business, and care, and avarice, and ambition write their lineaments, are wholly unfamiliar to you;—you turn aside to avoid them,—you wrap yourself up in your solitary feelings of aversion to those you see, and you call upon those not present—upon your Madeline! and would that your Madeline were with you! It seems to me—perhaps you will smile when I say this—that I alone can understand you—I alone can read your heart and your emotions;—and oh! dearest Eugene, that I could read also enough of your past history to know all that has cast so habitual a shadow over that lofty heart and that calm and profound nature! You smile when I ask you—but sometimes you sigh, —and the sigh pleases and soothes me better than the smile.*****
"We have heard nothing more of Walter, and my father begins at times to be seriously alarmed about him. Your account, too, corroborates that alarm. It is strange that he has not yet visited London, and that you can obtain no clue of him. He is evidently still in search of his lost parent, and following some obscure and uncertain track. Poor Walter! God speed him! The singular fate of his father, and the many conjectures respecting him, have, I believe, preyed on Walter's mind more than he acknowledged. Ellinor found a paper in his closet, where we had occasion to search the other day for something belonging to my father, which was scribbled with all the various fragments of guess or information concerning my uncle, obtained from time to time, and interspersed with some remarks by Walter himself, that affected me strangely. It seems to have been from early childhood the one desire of my cousin to discover his father's fate. Perhaps the discovery may be already made;—perhaps my long—lost uncle may yet be present at our wedding.
"You ask me, Eugene, if I still pursue my botanical researches. Sometimes I do; but the flower now has no fragrance—and the herb no secret, that I care for; and astronomy, which you had just begun to teach me, pleases me more;—the flowers charm me when you are present; but the stars speak to me of you in absence. Perhaps it would not be so, had I loved a being less exalted than you. Every one, even my father, even Ellinor, smile when they observe how incessantly I think of you—how utterly you have become all in all to me. I could not tell this to you, though I write it: is it not strange that letters should be more faithful than the tongue? And even your letter, mournful as it is, seems to me kinder, and dearer, and more full of yourself, than with all the magic of your language, and the silver sweetness of your voice, your spoken words are. I walked by your house yesterday; the windows were closed—there was a strange air of lifelessness and dejection about it. Do you remember the evening in which I first entered that house? Do you—or rather is there one hour in which it is not present to you? For me, I live in the past,—it is the present—(which is without you,) in which I have no life. I passed into the little garden, that with your own hands you have planted for me, and filled with flowers. Ellinor was with me, and she saw my lips move. She asked me what I was saying to myself. I would not tell her—I was praying for you, my kind, my beloved Eugene. I was praying for the happiness of your future years—praying that I might requite your love. Whenever I feel the most, I am the most inclined to prayer. Sorrow, joy, tenderness, all emotion, lift up my heart to God. And what a delicious overflow of the heart is prayer! When I am with you—and I feel that you love me—my happiness would be painful, if there were no God whom I might bless for its excess. Do those, who believe not, love?—have they deep emotions?—can they feel truly—devotedly? Why, when I talk thus to you—do you always answer me with that chilling and mournful smile? You would make religion only the creation of reason—as well might you make love the same—what is either, unless you let it spring also from the feelings?
"When—when—when will you return? I think I love you now more than ever. I think I have more courage to tell you so. So many things I have to say—so many events to relate. For what is not an event to us? the least incident that has happened to either—the very fading of a flower, if you have worn it, is a whole history to me.
"Adieu, God bless you—God reward you—God keep your heart with Him, dearest, dearest Eugene. And may you every day know better and better how utterly you are loved by your
The epistle to which Lester referred as received from Walter, was one written on the day of his escape from Mr. Pertinax Fillgrave, a short note, rather than letter, which ran as follows.
"My dear Uncle,
I have met with an accident which confined me to my bed;—a rencontre, indeed, with the Knights of the Road—nothing serious, (so do not be alarmed!) though the Doctor would fain have made it so. I am just about to recommence my journey, but not towards London; on the contrary, northward.
"I have, partly through the information of your old friend Mr. Courtland, partly by accident, found what I hope may prove a clue to the fate of my father. I am now departing to put this hope to the issue. More I would fain say; but lest the expectation should prove fallacious, I will not dwell on circumstances which would in that case only create in you a disappointment similar to my own. Only this take with you, that my father's proverbial good luck seems to have visited him since your latest news of his fate; a legacy, though not a large one, awaited his return to England from India; but see if I am not growing prolix already—I must break off in order to reserve you the pleasure (may it be so!) of a full surprise!
"God bless you, my dear Uncle! I write in spirits and hope; kindest love to all at home.
"P. S. Tell Ellinor that my bitterest misfortune in the adventure I have referred to, was to be robbed of her purse. Will she knit me another? By the way, I encountered Sir Peter Hales; such an open-hearted, generous fellow as you said! 'thereby hangs a tale.'"
This letter, which provoked all the curiosity of our little circle, made them anxiously look forward to every post for additional explanation, but that explanation came not. And they were forced to console themselves with the evident exhilaration under which Walter wrote, and the probable supposition that he delayed farther information until it could be ample and satisfactory.—"Knights of the Road," quoth Lester one day, "I wonder if they were any of the gang that have just visited us. Well, but poor boy! he does not say whether he has any money left; yet if he were short of the gold, he would be very unlike his father, (or his uncle for that matter,) had he forgotten to enlarge on that subject, however brief upon others."
"Probably," said Ellinor, "the Corporal carried the main sum about him in those well-stuffed saddle-bags, and it was only the purse that Walter had about his person that was stolen; and it is probable that the Corporal might have escaped, as he mentions nothing about that excellent personage."
"A shrewd guess, Nell: but pray, why should Walter carry the purse about him so carefully? Ah, you blush: well, will you knit him another?"
"Pshaw, Papa! Good b'ye, I am going to gather you a nosegay."
But Ellinor was seized with a sudden fit of industry, and somehow or other she grew fonder of knitting than ever.
The neighbourhood was now tranquil and at peace; the nightly depredators that had infested the green valleys of Grassdale were heard of no more; it seemed a sudden incursion of fraud and crime, which was too unnatural to the character of the spot invaded to do more than to terrify and to disappear. The truditur dies die; the serene steps of one calm day chasing another returned, and the past alarm was only remembered as a tempting subject of gossip to the villagers, and (at the Hall) a theme of eulogium on the courage of Eugene Aram.
"It is a lovely day," said Lester to his daughters, as they sate at the window; "come, girls, get your bonnets, and let us take a walk into the village."
"And meet the postman," said Ellinor, archly.
"Yes," rejoined Madeline in the same vein, but in a whisper that Lester might not hear, "for who knows but that we may have a letter from Walter?"
How prettily sounds such raillery on virgin lips. No, no; nothing on earth is so lovely as the confidence between two happy sisters, who have no secrets but those of a guileless love to reveal!
As they strolled into the village, they were met by Peter Dealtry, who was slowly riding home on a large ass which carried himself and his panniers to the neighbouring market in a more quiet and luxurious indolence of action than would the harsher motions of the equine species.
"A fine day, Peter: and what news at market?" said Lester.
"Corn high,—hay dear, your honour," replied the clerk.
"Ah, I suppose so; a good time to sell ours, Peter;—we must see about it on Saturday. But, pray, have you heard any thing from the Corporal since his departure?"
"Not I, your honour, not I; though I think as he might have given us a line, if it was only to thank me for my care of his cat, but—
'Them as comes to go to roam,
Thinks slight of they as stays at home.'"
"A notable distich, Peter; your own composition, I warrant."
"Mine! Lord love your honour, I has no genus, but I has memory; and when them ere beautiful lines of poetry-like comes into my head, they stays there, and stays till they pops out at my tongue like a bottle of ginger-beer. I do loves poetry, Sir, 'specially the sacred."
"We know it,—we know it."
"For there be summut in it," continued the clerk, "which smooths a man's heart like a clothes-brush, wipes away the dust and dirt, and sets all the nap right; and I thinks as how 'tis what a clerk of the parish ought to study, your honour."
"Nothing better; you speak like an oracle."
"Now, Sir, there be the Corporal, honest man, what thinks himself mighty clever,—but he has no soul for varse. Lord love ye, to see the faces he makes when I tells him a hymn or so; 'tis quite wicked, your honour,—for that's what the heathen did, as you well know, Sir.
And when I does discourse of things
Most holy, to their tribe;
What does they do?—they mocks at me,
And makes my harp a gibe.
'Tis not what I calls pretty, Miss Ellinor."
"Certainly not, Peter; I wonder, with your talents for verse, you never indulge in a little satire against such perverse taste."
"Satire! what's that? Oh, I knows; what they writes in elections. Why, Miss, mayhap—" here Peter paused, and winked significantly—"but the Corporal's a passionate man, you knows: but I could so sting him—Aha! we'll see, we'll see.—Do you know, your honour," here Peter altered his air to one of serious importance, as if about to impart a most sagacious conjecture, "I thinks there be one reason why the Corporal has not written to me."
"And what's that, Peter?"
"Cause, your honour, he's ashamed of his writing: I fancy as how his spelling is no better than it should be—but mum's the word. You sees, your honour, the Corporal's got a tarn for conversation-like—he be a mighty fine talker surely! but he be shy of the pen—'tis not every man what talks biggest what's the best schollard at bottom. Why, there's the newspaper I saw in the market, (for I always sees the newspaper once a week,) says as how some of them great speakers in the Parliament House, are no better than ninnies when they gets upon paper; and that's the Corporal's case, I sispect: I suppose as how they can't spell all them ere long words they make use on. For my part, I thinks there be mortal desate (deceit) like in that ere public speaking; for I knows how far a loud voice and a bold face goes, even in buying a cow, your honour; and I'm afraid the country's greatly bubbled in that ere partiklar; for if a man can't write down clearly what he means for to say, I does not thinks as how he knows what he means when he goes for to speak!"
This speech—quite a moral exposition from Peter, and, doubtless, inspired by his visit to market—for what wisdom cannot come from intercourse?—our good publican delivered with especial solemnity, giving a huge thump on the sides of his ass as he concluded.
"Upon my word, Peter," said Lester, laughing, "you have grown quite a Solomon; and, instead of a clerk, you ought to be a Justice of Peace, at the least: and, indeed, I must say that I think you shine more in the capacity of a lecturer than in that of a soldier."
"'Tis not for a clerk of the parish to have too great a knack at the weapons of the flesh," said Peter, sanctimoniously, and turning aside to conceal a slight confusion at the unlucky reminiscence of his warlike exploits; "But lauk, Sir, even as to that, why we has frightened all the robbers away. What would you have us do more?"
"Upon my word, Peter, you say right; and now, good day. Your wife's well, I hope? and Jacobina—is not that the cat's name?—in high health and favour."
"Hem, hem!—why, to be sure, the cat's a good cat; but she steals Goody Truman's cream as she sets for butter reg'larly every night."
"Oh! you must cure her of that," said Lester, smiling, "I hope that's the worst fault."
"Why, your gardiner do say," replied Peter, reluctantly, "as how she goes arter the pheasants in Copse-hole."
"The deuce!" cried the Squire; "that will never do: she must be shot, Peter, she must be shot. My pheasants! my best preserves! and poor Goody Truman's cream, too! a perfect devil. Look to it, Peter; if I hear any complaints again, Jacobina is done for—What are you laughing at, Nell?"
"Well, go thy ways, Peter, for a shrewd man and a clever man; it is not every one who could so suddenly have elicited my father's compassion for Goody Truman's cream."
"Pooh!" said the Squire, "a pheasant's a serious thing, child; but you women don't understand matters."
They had now crossed through the village into the fields, and were slowly sauntering by
"Hedge-row elms on hillocks green,"
when, seated under a stunted pollard, they came suddenly on the ill-favoured person of Dame Darkmans: she sat bent (with her elbows on her knees, and her hands supporting her chin,) looking up to the clear autumnal sky; and as they approached, she did not stir, or testify by sign or glance that she even perceived them.
There is a certain kind-hearted sociality of temper that you see sometimes among country gentlemen, especially not of the highest rank, who knowing, and looked up to by, every one immediately around them, acquire the habit of accosting all they meet—a habit as painful for them to break, as it was painful for poor Rousseau to be asked 'how he did' by an applewoman. And the kind old Squire could not pass even Goody Darkmans, (coming thus abruptly upon her,) without a salutation.
"All alone, Dame, enjoying the fine weather—that's right—And how fares it with you?"
The old woman turned round her dark and bleared eyes, but without moving limb or posture. "'Tis well-nigh winter now: 'tis not easy for poor folks to fare well at this time o' year. Where be we to get the firewood, and the clothing, and the dry bread, carse it! and the drop o' stuff that's to keep out the cold. Ah, it's fine for you to ask how we does, and the days shortening, and the air sharpening."
"Well, Dame, shall I send to—for a warm cloak for you?" said Madeline.
"Ho! thankye, young leddy—thankye kindly, and I'll wear it at your widding, for they says you be going to git married to the larned man yander. Wish ye well, ma'am, wish ye well."
And the old hag grinned as she uttered this benediction, that sounded on her lips like the Lord's Prayer on a witch's; which converts the devotion to a crime, and the prayer to a curse.
"Ye're very winsome, young lady," she continued, eyeing Madeline's tall and rounded figure from head to foot. "Yes, very—but I was as bonny as you once, and if you lives—mind that— fair and happy as you stand now, you'll be as withered, and foul-faced, and wretched as me—ha! ha! I loves to look on young folk, and think o' that. But mayhap ye won't live to be old—more's the pity, for ye might be a widow and childless, and a lone 'oman, as I be; if you were to see sixty: an' wouldn't that be nice?—ha! ha!—much pleasure ye'd have in the fine weather then, and in people's fine speeches, eh?"
"Come, Dame," said Lester, with a cloud on his benign brow, "this talk is ungrateful to me, and disrespectful to Miss Lester; it is not the way to——"
"Hout!" interrupted the old woman; "I begs pardon, Sir, if I offended—I begs pardon, young lady, 'tis my way, poor old soul that I be. And you meant me kindly, and I would not be uncivil, now you are a-going to give me a bonny cloak,—and what colour shall it be?"
"Why, what colour would you like best, Dame—red?"
"Red!—no!—like a gypsy-quean, indeed! Besides, they all has red cloaks in the village, yonder. No; a handsome dark grey—or a gay, cheersome black, an' then I'll dance in mourning at your wedding, young lady; and that's what ye'll like. But what ha'ye done with the merry bridegroom, Ma'am? Gone away, I hear. Ah, ye'll have a happy life on it, with a gentleman like him. I never seed him laugh once. Why does not ye hire me as your sarvant—would not I be a favourite thin! I'd stand on the thrishold, and give ye good morrow every day. Oh! it does me a deal of good to say a blessing to them as be younger and gayer than me. Madge Darkman's blessing!—Och! what a thing to wish for!"
"Well, good day, mother," said Lester, moving on.
"Stay a bit, stay a bit, Sir;—has ye any commands, Miss, yonder, at Master Aram's? His old 'oman's a gossip of mine—we were young togither—and the lads did not know which to like the best. So we often meets, and talks of the old times. I be going up there now.—Och! I hope I shall be asked to the widding. And what a nice month to wid in; Novimber—Novimber, that's the merry month for me! But 'tis cold—bitter cold, too. Well, good day—good day. Ay," continued the hag, as Lester and the sisters moved on, "ye all goes and throws niver a look behind. Ye despises the poor in your hearts. But the poor will have their day. Och! an' I wish ye were dead—dead—dead, an' I dancing in my bonny black cloak about your graves;—for an't all mine dead—cold—cold—rotting, and one kind and rich man might ha' saved them all."
Thus mumbling, the wretched creature looked after the father and his daughters, as they wound onward, till her dim eyes caught them no longer; and then, drawing her rags round her, she rose, and struck into the opposite path that led to Aram's house.
"I hope that hag will be no constant visitor at your future residence, Madeline," said the younger sister; "it would be like a blight on the air."
"And if we could remove her from the parish," said Lester, "it would be a happy day for the village. Yet, strange as it may seem, so great is her power over them all, that there is never a marriage, nor a christening in the village, from which she is absent—they dread her spite and foul tongue enough, to make them even ask humbly for her presence."
"And the hag seems to know that her bad qualities are a good policy, and obtain more respect than amiability would do," said Ellinor. "I think there is some design in all she utters."
"I don't know how it is, but the words and sight of that woman have struck a damp into my heart," said Madeline, musingly.
"It would be wonderful if they had not, child," said Lester, soothingly; and he changed the conversation to other topics.
As concluding their walk, they re-entered the village, they encountered that most welcome of all visitants to a country village, the postman—a tall, thin pedestrian, famous for swiftness of foot, with a cheerful face, a swinging gait, and Lester's bag slung over his shoulder. Our little party quickened their pace—one letter—for Madeline—Aram's handwriting. Happy blush—bright smile! Ah! no meeting ever gives the delight that a letter can inspire in the short absences of a first love
"And none for me," said Lester, in a disappointed tone, and Ellinor's hand hung more heavily on his arm, and her step moved slower. "It is very strange in Walter; but I am more angry than alarmed."
"Be sure," said Ellinor, after a pause, "that it is not his fault. Something may have happened to him. Good Heavens! if he has been attacked again—those fearful highwaymen!"
"Nay," said Lester, "the most probable supposition after all is, that he will not write until his expectations are realized or destroyed. Natural enough, too; it is what I should have done, if I had been in his place."
"Natural," said Ellinor, who now attacked where she before defended—"Natural not to give us one line, to say he is well and safe—natural; I could not have been so remiss!"
"Ay, child, you women are so fond of writing,—'tis not so with us, especially when we are moving about: it is always—' Well, I must write to-morrow—well, I must write when this is settled—well, I must write when I arrive at such a place;'—and, meanwhile, time slips on, till perhaps we get ashamed of writing at all. I heard a great man say once, that 'Men must have something effeminate about them to be good correspondents;' and faith, I think it's true enough on the whole."
"I wonder if Madeline thinks so?" said Ellinor, enviously glancing at her sister's absorption, as, lingering a little behind, she devoured the contents of her letter.
"He is coming home immediately, dear father; perhaps he may be here to-morrow," cried Madeline abruptly; "think of that, Ellinor! Ah! and he writes in spirits!"—and the poor girl clapped her hands delightedly, as the colour danced joyously over her cheek and neck.
"I am glad to hear it," quoth Lester; "we shall have him at last beat even Ellinor in gaiety!"
"That may easily be," sighed Ellinor to herself, as she glided past them into the house, and sought her own chamber.