On arriving at Sir ———'s, a disappointment, for which, had they previously conversed with the officers they might have been prepared, awaited them. The fact was, that the justice had only endorsed the warrant sent from Yorkshire; and after a very short colloquy, in which he expressed his regret at the circumstance, his conviction that the charge would be disproved, and a few other courteous common-places, he gave Aram to understand that the matter now did not rest with him, but that it was to Yorkshire that the officers were bound, and before Mr. Thornton, a magistrate of that county, that the examination was to take place. "All I can do," said the magistrate, "I have already done; but I wished for an opportunity of informing you of it. I have written to my brother justice at full length respecting your high character, and treating the habits and rectitude of your life alone as a sufficient refutation of so monstrous a charge."
For the first time a visible embarrassment came over the firm nerves of the prisoner: he seemed to look with great uneasiness at the prospect of this long and dreary journey, and for such an end. Perhaps, the very notion of returning as a suspected criminal to that part of the country where a portion of his youth had been passed, was sufficient to disquiet and deject him. All this while his poor Madeline seemed actuated by a spirit beyond herself; she would not be separated from his side—she held his hand in hers—she whispered comfort and courage at the very moment when her own heart most sank. The magistrate wiped his eyes when he saw a creature so young, so beautiful, in circumstances so fearful, and bearing up with an energy so little to be expected from her years and delicate appearance. Aram said but little; he covered his face with his right hand for a few moments, as if to hide a passing emotion, a sudden weakness. When he removed it, all vestige of colour had died away; his face was pale as that of one who has risen from the grave; but it was settled and composed.
"It is a hard pang. Sir," said he, with a faint smile; "so many miles—so many days—so long a deferment of knowing the best, or preparing to meet the worst. But, be it so! I thank you, Sir,—I thank you all,—Lester, Madeline, for your kindness; you two must now leave me; the brand is on my name—the suspected man is no fit object for love or friendship! Farewell!"
"We go with you!" said Madeline firmly, and in a very low voice.
Aram's eye sparkled, but he waved his hand impatiently.
"We go with you, my friend!" repeated Lester.
And so, indeed, not to dwell long on a painful scene, it was finally settled. Lester and his two daughters that evening followed Aram to the dark and fatal bourne to which he was bound.
It was in vain that Walter, seizing his uncle's hands, whispered,
"For Heaven's sake, do not be rash in your friendship! You have not yet learnt all. I tell you, that there can be no doubt of his guilt! Remember, it is a brother for whom you mourn! will you countenance his murderer?"
Lester, despite himself, was struck by the earnestness with which his nephew spoke, but the impression died away as the words ceased: so strong and deep had been the fascination which Eugene Aram had exercised over the hearts of all once drawn within the near circle of his attraction, that had the charge of murder been made against himself, Lester could not have repelled it with a more entire conviction of the innocence of the accused. Still, however, the deep sincerity of his nephew's manner in some measure served to soften his resentment towards him.
"No, no, boy!" said he, drawing away his hand, "Rowland Lester is not the one to desert a friend in the day of darkness and the hour of need. Be silent I say!—My brother, my poor brother, you tell me, has been murdered. I will see justice done to him: but, Aram! Fie! fie! it is a name that would whisper falsehood to the loudest accusation. Go, Walter! go! I do not blame you!—you may be right—a murdered father is a dread and awful memory to a son! What wonder that the thought warps your judgment? But go! Eugene was to me both a guide and a blessing; a father in wisdom, a son in love. I cannot look on his accuser's face without anguish. Go! we shall meet again.—How! Go!"
"Enough, Sir!" said Walter, partly in anger, partly in sorrow—"Time be the judge between us all!"
With those words he turned from the house, and proceeded on foot towards a cottage half way between Grassdale and the Magistrate's house, at which, previous to his return to the former place, he had prudently left the Corporal—not willing to trust to that person's discretion, as to the tales and scandal that he might propagate throughout the village on a matter so painful and so dark.
Let the world wag as it will, there are some tempers which its vicissitudes never reach. Nothing makes a picture of distress more sad than the portrait of some individual sitting indifferently looking on in the back-ground. This was a secret Hogarth knew well. Mark his deathbed scenes:—Poverty and Vice worked up into horror—and the Physicians in the corner wrangling for the fee!—or the child playing with the coffin—or the nurse filching what fortune, harsh, yet less harsh than humanity, might have left. In the melancholy depth of humour that steeps both our fancy and our heart in the immortal Romance of Cervantes (for, how profoundly melancholy is it to be compelled by one gallant folly to laugh at all that is gentle, and brave, and wise, and generous!) nothing grates on us more than when—last scene of all, the poor Knight lies dead—his exploits for ever over—for ever dumb his eloquent discourses: than when, I say, we are told that, despite of his grief, even little Sancho did not eat or drink the less:—these touches open to us the real world, it is true; but it is not the best part of it. What a pensive thing is true humour! Certain it was, that when Walter, full of contending emotions at all he had witnessed,— harassed, tortured, yet also elevated, by his feelings, stopped opposite the cottage door, and saw there the Corporal sitting comfortably in the porch, —his vile modicum Sabini before him—his pipe in his mouth, and a complacent expression of satisfaction diffusing itself over features which shrewdness and selfishness had marked for their own;—certain it was, that, at this sight Walter experienced a more displeasing revulsion of feeling—a more entire conviction of sadness—a more consummate disgust of this weary world and the motley masquers that walk thereon, than all the tragic scenes he had just witnessed had excited within him.
"And well, Sir," said the Corporal, slowly rising, "how did it go off?—Wasn't the villain bash'd to the dust?—You've nabbed him safe, I hope?"
"Silence," said Walter, sternly, "prepare for our departure. The chaise will be here forthwith; we return to Yorkshire this day. Ask me no more now."
"A—well—baugh!" said the Corporal.
There was a long silence. Walter walked to and fro the road before the cottage. The chaise arrived; the luggage was put in. Walter's foot was on the step; but before the Corporal mounted the rumbling dickey, that invaluable domestic hemmed thrice.
"And had you time, Sir, to think of poor Jacob, and look at the cottage, and slip in a word to your uncle about the bit tato ground?"
We pass over the space of time, short in fact, long in suffering, that elapsed, till the prisoner and his companions reached Knaresbro'. Aram's conduct during this time was not only calm but cheerful. The stoical doctrines he had affected through life, he on this trying interval called into remarkable exertion. He it was who now supported the spirits of his mistress and his friend; and though he no longer pretended to be sanguine of acquittal—though again and again he urged upon them the gloomy fact—first, how improbable it was that this course had been entered into against him without strong presumption of guilt; and secondly, how little less improbable it was, that at that distance of time he should be able to procure evidence, or remember circumstances, sufficient on the instant to set aside such presumption,—he yet dwelt partly on the hope of ultimate proof of his innocence, and still more strongly on the firmness of his own mind to bear, without shrinking, even the hardest fate.
"Do not," he said to Lester, "do not look on these trials of life only with the eyes of the world. Reflect how poor and minute a segment in the vast circle of eternity existence is at the best. Its sorrow and its shame are but moments. Always in my brightest and youngest hours I have wrapt my heart in the contemplation of an august futurity.
'The soul, secure in its existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.'
If I die even the death of the felon, it is beyond the power of fate to separate us for long. It is but a pang, and we are united again for ever; for ever in that far and shadowy clime, 'where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.' Were it not for Madeline's dear sake, I should long since have been over weary of the world. As it is, the sooner, even by a violent and unjust fate, we leave a path begirt with snares below and tempests above, the happier for that soul which looks to its lot in this earth as the least part of its appointed doom."
In discourses like this, which the nature of his eloquence was peculiarly calculated to render solemn and impressive, Aram strove to prepare his friends for the worst, and perhaps to cheat, or to steel, himself. Ever as he spoke thus, Lester or Ellinor broke on him with impatient remonstrance; but Madeline, as if imbued with a deeper and more mournful penetration into the future, listened in tearless and breathless attention. She gazed upon him with a look that shared the thought he expressed, though it read not (yet she dreamed so) the heart from which it came. In the words of that beautiful poet, to whose true nature, so full of unuttered tenderness—so fraught with the rich nobility of love—we have begun slowly to awaken,
"Her lip was silent, scarcely beat her heart.
Her eye alone proclaimed 'we will not part!'
Thy 'hope' may perish, or thy friends may flee.
Farewell to life—but not adieu to thee!"
They arrived at noon at the house of Mr. Thornton, and Aram underwent his examination. Though he denied most of the particulars in Houseman's evidence, and expressly the charge of murder, his commitment was made out; and that day he was removed by the officers, (Barker and Moor, who had arrested him at Grassdale,) to York Castle, to await his trial at the assizes.
The sensation which this extraordinary event created throughout the country, was wholly unequalled. Not only in Yorkshire, and the county in which he had of late resided, where his personal habits were known, but even in the Metropolis, and amongst men of all classes in England, it appears to have caused one mingled feeling of astonishment, horror, and incredulity, which in our times has had no parallel in any criminal prosecution. The peculiar turn of the prisoner—his genius—his learning—his moral life—the interest that by students had been for years attached to his name—his approaching marriage—the length of time that had elapsed since the crime had been committed—the singular and abrupt manner, the wild and legendary spot, in which the skeleton of the lost man had been discovered—the imperfect rumours—the dark and suspicious evidence—all combined to make a tale of such marvellous incident, and breeding such endless conjecture, that we cannot wonder to find it afterwards received a place, not only in the temporary chronicles, but even the most important and permanent histories of the period.
Previous to Walter's departure from Knaresbro' to Grassdale, and immediately subsequent to the discovery at St. Robert's Cave, the coroner's inquest had been held upon the bones so mysteriously and suddenly brought to light. Upon the witness of the old woman at whose house Aram had lodged, and upon that of Houseman, aided by some circumstantial and less weighty evidence, had been issued that warrant on which we have seen the prisoner apprehended.
With most men there was an intimate and indignant persuasion of Aram's innocence; and at this day, in the county where he last resided, there still lingers the same belief. Firm as his gospel faith, that conviction rested in the mind of the worthy Lester; and he sought, by every means he could devise, to soothe and cheer the confinement of his friend. In prison, however (indeed after his examination—after Aram had made himself thoroughly acquainted with all the circumstantial evidence which identified Clarke with Geoffrey Lester, a story that till then he had persuaded himself wholly to disbelieve) a change which, in the presence of Madeline or her father, he vainly attempted wholly to conceal, and to which, when alone, he surrendered himself with a gloomy abstraction—came over his mood, and dashed him from the lofty height of Philosophy, from which he had before looked down on the peril and the ills below.
Sometimes he would gaze on Lester with a strange and glassy eye, and mutter inaudibly to himself, as if unaware of the old man's presence; at others, he would shrink from Lester's proffered hand, and start abruptly from his professions of unaltered, unalterable regard; sometimes he would sit silently, and, with a changeless and stony countenance, look upon Madeline as she now spoke in that exalted tone of consolation which had passed away from himself; and when she had done, instead of replying to her speech, he would say abruptly, "Ay, at the worst you love me, then—love me better than any one on earth—say that, Madeline, again say that!"
And Madeline's trembling lips obeyed the demand.
"Yes," he would renew, "this man, whom they accuse me of murdering, this,—your uncle,—him you never saw since you were an infant, a mere infant; him you could not love! What was he to you?—yet it is dreadful to think of—dreadful, dreadful;" and then again his voice ceased; but his lips moved convulsively, and his eyes seemed to speak meanings that defied words. These alterations in his bearing, which belied his steady and resolute character, astonished and dejected both Madeline and her father. Sometimes they thought that his situation had shaken his reason, or that the horrible suspicion of having murdered the uncle of his intended wife, made him look upon themselves with a secret shudder, and that they were mingled up in his mind by no unnatural, though unjust confusion, with the causes of his present awful and uncertain state. With the generality of the world, these two tender friends believed Houseman the sole and real murderer, and fancied his charge against Aram was but the last expedient of a villain to ward punishment from himself, by imputing crime to another. Naturally, then, they frequently sought to turn the conversation upon Houseman, and on the different circumstances that had brought him acquainted with Aram; but on this ground the prisoner seemed morbidly sensitive, and averse to detailed discussion. His narration, however, such as it was, threw much light upon certain matters on which Madeline and Lester were before anxious and inquisitive.
"Houseman is, in all ways," said he, with great and bitter vehemence, "unredeemed, and beyond the calculations of an ordinary wickedness; we knew each other from our relationship, but seldom met, and still more rarely held long intercourse together. After we separated, when I left Knaresbro', we did not meet for years. He sought me at Grassdale; he was poor, and implored assistance; I gave him all within my power; he sought me again, nay, more than once again, and finding me justly averse to yielding to his extortionate demands, he then broached the purpose he has now effected; he threatened—you hear me—you understand—he threatened me with this charge—the murder of Daniel Clarke, by that name alone I knew the deceased. The menace, and the known villainy of the man, agitated me beyond expression. What was I? a being who lived without the world—who knew not its ways—who desired only rest! The menace haunted me—almost maddened! Your nephew has told you, you say, of broken words, of escaping emotions, which he has noted, even to suspicion, in me; you now behold the cause! Was it not sufficient? My life, nay more, my fame, my marriage, Madeline's peace of mind, all depended on the uncertain fury or craft of a wretch like this! The idea was with me night and day; to avoid it, I resolved on a sacrifice; you may blame me, I was weak, yet I thought then not unwise; to avoid it, I say I offered to bribe this man to leave the country. I sold my pittance to oblige him to it. I bound him thereto by the strongest ties. Nay, so disinterestedly, so truly did I love Madeline, that I would not wed while I thought this danger could burst upon me. I believed that, before my marriage day, Houseman had left the country. It was not so, Fate ordered otherwise. It seems that Houseman came to Knaresbro' to see his daughter; that suspicion, by a sudden train of events, fell on him, perhaps justly; to skreen himself he has sacrificed me. The tale seems plausible; perhaps the accuser may triumph. But, Madeline, you now may account for much that may have perplexed you before. Let me remember—ay—ay—1 have dropped mysterious words—have I not? have I not?—owning that danger was around me—owning that a wild and terrific secret was heavy at my breast; nay, once, walking with you the evening before, before the fatal day, I said that we must prepare to seek some yet more secluded spot, some deeper retirement; for, despite my precautions, despite the supposed absence of Houseman from the country itself, a fevered and restless presentiment would at some times intrude itself on me. All this is now accounted for, is it not, Madeline? Speak, speak!"
"All, love, all! Why do you look on me with that searching eye, that frowning brow?"
"Did I? no, no, I have no frown for you; but peace, I am not what I ought to be through this ordeal."
The above narration of Aram's did indeed account to Madeline for much that had till then remained unexplained; the appearance of Houseman at Grassdale,—the meeting between him and Aram on the evening she walked with the latter, and questioned him of his ill-boding visitor; the frequent abstraction and muttered hints of her lover; and as he had said, his last declaration of the possible necessity of leaving Grassdale. Nor was there any thing improbable, though it was rather in accordance with the unworldly habits, than with the haughty character of Aram, that he should seek, circumstanced as he was, to silence even the false accuser of a plausible tale, that might well strike horror and bewilderment into a man much more, to all seeming, fitted to grapple with the hard and coarse realities of life, than the moody and secluded scholar. Be that as it may, though Lester deplored, he did not blame this circumstance, which after all had not transpired, nor seemed likely to transpire; and he attributed the prisoner's aversion to enter farther on the matter, to the natural dislike of so proud a man to refer to his own weakness, and to dwell upon the manner in which, despite of that weakness, he had been duped. This story Lester retailed to Walter, and it contributed to throw a damp and uncertainty over those mixed and unquiet feelings with which the latter waited for the coming trial. There were many moments when the young man was tempted to regret that Aram had not escaped a trial which, if he were proved guilty, would for ever blast the happiness of his family; and which might, notwithstanding such a verdict, leave on Walter's own mind an impression of the prisoner's innocence; and an uneasy consciousness that he, through his investigations, had brought him to that doom.
Walter remained in Yorkshire, seeing little of his family, of none indeed but Lester; it was not to be expected that Madeline would see him, and once only he caught the tearful eyes of Ellinor as she retreated from the room he entered, and those eyes beamed kindness and pity, but something also of reproach.
Time passed slowly and witheringly on: a man of the name of Terry having been included in the suspicion, and indeed committed, it appeared that the prosecutor could not procure witnesses by the customary time, and the trial was postponed till the next assizes. As this man was however, never brought up to trial, and appears no more, we have said nothing of him in our narrative, until he thus became the instrument of a delay in the fate of Eugene Aram. Time passed on, Winter, Spring, were gone, and the glory and gloss of Summer were now lavished over the happy earth. In some measure the usual calmness of his demeanour had returned to Aram; he had mastered those moody fits we have referred to, which had so afflicted his affectionate visitors; and he now seemed to prepare and buoy himself up against that awful ordeal of life and death, which he was about so soon to pass. Yet he,—the hermit of Nature, who—
he could not feel, even through the bars and checks of a prison, the soft summer air, 'the witchery of the soft blue sky;' he could not see the leaves bud forth, and mellow into their darker verdure; he could not hear the songs of the many-voiced birds, or listen to the dancing rain, calling up beauty where it fell; or mark at night, through his high and narrow casement, the stars aloof, and the sweet moon pouring in her light, like God's pardon, even through the dungeon-gloom and the desolate scenes where Mortality struggles with Despair; he could not catch, obstructed as they were, these, the benigner influences of earth, and not sicken and pant for his old and full communion with their ministry and presence. Sometimes all around him was forgotten, the harsh cell, the cheerless solitude, the approaching trial, the boding fear, the darkened hope, even the spectre of a troubled and fierce remembrance,—all was forgotten, and his spirit was abroad, and his step upon the mountain-top once more.
In our estimate of the ills of life, we never sufficiently take into our consideration the wonderful elasticity of our moral frame, the unlooked for, the startling facility with which the human mind accommodates itself to all change of circumstance, making an object and even a joy from the hardest and seemingly the least redeemed conditions of fate. The man who watched the spider in his cell, may have taken, at least, as much interest in the watch, as when engaged in the most ardent and ambitious objects of his former life; and he was but a type of his brethren; all in similar circumstances would have found some similar occupation. Let any man look over his past life, let him recall not moments, not hours of agony, for to them Custom lends not her blessed magic; but let him single out some lengthened period of physical or moral endurance; in hastily reverting to it, it may seem at first, I grant, altogether wretched; a series of days marked with the black stone,—the clouds without a star;—but let him look more closely, it was not so during the time of suffering; a thousand little things, in the bustle of life dormant and unheeded, then started forth into notice, and became to him objects of interest or diversion; the dreary present, once made familiar, glided away from him, not less than if it had been all happiness; his mind dwelt not on the dull intervals, but the stepping-stone it had created and placed at each; and, by that moral dreaming which for ever goes on within man's secret heart, he lived as little in the immediate world before him, as in the most sanguine period of his youth, or the most scheming of his maturity.
So wonderful in equalizing all states and all times in the varying tide of life, are these two rulers yet levellers of mankind, Hope and Custom, that the very idea of an eternal punishment includes that of an utter alteration of the whole mechanism of the soul in its human state, and no effort of an imagination, assisted by past experience, can conceive a state of torture which custom can never blunt, and from which the chainless and immaterial spirit can never be beguiled into even a momentary escape.
Among the very few persons admitted to Aram's solitude, was Lord ***** That nobleman was staying, on a visit, with a relation of his in the neighbourhood, and he seized with an excited and mournful avidity, the opportunity thus afforded him of seeing, once more, a character that had so often forced itself on his speculation and surprise. He came to offer not condolence, but respect; services, at such a moment, no individual could render,—he gave however, what was within his power—advice,—and pointed out to Aram the best counsel to engage, and the best method of previous inquiry into particulars yet unexplored. He was astonished to find Aram indifferent on these points, so important. The prisoner, it would seem, had even then resolved on being his own counsel, and conducting his own cause; the event proved that he did not rely in vain on the power of his own eloquence and sagacity, though he might on their result. As to the rest, he spoke with impatience, and the petulance of a wronged man. "For the idle rumours of the world, I do not care," said he, "let them condemn or acquit me as they will;—for my life, I might be willing indeed, that it were spared,—I trust it may be, if not, I can stand face to face with Death. I have now looked on him within these walls long enough to have grown familiar with his terrors. But enough of me; tell me, my Lord, something of the world without, I have grown eager about it at last. I have been now so condemned to feed upon myself, that I have become surfeited with the diet;"—and it was with great difficulty that the Earl drew Aram back to speak of himself: he did so, even when compelled to it, with so much qualification and reserve, mixed with some evident anger at the thought of being sifted and examined—that his visitor was forced finally to drop the subject, and not liking, nor indeed able, at such a time, to converse on more indifferent themes, the last interview he ever had with Aram terminated much more abruptly than he had meant it. His opinion of the prisoner was not, however, shaken in the least. I have seen a letter of his to a celebrated personage of the day, in which, mentioning this interview, he concludes with saying,—"In short, there is so much real dignity about the man, that adverse circumstances increase it tenfold. Of his innocence I have not the remotest doubt; but if he persist in being his own counsel, I tremble for the result,—you know in such cases how much more valuable is practice than genius. But the judge you will say is, in criminal causes, the prisoner's counsel,—God grant he may here prove a successful one! I repeat, were Aram condemned by five hundred juries, I could not believe him guilty. No, the very essence of all human probabilities is against it."
The Earl afterwards saw and conversed with Walter. He was much struck with the conduct of the young Lester, and much impressed with a feeling for a situation, so harassing and unhappy.
"Whatever be the result of the trial," said Walter, "I shall leave the country the moment it is finally over. If the prisoner be condemned, there is no hearth for me in my uncle's home; if not, my suspicions may still remain, and the sight of each other be an equal bane to the accused and to myself. A voluntary exile, and a life that may lead to forgetfulness, are all that I covet.—I now find in my own person," he added, with a faint smile, "how deeply Shakspeare had read the mysteries of men's conduct. Hamlet, we are told, was naturally full of fire and action. One dark discovery quells his spirit, unstrings his heart, and stales to him for ever the uses of the world. I now comprehend the change. It is bodied forth even in the humblest individual, who is met by a similar fate—even in myself."
"Ay," said the Earl, "I do indeed remember you a wild, impetuous, headstrong youth. I scarcely recognize your very appearance. The elastic spring has left your step—there seems a fixed furrow in your brow. These clouds of life are indeed no summer vapour, darkening one moment and gone the next. But my young friend, let us hope the best. I firmly believe in Aram's innocence—firmly!—more rootedly than I can express. The real criminal will appear on the trial. All bitterness between you and Aram must cease at his acquittal; you will be anxious to repair to him the injustice of a natural suspicion: and he seems not one who could long retain malice. All will be well, believe me."
"God send it!" said Walter, sighing deeply.
"But at the worst," continued the Earl, pressing his hand in parting, "if you should persist in your resolution to leave the country, write to me, and I can furnish you with an honourable and stirring occasion for doing so.—Farewell."
While Time was thus advancing towards the fatal day, it was graving deep ravages within the pure breast of Madeline Lester. She had borne up, as we have seen, for some time, against the sudden blow that had shivered her young hopes, and separated her by so awful a chasm from the side of Aram; but as week after week, month after month rolled on, and he still lay in prison, and the horrible suspense of ignominy and death still hung over her, then gradually her courage began to fail, and her heart to sink. Of all the conditions to which the heart is subject, suspense is the one that most gnaws, and cankers into, the frame. One little month of that suspense, when it involves death, we are told, in a very remarkable work lately published by an eye-witness, is sufficient to plough fixed lines and furrows in the face of a convict of five-and-twenty—sufficient to dash the brown hair with grey, and to bleach the grey to white. And this suspense—suspense of this nature, for more than eight whole months, had Madeline to endure!
About the end of the second month the effect upon her health grew visible. Her colour, naturally delicate as the hues of the pink shell or the youngest rose, faded into one marble whiteness, which again, as time proceeded, flushed into that red and preternatural hectic, which once settled, rarely yields its place but to the colours of the grave. Her flesh shrank from its rounded and noble proportions. Deep hollows traced themselves beneath eyes which yet grew even more lovely as they grew less serenely bright. The blessed Sleep sunk not upon her brain with its wonted and healing dews. Perturbed dreams, that towards dawn succeeded the long and weary vigil of the night, shook her frame even more than the anguish of the day. In these dreams one frightful vision—a crowd—a scaffold—and the pale majestic face of her lover, darkened by unutterable pangs of pride and sorrow, were for ever present before her. Till now, she and Ellinor had always shared the same bed: this Madeline would not now suffer. In vain Ellinor wept and pleaded. "No," said Madeline, with a hollow voice; "at night I see him. My soul is alone with his; but—but,"—and she burst into an agony of tears—"the most dreadful thought is this, I cannot master my dreams. And sometimes I start and wake, and find that in sleep I have believed him guilty. Nay, O God! that his lips have proclaimed the guilt! And shall any living being—shall any but God, who reads not words but hearts, hear this hideous falsehood—this ghastly mockery of the lying sleep? No, I must be alone! The very stars should not hear what is forced from me in the madness of my dreams."
But not in vain, or not excluded from her, was that elastic and consoling spirit of which I have before spoken. As Aram recovered the tenor of his self-possession, a more quiet and peaceful calm diffused itself over the mind of Madeline. Her high and starry nature could comprehend those sublime inspirations of comfort, which lift us from the lowest abyss of this world to the contemplation of all that the yearning visions of mankind have painted in another. She would sit, rapt and absorbed for hours together, till these templations assumed the colour of a gentle and soft insanity. "Come, dearest Madeline," Ellinor would say,—"Come, you have thought enough; my poor father asks to see you."
"Hush!" Madeline answered. "Hush, I have been walking with Eugene in heaven; and oh! there are green woods, and lulling waters above, as there are on earth, and we see the stars quite near, and I cannot tell you how happy their smile makes those who look upon them. And Eugene never starts there, nor frowns, nor walks aside, nor looks on me with an estranged and chilling look; but his face is as calm and bright as the face of an angel;—and his voice!—it thrills amidst all the music which plays there night and day—softer than their softest note. And we are married, Ellinor, at last. We were married in heaven, and all the angels came to the marriage! I am now so happy that we were not wed before! What! are you weeping, Ellinor? Ah, we never weep in heaven! but we will all go there again—all of us, hand in hand!"
These affecting hallucinations terrified them, lest they should settle into a confirmed loss of reason; but perhaps without cause. They never lasted long, and never occurred but after moods of abstraction of unusual duration. To her they probably supplied what sleep does to others—a relaxation and refreshment—an escape from the consciousness of life. And indeed it might always be noted, that after such harmless aberrations of the mind, Madeline seemed more collected and patient in thought, and for the moment, even stronger in frame than before. Yet the body evidently pined and languished, and each week made palpable decay in her vital powers.
Every time Aram saw her, he was startled at the alteration; and kissing her cheek, her lips, her temples, in an agony of grief, wondered that to him alone it was forbidden to weep. Yet after all, when she was gone, and he again alone, he could not but think death likely to prove to her the most happy of earthly boons. He was not sanguine of acquittal, and even in acquittal, a voice at his heart suggested insuperable barriers to their union, which had not existed when it was first anticipated.
"Yes, let her die," he would say, "let her die; she at least is certain of Heaven!" But the human infirmity clung around him, and notwithstanding this seeming resolution in her absence, he did not mourn the less, he was not stung the less, when he saw her again, and beheld a new character from the hand of death graven upon her form. No; we may triumph over all weakness, but that of the aflPections. Perhaps in this dreary and haggard interval of time, these two persons loved each other more purely, more strongly, more enthusiastically, than they had ever done at any former period of their eventful history. Over the hardest stone, as over the softest turf, the green moss will force its verdure and sustain its life!