By this time, the latter, quite fascinated by her beauty and simplicity, and deeming, as was indeed the fact, that his love was returned, needed not other inquietudes than those his attachment gave him. The pride of ancestry and station on the one hand—on the other, a deep affection, and a wish to act nobly by Acme—caused an internal struggle which made him open to any excitement, nervously alive to any wrong. He sought his friend, and used reproaches, which rendered it imperative that they should meet as foes. Delancey was wounded; and as he thought—and it was long doubtful whether it were so—mortally. He beckoned George Delme to his bedside—begged him to forgive him—told him that his friendship had been the greatest source of delight to him—a friendship which in his dying moments he begged to renew—that far from feeling pain at his approaching dissolution, he conceived that he had merited all, and only waited his full and entire forgiveness to die happy. George Delme wrung his hands in the bitterness of despair—prayed him to live for his sake—told him, that did he not, his own life hereafter would be one of the deepest misery,—that the horrors of remorse would weigh him down to his grave. The surgeon was the first to terminate a scene, which he assured Delme was one of the most painful it had ever been his lot to witness. This meeting, though of so agitating a nature, seemed to have a beneficial effect on the wounded man. He sunk into a sweet sleep; and on awaking, his pulse was lower, and his symptoms less critical. He improved gradually, and was now convalescent. But it was otherwise with George Delme. He sought the solitude of his chamber, a prey to the agonies of a self-reproaching spirit. He considered himself instrumental in taking the life of his best friend—of one, richly endowed with the loftiest feelings humanity can boast. His nerves previously had been unstrung; body and mind sank under the picture his imagination had conjured up. His servant was alarmed by startling screams, entered his room, and found his master in fearful convulsions. A fever ensued, during which George's life hung by a thread. To this succeeded a long state of unconsciousness, occasionally broken by wild delirium.
During his illness, there was one who never left him—who smoothed his pillow—who supported his head on her breast—who watched him as a mother watches her first-born. It was the youthful Greek, Acme Frascati. The instant she heard of his danger, she left her home to tend him. No entreaties could influence her, no arguments persuade. She would sit by his bedside for hours, his feverish hand locked in hers, and implore him to recover, to bless one who loved him so dearly. They could not part them; for George, even in his delirious state, seemed to be conscious that some one was near him, and, did she leave his side, would rise in his bed, and look around him as if missing some accustomed object. In his wilder flights, he would call passionately upon her, and beg her to save his friend, who was lying so dead and still.
For a length of time, neither care nor professional skill availed. Fearful was the struggle, between his disease, and a naturally hardy constitution. Reason at last resumed her dominion. "I know not," said the surgeon, "the particulars of the first dawning of consciousness. It appears that Acme was alone with him, and that it was at night. I found him on my professional visit one morning, clear and collected, and his mistress sobbing her thanks. I need perhaps hardly inform you," said the narrator, "that George's gratitude to Acme was vividly expressed. It was in vain I urged on her the propriety of now leaving her lover. This was met on both sides by an equal disinclination, and indeed obstinate refusal; and I feared the responsibility I should incur, by enforcing a separation which might have proved of dangerous consequence to my patient. Alas! for human nature, Sir Henry! need it surprise you that the consequences were what they are? Loving him with the fervency of one born under an eastern sun—with the warm devotion of woman's first love—with slender ideas of Christian morality—and with a mind accustomed to obey its every impulse—need it, I say, surprise you, that the one fell, and that remorse visited the other? To that remorse, do I attribute what my previous communication may not have sufficiently prepared you for; namely, the little dependence to be placed on the tone of the invalid's mind. Reason is but as a glimmering in a socket; and painful as my professional opinion may be to you, it is my duty to avow it; and I frankly confess, that I entertain serious apprehensions, as to the stability of his mind's restoration. It is on this account, that I have felt so anxious that one of his relations should be near him. Change of scene is absolutely necessary, as soon as change of scene can be safely adopted. Every distracting thought must be avoided, and the utmost care taken that no agitating topic is discussed in his presence. These precautions may do much; but should they have no effect, which I think possible; as a medical man, I should then recommend, what as a member of his family may startle you. My advice would be, that if it be ultimately found, that his feelings as regard this young girl, are such as are likely to prevent or impede his mind's recovery; why I would then at once allow him to make her any reparation he may think just.
"To what do you allude?" enquired Sir Henry.
"Why," continued the surgeon, "that if his feelings appear deeply enlisted on that side of the question, and all our other modes have failed in obtaining their object; that he should be permitted to marry her as soon as he pleases. I see you look grave. I am not surprised you should do so; but life is worth preserving, and Acme, if not entirely to our notions, is a good, a very good girl—warm-hearted and affectionate; and it is not fair to judge her by our English standard. You will however have time and scope, to watch yourself the progress and extent of his disorder. I fear this is more serious than you are at present aware of; but from your own observations, would I recommend and wish your future line of conduct to be formed. May I trust my frankness has not offended you?"
Sir Henry assured him, that far from this being the case, he owed him many thanks for being thus explicit. Shaking him by the hand, he returned to George's room with a clouded brow; perplexed how to act, or how best discuss with his brother, the points connected with his history.
"The seal Love's dimpling finger hath impress'd, Denotes how soft that chin which bears his touch, Her lips whose kisses pout to leave their nest, Bid man be valiant ere he merit such; Her glance how wildly beautiful—how much Hath Phoebus woo'd in vain to spoil her cheek, Which grows yet smoother from his amorous clutch, Who round the north for paler dames would seek? How poor their forms appear! how languid, wan, and weak."
Love! Heavenly love! by Plato's mind conceived, and Sicyon's artist chiselled! not thou! night's offspring, springing on golden wing from the dark bosom of Erebus! the first created, and the first creating: but thou! immaculate deity; effluence of unspotted thought, and child of a chaster age! where, oh where is now thy resting place?
Pensile in mid-heaven, gazest thou yet with seraphic sorrow on this, the guilty abode of guilty man?—with pity's tear still mournest thou, as yoked to the car of young desire, we bow the neck in degrading and slavish bondage? Or dost thou, the habitant of some bright star, where frailty such as ours is yet unknown, lend to lovers a rapture unalloyed by passion's grosser sense; as, symphonious with the tremulous zephyr, chastened vows of constancy are there exchanged? Ah! vainly does one solitary enthusiast, in his balmy youth, for a moment conceive he really grasps thee! 'tis but a fleeting phantasy, doomed to fade at the first sneer of derision—and for ever vanish, as a false and fascinating world stamps its dogmas on his heart! Celestial love! oh where may he yet find thee? and a clear voice whispers, ETERNITY!
Hope! guide the fainting pilgrim! undying soul! shield him from the world's venomed darts, as he painfully wends his toilsome way!
When Delme returned to his brother, he found the latter anxiously expecting him, and desirous of ascertaining the impression, which his conversation with the surgeon had created.
But Delme thought it more prudent, to defer the discussion of those points, till he had heard from George himself, as to many circumstances connected with Acme's history, and had been able to form some personal opinion regarding the health of the invalid. He therefore begged George, if he felt equal to the task, to avail himself of the opportunity of Acme's absence, to tell him how he had first met her. To this George willingly assented; and as there is ever a peculiarity in foreign scenes and habits, which awakens interest, we give his story in his own language.
"There are some old families here, Henry," began the invalid, "whose names are connected with some of the proudest, which the annals of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem can boast. They are for the most part sunk in poverty, and possess but little of the outward trappings of rank. But their pride is not therefore the less; and rather than have it wounded, by being put in collision with those with whom in worldly wealth they are unable to compete, they prefer the privacy of retirement; and are rarely seen, and more rarely known, by any of the English residents, whom they distrust and dislike. It is true, there are a few families, some of the male members of which have accepted subordinate situations under government: and these have become habituated to English society, and meet on terms of tolerable cordiality, the English whose acquaintance they have thus made. But there are others, as I have said, whose existence is hardly recognised, and who vegetate in some lone palazzo; brooding over the decay of their fortunes—never crossing the threshold of their mansions—except when religious feelings command them to attend a mass, or public procession. Of such a family was Acme a member. By birth a Greek, she was a witness to many of the bloody scenes which took place at the commencement of the struggle for Grecian freedom. She was herself present at the murder of both her parents. Her beauty alone saved her from sharing their fate. One of the Turks, struck with, her expression of childish sorrow, interfered in her behalf, and permitted a friend and neighbour to save her life and his own, by taking shipping for one of the islands in our possession. After residing in Corfu for some months, she received an invitation from her father's brother-in-law, a member of an ancient Maltese family; and for the last few years has spent a life, if not gay, at least free from a repetition of those sanguinary scenes, which have lent their impress to a sensitive mind, and at moments impart a melancholy tinge, to a disposition by nature unusually joyous. It was on a festa day, dedicated to the patron saint of the island, when no Maltese not absolutely bed-ridden, but would deem it a duty, to witness the solemn and lengthy procession which such a day calls forth; that I first met Acme Frascati.
"I was alone in the Strada Reale, and strolling towards the Piazza, when my attention was directed to what struck me as the loveliest face I had ever seen.
"Acme, for it was her, was drest in the costume of the island; and, although a faldette is not the best dress for exhibiting a figure, there was a grace and lightness in her carriage, that would have arrested my attention, even had I not been riveted by her countenance. She was on the opposite side of the street to myself, and was attended by an old Moorish woman, who carried an illumined missal. Of these women, several may yet be seen in Malta, looking very Oriental and duenna-like. As I stopped to admire her, she suddenly attempted to cross to the side of the street where I stood. At the same moment, I observed a horse attached to a caleche galloping furiously towards her. It was almost upon her ere Acme saw her danger. The driver, anxious to pass before the procession formed, had whipped his horse till it became unmanageable, and it was now in vain that he tried to arrest its progress. A natural impulse induced me to rush forward, and endeavour to save her. She was pale and trembling, as I caught her and placed her out of the reach of danger; but before I could touch the pavement, I felt myself struck by the wheel of the carriage, was thrown down, and taken up insensible. When consciousness returned, I found they had conveyed me to a neighbouring shop, and that medical attendance had been procured. But more than all, I noticed the solicitude of Acme. Until the surgeon had given a favourable report, she could not address me, but when this had been pronounced, she overwhelmed me with thanks, begged to know where I would wish to be taken, and rested not until her own family caleche came up, and she saw me, attended by the Moorish woman, on the road to Floriana.
"My accident, though not a very serious one, proved of sufficient consequence, to confine me to my room for some time; and during that period, not a day passed, that did not give me proof of the anxiety of the young Greek for my restoration. I need not say that one of my first visits was to her. Her family received me as they would an absent brother. The obligations they considered I had conferred, outweighed all prejudices which they might have imbibed against my nation. On my part, charmed with my adventure, delighted with Acme, and gratified by the kindness of her relations, I endeavoured to increase their favourable opinion by all the means in my power. Acme and myself were soon more than friends, and I found my visits gave and imparted pleasure.
"I now arrive at the unhappy part of my narrative. How do I wish it were effaced from my memory. You may remember how, in all my letters to Delme, I made mention of my dear friend Delancey. We were indeed dear friends. We joined at the same time, lived together in England, embarked together, and when, one dreadful night off the African coast, the captain of the transport thought we must inevitably drift on the lee shore, we solaced each other, and agreed that, if it came to the worst, on one plank would we embark our fortunes. On our landing in Malta, we were inseparable, and my first impulse was to inform Delancey of all that had occurred, and to introduce him to a house where I felt so happy. I must here do him the justice to state, that whether I was partly unaware of the extent of my own feelings towards Acme, or whether I felt a morbid sense of delicacy, in alluding to what I knew to be the first attachment I had ever formed, I am unable to inform you! but the only circumstance I concealed from my friend was my attachment to the young Greek. Perhaps to this may be mainly attributed what happened. God, who knows all secrets, knows this; but I may now aver, that my friend, with many faults, has proved himself to have as frank and ingenuous a spirit, as noble ideas of friendship, as can exist in the human breast. For some time, matters continued thus. We were both constant visitors at Acme's house. With unparalleled blindness, I never mistrusted the feelings of my friend. I never contemplated that he also might become entangled with the young beauty. I considered her as my own prize, and was more engaged in analysing my own sensations, and in vainly struggling against a passion, which I was certain could not meet my family's approval, than at all suspicious that fresh causes of uneasiness might arise in another quarter. As Acme's heart opened to mine, I found her with feelings guileless and unsuspecting as a child's; although these were warm, and their expression but little restrained. There was a confiding simplicity in her manner, that threw an air over all she said or did, which quite forbade censure, and excited admiration. My passion became a violent and an all-absorbing one. I had made up my mind, to throw myself on the kindness of my family, and endeavour to obtain all your consents. Thus was I situated, when one day Acme came up to me with frankness of manner, but a tremulous voice, to beg I would use my interest with my friend, to prevent his coming to see her.
"'Indeed, indeed,' said she, 'I have tried to love him as a friend, as the friend of my life's preserver, but ever since he has spoken as he now does, his visits are quite unpleasant. My family begged me to tell you. They would have asked him to come no more, but were afraid you might be angry. Will you still come to us, and love us all, if they tell him this? If you will not, he shall still come; for indeed we could not offend one to whom we owe so much.'
"'I, too,' said I to Acme, 'I, too, dearest, ought perhaps to leave you, I, too'—
"'Oh, never! never!' said she, as she turned to me her dark eyes, bright with humid radiance. 'We cannot thus part!'
"She did, then, love me! I clasped her to my arms—our lips clung together in one rapturous intoxicating embrace.
"Yet, even in that moment of delirium, Henry, I told her of you, and of the many obstacles which still presented themselves to retard or even prevent our union. I sought my friend Delancey, and remonstrated with him. He appeared to doubt my right to question his motives. Success made me feel still more injured. I showered down reproaches. He could not have acted differently. We met! and I saw him fall! Till then, I had considered myself as the injured man; but as I heard him on the ground name his mother, and one dearer still—as he took from his breast the last gift she had made him—as he begged of me to be its bearer; I then first felt remorse. He was taken to his room. Even the surgeon entertained no hopes. He again called me to his side; I heard his noble acknowledgment, his reiterated vows of friendship, the mournful tones of his farewell. I entered this room a heart-broken man. I felt my pulse throb fearfully, a gasping sensation was in my throat, my head swam round, and I clung to the wall for support. The next thing of which I have any recollection, was the dawn of reason breaking through my troubled dreams. It was midnight—all was still. The fitful lamp shone dimly through my chamber. I turned on my side—and, oh! by its light, I saw the face I most loved—that face, whose gentle lineaments, were each deeply and separately engraven on my heart. I saw her bending over me with a maiden's love and a mother's solicitude. As I essayed to speak—as my conscious eye met her's—as the soft words of affection were involuntarily breathed by my feeble lips—how her features lit up with joy! Oh, say not, Henry, till you have experienced such a moment of transport, say not that the lips which then vowed eternal fidelity, that the young hearts which then plighted their truth, and vowed to love for ever—oh call not these guilty!
"Since that time my health has been extremely precarious. Whether the events crowded too thickly on me, or that I have not fully recovered my health, or—which I confess I think is the case—that my compunctions for my conduct to Acme weigh me down, I know not; but it is not always, my dear Henry, that I can thus address you. There are hours when I am hardly sensible of what I do, when my brain reels from its oppression. At such times, Acme is my guardian angel—my tender nurse—my affectionate attendant! In my lucid intervals, she is what you see her—the gentle companion—the confiding friend. I love her, Henry, more than I can tell you! I shall never be able to leave her! From Acme you may learn more of those dreary hours, which appear to me like waste dreams in my existence. She has watched by my bed of sickness, till she knows every turn of the disorder. From her, Henry, may you learn all."
Thus did George conclude his tale of passion; which Delme mused over, but refrained from commenting on.
Soon afterwards, George's caleche, in which he daily took exercise, was announced as being at the door. The brothers entered, and left Floriana.
"The car rattling through the stony street."
For an easy conveyance, commend us to a Maltese caleche! Many a time, assaulted by the blue devils, have we taken refuge in its solacing interior—have pulled down its silken blinds, and unseeing and unseen, the motion, like that of the rocking-cradle to the petulant child of less mature growth, has restored complacency, and lulled us to good humour. The caleche, the real caleche, is, we believe, peculiar to Malta. It is the carriage of the rich and poor—Lady Woodford may be seen employing it, to visit her gardens at St. Antonio; and in the service of the humblest of her subjects, will it be enlisted, as they wend their way to a picnic in the campagna. Every variety of steed is put in requisition for its draught.
We may see the barb, with nostril of fire, and mane playing with the wind, perform a curvet, as he draws our aristocratic countrywoman— aristocratic and haughty at least in Malta, although, in England, perhaps a star of much less magnitude.
We may view too the over-burthened donkey, as he drags along some aged vehicle, in which four fat smiling women, and one lean weeping child, look forward to his emaciated carcase, and yet blame him for being slow.
And thou! patient and suffering animal, whose name has passed into a proverb, until each vulgar wight looks on thee as the emblem of obstinacy,—maligned mule! when dost thou appear to more advantage, more joyous, or more self-satisfied, than when yoked to the Maltese caleche? Who that has witnessed thee, taking the scanty meal from the hand of thine accustomed driver, with whinnying voice, waving tail, thy long ears pricked upwards, and thy head rubbing his breast, who that has seen thee thus, will deny thee the spirit of gratitude?
Most injured of quadrupeds! if we ascend the rugged mountain's path, where on either side, precipices frown, and the pines wave far—far beneath—when one false step would plunge us, with our hopes, our fears, and our vices, into the abyss of eternity; is it not to thee we trust?
Calumniated mule! go on thy way.
This world's standard is but little to be relied on, whether it be for good, or whether it be for evil.
The motion of a caleche, such as we patronised, is an easy and luxurious one—the pace, a fast trot or smooth canter, of seven miles an hour—and with the blinds down, we have communed with ourselves, with as great freedom, and as little fear of interruption, as if we had been crossing the Zahara. The caleche men too are a peculiar and happy race—attentive to their fares—masters of their profession—and with a cigar in their cheek dexter, will troll you Maltese ditties till your head aches. Their costume is striking. Their long red caps are thrown back over their necks—their black curls hang down on each side of the face—and a crimson, many-folded sash, girds in a waist usually extremely small. Their neck, face, and breast, from continued exposure to the sun, are a red copper colour. They are always without shoes and stockings; and even our countrywomen, who pay much attention to the costume of their drivers, have not yet ventured to encase their brawny feet in the mysteries of leather. They run by the side of their caleches, the reins in one hand—the whip in the other—cheering on their animals by a constant succession of epithets, oaths, and invocations to their favourite saint.
They are rarely fatigued, and may be seen beside their vehicles, urging the horses, with the thermometer at 110 deg., and perhaps a stout-looking Englishman inside, with white kerchief to his face, the image of languor and lassitude.
Their horses gallop down steeps, which no English Jehu dare attempt; and ascend and descend with safety and hardihood, stone steps which occur in many parts of Valletta; and which would certainly present an insurmountable obstacle to our steeds at home.
The proper period, however, to see a caleche man in his glory, is during the carnival. Every caleche is in employ; and many a one which has reposed for the twelvemonth previous, is at that time wheeled from its accustomed shed, and put in requisition for some of pleasure's votaries. Long lines of them continue to pass and repass in the principal street. Their inmates are almost universally of the fair sex, and of the best part of it, the young and beautiful. Cavaliers, with silken bags, containing bon-bons, slung on their left arm, stand at intervals, ready to discharge the harmless missiles, at those whom their taste approves worthy of the compliment. Happy the young beauty, who, returning homewards, sees the carpet of her caleche thickly strewn with these dulcet favours! The driver is now in his element! He ducks his head, as the misdirected sweetmeat approaches; he has an apt remark prompt for the occasion. As he nears too the favoured inamorato, for whom he well knows his mistress' sweetest smile is reserved—who already with his right hand grasping the sugared favours, is prepared to lavish his whole store on this one venture—how arch his look—how roguish his eye—as he turns towards his donna, and speaks as plainly as words could do, "See! there he is, he whom you love best!"
Ah! well may we delight to recal once more those minute details! ah! well may we remember how—when our brow was smoothed with youth, as it is now furrowed with care—when our eye sparkled from pleasure, as it is now dimmed from time, or mayhap, tears—well may we love to remember, how our whole hearts were engrossed in that mimic warfare. How impatiently did we watch for one, amidst that crowded throng, for one—whose beauty haunted us by day, and whose smile we dreamt over by night. Well do we recal with what unexampled ingenuity, we laboured to befit the snow white egg for a rare tenant—attar-gul. Well do we remember how that face, usually so cloudless, became darkened almost to a frown, as our heart's mistress saw the missile approach her. What a radiant smile bewitched us, as it burst on her lap, and filled the air with its fragrance! Truly we had our reward!
Delme and George took a quiet drive, and enjoyed that sweet interchange of ideas, that characterises the meeting of two brothers long absent from each other.
They went in the direction of St. Julian's, a drive all our Maltese friends will be familiar with. The road lay almost wholly by the sea side. A gentle breeze was crisping the waters, and served to allay the heat, which, at a more advanced period of the season, is by no means an enviable one. Sun-shine seemed to beam on George's mind, as he once more spoke of home ties, to one to whom those home ties were equally dear. And gratefully did he bask in its rays! Long used to the verdant but tame, beautiful but romantic landscapes, which the part of England he resided in presented; the scenery around him, novel and picturesque, struck Sir Henry forcibly. To one who has resided long in Malta, its scenes may wear an aspect somewhat different. The limited country—the ceaseless glare—the dust, or rather the pulverised rock—the ever-present lizard, wary and quick, peeping out at each crevice—the buzzing mosquito, inviting the moody philosopher to smite his own cheek,—these things may come to be regarded as real grievances.
But Delme, as a visitor, was pleased with what he saw. The promising vineyards—the orange groves, with their glowing fruit and ample foliage, "looking like golden lamps" in a dark night of leaves—the thick leaves of the prickly pear—the purple sky above him, lending its rich hue to the sea beside—the architectural beauties of the cottages—the wide portico of the mansions—the flat terrace with its balustrade, over which might be seen a fair face, half concealed by the faldette, smilingly peering, and through whose pillars might be noted a pretty ancle, and siesta-looking slipper—these were novelties, and pleasing ones! Their drive over, Delme felt more tranquil as to George's state of mind, and more inclined to look on the bright side, as to his future fortunes.
Acme was waiting to receive them, and as she scanned George's features, Delme could not but observe the affectionate solicitude that marked her glance and manner.
Let it not be thought we would make vice seductive!
Fair above all things is the pure affection of woman! happy he who may regard it his! he may bask without a shade of distrust in its glorious splendour, and permanently adore its holy beauty.
While, fascinating though be the concentred love of woman, whether struggling in its passion—enraptured in its madness—or clinging and loving on in its guilt: Man—that more selfish wanderer from virtue's pale, that destroyer of his own best sympathies—will find too late that a day of bitterest regret must arrive: a day when love shall exist no more, or, linked with remorse, shall tear—a fierce vulture—at his very heart strings.
"Not such as prate of war, but skulk in peace."
Delme strolled out half an hour before his brother's dinner hour, with the intention of paying a visit of ceremony to the Colonel of George's regiment. His house was not far distant. It had been the palazzo of one of the redoubted Knights of St. John; and the massive gate at which Sir Henry knocked for admittance, seemed an earnest, that the family, who had owned the mansion, had been a powerful and important one. The door was opened, and the servant informed Delme, that Colonel Vavasour was on the terrace.
The court yard through which they passed was extensive; and a spring
"Of living water from its centre rose, Whose bubbling did a genial softness fling."
Ascending a lofty marble staircase, along which were placed a few bronzed urns, Delme crossed a suite of apartments—thrown open in the Italian mode—and passing through a glass door, found himself on a wide stone terrace, edged by pillars.
Immediately beneath this, was an orange grove, whose odours perfumed the air. Colonel Vavasour was employed in reading a German treatise on light infantry tactics. He received Sir Henry with great cordiality, and proposed adjourning to the library. Delme was pleased to observe, for it corresponded with what he had heard of the man; that, with the exception of the chef d'oeuvres of the English and German poets, the Colonel's library, which was an extensive one, almost wholly consisted of such books as immediately related to military subjects, or might be able to bear on some branch of science connected with military warfare. Pagan, and his follower Vauban, and the more matured treatises of Cormontaigne, were backed by the works of that boast of the Low Countries, Coehorn; and by the ingenious theories, as yet but theories, of Napoleon's minister of war, Carnot.
Military historians, too, crowded the shelves. There might be noted the veracious Polybius—the classic Xenophon—the scientific Caesar—the amusing Froissart, with his quaint designs, and quainter discourses—and many an author unknown to fame, who in lengthy quarto, luxuriated on the lengthy campaigns of Marlborough or Eugene; those wise commanders, who flourished in an era, when war was a well debated scientific game of chess; when the rival opponents took their time, before making their moves; and the loss of a pawn was followed by the loss of a kingdom. There might you be enamoured with even a soldier's hardships, as your eye glanced on the glowing circumstantial details of Kincaid;—or you might glory in your country's Thucydides, as you read the nervous impassioned language of a Napier. Thou, too, Trant! our friend! wert there! Ah, why cut off in thy prime? Did not thy spirit glow with martial fire? Did not thy conduct give promise, that not in vain were those talents accorded thee? What hadst thou done, to sink thus early to a premature inglorious grave? Nor were our friends Folard and Jomini absent; nor eke the minute essays of a Jarry, who taught the aspiring youths of Great Britain all the arts of castrametation. With what gusto does he show how to attack Reading; or how, with the greatest chance of success, to defend the tranquil town of Egham. Here would he sink trous de loup on the ancient Runnimede, whereby the advance of the enemy's cavalry would be frustrated; there would he cut down an abattis, or plant chevaux de frise. At this winding of England's noblest river, would he establish a pontoon bridge; the approaches to which he would enfilade, by a battery placed on yonder height.
Before relating the conversation between Delme and Colonel Vavasour, it may not be improper to say a few words as to the character of the latter. When we say that he was looked up to as an officer, and adored as a man, by the regiment he had commanded for years; we are not according light praise.
Those who have worn a coat of red, or been much conversant with military affairs, will appreciate the difficult, the ungrateful task, devolving on a commanding officer.
How few, how very few are those, who can command respect, and ensure love. How many, beloved as men, are imposed on, and disregarded as officers. How many are there, whose presence on the parade ground awes the most daring hearts, who are passed by in private life, with something like contumely, and of whom, in their private relations, few speak, and yet fewer are those who wish kindly. When deserving in each relation, how frequently do we see those who want the manner, the tact, to show themselves in their true colours. An ungracious refusal—ay! or an ungraciously accorded favour! may raise a foe who will be a bar to a man's popularity for years:—whilst how many a free and independent spirit is there, who criticises with a keener eye than is his wont, the sayings and doings of his commanding officer, solely because he is such. How apt is such an one to misrepresent a word, or create a wrong motive for an action! how slow in giving praise, lest he should be deemed one of the servile train! Pass we over the host of petty intrigues—the myriads of conflicting interests:—show not how the partial report of a favourite, may make the one in authority unjust to him below him; or how the false tale-bearer may induce the one below to be unjust to his superior. Colonel Vavasour was not only considered in the field, as one of England's bravest soldiers; but was yet more remarkable for his gentlemanly deportment, and for the attention he ever paid to the interior economy of his corps. This gave a tone to the—— mess, almost incredible to one, who has not witnessed, what the constant presence of a commanding officer, if he be a real gentleman, is enabled to effect. Colonel Vavasour had ideas on the duties of a soldier, which to many appeared original. We cannot but think, that the Colonel's ideas, in the main, were right. He disliked his officers marrying; often stating that he considered a sword and a wife as totally incompatible.
"Where," would he say, "is then that boasted readiness of purpose, that spirit of enterprise? Can an officer then, with half a dozen shirts in his portmanteau, and a moderate quantity of cigars, if he be a smoker, declare himself ready to sail over half the world?"
The Colonel would smile as he said this, but would continue with a graver tone.
"No, there is a choice, and I blame no one for making his election:—a soldier's hardships and a soldier's joys;—or domestic happiness, and an inglorious life:—but to attempt to blend the two, is, I think, injudicious."
On regimental subjects, he was what is technically called, a regulation man. No innovations ever crept into his regiment, wanting the sanction of the Horse Guards; whilst every order emanating from thence, was as scrupulously adopted and adhered to, as if his own taste had prompted the change. On parade, Colonel Vavasour was a strict disciplinarian;— but his sword in the scabbard, he dropped the officer in his manner,—it was impossible to do so in his appearance,—and no one ever heard him discuss military points in a place inappropriate. He knew well how to make the distinction between his public and his private duties. On an officer under his command, being guilty of any dereliction of duty, he would send for him, and reprimand him before the assembled corps, if he deemed that such reprimand would be productive of good effect to others; but—the parade dismissed—he would probably take this very officer's arm, or ask to accompany him in his country ride.
Colonel Vavasour had once a young and an only brother under his command. In no way did he relax discipline in his favour. Young Vavasour had committed a breach of military etiquette. He was immediately ordered by his brother to be placed in arrest, and would inevitably have been brought to a court martial, had not the commanding officer of the station interfered. During the whole of this time, the Colonel's manner towards him continued precisely the same. They lived together as usual; and no man, without a knowledge of the circumstance, could have been aware that any other but a fraternal tie bound them together. What was more extraordinary, the younger brother saw all this in its proper light; and whilst he clung to and loved his brother, looked up with awe and respect to his commanding officer.
As for Colonel Vavasour, no one who saw his convulsed features, as his brother fell heading a gallant charge of his company at Waterloo, could have doubted for a moment his deep-rooted affection. From that period, a gloomy melancholy hung about him, which, though shaken off in public, gave a shade to his brow, which was very perceptible.
In person, he was particularly neat; being always the best dressed officer in his regiment, "How can we expect the men to pay attention to their dress, when we give them reason to suppose we pay but little attention to our own?" was a constant remark of his. And here we may observe, that no class of men have a stricter idea of the propriety of dress, than private soldiers. To dress well is half a passport to a soldier's respect; whilst on the other hand, it requires many excellent qualities, to counterbalance in his mind a careless and slovenly exterior. Colonel Vavasour had an independent fortune, which he spent at the head of his regiment. Many a dinner party was given by him, for which the corps he commanded obtained the credit; many a young officer owed relief from pecuniary embarrassments, which might otherwise have overwhelmed him, to the generosity of his Colonel. He appeared not to have a wish, beyond the military circle around him, although those who knew him best, said he had greater talent, and possessed the art of fascinating in general society, more than most men.
"I am glad to see you here, Sir Henry," said he to Delme, "although I cannot but wish that happier circumstances had brought you to us. I have a very great esteem for your brother, and am one of his warmest well wishers. But I must not neglect the duties of hospitality. You must allow me to present you to my officers at mess this evening. Our dinner hour is late; but were it otherwise, we should miss that delightful hour for our ride, when the sun's rays have no longer power to harm us, and the sea breezes waft us a freshness, which almost compensates for the languor attending the summer's heat."
Delme declined his invitation, stating his wish to dine with his brother on that day; but expressed himself ready to accept his kind offer on the ensuing one.
"Thank you!" said Colonel Vavasour, "it is natural you should wish to see your brother; and it pains me to think that poor George cannot yet dine with his old friends. Have you seen Mr. Graham?"
Delme replied in the affirmative; adding, that he could not but feel obliged to him for his frankness.
"I am glad you feel thus," said Vavasour, "it emboldens me to address you with equal candour; and, painful as our advice must be, I confess I am inclined to side with George's medical attendant. I have myself been witness to such lamentable proofs of George's state of mind—he has so often, with the tears in his eyes, spoken to me of his feelings with regard to Acme Frascati, that I certainly consider these as in a great measure the cause, and his state of mind the effect. I speak to you, Sir Henry, without disguise. I had once a brother—the apple of my eye—I loved him as I shall never love human being more; and, as God is my witness, under similar circumstances, frankness is what I should have prayed for,—my first wish would have been at once to know the worst. Mr. Graham has told you of his long illness—his delirium—and has, I conclude, touched upon the present state of his patient. Shall I shock you, when I add that his lucid intervals are not to be depended upon; that occasionally the wildest ideas, the most extraordinary projects, are conceived by him? I wish you not, to act on any thing that Mr. Graham, or that I may tell you, but to judge for yourself. Without this, indeed, you would hardly understand the danger of these mental paroxysms. So fearful are they, that I confess I should be inclined to adopt any remedy, make any sacrifices which promised the remotest possibility of success."
"I trust," said Sir Henry, "there are no sacrifices I would not personally make for my only brother, were I once convinced these were for his real benefit."
"I frankly mean," said Vavasour, "that I think almost the only chance of restoring him, is by allowing him to marry Acme Frascati."
Delme's brow clouded.
"Think not," continued he, "that I am ignorant of what such a determination must cost you. I, too, Sir Henry,"—and the old man drew his commanding form to its utmost height,—"I too, know what must be the feelings of a descendant of noble ancestors. I know them well; and in more youthful days, the blood boiled in my veins as I thought of the name they had left me. Thank heaven! I have never disgraced it. But were I situated as you are, and the dead Augustus Vavasour in the place of the living George Delme, I would act as I am now advising you to do. I speak solely as to the expediency of the measure. From what I have stated—from my situation in life—from my character—you may easily imagine that all my prejudices are enlisted on the other side of the question. But I must here confess that I see something inexpressibly touching in the devotion which that young Greek girl displayed, during the whole of George's illness. But putting this on one side, and considering the affair as one of mere expediency, I think you will finally agree with me, that however desperate the remedy, some such must be applied. And now, let me assure you, that nothing could have induced me to obtrude thus, my feelings and opinions on a comparative stranger, were it not that that stranger is the brother of one in whose welfare I feel the liveliest interest."
Sir Henry Delme expressed his thanks, and inwardly determined that he would form no opinion till he had himself been witness to some act of mental aberration. It is true, he had heard the medical attendant give a decided opinion,—from George's own lips he had an avowal of much that had been stated,—and now he had heard one, for whom he could not but feel great respect—one who had evidently no interest in the question—declare his sentiments as strongly. We are all sanguine as to what we wish. It may be, that a hope yet lurked in Delme's breast, that these accounts might be unconsciously exaggerated, or that his brother's state of health was now more established than heretofore.
On returning to Floriana, Delme found George and the blushing Acme awaiting him. A delightful feeling is that, of again finding ourselves with those from whom we have long been parted, once more engaged in the same round of familiar avocations, once more re-acting the thousand little trifles of life which we have so often acted before, and that, too, in company with those who now sit beside us, as if to mock the lapse of intervening years. These meetings seem to steal a pinion from time's wing, and hard indeed were it if the sensations they called forth were not pleasurable ones; for oh! how rudely and frequently, on the other hand, are we reminded of the changes which the progress of years brings with it: the bereavement of loved ones—the prostration of what we revered—our buoyant elasticity of body and mind departed—all things changing and changed.
We sigh, and gaze back. How few are the scenes, which memory's kaleidoscope presents in their pristine bright colours, of that journey, performed so slowly, as it once appeared, but which, to the eye of retrospection, seems to have hurried to its end with the rapid wings of the wind!
Imbued with an association, what a trivial circumstance will please! As the brothers touched each other's glass; and drank to mutual happiness, what grateful recollections were called up by that act! How did these manifest their power, as they lighted up the wan features of George Delme. Acme looked on smilingly; her hair flowing about her neck—her dark eyes flashing with unusual brilliancy. Delme felt it would be unsocial were he alone to look grave; and although many foreboding thoughts crowded on him, he too seemed to be happy. It was twilight when the dinner was over. The windows were open, and the party placed themselves near the jalousies. They here commanded a view of the public gardens, where groups of Maltese were enjoying the coolness of the hour, and the fragrance of the flowers. The walk had a roof of lattice work supported by wooden pillars; round which, an image of woman's love, the honeysuckle clingingly twined, diffusing sweets.
Immediately before them, the principal outlet of the town presented itself. Laughing parties of English sailors were passing, mounted on steeds of every size, which they were urging forward, in spite of the piteous remonstrances of the menials of their owners. The latter, for the most part, held by the tails of their animals, and uttered a jargon composed of English, Italian, and Maltese. The only words however, that met the unregarding ears of the sailors, were some such exclamations as these.
"Not you go so fast, Signore; he good horse, but much tire."
The riders sat in their saddles swinging from side to side, evidently thinking their tenure more precarious than that on the giddy mast; and wholly unmindful of the expressive gestures, and mournful ejaculations of the bare-legged pursuers. At another time, their antics and buffoonery, as they made unmerciful use of the short sticks with which they were armed, would have provoked a smile. Now our party gazed on these things as they move the wise. They felt calm and happy; and deceptive hope whispered they might yet remain so. Acme took up her guitar, and throwing her fingers over it, as she gave a soft prelude, warbled that sweet although common song, "Buona notte, amato bene." She sung with great feeling, and feeling is the soul of music.
How plaintively! how tenderly did her lips breathe the
"ricordati! ricordati di me!"
There was something extremely witching in her precocious charms. She resembled some beauteous bud, just ready to burst into light and bloom. It is not yet the rose,—but a moment more may make it such. Her beauties were thus ripe for maturity. It seemed as if the sunshine of love were already upon them—they were basking in its rays. A brief space—and the girl shall no longer be such. What was promise shall be beauty. She shall meet the charmed eye a woman; rich in grace and loveliness. As Delme marked her sympathising glance at George—her beaming features—her innocent simplicity;—as he thought of all she had lost, all she had suffered for his brother's sake,—as he thought of the scorn of the many—the pity of the few—the unwearied watching—the sleepless nights—the day of sorrow passed by the bed of sickness—all so cheerfully encountered for him—he could not reproach her. No! he took her hand, and the brothers whispered consolation to her, and to each other.
Late that evening, they were joined by Colonel Vavasour, and Mr. Graham. George's spirits rose hourly. Never had his Colonel appeared to such advantage—Acme so lovely—or Henry so kind—as they did to George Delme that night.
It was with a sigh at the past pleasures that George retired to his chamber.
"Red coats and redder faces."
The following day, a room having been given up to Delme, he discharged his bill at Beverley's; and moved to Floriana. He again accompanied George in his drive; and they had on this occasion, the advantage of Acme's society, who amused them with her artless description of the manners of the lower orders of Maltese.
Pursuant to his promise, at the bugle's signal Delme entered the mess room; and the Colonel immediately introduced him to the assembled officers. To his disappointment, for he felt curious to see one, who had exercised such an influence over his brother, Delancey was not amongst them. Sir Henry was much pleased with the feeling that appeared to exist, between Colonel Vavasour and his corps of officers:—respect on one side—and the utmost confidence on both. We think it is the talented author of Pelham, who describes a mess table as comprising "cold dishes and hot wines, where the conversation is of Johnson of ours and Thomson of jours."
This, though severe, is near the truth; and if, to this description, be added lots of plate of that pattern called the Queen's—ungainly servants in stiff mess liveries—and a perpetual recurrence to Mr. Vice; we have certainly caught the most glaring features of a commonplace regimental dinner. Vavasour was well aware of this, and had directed unremitting attention, to give a tone to the conversation at the mess table, more nearly approaching to that of private life; one which should embrace topics of general interest, and convey some general information. Even in his well ordered regiment, there were some, whose nature would have led them, to confine their attention to thoughts of the daily military routine. This inclination was repressed by the example of their Colonel; and these, if not debaters, were at least patient listeners, as the conversation dealt of matters, to them uncongenial, and the value of the discussion of which they could not themselves perceive. Not that military subjects were interdicted; the contrary was the case. But these subjects took a somewhat loftier tone, than the contemplation of an exchange of orderly duty, or an overslaugh of guard.
When dinner was announced, Colonel Vavasour placed his hand on the shoulder of a boy near him.
"Come, Cholmondeley!" said he, "sit near me, and give me an account of your match. You must not fail to write your Yorkshire friends every particular. Major Clifford, will you sit on the other side of Sir Henry? You are both Peninsula men, and will find, I doubt not, that you have many friends in common.
"There is something," said he to Delme, as he took his seat, "revivifying to an old soldier, in noting the exhilaration of spirit of these boys. It reminds us of the zeal with which we too buckled on our coat of red. It is a great misfortune these youngsters labour under, that they have no outlet for their ambition, no scene on which they can display their talents. Never were youthful aspirants for service more worthy, or more zealous, and yet it is probable their country will not need them, until they arrive at an age, when neither body nor mind are attuned for commencing a life of hardship, however well adapted to continue in it. We have had the advantage there—we trod the soldier's proudest stage when our hopes and buoyancy of heart were at their highest; and for myself, I am satisfied that much of my present happiness, arises from the very different life of my earlier years."
The conversation took a military turn; and Delme could not help observing the attention, with which the younger members of the corps heard the anecdotes, related by those who had been actually engaged. Occasionally, the superior reading of the juniors would peep out, and give them the advantage of knowledge, even with regard to circumstances, over those who had been personal actors in the affairs they spoke of. The most zealous of these detail narrators, were the quarter-master of the regiment, and Delme's right-hand neighbour, Major Clifford. The former owed his appointment to his gallantry, in saving the colours of his regiment, when the ensign who bore them was killed, and the enemy's cavalry were making a sudden charge, before the regiment could form its square.
His was a bluff purple face, denoting the bon vivant. Indeed, it was with uncommon celerity, that his previous reputation of being the best maker of rum punch in the serjeants' mess, had changed into his present one of being the first concoctor of sangaree at the officers'.
Major Clifford merits more especial notice. He was a man hardly appreciated in his own profession; out of it, he was misrepresented, and voted a bore. He had spent all the years of his life, since the down mantled his upper lip, in the service of his country; and for its good, as he conceived it, he had sacrificed all his little fortune. It is true his liberality had not had a very comprehensive range: he had sunk his money in the improvement of the personal appearance of his company—in purchasing pompons—or new feathers—or whistles, when he was a voltigeur—in establishing his serjeants' mess on a more respectable footing—in giving his poor comrade a better coffin, or a richer pall:—these had been his foibles; and in indulging them, he had expended the wealth, that might have purchased him on to rank and honours. His eagle glance, his aquiline nose, and noble person, showed what he must have been in youth. His hair was now silvered, but his coat was as glossy as formerly—his zeal was unabated—his pride in his profession the same—and what he could spare, still went, to adorn the persons of the soldiers he still loved. He remained a captain, although his long standing in the army had brought him in for the last brevet. It is true every one had a word for poor Clifford. "Such a fine fellow! what a shame!" But this did not help him on. At the Horse Guards, too, his services were freely acknowledged. The Military Secretary had always a smile for him at his levee, and an assurance that "he had his eye on him" The Commander in Chief, too, the last time he had inspected the regiment, attracted by his Waterloo badge, and Portuguese cross, had stopped as he passed in front of the ranks, and conversed with him most affably, for nearly two minutes and a half; as his colour serjeant with some degree of pride used to tell the story. But yet, somehow or other, although Major Clifford was an universal favourite, they always forgot to reward him. A man of the world, would have deemed the Major's ideas to be rather contracted; and to confess the truth, there were two halcyon periods of his life, to which he was fond of recurring. The one was, when he commanded a light company, attached to General Crauford's light brigade;—the other, when he had the temporary command of the regimental depot, and at his own expense, had dressed out its little band, as it had never been dressed out before.
Do you sneer at the old soldier, courtly reader?
There breathes not a man who dare arraign that man's courage;—there is not one who knows him, who would not cheerfully stake his life as a gage for his stainless honour.
The soup and fish had been removed, when Delme observed a young officer glide in, with that inexpressible air of fashion, which appears to shun notice, whilst it attracts it. His arm was in a sling, and his attenuated face seemed to bespeak ill health. Sir Henry addressed Colonel Vavasour, and begged to know if the person who had just entered the room was Delancey. He was answered in the affirmative; and he again turned to scrutinise his features. These rivetted attention; and were such as could not be seen once, without being gazed at again. His eyes were dark and large, and rested for minutes on one object, with an almost mournful expression; nor was it until they turned from its contemplation, that the discriminating observer might read in their momentary flash, that their possessor had passions deep and uncontrollable. His dark hair hung in profusion over his forehead, which it almost hid; though from the slight separation of a curl, the form of brow became visible; which was remarkable for its projection, and for its pallid hue, which offered a strong contrast to the swart and sunburnt face.
"Are you aware of his history?" said the Colonel.
"Not in the slightest," replied Delme. "I felt curious to see him, on account of the way in which he has been mixed up with George's affair; and think his features extraordinary—very extraordinary ones."
"He is son," said Vavasour, "to the once celebrated Lady Harriet D——, who made a marriage so disgracefully low. He is the only child by that union. His parents lived for many years on the continent, in obscurity, and under an assumed name. They are both dead. It is possible Delancey may play a lofty role in the world, as he has only a stripling between him and the earldom of D——, which descends in the female line. I am sure he will not be a common character; but I have great fears about him. In the regiment he is considered proud and unsocial; and indeed it was your brother's friendship that appeared to retain him in our circle. He has great talents, and some good qualities; but from his uncommon impetuosity of temper, and his impatience of being thwarted, I should be inclined to predict, that the first check he receives in life, will either make him a misanthrope, or a pest to society."
At a later period of his life, Delme again encountered Delancey; and this prophecy of the Colonel's was vividly recalled.
In the ensuing chapter, we purpose giving Oliver Delancey's history, as a not uninstructive episode; although we are aware that episodes are impatiently tolerated, and it is in nowise allied to the purpose of our story. But before doing so, we must detail a conversation which occurred between Delancey and Delme, at the table of the —— mess. The latter was scanning the features of the former, when their eyes met. A conviction seemed to flash on Delancey, that Delme was George's brother; for the blood rushed to his cheek—his colour went and came—and as he turned away his head, he made a half involuntary bow. Delme was struck with his manner, and apparent emotion; and in returning the salute, ventured "to hope he was somewhat recovered."
When Major Clifford left the table, Delancey took his vacant seat.
"Sir Henry Delme," said he, "I have before this wished to see you, to implore the forgiveness of your family for the misery I have occasioned. How often have I cursed my folly! I acted on an impulse, which at the time I could not withstand. I had never serious views with regard to Acme Frascati. Indeed, I may here tell you,—to no other man have I ever named it,—that I have ties in my own country far dearer, and more imperatively binding. I knew I had erred. The laws of society could alone have made me meet George Belme as a foe; but even then—on the ground—God and my second know that my weapon was never directed at my friend. I am an unsocial being, Sir Henry, and, from my habits, not likely to be popular. Your brother knew this, and saved me from petty contentions and invidious calumnies. He was the best and only friend I possessed. I purpose soon to leave Malta and the army. The former is become painful to me,—for the latter I have a distaste, A feeling of delicacy to Acme Frascati would prevent my seeing your brother, even if Mr. Graham had not forbidden the interview, as likely to harass his mind. Will you, then, assure him of my unabated attachment, and tell me that you forgive me for the part I have taken in this unhappy affair."
Delme was much moved as he assured him he would do all he wished; that he could see little to blame him for—that George's excited feelings had brought on the present crisis, and that he had amply atoned for any share he might have had in the transaction. Delancey pressed his hand gratefully.
It was at a somewhat late hour that Delme joined Acme and his brother; declining the hearty invitation of the Quartermaster to come down to his quarters.
"He could give him a devilled turkey and a capital cigar."
"Then the few, whose spirits float above the wreck of happiness, Are driven o'er the shoals of guilt, or ocean of excess; The magnet of their course is gone, or only points in vain The shore to which their shiver'd sail shall never reach again."
We have said that Delme saw Delancey once more. It was at a later period of our story, when business had taken Sir Henry to Bath. He had been dining with Mr. Belliston Graeme, who possessed a villa in the neighbourhood. Tempted by the beauty of the night, he dismissed his carriage, and, turning from the high road, took a by-path which led to the city. The air was serene and mild. The moon-light was sufficiently clear to chase away night's dank vapours. The ground had imperceptibly risen, until having ascended a grassy eminence, over which the path stretched, the well-lighted city burst upon the eye.
Immediately in front of the view, a principal street presented itself, the lamps on either side stretching in regular succession, until they gradually narrowed and joined in the perspective. Nearer to the spectator, the flickering lights of the detached villas, and the moving ones of the carriages in the public road, relieved the stillness of the scene. Delme paused to regard it, with that subdued feeling with which men, arrived at a certain period of life, scan the aspect of nature. The moon at the moment was enveloped in light clouds. As it broke through them, its shimmering light revealed a face and form that Delme at once recognised as Delancey's. It was with a consciousness of pain he did so, for it brought before him recollections of scenes, whose impressions had still power to subdue him. All emotions, however, soon became absorbed in that of curiosity, as he noted the still figure and agitated features before him. A block of granite lay near the path. Delancey leant back over it—his right hand nearly touched the ground—his hat lay beside him. The dark hair, wet with the dews of night, was blown back by the breeze. His high forehead was fully shewn. His vest and shirt were open, as he gazed with an air of fixedness on the city, and conversed to himself. His teeth were firmly clenched, and it seemed that the lips moved not, but the words were fearfully distinct. We often hear of these soliloquies,—they afford scope to the dramatist, food for the poet, a chapter for the narrator of fiction,—but we rarely witness them. When we do, they are eminently calculated to thrill and alarm. It was evident that Delancey saw him not; but had it been otherwise, Delme's interest was so aroused that he could not have left the spot.
"Hail! sympathising night!" thus spoke the young man, "the calm of thy silent hour seems in unison with my lone heart—thy dewy breeze imparts a freshness to this languid and darkened spirit, Sweet night! how I love thee! And moon, too! fair moon! how abruptly!—how chastely!—how gloriously!—dost thou break through the variegated and fleecy clouds, which would impede thy progress, and deny me to gaze on thy white orb unshrouded. And thou, too! radiant star of eve! oh that woman's love but resembled thee! that it were gentle, constant, and pure as thy holy gleam. That that should dazzle to bring in its train—oh God! what misery." He raised his hand to his brow, as if a poignant thought had stung him.
Sir Henry Delme stole away, and ruminated long that night, on the distress that could thus convulse those fine features. Afterwards, when Delancey's name was no longer the humble one he had first known it, but became bruited in loftier circles,—for Vavasour's prediction became realised,—Delme heard it whispered, that his affections had suffered an early blight, from the infidelity of one to whom he had been affianced. We may relate the circumstances as they occurred. Blanche Allen was the daughter of a country gentleman of some wealth, whose estate joined that of the Earl of D——'s, where Delancey's boyhood had been spent. For years Blanche and Oliver considered themselves as more than friends. Each selected the other as the companion in the solitary walk, or partner in the joyous dance. Not a country girl but had her significant smile, as young Delancey's horse's head was turned towards Hatton Grange.
Delancey joined the army at an early age. Blanche was some eighteen months his junior. They parted with tears, and thus they continued to do for the two following years, during which Oliver frequently got leave to run down to his uncle's. This was while he was serving with part of the regiment at home. When it came to his turn to embark for foreign service, it was natural from this circumstance, as well as from their riper age, that their farewell should be of a more solemn nature. They bade adieu by the side of the streamlet that divided the two properties. It was where this made a small fall, down which it gushed in crystal brightness, and then meandered with gentle murmur through a succession of rich meadows. A narrow bridge was below the fall, while beside it, a rustic seat had been placed, on which the sobbing Blanche sat, with her lover's arm round her waist. For the first time he had talked seriously of their attachment, and it was with youthful earnestness, that they mutually plighted their troth. Nor did Blanche hesitate, though blushing deeply as she did so, to place in his hand a trivial gage d'amour, and that which has so long solaced absent lovers, a lock of her sunny hair. Blanche was very beautiful, but she had a character common to many English women—more so, we think, than to foreign ones.
As a girl, Blanche was nature's self, warm, gentle, confiding,—as an unmarried woman, she was a heartless coquette,—as a matron, an exemplary mother and an affectionate wife. During the time Delancey was abroad, he heard of Blanche but seldom, for the lovers were not of that age in which a correspondence would be tolerated by Blanche's family. She once managed to send him, by the hands of a young cousin, some trifling present, with a few lines accompanying it, informing him that she had not forgotten him. His uncle—his only correspondent in England—was not exactly the person to make a confidant of; but he would, in an occasional postscript, let him know that he had seen Blanche Allen lately—that "she was very gay, prettier than ever, and always blushing when spoken to of a certain person."
To do Oliver justice, he at all times thought of Blanche. We have seen him, with regard to Acme, apparently disregarding her, but in that affair he had been actuated by a mere spirit of adventure. His heart was but slightly enlisted, and his feelings partook of any thing but those of a serious attachment.
Oliver Delancey left Malta soon after his conversation with Delme. Previous to doing so, he had forwarded his resignation to Colonel Vavasour.
He passed some time in Italy, and, as the season arrived, found himself a denizen in that gayest of cities, Vienna. Pleasure is truly there enshrouded in her liveliest robes. As regards Delancey, not in vain was she thus clothed. Just relieved from the dull monotony of a military life—dull as it ever must be without war's excitement, and peculiarly distasteful to one constituted like Delancey, who refused to make allowance for the commonplace uncongenial spirits with whom he found himself obliged to herd—he was quite prepared to embrace with avidity any life that promised an agreeable change. Austria's capital holds out many inducements to dissipation, and to none are these more freely tendered, than to young and handsome Englishmen. The women, over the dangerous sentimentality of their nation, throw such an air of ease and frankness, that their victims resemble the finny tribe in the famous tunny fishery. While they conceive the whole ocean is at their command—disport here and there in imagined freedom—they are already encased by the insidious nets; the harpoon is already pointed, which shall surely pierce them. Delancey plunged headlong into pleasure's vortex—touched each link between gaiety and crime. He wandered from the paths of virtue from the infatuation of folly, and continued to err from the fascinations of sin. He was suddenly recalled to himself, by one of those catastrophes often sent by Providence, to awaken us from intoxicating dreams. His companion, with whom he had resided during his stay in Vienna, lost his all at a gaming table. Although he had not the firmness of mind to face his misfortunes, yet had he the rashness to meet his God unbidden. Sobered and appalled, Oliver left Germany for England. There was a thought, which even in the height of his follies obtruded, and which now came on him with a force that surprised himself. That thought was of Blanche Allen. He turned from the image of his expiring friend to dwell unsated on hers. A new vista of life seemed to open—thoughts which had long slept came thronging on his mind—he was once more the love-sick boy. The more, too, he brooded over his late unworthiness, the more did his imagination ennoble the one he loved. He now looked to the moment of meeting her, as that whence he would date his moral regeneration. "Thank God!" thought he, "a sure haven is yet mine. There will I—my feelings steadied, my affections concentrated—enjoy a purified and unruffled peace. What a consolation to be loved by one so good and gentle!"
He hurried towards England, travelled day and night, and only wondered that he could have rested any where, while he had the power of flying to her he had loved from childhood. Occasionally a feeling of apprehension would cross him. It was many months since he had heard of her—she might be ill. His love was of that confiding nature, that he could not conceive her changed. As he came near his home, happier thoughts succeeded. In fancy, he again saw her enjoying the innocent pleasures in which he had been her constant companion,—health on her cheek—affection in her glance. He had to pass that well known lodge. His voice shook, as he told the driver to stop at its gate. As he drove through the avenue of elms, he threw himself back in the carriage, and every limb quivered from his agitation. He could hardly make himself understood to the domestic—he waited not an answer to his enquiry—but bounded up the stairs, and with faltering step entered the room. Blanche was there, and not alone but oh! how passing fair! Even Delancey had not dared to think, that the beauty of the girl could have been so eclipsed by the ripe graces of the woman. She recognised him, and rose to meet him with a burst of unfeigned surprise. She held out her hand with an air of winning frankness; and yet for an instant,—and his hand as it pressed hers, trembled with that thought,—he deemed there was a hesitating blush on her cheek, which should not have been there. But it passed away, and radiant with smiles, she turned to the one beside her.
"My dear," said she, as she gave him a confiding look, which haunts Delancey yet, "this is a great friend of Papa's, and an old playmate of mine—Mr. Delancey;" and as the stranger stepped forward to shake his hand, Blanche looked at her old lover, with a glance that seemed to say, "How foolish were we, to deem we were ever more than friends." Oliver Delancey turned deadly pale; but pride bade him scorn her, and his hand shook not, as it touched that of him, who had robbed him of a treasure, he would have died to have called his.
"And you have been to D—— Castle, I suppose, and found your uncle had left it for Bath. Indeed, we only arrived the day before yesterday; but Papa wrote us, saying he had got one of his attacks of rheumatism, from the late fishing, and begged us to take this on our way to Habberton, Did you see my marriage in the papers, or did your uncle write you, Oliver?"
Delancey's lips quivered, but his countenance did not change, as he looked her in the face, and told her he had not known it until now.
And now her husband spoke: "It was very late, and he must want refreshment; and Mr. Allen intended to be wheeled to the dinner table; and they could so easily send up to D—— Castle to tell them to get a bed aired; and he could dismiss the chaise now, and their carriage could take him there at night."
And Delancey did stay, although unable to analyse the feeling that made him do so.
And during dinner, he was the life of that little party. He spoke of foreign lands—related strange incidents of travel—dwelt with animation on his schoolboy exploits. The old man was delighted—the husband forgot his wife;—and she, the false one, sat silent, and for the moment disregarded. She gazed and gazed again on that familiar face—drank in the tones of that accustomed voice—and the chill of compunction crept over her frame.
But Delancey's brain was on fire; and in the solitude of his chamber—no! he was not calm there. He paced hurriedly across the oaken floor; and he opened wide his window, and looked out on the bright stars, spangling heaven's blue vault; and then beneath him, where the cypress trees bowed their heads to the wind, and the moon's light fell on the marble statues on the terrace.
And he turned to his bed-side, and hid his tearless face in his hands; and in the fulness of his despair, he knelt and prayed, that though he had long neglected his God, his God would not now forsake him. And, as if to mock his sufferings, sleep came; but it was short, very short; and a weight, a leaden weight, oppressed his eye-lids even in slumber. And he gave one start, and awoke a prey to mental agony. His despair flashed on him—he sprung up wildly in his bed. "Liar! liar!" said he, as with clenched teeth, and hand upraised, he recalled that fond look given to another. Drops of sweat started to his brow—his pulse beat quick and audibly—quicker—quicker yet. A feeling of suffocation came over him—and God forgive him! Oliver Delancey deemed that hour his last. He staggered blindly to the bell, and with fearful energy pulled its cord, till it fell clattering on the marble hearth stone. The domestics found him speechless and insensible on the floor—the blood oozing from his mouth and ears.
It may be said that this picture is overcharged; that no vitiated mind could have thus felt. But it is not so. In life's spring we all feel acutely: and to the effects of disappointed love, and wounded pride, there are few limits.
Woman! dearest woman! born to alleviate our sorrow, and soothe our anguish! who canst bid feeling's tear trickle down the obdurate cheek, or mould the iron heart, till it be pliable as a child's—why stain thy gentle dominion by inconstancy? why dismiss the first form that haunted thy maiden pillow, until—or that vision is a dear reality beside thee—or thou liest pale and hushed, on thy last couch of repose?
And then—shall not thy virgin spirit hail him? Why first fetter us, slaves to virtue and to thee; then become the malevolent Typhoon, on whose wings our good genius flies for ever? In this—far worse than the iconoclasts of yore art thou! They but disfigured images of man's rude fashioning: whilst thou wouldst injure the once loved form of God's high creation,—wouldst entail on the body a premature decay—and on that which dieth not, an irradicable blight.
"Then the mortal coldness of the soul, like death itself comes down; It cannot feel for others woes—it dares not dream its own. That heavy chill has frozen o'er the fountain of our tears; And though the eye may sparkle still, 'tis where the ice appears."
On such a character as was Delancey's, the blow did indeed fall heavy. Not that his paroxysms of grief were more lasting, or his pangs more acute, than is usual in similar cases; but to his moral worth it was death. An infliction of this nature, falling on a comparatively virtuous man, is productive of few evil consequences. It may give a holier turn to his thoughts—wean him from sublunary vanities—and purify his nature. On an utterly depraved man, its effects may be fleeting also; for few can here expect a moral regeneration. But falling on Delancey, it was not thus. The slender thread that bound him to virtue, was snapt asunder; the germ whence the good of his nature might have sprung, destroyed for ever. Such a man could not love purely again. To expect him to wander to another font, and imbibe from as clear a stream, would be madness. The love of a man of the world, let it be the first and best, is gross and earthly enough; but let him be betrayed in that love—let him see the staff on which he confidingly leant, break from under him—and he becomes from henceforth the deceiver—but never the deceived. When Delme saw him, Delancey was writhing under his affliction. When he again entered the world, and it was soon, he regarded it as a wide mart, where he might gratify his appetites, and unrestrainedly indulge his evil propensities. He believed not that virtue and true nobility were there; could he but find them. He looked at the blow his happiness had sustained, and thought it afforded a fair sample of human nature. Oliver Delancey became a selfish and a profligate man.
He was to be pitied; and from his soul did Delme pity him. He had been one of promise and of talent; but now his lot is cast on the die of apathy;—and it is to be feared—without a miracle intervene—and should his life be spared—that when the wavy locks of youth are changed to the silver hairs of age—that he will then be that thing of all others to be scoffed at—the hoary sensualist. Let us hope not! Let us hope that she who hath brought him to this, may rest her head on the bosom of her right lord, and forget the one, whose hand used to be locked in her own, for hours—hours which flew quick as summer's evening shadows! Let us trust that remorse may be absent from her; that she may never know that worst of reflections—the having injured one who had loved her, irremediably; that she may gaze on her fair-haired children, and her cheek blanch not as she recals another form than the father's; that her life may be irreproachable, her end calm and dignified; that dutiful children may attend the inanimate clay to its resting place; that filial tears may bedew her grave; and, when the immortal stands appalled before its Judge, that the destruction of that soul may not be laid to her charge.
"And I have loved thee! Ocean! and my joy Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be Borne like thy bubbles onward."
* * * * *
"Pull away! yo ho! boys!"
Delme continued to reside with his brother, whose health seemed to amend daily. George generally managed to accompany him in his sight-seeing, from which Henry derived great gratification.
He mused over the antique tombs of some of the departed knights; and admired the rich mosaics in that splendid church, dedicated to Saint John; than which the traveller may voyage long, and meet nothing worthier his notice. He visited the ancient armoury—dined at the palace, and at the different messes—inspected the laborious travailings of the silkworm at the boschetto—conversed with the original of Byron's Leila—a sweet creature she is!—looked with wondering eye on the ostrich of Fort Manuel—and heard the then commandant's wife relate her tale thereanent. He went to Gozzo too—shot rabbits—and crossed in a basket to the fungus rock. He saw a festa in the town, and a festa in the country—rode to St. Antonio, and St. Paul's Bay—and was told he had seen the lions. Nor must we pass over that most interesting of spectacles; viz., some figures enveloped in monkish cowl, and placed in convenient niches; but beneath the close hood, the blood mounts not with devotion's glow, nor do eyes glare from sockets shrunk by abstinence. Skeletons alone are there!
These, curious reader, are the bodies of saintly Capuchins; thus exhibited—dried and baked—to excite beholders to a life of virtue!
One morning, George said he felt rather unwell, and would stay at home. An oar happened to be wanted in the regimental gig, which Sir Henry offered to take. He was soon accoutred in the dress of an absent member, and in a short time was discharging the duties of his office to the satisfaction of all; for he knew every secret of feathering, and had not caught a crab for years.
It was a beautifully calm day—not a speck in the azure heaven. It was hot too—but for this they cared not. They had porter; and on such occasions, what better beverage would you ask? Swiftly and gaily did the slim bark cleave through the glassy sea. Its hue was a dark crimson, with one black stripe—its nom de guerre, the Spitfire.
As the ——— regiment particularly prided itself on its aquatic costume, we shall describe it. Small chased pearl buttons on the blue jacket and white shirt; a black band round the neck, to match the one on the narrow-brimmed thick straw hat; white trousers; couleur de rose silk collar, fastened to the throat by a golden clasp; and stockings of the same colour. How joyously did the gig hold her course! What a thrilling sensation expanded the soul, as the steersman, a handsome little fellow with large black whiskers, gave the encouraging word, "Stroke! my good ones!" Then were exerted all the energies of the body—then was developed each straining muscle—then were the arms thrown back in sympathy, to give a long pull, and a strong pull—till the bark reeled beneath them, and shot through the wave.
The tall ship—the slender mole—the busy deck—the porticoed palace—the strong fort—the bristling battery—the astonished fisher's bark as it sluggishly crept on—were all cheeringly swept by, as the bending oars in perfect unison, kissed the erst slumbering water. What sensation can be more glorious? The only thing to compete with it, is the being in a crack coach on the western road; the opposition slightly in front—a knowing whip driving—when the horses are at their utmost speed—the traces tight as traces can be—the ladies inside pale and screaming—one little child cramming out her head, her mouth stuffed with Banbury cakes, adding her shrill affetuoso—whilst the odd-looking man in the white hat, seated behind, is blue from terror, and with chattering teeth, mumbles undistinguishable sentences of furious driving and prosecution. Surely such moments half redeem our miseries! What bitter thought can travel twelve miles an hour?
And ever and anon would the Spitfire dart into some little creek, and the thirsty rowers would rest on their oars, whose light drip fell on purple ocean, tinged by a purple sky. And now would the jovial steersman introduce the accommodating corkscrew, first into one bottle and then into another, as these were successively emptied, and thrown overboard, to give the finny philosophers somewhat to speculate on.
Delme landed weary; but it was a beneficial weariness. He felt he had taken manly exercise, and that it would do him good. He was walking towards the barrack, with his jacket slung over his shoulder, when he was met by George's servant.
"Oh, Sir!" said the man, "I am so glad you are come. The Signora is terribly afraid for my young master. I fear, Sir, he is in one of his fits."
Delme hurried forward, and entered his brother's room. George held a riding whip in his hand. He had thrown off his cravat—his throat was bare—his eyes glanced wildly.
"And who are you, Sir?" said he, as Henry entered.
"What! not know me, dearest George?" replied his brother, in agony.
"I do not understand your insolence, Sir; but if you are a dun, go to my servant. Thompson," continued he, "give me my spurs! I shall ride."
"Ride!" said Delme.
Thompson made him a quiet sign. "I am very sorry, Sir," said he, "but the Arab is quite lame, and is not fit for the saddle."
"Give me a glass of sangaree then, you rascal! Port—do you hear?"
The glass was brought him. He drained its contents at a draught.
"Now, kick that scoundrel out of the room, Thompson, and let me sleep."
He threw himself listlessly on the sofa. Acme was weeping bitterly, but he seemed not to notice her. It was late in the day. The surgeon had been sent for. He now arrived, and stated that nothing could be done; but recommended his being watched closely, and the removing all dangerous weapons. He begged Henry, however, to indulge him in all his caprices, in order that he might the better observe the state of his mind.
While George slept, Delme entered another room, and ordering the servant to inform him when he awoke, he sat down to dinner alone and dispirited; for Acme refused to leave George. It was indeed a sad, and to Sir Henry Delme an unforeseen shock.
In a couple of hours, Thompson came with a message from Acme. "Master is awake, Sir—knows the Signora—and seems much better. He has desired me to brush his cloak, as he intends going out. Shall I do so, Sir, or not?"
"Do so!" said Delme, "but fail not to inform me when he is about to go; and be yourself in readiness. We will watch him."
The Charnel House.
"And when at length the mind shall be all free, From what it hates in this degraded form, Reft of its carnal life, save what shall be Existent happier in the fly or worm; When elements to elements conform, And dust is as it should be."
The last grey tinge of twilight, was fast giving place to the sombre hues of night, as a figure, enveloped in a military cloak, issued from the barrack at Floriana.
Henry at once recognised George; and only delaying till a short distance had intervened between his brother and himself, Delme and Thompson followed his footsteps.
George Delme walked swiftly, as if intent on some deep design. The long shadow thrown out by his figure, enabled his pursuers to distinguish him very clearly. He did not turn his head, but, with hurried step, strode the species of common which divides Floriana from La Valette. Crossing the drawbridge, and passing through the porch which guards the entrance to the town, he turned down an obscure street, and, folding his cloak closer around him, rapidly—yet with an appearance of caution—continued his route, diving from one street to another, till he entered a small court-yard, in which stood an isolated gloomy-looking house. No light appeared in the windows, and its exterior bespoke it uninhabited. Henry and the domestic paused, expecting George either to knock or return to the street. He walked on, however, and, turning to one side of the porch, descended a flight of stone steps, and entered the lower part of the house.
"Perhaps we had better not both follow him," said the servant.
"No, Thompson! do you remain here, only taking care that your master does not pass you: and I think you may as well go round the house, and see if there is any other way of leaving it."
Sir Henry descended the steps in silence. Arrived at the foot of the descent, a narrow passage, diverging to the left, presented itself. Beyond appeared a distant glimmering of light. Delme groped along the passage, using the precaution to crouch as low as possible, until he came before a large comfortless room in the centre of which, was placed a brass lamp, whose light was what he had discerned at the extremity of the passage. He could distinctly observe the furniture and inmates of the room. Of the former, the only articles were a table—on which were placed the remains of a homely meal—an iron bedstead, and a barrel, turned upside down, which served as a substitute for a chair. The bedstead had no curtains, but in lieu of them, there were hangings around it, which struck Delme as resembling mourning habiliments. Whilst the light operated thus favourably, in enabling Sir Henry to note the interior of the apartment, it was hardly possible, from its situation, that he himself could be observed. Its rays did not reach the passage; and he was also shrouded in some degree by a door, which was off its hinges, and which was placed against the wall. Fastened to the side of the room were two deep shelves—the lower one containing some bottles and plates; the upper, a number of human sculls. In a corner were some more of these, intermingled in a careless heap, with a few bleached bones.
George Delme was standing opposite the door, conversing earnestly with a Maltese, evidently of the lowest caste. The latter was seated on the barrel we have mentioned, and was listening with apparently a mixture of surprise and exultation to what George was saying. George's voice sunk to an inaudible whisper, as the conversation continued, and he was evidently trying to remove some scruples, which this man either affected to feel, or really felt. The man's answers were given in a gruff and loud tone of voice, but from the Maltese dialect of his Italian, Sir Henry could not understand what was said. His countenance was very peculiar. It was of that derisive character rarely met with in one of his class of life, except when called forth by peculiar habits, or extraordinary circumstances. His eyes were very small, but bright and deeply set. His lips wore a constant sarcastic smile, which gave him the air of a bold but cunning man. His throat and bosom were bare, and of a deep copper colour; and his muscular chest was covered with short curly hair. The conversation on George's part became more animated, and he at length made use of what seemed an unanswerable argument. Taking out a beaded purse, which Sir Henry knew well—it had been Emily's last present to George—he emptied the contents into the bronzed hand of his companion, who grasped the money with avidity. The Maltese now appeared to acquiesce in all George's wishes; and rising, went towards the bed, and selected some of the articles of wearing apparel Delme had already noticed. He addressed some words to George, who sat on the bedside quiescently, while the man went to the table, and took up a knife that was upon it. For a moment, Delme felt alarm lest his design might be a murderous one; but it was not so. He laughed savagely, as he made use of the knife, to cut off the luxuriant chestnut ringlets, which shaded George's eyes and forehead. He then applied to the face some darkening liquid, and commenced choosing a sable dress. George threw off his cloak, and was attired by the Maltese, in a long black cotton robe of the coarsest material, which, descending to the feet, came in a hood over his face, which it almost entirely concealed. During the whole of this scene, George Delme's features wore an air of dogged apathy, which alarmed his brother, even more than his agitation in the earlier part of the day. After his being metamorphosed in the way we have described, it would have been next to an impossibility to have recognised him. His companion put on a dress of the same nature, and Sir Henry was preparing to make his retreat, presuming that they would now leave the building, when he was induced to stay for the purpose of remarking the conduct of the Maltese. He took up a scull, and placing his finger through an eyeless hole, whence once love beamed or hate flashed, he made some savage comment, which he accompanied by a long and malignant laugh. This would at another time have shocked Sir Henry, but there was another laugh, wilder and more discordant, that curdled the blood in Delme's veins. It proceeded from his brother, the gay—the happy George Delme; and as it re-echoed through the gloomy passage, it seemed that of a remorseless demon, gloating on the misfortunes of the human race. Delme turned away in agony, and, unperceived, regained the anxious domestic. Screened by an angle of the building, they saw George and his companion ascend the stone steps, cross the yard, and turn into the street. They followed him cautiously—Delme's ears ringing with that fiendish laugh. George's companion stopped for a moment, at a house in the street, where they were joined by a sallow-looking priest, apparently one of the most disgusting of his tribe. He was accompanied by a boy, also drest in sacerdotal robes, in one hand bearing a silver-ornamented staff, of the kind frequently used in processions, and in other observances of the Catholic religion; and in the other, a rude lanthorn, whose light enabled Delme to note these particulars. As the four figures swept through the streets, the lower orders prostrated themselves, before the figure of the crucified and dying Saviour which surmounted the staff. They again stopped, and the priest entered a house alone. On coming back, he was followed by a coffin, borne on the shoulders of four of the lower order of Maltese. At the moment these were leaving the house, Henry heard a solitary scream, apparently of a woman. It was wild and thrilling; such an one as we hear from the hovering sea bird, as the tempest gathers to a head. To Delme, coming as it did at that lone hour from one he saw not, it seemed superhuman. In the front of the house stood two caleches, the last of which, Sir Henry observed was without doors. At a sign from the Maltese, George and his strange companion entered it. They were followed by the coffin, which was placed lengthways, with the two ends projecting into the street. In the leading caleche were the priest and boy, the latter of whom thrust the figure of the bleeding Jesus out at the window, whilst with the other hand he held up the lanthorn. Twice more did the caleche stop—twice receive corpses. Another light was produced, and placed in the last conveyance, and Delme took the opportunity of their arranging this, to pass by the caleche. The light that had been placed in it shone full on George. The coffins were on a level with the lower part of his face. Nothing of his body, which was jammed in between the seat and the coffins, could be seen. But the features, which glared over the pall, were indeed terrific; apathy no longer marked them. George seemed wound up to an extraordinary state of excitement. Gone was the glazed expression of his eye, which now gleamed like that of a famished eagle. The Maltese leant back in the carriage, with a sardonic smile, his dark face affording a strange contrast to the stained, but yet ghastly hue of George Delme's.
"They intend to take them to the vault at Floriana, your honor," said the servant, "shall I call a caleche, and we can follow them?"
Without waiting a reply, for the man saw that Sir Henry's faculties, were totally absorbed in the strange scene he had witnessed; Thompson called a carriage, which passed the other two—now commencing at a funeral pace to proceed to the vault—and, taking the same direction which they had done on entering the town, a short time sufficed to put them down immediately opposite the church. They had time allowed them to dismiss their carriage, and screen themselves from observation, before the funeral procession arrived.
This stopped in front of the vault, and Delme anxiously scrutinised the proceedings. Another man—probably the one whose place George had supplied—had joined them outside the town, and now walked by the side of the caleche. He assisted George's companion in bearing out the coffins. The huge door grated on its hinges, as they opened it. The coffins were borne in, and the whole party entered; the priest mumbling a short Latin prayer. In a short time, the priest alone returned; and looking cautiously around, and seeing no one, struck a light from a tinder box, and lighted his cigar. The other two men brought back the coffins, evidently relieved of their weight; and the priest—the boy—with the man who had last joined them, and who had also lit his cigar—entered the first caleche, after exchanging some jokes with George's companion, and returned at a rapid pace towards the town. During this time, George Delme had been left alone in the vault. His companion returned to him, after taking the precaution to fasten its doors inside.
Sir Henry was now at a loss what plan to adopt; but Thompson, after a moment's hesitation, suggested one.
"There is an iron grating, Sir, over part of the vault, through which, when a bar was loose, I know one of our soldiers went down. Shall I get a cord?"
The man ran towards his barrack, and returned with it. To wrench by their united efforts, one bar from its place, and to fasten the rope to another, was the work of an instant. Space was just left them to creep through the aperture. Sir Henry was the first to breathe the confined air of the sepulchre. A voice warned him in what direction to proceed; and not waiting for the domestic, he groped his way forward through a narrow passage. At first, Delme thought there was a wall on either side him; but as he made a false step, and the bones crumbled beneath, he knew that it was a wall, formed of the bleached remains of the bygone dead. As he drew nearer the voice, he was guided by the lanthorn brought by George's companion; and towards this he proceeded, almost overpowered by the horrible stench of the charnel house, As he drew near enough to distinguish objects, what a scene presented itself! In one corner of the vault, lay a quantity of lime used to consume the bodies, whilst nearer the light, lay corpses in every stage of putrefaction. In some, the lime had but half accomplished its purpose; and while in parts of the body, the bones lay bare and exposed; in others, corruption in its most loathsome form prevailed. Here the meaner reptiles—active and prolific—might be seen busily at work, battening on human decay. Sir Henry stepped over a dead body, and started, as a rat, scared from its prey, rustled through a wreath of withered flowers, and hid itself amid a mouldering heap of bones. But there were some forms lovely still! In them the pulse of life had that day ceased to beat. The rigidity of Death—his impressive stillness was there—but he had not yet "swept the lines where beauty lingers."