That evening we were engaged at the Kit-Cat Club, for though I was opposed to the politics of its members, they admitted me on account of my literary pretensions. Halifax was there, and I commended the poet to his protection. We were very gay, and Halifax favoured us with three new toasts by himself. O Venus! what beauties we made, and what characters we murdered! Never was there so important a synod to the female world as the gods of the Kit-Cat Club. Alas! I am writing for the children of an after age, to whom the very names of those who made the blood of their ancestors leap within their veins will be unknown. What cheek will colour at the name of Carlisle? What hand will tremble as it touches the paper inscribed by that of Brudenel? The graceful Godolphin, the sparkling enchantment of Harper, the divine voice of Claverine, the gentle and bashful Bridgewater, the damask cheek and ruby lips of the Hebe Manchester,—what will these be to the race for whom alone these pages are penned? This history is a union of strange contrasts! like the tree of the Sun, described by Marco Polo, which was green when approached on one side, but white when perceived on the other: to me it is clothed in the verdure and spring of the existing time; to the reader it comes covered with the hoariness and wanness of the Past!
A DIALOGUE OF SENTIMENT SUCCEEDED BY THE SKETCH OF A CHARACTER, IN WHOSE EYES SENTIMENT WAS TO WISE MEN WHAT RELIGION IS TO FOOLS; NAMELY, A SUBJECT OF RIDICULE.
ST. JOHN was now in power, and in the full flush of his many ambitious and restless schemes. I saw as much of him as the high rank he held in the state, and the consequent business with which he was oppressed, would suffer me,—me, who was prevented by religion from actively embracing any political party, and who, therefore, though inclined to Toryism, associated pretty equally with all. St. John and myself formed a great friendship for each other, a friendship which no after change or chance could efface, but which exists, strengthened and mellowed by time, at the very hour in which I write.
One evening he sent to tell me he should be alone, if I would sup with him; accordingly I repaired to his house. He was walking up and down the room with uneven and rapid steps, and his countenance was flushed with an expression of joy and triumph, very rare to the thoughtful and earnest calm which it usually wore. "Congratulate me, Devereux," said he, seizing me eagerly by the hand, "congratulate me!"
"Ay, true: you are not yet a politician; you cannot yet tell how dear—how inexpressibly dear to a politician—is a momentary and petty victory,—but—if I were Prime Minister of this country, what would you say?"
"That you could bear the duty better than any man living; but remember Harley is in the way."
"Ah, there's the rub," said St. John, slowly, and the expression of his face again changed from triumph to thoughtfulness; "but this is a subject not to your taste: let us choose another." And flinging himself into a chair, this singular man, who prided himself on suiting his conversation to every one, began conversing with me upon the lighter topics of the day; these we soon exhausted, and at last we settled upon that of love and women.
"I own," said I, "that, in this respect, pleasure has disappointed as well as wearied me. I have longed for some better object of worship than the trifler of fashion, or the yet more ignoble minion of the senses. I ask a vent for enthusiasm, for devotion, for romance, for a thousand subtle and secret streams of unuttered and unutterable feeling. I often think that I bear within me the desire and the sentiment of poetry, though I enjoy not its faculty of expression; and that that desire and that sentiment, denied legitimate egress, centre and shrink into one absorbing passion,—which is the want of love. Where am I to satisfy this want? I look round these great circles of gayety which we term the world; I send forth my heart as a wanderer over their regions and recesses, and it returns, sated and palled and languid, to myself again."
"You express a common want in every less worldly or more morbid nature," said St. John; "a want which I myself have experienced, and if I had never felt it, I should never, perhaps, have turned to ambition to console or to engross me. But do not flatter yourself that the want will ever be fulfilled. Nature places us alone in this hospitable world, and no heart is cast in a similar mould to that which we bear within us. We pine for sympathy; we make to ourselves a creation of ideal beauties, in which we expect to find it: but the creation has no reality; it is the mind's phantasma which the mind adores; and it is because the phantasma can have no actual being that the mind despairs. Throughout life, from the cradle to the grave, it is no real living thing which we demand; it is the realization of the idea we have formed within us, and which, as we are not gods, we can never call into existence. We are enamoured of the statue ourselves have graven; but, unlike the statue of the Cyprian, it kindles not to our homage nor melts to our embraces."
"I believe you," said I; "but it is hard to undeceive ourselves. The heart is the most credulous of all fanatics, and its ruling passion the most enduring of all superstitions. Oh! what can tear from us, to the last, the hope, the desire, the yearning for some bosom which, while it mirrors our own, parts not with the reflection! I have read that, in the very hour and instant of our birth, one exactly similar to ourselves, in spirit and form, is born also, and that a secret and unintelligible sympathy preserves that likeness, even through the vicissitudes of fortune and circumstance, until, in the same point of time, the two beings are resolved once more into the elements of earth: confess that there is something welcome, though unfounded in the fancy, and that there are few of the substances of worldly honour which one would not renounce, to possess, in the closest and fondest of all relations, this shadow of ourselves!"
"Alas!" said St. John, "the possession, like all earthly blessings, carries within it its own principle of corruption. The deadliest foe to love is not change nor misfortune nor jealousy nor wrath, nor anything that flows from passion or emanates from fortune; the deadliest foe to it is custom! With custom die away the delusions and the mysteries which encircle it; leaf after leaf, in the green poetry on which its beauty depends, droops and withers, till nothing but the bare and rude trunk is left. With all passion the soul demands something unexpressed, some vague recess to explore or to marvel upon,—some veil upon the mental as well as the corporeal deity. Custom leaves nothing to romance, and often but little to respect. The whole character is bared before us like a plain, and the heart's eye grows wearied with the sameness of the survey. And to weariness succeeds distaste, and to distaste one of the myriad shapes of the Proteus Aversion; so that the passion we would make the rarest of treasures fritters down to a very instance of the commonest of proverbs,—and out of familiarity cometh indeed contempt!"
"And are we, then," said I, "forever to forego the most delicious of our dreams? Are we to consider love as an entire delusion, and to reconcile ourselves to an eternal solitude of heart? What, then, shall fill the crying and unappeasable void of our souls? What shall become of those mighty sources of tenderness which, refused all channel in the rocky soil of the world, must have an outlet elsewhere or stagnate into torpor?"
"Our passions," said St. John, "are restless, and will make each experiment in their power, though vanity be the result of all. Disappointed in love, they yearn towards ambition; and the object of ambition, unlike that of love, never being wholly possessed, ambition is the more durable passion of the two. But sooner or later even that and all passions are sated at last; and when wearied of too wide a flight we limit our excursions, and looking round us discover the narrow bounds of our proper end, we grow satisfied with the loss of rapture if we can partake of enjoyment; and the experience which seemed at first so bitterly to betray us becomes our most real benefactor, and ultimately leads us to content. For it is the excess and not the nature of our passions which is perishable. Like the trees which grew by the tomb of Protesilaus, the passions flourish till they reach a certain height, but no sooner is that height attained than they wither away."
Before I could reply, our conversation received an abrupt and complete interruption for the night. The door was thrown open, and a man, pushing aside the servant with a rude and yet a dignified air, entered the room unannounced, and with the most perfect disregard to ceremony—
"How d'ye do, Mr. St. John," said he,—"how d'ye do?—Pretty sort of a day we've had. Lucky to find you at home,—that is to say if you will give me some broiled oysters and champagne for supper."
"With all my heart, Doctor," said St. John, changing his manner at once from the pensive to an easy and somewhat brusque familiarity,—"with all my heart; but I am glad to hear you are a convert to champagne: you spent a whole evening last week in endeavouring to dissuade me from the sparkling sin."
"Pish! I had suffered the day before from it; so, like a true Old Bailey penitent, I preached up conversion to others, not from a desire of their welfare, but a plaguy sore feeling for my own misfortune. Where did you dine to-day? At home! Oh! the devil! I starved on three courses at the Duke of Ormond's."
"Aha! Honest Matt was there?"
"Yes, to my cost. He borrowed a shilling of me for a chair. Hang this weather, it costs me seven shillings a day for coach-fare, besides my paying the fares of all my poor brother parsons, who come over from Ireland to solicit my patronage for a bishopric, and end by borrowing half-a-crown in the meanwhile. But Matt Prior will pay me again, I suppose, out of the public money?"
"To be sure, if Chloe does not ruin him first."
"Hang the slut: don't talk of her. How Prior rails against his place!* He says the excise spoils his wit, and that the only rhymes he ever dreams of now-a-days are 'docket and cocket.'"
* In the Customs.
"Ha, ha! we must do something better for Matt,—make him a bishop or an ambassador. But pardon me, Count, I have not yet made known to you the most courted, authoritative, impertinent, clever, independent, haughty, delightful, troublesome parson of the age: do homage to Dr. Swift. Doctor, be merciful to my particular friend, Count Devereux."
Drawing himself up, with a manner which contrasted his previous one strongly enough, Dr. Swift saluted me with a dignity which might even be called polished, and which certainly showed that however he might prefer, as his usual demeanour, an air of negligence and semi-rudeness, he had profited sufficiently by his acquaintance with the great to equal them in the external graces, supposed to be peculiar to their order, whenever it suited his inclination. In person Swift is much above the middle height, strongly built, and with a remarkably fine outline of throat and chest; his front face is certainly displeasing, though far from uncomely; but the clear chiselling of the nose, the curved upper lip, the full, round Roman chin, the hanging brow, and the resolute decision, stamped upon the whole expression of the large forehead, and the clear blue eye, make his profile one of the most striking I ever saw. He honoured me, to my great surprise, with a fine speech and a compliment; and then, with a look, which menaced to St. John the retort that ensued, he added: "And I shall always be glad to think that I owe your acquaintance to Mr. Secretary St. John, who, if he talked less about operas and singers,—thought less about Alcibiades and Pericles,—if he never complained of the load of business not being suited to his temper, at the very moment he had been working, like Gumdragon, to get the said load upon his shoulders; and if he persuaded one of his sincerity being as great as his genius,—would appear to all time as adorned with the choicest gifts that Heaven has yet thought fit to bestow on the children of men. Prithee now, Mr. Sec., when shall we have the oysters? Will you be merry to-night, Count?"
"Certainly; if one may find absolution for the champagne."
"I'll absolve you, with a vengeance, on condition that you'll walk home with me, and protect the poor parson from the Mohawks. Faith, they ran young Davenant's chair through with a sword, t' other night. I hear they have sworn to make daylight through my Tory cassock,—all Whigs you know, Count Devereux, nasty, dangerous animals, how I hate them! they cost me five-and-sixpence a week in chairs to avoid them."
"Never mind, Doctor, I'll send my servants home with you," said St. John.
"Ay, a nice way of mending the matter—that's curing the itch by scratching the skin off. I could not give your tall fellows less than a crown a-piece, and I could buy off the bloodiest Mohawk in the kingdom, if he's a Whig, for half that sum. But, thank Heaven, the supper is ready."
And to supper we went. The oysters and champagne seemed to exhilarate, if it did not refine, the Doctor's wit. St. John was unusually brilliant. I myself caught the infection of their humour, and contributed my quota to the common stock of jest and repartee; and that evening, spent with the two most extraordinary men of the age, had in it more of broad and familiar mirth than any I have ever wasted in the company of the youngest and noisiest disciples of the bowl and its concomitants. Even amidst all the coarse ore of Swift's conversation, the diamond perpetually broke out; his vulgarity was never that of a vulgar mind. Pity that, while he condemned St. John's over affectation of the grace of life, he never perceived that his own affectation of coarseness and brutality was to the full as unworthy of the simplicity of intellect;* and that the aversion to cant, which was the strongest characteristic of his mind, led him into the very faults he despised, only through a more displeasing and offensive road. That same aversion to cant is, by the way, the greatest and most prevalent enemy to the reputation of high and of strong minds; and in judging Swift's character in especial, we should always bear it in recollection. This aversion—the very antipodes to hypocrisy—leads men not only to disclaim the virtues they have, but to pretend to the vices they have not. Foolish trick of disguised vanity! the world, alas, readily believes them! Like Justice Overdo, in the garb of poor Arthur of Bradley, they may deem it a virtue to have assumed the disguise; but they must not wonder if the sham Arthur is taken for the real, beaten as a vagabond, and set in the stocks as a rogue!
* It has been said that Swift was only coarse in his later years, and, with a curious ignorance both of fact and of character, that Pope was the cause of the Dean's grossness of taste. There is no doubt that he grew coarser with age; but there is also no doubt that, graceful and dignified as that great genius could be when he pleased, he affected at a period earlier than the one in which he is now introduced, to be coarse both in speech and manner. I seize upon this opportunity, mal a propos as it is, to observe that Swift's preference of Harley to St. John is by no means so certain as writers have been pleased generally to assert. Warton has already noted a passage in one of Swift's letters to Bolingbroke, to which I will beg to call the reader's attention.
"It is you were my hero, but the other (Lord Oxford) never was; yet if he were, it was your own fault, who taught me to love him, and often vindicated him, in the beginning of your ministry, from my accusations. But I granted he had the greatest inequalities of any man alive; and his whole scene was fifty times more a what-d'ye-call-it than yours; for I declare yours was unie, and I wish you would so order it that the world may be as wise as I upon that article."
I have to apologize for introducing this quotation, which I have done because (and I entreat the reader to remember this) I observe that Count Devereux always speaks of Lord Bolingbroke as he was spoken of by the eminent men of that day,—not as he is now rated by the judgment of posterity.—ED.
LIGHTLY WON, LIGHTLY LOST.—A DIALOGUE OF EQUAL INSTRUCTION AND AMUSEMENT.—A VISIT TO SIR GODFREY KNELLER.
ONE morning Tarleton breakfasted with me. "I don't see the little page," said he, "who was always in attendance in your anteroom; what the deuce has become of him?"
"You must ask his mistress; she has quarrelled with me, and withdrawn both her favour and her messenger."
"What! the Lady Hasselton quarrelled with you! Diable! Wherefore?"
"Because I am not enough of the 'pretty fellow;' am tired of carrying hood and scarf, and sitting behind her chair through five long acts of a dull play; because I disappointed her in not searching for her at every drum and quadrille party; because I admired not her monkey; and because I broke a teapot with a toad for a cover."
"And is not that enough?" cried Tarleton. "Heavens! what a black bead-roll of offences; Mrs. Merton would have discarded me for one of them. However, thy account has removed my surprise; I heard her praise thee the other day; now, as long as she loved thee, she always abused thee like a pickpocket."
"Ha! ha! ha!—and what said she in my favour?"
"Why, that you were certainly very handsome, though you were small; that you were certainly a great genius, though every one would not discover it; and that you certainly had the air of high birth, though you were not nearly so well dressed as Beau Tippetly. But entre nous, Devereux, I think she hates you, and would play you a trick of spite—revenge is too strong a word—if she could find an opportunity."
"Likely enough, Tarleton; but a coquette's lover is always on his guard; so she will not take me unawares."
"So be it. But tell me, Devereux, who is to be your next mistress, Mrs. Denton or Lady Clancathcart? the world gives them both to you."
"The world is always as generous with what is worthless as the bishop in the fable was with his blessing. However, I promise thee, Tarleton, that I will not interfere with thy claims either upon Mrs. Denton or Lady Clancathcart."
"Nay," said Tarleton, "I will own that you are a very Scipio; but it must be confessed, even by you, satirist as you are, that Lady Clancathcart has a beautiful set of features."
"A handsome face, but so vilely made. She would make a splendid picture if, like the goddess Laverna, she could be painted as a head without a body."
"Ha! ha! ha!—you have a bitter tongue, Count; but Mrs. Denton, what have you to say against her?"
"Nothing; she has no pretensions for me to contradict. She has a green eye and a sharp voice; a mincing gait and a broad foot. What friend of Mrs. Denton would not, therefore, counsel her to a prudent obscurity?"
"She never had but one lover in the world," said Tarleton, "who was old, blind, lame, and poor; she accepted him, and became Mrs. Denton."
"Yes," said I, "she was like the magnet, and received her name from the very first person* sensible of her attraction."
"Well, you have a shrewd way of saying sweet things," said Tarleton; "but I must own that you rarely or never direct it towards women individually. What makes you break through your ordinary custom?"
"Because I am angry with women collectively; and must pour my spleen through whatever channel presents itself."
"Astonishing," said Tarleton; "I despise women myself. I always did; but you were their most enthusiastic and chivalrous defender a month or two ago. What makes thee change, my Sir Amadis?"
"Disappointment! they weary, vex, disgust me; selfish, frivolous, mean, heartless: out on them! 'tis a disgrace to have their love!"
"O Ciel! What a sensation the news of thy misogyny will cause; the young, gay, rich Count Devereux, whose wit, vivacity, splendour of appearance, in equipage and dress, in the course of one season have thrown all the most established beaux and pretty fellows into the shade; to whom dedications and odes and billet-doux are so much waste paper; who has carried off the most general envy and dislike that any man ever was blest with, since St. John turned politician; what! thou all of a sudden to become a railer against the divine sex that made thee what thou art! Fly, fly, unhappy apostate, or expect the fate of Orpheus, at least!"
"None of your raileries, Tarleton, or I shall speak to you of plebeians and the canaille!"
"Sacre! my teeth are on edge already! Oh, the base, base canaille, how I loathe them! Nay, Devereux, joking apart, I love you twice as well for your humour. I despise the sex heartily. Indeed, sub rosa be it spoken, there are few things that breathe that I do not despise. Human nature seems to me a most pitiful bundle of rags and scraps, which the gods threw out of Heaven, as the dust and rubbish there."
"A pleasant view of thy species," said I.
"By my soul it is. Contempt is to me a luxury. I would not lose the privilege of loathing for all the objects which fools ever admired. What does old Persius say on the subject?
"'Hoc ridere meum, tam nil, nulla tibi vendo Iliade.'"*
* "This privilege of mine, to laugh,—such a nothing as it seems,—I would not barter to thee for an Iliad."
"And yet, Tarleton," said I, "the littlest feeling of all is a delight in contemplating the littleness of other people. Nothing is more contemptible than habitual contempt."
"Prithee, now," answered the haughty aristocrat, "let us not talk of these matters so subtly: leave me my enjoyment without refining upon it. What is your first pursuit for the morning?"
"Why, I have promised my uncle a picture of that invaluable countenance which Lady Hasselton finds so handsome; and I am going to give Kneller my last sitting."
"So, so, I will accompany you; I like the vain old dog; 'tis a pleasure to hear him admire himself so wittily."
"Come, then!" said I, taking up my hat and sword; and, entering Tarleton's carriage, we drove to the painter's abode.
We found him employed in finishing a portrait of Lady Godolphin.
"He, he!" cried he, when he beheld me approach. "By Got, I am glad to see you, Count Tevereux; dis painting is tamned poor work by one's self, widout any one to make des grands yeux, and cry, 'Oh, Sir Godfrey Kneller, how fine dis is!'"
"Very true, indeed," said I, "no great man can be expected to waste his talents without his proper reward of praise. But, Heavens, Tarleton, did you ever see anything so wonderful? that hand, that arm, how exquisite! If Apollo turned painter, and borrowed colours from the rainbow and models from the goddesses, he would not be fit to hold the pallet to Sir Godfrey Kneller."
"By Got, Count Tevereux, you are von grand judge of painting," cried the artist, with sparkling eyes, "and I will paint you as von tamned handsome man!"
"Nay, my Apelles, you might as well preserve some likeness."
"Likeness, by Got! I vill make you like and handsome both. By my shoul you make me von Apelles, I vill make you von Alexander!"
"People in general," said Tarleton, gravely, "believe that Alexander had a wry neck, and was a very plain fellow; but no one can know about Alexander like Sir Godfrey Kneller, who has studied military tactics so accurately, and who, if he had taken up the sword instead of the pencil, would have been at least an Alexander himself."
"By Got, Meester Tarleton, you are as goot a judge of de talents for de war as Count Tevereux of de genie for de painting! Meester Tarleton, I vill paint your picture, and I vill make your eyes von goot inch bigger than dey are!"
"Large or small," said I (for Tarleton, who had a haughty custom of contracting his orbs till they were scarce perceptible, was so much offended, that I thought it prudent to cut off his reply), "large or small, Sir Godfrey, Mr. Tarleton's eyes are capable of admiring your genius; why, your painting is like lightning, and one flash of your brush would be sufficient to restore even a blind man to sight."
"It is tamned true," said Sir Godfrey, earnestly; "and it did restore von man to sight once! By my shoul, it did! but sit yourself town, Count Tevereux, and look over your left shoulder—ah, dat is it—and now, praise on, Count Tevereux; de thought of my genius gives you—vat you call it—von animation—von fire, look you—by my shoul, it does!"
And by dint of such moderate panegyric, the worthy Sir Godfrey completed my picture, with equal satisfaction to himself and the original. See what a beautifier is flattery: a few sweet words will send the Count Devereux down to posterity with at least three times as much beauty as he could justly lay claim to.*
* This picture represents the Count in an undress. The face is decidedly, though by no means remarkably, handsome; the nose is aquiline,—the upper lip short and chiselled,—the eyes gray, and the forehead, which is by far the finest feature in the countenance, is peculiarly high, broad, and massive. The mouth has but little beauty; it is severe, caustic, and rather displeasing, from the extreme compression of the lips. The great and prevalent expression of the face is energy. The eye, the brow, the turn of the head, the erect, penetrating aspect,—are all strikingly bold, animated, and even daring. And this expression makes a singular contrast to that in another likeness to the Count, which was taken at a much later period of life. The latter portrait represents him in a foreign uniform, decorated with orders. The peculiar sarcasm of the month is hidden beneath a very long and thick mustachio, of a much darker colour than the hair (for in both portraits, as in Jervas's picture of Lord Bolingbroke, the hair is left undisguised by the odious fashion of the day). Across one cheek there is a slight scar, as of a sabre cut. The whole character of this portrait is widely different from that in the earlier one. Not a trace of the fire, the animation, which were so striking in the physiognomy of the youth of twenty, is discoverable in the calm, sedate, stately, yet somewhat stern expression, which seems immovably spread over the paler hue and the more prominent features of the man of about four or five and thirty. Yet, upon the whole, the face in the latter portrait is handsomer; and, from its air of dignity and reflection, even more impressive than that in the one I have first described.—ED.
A DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER, AND A LONG LETTER; A CHAPTER, ON THE WHOLE, MORE IMPORTANT THAN IT SEEMS.
THE scenes through which, of late, I have conducted my reader are by no means episodical: they illustrate far more than mere narration the career to which I was so honourably devoted.
Dissipation,—women,—wine,—Tarleton for a friend, Lady Hasselton for a mistress. Let me now throw aside the mask.
To people who have naturally very intense and very acute feelings, nothing is so fretting, so wearing to the heart, as the commonplace affections, which are the properties and offspring of the world. We have seen the birds which, with wings unclipt, children fasten to a stake. The birds seek to fly, and are pulled back before their wings are well spread; till, at last, they either perpetually strain at the end of their short tether, exciting only ridicule by their anguish and their impotent impatience; or, sullen and despondent, they remain on the ground, without any attempt to fly, nor creep, even to the full limit which their fetters will allow. Thus it is with the feelings of the keen, wild nature I speak of: they are either striving forever to pass the little circle of slavery to which they are condemned, and so move laughter by an excess of action and a want of adequate power; or they rest motionless and moody, disdaining the petty indulgence they might enjoy, till sullenness is construed into resignation, and despair seems the apathy of content. Time, however, cures what it does not kill; and both bird and beast, if they pine not to the death at first, grow tame and acquiescent at last.
What to me was the companionship of Tarleton, or the attachment of Lady Hasselton? I had yielded to the one, and I had half eagerly, half scornfully, sought the other. These, and the avocations they brought with them, consumed my time, and of Time murdered there is a ghost which we term ennui. The hauntings of this spectre are the especial curse of the higher orders; and hence springs a certain consequence to the passions. Persons in those ranks of society so exposed to ennui are either rendered totally incapable of real love, or they love far more intensely than those in a lower station; for the affections in them are either utterly frittered away on a thousand petty objects (poor shifts to escape the persecuting spectre), or else, early disgusted with the worthlessness of these objects, the heart turns within and languishes for something not found in the daily routine of life. When this is the case, and when the pining of the heart is once satisfied, and the object of love is found, there are two mighty reasons why the love should be most passionately cherished. The first is, the utter indolence in which aristocratic life oozes away, and which allows full food for that meditation which can nurse by sure degrees the weakest desire into the strongest passion; and the second reason is, that the insipidity and hollowness of all patrician pursuits and pleasures render the excitement of love more delicious and more necessary to the "ignavi terrarum domini," than it is to those orders of society more usefully, more constantly, and more engrossingly engaged.
Wearied and sated with the pursuit of what was worthless, my heart, at last, exhausted itself in pining for what was pure. I recurred with a tenderness which I struggled with at first, and which in yielding to I blushed to acknowledge, to the memory of Isora. And in the world, surrounded by all which might be supposed to cause me to forget her, my heart clung to her far more endearingly than it had done in the rural solitudes in which she had first allured it. The truth was this; at the time I first loved her, other passions—passions almost equally powerful—shared her empire. Ambition and pleasure—vast whirlpools of thought—had just opened themselves a channel in my mind, and thither the tides of my desires were hurried and lost. Now those whirlpools had lost their power, and the channels, being dammed up, flowed back upon my breast. Pleasure had disgusted me, and the only ambition I had yet courted and pursued had palled upon me still more. I say, the only ambition, for as yet that which is of the loftier and more lasting kind had not afforded me a temptation; and the hope which had borne the name and rank of ambition had been the hope rather to glitter than to rise.
These passions, not yet experienced when I lost Isora, had afforded me at that period a ready comfort and a sure engrossment. And, in satisfying the hasty jealousies of my temper, in deeming Isora unworthy and Gerald my rival, I naturally aroused in my pride a dexterous orator as well as a firm ally. Pride not only strengthened my passions, it also persuaded them by its voice; and it was not till the languid yet deep stillness of sated wishes and palled desires fell upon me, that the low accent of a love still surviving at my heart made itself heard in answer.
I now began to take a different view of Isora's conduct. I now began to doubt where I had formerly believed; and the doubt, first allied to fear, gradually brightened into hope. Of Gerald's rivalry, at least of his identity with Barnard, and, consequently, of his power over Isora, there was, and there could be, no feeling short of certainty. But of what nature was that power? Had not Isora assured me that it was not love? Why should I disbelieve her? Nay, did she not love myself? had not her cheek blushed and her hand trembled when I addressed her? Were these signs the counterfeits of love? Were they not rather of that heart's dye which no skill can counterfeit? She had declared that she could not, that she could never, be mine; she had declared so with a fearful earnestness which seemed to annihilate hope; but had she not also, in the same meeting, confessed that I was dear to her? Had not her lip given me a sweeter and a more eloquent assurance of that confession than words?—and could hope perish while love existed? She had left me,—she had bid me farewell forever; but that was no proof of a want of love, or of her unworthiness. Gerald, or Barnard, evidently possessed an influence over father as well as child. Their departure from———might have been occasioned by him, and she might have deplored, while she could not resist it; or she might not even have deplored; nay, she might have desired, she might have advised it, for my sake as well as hers, were she thoroughly convinced that the union of our loves was impossible.
But, then, of what nature could be this mysterious authority which Gerald possessed over her? That which he possessed over the sire, political schemes might account for; but these, surely, could not have much weight for the daughter. This, indeed, must still remain doubtful and unaccounted for. One presumption, that Gerald was either no favoured lover or that he was unacquainted with her retreat, might be drawn from his continued residence at Devereux Court. If he loved Isora, and knew her present abode, would he not have sought her? Could he, I thought, live away from that bright face, if once allowed to behold it? unless, indeed (terrible thought!) there hung over it the dimness of guilty familiarity, and indifference had been the offspring of possession. But was that delicate and virgin face, where changes with every moment coursed each other, harmonious to the changes of the mind, as shadows in a valley reflect the clouds of heaven!—was that face, so ingenuous, so girlishly revelant of all,—even of the slightest, the most transitory, emotion,—the face of one hardened in deceit and inured to shame? The countenance is, it is true, but a faithless mirror; but what man that has studied women will not own that there is, at least while the down of first youth is not brushed away, in the eye and cheek of zoned and untainted Innocence, that which survives not even the fruition of a lawful love, and has no (nay, not even a shadowed and imperfect) likeness in the face of guilt? Then, too, had any worldlier or mercenary sentiment entered her breast respecting me, would Isora have flown from the suit of the eldest scion of the rich house of Devereux? and would she, poor and destitute, the daughter of an alien and an exile, would she have spontaneously relinquished any hope of obtaining that alliance which maidens of the loftiest houses of England had not disdained to desire? Thus confused and incoherent, but thus yearning fondly towards her image and its imagined purity, did my thoughts daily and hourly array themselves; and, in proportion as I suffered common ties to drop from me one by one, those thoughts clung the more tenderly to that which, though severed from the rich argosy of former love, was still indissolubly attached to the anchor of its hope.
It was during this period of revived affection that I received the following letter from my uncle:—
I thank thee for thy long letter, my dear boy; I read it over three times with great delight. Ods fish, Morton, you are a sad Pickle, I fear, and seem to know all the ways of the town as well as your old uncle did some thirty years ago! 'Tis a very pretty acquaintance with human nature that your letters display. You put me in mind of little Sid, who was just about your height, and who had just such a pretty, shrewd way of expressing himself in simile and point. Ah, it is easy to see that you have profited by your old uncle's conversation, and that Farquhar and Etherege were not studied for nothing.
But I have sad news for thee, my child, or rather it is sad for me to tell thee my tidings. It is sad for the old birds to linger in their nest when the young ones take wing and leave them; but it is merry for the young birds to get away from the dull old tree, and frisk it in the sunshine,—merry for them to get mates, and have young themselves. Now, do not think, Morton, that by speaking of mates and young I am going to tell thee thy brothers are already married; nay, there is time enough for those things, and I am not friendly to early weddings, nor to speak truly, a marvellous great admirer of that holy ceremony at any age; for the which there may be private reasons too long to relate to thee now. Moreover, I fear my young day was a wicked time,—a heinous wicked time, and we were wont to laugh at the wedded state, until, body of me, some of us found it no laughing matter.
But to return, Morton,—to return to thy brothers: they have both left me; and the house seems to me not the good old house it did when ye were all about me; and, somehow or other, I look now oftener at the churchyard than I was wont to do. You are all gone now,—all shot up and become men; and when your old uncle sees you no more, and recollects that all his own contemporaries are out of the world, he cannot help saying, as William Temple, poor fellow, once prettily enough said, "Methinks it seems an impertinence in me to be still alive." You went first, Morton; and I missed you more than I cared to say: but you were always a kind boy to those you loved, and you wrote the old knight merry letters, that made him laugh, and think he was grown young again (faith, boy, that was a jolly story of the three Squires at Button's!), and once a week comes your packet, well filled, as if you did not think it a task to make me happy, which your handwriting always does; nor a shame to my gray hairs that I take pleasure in the same things that please thee! So, thou seest, my child, that I have got through thy absence pretty well, save that I have had no one to read thy letters to; for Gerald and thou are still jealous of each other,—a great sin in thee, Morton, which I prithee to reform. And Aubrey, poor lad, is a little too rigid, considering his years, and it looks not well in the dear boy to shake his head at the follies of his uncle. And as to thy mother, Morton, I read her one of thy letters, and she said thou wert a graceless reprobate to think so much of this wicked world, and to write so familiarly to thine aged relative. Now, I am not a young man, Morton; but the word aged has a sharp sound with it when it comes from a lady's mouth.
Well, after thou hadst been gone a month, Aubrey and Gerald, as I wrote thee word long since, in the last letter I wrote thee with my own hand, made a tour together for a little while, and that was a hard stroke on me. But after a week or two Gerald returned; and I went out in my chair to see the dear boy shoot,—'sdeath, Morton, he handles the gun well. And then Aubrey returned alone: but he looked pined and moping, and shut himself up, and as thou dost love him so, I did not like to tell thee till now, when he is quite well, that he alarmed me much for him; he is too much addicted to his devotions, poor child, and seems to forget that the hope of the next world ought to make us happy in this. Well, Morton, at last, two months ago, Aubrey left us again, and Gerald last week set off on a tour through the sister kingdom, as it is called. Faith, boy, if Scotland and England are sister kingdoms, 'tis a thousand pities for Scotland that they are not co-heiresses!
I should have told thee of this news before, but I have had, as thou knowest, the gout so villanously in my hand that, till t' other day, I have not held a pen, and old Nicholls, my amanuensis, is but a poor scribe; and I did not love to let the dog write to thee on all our family affairs, especially as I have a secret to tell thee which makes me plaguy uneasy. Thou must know, Morton, that after thy departure Gerald asked me for thy rooms; and though I did not like that any one else should have what belonged to thee, yet I have always had a foolish antipathy to say "No!" so thy brother had them, on condition to leave them exactly as they were, and to yield them to thee whenever thou shouldst return to claim them. Well, Morton, when Gerald went on his tour with thy youngest brother, old Nicholls—you know 'tis a garrulous fellow—told me one night that his son Hugh—you remember Hugh, a thin youth and a tall—lingering by the beach one evening, saw a man, wrapped in a cloak, come out of the castle cave, unmoor one of the boats, and push off to the little island opposite. Hugh swears by more than yea and nay that the man was Father Montreuil. Now, Morton, this made me very uneasy, and I saw why thy brother Gerald wanted thy rooms, which communicate so snugly with the sea. So I told Nicholls, slyly, to have the great iron gate at the mouth of the passage carefully locked; and when it was locked, I had an iron plate put over the whole lock, that the lean Jesuit might not creep even through the keyhole. Thy brother returned, and I told him a tale of the smugglers, who have really been too daring of late, and insisted on the door being left as I had ordered; and I told him, moreover, though not as if I had suspected his communication with the priest, that I interdicted all further converse with that limb of the Church. Thy brother heard me with an indifferently bad grace; but I was peremptory, and the thing was agreed on.
Well, child, the day before Gerald last left us, I went to take leave of him in his own room,—to tell thee the truth, I had forgotten his travelling expenses; when I was on the stairs of the tower I heard—by the Lord I did—Montreuil's voice in the outer room, as plainly as ever I heard it at prayers. Ods fish, Morton, I was an angered, and I made so much haste to the door that my foot slipped by the way: thy brother heard me fall, and came out; but I looked at him as I never looked at thee, Morton, and entered the room. Lo, the priest was not there: I searched both chambers in vain; so I made thy brother lift up the trapdoor, and kindle a lamp, and I searched the room below, and the passage. The priest was invisible. Thou knowest, Morton, that there is only one egress in the passage, and that was locked, as I have said before, so where the devil—the devil indeed—could thy tutor have escaped? He could not have passed me on the stairs without my seeing him; he could not have leaped the window without breaking his neck; he could not have got out of the passage without making himself a current of air. Ods fish, Morton, this thing might puzzle a wiser man, than thine uncle. Gerald affected to be mighty indignant at my suspicions; but, God forgive him, I saw he was playing a part. A man does not write plays, my child, without being keen-sighted in these little intrigues; and, moreover, it is impossible I could have mistaken thy tutor's voice, which, to do it justice, is musical enough, and is the most singular voice I ever heard,—unless little Sid's be excepted.
A propos of little Sid. I remember that in the Mall, when I was walking there alone, three weeks after my marriage, De Grammont and Sid joined me. I was in a melancholic mood ('sdeath, Morton, marriage tames a man as water tames mice!)—"Aha, Sir William," cried Sedley, "thou hast a cloud on thee; prithee now brighten it away: see, thy wife shines on thee from the other end of the Mall." "Ah, talk not to a dying man of his physic!" said Grammont (that Grammont was a shocking rogue, Morton!) "Prithee, Sir William, what is the chief characteristic of wedlock? is it a state of war or of peace?" "Oh, peace to be sure!" cried Sedley, "and Sir William and his lady carry with them the emblem." "How!" cried I; for I do assure thee, Morton, I was of a different turn of mind. "How!" said Sid, gravely, "why, the emblem of peace is the cornucopia, which your lady and you equitably divide: she carries the copia, and you the cor—." Nay, Morton, nay, I cannot finish the jest; for, after all, it was a sorry thing in little Sid, whom I had befriended like a brother, with heart and purse, to wound me so cuttingly; but 'tis the way with your jesters.
Ods fish, now how I have got out of my story! Well, I did not go back to my room, Morton, till I had looked to the outside of the iron door, and seen that the plate was as firm as ever: so now you have the whole of the matter. Gerald went the next day, and I fear me much lest he should already be caught in some Jacobite trap. Write me thy advice on the subject. Meanwhile, I have taken the precaution to have the trap-door removed, and the aperture strongly boarded over.
But 'tis time for me to give over. I have been four days on this letter, for the gout comes now to me oftener than it did, and I do not know when I may again write to thee with my own hand; so I resolved I would e'en empty my whole budget at once. Thy mother is well and blooming; she is, at the present, abstractedly employed in a prodigious piece of tapestry which old Nicholls informs me is the wonder of all the women.
Heaven bless thee, my child! Take care of thyself, and drink moderately. It is hurtful, at thy age, to drink above a gallon or so at a sitting. Heaven bless thee again, and when the weather gets warmer, thou must come with thy kind looks, to make me feel at home again. At present the country wears a cheerless face, and everything about us is harsh and frosty, except the blunt, good-for-nothing heart of thine uncle, and that, winter or summer, is always warm to thee.
P. S. I thank thee heartily for the little spaniel of the new breed thou gottest me from the Duchess of Marlborough. It has the prettiest red and white, and the blackest eyes possible. But poor Ponto is as jealous as a wife three years married, and I cannot bear the old hound to be vexed, so I shall transfer the little creature, its rival, to thy mother.
This letter, tolerably characteristic of the blended simplicity, penetration, and overflowing kindness of the writer, occasioned me much anxious thought. There was no doubt in my mind but that Gerald and Montreuil were engaged in some intrigue for the exiled family. The disguised name which the former assumed, the state reasons which D'Alvarez confessed that Barnard, or rather Gerald, had for concealment, and which proved, at least, that some state plot in which Gerald was engaged was known to the Spaniard, joined to those expressions of Montreuil, which did all but own a design for the restoration of the deposed line, and the power which I knew he possessed over Gerald, whose mind, at once bold and facile, would love the adventure of the intrigue, and yield to Montreuil's suggestions on its nature,—these combined circumstances left me in no doubt upon a subject deeply interesting to the honour of our house, and the very life of one of its members. Nothing, however, for me to do, calculated to prevent or impede the designs of Montreuil and the danger of Gerald, occurred to me. Eager alike in my hatred and my love, I said, inly, "What matters it whether one whom the ties of blood never softened towards me, with whom, from my childhood upwards, I have wrestled as with an enemy, what matters it whether he win fame or death in the perilous game he has engaged in?" And turning from this most generous and most brotherly view of the subject, I began only to think whether the search or the society of Isora also influenced Gerald in his absence from home. After a fruitless and inconclusive meditation on that head, my thoughts took a less selfish turn, and dwelt with all the softness of pity, and the anxiety of love, upon the morbid temperament and ascetic devotions of Aubrey. What, for one already so abstracted from the enjoyments of earth, so darkened by superstitious misconceptions of the true nature of God and the true objects of His creatures,—what could be anticipated but wasted powers and a perverted life? Alas! when will men perceive the difference between religion and priestcraft? When will they perceive that reason, so far from extinguishing religion by a more gaudy light, sheds on it all its lustre? It is fabled that the first legislator of the Peruvians received from the Deity a golden rod, with which in his wanderings he was to strike the earth, until in some destined spot the earth entirely absorbed it, and there—and there alone—was he to erect a temple to the Divinity. What is this fable but the cloak of an inestimable moral? Our reason is the rod of gold; the vast world of truth gives the soil, which it is perpetually to sound; and only where without resistance the soil receives the rod which guided and supported us will our altar be sacred and our worship be accepted.
BEING A SHORT CHAPTER, CONTAINING A MOST IMPORTANT EVENT.
SIR WILLIAM'S letter was still fresh in my mind, when, for want of some less noble quarter wherein to bestow my tediousness, I repaired to St. John. As I crossed the hall to his apartment, two men, just dismissed from his presence, passed me rapidly; one was unknown to me, but there was no mistaking the other,—it was Montreuil. I was greatly startled; the priest, not appearing to notice me, and conversing in a whispered yet seemingly vehement tone with his companion, hurried on and vanished through the street door. I entered St. John's room: he was alone, and received me with his usual gayety.
"Pardon me, Mr. Secretary," said I; "but if not a question of state, do inform me what you know respecting the taller one of those two gentlemen who have just quitted you."
"It is a question of state, my dear Devereux, so my answer must be brief,—very little."
"You know who he is?"
"Yes, a Jesuit, and a marvellously shrewd one: the Abbe Montreuil."
"He was my tutor."
"Ah, so I have heard."
"And your acquaintance with him is positively and bona fide of a state nature?"
"Positively and bona fide."
"I could tell you something of him; he is certainly in the service of the Court at St. Germains, and a terrible plotter on this side the Channel."
"Possibly; but I wish to receive no information respecting him."
One great virtue of business did St. John possess, and I have never known any statesman who possessed it so eminently: it was the discreet distinction between friends of the statesman and friends of the man. Much and intimately as I knew St. John, I could never glean from him a single secret of a state nature, until, indeed, at a later period, I leagued myself to a portion of his public schemes. Accordingly I found him, at the present moment, perfectly impregnable to my inquiries; and it was not till I knew Montreuil's companion was that celebrated intriguant, the Abbe Gaultier, that I ascertained the exact nature of the priest's business with St. John, and the exact motive of the civilities he had received from Abigail Masham.* Being at last forced, despairingly, to give over the attempt on his discretion, I suffered St. John to turn the conversation upon other topics, and as these were not much to the existent humour of my mind, I soon rose to depart.
* Namely, that Count Devereux ascertained the priest's communications and overtures from the Chevalier. The precise extent of Bolingbroke's secret negotiations with the exiled Prince is still one of the darkest portions of the history of that time. That negotiations were carried on, both by Harley and by St. John, very largely, and very closely, I need not say that there is no doubt.
"Stay, Count," said St. John; "shall you ride to-day?"
"If you will bear me company."
"Volontiers,—to say the truth, I was about to ask you to canter your bay horse with me first to Spring Gardens,* where I have a promise to make to the director; and, secondly, on a mission of charity to a poor foreigner of rank and birth, who, in his profound ignorance of this country, thought it right to enter into a plot with some wise heads, and to reveal it to some foolish tongues, who brought it to us with as much clatter as if it were a second gunpowder project. I easily brought him off that scrape, and I am now going to give him a caution for the future. Poor gentleman, I hear that he is grievously distressed in pecuniary matters, and I always had a kindness for exiles. Who knows but that a state of exile may be our own fate! and this alien is sprung from a race as haughty as that of St. John or of Devereux. The res angusta domi must gall him sorely!"
"True," said I, slowly. "What may be the name of the foreigner?"
"Why—complain not hereafter that I do not trust you in state matters—I will indulge—D'Alvarez—Don Diego,—a hidalgo of the best blood of Andalusia; and not unworthy of it, I fancy, in the virtues of fighting, though he may be in those of council. But—Heavens! Devereux—you seem ill!"
"No, no! Have you ever seen this man?"
At this word a thrill of joy shot across me, for I knew St. John's fame for gallantry, and I was suspicious of the motives of his visit.
"St. John, I know this Spaniard; I know him well, and intimately. Could you not commission me to do your errand, and deliver your caution? Relief from me he might accept; from you, as a stranger, pride might forbid it; and you would really confer on me a personal and essential kindness, if you would give me so fair an opportunity to confer kindness upon him."
"Very well, I am delighted to oblige you in any way. Take his direction; you see his abode is in a very pitiful suburb. Tell him from me that he is quite safe at present; but tell him also to avoid, henceforth, all imprudence, all connection with priests, plotters, et tous ces gens-la, as he values his personal safety, or at least his continuance in this most hospitable country. It is not from every wood that we make a Mercury, nor from every brain that we can carve a Mercury's genius of intrigue."
"Nobody ought to be better skilled in the materials requisite for such productions than Mr. Secretary St. John!" said I; "and now, adieu."
"Adieu, if you will not ride with me. We meet at Sir William Wyndham's to-morrow."
Masking my agitation till I was alone, I rejoiced when I found myself in the open streets. I summoned a hackney-coach, and drove as rapidly as the vehicle would permit to the petty and obscure suburb to which St. John had directed me. The coach stopped at the door of a very humble but not absolutely wretched abode. I knocked at the door. A woman opened it, and, in answer to my inquiries, told me that the poor foreign gentleman was very ill,—very ill indeed,—had suffered a paralytic stroke,—not expected to live. His daughter was with him now,—would see no one,—even Mr. Barnard had been denied admission.
At that name my feelings, shocked and stunned at first by the unexpected intelligence of the poor Spaniard's danger, felt a sudden and fierce revulsion. I combated it. "This is no time," I thought, "for any jealous, for any selfish, emotion. If I can serve her, if I can relieve her father, let me be contented."—"She will see me," I said aloud, and I slipped some money in the woman's hand. "I am an old friend of the family, and I shall not be an unwelcome intruder on the sickroom of the sufferer."
"Intruder, sir,—bless you, the poor gentleman is quite speechless and insensible."
At hearing this I could refrain no longer. Isora's disconsolate, solitary, destitute condition broke irresistibly upon me, and all scruple of more delicate and formal nature vanished at once. I ascended the stairs, followed by the old woman—she stopped me by the threshold of a room on the second floor, and whispered "There!" I paused an instant,—collected breath and courage, and entered. The room was partially darkened. The curtains were drawn closely around the bed. By a table, on which stood two or three phials of medicine, I beheld Isora, listening with an eager, a most eager and intent face to a man whose garb betrayed his healing profession, and who, laying a finger on the outstretched palm of his other hand, appeared giving his precise instructions, and uttering that oracular breath which—mere human words to him—was a message of fate itself,—a fiat on which hung all that makes life life to his trembling and devout listener. Monarchs of earth, ye have not so supreme a power over woe and happiness as one village leech! As he turned to leave her, she drew from a most slender purse a few petty coins, and I saw that she muttered some words indicative of the shame of poverty, as she tremblingly tended them to the outstretched palm. Twice did that palm close and open on the paltry sum; and the third time the native instinct of the heart overcame the later impulse of the profession. The limb of Galen drew back, and shaking with a gentle oscillation his capitalian honours, he laid the money softly on the table, and buttoning up the pouch of his nether garment, as if to resist temptation, he pressed the poor hand still extended towards him, and bowing over it with a kind respect for which I did long to approach and kiss his most withered and undainty cheek, he turned quickly round, and almost fell against me in the abstracted hurry of his exit.
"Hush!" said I, softly. "What hope of your patient?"
The leech glanced at me meaningly, and I whispered to him to wait for me below. Isora had not yet seen me. It is a notable distinction in the feelings, that all but the solitary one of grief sharpen into exquisite edge the keenness of the senses, but grief blunts them to a most dull obtuseness. I hesitated now to come forward; and so I stood, hat in hand, by the door, and not knowing that the tears streamed down my cheeks as I fixed my gaze upon Isora. She too stood still, just where the leech had left her, with her eyes fixed upon the ground, and her head drooping. The right hand, which the man had pressed, had sunk slowly and heavily by her side, with the small snowy fingers half closed over the palm. There is no describing the despondency which the listless position of that hand spoke, and the left hand lay with a like indolence of sorrow on the table, with one finger outstretched and pointing towards the phials, just as it bad, some moments before, seconded the injunctions of the prim physician. Well, for my part, if I were a painter I would come now and then to a sick chamber for a study.
At last Isora, with a very quiet gesture of self-recovery, moved towards the bed, and the next moment I was by her side. If my life depended on it, I could not write one, no, not one syllable more of this scene.
CONTAINING MORE THAN ANY OTHER CHAPTER IN THE SECOND BOOK OF THIS HISTORY.
MY first proposal was to remove the patient, with all due care and gentleness, to a better lodging, and a district more convenient for the visits of the most eminent physicians. When I expressed this wish to Isora, she looked at me long and wistfully, and then burst into tears. "You will not deceive us," said she, "and I accept your kindness at once,—from him I rejected the same offer."
"Him?—of whom speak you?—this Barnard, or rather—but I know him!" A startling expression passed over Isora's speaking face.
"Know him!" she cried, interrupting me, "you do not,—you cannot!"
"Take courage, dearest Isora,—if I may so dare to call you,—take courage: it is fearful to have a rival in that quarter; but I am prepared for it. This Barnard, tell me again, do you love him?"
"Love—O God, no!"
"What then? do you still fear him?—fear him, too, protected by the unsleeping eye and the vigilant hand of a love like mine?"
"Yes!" she said falteringly, "I fear for you!"
"Me!" I cried, laughing scornfully, "me! nay, dearest, there breathes not that man whom you need fear on my account. But, answer me; is not—"
"For Heaven's sake, for mercy's sake!" cried Isora, eagerly, "do not question me; I may not tell you who, or what this man is; I am bound, by a most solemn oath, never to divulge that secret."
"I care not," said I, calmly, "I want no confirmation of my knowledge: this masked rival is my own brother!"
I fixed my eyes full on Isora while I said this, and she quailed beneath my gaze: her cheek, her lips, were utterly without colour, and an expression of sickening and keen anguish was graven upon her face. She made no answer.
"Yes!" resumed I, bitterly, "it is my brother,—be it so,—I am prepared; but if you can, Isora, say one word to deny it."
Isora's tongue seemed literally to cleave to her mouth; at last with a violent effort, she muttered, "I have told you, Morton, that I am bound by oath not to divulge this secret; nor may I breathe a single syllable calculated to do so,—if I deny one name, you may question me on more,—and, therefore, to deny one is a breach of my oath. But, beware!" she added vehemently, "oh! beware how your suspicions—mere vague, baseless suspicions—criminate a brother; and, above all, whomsoever you believe to be the real being under this disguised name, as you value your life, and therefore mine,—breathe not to him a syllable of your belief."
I was so struck with the energy with which this was said, that, after a short pause, I rejoined, in an altered tone,—
"I cannot believe that I have aught against life to fear from a brother's hand; but I will promise you to guard against latent danger. But is your oath so peremptory that you cannot deny even one name?—if not, and you can deny this, I swear to you that I will never question you upon another."
Again a fierce convulsion wrung the lip and distorted the perfect features of Isora. She remained silent for some moments, and then murmured, "My oath forbids me even that single answer: tempt me no more; now, and forever, I am mute upon this subject."
Perhaps some slight and momentary anger, or doubt, or suspicion, betrayed itself upon my countenance; for Isora, after looking upon me long and mournfully, said, in a quiet but melancholy tone, "I see your thoughts, and I do not reproach you for them—it is natural that you should think ill of one whom this mystery surrounds,—one too placed under such circumstances of humiliation and distrust. I have lived long in your country: I have seen, for the last few months, much of its inhabitants; I have studied too the works which profess to unfold its national and peculiar character: I know that you have a distrust of the people of other climates; I know that you are cautious and full of suspicious vigilance, even in your commerce with each other; I know, too [and Isora's heart swelled visibly as she spoke], that poverty itself, in the eyes of your commercial countrymen, is a crime, and that they rarely feel confidence or place faith in those who are unhappy;—why, Count Devereux, why should I require more of you than of the rest of your nation? Why should you think better of the penniless and friendless girl, the degraded exile, the victim of doubt,—which is so often the disguise of guilt,—than any other, any one even among my own people, would think of one so mercilessly deprived of all the decent and appropriate barriers by which a maiden should be surrounded? No—no: leave me as you found me; leave my poor father where you see him; any place will do for us to die in."
"Isora!" I said, clasping her in my arms, "you do not know me yet: had I found you in prosperity, and in the world's honour; had I wooed you in your father's halls, and girt around with the friends and kinsmen of your race,—I might have pressed for more than you will now tell me; I might have indulged suspicion where I perceived mystery, and I might not have loved as I love you now! Now, Isora, in misfortune, in destitution, I place without reserve my whole heart—its trust, its zeal, its devotion—in your keeping; come evil or good, storm or sunshine, I am yours, wholly and forever. Reject me if you will, I will return to you again; and never, never—save from my own eyes or your own lips—will I receive a single evidence detracting from your purity, or, Isora,—mine own, own Isora,—may I not add also—from your love?"
"Too, too generous!" murmured Isora, struggling passionately with her tears, "may Heaven forsake me if ever I am ungrateful to thee; and believe—believe, that if love more fond, more true, more devoted than woman ever felt before can repay you, you shall be repaid!"
Why, at that moment, did my heart leap so joyously within me?—why did I say inly,—"The treasure I have so long yearned for is found at last: we have met, and through the waste of years, we will work together, and never part again"? Why, at that moment of bliss, did I not rather feel a foretaste of the coming woe? Oh, blind and capricious Fate, that gives us a presentiment at one while and withholds it at an other! Knowledge, and Prudence, and calculating Foresight, what are ye?—warnings unto others, not ourselves. Reason is a lamp which sheddeth afar a glorious and general light, but leaveth all that is around it in darkness and in gloom. We foresee and foretell the destiny of others: we march credulous and benighted to our own; and like Laocoon, from the very altars by which we stand as the soothsayer and the priest, creep forth, unsuspected and undreamt of, the serpents which are fated to destroy us!
That very day, then, Alvarez was removed to a lodging more worthy of his birth, and more calculated to afford hope of his recovery. He bore the removal without any evident signs of fatigue; but his dreadful malady had taken away both speech and sense, and he was already more than half the property of the grave. I sent, however, for the best medical advice which London could afford. They met, prescribed, and left the patient just as they found him. I know not, in the progress of science, what physicians may be to posterity, but in my time they are false witnesses subpoenaed against death, whose testimony always tells less in favour of the plaintiff than the defendant.
Before we left the poor Spaniard's former lodging, and when I was on the point of giving some instructions to the landlady respecting the place to which the few articles of property belonging to Don Diego and Isora were to be moved, Isora made me a sign to be silent, which I obeyed. "Pardon me," said she afterwards; "but I confess that I am anxious our next residence should not be known,—should not be subject to the intrusion of—of this—"
"Barnard, as you call him. I understand you; be it so!" and accordingly I enjoined the goods to be sent to my own house, whence they were removed to Don Diego's new abode and I took especial care to leave with the good lady no clew to discover Alvarez and his daughter, otherwise than through me. The pleasure afforded me of directing Gerald's attention to myself, I could not resist. "Tell Mr. Barnard, when he calls," said I, "that only through Count Morton Devereux will he hear of Don Diego d'Alvarez and the lady his daughter."
"I will, your honour," said the landlady; and then looking at me more attentively, she added: "Bless me! now when you speak, there is a very strong likeness between yourself and Mr. Barnard."
I recoiled as if an adder had stung me, and hurried into the coach to support the patient, who was already placed there.
Now then my daily post was by the bed of disease and suffering: in the chamber of death was my vow of love ratified; and in sadness and in sorrow was it returned. But it is in such scenes that the deepest, the most endearing, and the most holy species of the passion is engendered. As I heard Isora's low voice tremble with the suspense of one who watches over the hourly severing of the affection of Nature and of early years; and as I saw her light step flit by the pillow which she smoothed, and her cheek alternately flush and fade, in watching the wants which she relieved; as I marked her mute, her unwearying tenderness, breaking into a thousand nameless but mighty cares, and pervading like an angel's vigilance every—yea, the minutest—course into which it flowed,—did I not behold her in that sphere in which woman is most lovely, and in which love itself consecrates its admiration and purifies its most ardent desires? That was not a time for our hearts to speak audibly to each other; but we felt that they grew closer and closer, and we asked not for the poor eloquence of words. But over this scene let me not linger.
One morning, as I was proceeding on foot to Isora's, I perceived on the opposite side of the way Montreuil and Gerald: they were conversing eagerly; they both saw me. Montreuil made a slight, quiet, and dignified inclination of the head: Gerald coloured, and hesitated. I thought he was about to leave his companion and address me; but, with a haughty and severe air, I passed on, and Gerald, as if stung by my demeanour, bit his lip vehemently and followed my example. A few minutes afterwards I felt an inclination to regret that I had not afforded him an opportunity of addressing me. "I might," thought I, "have then taunted him with his persecution of Isora, and defied him to execute those threats against me, in which it is evident, from her apprehensions for my safety, that he indulged."
I had not, however, much leisure for these thoughts. When I arrived at the lodgings of Alvarez, I found that a great change had taken place in his condition; he had recovered speech, though imperfectly, and testified a return to sense. I flew upstairs with a light step to congratulate Isora: she met me at the door. "Hush!" she whispered: "my father sleeps!" But she did not speak with the animation I had anticipated.
"What is the matter, dearest?" said I, following her into another apartment: "you seem sad, and your eyes are red with tears, which are not, methinks, entirely the tears of joy at this happy change in your father."
"I am marked out for suffering," returned Isora, more keenly than she was wont to speak. I pressed her to explain her meaning; she hesitated at first, but at length confessed that her father had always been anxious for her marriage with this soi-disant Barnard, and that his first words on his recovery had been to press her to consent to his wishes.
"My poor father," said she, weepingly, "speaks and thinks only for my fancied good; but his senses as yet are only recovered in part, and he cannot even understand me when I speak of you. 'I shall die,' he said, 'I shall die, and you will be left on the wide world!' I in vain endeavoured to explain to him that I should have a protector: he fell asleep muttering those words, and with tears in his eyes."
"Does he know as much of this Barnard as you do?" said I.
"Heavens, no!—or he would never have pressed me to marry one so wicked."
"Does he know even who he is?"
"Yes!" said Isora, after a pause; "but he has not known it long."
Here the physician joined us, and taking me aside, informed me that, as he had foreboded, sleep had been the harbinger of death, and that Don Diego was no more. I broke the news as gently as I could to Isora: but her grief was far more violent than I could have anticipated; and nothing seemed to cut her so deeply to the heart as the thought that his last wish had been one with which she had not complied, and could never comply.
I pass over the first days of mourning: I come to the one after Don Diego's funeral. I had been with Isora in the morning; I left her for a few hours, and returned at the first dusk of evening with some books and music, which I vainly hoped she might recur to for a momentary abstraction from her grief. I dismissed my carriage, with the intention of walking home, and addressing the woman-servant who admitted me, inquired, as was my wont, after Isora. "She has been very ill," replied the woman, "ever since the strange gentleman left her."
"The strange gentleman?"
Yes, he had forced his way upstairs, despite of the denial the servant had been ordered to give to all strangers. He had entered Isora's room; and the woman, in answer to my urgent inquiries, added that she had heard his voice raised to a loud and harsh key in the apartment; he had stayed there about a quarter of an hour, and had then hurried out, seemingly in great disorder and agitation.
"What description of man was he?" I asked.
The woman answered that he was mantled from head to foot in his cloak, which was richly laced, and his hat was looped with diamonds, but slouched over that part of his face which the collar of his cloak did not hide, so that she could not further describe him than as one of a haughty and abrupt bearing, and evidently belonging to the higher ranks.
Convinced that Gerald had been the intruder, I hastened up the stairs to Isora. She received me with a sickly and faint smile, and endeavoured to conceal the traces of her tears.
"So!" said I, "this insolent persecutor of yours has discovered your abode, and again insulted or intimidated you. He shall do so no more! I will seek him to-morrow; and no affinity of blood shall prevent—"
"Morton, dear Morton!" cried Isora, in great alarm, and yet with a certain determination stamped upon her features, "hear me! It is true this man has been here; it is true that, fearful and terrible as he is, he has agitated and alarmed me: but it was only for you, Morton,—by the Holy Virgin, it was only for you! 'The moment,' said he, and his voice ran shiveringly through my heart like a dagger, 'the moment Morton Devereux discovers who is his rival, that moment his death-warrant is irrevocably sealed!'"
"Arrogant boaster!" I cried, and my blood burned with the intense rage which a much slighter cause would have kindled from the natural fierceness of my temper. "Does he think my life is at his bidding, to allow or to withhold? Unhand me, Isora, unhand me! I tell you I will seek him this moment, and dare him to do his worst!"
"Do so," said Isora, calmly, and releasing her hold; "do so; but hear me first: the moment you breathe to him your suspicions you place an eternal barrier betwixt yourself and me! Pledge me your faith that you will never, while I live at least, reveal to him—to any one whom you suspect—your reproach, your defiance, your knowledge—nay, not even your lightest suspicion—of his identity with my persecutor; promise me this, Morton Devereux, or I, in my turn, before that crucifix, whose sanctity we both acknowledge and adore,—that crucifix which has descended to my race for three unbroken centuries,—which, for my departed father, in the solemn vow, and in the death-agony, has still been a witness, a consolation, and a pledge, between the soul and its Creator,—by that crucifix which my dying mother clasped to her bosom when she committed me, an infant, to the care of that Heaven which hears and records forever our lightest word,—I swear that I will never be yours!"
"Isora!" said I, awed and startled, yet struggling against the impression her energy had made upon me, "you know not to what you pledge yourself, nor what you require of me. If I do not seek out this man, if I do not expose to him my knowledge of his pursuit and unhallowed persecution of you, if I do not effectually prohibit and prevent their continuance, think well, what security have I for your future peace of mind,—nay, even for the safety of your honour or your life? A man thus bold, daring and unbaffled in his pursuit, thus vigilant and skilful in his selection of time and occasion,—so that, despite my constant and anxious endeavour to meet him in your presence, I have never been able to do so,—from a man, I say, thus pertinacious in resolution, thus crafty in disguise, what may you not dread when you leave him utterly fearless by the license of impunity? Think too, again, Isora, that the mystery dishonours as much as the danger menaces. Is it meet that my betrothed and my future bride should be subjected to these secret and terrible visitations,—visitations of a man professing himself her lover, and evincing the vehemence of his passion by that of his pursuit? Isora—Isora—you have not weighed these things; you know not what you demand of me."
"I do!" answered Isora; "I do know all that I demand of you; I demand of you only to preserve your life."
"How," said I, impatiently, "cannot my hand preserve my life? and is it for you, the daughter of a line of warriors, to ask your lover and your husband to shrink from a single foe?"
"No, Morton," answered Isora. "Were you going to battle, I would gird on your sword myself; were, too, this man other than he is, and you were about to meet him in open contest, I would not wrong you, nor degrade your betrothed, by a fear. But I know my persecutor well,—fierce, unrelenting,—dreadful in his dark and ungovernable passions as he is, he has not the courage to confront you: I fear not the open foe, but the lurking and sure assassin. His very earnestness to avoid you, the precautions he has taken, are alone sufficient to convince you that he dreads personally to oppose your claim or to vindicate himself."
"Then what have I to fear?"
"Everything! Do you not know that from men, at once fierce, crafty, and shrinking from bold violence, the stuff for assassins is always made? And if I wanted surer proof of his designs than inference, his oath—it rings in my ears now—is sufficient. 'The moment Morton Devereux discovers who is his rival, that moment his death-warrant is irrevocably sealed.' Morton, I demand your promise; or, though my heart break, I will record my own vow."
"Stay—stay," I said, in anger, and in sorrow: "were I to promise this, and for my own safety hazard yours, what could you deem me?"
"Fear not for me, Morton," answered Isora; "you have no cause. I tell you that this man, villain as he is, ever leaves me humbled and abased. Do not think that in all times, and all scenes, I am the foolish and weak creature you behold me now. Remember that you said rightly I was the daughter of a line of warriors; and I have that within me which will not shame my descent."
"But, dearest, your resolution may avail you for a time; but it cannot forever baffle the hardened nature of a man. I know my own sex, and I know my own ferocity, were it once aroused."
"But, Morton, you do not know me," said Isora, proudly, and her face, as she spoke, was set, and even stern: "I am only the coward when I think of you; a word—a look of mine—can abash this man; or, if it could not, I am never without a weapon to defend myself, or—or—" Isora's voice, before firm and collected, now faltered, and a deep blush flowed over the marble paleness of her face.
"Or what?" said I, anxiously.
"Or thee, Morton!" murmured Isora, tenderly, and withdrawing her eyes from mine.
The tone, the look that accompanied these words, melted me at once. I rose,—I clasped Isora to my heart.
"You are a strange compound, my own fairy queen; but these lips, this cheek, those eyes, are not fit features for a heroine."
"Morton, if I had less determination in my heart, I could not love you so well."
"But tell me," I whispered, with a smile, "where is this weapon on which you rely so strongly?"
"Here!" answered Isora, blushingly; and, extricating herself from me, she showed me a small two-edged dagger, which she wore carefully concealed between the folds of her dress. I looked over the bright, keen blade, with surprise, and yet with pleasure, at the latent resolution of a character seemingly so soft. I say with pleasure, for it suited well with my own fierce and wild temper. I returned the weapon to her, with a smile and a jest.
"Ah!" said Isora, shrinking from my kiss, "I should not have been so bold, if I only feared danger for myself."
But if, for a moment, we forgot, in the gushings of our affection, the object of our converse and dispute, we soon returned to it again. Isora was the first to recur to it. She reminded me of the promise she required; and she spoke with a seriousness and a solemnity which I found myself scarcely able to resist.
"But," I said, "if he ever molest you hereafter; if again I find that bright cheek blanched, and those dear eyes dimmed with tears; and I know that, in my own house, some one has dared thus to insult its queen,—am I to be still torpid and inactive, lest a dastard and craven hand should avenge my assertion of your honour and mine?"
"No, Morton; after our marriage, whenever that be, you will have nothing to apprehend from him on the same ground as before; my fear for you, too, will not be what it is now; your honour will be bound in mine, and nothing shall induce me to hazard it,—no, not even your safety. I have every reason to believe that, after that event, he will subject me no longer to his insults: how, indeed, can he, under your perpetual protection? or, for what cause should he attempt it, if he could? I shall be then yours,—only and ever yours; what hope could, therefore, then nerve his hardihood or instigate his intrusions? Trust to me at that time, and suffer me to—nay, I repeat, promise me that I may—trust in you now!"
What could I do? I still combated her wish and her request; but her steadiness and rigidity of purpose made me, though reluctantly, yield to them at last. So sincere, and so stern, indeed, appeared her resolution, that I feared, by refusal, that she would take the rash oath that would separate us forever. Added to this, I felt in her that confidence which, I am apt to believe, is far more akin to the latter stages of real love than jealousy and mistrust; and I could not believe that either now, or, still less after our nuptials, she would risk aught of honour, or the seemings of honour, from a visionary and superstitious fear. In spite, therefore, of my deep and keen interest in the thorough discovery of this mysterious persecution; and, still more, in the prevention of all future designs from his audacity, I constrained myself to promise her that I would on no account seek out the person I suspected, or wilfully betray to him by word or deed my belief of his identity with Barnard.
Though greatly dissatisfied with my self-compulsion, I strove to reconcile myself to its idea. Indeed, there was much in the peculiar circumstances of Isora, much in the freshness of her present affliction, much in the unfriended and utter destitution of her situation, that, while on the one hand, it called forth her pride, and made stubborn that temper which was naturally so gentle and so soft; on the other hand, made me yield even to wishes that I thought unreasonable, and consider rather the delicacy and deference due to her condition, than insist upon the sacrifices which, in more fortunate circumstances, I might have imagined due to myself. Still more indisposed to resist her wish and expose myself to its penalty was I, when I considered her desire was the mere excess and caution of her love, and when I felt that she spoke sincerely when she declared that it was only for me that she was the coward. Nevertheless, and despite all these considerations, it was with a secret discontent that I took my leave of her, and departed homeward.
I had just reached the end of the street where the house was situated, when I saw there, very imperfectly, for the night was extremely dark, the figure of a man entirely enveloped in a long cloak, such as was commonly worn by gallants in affairs of secrecy or intrigue; and, in the pale light of a single lamp near which he stood, something like the brilliance of gems glittered on the large Spanish hat which overhung his brow. I immediately recalled the description the woman had given me of Barnard's dress, and the thought flashed across me that it was he whom I beheld. "At all events," thought I, "I may confirm my doubts, if I may not communicate them, and I may watch over her safety if I may not avenge her injuries." I therefore took advantage of my knowledge of the neighbourhood, passed the stranger with a quick step, and then, running rapidly, returned by a circuitous route to the mouth of a narrow and dark street, which was exactly opposite to Isora's house. Here I concealed myself by a projecting porch, and I had not waited long before I saw the dim form of the stranger walk slowly by the house. He passed it three or four times, and each time I thought—though the darkness might deceive me—that he looked up to the windows. He made, however, no attempt at admission, and appeared as if he had no other object than that of watching by the house. Wearied and impatient at last, I came from my concealment. "I may confirm my suspicions," I repeated, recurring to my oath, and I walked straight towards the stranger.
"Sir," I said very calmly, "I am the last person in the world to interfere with the amusements of any other gentleman; but I humbly opine that no man can parade by this house upon so very cold a night, without giving just ground for suspicion to the friends of its inhabitants. I happen to be among that happy number; and I therefore, with all due humility and respect, venture to request you to seek some other spot for your nocturnal perambulations."
I made this speech purposely prolix, in order to have time fully to reconnoitre the person of the one I addressed. The dusk of the night, and the loose garb of the stranger, certainly forbade any decided success to this scrutiny; but methought the figure seemed, despite of my prepossessions, to want the stately height and grand proportions of Gerald Devereux. I must own, however, that the necessary inexactitude of my survey rendered this idea without just foundation, and did not by any means diminish my firm impression that it was Gerald whom I beheld. While I spoke, he retreated with a quick step, but made no answer. I pressed upon him: he backed with a still quicker step; and when I had ended, he fairly turned round, and made at full speed along the dark street in which I had fixed my previous post of watch. I fled after him, with a step as fleet as his own: his cloak encumbered his flight; I gained upon him sensibly; he turned a sharp corner, threw me out, and entered into a broad thoroughfare. As I sped after him, Bacchanalian voices burst upon my ear, and presently a large band of those young men who, under the name of Mohawks, were wont to scour the town nightly, and, sword in hand, to exercise their love of riot under the disguise of party zeal, became visible in the middle of the street. Through them my fugitive dashed headlong, and, profiting by their surprise, escaped unmolested. I attempted to follow with equal speed, but was less successful. "Hallo!" cried the foremost of the group, placing himself in my way.
"No such haste! Art Whig or Tory? Under which king, Bezonian? speak or die!"
"Have a care, Sir," said I, fiercely, drawing my sword.
"Treason, treason!" cried the speaker, confronting me with equal readiness. "Have a care, indeed! have at thee."
"Ha!" cried another, "'tis a Tory; 'tis the Secretary's popish friend, Devereux: pike him, pike him."
I had already run my opponent through the sword arm, and was in hopes that this act would intimidate the rest, and allow my escape; but at the sound of my name and political bias, coupled with the drawn blood of their confederate, the patriots rushed upon me with that amiable fury generally characteristic of all true lovers of their country. Two swords passed through my body simultaneously, and I fell bleeding and insensible to the ground. When I recovered I was in my own apartments, whither two of the gentler Mohawks had conveyed me: the surgeons were by my bedside; I groaned audibly when I saw them. If there is a thing in the world I hate, it is in any shape the disciples of Hermes; they always remind me of that Indian people (the Padaei, I think) mentioned by Herodotus, who sustained themselves by devouring the sick. "All is well," said one, when my groan was heard. "He will not die," said another. "At least not till we have had more fees," said a third, more candid than the rest. And thereupon they seized me and began torturing my wounds anew, till I fainted away with the pain. However, the next day I was declared out of immediate danger; and the first proof I gave of my convalescence was to make Desmarais discharge four surgeons out of five: the remaining one I thought my youth and constitution might enable me to endure.
That very evening, as I was turning restlessly in my bed, and muttering with parched lips the name of "Isora," I saw by my side a figure covered from head to foot in a long veil, and a voice, low, soft, but thrilling through my heart like a new existence, murmured, "She is here!"
I forgot my wounds; I forgot my pain and my debility; I sprang upwards: the stranger drew aside the veil from her countenance, and I beheld Isora!
"Yes!" said she, in her own liquid and honeyed accents, which fell like balm upon my wound and my spirit, "yes, she whom you have hitherto tended is come, in her turn, to render some slight but woman's services to you. She has come to nurse, and to soothe, and to pray for you, and to be, till you yourself discard her, your hand-maid and your slave!"
I would have answered, but raising her finger to her lips, she arose and vanished; but from that hour my wound healed, my fever slaked, and whenever I beheld her flitting round my bed, or watching over me, or felt her cool fingers wiping the dew from my brow, or took from her hand my medicine or my food, in those moments, the blood seemed to make a new struggle through my veins, and I felt palpably within me a fresh and delicious life—a life full of youth and passion and hope—replace the vaguer and duller being which I had hitherto borne.
There are some extraordinary incongruities in that very mysterious thing sympathy. One would imagine that, in a description of things most generally interesting to all men, the most general interest would be found; nevertheless, I believe few persons would hang breathless over the progressive history of a sick-bed. Yet those gradual stages from danger to recovery, how delightfully interesting they are to all who have crawled from one to the other! and who, at some time or other in his journey through that land of diseases—civilized life—has not taken that gentle excursion? "I would be ill any day for the pleasure of getting well," said Fontenelle to me one morning with his usual naivete; but who would not be ill for the more pleasure of being ill, if he could be tended by her whom he most loves?
I shall not therefore dwell upon that most delicious period of my life,—my sick bed, and my recovery from it. I pass on to a certain evening in which I heard from Isora's lips the whole of her history, save what related to her knowledge of the real name of one whose persecution constituted the little of romance which had yet mingled with her innocent and pure life. That evening—how well I remember it!—we were alone; still weak and reduced, I lay upon the sofa beside the window, which was partially open, and the still air of an evening in the first infancy of spring came fresh, and fraught as it were with a prediction of the glowing woods and the reviving verdure, to my cheek. The stars, one by one, kindled, as if born of Heaven and Twilight, into their nightly being; and, through the vapour and thick ether of the dense city, streamed their most silent light, holy and pure, and resembling that which the Divine Mercy sheds upon the gross nature of mankind. But, shadowy and calm, their rays fell full upon the face of Isora, as she lay on the ground beside my couch, and with one hand surrendered to my clasp, looked upward till, as she felt my gaze, she turned her cheek blushingly away. There was quiet around and above us; but beneath the window we heard at times the sounds of the common earth, and then insensibly our hands knit into a closer clasp, and we felt them thrill more palpably to our hearts; for those sounds reminded us both of our existence and of our separation from the great herd of our race!
What is love but a division from the world, and a blending of two souls, two immortalities divested of clay and ashes, into one? it is a severing of a thousand ties from whatever is harsh and selfish, in order to knit them into a single and sacred bond! Who loves hath attained the anchorite's secret; and the hermitage has become dearer than the world. O respite from the toil and the curse of our social and banded state, a little interval art thou, suspended between two eternities,—the Past and the Future,—a star that hovers between the morning and the night, sending through the vast abyss one solitary ray from heaven, but too far and faint to illumine, while it hallows the earth!
There was nothing in Isora's tale which the reader has not already learned or conjectured. She had left her Andalusian home in her early childhood, but she remembered it well, and lingeringly dwelt over it in description. It was evident that little, in our colder and less genial isle, had attracted her sympathy, or wound itself into her affection. Nevertheless, I conceive that her naturally dreamy and abstracted character had received from her residence and her trials here much of the vigour and the heroism which it now possessed. Brought up alone, music, and books—few, though not ill-chosen, for Shakspeare was one, and the one which had made upon her the most permanent impression, and perhaps had coloured her temperament with its latent but rich hues of poetry—constituted her amusement and her studies.
But who knows not that a woman's heart finds its fullest occupation within itself? There lies its real study, and within that narrow orbit, the mirror of enchanted thought reflects the whole range of earth. Loneliness and meditation nursed the mood which afterwards, with Isora, became love itself. But I do not wish now so much to describe her character as to abridge her brief history. The first English stranger of the male sex whom her father admitted to her acquaintance was Barnard. This man was, as I had surmised, connected with him in certain political intrigues, the exact nature of which she did not know. I continue to call him by a name which Isora acknowledged was fictitious. He had not, at first, by actual declaration, betrayed to her his affections: though, accompanied by a sort of fierceness which early revolted her, they soon became visible. On the evening in which I had found her stretched insensible in the garden, and had myself made my first confession of love, I learned that he had divulged to her his passion and real name; that her rejection had thrown him into a fierce despair; that he had accompanied his disclosure with the most terrible threats against me, for whom he supposed himself rejected, and against the safety of her father, whom he said a word of his could betray; and her knowledge of his power to injure us—us—yes, Isora then loved me, and then trembled for my safety! had terrified and overcome her; and that in the very moment in which my horse's hoofs were heard, and as the alternative of her non-compliance, the rude suitor swore deadly and sore vengeance against Alvarez and myself, she yielded to the oath he prescribed to her,—an oath that she would never reveal the secret he had betrayed to her, or suffer me to know who was my real rival.
This was all that I could gather from her guarded confidence; he heard the oath and vanished, and she felt no more till she was in my arms; then it was that she saw in the love and vengeance of my rival a barrier against our union; and then it was that her generous fear for me conquered her attachment, and she renounced me. Their departure from the cottage so shortly afterwards was at her father's choice and at the instigation of Barnard, for the furtherance of their political projects; and it was from Barnard that the money came which repaid my loan to Alvarez. The same person, no doubt, poisoned her father against me, for henceforth Alvarez never spoke of me with that partiality he had previously felt. They repaired to London: her father was often absent, and often engaged with men whom she had never seen before; he was absorbed and uncommunicative, and she was still ignorant of the nature of his schemings and designs.