It must occur to every one of my readers, that, in undertaking, as now, in these passages in the history of Trevylyan, scarcely so much a tale as an episode in real life, it is very difficult to offer any interest save of the most simple and unexciting kind. It is true that to Trevylyan every day, every hour, had its incident; but what are those incidents to others? A cloud in the sky; a smile from the lip of Gertrude,—these were to him far more full of events than had been the most varied scenes of his former adventurous career; but the history of the heart is not easily translated into language; and the world will not readily pause from its business to watch the alternations in the cheek of a dying girl.
In the immense sum of human existence what is a single unit? Every sod on which we tread is the grave of some former being; yet is there something that softens without enervating the heart in tracing in the life of another those emotions that all of us have known ourselves. For who is there that has not, in his progress through life, felt all its ordinary business arrested, and the varieties of fate commuted into one chronicle of the affections? Who has not watched over the passing away of some being, more to him at that epoch than all the world? And this unit, so trivial to the calculation of others, of what inestimable value was it not to him? Retracing in another such recollections, shadowed and mellowed down by time, we feel the wonderful sanctity of human life, we feel what emotions a single being can awake; what a world of hope may be buried in a single grave! And thus we keep alive within ourselves the soft springs of that morality which unites us with our kind, and sheds over the harsh scenes and turbulent contests of earth the colouring of a common love.
There is often, too, in the time of year in which such thoughts are presented to us, a certain harmony with the feelings they awaken. As I write I hear the last sighs of the departing summer, and the sere and yellow leaf is visible in the green of nature. But when this book goes forth into the world, the year will have passed through a deeper cycle of decay; and the first melancholy signs of winter have breathed into the Universal Mind that sadness which associates itself readily with the memory of friends, of feelings, that are no more. The seasons, like ourselves, track their course by something of beauty, or of glory, that is left behind. As the traveller in the land of Palestine sees tomb after tomb rise before him, the landmarks of his way, and the only signs of the holiness of the soil, thus Memory wanders over the most sacred spots in its various world, and traces them but by the graves of the Past.
It was now that Gertrude began to feel the shock her frame had received in the storm upon the Rhine. Cold shiverings frequently seized her; her cough became more hollow, and her form trembled at the slightest breeze.
Vane grew seriously alarmed; he repented that he had yielded to Gertrude's wish of substituting the Rhine for the Tiber or the Arno; and would even now have hurried across the Alps to a warmer clime, if Du——-e had not declared that she could not survive the journey, and that her sole chance of regaining her strength was rest. Gertrude herself, however, in the continued delusion of her disease, clung to the belief of recovery, and still supported the hopes of her father, and soothed, with secret talk of the future, the anguish of her betrothed. The reader may remember that in the most touching passage in the ancient tragedians, the most pathetic part of the most pathetic of human poets—the pleading speech of Iphigenia, when imploring for her prolonged life, she impresses you with so soft a picture of its innocence and its beauty, and in this Gertrude resembled the Greek's creation—that she felt, on the verge of death, all the flush, the glow, the loveliness of life. Her youth was filled with hope and many-coloured dreams; she loved, and the hues of morning slept upon the yet disenchanted earth. The heavens to her were not as the common sky; the wave had its peculiar music to her ear, and the rustling leaves a pleasantness that none whose heart is not bathed in the love and sense of beauty could discern. Therefore it was, in future years, a thought of deep gratitude to Trevylyan that she was so little sensible of her danger; that the landscape caught not the gloom of the grave; and that, in the Greek phrase, "death found her sleeping amongst flowers."
At the end of a few days, another of those sudden turns, common to her malady, occurred in Gertrude's health; her youth and her happiness rallied against the encroaching tyrant, and for the ensuing fortnight she seemed once more within the bounds of hope. During this time they made several excursions into the Rheingau, and finished their tour at the ancient Heidelberg.
One morning, in these excursions, after threading the wood of Niederwald, they gained that small and fairy temple, which hanging lightly over the mountain's brow, commands one of the noblest landscapes of earth. There, seated side by side, the lovers looked over the beautiful world below; far to the left lay the happy islets, in the embrace of the Rhine, as it wound along the low and curving meadows that stretch away towards Nieder-Ingelheim and Mayence. Glistening in the distance, the opposite Nah swept by the Mause tower, and the ruins of Klopp, crowning the ancient Bingen, into the mother tide. There, on either side the town, were the mountains of St. Roch and Rupert, with some old monastic ruin saddening in the sun. But nearer, below the temple, contrasting all the other features of landscape, yawned a dark and rugged gulf, girt by cragged elms and mouldering towers, the very prototype of the abyss of time,—black and fathomless amidst ruin and desolation.
"I think sometimes," said Gertrude, "as in scenes like these we sit together, and rapt from the actual world, see only the enchantment that distance lends to our view,—I think sometimes what pleasure it will be hereafter to recall these hours. If ever you should love me less, I need only whisper to you, 'The Rhine,' and will not all the feelings you have now for me return?"
"Ah, there will never be occasion to recall my love for you,—it can never decay."
"What a strange thing is life!" said Gertrude; "how unconnected, how desultory seem all its links! Has this sweet pause from trouble, from the ordinary cares of life—has it anything in common with your past career, with your future? You will go into the great world; in a few years hence these moments of leisure and musing will be denied to you. The action that you love and court is a jealous sphere,—it allows no wandering, no repose. These moments will then seem to you but as yonder islands that stud the Rhine,—the stream lingers by them for a moment, and then hurries on in its rapid course; they vary, but they do not interrupt the tide."
"You are fanciful, my Gertrude; but your simile might be juster. Rather let these banks be as our lives, and this river the one thought that flows eternally by both, blessing each with undying freshness."
Gertrude smiled; and, as Trevylyan's arm encircled her, she sank her beautiful face upon his bosom, he covered it with his kisses, and she thought at the moment, that, even had she passed death, that embrace could have recalled her to life.
They pursued their course to Mayence, partly by land, partly along the river. One day, as returning from the vine-clad mountains of Johannisberg, which commands the whole of the Rheingau, the most beautiful valley in the world, they proceeded by water to the town of Ellfeld, Gertrude said,—
"There is a thought in your favourite poet which you have often repeated, and which I cannot think true,—
"'In nature there is nothing melancholy.'
"To me, it seems as if a certain melancholy were inseparable from beauty; in the sunniest noon there is a sense of solitude and stillness which pervades the landscape, and even in the flush of life inspires us with a musing and tender sadness. Why is this?"
"I cannot tell," said Trevylyan, mournfully; "but I allow that it is true."
"It is as if," continued the romantic Gertrude, "the spirit of the world spoke to us in the silence, and filled us with a sense of our mortality,—a whisper from the religion that belongs to nature, and is ever seeking to unite the earth with the reminiscences of Heaven. Ah, what without a heaven would be even love!—a perpetual terror of the separation that must one day come! If," she resumed solemnly, after a momentary pause, and a shadow settled on her young face, "if it be true, Albert, that I must leave you soon—"
"It cannot! it cannot!" cried Trevylyan, wildly; "be still, be silent, I beseech you."
"Look yonder," said Du——-e, breaking seasonably in upon the conversation of the lovers; "on that hill to the left, what once was an abbey is now an asylum for the insane. Does it not seem a quiet and serene abode for the unstrung and erring minds that tenant it? What a mystery is there in our conformation!—those strange and bewildered fancies which replace our solid reason, what a moral of our human weakness do they breathe!"
It does indeed induce a dark and singular train of thought, when, in the midst of these lovely scenes, we chance upon this lone retreat for those on whose eyes Nature, perhaps, smiles in vain. Or is it in vain? They look down upon the broad Rhine, with its tranquil isles: do their wild delusions endow the river with another name, and people the valleys with no living shapes? Does the broken mirror within reflect back the countenance of real things, or shadows and shapes, crossed, mingled, and bewildered,—the phantasma of a sick man's dreams? Yet, perchance, one memory unscathed by the general ruin of the brain can make even the beautiful Rhine more beautiful than it is to the common eye; can calm it with the hues of departed love, and bids its possessor walk over its vine-clad mountains with the beings that have ceased to be! There, perhaps, the self-made monarch sits upon his throne and claims the vessels as his fleet, the waves and the valleys as his own; there, the enthusiast, blasted by the light of some imaginary creed, beholds the shapes of angels, and watches in the clouds round the setting sun the pavilions of God; there the victim of forsaken or perished love, mightier than the sorcerers of old, evokes the dead, or recalls the faithless by the philter of undying fancies. Ah, blessed art thou, the winged power of Imagination that is within us! conquering even grief, brightening even despair. Thou takest us from the world when reason can no longer bind us to it, and givest to the maniac the inspiration and the solace of the bard! Thou, the parent of the purer love, lingerest like love, when even ourself forsakes us, and lightest up the shattered chambers of the heart with the glory that makes a sanctity of decay.
CHAPTER XXIX. ELLFELD.—MAYENCE.—HEIDELBERG.—A CONVERSATION BETWEEN VANE AND THE GERMAN STUDENT.—THE RUINS OF THE CASTLE OF HEIDELBERG AND ITS SOLITARY HABITANT.
IT was now the full noon; light clouds were bearing up towards the opposite banks of the Rhine, but over the Gothic towers of Ellfeld the sky spread blue and clear; the river danced beside the old gray walls with a sunny wave, and close at hand a vessel crowded with passengers, and loud with eager voices, gave a merry life to the scene. On the opposite bank the hills sloped away into the far horizon, and one slight skiff in the midst of the waters broke the solitary brightness of the noonday calm.
The town of Ellfeld was the gift of Otho the First to the Church; not far from thence is the crystal spring that gives its name to the delicious grape of Markbrunner.
"Ah," quoth Du——-e, "doubtless the good bishops of Mayence made the best of the vicinity!"
They stayed some little time at this town, and visited the ruins of Scharfenstein; thence proceeding up the river, they passed Nieder Walluf, called the Gate of the Rheingau, and the luxuriant garden of Schierstein; thence, sailing by the castle-seat of the Prince Nassau Usingen, and passing two long and narrow isles, they arrived at Mayence, as the sun shot his last rays upon the waters, gilding the proud cathedral-spire, and breaking the mists that began to gather behind, over the rocks of the Rheingau.
Ever memorable Mayence,—memorable alike for freedom and for song, within those walls how often woke the gallant music of the Troubadour; and how often beside that river did the heart of the maiden tremble to the lay! Within those walls the stout Walpoden first broached the great scheme of the Hanseatic league; and, more than all, O memorable Mayence, thou canst claim the first invention of the mightiest engine of human intellect,—the great leveller of power, the Demiurgus of the moral world,—the Press! Here too lived the maligned hero of the greatest drama of modern genius, the traditionary Faust, illustrating in himself the fate of his successors in dispensing knowledge,—held a monster for his wisdom, and consigned to the penalties of hell as a recompense for the benefits he had conferred on earth!
At Mayence, Gertrude heard so much and so constantly of Heidelberg, that she grew impatient to visit that enchanting town; and as Du——-e considered the air of Heidelberg more pure and invigorating than that of Mayence, they resolved to fix within it their temporary residence. Alas! it was the place destined to close their brief and melancholy pilgrimage, and to become to the heart of Trevylyan the holiest spot which the earth contained,—the KAABA of the world. But Gertrude, unconscious of her fate, conversed gayly as their carriage rolled rapidly on, and, constantly alive to every new sensation, she touched with her characteristic vivacity on all that they had seen in their previous route. There is a great charm in the observations of one new to the world; if we ourselves have become somewhat tired of "its hack sights and sounds," we hear in their freshness a voice from our own youth.
In the haunted valley of the Neckar, the most crystal of rivers, stands the town of Heidelberg. The shades of evening gathered round it as their heavy carriage rattled along the antique streets, and not till the next day was Gertrude aware of all the unrivalled beauties that environ the place.
Vane, who was an early riser, went forth alone in the morning to reconnoitre the town; and as he was gazing on the tower of St. Peter, he heard himself suddenly accosted. He turned round and saw the German student whom they had met among the mountains of Taunus at his elbow.
"Monsieur has chosen well in coming hither," said the student; "and I trust our town will not disappoint his expectations." Vane answered with courtesy, and the German offering to accompany him in his walk, their conversation fell naturally on the life of a university, and the current education of the German people.
"It is surprising," said the student, "that men are eternally inventing new systems of education, and yet persevering in the old. How many years ago is it since Fichte predicted in the system of Pestalozzi the regeneration of the German people? What has it done? We admire, we praise, and we blunder on in the very course Pestalozzi proves to be erroneous. Certainly," continued the student, "there must be some radical defect in a system of culture in which genius is an exception, and dulness the result. Yet here, in our German universities, everything proves that education without equitable institutions avails little in the general formation of character. Here the young men of the colleges mix on the most equal terms; they are daring, romantic, enamoured of freedom even to its madness. They leave the University: no political career continues the train of mind they had acquired; they plunge into obscurity; live scattered and separate, and the student inebriated with Schiller sinks into the passive priest or the lethargic baron. His college career, so far from indicating his future life, exactly reverses it: he is brought up in one course in order to proceed in another. And this I hold to be the universal error of education in all countries; they conceive it a certain something to be finished at a certain age. They do not make it a part of the continuous history of life, but a wandering from it."
"You have been in England?" asked Vane.
"Yes; I have travelled over nearly the whole of it on foot. I was poor at that time, and imagining there was a sort of masonry between all men of letters, I inquired at each town for the savants, and asked money of them as a matter of course."
Vane almost laughed outright at the simplicity and naive unconsciousness of degradation with which the student proclaimed himself a public beggar.
"And how did you generally succeed?"
"In most cases I was threatened with the stocks, and twice I was consigned by the juge de paix to the village police, to be passed to some mystic Mecca they were pleased to entitle 'a parish.' Ah" (continued the German with much bonhomie), "it was a pity to see in a great nation so much value attached to such a trifle as money. But what surprised me greatly was the tone of your poetry. Madame de Stael, who knew perhaps as much of England as she did of Germany, tells us that its chief character is the chivalresque; and, excepting only Scott, who, by the way, is not English, I did not find one chivalrous poet among you. Yet," continued the student, "between ourselves, I fancy that in our present age of civilization, there is an unexamined mistake in the general mind as to the value of poetry. It delights still as ever, but it has ceased to teach. The prose of the heart enlightens, touches, rouses, far more than poetry. Your most philosophical poets would be commonplace if turned into prose. Verse cannot contain the refining subtle thoughts which a great prose writer embodies; the rhyme eternally cripples it; it properly deals with the common problems of human nature, which are now hackneyed, and not with the nice and philosophizing corollaries which may be drawn from them. Thus, though it would seem at first a paradox, commonplace is more the element of poetry than of prose."
This sentiment charmed Vane, who had nothing of the poet about him; and he took the student to share their breakfast at the inn, with a complacency he rarely experienced at the remeeting with a new acquaintance.
After breakfast, our party proceeded through the town towards the wonderful castle which is its chief attraction, and the noblest wreck of German grandeur.
And now pausing, the mountain yet unscaled, the stately ruin frowned upon them, girt by its massive walls and hanging terraces, round which from place to place clung the dwarfed and various foliage. High at the rear rose the huge mountain, covered, save at its extreme summit, with dark trees, and concealing in its mysterious breast the shadowy beings of the legendary world. But towards the ruins, and up a steep ascent, you may see a few scattered sheep thinly studding the broken ground. Aloft, above the ramparts, rose, desolate and huge, the Palace of the Electors of the Palatinate. In its broken walls you may trace the tokens of the lightning that blasted its ancient pomp, but still leaves in the vast extent of pile a fitting monument of the memory of Charlemagne. Below, in the distance, spread the plain far and spacious, till the shadowy river, with one solitary sail upon its breast, united the melancholy scene of earth with the autumnal sky.
"See," said Vane, pointing to two peasants who were conversing near them on the matters of their little trade, utterly unconscious of the associations of the spot, "see, after all that is said and done about human greatness, it is always the greatness of the few. Ages pass, and leave the poor herd, the mass of men, eternally the same,—hewers of wood and drawers of water. The pomp of princes has its ebb and flow, but the peasant sells his fruit as gayly to the stranger on the ruins as to the emperor in the palace."
"Will it be always so?" said the student.
"Let us hope not, for the sake of permanence in glory," said Trevylyan. "Had a people built yonder palace, its splendour would never have passed away."
Vane shrugged his shoulders, and Du——-e took snuff.
But all the impressions produced by the castle at a distance are as nothing when you stand within its vast area and behold the architecture of all ages blended into one mighty ruin! The rich hues of the masonry, the sweeping facades—every description of building which man ever framed for war or for luxury—is here; all having only the common character,—RUIN. The feudal rampart, the yawning fosse, the rude tower, the splendid arch, the strength of a fortress, the magnificence of a palace,—all united, strike upon the soul like the history of a fallen empire in all its epochs.
"There is one singular habitant of these ruins," said the student,—"a solitary painter, who has dwelt here some twenty years, companioned only by his Art. No other apartment but that which he tenants is occupied by a human being."
"What a poetical existence!" cried Gertrude, enchanted with a solitude so full of associations.
"Perhaps so," said the cruel Vane, ever anxious to dispel an illusion, "but more probably custom has deadened to him all that overpowers ourselves with awe; and he may tread among these ruins rather seeking to pick up some rude morsel of antiquity, than feeding his imagination with the dim traditions that invest them with so august a poetry."
"Monsieur's conjecture has something of the truth in it," said the German; "but then the painter is a Frenchman."
There is a sense of fatality in the singular mournfulness and majesty which belong to the ruins of Heidelberg, contrasting the vastness of the strength with the utterness of the ruin. It has been twice struck with lightning, and is the wreck of the elements, not of man; during the great siege it sustained, the lightning is supposed to have struck the powder magazine by accident.
What a scene for some great imaginative work! What a mocking interference of the wrath of nature in the puny contests of men! One stroke of "the red right arm" above us, crushing the triumph of ages, and laughing to scorn the power of the beleaguers and the valour of the besieged!
They passed the whole day among these stupendous ruins, and felt, when they descended to their inn, as if they had left the caverns of some mighty tomb.
CHAPTER XXX. NO PART OF THE EARTH REALLY SOLITARY.—THE SONG OF THE FAIRIES.—THE SACRED SPOT.—THE WITCH OF THE EVIL WINDS.—THE SPELL AND THE DUTY OF THE FAIRIES.
BUT in what spot of the world is there ever utter solitude? The vanity of man supposes that loneliness is his absence! Who shall say what millions of spiritual beings glide invisibly among scenes apparently the most deserted? Or what know we of our own mechanism, that we should deny the possibility of life and motion to things that we cannot ourselves recognize?
At moonlight, in the Great Court of Heidelberg, on the borders of the shattered basin overgrown with weeds, the following song was heard by the melancholy shades that roam at night through the mouldering halls of old, and the gloomy hollows in the mountain of Heidelberg.
SONG OF THE FAIRIES IN THE RUINS OF HEIDELBERG.
From the woods and the glossy green, With the wild thyme strewn; From the rivers whose crisped sheen Is kissed by the trembling moon; While the dwarf looks out from his mountain cave, And the erl king from his lair, And the water-nymph from her moaning wave, We skirr the limber air.
There's a smile on the vine-clad shore, A smile on the castled heights; They dream back the days of yore, And they smile at our roundel rites! Our roundel rites!
Lightly we tread these halls around, Lightly tread we; Yet, hark! we have scared with a single sound The moping owl on the breathless tree, And the goblin sprites! Ha, ha! we have scared with a single sound The old gray owl on the breathless tree, And the goblin sprites!
"They come not," said Pipalee; "yet the banquet is prepared, and the poor queen will be glad of some refreshment."
"What a pity! all the rose-leaves will be over-broiled," said Nip.
"Let us amuse ourselves with the old painter," quoth Trip, springing over the ruins.
"Well said," cried Pipalee and Nip; and all three, leaving my lord treasurer amazed at their levity, whisked into the painter's apartment. Permitting them to throw the ink over their victim's papers, break his pencils, mix his colours, mislay his nightcap, and go whiz against his face in the shape of a great bat, till the astonished Frenchman began to think the pensive goblins of the place had taken a sprightly fit,—we hasten to a small green spot some little way from the town, in the valley of the Neckar, and by the banks of its silver stream. It was circled round by dark trees, save on that side bordered by the river. The wild-flowers sprang profusely from the turf, which yet was smooth and singularly green. And there was the German fairy describing a circle round the spot, and making his elvish spells; and Nymphalin sat droopingly in the centre, shading her face, which was bowed down as the head of a water-lily, and weeping crystal tears.
There came a hollow murmur through the trees, and a rush as of a mighty wind, and a dark form emerged from the shadow and approached the spot.
The face was wrinkled and old, and stern with a malevolent and evil aspect. The frame was lean and gaunt, and supported by a staff, and a short gray mantle covered its bended shoulders.
"Things of the moonbeam!" said the form, in a shrill and ghastly voice, "what want ye here; and why charm ye this spot from the coming of me and mine?"
"Dark witch of the blight and blast," answered the fairy, "THOU that nippest the herb in its tender youth, and eatest up the core of the soft bud; behold, it is but a small spot that the fairies claim from thy demesnes, and on which, through frost and heat, they will keep the herbage green and the air gentle in its sighs!"
"And, wherefore, O dweller in the crevices of the earth, wherefore wouldst thou guard this spot from the curses of the seasons?"
"We know by our instinct," answered the fairy, "that this spot will become the grave of one whom the fairies love; hither, by an unfelt influence, shall we guide her yet living steps; and in gazing upon this spot shall the desire of quiet and the resignation to death steal upon her soul. Behold, throughout the universe, all things are at war with one another,—the lion with the lamb; the serpent with the bird; and even the gentlest bird itself with the moth of the air; or the worm of the humble earth! What then to men, and to the spirits transcending men, is so lovely and so sacred as a being that harmeth none; what so beautiful as Innocence; what so mournful as its untimely tomb? And shall not that tomb be sacred; shall it not be our peculiar care? May we not mourn over it as at the passing away of some fair miracle in Nature, too tender to endure, too rare to be forgotten? It is for this, O dread waker of the blast, that the fairies would consecrate this little spot; for this they would charm away from its tranquil turf the wandering ghoul and the evil children of the night. Here, not the ill-omened owl, nor the blind bat, nor the unclean worm shall come. And thou shouldst have neither will nor power to nip the flowers of spring, nor sear the green herbs of summer. Is it not, dark mother of the evil winds,—is it not our immemorial office to tend the grave of Innocence, and keep fresh the flowers round the resting-place of Virgin Love?"
Then the witch drew her cloak round her, and muttered to herself, and without further answer turned away among the trees and vanished, as the breath of the east wind, which goeth with her as her comrade, scattered the melancholy leaves along her path!
CHAPTER XXXI. GERTRUDE AND TREVYLYAN, WHEN THE FORMER IS AWAKENED TO THE APPROACH OF DEATH.
THE next day, Gertrude and her companions went along the banks of the haunted Neckar. She had passed a sleepless and painful night, and her evanescent and childlike spirits had sobered down into a melancholy and thoughtful mood. She leaned back in an open carriage with Trevylyan, ever constant, by her side, while Du——-e and Vane rode slowly in advance. Trevylyan tried in vain to cheer her; even his attempts (usually so eagerly received) to charm her duller moments by tale or legend were, in this instance, fruitless. She shook her head gently, pressed his hand, and said, "No, dear Trevylyan, no; even your art fails to-day, but your kindness never!" and pressing his hand to her lips, she burst passionately into tears.
Alarmed and anxious, he clasped her to his breast, and strove to lift her face, as it drooped on its resting-place, and kiss away its tears. "Oh," said she, at length, "do not despise my weakness; I am overcome by my own thoughts: I look upon the world, and see that it is fair and good; I look upon you, and I see all that I can venerate and adore. Life seems to me so sweet, and the earth so lovely; can you wonder, then, that I should shrink at the thought of death? Nay, interrupt me not, dear Albert; the thought must be borne and braved. I have not cherished, I have not yielded to it through my long-increasing illness; but there have been times when it has forced itself upon me, and now, now more palpably than ever. Do not think me weak and childish. I never feared death till I knew you; but to see you no more,—never again to touch this dear hand, never to thank you for your love, never to be sensible of your care,—to lie down and sleep, and never, never, once more to dream of you! Ah, that is a bitter thought! but I will brave it,—yes, brave it as one worthy of your regard."
Trevylyan, choked by his emotions, covered his own face with his hands, and, leaning back in the carriage, vainly struggled with his sobs.
"Perhaps," she said, yet ever and anon clinging to the hope that had utterly abandoned him, "perhaps, I may yet deceive myself; and my love for you, which seems to me as if it could conquer death, may bear me up against this fell disease. The hope to live with you, to watch you, to share your high dreams, and oh! above all, to soothe you in sorrow and sickness, as you have soothed me—has not that hope something that may support even this sinking frame? And who shall love thee as I love; who see thee as I have seen; who pray for thee in gratitude and tears as I have prayed? Oh, Albert, so little am I jealous of you, so little do I think of myself in comparison, that I could close my eyes happily on the world if I knew that what I could be to thee another will be!"
"Gertrude," said Trevylyan, and lifting up his colourless face, he gazed upon her with an earnest and calm solemnity, "Gertrude, let us be united at once! If Fate must sever us, let her cut the last tie too; let us feel that at least upon earth we have been all in all to each other; let us defy death, even as it frowns upon us. Be mine to-morrow—this day—oh, God! be mine!"
Over even that pale countenance, beneath whose hues the lamp of life so faintly fluttered, a deep, radiant flush passed one moment, lighting up the beautiful ruin with the glow of maiden youth and impassioned hope, and then died rapidly away.
"No, Albert," she said sighing; "no! it must not be. Far easier would come the pang to you, while yet we are not wholly united; and for my own part I am selfish, and feel as if I should leave a tenderer remembrance on your heart thus parted,—tenderer, but not so sad. I would not wish you to feel yourself widowed to my memory; I would not cling like a blight to your fair prospects of the future. Remember me rather as a dream,—as something never wholly won, and therefore asking no fidelity but that of kind and forbearing thoughts. Do you remember one evening as we sailed along the Rhine—ah! happy, happy hour!—that we heard from the banks a strain of music,—not so skilfully played as to be worth listening to for itself, but, suiting as it did the hour and the scene, we remained silent, that we might hear it the better; and when it died insensibly upon the waters, a certain melancholy stole over us; we felt that a something that softened the landscape had gone, and we conversed less lightly than before? Just so, my own loved, my own adored Trevylyan, just so is the influence that our brief love, your poor Gertrude's existence, should bequeath to your remembrance. A sound, a presence, should haunt you for a little while, but no more, ere you again become sensible of the glories that court your way!"
But as Gertrude said this, she turned to Trevylyan, and seeing his agony, she could refrain no longer; she felt that to soothe was to insult; and throwing herself upon his breast, they mingled their tears together.
CHAPTER XXXII. A SPOT TO BE BURIED IN.
ON their return homeward, Du——-e took the third seat in the carriage, and endeavoured, with his usual vivacity, to cheer the spirits of his companions; and such was the elasticity of Gertrude's nature, that with her, he, to a certain degree, succeeded in his kindly attempt. Quickly alive to the charms of scenery, she entered by degrees into the external beauties which every turn in the road opened to their view; and the silvery smoothness of the river, that made the constant attraction of the landscape, the serenity of the time, and the clearness of the heavens, tended to tranquillize a mind that, like a sunflower, so instinctively turned from the shadow to the light.
Once Du——-e stopped the carriage in a spot of herbage, bedded among the trees, and said to Gertrude, "We are now in one of the many places along the Neckar which your favourite traditions serve to consecrate. Amidst yonder copses, in the early ages of Christianity, there dwelt a hermit, who, though young in years, was renowned for the sanctity of his life. None knew whence he came, nor for what cause he had limited the circle of life to the seclusion of his cell. He rarely spoke, save when his ghostly advice or his kindly prayer was needed; he lived upon herbs, and the wild fruits which the peasants brought to his cave; and every morning and every evening he came to this spot to fill his pitcher from the water of the stream. But here he was observed to linger long after his task was done, and to sit gazing upon the walls of a convent which then rose upon the opposite side of the bank, though now even its ruins are gone. Gradually his health gave way beneath the austerities he practised; and one evening he was found by some fishermen insensible on the turf. They bore him for medical aid to the opposite convent; and one of the sisterhood, the daughter of a prince, was summoned to attend the recluse. But when his eyes opened upon hers, a sudden recognition appeared to seize both. He spoke; and the sister threw herself on the couch of the dying man, and shrieked forth a name, the most famous in the surrounding country,—the name of a once noted minstrel, who, in those rude times, had mingled the poet with the lawless chief, and was supposed, years since, to have fallen in one of the desperate frays between prince and outlaw, which were then common; storming the very castle which held her, now the pious nun, then the beauty and presider over the tournament and galliard. In her arms the spirit of the hermit passed away. She survived but a few hours, and left conjecture busy with a history to which it never obtained further clew. Many a troubadour in later times furnished forth in poetry the details which truth refused to supply; and the place where the hermit at sunrise and sunset ever came to gaze upon the convent became consecrated by song."
The place invested with this legendary interest was impressed with a singular aspect of melancholy quiet; wildflowers yet lingered on the turf, whose grassy sedges gently overhung the Neckar, that murmured amidst them with a plaintive music. Not a wind stirred the trees; but at a little distance from the place, the spire of a church rose amidst the copse; and, as they paused, they suddenly heard from the holy building the bell that summons to the burial of the dead. It came on the ear in such harmony with the spot, with the hour, with the breathing calm, that it thrilled to the heart of each with an inexpressible power. It was like the voice of another world, that amidst the solitude of nature summoned the lulled spirit from the cares of this; it invited, not repulsed, and had in its tone more of softness than of awe.
Gertrude turned, with tears starting to her eyes, and, laying her hand on Trevylyan's, whispered, "In such a spot, so calm, so sequestered, yet in the neighbourhood of the house of God, would I wish this broken frame to be consigned to rest."
CHAPTER THE LAST. THE CONCLUSION OF THIS TALE.
FROM that day Gertrude's spirit resumed its wonted cheerfulness, and for the ensuing week she never reverted to her approaching fate; she seemed once more to have grown unconscious of its limit. Perhaps she sought, anxious for Trevylyan to the last, not to throw additional gloom over their earthly separation; or, perhaps, once steadily regarding the certainty of her doom, its terrors vanished. The chords of thought, vibrating to the subtlest emotions, may be changed by a single incident, or in a single hour; a sound of sacred music, a green and quiet burial-place, may convert the form of death into the aspect of an angel. And therefore wisely, and with a beautiful lore, did the Greeks strip the grave of its unreal gloom; wisely did they body forth the great principle of Rest by solemn and lovely images, unconscious of the northern madness that made a Spectre of REPOSE!
But while Gertrude's spirit resumed its healthful tone, her frame rapidly declined, and a few days now could do the ravage of months a little while before.
One evening, amidst the desolate ruins of Heidelberg, Trevylyan, who had gone forth alone to indulge the thoughts which he strove to stifle in Gertrude's presence, suddenly encountered Vane. That calm and almost callous pupil of the adversities of the world was standing alone, and gazing upon the shattered casements and riven tower, through which the sun now cast its slant and parting ray.
Trevylyan, who had never loved this cold and unsusceptible man, save for the sake of Gertrude, felt now almost a hatred creep over him, as he thought in such a time, and with death fastening upon the flower of his house, he could yet be calm, and smile, and muse, and moralize, and play the common part of the world. He strode slowly up to him, and standing full before him, said with a hollow voice and writhing smile, "You amuse yourself pleasantly, sir: this is a fine scene; and to meditate over griefs a thousand years hushed to rest is better than watching over a sick girl and eating away your heart with fear!"
Vane looked at him quietly, but intently, and made no reply.
"Vane!" continued Trevylyan, with the same preternatural attempt at calm, "Vane, in a few days all will be over, and you and I, the things, the plotters, the false men of the world, will be left alone,—left by the sole being that graces our dull life, that makes by her love either of us worthy of a thought!"
Vane started, and turned away his face. "You are cruel," said he, with a faltering voice.
"What, man!" shouted Trevylyan, seizing him abruptly by the arm, "can you feel? Is your cold heart touched? Come then," added he, with a wild laugh, "come, let us be friends!"
Vane drew himself aside, with a certain dignity, that impressed Trevylyan even at that hour. "Some years hence," said he, "you will be called cold as I am; sorrow will teach you the wisdom of indifference—it is a bitter school, sir,—a bitter school! But think you that I do indeed see unmoved my last hope shivered,—the last tie that binds me to my kind? No, no! I feel it as a man may feel; I cloak it as a man grown gray in misfortune should do! My child is more to me than your betrothed to you; for you are young and wealthy, and life smiles before you; but I—no more—sir, no more!"
"Forgive me," said Trevylyan, humbly, "I have wronged you; but Gertrude is an excuse for any crime of love; and now listen to my last prayer,—give her to me, even on the verge of the grave. Death cannot seize her in the arms, in the vigils of a love like mine."
Vane shuddered. "It were to wed the dead," said he. "No!"
Trevylyan drew back, and without another word, hurried away; he returned to the town; he sought, with methodical calmness, the owner of the piece of ground in which Gertrude had wished to be buried. He purchased it, and that very night he sought the priest of a neighbouring church, and directed it should be consecrated according to the due rite and ceremonial.
The priest, an aged and pious man, was struck by the request, and the air of him who made it.
"Shall it be done forthwith, sir?" said he, hesitating.
"Forthwith," answered Trevylyan, with a calm smile,—"a bridegroom, you know, is naturally impatient."
For the next three days, Gertrude was so ill as to be confined to her bed. All that time Trevylyan sat outside her door, without speaking, scarcely lifting his eyes from the ground. The attendants passed to and fro,—he heeded them not; perhaps as even the foreign menials turned aside and wiped their eyes, and prayed God to comfort him, he required compassion less at that time than any other. There is a stupefaction in woe, and the heart sleeps without a pang when exhausted by its afflictions.
But on the fourth day Gertrude rose, and was carried down (how changed, yet how lovely ever!) to their common apartment. During those three days the priest had been with her often, and her spirit, full of religion from her childhood, had been unspeakably soothed by his comfort. She took food from the hand of Trevylyan; she smiled upon him as sweetly as of old. She conversed with him, though with a faint voice, and at broken intervals. But she felt no pain; life ebbed away gradually, and without a pang. "My father," she said to Vane, whose features still bore their usual calm, whatever might have passed within, "I know that you will grieve when I am gone more than the world might guess; for I alone know what you were years ago, ere friends left you and fortune frowned, and ere my poor mother died. But do not—do not believe that hope and comfort leave you with me. Till the heaven pass away from the earth there shall be comfort and hope for all."
They did not lodge in the town, but had fixed their abode on its outskirts, and within sight of the Neckar; and from the window they saw a light sail gliding gayly by till it passed, and solitude once more rested upon the waters.
"The sail passes from our eyes," said Gertrude, pointing to it, "but still it glides on as happily though we see it no more; and I feel—yes, Father, I feel—I know that it is so with us. We glide down the river of time from the eyes of men, but we cease not the less to be!"
And now, as the twilight descended, she expressed a wish, before she retired to rest, to be left alone with Trevylyan. He was not then sitting by her side, for he would not trust himself to do so, but with his face averted, at a little distance from her. She called him by his name; he answered not, nor turned. Weak as she was, she raised herself from the sofa, and crept gently along the floor till she came to him, and sank in his arms.
"Ah, unkind!" she said, "unkind for once! Will you turn away from me? Come, let us look once more on the river: see! the night darkens over it. Our pleasant voyage, the type of our love, is finished; our sail may be unfurled no more. Never again can your voice soothe the lassitude of sickness with the legend and the song; the course is run, the vessel is broken up, night closes over its fragments; but now, in this hour, love me, be kind to me as ever. Still let me be your own Gertrude, still let me close my eyes this night, as before, with the sweet consciousness that I am loved."
"Loved! O Gertrude! speak not to me thus!"
"Come, that is yourself again!" and she clung with weak arms caressingly to his breast. "And now," she said more solemnly, "let us forget that we are mortal; let us remember only that life is a part, not the whole, of our career; let us feel in this soft hour, and while yet we are unsevered, the presence of The Eternal that is within us, so that it shall not be as death, but as a short absence; and when once the pang of parting is over, you must think only that we are shortly to meet again. What! you turn from me still? See, I do not weep or grieve, I have conquered the pang of our absence; will you be outdone by me? Do you remember, Albert, that you once told me how the wisest of the sages of old, in prison, and before death, consoled his friends with the proof of the immortality of the soul? Is it not a consolation; does it not suffice; or will you deem it wise from the lips of wisdom, but vain from the lips of love?"
"Hush, hush!" said Trevylyan, wildly; "or I shall think you an angel already."
But let us close this commune, and leave unrevealed the last sacred words that ever passed between them upon earth.
When Vane and the physician stole back softly into the room, Trevylyan motioned to them to be still. "She sleeps," he whispered; "hush!" And in truth, wearied out by her own emotions, and lulled by the belief that she had soothed one with whom her heart dwelt now, as ever, she had fallen into sleep, or it may be, insensibility, on his breast. There as she lay, so fair, so frail, so delicate, the twilight deepened into shade, and the first star, like the hope of the future, broke forth upon the darkness of the earth.
Nothing could equal the stillness without, save that which lay breathlessly within. For not one of the group stirred or spoke, and Trevylyan, bending over her, never took his eyes from her face, watching the parted lips, and fancying that he imbibed the breath. Alas, the breath was stilled! from sleep to death she had glided without a sigh,—happy, most happy in that death! cradled in the arms of unchanged love, and brightened in her last thought by the consciousness of innocence and the assurances of Heaven!
Trevylyan, after a long sojourn on the Continent, returned to England. He plunged into active life, and became what is termed in this age of little names a distinguished and noted man. But what was mainly remarkable in his future conduct was his impatience of rest. He eagerly courted all occupations, even of the most varied and motley kind,—business, letters, ambition, pleasure. He suffered no pause in his career; and leisure to him was as care to others. He lived in the world, as the worldly do, discharging its duties, fostering its affections, and fulfilling its career. But there was a deep and wintry change within him,—the sunlight of his life was gone; the loveliness of romance had left the earth. The stem was proof as heretofore to the blast, but the green leaves were severed from it forever, and the bird had forsaken its boughs. Once he had idolized the beauty that is born of song, the glory and the ardour that invest such thoughts as are not of our common clay; but the well of enthusiasm was dried up, and the golden bowl was broken at the fountain. With Gertrude the poetry of existence was gone. As she herself had described her loss, a music had ceased to breathe along the face of things; and though the bark might sail on as swiftly, and the stream swell with as proud a wave, a something that had vibrated on the heart was still, and the magic of the voyage was no more.
And Gertrude sleeps on the spot where she wished her last couch to be made; and far—oh, far dearer, is that small spot on the distant banks of the gliding Neckar to Trevylyan's heart than all the broad lands and fertile fields of his ancestral domain. The turf too preserves its emerald greenness; and it would seem to me that the field flowers spring up by the sides of the simple tomb even more profusely than of old. A curve in the bank breaks the tide of the Neckar; and therefore its stream pauses, as if to linger reluctantly, by that solitary grave, and to mourn among the rustling sedges ere it passes on. And I have thought, when I last looked upon that quiet place, when I saw the turf so fresh, and the flowers so bright of hue, that aerial hands might indeed tend the sod; that it was by no imaginary spells that I summoned the fairies to my tale; that in truth, and with vigils constant though unseen, they yet kept from all polluting footsteps, and from the harsher influence of the seasons, the grave of one who so loved their race; and who, in her gentle and spotless virtue claimed kindred with the beautiful Ideal of the world. Is there one of us who has not known some being for whom it seemed not too wild a fantasy to indulge such dreams?