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"What fear is this which startles in our ears?"
I HAD passed that most critical and anxious period in love's ante-matrimonial existence, when the tongue repeating the soft confession of the eye-that willful tell-tale-requests the hand as a surety for the heart; and that eventful moment was to me much more blissful in the retrospect, than it had been in its advent. It is quite as difficult to express the word "engaged," as the word "exchange," by any circumlocution. But to some technical terms I have an insuperable repugnance, and if the reader cannot infer my relations with Emily from what precedes, he must remain in ignorance or be enlightened by the sequel.
I have seen the white, staglike throat of English beauty, the winning languor and polished cheek of the German, the thoughtful brow and flashing eye of the Italian dama; the melancholy, passionate Castilian, with her goddess walk, and the chameleon features of the Parisian belle, yet I know not whether, out of them all, I could have produced a combination and a form to equal Emily's. This is not the boisterous language of youthful love, but the vivid, unexaggerated reminiscence of an aged man. It is not because I lavished upon her the first and last offerings of my heart, that I represent her thus beautiful; had she been less fair, I would not the less willingly confess my worship, but simply because I wish to describe her as she was, not otherwise. Even now I cannot recall without pain her fragile form and exquisite loveliness. Hers was not a beauty to one thing constant ever, but like Nourmahal's, ever in motion, flying
"From the lips to the cheeks, from the cheeks to the eyes."
Yet there is but one expression for the highest female beauty-the type in which
God has set it. Vainly we seek to reproduce the idea in language of our own; the chisel, by a faithful transcript of the character, may preserve the thought, but the translation is cold enough beside the breathing original. Am I heard by one whose heart still retains a yearning after some long-lost, lovely image, and recognizes in that an excellence he has never seen and never expects to see? Let him seek for words adequate to his conception, and he will feel the insufficiency of his vocabulary. Is there another, whose slumbers have been the sea from which some Venus sprung? Have his waking moments allowed him to recall, much less to describe, the perfection of the apparition? I will say no more of Emily's beauty.
"I know not how much truth," said M, "may be in the saying that best men are moulded out of faults.' Shakspeare subjoins a query to the proposition. But I sincerely hope that our friend Alfred may become the better, for being a little bad.'. Well, since you are looking at Emily, instead of listening to me-but that is the prerogative of youth, and the fate of age.
I heard him, it is true, but almost as unconsciously as Lovel heard the motto of the venerable Aldobrand, or the Antiquary's learned dissertation upon the devices on the turrets of Knockwinnock Castle. Before I could command an apology, he had saluted his daughter, and was proceeding directly to the mansion house.
Emily was not pale, and the slight glow upon her cheek gave me assurance of her health; but as I approached her, an air of exhaustion and an unusual sadness became too perceptible. She replied with evident difficulty to my inquiries. That
hesitation was not produced by embarrassment; would to God it had been!
I drew her arm in mine, and as we moved slowly over the gravelled path, my emotions were very different from those I had experienced when pursuing that same path so shortly before. The sun was midway in his march, but the meeting trees completely excluded his rays, and combined with the breeze, which seemed never to desert this lovely place, permitted us a cool and shady walk. The restless catbird kept tuning his exhaustless throat, as if preparing for some set melody which is never vouchsafed, and the venturesome robin settled almost at our feet; they appeared joyful enough.
I could not explain Emily's unusual melancholy, but it was impossible not to share it. I rallied her upon insulting the smiling face of nature with such an unreasonable dejection; but her very smile prevented a second essay of the kind. Her eyes were once or twice dimmed with tears; but I could say nothing.
"Do you see that path?" she said, breaking a silence not altogether painful, and pointing to a faintly marked impression upon the thin grass; "it is nearly extinct now, but it was once as well defined as this. Not a day passed that I did not leave the impress of my foot upon it. I stepped more lightly then, or it would now be deeper. It is long since I last followed it. Fanny and I made it many years ago, as we struck upon the circuitous line, when our little feet required the aid of our hands to fashion it."
"Where does it lead to, Emily?" I inquired.
"To a spring not very far distant. Do not expect any surprising development; but it is, or rather was, a sweet spot, and I was dearly attached to it."
She spoke with more composure, but there was still the same profound melancholy in her voice, and the same depression of feature. As we descended into a gully, feathered with laurel bushes, she pointed to a recess in the opposite bank, which rose by a steep and wild ascent to a considerable height. Beneath an arch scooped with the regularity of art, yet evidently carved by nature out of the hard, naked granite, a small stream of water gushed from a lip-like crevice in the rock,
and fell from an altitude of a foot, or more, into a deep, pebbled basin.
Emily's agitation increased as we approached it. proached it. I besought her in vain to explain her singular behavior; she returned no answer.
On either side of the spring was the relic of a miniature flower-bed, now adorned only by a solitary rose-bush, which supported a single flower over the clear murmuring water at our feet. And there it hung in all the pride of conscious loveliness, like some favored maiden over the mirror that reflects her charms.
"This is all that remains! Oh, do not pluck it!" she said, arresting my outstretched arm. "Do not shorten an existence already too brief!"
"I merely intended to change its position, and prevent that unceasing gaze at its own reflection."
Yes, do so," she rejoined, "for it would soon be compelled to witness its decay. Yet the fragile bush has survived our sturdier old seat itself. Will you undertake to reconstruct it?" pointing as she spoke to some fragments lying in the shade of a gigantic chestnut tree.
With the assistance of sundry stones, I soon transformed the ruins into a settee, though not of the most inviting kind. "My handkerchief is the only cushion I can offer you, Emily."
"And I could even dispense with that. Those little beds," she said, as she seated herself, were made by Fanny and me, when it was our highest ambition and dearest pleasure to see them bloom. We planted there hyacinths, carnations, lilies, and all the seeds within our reach. Every morning and evening we visited our flowers, and counted each bud as it slowly opened, chiding them for not maturing so fast as we desired; but they must have unfolded as rapidly as the wings of the startled dove, to keep pace with our eager wishes. We would pass whole days here, tending our motley pets, or conning our picture-books upon this seat, which our good Robin made for us. For many summers this was our Eden. But you shall hear how our Paradise was blighted. An old woman, who nursed my mother and myself, and to whom I was much attached, was in the habit of visiting us once a week; she would not
"The old idiot!" I muttered internally, seeing that Emily wept at the recital of the old woman's sad story.
live with us, because she fancied that a | ing, not under my burden, but from agidaughter of hers, in your city, required tation. But it was all over! My child, her guardian care. One afternoon, I pre- your mother was dead! For three nights vailed upon her to accompany me to our I watched her pallid face, but not a sylvan grotto, though she alleged the muscle moved; an affection of the heart fatigue of the walk in excuse, and pleaded had stopped its beating forever. Lead me inability to surmount the stones. I led hence, my child! I cannot remain !" her safely down that slope to this very seat, and filling a glass at the fountain, held it to her lips. She had covered her eyes, and was sobbing bitterly. Of course, I could not understand this; but I employed to console her all my eloquence, which was limited, as well as I remember, to What ails you?' Oh dear, dear, do not cry so!' a brief synopsis of condolence in general. I was seated beside her, watching her in mute amazement, when she suddenly caught me in her arms and drew me to her breast.
"My child, why have you brought me here?" she said. "Oh your poor dear mother!"
I had a vague recollection of my mother; such, perhaps, as new-born babes may have of a former and happier existence, or of the angels that make them smile in their sleep.
"Listen to me, child!" the old woman resumed, mastering her emotion. "This was your mother's favorite resort. She would often wander here at this season, with you in her arms, to lull you to sleep with the murmuring of that fountain; and when your little eyes were closed.fast, she would surrender you up to me, and remain here for hours to read or meditate. One delicious afternoon-oh God! I never can forget it-your mother had been unwell all day; she fancied that a walk to the spring would refresh her. You were then in your fourth summer, and tottered along at your mother's side with your hand in hers. It was then that she took from me the glass I carried in my hand, filled it just as you did a moment ago, in the same attitude, and was carrying it to her lips, when it dropped from her grasp, and pressing both hands on her heart she fell with a groan at my feet. I had often heard her complain of oppression at the heart and violent palpitation, and an awful suspicion crossed my mind-it was but too true.
"I raised her in my arms, and bidding you follow us, carried her home, stagger
"During this fearful communication," Emily continued, after a short pause, "which I now for the first time heard, my father having before and since studiously concealed from me the circumstances of my mother's death, I felt a connection between this spot and an indefinite sense of something inexpressibly gloomy and horrible arise in my soul. As I walked away with the nurse, I even feared to turn back my head. What had before been so beautiful and inviting, was completely metamorphosed into a dark, forbidding sepulchre. I could not be prevailed on to return--and Fanny, finding her efforts fruitless, permitted our once delightful haunt and its cherished embellishments to go to decay. Even now, I feel like the nerveless monarch of Spain in the splendid torch-lit tomb of his ancestors, more nearly allied to the shrouded dead than to the living. I fear," here her voice faltered, "I have inherited that awful malady! Often have violent throbbings and a sudden pang awakened sad forebodings; but I ascribed them to an imagination preyed upon by the nurse's narrative, which defied me to forget it, and, unbidden and unwelcome, threw its corroding shadow on all my thoughts and day-dreams. Last night, the palpitation of my heart was so alarming that I could not sleep. I was tempted at times to wake my father and disclose all the fears I have hitherto locked within my own breast, for I know the misery into which a confession would plunge him. That fearful beating attacked me again when I first saw you this morning, and I could with difficulty pronounce the ordinary words of greeting.'
"And can you really credit your erring fancies?" I said, in a tone intended to be playful.
"Fancy! Would I could think it so! Fancy and Reality are sisters; and if at times we mistake the former for the lat
ter, we are just as apt to call the younger | from Washington's own hand, for some by the elder sister's name.'
"But what inclines you, Emily," I inquired, willing to divert her for a moment from our melancholy topic, "to make Fancy older than Reality, since our ideas are posterior to the objects which suggest them ?"
"It was a whim of the moment, and indeed I know not why, unless it be that God imagined matter before he called it into being. It is not fair to play upon a word, or I might furnish another argument. I knew you would attribute my apprehensions to imagination; our physician, Dr. R, whom I secretly consulted under cover of a fever, did the same. But the wisest may err, while the thrilling, penetrating voice of disregarded presentiment fulfils its prophecy. Oh! it is horrible to pursue the ordinary avocations of life, with death, like a trained pointer, skulking at your side! To speed through the air on buoyant wing while the deadly sight is drawn upon you! To bound wildly on like the stag, while the pack bays close behind; or skim along like the gazelle, while the fatal falcon circles o'er your head."
Yet why protract an interview painful to remember, doubly painful to describe? It was terminated by Robin's peremptory summons to dinner.
Imagine a tall, swarthy, sinewy man, of forty-five, with large hands and feet, high and scantily covered cheek-bones, aquiline nose, large mouth, thick black hair, and blacker eyes, one of which was so set as to be everlastingly peering at the overhanging extremity of a remarkably long and shaggy eyebrow, and you will have a general idea of Robin's exterior. The ordinary character of his face was stern and almost repulsive; and only at times a smile of inimitable sweetness and benevolence gave token of the gentle spirit hidden within the rough shell of the outward man. On the present occasion his demeanor was unusually sedate, and he beckoned us to dinner with the air of an executioner. He had fought in the Revolution, but of this, strange to say, he never spoke. Around his neck, and next his bosom, was hung by a silken cord an old shilling, which I believe he valued more than his life. He had received it
trifling service rendered when a boy, and no much-prized locket was ever regarded with more devout veneration. Once, indeed, he parted with it for a time, and the circumstance is so characteristic of the man, that I must beg leave to insert it. M had dispatched him to town on some business, where, in passing along, he was attracted by a young woman with the remains of beauty, bearing a child in her arms, asking alms. She was invariably refused; reflecting men and women shook their heads, eyed her suspiciously, and passed on. Robin kept his eye on her, and saw her enter a bakery, whence she was speedily ejected by the charming Ceres behind the counter, who followed her to the door, exclaiming, "Begone, miss! Begone, madam! We bake here for honest folks!"
This was too much for Robin, but not a cent had he about him save the General's shilling. It was a struggle worthy of Coriolanus. But Robin's eccentricity could never cope with his benevolence; he twisted off the venerable memento, supplied the meek supplicant with its value in bread, and then ran home-three miles-and back again, to redeem it before. it had got into circulation, and he was fortunate enough to recover his talisman.
Emily and I rose at his grave command, and he led the way with a martial step to the mansion. Emily proceeded at once to her room, and I joined M— in the airy and ample hall.
"So you have been detaining Emily in the sun," he said, "for more than three mortal hours. She must be brown as Semiramis.”
"Pardon me, sir; it was in the shade; for the foliage, ripened by the sun,
'Forbade the sun to enter; like favorites Made proud by princes, that advance their pride
Against the power that bred it.'
"May the ghost of Shakspeare pardon me!" returned M- "but I have always thought the shade-bestowing leaves and honeysuckles, like those same favorites, jealous lest the rays of royal favor should illumine aught beneath them. But how those noble lines march along, like Leonidas to Thermopyla! Let us imitate them
now by a march to dinner, for here comes Robin to summon us, and Emily will join us before we have carved our way to Elysium."
He led the way, and I followed, to a banquet worthy of Apicius.
At the conclusion of our repast, Robin entered, bearing cautiously on a silver salver a single bottle, well laced with antique cobwebs, so as to resemble some beggared follower of Charles II. during the Protectorate, the spirit of loyalty still glowing brightly beneath his dilapidated garment. The precious liquid was decanted with all the ceremony that its racy and refined flavor warranted. Emily rose touched the glass to her lips, saying, "You to your wine and I-to my harp.' "Play softly, my child," said Mfor Bacchus must not be a second time assailed with the chorus of the frogs.'
"You have never given me the history of this wine," I observed, as Emily left the room.
"No! and I never shall. I hate to hear a wine's pedigree paraded like a horse's; it is in bad taste, and a poor substitute for better conversation. Wine should be judged by its inspiration. We are too republican here to value ancestry in anything."
"And yet you are very apt to inquire about a man's father," I said, very quietly.
We had not been long seated, when Emily entered. She had doffed her chequered morning-gown for a dress of the purest white. Her face was calm and even cheerful; I could scarcely withdraw my gaze from her clear, polished forehead and eye, whose quality of light was exquisite indeed. She either felt or affected" the liveliest pleasure, and displayed a conversational power almost equal to her father's, and quite as captivating. It is surely one of the most gratifying cordials "in this melancholy vale, to witness some lovely young woman discover without art, effort, or pedantry, in tones of richest eloquence, the treasures of a gifted and highly cultured mind-a mind not inferior to that which Schiller has well described as "insatiable, ever stretching into the dim distance, and pursuing through the remotest stars the image of its dreams." Such a spectacle gives a man assurance that woman's sensorium is not limited to being pleased with a trinket or tickled with a compliment; that she may be relied on as a companion as well as petted as a toy. It is melancholy to see that half of a generation which principally controls the destinies of the next, so completely absorbed in the color and fashion of a dress, in compliments as insignificant as the tailormade creatures which concoct them, in their looking-glasses and in themselves, that really their brains seem to have been entirely consumed in the nourishment of their hair, which is frequently made to conceal half the forehead, as if to hide its emptiness. Or worse even than this, to be thus accosted by one who, despairing of her exterior, has determined to rival De Stael, as you assist her to ice-creamHave you read Junius' Letters ? Are you familiar with Plutarch's Lives?" and a thousand other queries, as abruptly introduced to your notice as a sudden streak of lightning to your neighbor's barn. Let the galled jade wince, if she will. Alas! I am now
"Indifferent though the smile or frown Of beauty be."
"Well, you are half right, my boy, notwithstanding Eve brought forth Cain; children often reflect their parents mentally and morally, but always physically. It wounds me to the core, to behold a man cast in one of nature's fairest and firmest moulds, unite himself to a diseased or unhealthy woman; or to see a blooming virgin, the wholesome blood mantling in her cheeks, bestow her hand upon some sickly, scrofulous wretch whose eye is kindled by Hymen, when the cold hand of Death is laid upon his lungs. They should pause before contracting so fatal an alliance; before gratifying a misplaced and selfish desire at the expense of their offspring. A man in the choice of a wife, or a woman in the acceptance of a suitor, owes a duty to their country and their descendants. For how can we be justified in deliberately entailing upon the bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, an early and premature dissolution? If the principle of life is strong within us, we are false to humanity, and to Heaven, if we wilfully inoculate it with decay, and consign the reptile to the cradle of the impotent Hercules."