Obrazy na stronie

Unconscious where he was going, he had now loitered, without aim, as far as the dead wall and rail of the churchyard of St. Sepulchre, and there it was he espied, standing in its shadow, a figure much like that of her who had killed all hope within him. And like a murderess, indeed, conscience-stricken, she had awaited his coming forth, and followed, under the cloud of night, in shame and at a distance, him whom she had stricken to the heart. The sudden rencontre with him, bringing back father, mother, home, and all the past at once to the unhappy girl, had acted upon her disguised, rather than altered, nature, like the touch of the spear of Ithuriel on the fallen angel; compelling him to stand up himself again out of his bestial transfiguration. The tormented young man, when he discovered that it was she indeed, seemingly wishful to be spoken to, when he fancied a tear twinkled to the beam of a lamp as she turned, began to pity, though he could not bear to speak, to even look at her. But a strange sort of cough struck his ear, the cough of the consumptive, hollow and sepulchral, it seemed the knell that tolled her to that home of the homeless by which she stood. And he approached her: the struggle, the shudder, the agony of that meeting,—the lip, the hand, the heart that at once yearned towards her and recoiled,-description fails in such a scene, but Robin felt at that moment that death itself could have prepared for him no tragedy like this.

The story of her fall may be told in a few words: her first fault, which was in fact her only one, was the venial weakness of girlish vanity, under the notice of one she deemed much superior to herself in rank. This led to repeated imprudent admissions of him to her society, without (on her part) an idea beyond a sort of vague gratitude and pride, her heart being as firmly her Welsh lover's as ever.

But her cousin was a man of much cunning and experience, and caused his yet innocent interviews with her to be represented to his proud aunt, for the purpose of infuriating the old lady against her, who might thus cast her from under her protection, and leave her no alternative but accepting his. The event answered his hopes, for the angry invalid in one of those fits of fury to which paralytic persons are of tensubject, turned her out of doors, when her cousin named the "good kind of elderly woman,” near Covent Garden, who had a lodging to let. The infamous conspiring, the complete success of the plot against a helpless weeping girl, who never plotted in her life, and scarcely knew any one beyond the walls she was driven from; these need not be dwelt on, nor the after steps by which (soon deserted under the repulsiveness of her grief, or rage,) she plunged to that lowest depth of degradation; ashamed to write, to complain; loathing life, herself, her ruiner, every thing but a wretched remembrance of that pure and innocent scene of

her short existence, she never thought to see again, nor wished to revisit, unless as a corpse, for interment in her own churchyard, and a tear and embrace from the parents, from wbom she must for ever shrink alive. Thus, strange as it appears, her heart had never been untrue to its first possessor: her first step to ruin was but the buoyant gaiety of youth, the idle Autter of a young heart, though sworn another's, at the voice of a handsome flatterer; perhaps buoyed into that dangerous self-confidence which dared to listen, to linger to it, by the very passion whose fidelity it seemed to threaten or deny the existence of. Thus she might be compared in her innocence, security, and fall, to a lamb on the ridge of a green mountain, fresh and beautiful, but shelving and bottomed by a foul and black morass: no sooner has the snowy ignorant little creature felt the first warmth of the spring sun, than, unconcious of all danger, it frisks in its joy, takes but one bound in its gaiety and comfort, and another, and another, and a hundred, in terror and in pain, and by compulsion down the whole face of the bank, even into the awful chasm below. There it lies, half white still, half the colour of its dingy ooze, struggles feebly and dies!

It was on a gentle dripping day, after some thunder-showers, when the sun shone out near its setting, and its yellow lustre mingling with the steaming damp of the meadows, formed a rich golden haze, which lighted up the spangling hedgerows and dewdropped leaves with unusual glory, that I strolled to the little baillie-house. All was solitary and wildly beautiful, and I concluded that Robin was not returned, or he would have cropped some of the overgrown sweetbriars and the box-hedge that almost obstructed the path, when I was surprised by his appearance, so pale that I hardly knew him, much less the faint young woman who leaned upon his arm. Knowing nothing, then, of his cruel trial, I was astonished at his passing me with the merely ordinary compliment of the hat, either not remembering me, or desirous to avoid, in her presence, allusion to the hopes and prospects connected with that house. A quiver of his lip and fall of countenance make me since believe the latter conjecture the right: for to what purpose was it to impress on her all the happiness fortune had prepared for them together in that pretty hermitage, when fate was already preparing her sad and separate home for ever in the earth? for so it was: she had intrusted to him all her sad story with floods of tears; their peace had been made, he had turned to her in heart at least again, forgiven and restored her, a dying flower, to her native soil, to her parents, and to them a stainless one. The tenderness of Robin's (now brotherly) love could ill endure to wring her heart with the shame, theirs with the pain, of a disclosure; he entreated, he conjured her to cooperate with him in this pious fraud, and shut in to his single

burthened heart the double anguish of her fall, and of her approaching fate. Among the sweet fields and peaceful glens where they had lived so innocently, he brought her down to die; and pity, now powerful as love had been before, prompted every kindness of word and action that could soothe the bitterness of an early death, and an eternal parting from one she had never ceased to love. Nor was the approach of that death regarded with horror by the sinking young woman, but complacency: she would not have recovered for the world; have lived on to endure that living separation, (far worse than the eternal one,) which her feelings now would have enforced, in the event of her recovery; neither would she have married him, had he been willing, for the world. Now, as it was, as a dying creature, one half-disembodied and purified by the decay of her mortal nature, she felt that he might soothe her, as a brother, without the reproach of grossness from his own mind or others; might lead her forth to see the cows she could no longer milk, down in the dingle, or along the river banks, to enjoy the last of that summer, who was never to see another.

He looked the shadow of himself; his eyes wherever they turned, slowly as an aged man's, either there rested vacantly without regard, or wandered off indifferently on the glowing sky or the mere earth under foot alike, like one loathing everything he looked on, or unseeing and sickening at the sun. But Margery was grown really delicately beautiful; her brow, neck, and arms were of such a bloodless lily hue, her cheek tinted with such a tender rose-bud blush, but ominously defined in its shape; her eyes so vivid, though shaded by a melancholy deep and dreadful to look on by me who had watched them ere her journey, dancing, at the approach of her lover, up the little river-side path, that, notwithstanding that gloom deep within them from a mourning soul, sickness and mortality were the last ideas her form excited. If her bodily fading away was thus piteously beautiful, the gentle beauty of her character developed itself still more for her fall; as the most lovely sunset is that which blushes deepest through the darkness of clouds through which it looks its last. He saw her patient, repentant, and resigned; and the more he saw of this beauty of the soul, with less patience could he bear the thought of soon seeing it no more for ever. Her gratitude for his forgiving constancy knew no bounds, as well as for the delicate honour with which he kept sacred her fatal secret from her parents and the squire. Her shame and selfabasement made her feel every the least attention from him as noble and generous: she received it with a starting tear, a timid smile, and such a pleased humbleness! There was only one token of attention she could no longer bear from him—a kiss! or rather the recollection it awoke of times when those lips had

No. XIV.

been indeed "never breathed on by any but his,” and subsequent times, too horrible for recollection, altogether overpowered her. She half met his, recoiled, pushed bim from her, bore his hand to her lips instead; wept bitterly, laughed, shrieked, and became hysterical: Robin never ventured to press his lips to hers again. In all other respects they lived as fondest sister and brother in misfortune: it was the patient girl's sole joy and comfort to make him so many clothes as should long prevent his needing the needle or the wheel of another, and eagerly did she ply them in spite of weakness: for every restless night of coughing, that warned her of her shortening existence, the more earnestly would she apply to her work of love in the morning. Joy flashed through her pearly-white eyes, and flushed to a deeper dye the hectie colour of her cheek, every time she presented him with some new finished article of dress: it broke his heart to receive it, yet how could he damp her innocent pleasure by a refusal? Poor Robin received it without a word; he could not thank her for the choking in his throat, pressed her long thin hand, and hurried away to hide it somewhere, sacred but too mournful to be looked on. Nor these only, but every little future comfort which a fond wife leaving home on a short journey could think on for her husband, did she study to think and provide, as far as she could, for Robin during her eternal one; nor among the greater was a future wife for him forgotten, though of this she only spoke once, so violently did it affect him. For herself, she felt no sympathy in that emotion, for, cut off from him doubly as she felt herself in this world, both by her frailty and her hastening fate, she seemed to have done with every passion but that sainted one-a sister's love; with jealousy, with disappointment, with every feeling, every anxiety but to ensure his peace on earth, and her own with the God who was calling her to himself.

Poor Margery's life was, however, wonderfully prolonged through the winter, as is to fulfil the innocent wish of the milkmaid, " that she might die in the Spring to have store of flowers to stick about her windingsheet.That early Spring saw Robin seriously affected in his health by long watchings and sleepless nights of weeping; yet there was a something like calm and happiness in his intercourse with her now, that surprised while it perplexed and pleased her. But when she ventured again to hint at the “good young woman who she hoped to God would sometime sit spinning for him at her wheel;” he answered her with such a strange yet dark meaning smile, that it flashed explanation to her heart, on the sudden, of that mysterious new resignation he had evinced. In truth, his breathless inability to work or ascend a hill, his hollow eye and flushings in his cheek, had explained it before to others, though not to her whose thoughts had been riveted, as it were, to the idea of his surviving for a long


life of happiness, to reward him for his suffering through her and for her. From that moment, catching that new sad conceit of his, that of dying also, she exchanged the office of watcher with him, far gone as she was; watching every turn of his look, his pantings and short cough, with as much terrified tenderness as if she had had a long wedded life with him before her dependent on the event. Poor Robin! his was surely love! enjoying thus those feelings of mortal languor, otherwise so ungenial to sanguine youth. But he had prayed in the night to Heaven that he might not live to see her die, and those feelings, though not to be explained to others, yet well defined to himself, seemed like Heaven's acquiescence in that prayer. He saw too surely that her soul was on the point of fitting away, and his panted to follow; an eager lifeconsuming longing, that made food distasteful, rest needless, light wearying to his all absorbed senses, and by that very intensity of life-impatience, gave effect to its desire of release; as a poor bird by long beating against the bars of its cage, finds them at last giving way to that undesigned means of escape, though but the expression of its misery. His ceaseless anxiety of a beating heart so formed to itself a hope out of its despair. And now he could endure to see and even examine those little articles for use or ornament which she had made, and marked with her hair-now fast falling off, (the ominous dismantling of the soul's mansion preparatory to its fall, marking consumption's last stage,) now that they were no longer associated with the cruel idea of his having a long life without her before him. In truth this despair, this intolerable horror of her death, was no sickness of imagination in that unfortunate young man, but the result of the soundest reason, and its coolest exercise. We have heard from his own lips, how feminine in spirit long intercourse with female gentleness had made him; how it had kept him apart from his own sex and their rougher pursuits: of course she who had as it were re-created his heart almost, had not failed to secure it hers for ever. He was the child of nature, the creature of love; but she, his heart's parent, his nature's gentle nurse, she was leaving him for ever! the child was no more to know its mother. For what should he stay behind ? to whom could he turn for those thousand sweetnesses she had imparted to his existence? from whom, were there one fond as she, could he bear to receive them?' No: poor Robin knew himself, that his life's sole venture had been intrusted to her; she lost that too was lost, and the world where she was not would be to him an empty world, a true grave of horrible vastness, and far more terrible than that narrow one already more than reconciled to his thought by the unresting agony life alone presented to his view. What wonder that when, at last, his disease (a rapid, as hers was a gradual, decline,) was confirmed; when it became no longer doubtful, that the dark journey she was to set out on so soon, she was not to take alone;

« PoprzedniaDalej »