Imatges de pÓgina
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Mrs. Bury made a grave mistake in choosing for her second début her great part of Juliet; for she had outlived the possibility of playing it as she played it at that period of her life when her soul readily melted in the divine glow of youthful passion and flowed into the character, taking its perfect shape, rounded and smooth and fair. Through long years of sorrow and unrest, she had now to toil back to that golden time,— and there was a sort of sharpness and haggardness about her acting, a singular tone of weariness, broken by starts and bursts of almost preternatural power. Except in scenes and sentiments of pathos, where she had lost nothing, the last, fine, evanishing tints, the delicate aroma of the character, were wanting in her personation. It was touched with autumnal shadows,—it was comparatively hard and dry, not from any inartistic misapprehension of the poet's ideal, but because the fountain of youth in Zelma's own soul ran low, and was choked by the dead violets which once sweetened its waters.

She felt all this bitterly that night, ere the play was over; and though her audience generously applauded and old friends congratulated her, she never played Juliet again.

Yet, even in the darker and sterner parts, in which she was once so famous, she was hardly more successful now. In losing her bloom and youthful fulness of form, she had not gained that statuesque repose, or that refined essence of physical power and energy, which sometimes belongs to slenderness and pallor. She was often strangely agitated and unnerved when the occasion called most for calm, sustained power,-at times, glancing around wildly and piteously, like a haunted creature. Her passion was fitful and strained, the fire

of rage flickered in her eye, her relaxed lips quivered out curses, her hand shook with the dagger and spilled the poison. Her sorrows, real and imaginary, seemed to have broken her spirit with her heart.

But in anything weird and supernatural, awful with vague, unearthly ter

rors, she was greater than ever. Whenever, in her part of Lady Macbeth, she came to the sleep-walking scene, that shadowy neutral ground between death and life, where the perturbed, burdened spirit moans out its secret agony, she gave startling token of the genius which had electrified and awed her audiences of old. A solemn stillness pervaded the house; every eye followed the ghostlike gliding of her form, every ear hung upon the voice whose tones could sound the most mysterious and awful depths of human grief and despair.

It was during the first season of her reappearance that Mrs. Bury went to Drury Lane, on an off-night, to witness one of the latest efforts of Garrick as Richard the Third. He was, as usual, terribly great in the part; but, in spite of his overwhelming power, Zelma found herself watching the Lady Anne of the night with a strange, fascinated interest. This part, of too secondary and negative a character for the display of high dramatic powers, even in an actress who should be perfect mistress of herself, was borne by a young and beautiful woman, new to the London stage, though of some provincial reputation, who on this occasion was distressingly nervous and illassured. She had to contend not only with stage-fright, but Garrick-fright. "She met Roscius in all his terrors," and shrank from the encounter. fierce lightnings of his dreadful eyes seemed to shrivel and paralyze her; even his demoniac cunning and persua siveness filled her with mortal fear. Her voice shook with a pathetic tremor, became hoarse and almost inaudible; her eyes sank, or wandered wildly; her brow was bathed with the sweat of a secret agony; she might have given way utterly under the paralyzing spell, had not some sudden inspiration of genius or love, a prophetic thrill of power, or a memory of her unweaned babe, come to nerve, to upbear her. She roused, and went through her part with some flickering flashes of spirit, and through all

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her painful embarrassment was stately and graceful by the regal necessity of her beauty. The event was not success, was but a shade better than utter failure; and when, soon after, that beautiful woman dropped out of London dramatic life, few were they who missed her enough to ask whither she had gone.

But Zelma, whose sad, searching eyes saw deeper than the eyes of critics, recognized from the first her grand, longsought ideal in the fair unknown, whose name had appeared on the play-bills in small, deprecating type, under the overwhelming capitals of " MR. GARRICK" -"Mrs. Siddons." She looked upon that frightened and fragile woman with prophetic reverence and noble admiration; and as she walked her lonely chamber that night, she said to herself, somewhat sadly, but not bitterly," The true light of the English drama has arisen at last. Out, out, brief candle !'"

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Season after season, year after year, Zelma continued to play in London, but never again with the fame, the homage, the flatteries and triumphs of a great actress. All these she saw at last accorded to her noble rival. Mrs. Bury had shone very acceptably in a doubtful dramatic period, first as an inspired, impassioned enthusiast, and after as a conscientious artist, subdued and saddened, yet always careful and earnest; but, like many another lesser light, she was destined to be lost sight of in the long, splendid day of the Kembles.

Yet once again the spirit of unrest, the nomadic instinct, came back upon Zelma Bury, haunted her heart and stirred in her blood till she could resist no longer, but, joining a company for a provincial tour, left London.

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enough in one place to weary of it,—the peaceful sights and sounds of rural life tranquillizing and refreshing her soul, as the clear expanse of its sky, the green of its woods and parks, the daisied swell of its downs refreshed and soothed her eye, tired of striking forever against dull brick walls and struggling with smoke and fog.

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Then May came round, month of all the year for her. The hawthorn-hedges burst into flower,-the highways and by-paths and lanes became Milky Ways of bloom, and all England was once more veined with fragrance.

They were in the North, when one morning Zelma was startled by hearing the manager say that the next night they should play at Walton. It was there that Lawrence Bury died; it was there he slept, in the stranger's unvisited grave. She would seek out that grave and sink on it, as on the breast of one beloved, though long estranged. It would cool the dull, ceaseless fever of her heart to press it against the cold mound, and to whisper into the rank grass her faithful remembrance, her forgiveness, her unconquerable love.

But it was late when the players reached Walton; and, after the necessary arrangements for the evening were concluded, Zelma found that she had no time for a pilgrimage to the parish churchyard. She could see it from a window of her lodgings;-it was highwalled, dark and damp, crowded with quaint, mossy tomb-stones, and brooded over by immemorial yews. In the deepening, misty twilight, there was something awful in the spot. It was easy to fancy unquiet spectres lurking in its gloomy shadows, waiting for the night. Yet Zelma's heart yearned toward it, and she murmured softly, as she turned away, "Wait for me, love!"

The play, on this night, was "The Fair Penitent." In the character of Calista Mrs. Bury had always been accounted great, though it was distasteful to her. Indeed, for the entire play she expressed only contempt and aversion; yet she play

ed her part in it faithfully and carefully, as she performed all professional tasks.

In reading this tragedy now, one is at a loss to understand how such trash could have been tolerated at the very time of the revival of a pure dramatic literature,

-how such an unsavored broth of sentiment, such a meagre hash of heroics, could have been relished, even when served by Kembles, after the rich, varied, Olympian banquets of Shakspeare.

The argument is briefly this:

Calista, daughter of Sciolto, is betrothed to Altamount, a young lord, favored by Sciolto. Altamount has a friend, Horatio, and an enemy, Lothario, secretly the lover and seducer of Calista, whose dishonor is discovered by Horatio, shortly after her marriage with Altamount, to whom he reveals it. Calista denies the charge, with fierce indignation and scorn; and the young husband believes her and discredits his friend. But the fourth act brings the guilt of Calista and the villany of Lothario fully to light. Lothario is killed by the injured husband, Sciolto goes mad with shame and rage, and Calista falls into a state of despair and peni

tence.

The fifth act opens with Sciolto's elaborate preparations for vengeance on his daughter. The stage directions for this

scene are,

["A room hung with black: on one side Lotha

rio's body on a bier; on the other a table, with a skull and other bones, a book, and a lamp on it. Calista is discovered on a couch, in black, her hair hanging loose and disordered. After soft music, she rises and comes forward."]

She takes the book from the table, but, finding it the pious prosing of some "lazy, dull, luxurious gownsman," flings it aside. She examines the cross-bones curiously, lays her hand on the skull, soliloquizing upon mortality, somewhat in the strain of Hamlet; then peers into the coffin of Lothario, beholds his pale visage, "grim with clotted blood," and the stern, unwinking stare of his dead eyes. Sciolto enters and bids her prepare to die; but while she stands meek and unresisting

before him, his heart fails him; he rushes out, and is shortly after killed by Lothario's faction. Calista then dies by her own hand, leaving Altamount desperate and despairing.

Poor Calista is neither a lovely nor a lofty character; but there is something almost grand in her fierce pride, in her defiant hauteur, in her mighty struggle with shame. Mrs. Siddons made the part terribly impressive. Mrs. Bury softened it somewhat, giving it a womanly dignity and pathos that would seem foreign and almost impossible to the character.

When Zelma entered her dressingroom, on that first night at Walton, she found on her table a small spray of hawthorn-blossoms.

"How came these flowers here?" she asked, in a hurried, startled tone.

"I placed them there," replied her little maid, Susan, half-frightened by the strange agitation of her mistress. "I plucked the sprig in our landlady's garden; for I remembered that you loved hawthorn-blossoms, and used often to buy them in Covent-Garden Market.”

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Ah, yes; thank you, Susan. I do indeed love them, and I will wear them tonight."

As she said this, she placed the flowers in her bosom,- but, the little maid noticed, not as an ornament, but quite out of sight, where her close bodice would crush them against her heart.

During the first acts of the play, Zelma was languid, absent, and more unequal than usual. A strange sense of evil, a vague foreboding, haunted her. It was in vain that she said to herself, "What have I, a lonely, disappointed woman, loveless and joyless, to fear of misfortune more,—since death itself were welcome as change, and doubly welcome as rest?” The nameless fear still clung to her, sending cold thrills along her veins, fiercely grasping and holding her palpitating heart.

When, in the last act, reclining on her sombre couch, she waited through the playing of the "soft music," there came

to her a little season of respite and calm. Tender thoughts, and sweet, wild fancies of other days revisited her. The wilted hawthorn-blossoms in her bosom seemed to revive and to pour forth volumes of fragrance, which enveloped her like an atmosphere; and as she rose and advanced slowly toward the foot-lights, winking dimly like funeral lamps amid the gloom of the scene, it strangely seemed to her that she was going down the long, sweet lane of Burleigh Grange. The magic of that perfume, and something of kindred sweetness in the sad, wailing music, brought old times and scenes before her with preternatural distinctness. Then she became conscious of a something making still darker and deeper the gloomy shadows cast by the black hangings of the scene, a presence, not palpable or visible to the senses, but terribly real to the finer perceptions of the spirit, -a presence unearthly, yet familiar and commanding, persistent, resistless, unappeasable,

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moving as she moved, pausing as she paused, clutching at her hands, and searching after her eyes. The air about her seemed heavy with a brooding horror which sought to resolve itself into shape, the dread mystery of life in death waiting to be revealed. Her own soul seemed groping and beating against the veil which hides the unseen; she gasped, she trembled, and great drops, like the distillation of the last mortal anguish, burst from her forehead.

She was roused by a murmur of applause from the audience. She was acting so well! Nerving herself by an almost superhuman effort, her phantomhaunted soul standing at bay, she approached the table, and began, in a voice but slightly broken, the reading of her melancholy soliloquy. But, as she laid her hand on the skull, she gave a wild start of horror, not at the touch of the cold, smooth bone, nor at the blank, black stare of the eyeless sockets, but at finding beneath her hand a mass of soft, curling hair, damp, as with night-dew!-at beholding eyes with "speculation" in them, —ay, with human passions, luminous and

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full,-eyes that now yearned with love, now burned with hate, ah, God! the eyes of Lawrence Bury!

With a shrill, frenzied shriek, Zelma sprang back and stood for a moment shuddering and crouching in a mute agony of fear. Then she burst into wild cries of grief and passionate entreaty, stretching her tremulous hands into the void air, in piteous imploring.

"She has gone mad! Take her away!" shouted the excited audience; but before any one could reach her, she had fallen on the stage in strong convulsions.

The actors raised her and bore her out; and as they did so, a little stream of blood was seen to bubble from her lips. A medical man, who happened to be present, having proffered his services, was hurried behind the scenes to where the sufferer lay, on a rude couch in the green-room, surrounded by the frightened players, and wept over by her faithful little maid.

The audience lingered awhile within sound of the fitful, frenzied cries of the dying actress, and then dispersed in dismay and confusion.

Zelma remained for some hours convulsed and delirious; but toward morning she sank into a deep, swoon-like sleep of utter exhaustion. She awoke from this, quite sane and calm, but marble-white and cold,—the work of death all done, it seemed, save the dashing out of the sad, wild light yet burning in her sunken eyes. But the bright red blood no longer oozed from her lips, and they told her she was better. She gave no heed to the assurance, but, somewhat in her old, quick, decisive way, called for the manager. Scarcely had he reached her side, when she began to question him eagerly, though in hoarse, failing tones, in regard to the skull used in the play of the preceding night. The manager had procured it of the sexton, he said, and knew nothing more of it.

She sent for the sexton. He came,a man "of the earth, earthy,”—a man with a grave-ward stoop and a strange uneven gait, caught in forty years' stum

bling over mounds. A smell of turf and mould, an odor of mortality, went before him.

He approached the couch of the actress, and looked down upon her with a curious, professional look, as though he were peering into a face newly coffined or freshly exhumed; but when Zelma fixed her live eyes upon him, angry and threatening, and asked, in abrupt, yet solemn tones, "Whose was that skull you brought for me last night?" he fell back with an exclamation of surprise and terror. As soon as he could collect himself sufficiently, he replied, that, to the best of his knowledge, the skull had belonged to a poor play-actor, who had died in the parish some sixteen or, it might be, eighteen years before; and compelled by the merciless inquisition of those eyes, fixed and stern, though dilating with horror, he added, that, if his memory served him well, the player's name was Bury.

A strong shudder shivered through the poor woman's frame at this confirmation of the awful revealment of the previous night; but she replied calmly, though with added sternness,-" He was my husband. How dared you disturb his bones? Are you a ghoul, that you burrow among graves and steal from the dead?"

The poor man eagerly denied being anything so inhuman. The skull had rolled into a grave he had been digging by the side of the almost forgotten grave of the poor player; and, as the manager had bespoken one for the play, he had thought it no harm to furnish him this. But he would put it back carefully into its place that very day.

"See that you do it, man, if you value the repose of your own soul!" said Zelma, with an awful impressiveness, raising her

self on one elbow and looking him out of the room.

When he was gone, she sunk back and murmured, partly to herself, partly to her little maid, who wept through all, the more that she did not understand,—“ I knew it was so; it was needless to ask. Well, 'tis well; he will forgive me, now that I come when he calls me, accomplishing to the utmost my vow. He will make peace with me, when I take my old place at his side,-when my head shall lie as low as his, when he sees that all the laurels have dropped away,― when he sees the sorrow shining through the dark of my hair in rifts of silver.”

After a little time she grew restless, and would return to her lodgings.

As the doctor and her attendant were about placing her in a sedan-chair to bear her away, a strange desire seized her to behold the theatre and tread the boards once more. They conducted her to the centre of the stage, and seated her on the black couch of Calista. There they left her quite alone for a while, and stood back where they could observe without disturbing her. They saw her gaze about her dreamily and mournfully; then she seemed to be recalling and reciting some favorite part. To their surprise, the tones of her voice were clear and resonant once more; and when she had ceased speaking, she rose and walked toward them, slowly, but firmly, turning once or twice to bow proudly and solemnly to an invisible audience. Just before she reached them, she suddenly pressed her hand on her heart, and the next instant fell forward into the arms of her maid. The young girl could not support the weight—the dead weight, and sank with it to the floor. Zelma had made her last exit.

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