Imatges de pÓgina

when a powdered menial arrested my steps and politely inquired if my name were not Leyden. I replied in the affirmative, and he requested that I would accompany him back to the United Service Club, as his master wished particularly to see me. I retraced my path, and was shown into a private room, at the upper end of which B sat, or rather reclined, upon a sofa. On entering I felt a chilliness steal over my frame, as if the atmosphere I breathed was tainted. As I approached, he endeavoured to stand up, but the effort was unavailing, and while extending his hand he buried his face in the cushions that supported him. For many minutes we were both silent, but though his breath came thickly and heavily, and though, when he did speak, his delivery was slow and broken, yet he was the first who acquired self-possession enough to articulate.

“ Years have passed, Mr. Leyden,” he commenced, “ since we have looked upon each other.” I could not reply, and a long and painful pause ensued. Suddenly starting from his seat, with more energy than I imagined he possessed, he exclaimed, “ Years, Sir, yes, years have passed-years of worldly prosperity—of mental anguish—anguish —anguish,” he repeated, in a low and monotonous voice that sounded like a death wail; “ anguish—more than that-years of feelings, that have rendered this bosom," and he struck it with his clenched hand,

a living, an eternal hell !”

What could I say, Cleveland ? had you seen him at that moment, as I did, you would have forgotten the injuries he heaped upon your friend, in witnessing the misery he endured. You could not have looked upon, and not have pitied him. “ Tell me,” he continued, reading, doubtless, the softened

expression of my countenance, for you must remember how fatally skilled he was in every movement of the human face, as well as in every winding of the human heart,"tell me, where they have buried her ?” Little as I had anticipated such a question, I felt it was one that he ought to ask, and without faltering, replied :

“ A small black marble urn, supported on a slight pedestal, in the south corner of Old Windsor church-yard, marks the spot; it is near the vault of her ancestors."

“ Who,” he inquired, 6 who raised the tablet?”.

“ I did.” He gazed, Cleveland, as if into my very soul, and then muttered in an under tone, “ Black, why made you it of black marble? She was pure, as God's own light; I ought to know it best, and I say it; and why did they exclude her from the vault? was her flesh less fair than theirs ?” After one of those distressing pauses, which come when the mind is too full for utterance, he continued :“ Leyden, you are not changed as I expected; your brow is smoother than mine, though you are an older man, and there is a look of inward peace about you. Strange that, after an absence of twenty years, you were the first of my old acquaintances to meet me, you, whom I would have most avoided, and yet most wished to see :there is only one other—"

* There is no other," I interrupted; “ her father died brokenhearted within a year after her fatal act was known.”

Cleveland, I cannot describe to you the shudder that passed through his frame, as I uttered these words; it was a positive con


vulsion, and, sensible of the hideous effect it produced, he covered his face with his hands, while his limbs quivered as if in mortal agony; when the paroxysm had subsided, I collected myself sufficiently to say, that having communicated the information he seemed so anxious to obtain I would now leave him, sincerely hoping that he might experience a return of the tranquillity he had lost; he raised his eyes to mine, and though they instantly sank to the earth, in that one look there was more of despair, more of hopelessness than I ever beheld conveyed by human expression ; there is something like it in a fine picture I once saw, but cannot remember where, that represented with fearful reality the betrayer of his Saviour flinging back to its purchasers the price of his Master's blood.

He then rang the bell and with forced composure inquired my address; I presented my card, and he bowed with somewhat of his once courtly air, as the servant conducted me to the door.

During the remainder of that day, London was to me as a peopled solitude ; the salutations of one or two (as I deemed them) obtrusive acquaintances, grated upon mine ear; the words gently intended, seemed forced and harsh, and I longed to escape from the multitude that pressed me in on every side, and even from those who meant me kindly when they inquired if I was ill or unhappy. How way. ward is man! — I, who so often taste the sweets of friendship, thought, in my perversity of spirit, how few know how to soften or to soothe; how thoroughly I hated myself for moroseness which at the time I could not conquer.—The world appeared too much with me, and I with it; I was out of tune with all things, and night itself brought no repose. A few days afterwards, I resolved upon a strange expedient, suggested doubtless by a secret wish to ascertain if B- had visited poor Cicely's grave. I resolved to go to Old Windsor, to look upon her mourning tomb, and see if the clematis and flowers I had planted with my own hands, were flourishing there still.

Every circumstance of her death is as well known to you as to me —the arts he used to draw unto himself affections which I once thought mine—mine only: then, having secured those affections, the coldness with which he treated her; and her being found drowned near Milton soon after his departure for India ;-a step that, we felt convinced, had urged her to self-destruction. Her miserable father wrote to him all the particulars; but he never acknowledged the communication. What made his conduct appear now so unaccountable, was the utter heartlessness he had then evinced, contrasted with his present anxiety to learn where her poor remains had been placed. It seemed inexplicable. Full of those feelings, I took my way in solitude and silence to the church-yard, so retired, and, as Í have sometimes thought, so picturesque. I stood for a moment by the little white turn-stile, looking down that solemn avenue of stately trees, the Thames gliding

“At its own sweet will," a broad and polished mirror, reflecting every passing cloud, and numbering the stars as they betokened the coming night. All was deeply, beautifully still; for the occasional shout of noisy children, brought

[ocr errors]

upon the breeze from the sweet village of Datchet, accompanied, at intervals, by the deep bark, or querulous yelping of the household dogs, rendered more intense the silence that succeeded. It was an hour and a place fitted for deep meditation--for self-examination ; and (dare I confess it, even to you ?) for communion with the invisible spirits that draw nearer to our world, when the bustle and business of life yield to that repose which the soul delights in. I lingered where I had first stayed, until the beams of the early moon silvered the clustering ivy that climbs the church-yard wall: this partial light, while it deepened the darkness of the avenue, warned me that the night was come. A single beam, like a thread of silver, rested on the urn when I knelt upon her grave. I could hardly distinguish the flowers from the grass; but all was soft and green; and I confess that it afforded me a melancholy pleasure to think that no rank weeds violated the little mound which- -But I weary my friend with the recital of feelings, that, if the world knew, they would scoff at, in a man whose hair is grey, and who has numbered fifty years!

I thought I heard an approaching footstep; the little ray vanished; and, looking up, I beheld B-himself, resting against the monument, while his eyes were fixed upon me with an expression I cannot attempt to describe. I started from the grave; but he seized my hand with a strong grasp, and, throwing himself upon the spot I had just quitted, almost dragged me to the earth.

“ The time is fitting--the place is fitting,” he murmured; “ bear with me for a little, and you shall know all-more, ay, much more than you anticipate."

I only interrupt his narrative, Cleveland, to say, that after the first or second sentence, his manner was calm and collected; but then, his mind was so evidently wound up for the exertion, that a fearful re-action might well have been looked for.

“ Strange I should meet you here, Leyden ; but there is a fate in all things, and a cruel one has been mine! There are those, I know, who disbelieve this ; but you shall hear. I need not ask if you remember her, or the anxiety with which I strove to win affections that, at the very time, were comparatively worthless in my eyes. You seem astonished ; but so it was. I was not half as eager to possess her, as I was to rival you. You had boasted of your security ; you had openly defied me; you had baffled me, in more ways than one ; you had preserved your temper, your equanimity in all our differences. In all essential things you were more than my superior ; but the peculiar tact that can call forth all the fascinating littlenesses of every-day existence, and mould them to the best advantage, was fatally awarded to me. To mortify you, and show forth my own power as best I might, I resolved to try my success with the innocent Cicely. At first, I trifled in mere, but wicked wantonness, as I had done with others : but gradually I felt her acquiring a powerful ascendancy. Her innocence, her purity, her full and perfect simplicity, and the celestial character of her beauty, which gained instead of losing by more intimate acquaintance, overpowered me. I might well be compared to a second Satan, tempting a second Eve, who dwelt in the paradise of pure and holy imaginings. I had little faith in woman, whom I

had long regarded only as the object of sensual pieasure, a compound of the affections, but destitute of the mental powers that elevate our higher natures. For a length of time the untaught girl of eighteen baffled the practised libertine of five-and-twenty. But, in the end, a secret marriage, as I called it, gratified my passion, and gave me nothing more to woo for. The rifled flower withered at my touch. Cicely was too holy, too refined, to enchain a wandering profligate. Her silent but visible virtues rose up in judgment against me. Fresh beauties led captive a heart laden with divers lusts; and the being that, but a little month before, I had strained to my throbbing bosom, as if to make it her everlasting resting-place, I now loathed-- Yes, Leyden, loathed, as if she had been a poisonous serpent! Her voice—Leyden, you remember her voice—its very tones gave me positive pain; her small white hand, when resting on my bosom, felt heavy and cold as lead ; and all those little offices of kindness, which woman only can bestow, became absolutely disgusting to me. When, with blushes and many tears, she told me that she must, in time, become a mother, and begged me, for my infant's sake, to confess our marriage, I thrust her from me so rudely, that she fell even at my feet! When again we met, she did not curse, but blessed me !. I urged my uncle to procure for me the situation in India, I had once offended him by refusing to accept. He seemed pleased, as he expressed it, ' at my recovering my senses ;' and, much sooner than I anticipated, I was informed that my departure was immediately required. I wrote to Cicely, whom, under various pretexts, I had declined to see from time to time, and whom I now sought most particularly to avoid ; for, as I said to one of my companions in iniquity, "I hated scenes. I enclosed her a sum of money, scathed with the intelligence that she was not my wife; but (wretch that I was !) containing the cold assurance of my friendship and good wishes. This I sent from ship-board, where we were under sailing orders, waiting only for a fair wind. While I was lounging the next evening on deck, and longing for the moment when the sails should fill, and we should go rejoicing over the clear blue waves, a note was presented to me from Cicely, returning my money, containing no word of reproach, but adjuring me, in the most solemn manner, to meet her for five minutes, for the last time. The simple appeal concluded by naming a little creek, where, she said, she waited for me

My spirit revolted at seeing that the note was signed · C. B.' I felt irritated that she should presume to use a name to which I had said she was unentitled. You cannot conceive how that small circumstance rankled in my bosom. I had caroused, more than usual, with my shipmates--my brain was fevered and confused—my resolves, bewildered and changing. From the deck I could discern the trysting-place, and distinguish the Auttering of a white robe. I determined, at last, not to shrink from a meeting with a woman, and asked the Captain if he would lend me a boat, adding, with a bravo's tone, and a bravo's feeling, that an affair of gallantry called me on shore for about an hour. As I rowed towards the creek, the spire of Milton Church stood coldly, and I thought reproachfully, out against the sky, there was nothing else which indicated the proximity of human habitation; for the little town of Gravesend, then

in its agony,

only a straggling village, was concealed by a sudden winding of the river. Amid this solitude the fiend was busy with me, and whispered devilish suggestions in my ear. Cicely seemed resolved to retain my name. I felt that she would be an everlasting barrier to my advancement, as I called it: and the affair, if bruited abroad, was almost too serious to receive the applause even of my gayest friends. I believe I was coward enough to dread the resentment of her greyheaded father. I trembled at my own imaginings, and passed my hand across my burning brow, as if to dissipate ideas, which, congregating there, became too strong for my enfeebled brain. My boat touched the strand, and Cicely sprang upon my bosom. God I how I hated her, even when her arms were clasped, with all the intensity of woman's love, around my neck ! when, unmindful of the injuries I had heaped upon her innocent head, she covered my hands with kisses, and, crouching at my feet, implored me not to desert her—not to leave her to shame and misery—to the scorn of the scorner-to the bitterness of self-reproach. Her long dark hair clustered over her figure, and her soft eyes were turned upon me—as the dove turns,

last gaze upon the vulture that destroys its most sweet life-yet, in that hour, Leyden, I hated with a deadly hatred

The low choking of his voice, and the impeded utterance with which he pronounced the last words, made my blood run cold. He paused ; but I could neither speak nor move every power of vitality was paralyzed; and when he recommenced, I listened with swollen veins and straining eye-balls :

“ I am sure she read my purpose ; for she implored that, for the sake of the unborn, I would spare her life. I Aung her from me with violence ;-she shuddered ; and, exhausted by exertion, fainted at my feet. I gazed upon her pale and beautiful features, which grief had touched, but not destroyed. Why,' whispered the ready demon that dwells within the bosom of the wicked, and impels him to destruction,—why should she awaken to the shame and disgrace that must await her? Why should she awaken to mar your fortunes ? What is death but everlasting sleep?' Leyden, I raised her in my arms, and, turning away my head, consigned her to the everlasting waters! O God! O God! that this had been all that she had departed without the knowledge which, for a brief moment, she acquired. The sudden plunge revived her paralyzed senses; and, with a wild and fearful shriek, she sprang upwards. She would have grasped the boat, but I-1-"

Cleveland, the blood rushed, foaming and boiling through my brain. I was no longer master of myself. Cicely's murderer was therethere before me-her acknowledged murderer. His vile sentence remained unfinished—for my grasp was on his throat, and the wretched being, twisting like a reptile among the tombs, was at my mercy. Suddenly I remembered that your friend was but anticipating the hangman's office; and, letting loose my hands, and throwing myself upon the long grass, which contained her mouldering tomb, I found relief in a violent burst of tears. One weight, one dreadful weight was removed from my mind. She had not the horrid guilt of selfdestruction on her soul : for that I fervently blessed the Almighty.

« AnteriorContinua »