A DRIVE THROUGH THE COUNTRY NEAR BOSTON.
Aglauron and Laurie are two of the pleasantest men I know. Laurie combines, with the external advantages of a beautiful person and easy address, all the charm which quick perceptions and intelligent sympathy give to the intercourse of daily life. He has an extensive, though not a deep, knowledge of men and books,—his naturally fine taste has been more refined by observation, both at home and abroad, than is usual in this busy country; and, though not himself a thinker, he follows with care and delight the flights of a rapid and inventive mind. He is one of those rare persons who, without being servile or vacillating, present on no side any barrier to the free action of another mind. Yes, he is really an agreeable companion. I do not remember ever to have been wearied or chilled in his company.
Aglauron is a person of far greater depth and force than his friend and cousin, but by no means as agreeable. His mind is ardent and powerful, rather than brilliant and ready,—neither does he with ease adapt himself to the course of another. But, when he is once kindled, the blaze of light casts every object on which it falls into a bold relief, and gives every scene a lustre unknown before. He is not, perhaps, strictly original in his thoughts; but the severe truth of his character, and the searching force of his attention, give the charm of originality to what he says. Accordingly, another cannot, by repetition, do it justice. I have never any doubt when I write down or tell what Laurie says, but Aglauron must write for himself.
Yet I almost always take notes of what has passed, for the amusement of a distant friend, who is learning, amidst the western prairies, patience, and an appreciation of the poor benefits of our imperfectly civilized state. And those I took this day, seemed not unworthy of a more general circulation. The sparkle of talk, the free breeze that swelled its current, are always fled when you write it down; but there is a gentle flow, and truth to the moment, rarely attained in more elaborate compositions.
My two friends called to ask if I would drive with them into the country, and I gladly consented. It was a beautiful afternoon of the last week in May. Nature seemed most desirous to make up for the time she had lost, in an uncommonly cold and wet spring. The leaves were bursting from their sheaths with such rapidity that the trees seemed actually to greet you as you passed along. The vestal choirs of snow-drops and violets were chanting their gentle hopes from every bank, the orchards were white with blossoms, and the birds singing in almost tumultuous glee.
We drove for some time in silence, perhaps fearful to disturb the universal song by less melodious accents, when Aglauron said:
"How entirely are we new-born today! How are all the post cold skies and hostile breezes vanished before this single breath of sweetness! How consoling is the truth thus indicated!"
Laurie. It is indeed the dearest fact of our consciousness, that, in every moment of joy, pain is annihilated. There is no past, and the future is only the sunlight streaming into the far valley.
Aglauron. Yet it was the night that taught us to prize the day.
Laurie. Even so. And I, you know, object to none of the "dark masters."
Aglauron. Nor I,—because I am sure that whatever is, is good; and to find out the why is all our employment here. But one feels so at home in such a day as this!
Laurie. As this, indeed! I never heard so many birds, nor saw so many flowers. Do you not like these yellow flowers?
Aglauron. They gleam upon the fields as if to express the bridal kiss of the sun. He seems most happy, if not most wealthy, when first he is wed to the earth.
Laurie. I believe I have some such feeling about these golden flowers. When I did not know what was the Asphodel, so celebrated by the poets, I thought it was a golden flower; yet this yellow is so ridiculed as vulgar.
Aglauron. It is because our vulgar luxury depreciates objects not fitted to adorn our dwellings. These yellow flowers will not bear being token out of their places and brought home to the centre-table. But, when enamelling the ground, the cowslip, the king-cup,—nay, the marigold and dandelion even,—are resplendently beautiful.
Laurie. They are the poor man's gold. See that dark, unpointed house, with its lilac shrubbery. As it stands, undivided from the road to which the green bank slopes down from the door, is not the effect of that enamel of gold dandelions beautiful?
Aglauron. It seems as if a stream of peace had flowed from the door-step down to the very dust, in waves of light, to greet the passer-by. That is, indeed, a quiet house. It looks as if somebody's grandfather lived there still.
Laurie. It is most refreshing to see the dark boards amid those houses of staring white. Strange that, in the extreme heat of summer, aching eyes don't teach the people better.
Aglauron. We are still, in fact, uncivilized, for all our knowledge of what is done "in foreign parts" cannot make us otherwise. Civilization must be homogeneous,—must be a natural growth. This glistening white paint was long preferred because the most expensive; just as in the West, I understand, they paint houses red to make them resemble the hideous red brick. And the eye, thus spoiled by excitement, prefers red or white to the stone-color, or the browns, which would harmonize with other hues.
Laurie. I should think the eye could never be spoiled so far as to like these white palings. These bars of glare amid the foliage are unbearable.
Myself. What color should they be?
Laurie. An invisible green, as in all civilized parts of the globe. Then your eye would rest on the shrubbery undisturbed.
Myself. Your vaunted Italy has its palaces of white stucco and buildings of brick.
Laurie. Ay,—but the stucco is by the atmosphere soon mellowed into cream-color, the brick into rich brown.
Myself. I have heard a connoisseur admire our own red brick in the afternoon sun, above all other colors.
Laurie. There are some who delight too much in the stimulus of color to be judges of harmony of coloring. It is so, often, with the Italians. No color is too keen for the eye of the Neapolitan. He thinks, with little Riding-hood, there is no color like red. I have seen one of the most beautiful new palaces paved with tiles of a brilliant red. But this, too, is barbarism.
Myself. You are pleased to call it so, because you make the English your arbiters in point of taste; but I do not think they, on your own principle, are our proper models. With their ever-weeping skies, and seven-piled velvet of verdure, they are no rule for us, whose eyes are accustomed to the keen blue and brilliant clouds of our own realm, and who see the earth wholly green scarce two months in the year. No white is more glistening than our January snows; no house here hurts my eye more than the fields of white-weed will, a fortnight hence.
Laurie. True refinement of taste would bid the eye seek repose the more. But, even admitting what you say, there is no harmony. The architecture is borrowed from England; why not the rest?
Aglauron. But, my friend, surely these piazzas and pipe-stem pillars are all American.
Laurie. But the cottage to which they belong is English. The inhabitants, suffocating in small rooms, and beneath sloping roofs, because the house is too low to admit any circulation of air, are in need, we must admit, of the piazza, for elsewhere they must suffer all the torments of Mons. Chaubert in his first experience of the oven. But I do not assail the piazzas, at any rate; they are most desirable, in these hot summers of ours, were they but in proportion with the house, and their pillars with one another. But I do object to houses which are desirable neither as summer nor winter residences here. The shingle palaces, celebrated by Irving's wit, were far more appropriate, for they, at least, gave free course to the winds of heaven, when the thermometer stood at ninety-five degrees in the shade.
Aglauron. Pity that American wit nipped in the bud those early attempts at an American architecture. Here in the East, alas! the case is become hopeless. But in the West the log-cabin still promises a proper basis.
Laurie. You laugh at me. But so it is. I am not so silly as to insist upon American architecture, American art, in the 4th of July style, merely for the gratification of national vanity. But a building, to be beautiful, should harmonize exactly with the uses to which it is to be put, and be an index to the climate and habits of the people. There is no objection to borrowing good thoughts from other nations, if we adopt the new style because we find it will serve our convenience, and not merely because it looks pretty outside.
Aglauron. I agree with you that here, as well as in manners and in literature, there is too ready access to the old stock, and, though I said it in jest, my hope is, in truth, the log-cabin. This the settler will enlarge, as his riches and his family increase; he will beautify as his character refines, and as his eye becomes accustomed to observe objects around him for their loveliness as well as for their utility. He will borrow from Nature the forms and coloring most in harmony with the scene in which his dwelling is placed. Might growth here be but slow enough! Might not a greediness for gain and show cheat men of all the real advantages of their experience!
(Here a carriage passed.)
Laurie. Who is that beautiful lady to whom you bowed?
Aglauron. Beautiful do you think her? At this distance, and with the freshness which the open air gives to her complexion, she certainly does look so, and was so still, five years ago, when I knew her abroad. It is Mrs. V——.
Laurie. I remember with what interest you mentioned her in your letters. And you promised to tell me her true story.
Aglauron. I was much interested, then, both in her and her story, But, last winter, when I met her at the South, she had altered, and seemed so much less attractive than before, that the bright colors of the picture are well-nigh effaced.
Laurie. The pleasure of telling the story will revive them again. Let us fasten our horses and go into this little wood. There is a seat near the lake which is pretty enough to tell a story upon.
Aglauron. In all the idyls I ever read, they were told in caves, or beside a trickling fountain.
Laurie. That was in the last century. We will innovate. Let us begin that American originality we were talking about, and make the bank of a lake answer our purpose.
We dismounted accordingly, but, on reaching the spot, Aglauron at first insisted on lying on the grass, and gazing up at the clouds in a most uncitizen-like fashion, and it was some time before we could get the promised story. At last,—
I first saw Mrs. V—— at the opera in Vienna. Abroad, I scarcely cared for anything in comparison with music. In many respects the Old World disappointed my hopes; Society was, in essentials, no better, nor worse, than at home, and I too easily saw through the varnish of conventional refinement. Lions, seen near, were scarcely more interesting than tamer cattle, and much more annoying in their gambols and caprices. Parks and ornamental grounds pleased me less than the native forests and wide-rolling rivers of my own land. But in the Arts, and most of all in Music, I found all my wishes more than realized. I found the soul of man uttering itself with the swiftness, the freedom and the beauty, for which I had always pined. I easily conceived how foreigners, once acquainted with this diverse language, pass their lives without a wish for pleasure or employment beyond hearing the great works of the masters. It seemed to me that here was wealth to feed the thoughts for ages. This lady fixed my attention by the rapturous devotion with which she listened. I saw that she too had here found her proper home. Every shade of thought and feeling expressed in the music was mirrored in her beautiful countenance. Her rapture of attention, during some passages, was enough of itself to make you hold your breath; and a sudden stroke of genius lit her face into a very heaven with its lightning. It seemed to me that in her I should find one who would truly sympathize with me, one who looked on the art not as a connoisseur, but a votary.
I took the speediest opportunity of being introduced to her at her own house by a common friend.
But what a difference! At home I scarcely knew her. Still she was beautiful; but the sweetness, the elevated expression, which the satisfaction of an hour had given her, were entirely fled. Her eye was restless, her cheek pale and thin, her whole expression perturbed and sorrowful. Every gesture spoke the sickliness of a spirit long an outcast from its natural home, bereft of happiness, and hopeless of good.
I perceived, at first sight of her every-day face, that it was not unknown to me. Three or four years earlier, staying in the country-house of one of her friends, I had seen her picture. The house was very dull,—as dull as placid content with the mere material enjoyments of life, and an inert gentleness of nature, could make its inhabitants. They were people to be loved, but loved without a thought. Their wings had never grown, nor their eyes coveted a wider prospect than could be seen from the parent nest. The friendly visitant could not discompose them by a remark indicating any expansion of mind or life. Much as I enjoyed the beauty of the country around, when out in the free air, my hours within the house would have been dull enough but for the contemplation of this picture. While the round of common-place songs was going on, and the whist-players were at their work, I used to sit and wonder how this being, so sovereign in the fire of her nature, so proud in her untamed loveliness, could ever have come of their blood. Her eye, from the canvas, even, seemed to annihilate all things low or little, and able to command all creation in search of the object of its desires. She had not found it, though; I felt this on seeing her now. She, the queenly woman, the Boadicea of a forlorn hope, as she seemed born to be, the only woman whose face, to my eye, had ever given promise of a prodigality of nature sufficient for the entertainment of a poet's soul, was—I saw it at a glance—a captive in her life, and a beggar in her affections.
Laurie. A dangerous object to the traveller's eye, methinks!
Aglauron. Not to mine! The picture had been so; but, seeing her now, I felt that the glorious promise of her youthful prime had failed. She had missed her course; and the beauty, whose charm to the imagination had been that it seemed invincible, was now subdued and mixed with earth.
Laurie. I can never comprehend the cruelty in your way of viewing human beings, Aglauron. To err, to suffer, is their lot; all who have feeling and energy of character must share it; and I could not endure a woman who at six-and-twenty bore no trace of the past.
Aglauron. Such women and such men are the companions of everyday life. But the angels of our thoughts are those moulds of pure beauty which must break with a fall. The common air must not touch them, for they make their own atmosphere. I admit that such are not for the tenderness of daily life; their influence must be high, distant, starlike, to be pure.
Such was this woman to me before I knew her; one whose splendid beauty drew on my thoughts to their future home. In knowing her, I lost the happiness I had enjoyed in knowing what she should have been. At first the disappointment was severe, but I have learnt to pardon her, as others who get mutilated or worn in life, and show the royal impress only in their virgin courage. But this subject would detain me too long. Let me rather tell you of Mrs. V——'s sad history.
A friend of mine has said that beautiful persons seem rarely born to their proper family, but amidst persons so rough and uncongenial that their presence commands like that of a reproving angel, or pains like that of some poor prince changed at nurse, and bound for life to the society of churls.
So it was with Emily. Her father was sordid, her mother weak; persons of great wealth and greater selfishness. She was the youngest by many years, and left alone in her father's house. Notwithstanding the want of intelligent sympathy while she was growing up, and the want of all intelligent culture, she was not an unhappy child. The unbounded and foolish indulgence with which she was treated did not have an obviously bad effect upon her then; it did not make her selfish, sensual, or vain. Her character was too powerful to dwell upon such boons as those nearest her could bestow. She negligently received them all as her due. It was later that the pernicious effects of the absence of all discipline showed themselves; but in early years she was happy in her lavish feelings, and in beautiful nature, on which she could pour them, and in her own pursuits. Music was her passion; in it she found food, and an answer for feelings destined to become so fatal to her peace, but which then glowed so sweetly in her youthful form as to enchant the most ordinary observer.
When she was not more than fifteen, and expanding like a flower in each sunny day, it was her misfortune that her first husband saw and loved her. Emily, though pleased by his handsome person and gay manners, never bestowed a serious thought on him. If she had, it would have been the first ever disengaged from her life of pleasurable sensation. But when he did plead his cause with all the ardor of youth, and the flourishes which have been by usage set apart for such occasions, she listened with delight; for all his talk of boundless love, undying faith, etc., seemed her native tongue. It was like the most glowing sunset sky. It swelled upon the ear like music. It was the only way she ever wished to be addressed, and she now saw plainly why all talk of everyday people had fallen unheeded on her ear. She could have listened all day. But when, emboldened by the beaming eye and ready smile with which she heard, he pressed his suit more seriously, and talked of marriage, she drew back astonished. Marry yet?—impossible! She had never thought of it; and as she thought now of marriages, such as she had seen them, there was nothing in marriage to attract. But L—— was not so easily repelled; he made her every promise of pleasure, as one would to a child. He would take her away to journey through scenes more beautiful than she had ever dreamed of; he would take her to a city where, in the fairest home, she should hear the finest music, and he himself, in every scene, would be her devoted slave, too happy if for every now pleasure he received one of those smiles which had become his life.
He saw her yielding, and hastened to secure her. Her father was delighted, as fathers are strangely wont to be, that he was likely to be deprived of his child, his pet, his pride. The mother was threefold delighted that she would have a daughter married so young,—at least three years younger than any of her elder sisters were married. Both lent their influence; and Emily, accustomed to rely on them against all peril, and annoyance, till she scarcely knew there was pain or evil in the world, gave her consent, as she would have given it to a pleasure-party for a day or a week.
The marriage was hurried on; L—— intent on gaining his object, as men of strong will and no sentiment are wont to be, the parents thinking of the éclat of the match. Emily was amused by the preparations for the festivity, and full of excitement about the new chapter which was to be opened in her life. Yet so little idea had she of the true business of life, and the importance of its ties, that perhaps there was no figure in the future that occupied her less than that of her bridegroom, a handsome man, with a sweet voice, her captive, her adorer. She neither thought nor saw further, lulled by the pictures of bliss and adventure which were floating before her fancy, the more enchanting because so vague.
It was at this time that the picture that so charmed me was taken. The exquisite rose had not yet opened its leaves so as to show its heart; but its fragrance and blushful pride were there in perfection.
Poor Emily! She had the promised journeys, the splendid home. Amid the former her mind, opened by new scenes, already learned that something she seemed to possess was wanting in the too constant companion of her days. In the splendid home she received not only musicians, but other visitants, who taught her strange things.
Four little months after her leaving home, her parents were astonished by receiving a letter in which she told them they had parted with her too soon; that she was not happy with Mr. L——, as he had promised she should be, and that she wished to have her marriage broken. She urged her father to make haste about it, as she had particular reasons for impatience. You may easily conceive of the astonishment of the good folks at home. Her mother wondered and cried. Her father immediately ordered his horses, and went to her.
He was received with rapturous delight, and almost at the first moment thanked for his speedy compliance with her request. But when she found that he opposed her desire of having her marriage broken, and when she urged him with vehemence and those marks of caressing fondness she had been used to find all-powerful, and he told her at last it could not be done, she gave way to a paroxysm of passion; she declared that she could not and would not live with Mr. L——; that, so soon as she saw anything of the world, she saw many men that she infinitely preferred to him; and that, since her father and mother, instead of guarding her, so mere a child as she was, so entirely inexperienced, against a hasty choice, had persuaded and urged her to it, it was their duty to break the match when they found it did not make her happy.
"My child, you are entirely unreasonable."
"It is not a time to be patient; and I was too yielding before. I am not seventeen. Is the happiness of my whole life to be sacrificed?"
"Emily, you terrify me! Do you love anybody else?"
"Not yet; but I am sure shall find some one to love, now I know what it is. I have seen already many whom I prefer to Mr. L——."
"Is he not kind to you?"
"Kind! yes; but he is perfectly uninteresting. I hate to be with him. I do not wish his kindness, nor to remain in his house."
In vain her father argued; she insisted that she could never be happy as she was; that it was impossible the law could be so cruel as to bind her to a vow she had taken when so mere a child; that she would go home with her father now, and they would see what could be done. She added that she had already told her husband her resolution.
"And how did he bear it?"
"He was very angry; but it is better for him to be angry once than unhappy always, as I should certainly make him did I remain here."
After long and fruitless attempts to reason her into a different state of mind, the father went in search of the husband. He found him irritated and mortified. He loved his wife, in his way, for her personal beauty. He was very proud of her; he was piqued to the last degree by her frankness. He could not but acknowledge the truth of what she said, that she had been persuaded into the match when but a child; for she seemed a very infant now, in wilfulness and ignorance of the world. But I believe neither he nor her father had one compunctious misgiving as to their having profaned the holiness of marriage by such an union. Their minds had never been opened to the true meaning of life, and, though they thought themselves so much wiser, they were in truth much less so than the poor, passionate Emily,—for her heart, at least, spoke clearly, if her mind lay in darkness.
They could do nothing with her, and her father was at length compelled to take her home, hoping that her mother might be able to induce her to see things in a different light. But father, mother, uncles, brothers, all reasoned with her in vain. Totally unused to disappointment, she could not for a long time believe that she was forever bound by a bond that sat uneasily on her untamed spirit. When at last convinced of the truth, her despair was terrible.
"Am I his? his forever? Must I never then love? Never marry one whom I could really love? Mother! it is too cruel. I cannot, will not believe it. You always wished me to belong to him. You do not now wish to aid me, or you are afraid! O, you would not be so, could you but know what I feel!"
At last convinced, she then declared that if she could not be legally separated from L——, but must consent to bear his name, and never give herself to another, she would at least live with him no more. She would not again leave her father's house. Here she was deaf to all argument, and only force could have driven her away. Her indifference to L—— had become hatred, in the course of these thoughts and conversations. She regarded herself as his victim, and him as her betrayer, since, she said, he was old enough to know the importance of the step to which he led her. Her mind, naturally noble, though now in this wild state, refused to admit his love as an excuse. "Had he loved me," she said, "he would have wished to teach me to love him, before securing me as his property. He is as selfish as he is dull and uninteresting. No! I will drag on my miserable years here alone, but I will not pretend to love him nor gratify him by the sight of his slave!"
A year and more passed, and found the unhappy Emily inflexible. Her husband at last sought employment abroad, to hide his mortification.
After his departure, Emily relaxed once from the severe coldness she had shown since her return home. She had passed her time there with her music, in reading poetry, in solitary walks. But as the person who had been, however unintentionally, the means of making her so miserable, was further removed from her, she showed willingness to mingle again with the family, and see one or two young friends.
One of these, Almeria, effected what all the armament of praying and threatening friends had been unable to do. She devoted herself to Emily. She shared her employments and her walks; she sympathized with all her feelings, even the morbid ones which she saw to be sincerity, tenderness and delicacy gone astray,—perverted and soured by the foolish indulgence of her education, and the severity of her destiny made known suddenly to a mind quite unprepared. At last, having won the confidence and esteem of Emily, by the wise and gentle cheek her justice and clear perceptions gave to all extravagance, Almeria ventured on representing to Emily her conduct as the world saw it.
To this she found her quite insensible. "What is the world to me?" she said. "I am forbidden to seek there all it can offer of value to Woman—sympathy and a home."
"It is full of beauty still," said Almeria, looking out into the golden and perfumed glories of a June day.
"Not to the prisoner and the slave," said Emily.
"All are such, whom God hath not made free;" and Almeria gently ventured to explain the hopes of larger span which enable the soul that can soar upon their wings to disregard the limitations of seventy years.
Emily listened with profound attention. The words were familiar to her, but the tone was not; it was that which rises from the depths of a purified spirit,—purified by pain, softened into peace.
"Have you made any use of these thoughts in your life, Almeria?"
The lovely preacher hesitated not to reveal a tale before unknown except to her own heart, of woe, renunciation, and repeated blows from a hostile fate.
Emily heard it in silence, but she understood. The great illusions of youth vanished. She did not suffer alone; her lot was not peculiar. Another, perhaps many, were forbidden the bliss of sympathy and a congenial environment. And what had Almeria done? Revenged herself? Tormented all around her? Clung with wild passion to a selfish resolve? Not at all. She had made the best of a wreck of life, and deserved a blessing on a new voyage. She had sought consolation in disinterested tenderness for her fellow-sufferers, and she deserved to cease to suffer.
The lesson was taken home, and gradually leavened the whole being of this spoiled but naturally noble child.
A few weeks afterwards, she asked her father when Mr. L—— was expected to return.
"In about three months," he replied, much surprised.
"I should like to have you write to him for me."
"What now absurdity?" said the father, who, long mortified and harassed, had ceased to be a fond father to his once adored Emily.
"Say that my views are unchanged as to his soliciting a marriage with me when too childish to know my own mind on that or any other subject; but I have now seen enough of the world to know that he meant no ill, if no good, and was no more heedless in this great matter than many others are. He is not born to know what one constituted like me must feel, in a home where I found no rest for my heart. I have now read, seen and thought, what has made me a woman. I can be what you call reasonable, though not perhaps in your way. I see that my misfortune is irreparable. I heed not the world's opinion, and would, for myself, rather remain here, and keep up no semblance of a connection which my matured mind disclaims. But that scandalizes you and my mother, and makes your house a scene of pain and mortification in your old age. I know you, too, did not neglect the charge of me, in your own eyes. I owe you gratitude for your affectionate intentions at least.
"L—— too is as miserable as mortification can make one like him. Write, and ask him if he wishes my presence in his house on my own terms. He must not expect from me the affection, or marks of affection, of a wife. I should never have been his wife had I waited till I understood life or myself. But I will be his attentive and friendly companion, the mistress of his house, if he pleases. To the world it will seem enough,—he will be more comfortable there,—and what he wished of me was, in a great measure, to show me to the world. I saw that, as soon as we were in it, I could not give him happiness if I would, for we have not a thought nor employment in common. But if we can agree on the way, we may live together without any one being very miserable except myself, and I have made up my mind."
The astonishment of the father may be conceived, and his cavils; L——'s also.
To cut the story short, it was settled in Emily's way, for she was one of the sultana kind, dread and dangerous. L—— hardly wished her to love him now, for he half hated her for all she had done; yet he was glad to have her back, as she had judged, for the sake of appearances. All was smoothed over by a plausible story. People, indeed, knew the truth as to the fair one's outrageous conduct perfectly, but Mr. L—— was rich, his wife beautiful, and gave good parties; so society, as such, bowed and smiled, while individuals scandalized the pair.
They had been living on this footing for several years, when I saw Emily at the opera. She was a much altered being. Debarred of happiness in her affections, she had turned for solace to the intellectual life, and her naturally powerful and brilliant mind had matured into a splendor which had never been dreamed of by those who had seen her amid the freaks end day-dreams of her early youth.
Yet, as I said before, she was not captivating to me, as her picture had been. She was, in a different way, as beautiful in feature and coloring as in her spring-time. Her beauty, all moulded and mellowed by feeling, was far more eloquent; but it had none of the virgin magnificence, the untouched tropical luxuriance, which had fired my fancy. The false position in which she lived had shaded her expression with a painful restlessness; and her eye proclaimed that the conflicts of her mind had strengthened, had deepened, but had not yet hallowed, her character.
She was, however, interesting, deeply so; one of those rare beings who fill your eye in every mood. Her passion for music, and the great excellence she had attained as a performer, drew us together. I was her daily visitor; but, if my admiration ever softened into tenderness, it was the tenderness of pity for her unsatisfied heart, and cold, false life.
But there was one who saw with very different eyes. V—— had been intimate with Emily some time before my arrival, and every day saw him more deeply enamored.
Laurie. And pray where was the husband all this time?
Aglauron. L—— had sought consolation in ambition. He was a man of much practical dexterity, but of little thought, and less heart. He had at first been jealous of Emily for his honor's sake,—not for any reality,—for she treated him with great attention as to the comforts of daily life; but otherwise, with polite, steady coldness. Finding that she received the court, which many were disposed to pay her, with grace and affability, but at heart with imperial indifference, he ceased to disturb himself; for, as she rightly thought, he was incapable of understanding her. A coquette he could have interpreted; but a romantic character like hers, born for a grand passion, or no love at all, he could not. Nor did he see that V—— was likely to be more to her than any of her admirers.
Laurie. I am afraid I should have shamed his obtuseness. V—— has nothing to recommend him that I know of, except his beauty, and that is the beauty of a petit-maitre—effeminate, without character, and very unlikely, I should judge, to attract such a woman as you give me the idea of.
Aglauron. You speak like a man, Laurie; but have you never heard tales of youthful minstrels and pages being preferred by princesses, in the land of chivalry, to stalwart knights, who were riding all over the land, doing their devoirs maugre scars and starvation? And why? One want of a woman's heart is to admire and be protected; but another is to be understood in all her delicate feelings, and have an object who shall know how to receive all the marks of her inventive and bounteous affection. V—— is such an one; a being of infinite grace and tenderness, and an equal capacity for prizing the same in another.
Effeminate, say you? Lovely, rather, and lovable. He was not, indeed, made to grow old; but I never saw a fairer spring-time than shone in his eye when life, and thought, and love, opened on him all together.
He was to Emily like the soft breathing of a flute in some solitary valley; indeed, the delicacy of his nature made a solitude around him in the world. So delicate was he, and Emily for a long time so unconscious, that nobody except myself divined how strong was the attraction which, as it drew them nearer together, invested both with a lustre and a sweetness which charmed all around them.
But I see the sun is declining, and warns me to cut short a tale which would keep us here till dawn if I were to detail it as I should like to do in my own memories. The progress of this affair interested me deeply; for, like all persons whose perceptions are more lively than their hopes, I delight to live from day to day in the more ardent experiments of others. I looked on with curiosity, with sympathy, with fear. How could it end? What would become of them, unhappy lovers? One too noble, the other too delicate, ever to find happiness in an unsanctioned tie.
I had, however, no right to interfere, and did not, even by a look, until one evening, when the occasion was forced upon me.
There was a summer fête given at L——'s. I had mingled for a while with the guests in the brilliant apartments; but the heat oppressed, the conversation failed to interest me. An open window tempted me to the garden, whose flowers and tufted lawns lay bathed in moonlight. I went out alone; but the music of a superb band followed my steps, and gave impulse to my thoughts. A dreaming state, pensive though not absolutely sorrowful, came upon me,—one of those gentle moods when thoughts flow through the mind amber-clear and soft, noiseless, because unimpeded. I sat down in an arbor to enjoy it, and probably stayed much longer than I could have imagined; for when I reëntered the large saloon it was deserted. The lights, however, were not extinguished, and, hearing voices in the inner room, I supposed some guests still remained; and, as I had not spoken with Emily that evening, I ventured in to bid her good-night. I started, repentant, on finding her alone with V——, and in a situation that announced their feelings to be no longer concealed from each other. She, leaning back on the sofa, was weeping bitterly, while V——, seated at her feet, holding her hands within his own, was pouring forth his passionate words with a fervency which prevented him from perceiving my entrance. But Emily perceived me at once, and starting up, motioned me not to go, as I had intended. I obeyed, and sat down. A pause ensued, awkward for me and for V——, who sat with his eyes cast down and blushing like a young girl detected in a burst of feeling long kept secret. Emily sat buried in thought, the tears yet undried upon her cheeks. She was pale, but nobly beautiful, as I had never yet seen her.
After a few moments I broke the silence, and attempted to tell why I had returned so late. She interrupted me: "No matter, Aglauron, how it happened; whatever the chance, it promises to give both V—— and myself, what we greatly need, a calm friend and adviser. You are the only person among these crowds of men whom I could consult; for I have read friendship in your eye, and I know you have truth and honor. V—— thinks of you as I do, and he too is, or should be, glad to have some counsellor beside his own wishes."
V—— did not raise his eyes; neither did he contradict her. After a moment he said, "I believe Aglauron to be as free from prejudice as any man, and most true and honorable; yet who can judge in this matter but ourselves?"
"No one shall judge," said Emily; "but I want counsel. God help me! I feel there is a right and wrong; but how can my mind, which has never been trained to discern between them, be confident of its power at this important moment? Aglauron, what remains to me of happiness,—if anything do remain; perhaps the hope of heaven, if, indeed, there be a heaven,—is at stake! Father and brother have failed their trust. I have no friend able to understand, wise enough to counsel me. The only one whose words ever came true to my thoughts, and of whom you have often reminded me, is distant. Will you, this hour, take her place?"
"To the best of my ability," I replied without hesitation, struck by the dignity of her manner.
"You know," she said, "all my past history; all do so here, though they do not talk loudly of it. You and all others have probably blamed me. You know not, you cannot guess, the anguish, the struggles of my childish mind when it first opened to the meaning of those words, Love, Marriage, Life. When I was bound to Mr. L——, by a vow which from my heedless lips was mockery of all thought, all holiness, I had never known a duty, I had never felt the pressure of a tie. Life had been, so far, a sweet, voluptuous dream, and I thought of this seemingly so kind and amiable person as a new and devoted ministrant to me of its pleasures. But I was scarcely in his power when I awoke. I perceived the unfitness of the tie; its closeness revolted me.
"I had no timidity; I had always been accustomed to indulge my feelings, and I displayed them now. L——, irritated, averted his mastery; this drove me wild; I soon hated him, and despised too his insensibility to all which I thought most beautiful. From all his faults, and the imperfection of our relation, grew up in my mind the knowledge of what the true might be to me. It is astonishing how the thought grow upon me day by day. I had not been married more than three months before I knew what it would be to love, and I longed to be free to do so. I had never known what it was to be resisted, and the thought never came to me that I could now, and for all my life, be bound by so early a mistake. I thought only of expressing my resolve to be free.
"How I was repulsed, how disappointed, you know, or could divine if you did not know; for all but me have been trained to bear the burden from their youth up, and accustomed to have the individual will fettered for the advantage of society. For the same reason, you cannot guess the silent fury that filled my mind when I at last found that I had struggled in vain, and that I must remain in the bondage that I had ignorantly put on.
"My affections were totally alienated from my family, for I felt they had known what I had not, and had neither put me on my guard, nor warned me against precipitation whose consequences must be fatal. I saw, indeed, that they did not look on life as I did, and could be content without being happy; but this observation was far from making me love them more. I felt alone, bitterly, contemptuously alone. I hated men who had made the laws that bound me. I did not believe in God; for why had He permitted the dart to enter so unprepared a breast? I determined never to submit, though I disdained to struggle, since struggle was in vain. In passive, lonely wretchedness I would pass my days. I would not feign what I did not feel, nor take the hand which had poisoned for me the cup of life before I had sipped the first drops.
"A friend—the only one I have ever known—taught me other thoughts. She taught me that others, perhaps all others, were victims, as much as myself. She taught me that if all the wrecked submitted to be drowned, the world would be a desert. She taught me to pity others, even those I myself was paining; for she showed me that they had sinned in ignorance, and that I had no right to make them suffer so long as I myself did, merely because they were the authors of my suffering.
"She showed me, by her own pure example, what were Duty and Benevolence and Employment to the soul, even when baffled and sickened in its dearest wishes. That example was not wholly lost: I freed my parents, at least, from their pain, and, without falsehood, became less cruel and more calm.
"Yet the kindness, the calmness, have never gone deep. I have been forced to live out of myself; and life, busy or idle, is still most bitter to the homeless heart. I cannot be like Almeria; I am more ardent; and, Aglauron, you see now I might be happy,"
She looked towards V——. I followed her eye, and was well-nigh melted too by the beauty of his gaze.
"The question in my mind is," she resumed, "have I not a right to fly? To leave this vacant life, and a tie which, but for worldly circumstances, presses as heavily on L—— as on myself. I shall mortify him; but that is a trifle compared with actual misery. I shall grieve my parents; but, were they truly such, would they not grieve still more that I must reject the life of mutual love? I have already sacrificed enough; shall I sacrifice the happiness of one I could really bless for those who do not know one native heart-beat of my life?"
V—— kissed her hand.
"And yet," said she, sighing, "it does not always look so. We must, in that case, leave the world; it will not tolerate us. Can I make V—— happy in solitude? And what would Almeria think? Often it seems that she would feel that now I do love, and could make a green spot in the desert of life over which she mourned, she would rejoice to have me do so. Then, again, something whispers she might have objections to make; and I wish—O, I long to know them! For I feel that this is the great crisis of my life, and that if I do not act wisely, now that I have thought and felt, it will be unpardonable. In my first error I was ignorant what I wished, but now I know, and ought not to be weak or deluded."
I said, "Have you no religious scruples? Do you never think of your vow as sacred?"
"Never!" she replied, with flashing eyes. "Shall the woman be bound by the folly of the child? No!—have never once considered myself as L——'s wife. If I have lived in his house, it was to make the best of what was left, as Almeria advised. But what I feel he knows perfectly. I have never deceived him. But O! I hazard all! all! and should I be again ignorant, again deceived"——
V—— here poured forth all that can be imagined.
I rose: "Emily, this case seems to me so extraordinary that I must have time to think. You shall hear from me. I shall certainly give you my best advice, and I trust you will not over-value it."
"I am sure," she said, "it will be of use to me, and will enable me to decide what I shall do. V——, now go away with Aglauron; it is too late for you to stay here."
I do not know if I have made obvious, in this account, what struck me most in the interview,—a certain savage force in the character of this beautiful woman, quite independent of the reasoning power. I saw that, as she could give no account of the past, except that she saw it was fit, or saw it was not, so she must be dealt with now by a strong instalment made by another from his own point of view, which she would accept or not, as suited her.
There are some such characters, which, like plants, stretch upwards to the light; they accept what nourishes, they reject what injures them. They die if wounded,—blossom if fortunate; but never learn to analyze all this, or find its reasons; but, if they tell their story, it is in Emily's way;—"it was so;" "I found it so."
I talked with V——, and found him, as I expected, not the peer of her he loved, except in love. His passion was at its height. Better acquainted with the world than Emily,—not because he had seen it more, but because he had the elements of the citizen in him,—he had been at first equally emboldened and surprised by the ease with which he won her to listen to his suit. But he was soon still more surprised to find that she would only listen. She had no regard for her position in society as a married woman,—none for her vow. She frankly confessed her love, so far as it went, but doubted as to whether it was her whole love, and doubted still more her right to leave L——, since she had returned to him, and could not break the bond so entirely as to give them firm foot-hold in the world.
"I may make you unhappy," she said, "and then be unhappy myself; these laws, this society, are so strange, I can make nothing of them. In music I am at home. Why is not all life music? We instantly know when we are going wrong there. Convince me it is for the best, and I will go with you at once. But now it seems wrong, unwise, scarcely better than to stay as we are. We must go secretly, must live obscurely in a corner. That I cannot bear,—all is wrong yet. Why am I not at liberty to declare unblushingly to all men that I will leave the man whom I do not love, and go with him I do love? That is the only way that would suit me,—I cannot see clearly to take any other course."
I found V—— had no scruples of conscience, any more than herself. He was wholly absorbed in his passion, and his only wish was to persuade her to elope, that a divorce might follow, and she be all his own.
I took my part. I wrote next day to Emily. I told her that my view must differ from hers in this: that I had, from early impressions, a feeling of the sanctity of the marriage vow. It was not to me a measure intended merely to insure the happiness of two individuals, but a solemn obligation, which, whether it led to happiness or not, was a means of bringing home to the mind the great idea of Duty, the understanding of which, and not happiness, seemed to be the end of life. Life looked not clear to me otherwise. I entreated her to separate herself from V—— for a year, before doing anything decisive; she could then look at the subject from other points of view, and see the bearing on mankind as well as on herself alone. If she still found that happiness and V—— were her chief objects, she might be more sure of herself after such a trial. I was careful not to add one word of persuasion or exhortation, except that I recommended her to the enlightening love of the Father of our spirits.
Laurie. With or without persuasion, your advice had small chance, I fear, of being followed.
Aglauron. You err. Next day V—— departed. Emily, with a calm brow and earnest eyes, devoted herself to thought, and such reading as I suggested.
Laurie. And the result?
Aglauron. I grieve not to be able to point my tale with the expected moral, though perhaps the true denouement may lead to one as valuable. L—— died within the year, and she married V——.
Laurie. And the result?
Aglauron. Is for the present utter disappointment in him. She was infinitely blest, for a time, in his devotion, but presently her strong nature found him too much hers, and too little his own. He satisfied her as little as L—— had done, though always lovely and dear. She saw with keen anguish, though this time without bitterness, that we are never wise enough to be sure any measure will fulfil our expectations.
But—I know not how it is—Emily does not yet command the changes of destiny which she feels so keenly and faces so boldly. Born to be happy only in the clear light of religious thought, she still seeks happiness elsewhere. She is now a mother, and all other thoughts are merged in that. But she will not long be permitted to abide there. One more pang, and I look to see her find her central point, from which all the paths she has taken lead. She loves truth so ardently, though as yet only in detail, that she will yet know truth as a whole. She will see that she does not live for Emily, or for V——, or for her child, but as one link in a divine purpose. Her large nature must at last serve knowingly.
Myself. I cannot understand you, Aglauron; I do not guess the scope of your story, nor sympathize with your feeling about this lady. She is a strange, and, I think, very unattractive person. I think her beauty must have fascinated you. Her character seems very inconsistent.
Aglauron. Because I have drawn from life.
Myself. But, surely, there should be a harmony somewhere.
Aglauron. Could we but get the right point of view.
Laurie. And where is that?
He pointed to the sun, just sinking behind the pine grove. We mounted and rode home without a word more. But I do not understand Aglauron yet, nor what he expects from this Emily. Yet her character, though almost featureless at first, gains distinctness as I think of it more. Perhaps in this life I shall find its key.