Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 08

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BOOK VIII.

  O Fate! O Heaven!—what have ye then decreed?

                 SOPHOCLES: OEd. Tyr. 738.

  ”Insolent pride . . .

  . . . . . .

  The topmost crag of the great precipice

  Surmounts—to rush to ruin.”

                 Ibid. 874.

CHAPTER I.

  . . . SHE is young, wise, fair,

  In these to Nature she’s immediate heir.

  . . . . . .

  . . . Honours best thrive

  When rather from our acts we them derive

  Than our foregoers!—All’s Well that Ends Well.

LETTER FROM ERNEST MALTRAVERS TO THE HON. FREDERICK CLEVELAND.

EVELYN is free; she is in Paris; I have seen her,—I see her daily!

How true it is that we cannot make a philosophy of indifference! The
affections are stronger than all our reasonings. We must take them into
our alliance, or they will destroy all our theories of self-government.
Such fools of fate are we, passing from system to system, from scheme to
scheme, vainly seeking to shut out passion and sorrow-forgetting that
they are born within us—and return to the soul as the seasons to the
earth! Yet,—years, many years ago, when I first looked gravely into my
own nature and being here, when I first awakened to the dignity and
solemn responsibilities of human life, I had resolved to tame and curb
myself into a thing of rule and measure. Bearing within me the wound
scarred over but never healed, the consciousness of wrong to the heart
that had leaned upon me, haunted by the memory of my lost Alice, I
shuddered at new affections bequeathing new griefs. Wrapped in a haughty
egotism, I wished not to extend my empire over a wider circuit than my
own intellect and passions. I turned from the trader-covetousness of
bliss, that would freight the wealth of life upon barks exposed to every
wind upon the seas of Fate; I was contented with the hope to pass life
alone, honoured, though unloved. Slowly and reluctantly I yielded to the
fascinations of Florence Lascelles. The hour that sealed the compact
between us was one of regret and alarm. In vain I sought to deceive
myself,—I felt that I did not love. And then I imagined that Love was
no longer in my nature,—that I had exhausted its treasures before my
time, and left my heart a bankrupt. Not till the last—not till that
glorious soul broke out in all its brightness the nearer it approached
the source to which it has returned—did I feel of what tenderness she
was worthy and I was capable. She died, and the world was darkened!
Energy, ambition, my former aims and objects, were all sacrificed at her
tomb. But amidst ruins and through the darkness, my soul yet supported
me; I could no longer hope, but I could endure. I was resolved that I
would not be subdued, and that the world should not hear me groan.
Amidst strange and far-distant scenes, amidst hordes to whom my very
language was unknown, in wastes and forests, which the step of civilized
man, with his sorrows and his dreams, had never trodden, I wrestled with
my soul, as the patriarch of old wrestled with the angel,—and the angel
was at last the victor! You do not mistake me: you know that it was not
the death of Florence alone that worked in me that awful revolution; but
with that death the last glory fled from the face of things that had
seemed to me beautiful of old. Hers was a love that accompanied and
dignified the schemes and aspirations of manhood,—a love that was an
incarnation of ambition itself; and all the evils and disappointments
that belong to ambition seemed to crowd around my heart like vultures to
a feast allured and invited by the dead. But this at length was over;
the barbarous state restored me to the civilized. I returned to my
equals, prepared no more to be an actor in the strife, but a calm
spectator of the turbulent arena. I once more laid my head beneath the
roof of my fathers; and if without any clear and definite object, I at
least hoped to find amidst “my old hereditary trees” the charm of
contemplation and repose. And scarce—in the first hours of my
arrival—had I indulged that dream, when a fair face, a sweet voice, that
had once before left deep and unobliterated impressions on my heart,
scattered all my philosophy to the winds. I saw Evelyn! and if ever
there was love at first sight, it was that which I felt for her: I lived
in her presence, and forgot the Future! Or, rather, I was with the
Past,—in the bowers of my springtide of life and hope! It was an
after-birth of youth—my love for that young heart!

It is, indeed, only in maturity that we know how lovely were our earliest
years! What depth of wisdom in the old Greek myth, that allotted Hebe as
the prize to the god who had been the arch-labourer of life! and whom the
satiety of all that results from experience had made enamoured of all
that belongs to the Hopeful and the New!

This enchanting child, this delightful Evelyn, this ray of undreamed of
sunshine, smiled away all my palaces of ice. I loved, Cleveland,—I
loved more ardently, more passionately, more wildly than ever I did of
old! But suddenly I learned that she was affianced to another, and felt
that it was not for me to question, to seek the annulment of the bond. I
had been unworthy to love Evelyn if I had not loved honour more! I fled
from her presence, honestly and resolutely; I sought to conquer a
forbidden passion; I believed that I had not won affection in return; I
believed, from certain expressions that I overheard Evelyn utter to
another, that her heart as well as her hand was given to Vargrave. I
came hither; you know how sternly and resolutely I strove to eradicate a
weakness that seemed without even the justification of hope! If I
suffered, I betrayed it not. Suddenly Evelyn appeared again before
me!—and suddenly I learned that she was free! Oh, the rapture of that
moment! Could you have seen her bright face, her enchanting smile, when
we met again! Her ingenuous innocence did not conceal her gladness at
seeing me! What hopes broke upon me! Despite the difference of our
years, I think she loves me! that in that love I am about at last to
learn what blessings there are in life.

Evelyn has the simplicity, the tenderness, of Alice, with the refinement
and culture of Florence herself; not the genius, not the daring spirit,
not the almost fearful brilliancy of that ill-fated being,—but with a
taste as true to the Beautiful, with a soul as sensitive to the Sublime!
In Evelyn’s presence I feel a sense of peace, of security, of home!
Happy! thrice happy! he who will take her to his breast! Of late she has
assumed a new charm in my eyes,—a certain pensiveness and abstraction
have succeeded to her wonted gayety. Ah, Love is pensive,—is it not,
Cleveland? How often I ask myself that question! And yet, amidst all my
hopes, there are hours when I tremble and despond! How can that innocent
and joyous spirit sympathize with all that mine has endured and known?
How, even though her imagination be dazzled by some prestige around my
name, how can I believe that I have awakened her heart to that deep and
real love of which it is capable, and which youth excites in youth? When
we meet at her home, or amidst the quiet yet brilliant society which is
gathered round Madame de Ventadour or the Montaignes, with whom she is an
especial favourite; when we converse; when I sit by her, and her soft
eyes meet mine,—I feel not the disparity of years; my heart speaks to
her, and that is youthful still! But in the more gay and crowded
haunts to which her presence allures me, when I see that fairy form
surrounded by those who have not outlived the pleasures that so naturally
dazzle and captivate her, then, indeed, I feel that my tastes, my habits,
my pursuits, belong to another season of life, and ask myself anxiously
if my nature and my years are those that can make her happy? Then,
indeed, I recognize the wide interval that time and trial place between
one whom the world has wearied, and one for whom the world is new. If
she should discover hereafter that youth should love only youth, my
bitterest anguish would be that of remorse! I know how deeply I love by
knowing how immeasurably dearer her happiness is than my own! I will
wait, then, yet a while, I will examine, I will watch well that I do not
deceive myself. As yet I think that I have no rivals whom I need fear:
surrounded as she is by the youngest and the gayest, she still turns with
evident pleasure to me, whom she calls her friend. She will forego the
amusements she most loves for society in which we can converse more at
ease. You remember, for instance, young Legard? He is here; and, before
I met Evelyn, was much at Lady Doltimore’s house. I cannot be blind to
his superior advantages of youth and person; and there is something
striking and prepossessing in the gentle yet manly frankness of his
manner,—and yet no fear of his rivalship ever haunts me. True, that of
late he has been little in Evelyn’s society; nor do I think, in the
frivolity of his pursuits, he can have educated his mind to appreciate
Evelyn, or be possessed of those qualities which would render him worthy
of her. But there is something good in the young man, despite his
foibles,—something that wins upon me; and you will smile to learn, that
he has even surprised from me—usually so reserved on such matters—the
confession of my attachment and hopes! Evelyn often talks to me of her
mother, and describes her in colours so glowing that I feel the greatest
interest in one who has helped to form so beautiful and pure a mind. Can
you learn who Lady Vargrave was? There is evidently some mystery thrown
over her birth and connections; and, from what I can hear, this arises
from their lowliness. You know that, though I have been accused of
family pride, it is a pride of a peculiar sort. I am proud, not of the
length of a mouldering pedigree, but of some historical quarterings in my
escutcheon,—of some blood of scholars and of heroes that rolls in my
veins; it is the same kind of pride that an Englishman may feel in
belonging to a country that has produced Shakspeare and Bacon. I have
never, I hope, felt the vulgar pride that disdains want of birth in
others; and I care not three straws whether my friend or my wife be
descended from a king or a peasant. It is myself, and not my
connections, who alone can disgrace my lineage; therefore, however humble
Lady Vargrave’s parentage, do not scruple to inform me, should you learn
any intelligence that bears upon it.

I had a conversation last night with Evelyn that delighted me. By some
accident we spoke of Lord Vargrave; and she told me, with an enchanting
candour, of the position in which she stood with him, and the
conscientious and noble scruples she felt as to the enjoyment of a
fortune, which her benefactor and stepfather had evidently intended to be
shared with his nearest relative. In these scruples I cordially
concurred; and if I marry Evelyn, my first care will be to carry them
into effect,—by securing to Vargrave, as far as the law may permit, the
larger part of the income; I should like to say all,—at least till
Evelyn’s children would have the right to claim it: a right not to be
enforced during her own, and, therefore, probably not during Vargrave’s
life. I own that this would be no sacrifice, for I am proud enough to
recoil from the thought of being indebted for fortune to the woman I
love. It was that kind of pride which gave coldness and constraint to my
regard for Florence; and for the rest, my own property (much increased by
the simplicity of my habits of life for the last few years) will suffice
for all Evelyn or myself could require. Ah, madman that I am! I
calculate already on marriage, even while I have so much cause for
anxiety as to love. But my heart beats,—my heart has grown a dial that
keeps the account of time; by its movements I calculate the moments—in
an hour I shall see her!

Oh, never, never, in my wildest and earliest visions, could I have
fancied that I should love as I love now! Adieu, my oldest and kindest
friend! If I am happy at last, it will be something to feel that at last
I shall have satisfied your expectations of my youth.

Affectionately yours,

E. MALTRAVERS.

     RUE DE ——-, PARIS,

          January —, 18—.

CHAPTER II.

            IN her youth

  There is a prone and speechless dialect—

  Such as moves men.—Measure for Measure.

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