"Do you find the paths in which you are led, or rather hurried and driven on, to be 'paths of pleasantness and peace?' With what face can you charge the professors of religion with hypocrisy, if you pretend to find satisfaction in those ways?--You know that you are not happy, and we know it likewise."
Shame hath spoil'd the sweet world's taste,
The dews were sparkling in the summer sun, the birds sang in full chorus, the antic sports of animals testified activity and joy, and gladness seemed the nature of every living thing, when the loveliest bride that ever England saw was preparing for her nuptial hour. Affluence awaited her, and to her rank belonged all the advantages of respectability, without the fetters of state. That hour was to see her united to the gallant Sir Sidney de Clifford,--a soldier high in fame,--a gentleman who, in person, manners, and accomplishments, was rivalled by few--a lover, who adored her with all the energies of a powerful mind. He was the husband of her choice--whom she had loved above all that heaven and earth contain--above Him whom they cannot contain.
If youth, beauty, affluence, satisfied ambition, and successful love, can give happiness, Emmeline was happy. Yet the sigh which swelled her bosom was not the sigh of rapture; nor was it, though Emmeline was the softest of her sex, the offspring of maiden fears. It was wrung from her by bitter recollection; for Emmeline had, before, been a bride. Attendance and respect, cheerful preparations and congratulating friends, had beguiled the apprehensions of innocence. The bonds into which she had entered, had been hallowed by a parent's blessing--a blessing given, alas! in vain. The bridal ornaments, which now a menial was arranging, a proud and joyful hand--but this way Emmeline dared not look. "I will forget the past," thought she. "This day, at least, I will forget it; and from this hour I will atone for my error--for my guilt, if I must call it so. Every duty will I now punctually perform--sweet, willing duty now! The censorious world may be busy with my name--but what is the world to me? Never much--now less than nothing. Let Lady de Clifford forgive me--let Mary--and my father"--Emmeline checked a sigh of anguish. "I will not think of that to-day," said she; and she started up, to seek in change of posture and of object an escape from thought.
Her eye wandered over one of those smiling scenes almost peculiar to her native land. The shadows of gigantic oak and knotted elm dappled a verdure bright as a poet's dream of the lawns of Eden. A river, scarcely seen to flow, spread its glassy windings amidst the peaceful slopes, where the morning-smokes, and the church tower peeping from the woods, might lead the fancy to many a scene of cheerful labour and domestic peace. But one object alone drew Emmeline's eye. It was a graceful figure, which, with head bent downwards, and looks fixed on the earth, was slowly and thoughtfully approaching her dwelling. "Is that the step of a bridegroom?" thought Emmeline. But, ere the tear that started had trickled down her cheek, De Clifford's eye met hers; and his smile of fond and fervent love banished the remembrance of all sorrow and all crime.
It was not the coldness of declining passion, nor the regrets of a reluctant engagement, which had clouded De Clifford's brow. Nor was it the fear of the world's scorn; for even the idea that he could be scorned had never darkened de Clifford's soul. His was one of the few powerful minds, which are, indeed, "their own awful world." He had been accustomed to command applause, not to need, still less to solicit it; and, when crowds huzzaed, and senates thanked him, he had said to himself, "these people praise they know not what. Success is their idol. I might have been the man I am, and yet tried by a court-martial." Yet De Clifford was now, though he acknowledged it not to himself, sunk in his own esteem. He told himself that others, tempted as he had been would, like him, have fallen. But this balm was powerless for the wounds of a mind like De Clifford's. Of the heavenly medicine, which alone can heal the noble spirit, De Clifford thought not. His only resource was to banish the recollection of his guilt; and in this he was not unsuccessful.
But disquiet of a different kind at this moment pressed upon him. De Clifford was a proud man. Every one felt that he was; though few called him proud, because most people were more inclined to borrow dignity from his notice, than to acknowledge his neglect. Yet no man had higher natural capacities of domestic happiness. His manners were perfectly free from arrogance; pride had even communicated to them a reserve not unallied to bashfulness. Romantic imagination, strong passions, and deep sensibility, had shrunk from exposure to the toilers after low gains and lower pleasures, till De Clifford had obtained and deserved a character which repelled the common herd. His intimacy thus restricted to a few, concentrated among those few affections deep and strong-untold, but effective. He was the only son of his mother, he was the sole guardian of his sister, and to the ties which nature and early association had wound round his heart, this added tenfold strength; for to claim the protection of De Clifford, was of itself to secure his love. But the best affections of human nature were at this moment poisoned arrows in his heart. He had received from Lady de Clifford a letter, where grief, and shame, and maternal love, were ill disguised by the language of cold displeasure, while she informed him, that, by taking a last leave of his paternal mansion, she had left him at liberty to replace her with his bride, without injury to the spotless fame of his sister, or to the feelings of those whose pride and whose hopes had perished in his fall. She renounced, for herself, and for Miss de Clifford, all intercourse with the degraded Emmeline, and sent a farewell, of which the frozen words were blotted with tears, to one whom she had loved long and tenderly.
While De Clifford read this letter, he stood motionless; his cheek pale, his eye flashing indignant fire. At the close, he threw the paper from him; and erecting his martial figure, strode up and down with proud and determined step. His resolution was taken. His mother might renounce her son, his sister might cast off the friend of her youth, but he would degrade himself and his Emmeline by no supplications. Sacrifices he had expected that he must make--and was not the possession of Emmeline--his lovely, his gentle Emmeline--compensation for every sacrifice!
But De Clifford could not so cast off his early affections. By degrees, as his resentment subsided, he persuaded himself that his mother would repent her renunciation. "She cannot do it," he thought; "my mother is not heartless enough to sacrifice us to the illiberality of narrow-minded prudes and bigots--She will soon seek us in our happy home, and be happy with us there. And Mary--Mary cannot live without us--Her whole heart was mine and Emmeline's--She will think of us--talk of us every hour--as she did when I was in Spain, till she pined herself sick for my return." And here tears, long strangers, filled De Clifford's eyes; but indignant at the momentary weakness, he dashed them off, and remained resolved.
De Clifford did not convey his mother's cold message to his bride. He did not even hint at her refusal to receive them, nor at his own consequent feelings; for he was one of those who announce intention merely that it may be executed. If he opened his mind, it was seldom with a view to gain sympathy with his sentiments, never to seek confirmation in his purpose. He merely proposed to Emmeline, that, after a short excursion into Wales, they should return to settle in quiet retirement at Euston.
"And will Mary--will Lady de Clifford, meet us there?" asked Emmeline eagerly.
"They will probably soon join us," returned Sir Sidney. "But you are not afraid that we should be unhappy alone?"
"Oh, no," said Emmeline; "with you I cannot but be happy."
"My own Emmeline!" whispered the bridegroom; and she felt the more assured, that she "could not but be happy."
De Clifford and his bride did not expose themselves to the eyes of the gazers round a village green. Their splendid equipage stole through a bye-path to the church. The approach of the carriage, however, collected a little troop of children round the churchyard gate. The little idlers gazed in silence on the first of the party who alighted; but when Emmeline appeared, they testified their congratulation by a universal shout.
Emmeline was a stranger to them all; and the meanest bride in the village would, on such an occasion, have received the same rustic salutation; but the meanest bride in the village would have received it with far other blushes than those which burned in the cheeks of Emmeline, while she forgot that this annoyance was not peculiar to herself, and conscience converted the shout of congratulation into the sounds of reproach. Shocked and terrified, she clung to the arm of De Clifford, and hastened to escape from her innocent tormentors.
A friend of De Clifford's acted as father to the bride; her own attendant was her bridemaid. "I detest public weddings!" De Clifford had said. "Nothing can be more absurd than to collect a crowd of fools to pry into feelings, of which nine-tenths of them know and can know nothing."
Emmeline had cordially agreed in his opinion; yet now she could not help remembering, that a father had once bestowed her hand--that the companion of her childhood had supported her steps to the altar; she remembered the group of friends whom her delighted parents had assembled to share their joy; she remembered even the profusion with which, in the pride of their hearts, they had laboured to grace the nuptials of their darling--and she felt the change.
These thoughts mingled with a thousand others, as she stood once more before the altar; but she started when the priest laid upon De Clifford the vow, to "honour her," and listened, with trembling anxiety, to learn whether he could steadily say, "I will." Her own vow was read --and the words, "forsaking all other, keep thee only to him," seemed to her ear marked with an almost reproachful emphasis. Daring to meet no other eye, she stole one timid glance towards De Clifford. His were fixed upon her thoughtfully, sadly; but meeting her's, they were hastily withdrawn. That look pierced her heart. "Ah! he too despises me!" thought Emmeline; "he too believes that no vow can bind me!" and covering her face with her hands, she burst into a passion of tears.
"Emmeline, my beloved Emmeline!" said De Clifford, while, with a lover's tenderness, he soothed and caressed her; but she did not dare to tell him her suspicion, nor he to own that he had read it untold
The lovers set out alone on their intended excursion. The valleys were glowing with the riches of summer--the rivers were twining their silver threads, and dashing their tiny cascades among rocks which the winter torrent had shattered. Along the foot of the hills, the hazel coppice here and there opened its bosom, to shew where a brighter green led the eye to the cottage orchard; and higher up, the sunny brown had streaks of verdure to mark where the spring distilled unseen. Higher still, the mountains swelled their purple masses against the sky, or drew the vapours to veil their barren summits. Emmeline had all that feeling of the beauties of nature, which belongs to innate sensibility and refined taste. De Clifford could share her delight; and often, when his more thinking mind had begun to analyze the source of his pleasure, she would recall him to the pleasure itself with such artless graces of imagination as made the scene again appear new. Nature seemed more fair, solitude more peaceful, morn more reviving, and evening more tender, when beauty and calmness, and vivacity and tenderness, were reflected in the looks of his lovely Emmeline.
She, too, had moments which realized all her dreams of rapture, when she saw De Clifford happy, and felt that she was herself his happiness. Still they were only moments; and when moments of rapture are subtracted, life has yet long years for apathy or for suffering.
It was on her return from a delightful ramble to the rustic inn where De Clifford proposed to loiter a few days of bliss, that a packet was put into the hands of Emmeline. It dropped unopened to the ground, and Emmeline, pale and trembling, sunk upon a seat. "Ah!" she cried, "it is from"--. The name of her deserted husband died on her lips. De Clifford flew to support her, but his alarm gave place to indignation when he saw what had thus overpowered his Emmeline. "Unfeeling, vindictive!" he muttered through his clenched teeth, and would have spurned the packet from him, but Emmeline snatched it up. "Oh, do not," she cried--"we have wronged him enough already."
"At least let me read it," said De Clifford, taking it from her trembling hands; "you need not endure his insolence."
The envelope contained these words:
"Mr Devereux cannot retain in his possession any thing which has ever belonged to Lady de Clifford. He incloses a deed, which restores to her the sum which he received three years ago. He has added the 10,000L which the law has lately allotted to him. In appointing Major Cecil trustee on this deed, Mr Devereux earnestly wishes that an occasion may thus be offered of restoring Lady de Clifford's intercourse with a parent so justly respected and beloved."
De Clifford read this note without comment. He laid down the papers, and left the room without uttering a word.
Emmeline sat gazing on them--tears streaming unheeded from her eyes--her slender form bent in dejection and abasement. She could not now lull her conscience with sophisms of "hearts not formed to harmonize, which no ceremonies could unite;" or of "consenting souls, by Heaven's own act made one." She could not seek comfort in recollecting the stoical coldness, which was the only charge she could ever bring against Mr Devereux. She had done him fatal wrong, and she felt it. The heavier account of evil which lay against her, Emmeline did not indeed examine, for her compunction was not repentance. Her's were the deadly pangs of remorse--not that life-giving sorrow, which finds, even in its own anguish, a healing balm. The wronged Mr Devereux had bestowed on her a gift which his circumstances rendered truly generous; he had shewn, even amidst his just displeasure, a noble concern for her happiness--for her restoration to the love and protection of her father; and all the failings which imagination had magnified, and all the sophistries with which she had striven to beguile herself, vanished together from her mind. She saw, not an injured husband, supported by the first transports of resentment, venting anger which she need not fear, and could barely pity; but Mr Devereux, deserted, alone in his unsocial home, wounded by ingratitude, disappointed in confiding friendship! and she wondered where she had found the fatal courage to inflict such aggravated suffering. She saw him shed on his forsaken infants a tear, embittered by pity, grief, and shame; she heard them lisp the sacred name of mother, and break his heart with questions "when she would return." "Wretch that I am!" she cried, "I shall never return!--My boy! my boy! I shall never see thee more!" and she wrung her hands in bitterness. "They are no longer accounted mine," she cried--"they are not even named to me!"
She took the deed, and eagerly cast her eye over it, in a vague hope of finding there the names of her children joined with her own; but they were not mentioned. The gift was to her alone, as if no living thing claimed kindred or inheritance with her. "Oh! I have deserved this," cried Emmeline, "for I had the heart to leave them!"
Who that had seen her as she sat on the ground,--the snowy arm, on which her face was half concealed, resting on the seat from whence she had sunk, her sunny ringlets wet with her tears, her bosom struggling with sobs that shook her whole frame,--would have known her for the same Emmeline who was wont to chase with feigned impatience her laughing boy upon the green--herself as playful and as innocent as he?
A passing step at length roused Emmeline to the recollection of what De Clifford must feel, should he witness her distress. She rose from her abject posture, strove to repress the bursting sob, and wiped the tears which yet would force their way. "Dearest De Clifford!" said she, "shall I ever give thee cause to think I regret making any sacrifice for thee? And yet--But if thou canst find thy happiness in poor humbled Emmeline--how much more may I find mine in thee, my noble--brave --affectionate De Clifford!"
She had time to compose herself before the return of her husband. He was absent for hours. When he returned, the traces of suffering were seen in his bent brow and sallow cheek, but his manner was unchanged. He moved with his own firm and commanding step; he spoke in his own calm low tones.
Had Emmeline known how those hours were spent--had she seen him fixing his unnoticing gaze on the pool where the big rain-drops were plashing, or resting his throbbing head against the cold rugged rock--had she seen him at last raise his face, rigid with desperate resolution, and heard the groan in which her name burst from his lips, where had been her vain hope that she was herself alone sufficient for his happiness? She was then doubly the cause of his suffering. It was for her that he had incurred this new and tormenting sense of inferiority, this remorse, this first venom of "the worm that never dies."
It was the anticipation of her fate that made the resolute De Clifford hesitate and tremble, while he advanced another desperate step in the path of darkness. Many have dared the arrows of self-reproach, and some with breast so flinty, that none could fasten there. But the anguish of the wounded spirit is testified by frantic efforts to tear out the dart which must be carried to the grave, or to deaden the wound which it is not for mortal hands to heal. De Clifford imagined that he was performing an act of justice, that he was atoning as a gentleman for his errors as a man, when he sought escape from humiliation and remorse in this billet to Mr Devereux.
"Once more I entreat you to accept the
only satisfaction I have to offer you.
Choose your own time and place. Take
this life, and our account will be balanced,
for you will have robbed me of Emmeline.
"SYDNEY DE CLIFFORD."
To restore this imaginary balance, De Clifford thought life a cheap sacrifice; for he had often hazarded life from what is called a sense of duty; that is, to support his self-esteem. That he should be forced to approve and to respect the man whom he had injured, whom he had endeavoured, almost successfully endeavoured, to hate and to despise; that he should feel his own inferiority to one whom he had wronged, was anguish to the high spirit of De Clifford. Compelled to own the generosity of Devereux, he abhorred himself, and almost wished that justice might, by his rival's hand, deal him a deadly blow. Yet when he thought of Emmeline, the tender, gentle, timid Emmeline, who, for his sake, had renounced the society of the virtuous, the protection of the good, the charities of kindred, the brotherhood and equality of all whom the world revere--of Emmeline left alone, shrinking from the wicked, though rejected by the pure,--he felt that he dared not die. But the consciousness of degradation, the anguish of remorse, the mistaken sense of justice, returned; and De Clifford dispatched his billet.
De Clifford was not a man to spend in unavailing wishes and regrets the energies which should enable him to act and to endure. His resolution once taken, he prepared to meet its consequences. What he suffered was hidden from mortal knowledge. Even the eye of love read not the feeling that sometimes blanched that cheek which fear had never altered. Once, and only once, was Emmeline alarmed, when, in perturbed sleep, he clasped her convulsively to his breast, and awoke in the cry that supplicated pity for her. "Thou a soldier's wife, and be scared by a dream!" said he, gaily; and the confiding Emmeline remained in happy credulity.
De Clifford was now impatient to take possession of his paternal residence. From thence he could more speedily attend a summons from Mr Devereux; and in that home, which was associated with a thousand undefined ideas of peace, and security, and kindliness, he felt as if Emmeline would be less desolate. He announced his purpose decidedly, though kindly. "We shall go to Euston, my Emmeline," said he. "I feel as if you were but half mine till I see you in your own house, and among your own people." Emmeline cheerfully assented, for the feeblest wish of De Clifford could guide her will. Yet, had it not been for the look and the caress which accompanied this command, she might perhaps have remembered a time when she had been consulted as a friend, though not courted as a mistress.
This presentation of Emmeline. With Some Other Pieces., by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.