Non, si vous voulez que je sois paisible et contente, donnez moi quelque asyle plus sur encore, ou l'on puisse echapper a la honte et au repentir.
"There are your own woods, Emmeline," said de Clifford, as a turn in the road opened to the travellers' view a rich and populous valley. "That is Euston on the side of the hill. That is our smoke rising behind the wood, just above that very green field with the large trees. There--you can just see one of the old pointed gables. My dearest Emmeline, welcome home!"
Emmeline, looking with new and lively interest on every object around her, read not her husband's regret that no other friend was to welcome her; nor heard the sigh which he gave to the absence of those who were wont to endear his home.
"And that spire on the little rising ground, where the sun shines so brightly--?"
"Is Euston church."
"Is there a village?"
"O yes--you are the lady of a pretty large manor, Emmeline--you may play the Lady Bountiful upon a great scale."
Through the close lanes, and across the short cropt green of this village, the travellers passed undisturbed, though not unobserved. The labourer dropped his mattock to stare listlessly at the equipage; the old pauper, who was breaking stones on the road, gazed after it with a vague dislike to any change at Euston; the widow, who looked from the porch of the dame school, sighed over the recollection of the good Lady de Clifford; the light damsel, who performed the part of milliner at Euston, took a familiar view of the bride's travelling bonnet, secretly exulting that she should no longer be awed by the virtue, as well as by the rank, of her superiors; and the well-dressed gentlewoman, who was lolling at the clean sashed window of the Rectory parlour, tossed and bridled at the consciousness of being for once entitled to look down upon the Lady of the Manor.
Among all the gazers, one heart only was touched with gentler feeling towards poor Emmeline. The old curate, as he bowed his gray head to De Clifford, glanced compassionately on the bride. "God help thee! poor thing," thought he;--"so young, and yet so wicked! God help thee!"
All stood silently to see the travellers pass, or ran to give in an under tone the news of their arrival; for even villagers had the delicacy to feel, that Emmeline's situation would give their curiosity almost the character of insult.
The last time De Clifford had returned to his paternal home, an exulting tenantry had welcomed the wounded hero with transports of joy. They had gone in crowds to meet him; shouted his name in triumph; joined it with those which shall be lasting as the annals of mankind; and adorned it to their own taste with a hundred tales of superhuman strength and frantic daring. They had dragged his carriage to his own door; and, with honest unenvying sympathy of delight, had blessed his mother, as she clasped him to her heart. De Clifford remembered all this. "All this was very foolish," said he to himself. "And yet these people's old hereditary attachment has something very different from the folly of a common mob."
De Clifford was silent and thoughtful, while Emmeline surveyed the reverend approach to Euston Hall. Two lofty towers, to whose very battlements the ivy was clinging, flanked a gate massy with intricate ornament and armorial device, through which was dimly seen an avenue darkened with oak and elm, coeval with the days of chivalry. The porter, with his gray head uncovered, welcomed his master with a smile; while his daughter, under pretence of restraining her children, stood in her door to catch a view of her new mistress. But, when De Clifford spoke in the tone of kindly recognition, a tear ran quickly down the old man's face, and he turned away. Emmeline saw this, and felt it too; but she tried to persuade herself that she had no concern in it, and she succeeded.
The straight avenue rose almost imperceptibly, till, within a couple of hundred yards from the house, it branched out to encircle a large bowling-green, which opened to view an extensive building, broken in every direction with pointed gables, and surmounted by a cross or a crest, or shrouded by luxuriant vines, passion-flower, and ivy. Stone mullions divided each window into compartments; some retaining their ancient form of casements, still coloured here and there with remains of the glowing draperies of saints, and the rigid forms of knights in armour; some enlarged by the hand of modern taste into a light mimickry of the Gothic. Behind the house stretched a terrace, inclosed by a massy stone balustrade, and glowing with flowers of every hue, quaintly arranged in circles, hearts, and crosses, cut out of turf of the closest velvet. From the terrace, a noble flight of steps descended to a lawn, first dotted with fantastical yew-trees, then fringed with gayer evergreens and flowering shrubs, then varied by the darker foliage and broad shadows of single forest trees, then stretching its deep indentures to lose themselves in groves of oak and chesnut.
Emmeline entered her home by a hall pannelled with dark wainscot, and surrounded by carved doors, surmounted with heavy entablatures. Above each was displayed some spoil of the chase or the battle of other days. Over some branched the stately antlers of the moose deer; over one grinned the wolf's head; here were displayed the broad-sword and the target, and there the banner's discoloured shreds trembled in every breath of air.
Two enormous chests, studded and bound with iron, charged for centuries with the plate and jewels of Euston, occupied the deep recesses of the windows, while the centre of the hall was filled by a huge oak table resting upon lions, the supporters of the armorial ensign of De Clifford. The rich crimson hangings and cedar pannelling of the parlour into which Emmeline was ushered, were enlivened by some good pictures of the Flemish school; and the heavy casements had here given place to windows of more modern size and form.
"You think this gloomy, Emmeline," said De Clifford, who had been watching her eye. "I remember it the most cheerful home that ever released school-boy loitered and domineered in."
"It will be so again," said Emmeline, looking up in his face with a smile of heartfelt tenderness. "It will be more than a cheerful--it will be a happy home."
A sudden contraction crossed De Clifford's brow; but he kissed the clear open forehead that was raised towards him, and answered lightly, "It must be both, love. Come, let's have wine, and drink your welcome."
He pulled the bell; but before a servant came, he had forgotten his first intention, and inquired eagerly for his letters. Mr Devereux's answer was not among them. De Clifford drew a deep breath. "We may have another day of happiness still," he thought; and he returned to hang enamoured over his beautiful Emmeline.
Emmeline rambled through her new abode with that feeling of harmless self-importance, which is, perhaps, one of the nameless charms of home. Amused and interested, she enjoyed the present;--and what except the present was left for her to enjoy?
She was particularly pleased with the apartment appropriated to herself, furnished with her instruments of music and drawing, and with such lighter works of imagination as might minister rather to amusement than to reflection. On the one side it communicated with the library; on the other a glass door opened into a pretty conservatory, stored with rare and beautiful plants.
"Now here I shall hide myself," said Emmeline, playfully, "when I wish to be alone; so remember your promise, De Clifford,--never come here without permission."
"Ah, little traitress! already contriving to escape! Well! and how long will you be able to support the happiness of being quit of me?"
De Clifford spoke in a tone of unusual gaiety; but there was a tremulousness in his lip, an inquisition in his eye, that alarmed Emmeline. "I hope you do not mean to try," she said, changing colour.
"There is no saying how I may punish your malicious intent," returned De Clifford, still in his former tone; but, as he turned away, Emmeline caught the altered expression of his countenance.
"Oh, you are going to leave me!--you are ordered abroad!"--she cried, clasping his arm, and half sinking to the ground.
"My sweet Emmeline," said De Clifford, fondly supporting her, "why will you terrify yourself with phantoms? I assure you there was not such a thought in my mind. I have no call to join the army, nor any prospect of a call."
"Ah! are you not deceiving me?" said Emmeline, still trembling.
"No, upon my word."
"Then what meant that strange--terri-- ble"--
"You know," interrupted De Clifford, "circumstances might make it indispensible for me to go; and," he added in a whisper, as if afraid to trust his voice with the sound, "to leave thee--my heart's treasure--my all--"
"To go, perhaps" said Emmeline, firmly, "but not to leave me. You cannot go where I would not follow you."
"A brave follower of a camp, indeed! my pretty fairy Emmeline. A good figure thine for a bivouac!"
"Nay, do not jest with me; for I will never be left one day behind, and thou in battle and in danger, while I can drag these limbs to follow thee. What have I but thee? Oh, I would not endure one such day of dread and horror to purchase the creation."
"Well, sweet foolish girl, trust me, we shall have time enough to settle that matter," said De Clifford, glad that in pursuing her own thoughts Emmeline had missed the clue to his.
"Nay, promise me," she said, "that if ever you are called away, I shall go with you.--Won't you promise?"
"O yes. I will promise now, as I have done a hundred times, that if you will never make a dismal face at me, but look at me with your own sweet laughing eyes, you shall always do what you please."
But Emmeline could not always meet his glance with laughing eyes; nor was he always in the humour to seek such expression there. Her heart turned to her children with many a regret, to which she would not give utterance; and his mind was full of a subject which he did not dare to share with his wife. Day after day brought no answer from Mr Devereux. De Clifford cursed the uncertainty of cross posts, and tried to persuade himself that his letter had been delayed or lost. But a suspicion visited him that Mr Devereux disdained to answer or to accept of atonement from him. The boiling blood rushed to his forehead at the thought. He left his house, and hid himself in the darkest shade of his woods. Alone and unseen, he brooded over his suspicion for hours; then, to confirm or banish it for ever, he shut himself into his study, and wrote to desire that a friend would carry in person his proposal to Mr Devereux.
Another subject had from the first arrival of Mr Devereux's packet chafed the galled spirit of De Clifford. He saw with surprise, almost with indignation, that Emmeline actually meant to accept the gift of her deserted husband. For himself, no extremity could have prevailed with him to stoop thus low. But the gift was solely to Emmeline. All rights, all interference but her own and her father's, were expressly excluded. Had it been possible for him to compensate the sacrifice to her, he would have besought--he would have commanded her to reject this galling obligation;--but his estate was an entailed one, and could not be burdened with so large a sum. He thought it unjust to extort a sacrifice which he could not repay; and what he would not enforce, he scorned to insinuate. Emmeline, therefore, remained in profound ignorance of the mortification she was inflicting. Fallen as she was in her own esteem, all thoughts of supporting an imaginary dignity were lost in a sense of her own demerit, and a painful admiration of the generosity of Mr Devereux. To spurn the kindness which she had abused, entered not once into her contemplation. To ape the independence of worth,--to front the injured Mr Devereux with the unsubdued port of virtue,--would, had such a thought entered her mind, have appeared to her the worst aggravation of baseness. Far from rejecting his gift, she saw in it, as he had intended, an occasion of renewing her lost intercourse with her father; and looked forward to the time, when, by restoring to her children what was in truth their rightful inheritance, she should again claim them for her own. "When I am in my grave," she thought, a tear stealing from her soft blue eye, "they will learn, perhaps for the first time, that they had a mother."
De Clifford beheld with wonder this tameness of spirit. "Strange!" he thought, "that she should have so little feeling for her own dignity--or for mine! Can it be the love of money that blinds her? But be what it may, she shall make no sacrifice to me that is not suggested by her own heart. Gentle as she is, she would not, I know, refuse my faintest request; but this is an additional reason why I should never urge her." On this subject, therefore, De Clifford's thoughts were impenetrable. They passed away, indeed, under the influence of Emmeline's syren voice and witching smile, but they returned to disquiet and irritate his solitude.
Meanwhile, this pair were left to their own pleasures and their own pains. The first weeks of their abode at Euston they passed entirely alone; the few gentry who were in the neighbourhood keeping aloof. With some, it was no matter of hesitation whether they should receive into society her who had broken its most powerful bond, or whether they should open their families to her who had violated all the sanctities of her own. Some waited to see what others would do; curiosity overcoming their dislike of vice, but not their awe for public opinion; and some who had never been admitted to Euston Hall, and who suspected that the same exclusion might operate still, loudly declared that "they would be civil to poor Lady de Clifford, should they happen to meet with her but that they had no idea of throwing themselves in the way of such people."
It was remarked, that the congregation at Euston church became unusually numerous and unusually gay; but the first Sunday after her arrival, Lady de Clifford was not there; and the second she had taken her place before the clergyman--wore a slouch bonnet--held down her head during the whole service--and, when it was over, disappeared like a shadow; so that the only facts which could be affirmed concerning her by the ladies of Euston were, that her figure was, "to their taste, rather small, and her veil real Brussels lace."
The only visitors who disturbed the solitude of the lovers were, a neighbouring squire, who had married his housekeeper; the candidate for the borough; and a member of the four-in-hand club, who obligingly turned a few miles aside to make Euston Hall a stage been Cheltenham and York races.
De Clifford recollected the crowds of visitors, who had formerly hurried to congratulate his arrival. They had annoyed and fatigued him. He had been sick of mammas who had exhibited their daughters, and of misses who exhibited themselves. He cared nothing for good dinners; disliked drinking; and loathed the paltry politics which furnished his neighbours with causes of irritation or of triumph. He was, therefore, not sorry to be left alone. But, that people whom he despised should venture any mark of neglect or disrespect to Emmeline!--to his Emmeline! He did smile scornfully at the thought, but there was bitterness in the smile. Nor did he forget to think, were he withdrawn from her, how total, how unbroken would be her solitude; how lost would be all the graces of her polished mind and captivating manners; how her life would waste, without hope and without pursuit; how the affections of that gentle heart would wither and perish, cast out, and trodden under foot.
In the calm of accomplished desire, all men reflect; but the higher order of minds alone can feel the pang which reflection brought to the spirit of De Clifford. His dreary anticipations of Emmeline's fate were, however, removed by a letter from the friend whom he had employed to wait upon Mr Devereux. The interview, he was informed, had been short but decisive. In answer to his proposal, Mr Devereux had declared, "that he would forgive Sir Sidney De Clifford as soon as forgiveness was in his power; but that, his wrongs equally precluding compensation and atonement, he must insist upon declining all further communication on the subject."
"Curse his forgiveness!" muttered De Clifford, "frozen, puritanical coxcomb! Ideot that I was! to offer him another triumph over me."
Galled and mortified, De Clifford spent the day alone. He loathed the intercourse of every living thing. He avoided his servants; checked the very dog that fawned on him; and shrunk even from the soothing presence of Emmeline. The thought of her mingled strangely with the causes of his disquiet; and no irritation is so tormenting as that which connects itself with the object of unsubdued desire. "Would that I had never seen her!" he thought; "or that this fatal madness had seized me, before she became the property of that ----- with his canting forgiveness! and I must suffer her, forsooth, to be his obsequious debtor! Better starve with her! Why should I not command her to give back his ostentatious trash? Should I suffer my wife to degrade herself, for a few paltry pounds? If she felt as she ought, she would thank me for preferring her dignity to a mean consideration of interest. And to interfere is only to involve myself in a fruitless altercation with her father. He will no doubt be resolute in defence of what he will call her interest--he who sold her to a heartless engagement. Yes, yes! He would insist upon his right of guardianship, though he has driven her from his presence--spurned her like the vilest thing that infests the earth. He shall crouch at her feet, before I hold one moment's intercourse with him. But she,--she will need only an intimation of his pleasure. Anything--anything, however humiliating, provided it be his will. She even married to please him. And when I had condescended to extort a sacrifice to her own dignity, she would no doubt repine that she could not obey her father, and probably consider me as a capricious tyrant, destined to set her at variance with all mankind. But why does she not, of herself, renounce this vile obligation? She ought to shrink from it, even more than I--if that were possible. Why does she not feel what is fit to be done, without being driven to it like a slave? strange moral insensibility! And yet she does not want sensibility neither. Avarice--avarice blinds one half her sex, and vanity the other.--Yet let me recollect, have I ever seen any other sign of avarice in her?"
De Clifford felt a pang not unallied to jealousy, when he recollected how greatly his own fortune exceeded that which Emmeline had forsaken; but before the thought could assume distinct form, it was gone. De Clifford assured himself that he was indeed fervently beloved.
Yet, in this hour of gloom, when the mind lent its own dark colours to what it looked upon, he rather tried to excuse his irritation, by dwelling upon all that could savour of evil, and doubting all that promised unmingled good.
"No!" he thought. "In this great error of her life she was surely disinterested. And yet, these soft yielding souls do not often harbour strong passion--not such passion as scorns every obstacle--hazards all--renounces all. The cold calculating love of money suits better these feeble natures. They could not support that fever of the soul which absorbs in itself all feelings--all wishes--all pursuits."
De Clifford suddenly stopped the hurried steps which had carried him forward during this painful reverie; for his heart reproached him with the artless tenderness of Emmeline. "She is, she must be artless," he cried.--"And yet she deceived that cold, cautious--Why will he haunt my thoughts? Would he were in his grave, or I in mine!"
When Emmeline next saw her husband, he was thoughtful and silent. But this was his general character. He looked pale too, but he assured her that he was well; and she felt something in his manner that forbade farther inquiry. He gave his thoughts no utterance, yet he was vexed that Emmeline did not in part divine them. He knew that she was ignorant of Mr Devereux's contemptuous refusal of the satisfaction he had offered, and therefore could not enter into his mortification and disquiet; yet he felt as much displeased as if she had known all, and had wilfully inflicted on him the disgrace of making him a debtor to the man who insulted and despised him. He inwardly reproached himself for this injustice; yet the displeasure which was renounced by his judgment adhered to his feeling.
De Clifford's habitual temper was calm, though commanding. To his domestics he was just and humane, though not condescending; to his friends he was steady and generous, though not communicative. But he was labouring under a trial which no temper can endure,--the sense of incurable degradation--the consciousness of having done a wrong which he could neither repair nor atone; and that which a light and frothy mind would have vented in a few bursts of petulance, perhaps in strong, but transient expressions of remorse, corroded the heart which would not reveal, and could not expel its bitterness.
For two days Emmeline watched in silent anxiety the clouded countenance of her husband; now hesitating whether she might venture to ask the cause of his disquiet; now doubting, as he recalled his self-command, or wrapped himself more closely in his habitual reserve, whether he had indeed any secret to reveal.
"Why should I not venture?" she said to herself. "If he has any uneasiness, who can sympathize in it like me? He cannot be displeased that his every thought, every look, should interest me! Why should I not venture?"
Yet Emmeline still hesitated. She had lost that inward consciousness of worth, which allows a wife, even while sensible of her subordinate station and inferior powers, somewhat of the frank equality of friendship. She herself was little aware how far this loss affected her sentiments towards her husband; yet that which in a sterner mind would have produced a peevish impatience of degradation, or an irritating jealousy of influence, quelled even to cowardice the gentle spirit of Emmeline.
She waited long to seize the best moment for her purpose; yet chose, perhaps, the worst. It was just when De Clifford, observing that she watched him, had made an effort to conquer his disquiet--just when he had resolved, that for one hour, at least, he would forget it in lover-like trifling with his still beloved mistress, that Emmeline, looking at him with a face from which anxiety and fear had banished all the playful tenderness which bewitched him there, said to him, "Dear De Clifford! will you not speak your thoughts to me? Day and night I think only who or what it can be that offends you. Nay, do not turn away from me,--something, I am sure, vexes you."
No man can bear even the most gentle notice of his ill-humour, when he is just struggling to conquer it.
"Pshaw, Emmeline," said De Clifford, "never fancy a man is out of humour unless he tells you so."
"I did not mean out of humour," said Emmeline, shrinking, "only you were so--so grave"--
"My face was not made to wear an eternal smile, Emmeline. If you ever expected that, I am sorry you will be disappointed."
These were the first unkindly words that ever de Clifford had addressed to his wife. The blood rushed quickly to her face, and as quickly retired. Her eyes filled with tears; but she struggled with them for a moment while De Clifford was leaving the room, then threw herself on a seat, and wept bitterly.
"Oh, I deserve this, and a thousand times more!" she cried. "A curse lies upon me, and it would be just--terribly just--if he should fulfil it."
De Clifford soon became conscious of his injustice; but husbands can seldom confess that they have been in the wrong, and wives should yet more rarely desire such a confession, since no woman was ever the more beloved for even momentary superiority. The gentle Emmeline was as far from expecting as from desiring such an avowal from her husband. She met his first advance of kindness with a joy as grateful as if she alone had been the offender. De Clifford, won by her sweetness, forgot for a time all mortification and all care. When, conscious that he deserved to be received with coldness, he cautiously, and by degrees, laid aside his own,--when his first relenting word was answered in accents kind as a youthful mother's first blessing on her child,--when his half stolen look of love met those eyes, blue as deep waters reflecting a softer darker sky,--he thought she had never looked so lovely; never been so dear; and so tender was the first reconciliation, that the lovers could scarcely regret their short estrangement.
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.