Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheek,
Men's disquietudes partake the transitory nature of their joys; and, though some situations are so peculiarly fertile in vexation that one only gives place to another, yet no single form of it is unremitting or permanent. The oft repeated attack we at last learn to parry; or the pain which cannot be escaped, habit teaches us to endure.
De Clifford's remorse gradually lost its asperity. Recollection of the injury he had inflicted, of the generosity which had met his wrongs, returned by degrees less frequently and less forcibly to his mind, till at last it came like an unwelcome visitor, only to be denied admittance. Along with the hope of repairing in his own idea his injured honour, he had lost the fear of leaving to desolation his beloved Emmeline; of forfeiting, while yet it was new, the treasure so dearly earned. The object of eager, anxious pursuit, was secure. Emmeline, at whatever price, was all his own. Her love left him nothing to desire, her compliance nothing to contest, her mildness no caprice to fear, her submission no humour to study. His lot in life seemed fixed--the lot which he himself had chosen. What then remained but to enjoy it in peace?
And all around breathed peace. The toils of the harvest were ended. The woods were silent. The birds had ceased their warbling; all but the confiding redbreast, whose solitary song now began to be heard near the dwellings of man. The morning-smokes crept low along the frosty meadow. The moon glided all day like a silvery cloud through the cold clear sky. The cattle lay quietly ruminating in the fields, their breath floating round them in a vapoury veil. In the stillness of evening, you might hear the single leaf drop, to join its fellows which the frost had scattered on the ground.
Amidst their own sheltering woods and peaceful glades, the proprietors of Euston were secluded from the world--that world which furnishes so much of the business of the multitude. They were loosed from the bands of relationship, from the courtesies of neighbourhood, from the interchange of good offices, from the interruptions of the idle, and the flutter of the busy. "And be it so," said the lovers--for they were still lovers--"we shall be the world to each other."
On one side the resolution was fulfilled-- De Clifford was every thing to Emmeline. Depending upon him for all her pleasures, finding in his will her sole aim and purpose, she clung to him only the more for the desertion of every other stay. His love, his society, his protection, even his authority, daily endeared him to the gentle depending Emmeline; and her attachment became, if possible, more fervent, than when, in evil hour, she sacrificed to it all that is most precious in time and in eternity. While he was present, she saw, she heard only De Clifford. The moments of his absence were a dreary blank in her being; the sound of his returning step made her heart leap light.
But love,--successful love, at least,--though it may be the business of woman, can never be more than the pastime of man. De Clifford was a soldier, accustomed to all the rousing interests of war. These interests had given place to an overpowering passion, which had filled, and perhaps delighted, such a mind the more, for its struggles, its dangers, and its guilt. These rapids in the tide of life were past, and all was still. All who have watched the subsiding torrent, know how apt it is to stagnate. Perhaps the most difficult problem in the management of the human mind, is to fill the void which is left there by the accomplishment of supreme desire. The want of something to wish, has oppressed many a heart besides his who wept for more worlds to conquer. One sentiment alone there is, important enough to occupy, vast enough to fill, lofty enough to elevate, excellent enough to satisfy the greatest soul.--But of this De Clifford thought not; or, if he had, he would have despised the humiliation, and abhorred the self-denial necessary to make it his own.
"What shall we do to-day, Emmeline?" was the question he often asked as they lingered over the breakfast-table,--question of evil omen to the happiness of him who asks it! "To-day we must do so and so," is the language of happiness; for it is the language of activity,--of duty.
Emmeline was not the best person to answer this application; for she could devise pleasure, but not invent business. De Clifford's only employment which deserved the name was his professional studies--an employment from which Emmeline was necessarily excluded. Then he would ride out without an object, or wander in his grounds till he was tired; then he would return to the society of his beautiful wife, till he was tired of that too.
Perhaps the arrival of the newspaper set him once more to trace the progress of the armies, or conjecture their next movement. Thus occupied, he sometimes scarcely noticed the presence of Emmeline, except when her silver voice roused him to an attempt to make her comprehend the subject of his inquiry.
To her, on the contrary, his presence, even when he was occupied and silent, gave a secret inexpressible satisfaction; and, while she drew her work-table close to his side, she almost forgot the mournful thoughts that haunted her in his absence;--forgot that she was an outcast from society--an alien from her father--a mother bereft of her children.
They, who are weary of themselves, rarely give the true name to their disorder. They have commonly sufficient ingenuity to ascribe their uneasiness to something which has less connection with self-reproach. Many a sincere wish did De Clifford send towards his revered mother and his beloved sister; but many a sigh, too, did he ascribe to their absence, which belonged rather to ennui. He still, however, persisted in his determination to make no concession to them; nor did he even give utterance to his regret, though he felt much, and fancied more. "Just as they please," was all his answer to Emmeline's mournful comments upon their long absence and obstinate silence.
Emmeline tried to borrow part of his spirit to support her under the neglect of her dear and early friends. "Surely," she thought, "they need not have added their part to the slights thrown on me. The world would have excused De Clifford's mother and sister for shewing some countenance to his wife! One, too, whom they once professed to esteem! And, though I were ever so unworthy, ought they to renounce De Clifford--De Clifford, who, but for me, would have been the pride of his family, as he is of England? If they really have the heart to abandon him, why should I long for them?"
Yet Emmeline did long for them! Often and often as she sat alone, she thought of their friendship shewn in her days of innocence, till the tears trickled down her cheeks. "I have no friend on earth now," she said, "but thee, dear De Clifford! I never can have another; for good women will not be my friends, and I cannot love the wicked."
Had any one asked Emmeline whether she was happy, she would instantly have thought of her husband, and answered "Yes;" but the next moment she would inwardly have made many a melancholy reservation. She had once been remarkable for natural gaiety of temper, but that characteristic was insensibly passing away, and darker thoughts were becoming the habitual tenants of her mind. She had miserably forfeited the peace of innocence, but she wanted the hard unkindly daring spirit which alone can enjoy the pleasures of vice. The very tenderness of heart, which, in happier circumstances, would have been at once her ornament and her delight, now made her a prey to repressed affections and unavailing regrets. She seldom spoke her melancholy thoughts to her husband; for, indeed, they never occurred to her when in his presence; yet De Clifford observed the change in her general spirits, and observed it with the tenderest compassion. But, while he pitied, he grew weary too. Men so naturally expect amusement and relaxation in the society of women, that, in a female companion, cheerfulness is to them almost as important a requisite as good-humour itself. Miserable is he who must spend his life with one who has no retreat from melancholy, except in a seared conscience and a hard heart!
A rainy week in the country, spent tete-a-tete between a husband who has neither scientific habits, nor necessary business, and a wife who has no household details to occupy, and no children to amuse her, will try the spirit even of a light heart and a clear conscience. It was at the close of such a week, that De Clifford observed in the newspaper an advertisement of a meeting of the neighbouring landholders to take place next day. De Clifford detested these meetings; which he said only served to occasion wrangling before dinner, and raving after it; but the canal which was the point of discussion, was to intersect the Euston estate, and he persuaded himself that it was quite necessary for him to attend.
His presence at this meeting was not useless. He had been accustomed to survey ground with an accuracy to which none of his neighbours could pretend; and he knew every step of the track in question. The information, therefore, which he had to communicate, his family influence in the county, his noble appearance and commanding manner, secured attention while he spoke; and at the end of a short speech, which he was in some sort compelled to make, he sat down with a feeling of self-congratulation, which of late had been a stranger to him.
Some of his hearers were offended with the presumption of even this slight claim on public notice, from one who was suffering under public disgrace; and some mourned the untimely blight of a youth of such goodly promise. De Clifford, however, was soon after honoured with a visit from one of his hesitating neighbours, who thought "Sir Sidney a very fine young fellow, and the proprietor of one of the best estates in the county, and moreover of his own opinion in regard to the canal;" and whom all these small reasons induced to do what he was not quite sure that he ought to do, namely, to call upon De Clifford and invite him to dinner. Emmeline was not included in the invitation, because Mr Ashley had a wife and daughters, whose hesitation to visit her was not yet conquered. An apology, however, was made for this omission, on the score of lame coach-horses and bad roads; and De Clifford went to Mr Ashley's.
As he rode off, Emmeline stood gazing after him in a fit of melancholy musing; but she shook it off, and began to amuse herself, first with a book, then with her work, till the remembrance of her father, of her friends, of her children, stole upon her,--her hands dropped idly on her lap, her body remained motionless, her mind passive in that melancholy dream which clothes creation in darkness, and loves to have it so.
De Clifford staid late; so late that Emmeline was roused from her reverie by wonder and alarm at his stay. It is not to be told what restless anxiety, what groundless fears beset those who have hazarded their all on a single stake. Emmeline pictured to herself every possible mischance which could have befallen her husband; struggled with her fears; felt that they were weak; yielded to them--and wept over the consciousness that she deserved to suffer them. Thus passed the time of De Clifford's absence, and somewhat like this was the history of his every absence. He returned in good spirits; Emmeline tried to be glad that he had been so well amused, but she was exhausted with wishing and wearying for his return, and could welcome it only with sickly smiles. De Clifford felt something like reproach in her languor; but he considered the lonely life she led, pitied, excused, and tried to divert her with an account of his visit.
"I wish you had been with me to-day, Emmeline," he said, as they drew their chairs together towards the fire.
This was the first time that De Clifford had ever hinted a wish for his wife's admission into general society. She only answered by a half smile and a half sigh.
"Our neighbour Mrs Villiers was there," he continued; "I wish you had seen her."
"Since it would have pleased you, I wish I had," returned Emmeline kindly.
"My mother used to say that Mrs Villiers was one of the best women living," answered De Clifford. "I am sure she is one of the most entertaining,--which does not often fall to the lot of your very good people."
Emmeline felt that she was not at that moment very entertaining, and a sensation not unlike jealousy darted across her mind. "Is she pretty?" enquired Emmeline.
"Pretty! no, that is--yes. I believe she is, or rather has been. I dare say she is five-and-thirty."
"Did you never meet with her before?"
"A thousand times, when I was a boy; but last time I was at home some of her children were ill, and she paid no visits."
This lady seemed to have seized upon a considerable portion of De Clifford's thoughts; for next day he interrupted a long silence by saying, "That Mrs Villiers has more wit than any body I have met with; and yet she will never have the name, or rather the blame of it, she seems so obstinately good-natured."
The truth was, that De Clifford heartily wished to procure for his wife the pleasure and the credit of this lady's acquaintance; though he would not condescend to own this wish to Emmeline, scarcely to acknowledge it to himself. His commendations, however, had effectually infused into Emmeline the same desire, together with a strong curiosity, in regard to whatever concerned this subject of her husband's panegyrics.
Emmeline attended often, though not regularly, at Euston church. Let it not be disbelieved, that such a person should join in the solemnities of public worship, weep at their pathos, delight in their sublimity! A religion of the imagination is not inconsistent with Emmeline's crime, scarcely with any other. It is the natural inmate of every feeling and elegant mind, but as unlike in its origin and effects to that "faith which overcometh the world," as the summer flash that adorns the cold cloud with momentary brightness, to the steady living light of heaven.
While Emmeline wept over the confessions of sin, her tears were placed by some to the score of hypocrisy, by others to that of penitence; and among the latter, she herself might at times be numbered. But to neither class did Mrs Villiers belong. "We shall know them by their fruits," she said; and she forbore to decide, where her decision was immaterial.
The next Sunday after De Clifford's eulogium, Emmeline's curiosity so far overcame her timidity, that when the service was ended, she turned to take a steady view of Mrs Villiers. Her eye rested on one of those countenances, which, without regularity, are sure to please. It was a face on which no one ever looked once, without being impelled to look again; nor examined a second time, without irresistible impressions of confidence and good-will. Its expression in repose was that of strong intelligence; the slightest action relaxed it into benevolence and love. The figure suited well with such a face. Fifteen years before, it might have been beautiful; it was now rather graceful than fine.
As Mrs Villiers walked out of church, attended by her numerous and blooming family, and a train of decent domestics, Emmeline thought she had never before seen such simple unpretending dignity of mien. She followed, thinking only of Mrs Villiers, and found her surrounded by acquaintances, who pressed towards her with looks of cheerful confidence, and by an outer circle of her poorer neighbours, who waited for her friendly enquiries. Emmeline stood for a few moments alone amidst the crowd, an object of neither kindness nor courtesy; till observing that every eye which met hers was hastily withdrawn, she recollected herself and hurried away, ashamed that her two splendid footmen should be able to contrast her situation with that of Mrs Villiers.
Emmeline's thoughts turned often to this new subject of her curiosity. She could not indeed have forgotten it, had she been willing. The Villierses were her nearest neighbours. Their park wall was separated from that of Euston only by a narrow foot-path lane. Their woods adorned the views from Euston. Emmeline could not go beyond her own gate, without meeting their servants, their carriage, their children. If she purchased a ribband in the village, it was recommended as Mrs Villiers' choice; if a beggar asked alms of her, he enforced her charity by Mrs Villiers' example.
Emmeline had many reasons to wish for Mrs Villiers' acquaintance, and she fancied many more. She was a stranger to that country, to its manners, and its customs; therefore, in her domestic arrangements, she often felt the want of that advice, of which young wives in happier situations commonly receive enough and to spare. While De Clifford was with her, Emmeline wanted no other society; but he now usually left her to spend the mornings alone. They were generally spent, indeed, in recollections and feelings which could not be shared with a stranger. Yet there are seasons when the youthful heart, however oppressed, will struggle with its burden; when for this it will borrow aid from the cheerfulness of those who can render it no other service. Emmeline saw too, though De Clifford would not own it, that he was weary of the invariableness of his solitude; and she feared, justly feared, that his weariness would connect itself with every object in the invariable round which he was doomed to tread. She thought Mrs Villiers's company, of which he seemed so fond, would serve to rouse and to amuse him, and perhaps prevent him from wandering, to seek at a distance the variety which he could not find at home. She sometimes fancied too that if she could obtain the countenance of the respectable Mrs Villiers, Lady de Clifford and Mary, no longer considering her as an outcast from mankind, would return to cheer their deserted Euston.
But Emmeline was forced to ask herself the mortifying question, whether Mrs Villiers would ever admit of her acquaintance. It was more consonant with her timid nature, to wish than to further this admission; yet she involuntarily watched for any accident which might bring her more nearly into contact with Mrs Villiers.
Next Sunday she persuaded De Clifford to accompany her to church. "You will meet with Mrs Villiers," she said; "you will speak to her, and perhaps--" Emmeline stopped, but De Clifford understood her meaning. He felt that he dared not introduce his wife to Mrs Villiers; that the very proposal would probably be regarded as an insult. The colour mounted even to his forehead, and he turned away in silence,
"And my wife," thought De Clifford, as he leant his head against the window frame, and seemed intently watching the deer, "my wife must fawn and dance attendance for the acquaintance of those who used to think themselves honoured by any notice from the heads of this family! What a fool was I not to foresee--Yet why should these people be necessary to her? What has she to do with them? Surely she has some innate tameness of nature that I shall never comprehend."
"So you will not go with me," said Emmeline, laying her soft hand upon his shoulder.
"No," he said, with a bitter smile--"my mortifications shall be at home to-day." Then, seeing the eloquent colour change in poor Emmeline's cheek, he added in a kinder tone--"I will share any penance with you, except hearing Mr ----."
"And yet," he thought, as he looked on her reviving countenance, "she is so superior to every one of those who pretend to neglect her, in beauty, in sweetness, in every gift that distinguishes one woman above another! Curse on their prudery! Why has she not the spirit to despise it?"
Alas! before a woman can despise the world's scorn, she must full truly have deserved it. Besides the most common of all womanly virtues, she must have lost all the gentleness that claims sympathy, and all the benevolence that bestows it. A heart of iron, as well as a brow of brass, is necessary even to the worldly comfort of the infamous.
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.