A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 17.

How did I utter it? By what words did my heart make itself known? I remember not. All was as a dream that falls upon a restless, feverish night, and fades away as the eyes unclose on the peace of a cloudless heaven, on the bliss of a golden sun. A new morrow seemed indeed upon the earth when I woke from a life-long yesterday — her dear hand in mine, her sweet face bowed upon my breast.

And then there was that melodious silence in which there is no sound audible from without; yet within us there is heard a lulling celestial music, as if our whole being, grown harmonious with the universe, joined from its happy deeps in the hymn that unites the stars.

In that silence our two hearts seemed to make each other understood, to be drawing nearer and nearer, blending by mysterious concord into the completeness of a solemn union, never henceforth to be rent asunder.

At length I said softly: “And it was here on this spot that I first saw you — here that I for the first time knew what power to change our world and to rule our future goes forth from the charm of a human face!”

Then Lilian asked me timidly, and without lifting her eyes, how I had so seen her, reminding me that I promised to tell her, and had never yet done so.

And then I told her of the strange impulse that bad led me into the grounds, and by what chance my steps had been diverted down the path that wound to the glade; how suddenly her form had shone upon my eyes, gathering round itself the rose hues of the setting sun, and how wistfully those eyes had followed her own silent gaze into the distant heaven.

As I spoke, her hand pressed mine eagerly, convulsively, and, raising her face from my breast, she looked at me with an intent, anxious earnestness. That look! — twice before it had thrilled and perplexed me.

“What is there in that look, oh, my Lilian, which tells me that there is something that startles you — something you wish to confide, and yet shrink from explaining? See how, already, I study the fair book from which the seal has been lifted! but as yet you must aid me to construe its language.”

“If I shrink from explaining, it is only because I fear that I cannot explain so as to be understood or believed. But you have a right to know the secrets of a life which you would link to your own. Turn your face aside from me; a reproving look, an incredulous smile, chill — oh, you cannot guess how they chill me, when I would approach that which to me is so serious and so solemnly strange.”

I turned my face away, and her voice grew firmer as, after a brief pause, she resumed —

“As far back as I can remember in my infancy, there have been moments when there seems to fall a soft hazy veil between my sight and the things around it, thickening and deepening till it has the likeness of one of those white fleecy clouds which gather on the verge of the horizon when the air is yet still, but the winds are about to rise; and then this vapour or veil will suddenly open, as clouds open, and let in the blue sky.”

“Go on,” I said gently, for here she came to a stop. She continued, speaking somewhat more hurriedly —

“Then, in that opening, strange appearances present them selves to me, as in a vision. In my childhood these were chiefly landscapes of wonderful beauty. I could but faintly describe them then; I could not attempt to describe them now, for they are almost gone from my memory. My dear mother chid me for telling her what I saw, so I did not impress it on my mind by repeating it. As I grew up, this kind of vision — if I may so call it — became much less frequent, or much less distinct; I still saw the soft veil fall, the pale cloud form and open, but often what may then have appeared was entirely forgotten when I recovered myself, waking as from a sleep. Sometimes, however, the recollection would be vivid and complete; sometimes I saw the face of my lost father; sometimes I heard his very voice, as I had seen and heard him in my early childhood, when he would let me rest for hours beside him as he mused or studied, happy to be so quietly near him, for I loved him, oh, so dearly! and I remember him so distinctly, though I was only in my sixth year when he died. Much more recently — indeed, within the last few months — the images of things to come are reflected on the space that I gaze into as clearly as in a glass. Thus, for weeks before I came hither, or knew that such a place existed, I saw distinctly the old House, yon trees, this sward, this moss-grown Gothic fount; and, with the sight, an impression was conveyed to me that in the scene before me my old childlike life would pass into some solemn change. So that when I came here, and recognized the picture in my vision, I took an affection for the spot — an affection not without awe, a powerful, perplexing interest, as one who feels under the influence of a fate of which a prophetic glimpse has been vouchsafed. And in that evening, when you first saw me, seated here —”

“Yes, Lilian, on that evening —”

“I saw you also, but in my vision — yonder, far in the deeps of space — and — and my heart was stirred as it had never been before; and near where your image grew out from the cloud I saw my father’s face, and I heard his voice, not in my ear, but as in my heart, whispering —”

“Yes, Lilian — whispering — what?”

“These words — only these — ‘Ye will need one another.’ But then, suddenly, between my upward eyes and the two forms they had beheld, there rose from the earth, obscuring the skies, a vague, dusky vapour, undulous, and coiling like a vast serpent — nothing, indeed, of its shape and figure definite, but of its face one abrupt glare; a flash from two dread luminous eyes, and a young head, like the Medusa’s, changing, more rapidly than I could have drawn breath, into a grinning skull. Then my terror made me bow my head, and when I raised it again, all that I had seen was vanished. But the terror still remained, even when I felt my mother’s arm round me and heard her voice. And then, when I entered the house, and sat down again alone, the recollection of what I had seen — those eyes, that face, that skull — grew on me stronger and stronger till I fainted, and remember no more, until my eyes, opening, saw you by my side, and in my wonder there was not terror. No, a sense of joy, protection, hope, yet still shadowed by a kind of fear or awe, in recognizing the countenance which had gleamed on me from the skies before the dark vapour had risen, and while my father’s voice had murmured, ‘Ye will need one another.’ And now — and now — will you love me less that you know a secret in my being which I have told to no other — cannot construe to myself? Only — only, at least, do not mock me; do not disbelieve me! Nay, turn from me no longer now: now I ask to meet your eyes. Now, before our hands can join again, tell me that you do not despise me as untruthful, do not pity me as insane.”

“Hush, hush!” I said, drawing her to my breast. “Of all you tell me we will talk hereafter. The scales of our science have no weights fine enough for the gossamer threads of a maiden’s pure fancies. Enough for me — for us both — if out from all such illusions start one truth, told to you, lovely child, from the heavens; told to me, ruder man, on the earth; repeated by each pulse of this heart that woos you to hear and to trust — now and henceforth through life unto death, ‘Each has need of the other,’— I of you, I of you! my Lilian! my Lilian!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31