Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 4

Ombra piu che di notte, in cui di luce

Raggio misto non e;

. . . .

Ne piu il palagio appar, ne piu le sue

Vestigia; ne dir puossi — egli qui fue.

“Ger. Lib.”, canto xvi.-lxix.

(Darkness greater than of night, in which not a ray of light is mixed; . . . The palace appears no more: not even a vestige — nor can one say that it has been.)

The clubs are noisy with clamorous frenzy; the leaders are grim with schemes. Black Henriot flies here and there, muttering to his armed troops, “Robespierre, your beloved, is in danger!” Robespierre stalks perturbed, his list of victims swelling every hour. Tallien, the Macduff to the doomed Macbeth, is whispering courage to his pale conspirators. Along the streets heavily roll the tumbrils. The shops are closed — the people are gorged with gore, and will lap no more. And night after night, to the eighty theatres flock the children of the Revolution, to laugh at the quips of comedy, and weep gentle tears over imaginary woes!

In a small chamber, in the heart of the city, sits the mother, watching over her child. It is quiet, happy noon; the sunlight, broken by the tall roofs in the narrow street, comes yet through the open casement, the impartial playfellow of the air, gleesome alike in temple and prison, hall and hovel; as golden and as blithe, whether it laugh over the first hour of life, or quiver in its gay delight on the terror and agony of the last! The child, where it lay at the feet of Viola, stretched out its dimpled hands as if to clasp the dancing motes that revelled in the beam. The mother turned her eyes from the glory; it saddened her yet more. She turned and sighed.

Is this the same Viola who bloomed fairer than their own Idalia under the skies of Greece? How changed! How pale and worn! She sat listlessly, her arms dropping on her knee; the smile that was habitual to her lips was gone. A heavy, dull despondency, as if the life of life were no more, seemed to weigh down her youth, and make it weary of that happy sun! In truth, her existence had languished away since it had wandered, as some melancholy stream, from the source that fed it. The sudden enthusiasm of fear or superstition that had almost, as if still in the unconscious movements of a dream, led her to fly from Zanoni, had ceased from the day which dawned upon her in a foreign land. Then — there — she felt that in the smile she had evermore abandoned lived her life. She did not repent — she would not have recalled the impulse that winged her flight. Though the enthusiasm was gone, the superstition yet remained; she still believed she had saved her child from that dark and guilty sorcery, concerning which the traditions of all lands are prodigal, but in none do they find such credulity, or excite such dread, as in the South of Italy. This impression was confirmed by the mysterious conversations of Glyndon, and by her own perception of the fearful change that had passed over one who represented himself as the victim of the enchanters. She did not, therefore, repent; but her very volition seemed gone.

On their arrival at Paris, Viola saw her companion — the faithful wife — no more. Ere three weeks were passed, husband and wife had ceased to live.

And now, for the first time, the drudgeries of this hard earth claimed the beautiful Neapolitan. In that profession, giving voice and shape to poetry and song, in which her first years were passed, there is, while it lasts, an excitement in the art that lifts it from the labour of a calling. Hovering between two lives, the Real and Ideal, dwells the life of music and the stage. But that life was lost evermore to the idol of the eyes and ears of Naples. Lifted to the higher realm of passionate love, it seemed as if the fictitious genius which represents the thoughts of others was merged in the genius that grows all thought itself. It had been the worst infidelity to the Lost, to have descended again to live on the applause of others. And so — for she would not accept alms from Glyndon — so, by the commonest arts, the humblest industry which the sex knows, alone and unseen, she who had slept on the breast of Zanoni found a shelter for their child. As when, in the noble verse prefixed to this chapter, Armida herself has destroyed her enchanted palace — not a vestige of that bower, raised of old by Poetry and Love, remained to say, “It had been!”

And the child avenged the father; it bloomed, it thrived — it waxed strong in the light of life. But still it seemed haunted and preserved by some other being than her own. In its sleep there was that slumber, so deep and rigid, which a thunderbolt could not have disturbed; and in such sleep often it moved its arms, as to embrace the air: often its lips stirred with murmured sounds of indistinct affection — NOT FOR HER; and all the while upon its cheeks a hue of such celestial bloom, upon its lips a smile of such mysterious joy! Then, when it waked, its eyes did not turn first to HER — wistful, earnest, wandering, they roved around, to fix on her pale face, at last, in mute sorrow and reproach.

Never had Viola felt before how mighty was her love for Zanoni; how thought, feeling, heart, soul, life — all lay crushed and dormant in the icy absence to which she had doomed herself! She heard not the roar without, she felt not one amidst those stormy millions — worlds of excitement labouring through every hour. Only when Glyndon, haggard, wan, and spectre-like, glided in, day after day, to visit her, did the fair daughter of the careless South know how heavy and universal was the Death–Air that girt her round. Sublime in her passive unconsciousness — her mechanic life — she sat, and feared not, in the den of the Beasts of Prey.

The door of the room opened abruptly, and Glyndon entered. His manner was more agitated than usual.

“Is it you, Clarence?” she said in her soft, languid tones. “You are before the hour I expected you.”

“Who can count on his hours at Paris?” returned Glyndon, with a frightful smile. “Is it not enough that I am here! Your apathy in the midst of these sorrows appalls me. You say calmly, ‘Farewell;’ calmly you bid me, ‘Welcome!’— as if in every corner there was not a spy, and as if with every day there was not a massacre!”

“Pardon me! But in these walls lies my world. I can hardly credit all the tales you tell me. Everything here, save THAT,” and she pointed to the infant, “seems already so lifeless, that in the tomb itself one could scarcely less heed the crimes that are done without.”

Glyndon paused for a few moments, and gazed with strange and mingled feelings upon that face and form, still so young, and yet so invested with that saddest of all repose — when the heart feels old.

“O Viola,” said he, at last, and in a voice of suppressed passion, “was it thus I ever thought to see you — ever thought to feel for you, when we two first met in the gay haunts of Naples? Ah, why then did you refuse my love; or why was mine not worthy of you? Nay, shrink not! — let me touch your hand. No passion so sweet as that youthful love can return to me again. I feel for you but as a brother for some younger and lonely sister. With you, in your presence, sad though it be, I seem to breathe back the purer air of my early life. Here alone, except in scenes of turbulence and tempest, the Phantom ceases to pursue me. I forget even the Death that stalks behind, and haunts me as my shadow. But better days may be in store for us yet. Viola, I at last begin dimly to perceive how to baffle and subdue the Phantom that has cursed my life — it is to brave, and defy it. In sin and in riot, as I have told thee, it haunts me not. But I comprehend now what Mejnour said in his dark apothegms, ‘that I should dread the spectre most WHEN UNSEEN.’ In virtuous and calm resolution it appears — ay, I behold it now; there, there, with its livid eyes!”— and the drops fell from his brow. “But it shall no longer daunt me from that resolution. I face it, and it gradually darkens back into the shade.” He paused, and his eyes dwelt with a terrible exultation upon the sunlit space; then, with a heavy and deep-drawn breath, he resumed, “Viola, I have found the means of escape. We will leave this city. In some other land we will endeavour to comfort each other, and forget the past.”

“No,” said Viola, calmly; “I have no further wish to stir, till I am born hence to the last resting-place. I dreamed of him last night, Clarence! — dreamed of him for the first time since we parted; and, do not mock me, methought that he forgave the deserter, and called me ‘Wife.’ That dream hallows the room. Perhaps it will visit me again before I die.”

“Talk not of him — of the demi-fiend!” cried Glyndon, fiercely, and stamping his foot. “Thank the Heavens for any fate that hath rescued thee from him!”

“Hush!” said Viola, gravely. And as she was about to proceed, her eye fell upon the child. It was standing in the very centre of that slanting column of light which the sun poured into the chamber; and the rays seemed to surround it as a halo, and settled, crown-like, on the gold of its shining hair. In its small shape, so exquisitely modelled, in its large, steady, tranquil eyes, there was something that awed, while it charmed the mother’s pride. It gazed on Glyndon as he spoke, with a look which almost might have seemed disdain, and which Viola, at least, interpreted as a defence of the Absent, stronger than her own lips could frame.

Glyndon broke the pause.

“Thou wouldst stay, for what? To betray a mother’s duty! If any evil happen to thee here, what becomes of thine infant? Shall it be brought up an orphan, in a country that has desecrated thy religion, and where human charity exists no more? Ah, weep, and clasp it to thy bosom; but tears do not protect and save.”

“Thou hast conquered, my friend, I will fly with thee.”

“To-morrow night, then, be prepared. I will bring thee the necessary disguises.”

And Glyndon then proceeded to sketch rapidly the outline of the path they were to take, and the story they were to tell. Viola listened, but scarcely comprehended; he pressed her hand to his heart and departed.

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