Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin

Chapter 17

‘Why, I did say something about getting

a licence from the Cadi.’

BLUE BEARD

‘The visits of the stranger were interrupted for some time, and when he returned, it seemed as if their purpose was no longer the same. He no longer attempted to corrupt her principles, or sophisticate her understanding, or mystify her views of religion. On the latter subject he was quite silent, seemed to regret he had ever touched on it, and not all her restless avidity of knowledge, or caressing importunity of manner, could extract from him another syllable on the subject. He repayed her amply, however, by the rich, varied, and copious stores of a mind, furnished with matter apparently beyond the power of human experience to have collected, confined, as it is, within the limits of threescore years and ten. But this never struck Immalee; she took ‘no note of time;’ and the tale of yesterday, or the record of past centuries, were synchronized in a mind to which facts and dates were alike unknown; and which was alike unacquainted with the graduating shades of manner, and the linked progress of events.

‘They often sat on the shore of the isle in the evening, where Immalee always prepared a seat of moss for her visitor, and gazed together on the blue deep in silence; for Immalee’s newly-awaked intellect and heart felt that bankruptcy of language, which profound feeling will impress on the most cultivated intellect, and which, in her case, was increased alike by her innocence and her ignorance; and her visitor had perhaps reasons still stronger for his silence. This silence, however, was often broken. There was not a vessel that sailed in the distance which did not suggest an eager question from Immalee, and did not draw a slow and extorted reply from the stranger. His knowledge was immense, various, and profound, (but this was rather a subject of delight than of curiosity to his beautiful pupil); and from the Indian canoe, rowed by naked natives, to the splendid, and clumsy, and ill-managed vessels of the Rajahs, that floated like huge and gilded fish tumbling in uncouth and shapeless mirth on the wave, to the gallant and well-manned vessels of Europe, that came on like the gods of ocean bringing fertility and knowledge, the discoveries of art, and the blessings of civilization, wherever their sails were unfurled and their anchors dropt, — he could tell her all, — describe the destination of every vessel, — the feelings, characters, and national habits of the many-minded inmates, — and enlarge her knowledge to a degree which books never could have done; for colloquial communication is always the most vivid and impressive medium, and lips have a prescriptive right to be the first intelligencers in instruction and in love.

‘Perhaps this extraordinary being, with regard to whom the laws of mortality and the feelings of nature seemed to be alike suspended, felt a kind of sad and wild repose from the destiny that immitigably pursued him, in the society of Immalee. We know not, and can never tell, what sensations her innocent and helpless beauty inspired him with, but the result was, that he ceased to regard her as his victim; and, when seated beside her listening to her questions, or answering them, seemed to enjoy the few lucid intervals of his insane and morbid existence. Absent from her, he returned to the world to torture and to tempt in the mad-house where the Englishman Stanton was tossing on his straw — ’

‘Hold!’ said Melmoth; ‘what name have you mentioned?’ — ‘Have patience with me, Senhor,’ said Monçada, who did not like interruption; ‘have patience, and you will find we are all beads strung on the same string. Why should we jar against each other? our union is indissoluble.’ He proceeded with the story of the unhappy Indian, as recorded in the parchments of Adonijah, which he had been compelled to copy, and of which he was anxious to impress every line and letter on his listener, to substantiate his own extraordinary story.

‘When absent from her, his purpose was what I have described; but while present, that purpose seemed suspended; he gazed often on her with eyes whose wild and fierce lustre was quenched in a dew that he hastily wiped away, and gazed on her again. While he sat near her on the flowers she had collected for him, — while he looked on those timid and rosy lips that waited his signal to speak, like buds that did not dare to blow till the sun shone on them, — while he heard accents issue from those lips which he felt it would be as impossible to pervert as it would be to teach the nightingale blasphemy, — he sunk down beside her, passed his hand over his livid brow, and, wiping off some cold drops, thought for a moment he was not the Cain of the moral world, and that the brand was effaced, — at least for a moment. The habitual and impervious gloom of his soul soon returned. He felt again the gnawings of the worm that never dies, and the scorchings of the fire that is never to be quenched. He turned the fatal light of his dark eyes on the only being who never shrunk from their expression, for her innocence made her fearless. He looked intensely at her, while rage, despair, and pity, convulsed his heart; and as he beheld the confiding and conciliating smile with which this gentle being met a look that might have withered the heart of the boldest within him, — a Semele gazing in supplicating love on the lightnings that were to blast her, — one human drop dimmed their portentous lustre, as its softened rays fell on her. Turning fiercely away, he flung his view on the ocean, as if to find, in the sight of human life, some fuel for the fire that was consuming his vitals. The ocean, that lay calm and bright before them as a sea of jasper, never reflected two more different countenances, or sent more opposite feelings to two hearts. Over Immalee’s, it breathed that deep and delicious reverie, which those forms of nature that unite tranquillity and profundity diffuse over souls whose innocence gives them a right to an unmingled and exclusive enjoyment of nature. None but crimeless and unimpassioned minds ever truly enjoyed earth, ocean, and heaven. At our first transgression, nature expels us, as it did our first parents, from her paradise for ever.

‘To the stranger the view was fraught with far different visions. He viewed it as a tiger views a forest abounding with prey; there might be the storm and the wreck; or, if the elements were obstinately calm, there might be the gaudy and gilded pleasure barge, in which a Rajah and the beautiful women of his haram were inhaling the sea breeze under canopies of silk and gold, overturned by the unskilfulness of their rowers, and their plunge, and struggle, and dying agony, amid the smile and beauty of the calm ocean, produce one of those contrasts in which his fierce spirit delighted. Or, were even this denied, he could watch the vessels as they floated by, and, from the skiff to the huge trader, be sure that every one bore its freight of woe and crime. There came on the European vessels full of the passions and crimes of another world, — of its sateless cupidity, remorseless cruelty, its intelligence, all awake and ministrant in the cause of its evil passions, and its very refinement operating as a stimulant to more inventive indulgence, and more systematized vice. He saw them approach to traffic for ‘gold, and silver, and the souls of men;’ — to grasp, with breathless rapacity, the gems and precious produce of those luxuriant climates, and deny the inhabitants the rice that supported their inoffensive existence; — to discharge the load of their crimes, their lust and their avarice, and after ravaging the land, and plundering the natives, depart, leaving behind them famine, despair, and execration; and bearing with them back to Europe, blasted constitutions, inflamed passions, ulcerated hearts, and consciences that could not endure the extinction of a light in their sleeping apartment.

‘Such were the objects for which he watched; and one evening, when solicited by Immalee’s incessant questions about the worlds to which the vessels were hastening, or to which they were returning, he gave her a description of the world, after his manner, in a spirit of mingled derision, malignity, and impatient bitterness at the innocence of her curiosity. There was a mixture of fiendish acrimony, biting irony, and fearful truth, in his wild sketch, which was often interrupted by the cries of astonishment, grief, and terror, from his hearer. ‘They come,’ said he, pointing to the European vessels, ‘from a world where the only study of the inhabitants is how to increase their own sufferings, and those of others, to the utmost possible degree; and, considering they have only had 4000 years practice at the task, it must be allowed they are tolerable proficients.’ — ‘But is it possible?’ — ‘You shall judge. In aid, doubtless, of this desirable object, they have been all originally gifted with imperfect constitutions and evil passions; and, not to be ungrateful, they pass their lives in contriving how to augment the infirmities of the one, and aggravate the acerbities of the other. They are not like you, Immalee, a being who breathes amid roses, and subsists only on the juices of fruits, and the lymph of the pure element. In order to render their thinking powers more gross, and their spirits more fiery, they devour animals, and torture from abused vegetables a drink, that, without quenching thirst, has the power of extinguishing reason, inflaming passion, and shortening life — the best result of all — for life under such circumstances owes its only felicity to the shortness of its duration.’

‘Immalee shuddered at the mention of animal food, as the most delicate European would at the mention of a cannibal feast; and while tears trembled in her beautiful eyes, she turned them wistfully on her peacocks with an expression that made the stranger smile. ‘Some,’ said he, by way of consolation, ‘have a taste by no means so sophisticated, — they content themselves at their need with the flesh of their fellow-creatures; and as human life is always miserable, and animal life never so, (except from elementary causes), one would imagine this the most humane and salutary way of at once gratifying the appetite, and diminishing the mass of human suffering. But as these people pique themselves on their ingenuity in aggravating the sufferings of their situation, they leave thousands of human beings yearly to perish by hunger and grief, and amuse themselves in feeding on animals, whom, by depriving of existence, they deprive of the only pleasure their condition has allotted them. When they have thus, by unnatural diet and outrageous stimulation, happily succeeded in corrupting infirmity into disease, and exasperating passion into madness, they proceed to exhibit the proofs of their success, with an expertness and consistency truly admirable. They do not, like you, Immalee, live in the lovely independence of nature — lying on the earth, and sleeping with all the eyes of heaven unveiled to watch you — treading the same grass till your light step feels a friend in every blade it presses — and conversing with flowers, till you feel yourself and them children of the united family of nature, whose mutual language of love you have almost learned to speak to each other — no, to effect their purpose, their food, which is of itself poison, must be rendered more fatal by the air they inhale; and therefore the more civilized crowd all together into a space which their own respiration, and the exhalation of their bodies, renders pestilential, and which gives a celerity inconceivable to the circulation of disease and mortality. Four thousand of them will live together in a space smaller than the last and lightest colonnade of your young banyan-tree, in order, doubtless, to increase the effects of foetid air, artificial heat, unnatural habits, and impracticable exercise. The result of these judicious precautions is just what may be guessed. The most trifling complaint becomes immediately infectious, and, during the ravages of the pestilence, which this habit generates, ten thousand lives a-day are the customary sacrifice to the habit of living in cities.’ — ‘But they die in the arms of those they love,’ said Immalee, whose tears flowed fast at this recital; ‘and is not that better than even life in solitude, — as mine was before I beheld you?’

‘The stranger was too intent on his description to heed her. ‘To these cities they resort nominally for security and protection, but really for the sole purpose to which their existence is devoted, — that of aggravating its miseries by every ingenuity of refinement. For example, those who live in uncontrasted and untantalized misery, can hardly feel it — suffering becomes their habit, and they feel no more jealousy of their situation than the bat, who clings in blind and famishing stupefaction to the cleft of a rock, feels of the situation of the butterfly, who drinks of the dew, and bathes in the bloom of every flower. But the people of the other worlds have invented, by means of living in cities, a new and singular mode of aggravating human wretchedness — that of contrasting it with the wild and wanton excess of superfluous and extravagant splendour.’

‘Here the stranger had incredible difficulty to make Immalee comprehend how there could be an unequal division of the means of existence; and when he had done his utmost to explain it to her, she continued to repeat, (her white finger on her scarlet lip, and her small foot beating the moss), in a kind of pouting inquietude, ‘Why should some have more than they can eat, and others nothing to eat?’ — ‘This,’ continued the stranger, ‘is the most exquisite refinement on that art of torture which those beings are so expert in — to place misery by the side of opulence — to bid the wretch who dies for want feed on the sound of the splendid equipages which shake his hovel as they pass, but leave no relief behind — to bid the industrious, the ingenious, and the imaginative, starve, while bloated mediocrity pants from excess — to bid the dying sufferer feel that life might be prolonged by one drop of that exciting liquor, which, wasted, produces only sickness or madness in those whose lives it undermines; — to do this is their principal object, and it is fully attained. The sufferer through whose rags the wind of winter blows, like arrows lodging in every pore — whose tears freeze before they fall — whose soul is as dreary as the night under whose cope his resting-place must be — whose glued and clammy lips are unable to receive the food which famine, lying like a burning coal at his vitals, craves — and who, amid the horrors of a houseless winter, might prefer its desolation to that of the den that abuses the name of home — without food — without light — where the howlings of the storm are answered by the fiercer cries of hunger — and he must stumble to his murky and strawless nook over the bodies of his children, who have sunk on the floor, not for rest, but despair. Such a being, is he not sufficiently miserable?’

‘Immalee’s shudderings were her only answer, (though of many parts of his description she had a very imperfect idea). ‘No, he is not enough so yet,’ pursued the stranger, pressing the picture on her; ‘let his steps, that know not where they wander, conduct him to the gates of the affluent and the luxurious — let him feel that plenty and mirth are removed from him but by the interval of a wall, and yet more distant than if severed by worlds — let him feel that while his world is darkness and cold, the eyes of those within are aching with the blaze of light, and hands relaxed by artificial heat, are soliciting with fans the refreshment of a breeze — let him feel that every groan he utters is answered by a song or a laugh — and let him die on the steps of the mansion, while his last conscious pang is aggravated by the thought, that the price of the hundredth part of the luxuries that lie untasted before heedless beauty and sated epicurism, would have protracted his existence, while it poisons theirs — let him die of want on the threshold of a banquet-hall, and then admire with me the ingenuity that displays itself in this new combination of misery. The inventive activity of the people of the world, in the multiplication of calamity, is inexhaustibly fertile in resources. Not satisfied with diseases and famine, with sterility of the earth, and tempests of the air, they must have laws and marriages, and kings and tax-gatherers, and wars and fetes, and every variety of artificial misery inconceivable to you.’

‘Immalee, overpowered by this torrent of words, to her unintelligible words, in vain asked a connected explanation of them. The demon of his superhuman misanthropy had now fully possessed him, and not even the tones of a voice as sweet as the strings of David’s harp, had power to expel the evil one. So he went on flinging about his fire-brands and arrows, and then saying, ‘Am I not in sport? These people,’1 said he, ‘have made unto themselves kings, that is, beings whom they voluntarily invest with the privilege of draining, by taxation, whatever wealth their vices have left to the rich, and whatever means of subsistence their want has left to the poor, till their extortion is cursed from the castle to the cottage — and this to support a few pampered favourites, who are harnessed by silken reins to the car, which they drag over the prostrate bodies of the multitude. Sometimes exhausted by the monotony of perpetual fruition, which has no parallel even in the monotony of suffering, (for the latter has at least the excitement of hope, which is for ever denied to the former), they amuse themselves by making war, that is, collecting the greatest number of human beings that can be bribed to the task, to cut the throats of a less, equal, or greater number of beings, bribed in the same manner for the same purpose. These creatures have not the least cause of enmity to each other — they do not know, they never beheld each other. Perhaps they might, under other circumstances, wish each other well, as far as human malignity would suffer them; but from the moment they are hired for legalized massacre, hatred is their duty, and murder their delight. The man who would feel reluctance to destroy the reptile that crawls in his path, will equip himself with metals fabricated for the purpose of destruction, and smile to see it stained with the blood of a being, whose existence and happiness he would have sacrificed his own to promote, under other circumstances. So strong is this habit of aggravating misery under artificial circumstances, that it has been known, when in a sea-fight a vessel has blown up, (here a long explanation was owed to Immalee, which may be spared the reader), the people of that world have plunged into the water to save, at the risk of their own lives, the lives of those with whom they were grappling amid fire and blood a moment before, and whom, though they would sacrifice to their passions, their pride refused to sacrifice to the elements.’ — ‘Oh that is beautiful! — that is glorious!’ said Immalee, clasping her white hands; ‘I could bear all you describe to see that sight!’

1 As, by a mode of criticism equally false and unjust, the worst sentiments of my worst characters, (from the ravings of Bertram to the blasphemies of Cardonneau), have been represented as my own, I must here trespass so far on the patience of the reader as to assure him, that the sentiments ascribed to the stranger are diametrically opposite to mine, and that I have purposely put them into the mouth of an agent of the enemy of mankind.

‘Her smile of innocent delight, her spontaneous burst of high-toned feeling, had the usual effect of adding a darker shade to the frown of the stranger, and a sterner curve to the repulsive contraction of his upper lip, which was never raised but to express hostility or contempt.

‘But what do the kings do?’ said Immalee, ‘while they are making men kill each other for nothing?’ — ‘You are ignorant, Immalee,’ said the stranger, ‘very ignorant, or you would not have said it was for nothing. Some of them fight for ten inches of barren sand — some for the dominion of the salt wave — some for any thing — and some for nothing — but all for pay and poverty, and occasional excitement, and the love of action, and the love of change, and the dread of home, and the consciousness of evil passions, and the hope of death, and the admiration of the showy dress in which they are to perish. The best of the jest is, they contrive not only to reconcile themselves to these cruel and wicked absurdities, but to dignify them with the most imposing names their perverted language supplies — the names of fame, of glory, of recording memory, and admiring posterity.

‘Thus a wretch whom want, idleness, or intemperance, drives to this reckless and heart-withering business, — who leaves his wife and children to the mercy of strangers, or to famish, (terms nearly synonimous), the moment he has assumed the blushing badge that privileges massacre, becomes, in the imagination of this intoxicated people, the defender of his country, entitled to her gratitude and to her praise. The idle stripling, who hates the cultivation of intellect, and despises the meanness of occupation, feels, perhaps, a taste for arraying his person in colours as gaudy as the parrot’s or the peacock’s; and this effeminate propensity is baptised by the prostituted name of the love of glory — and this complication of motives borrowed from vanity and from vice, from the fear of distress, the wantonness of idleness, and the appetite for mischief, finds one convenient and sheltering appellation in the single sound — patriotism. And those beings who never knew one generous impulse, one independent feeling, ignorant of either the principles or the justice of the cause for which they contend, and wholly uninterested in the result, except so far as it involves the concerns of their own vanity, cupidity, and avarice, are, while living, hailed by the infatuated world as its benefactors, and when dead, canonized as its martyrs. He died in his country’s cause, is the epitaph inscribed by the rash hand of indiscriminating eulogy on the grave of ten thousand, who had ten thousand different motives for their choice and their fate, — who might have lived to be their country’s enemies if they had not happened to fall in her defence, — and whose love of their country, if fairly analysed, was, under its various forms of vanity, restlessness, the love of tumult, or the love of show — purely love of themselves. There let them rest — nothing but the wish to disabuse their idolaters, who prompt the sacrifice, and then applaud the victim they have made, could have tempted me to dwell thus long on beings as mischievous in their lives, as they are insignificant in their death.

‘Another amusement of these people, so ingenious in multiplying the sufferings of their destiny, is what they call law. They pretend to find in this a security for their persons and their properties — with how much justice, their own felicitous experience must inform them! Of the security it gives to the latter, judge, Immalee, when I tell you, that you might spend your life in their courts, without being able to prove that those roses you have gathered and twined in your hair were your own — that you might starve for this day’s meal, while proving your right to a property which must incontestibly be yours, on the condition of your being able to fast on a few years, and survive to enjoy it — and that, finally, with the sentiments of all upright men, the opinions of the judges of the land, and the fullest conviction of your own conscience in your favour, you cannot obtain the possession of what you and all feel to be your own, while your antagonist can start an objection, purchase a fraud, or invent a lie. So pleadings go on, and years are wasted, and property consumed, and hearts broken, — and law triumphs. One of its most admirable triumphs is in that ingenuity by which it contrives to convert a difficulty into an impossibility, and punish a man for not doing what it has rendered impracticable for him to do.

‘When he is unable to pay his debts, it deprives him of liberty and credit, to insure that inability still further; and while destitute alike of the means of subsistence, or the power of satisfying his creditors, he is enabled, by this righteous arrangement, to console himself, at least, with the reflection, that he can injure his creditor as much as he has suffered from him — that certain loss is the reward of immitigable cruelty — and that, while he famishes in prison, the page in which his debt is recorded rots away faster than his body; and the angel of death, with one obliterating sweep of his wing, cancels misery and debt, and presents, grinning in horrid triumph, the release of debtor and debt, signed by a hand that makes the judges tremble on their seats.’ — ‘But they have religion,’ said the poor Indian, trembling at this horrible description; ‘they have that religion which you shewed me — its mild and peaceful spirit — its quietness and resignation — no blood — no cruelty.’ — ‘Yes, — true,’ said the stranger, with some reluctance, ‘they have religion; for in their zeal for suffering, they feel the torments of one world not enough, unless aggravated by the terrors of another. They have such a religion, but what use have they made of it? Intent on their settled purpose of discovering misery wherever it could be traced, and inventing it where it could not, they have found, even in the pure pages of that book, which, they presume to say, contains their title to peace on earth, and happiness hereafter, a right to hate, plunder, and murder each other. Here they have been compelled to exercise an extraordinary share of perverted ingenuity. The book contains nothing but what is good, and evil must be the minds, and hard the labour of those evil minds, to extort a tinge from it to colour their pretensions withal. But mark, in pursuance of their great object, (the aggravation of general misery), mark how subtilly they have wrought. They call themselves by various names, to excite passions suitable to the names they bear. Thus some forbid the perusal of that book to their disciples, and others assert, that from the exclusive study of its pages alone, can the hope of salvation be learned or substantiated. It is singular, however, that with all their ingenuity, they have never been able to extract a subject of difference from the essential contents of that book, to which they all appeal — so they proceed after their manner.

‘They never dare to dispute that it contains irresistible injunctions, — that those who believe in it should live in habits of peace, benevolence, and harmony, — that they should love each other in prosperity, and assist each other in adversity. They dare not deny that the spirit that book inculcates and inspires, is a spirit whose fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, mildness, and truth. On these points they never presumed to differ. — They are too plain to be denied, so they contrive to make matter of difference out of the various habits they wear; and they cut each other’s throats for the love of God, on the important subject,1 whether their jackets should be red or white — or whether their priests should be arrayed in silk ribbons,2 or white linen,3 or black household garments4 — or whether they should immerse their children in water, or sprinkle them with a few drops of it — or whether they should partake of the memorials of the death of him they all profess to love, standing or on their knees — or — But I weary you with this display of human wickedness and absurdity. One point is plain, they all agree that the language of the book is, ‘Love one another,’ while they all translate that language, ‘Hate one another.’ But as they can find neither materials or excuse from that book, they search for them in their own minds, — and there they are never at a loss, for human minds are inexhaustible in malignity and hostility; and when they borrow the name of that book to sanction them, the deification of their passions becomes a duty, and their worst impulses are hallowed and practised as virtues.’ — ‘Are there no parents or children in these horrible worlds?’ said Immalee, turning her tearful eyes on this traducer of humanity; ‘none that love each other as I loved the tree under which I was first conscious of existence, or the flowers that grew with me?’ — ‘Parents? — children?’ said the stranger; ‘Oh yes! There are fathers who instruct their sons — ‘ And his voice was lost — he struggled to recover it.

1 The Catholics and Protestants were thus distinguished in the wars of the League.’

2 Catholics.

3 Protestants.

4 Dissenters.

‘After a long pause, he said, ‘There are some kind parents among those sophisticated people.’ — ‘And who are they?’ said Immalee, whose heart throbbed spontaneously at the mention of kindliness. — ‘Those,’ said the stranger, with a withering smile, ‘who murder their children at the hour of their birth, or, by medical art, dismiss them before they have seen the light; and, in so doing, they give the only credible evidence of parental affection.’

‘He ceased, and Immalee remained silent in melancholy meditation on what she had heard. The acrid and searing irony of his language had made no impression on one with whom ‘speech was truth,’ and who could have no idea why a circuitous mode of conveying meaning could be adopted, when even a direct one was often attended with difficulty to herself. But she could understand, that he had spoken much of evil and of suffering, names unknown to her before she beheld him, and she turned on him a glance that seemed at once to thank and reproach him for her painful initiation into the mysteries of a new existence. She had, indeed, tasted of the tree of knowledge, and her eyes were opened, but its fruit was bitter to her taste, and her looks conveyed a kind of mild and melancholy gratitude, that would have wrung the heart for giving its first lesson of pain to the heart of a being so beautiful, so gentle, and so innocent. The stranger marked this blended expression, and exulted.

‘He had distorted life thus to her imagination, perhaps with the purpose of terrifying her from a nearer view of it; perhaps in the wild hope of keeping her for ever in this solitude, where he might sometimes see her, and catch, from the atmosphere of purity that surrounded her, the only breeze that floated over the burning desert of his own existence. This hope was strengthened by the obvious impression his discourse had made on her. The sparkling intelligence, — the breathless curiosity, — the vivid gratitude of her former expression, — were all extinguished, and her down cast and thoughtful eyes were full of tears.

‘Has my conversation wearied you, Immalee?’ said he. — ‘It has grieved me, yet I wish to listen still,’ answered the Indian. ‘I love to hear the murmur of the stream, though the crocodile may be beneath the waves.’ — ‘Perhaps you wish to encounter the people of this world, so full of crime and misfortune.’ — ‘I do, for it is the world you came from, and when you return to it all will be happy but me.’ — ‘And is it, then, in my power to confer happiness?’ said her companion; ‘is it for this purpose I wander among mankind?’ A mingled and indefinable expression of derision, malevolence, and despair, overspread his features, as he added, ‘You do me too much honour, in devising for me an occupation so mild and so congenial to my spirit.’

‘Immalee, whose eyes were averted, did not see this expression, and she replied, ‘I know not, but you have taught me the joy of grief; before I saw you I only smiled, but since I saw you, I weep, and my tears are delicious. Oh! they are far different from those I shed for the setting sun, or the faded rose! And yet I know not — ‘ And the poor Indian, oppressed by emotions she could neither understand or express, clasped her hands on her bosom, as if to hide the secret of its new palpitations, and, with the instinctive diffidence of her purity, signified the change of her feelings, by retiring a few steps from her companion, and casting on the earth eyes which could contain their tears no longer. The stranger appeared troubled, — an emotion new to himself agitated him for a moment, — then a smile of self-disdain curled his lip, as if he reproached himself for the indulgence of human feeling even for a moment. Again his features relaxed, as he turned to the bending and averted form of Immalee, and he seemed like one conscious of agony of soul himself, yet inclined to sport with the agony of another’s . This union of inward despair and outward levity is not unnatural. Smiles are the legitimate offspring of happiness, but laughter is often the misbegotten child of madness, that mocks its parent to her face. With such an expression he turned towards her, and asked, ‘But what is your meaning, Immalee?’ — A long pause followed this question, and at length the Indian answered, ‘I know not,’ with that natural and delicious art which teaches the sex to disclose their meaning in words that seem to contradict it. ‘I know not,’ means, ‘I know too well.’ Her companion understood this, and enjoyed his anticipated triumph. ‘And why do your tears flow, Immalee?’ — ‘I know not,’ said the poor Indian, and her tears flowed faster at the question.

‘At these words, or rather at these tears, the stranger forgot himself for a moment. He felt that melancholy triumph which the conqueror is unable to enjoy; that triumph which announces a victory over the weakness of others, obtained at the expence of a greater weakness in ourselves. A human feeling, in spite of him, pervaded his whole soul, as he said, in accents of involuntary softness, ‘What would you have me do, Immalee?’ The difficulty of speaking a language that might be at once intelligible and reserved, — that might convey her wishes without betraying her heart, — and the unknown nature of her new emotions, made Immalee faulter long before she could answer, ‘Stay with me, — return not to that world of evil and sorrow. — Here the flowers will always bloom, and the sun be as bright as on the first day I beheld you. — Why will you go back to the world to think and to be unhappy?’ The wild and discordant laugh of her companion, startled and silenced her. ‘Poor girl,’ he exclaimed, with that mixture of bitterness and commiseration, that at once terrifies and humiliates; ‘and is this the destiny I am to fulfil? — to listen to the chirping of birds, and watch the opening of buds? Is this to be my lot?’ and with another wild burst of unnatural laughter, he flung away the hand which Immalee had extended to him as she had finished her simple appeal. — ‘Yes, doubtless, I am well fitted for such a fate, and such a partner. Tell me,’ he added, with still wilder fierceness, ‘tell me from what line of my features, — from what accent of my voice, — from what sentiment of my discourse, have you extracted the foundation of a hope that insults me with the view of felicity?’ Immalee, who might have replied, ‘I understand a fury in your words, but not your words,’ had yet sufficient aid from her maiden pride, and female penetration, to discover that she was rejected by the stranger; and a brief emotion of indignant grief struggled with the tenderness of her exposed and devoted heart. She paused a moment, and then checking her tears, said, in her firmest tones, ‘Go, then, to your world, — since you wish to be unhappy — go! — Alas! it is not necessary to go there to be unhappy, for I must be so here. Go, — but take with you these roses, for they will all wither when you are gone! — take with you these shells, for I shall no longer love to wear them when you no longer see them!’ And as she spoke, with simple, but emphatic action, she untwined from her bosom and hair the shells and flowers with which they were adorned, and threw them at his feet; then turning to throw one glance of proud and melancholy grief at him, she was retiring. ‘Stay, Immalee, — stay, and hear me for a moment,’ said the stranger; and he would, at that moment, have perhaps discovered the ineffable and forbidden secret of his destiny, but Immalee, in silence, which her look of profound grief made eloquent, shook sadly her averted head, and departed.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/maturin/charles/melmoth_the_wanderer/chapter17.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09