Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin

Chapter 18

Miseram me omnia terrent, et maris sonitus, et scopuli, et solitudo, et sanctitudo Apollinis.

LATIN PLAY

‘Many days elapsed before the stranger revisited the isle. How he was occupied, or what feelings agitated him in the interval, it would be beyond human conjecture to discover. Perhaps he sometimes exulted in the misery he had inflicted, — perhaps he sometimes pitied it. His stormy mind was like an ocean that had swallowed a thousand wrecks of gallant ships, and now seemed to dally with the loss of a little slender skiff, that could hardly make way on its surface in the profoundest calm. Impelled, however, by malignity, or tenderness, or curiosity, or weariness of artificial life, so vividly contrasted by the unadulterated existence of Immalee, into whose pure elements nothing but flowers and fragrance, the sparkling of the heavens, and the odours of earth, had transfused their essence — or, possibly, by a motive more powerful than all, — his own will; which, never analysed, and hardly ever confessed to be the ruling principle of our actions, governs nine-tenths of them. — He returned to the shore of the haunted isle, the name by which it was distinguished by those who knew not how to classify the new goddess who was supposed to inhabit it, and who were as much puzzled by this new specimen in their theology, as Linnæus himself could have been by a non-descript in botany. Alas! the varieties in moral botany far exceed the wildest anomalies of those in the natural. However it was, the stranger returned to the isle. But he had to traverse many paths, where human foot but his had never been, and to rend away branches that seemed to tremble at a human touch, and to cross streams into which no foot but his had ever been dipped, before he could discover where Immalee had concealed herself.

‘Concealment, however, was not in her thoughts. When he found her, she was leaning against a rock; the ocean was pouring its eternal murmur of waters at her feet; she had chosen the most desolate spot she could find; — there was neither flower or shrub near her; — the calcined rocks, the offspring of volcano — the restless roar of the sea, whose waves almost touched her small foot, that seemed by its heedless protrusion at once to court and neglect danger — these objects were all that surrounded her. The first time he had beheld her, she was embowered amid flowers and odours, amid all the glorious luxuries of vegetable and animal nature; the roses and the peacocks seemed emulous which should expand their leaves or their plumes, as a shade to that loveliness which seemed to hover between them, alternately borrowing the fragrance of the one, and the hues of the other. Now she stood as if deserted even by nature, whose child she was; the rock was her resting-place, and the ocean seemed the bed where she purposed to rest; she had no shells on her bosom, no roses in her hair — her character seemed to have changed with her feelings; she no longer loved all that is beautiful in nature; she seemed, by an anticipation of her destiny, to make alliance with all that is awful and ominous. She had begun to love the rocks and the ocean, the thunder of the wave, and the sterility of the sand, — awful objects, the incessant recurrence of whose very sound seems intended to remind us of grief and of eternity. Their restless monotony of repetition, corresponds with the beatings of a heart which asks its destiny from the phenomena of nature, and feels the answer is — ‘Misery.’

‘Those who love may seek the luxuries of the garden, and inhale added intoxication from its perfumes, which seem the offerings of nature on that altar which is already erected and burning in the heart of the worshipper; — but let those who have loved seek the shores of the ocean, and they shall have their answer too.

‘There was a sad and troubled air about her, as she stood so lonely, that seemed at once to express the conflict of her internal emotions, and to reflect the gloom and agitation of the physical objects around her; for nature was preparing for one of those awful convulsions — one of those abortive throes of desolation, that seems to announce a more perfect wrath to come; and while it blasts the vegetation, and burns up the soil of some visited portion, seems to proclaim in the murmur of its receding thunders, that it will return in that day, when the universe shall pass away as a scroll, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and return to fulfil the dreadful promise, which its partial and initiatory devastation has left incomplete. Is there a peal of thunder that does not mutter a menace, ‘For me, the dissolution of the world is reserved, I depart, but I shall return?’ Is there a flash of lightning that does not say, visibly, if not audibly, ‘Sinner, I cannot now penetrate the recesses of your soul; but how will you encounter my glare, when the hand of the judge is armed with me, and my penetrating glance displays you to the view of assembled worlds?’

‘The evening was very dark; heavy clouds, rolling on like the forces of an hostile army, obscured the horizon from east to west. There was a bright but ghastly blue in the heaven above, like that in the eye of the dying, where the last forces of life are collected, while its powers are rapidly forsaking the frame, and feeling their extinguishment must shortly be. There was not a breath of air to heave the ocean, — the trees drooped without a whisper to woo their branches or their buds, — the birds had retired, with that instinct which teaches them to avoid the fearful encounter of the elements, and nestled with cowering wings and drooping heads among their favourite trees. There was not a human sound in the isle; the very rivulet seemed to tremble at its own tinklings, and its small waves flowed as if a subterranean hand arrested and impeded their motion. Nature, in these grand and terrific operations, seems in some degree to assimilate herself to a parent, whose most fearful denunciations are preceded by an awful silence, or rather to a judge, whose final sentence is felt with less horror than the pause that intervenes before it is pronounced.

‘Immalee gazed on the awful scene by which she was surrounded, without any emotion derived from physical causes. To her, light and darkness had hitherto been the same; she loved the sun for its lustre, and the lightning for its transitory brilliancy, and the ocean for its sonorous music, and the tempest for the agitation which it gave to the trees, under whose bending and welcoming shadow she danced, in time kept by the murmur of their leaves, that hung low, as if to crown their votarist. And she loved the night, when all was still, but what she was accustomed to call the music of a thousand streams, that made the stars rise from their beds, to sparkle and nod to that wild melody.

‘Such she had been. Now, her eye was intently fixed on the declining light, and the approaching darkness, — that preternatural gloom, that seems to say to the brightest and most beautiful of the works of God, ‘Give place to me, thou shall shine no more.’

‘The darkness increased, and the clouds collected like an army that had mustered its utmost force, and stood in obdured and collected strength against the struggling light of heaven. A broad, red, and dusky line of gloomy light, gathered round the horizon, like an usurper watching the throne of an abdicated sovereign, and expanding its portentous circle, sent forth alternately flashes of lightning, pale and red; — the murmur of the sea increased, and the arcades of the banyan-tree, that had struck its patriarchal root not five hundred paces from where Immalee stood, resounded the deep and almost unearthly murmur of the approaching storm through all its colonnades; the primeval trunk rocked and groaned, and the everlasting fibres seemed to withdraw their grasp from the earth, and quiver in air at the sound. Nature, with every voice she could inspire from earth, or air, or water, announced danger to her children.

‘That was the moment the stranger chose to approach Immalee; of danger he was insensible, of fear he was unconscious; his miserable destiny had exempted him from both, but what had it left him? No hope — but that of plunging others into his own condemnation. No fear — but that his victim might escape him. Yet with all his diabolical heartlessness, he did feel some relentings of his human nature, as he beheld the young Indian; her cheek was pale, but her eye was fixed, and her figure, turned from him, (as if she preferred to encounter the tremendous rage of the storm), seemed to him to say, ‘Let me fall into the hands of God, and not into those of man.’

‘This attitude, so unintentionally assumed by Immalee, and so little expressive of her real feelings, restored all the malignant energies of the stranger’s feelings; the former evil purposes of his heart, and the habitual character of his dark and fiendish pursuit, rushed back on him. Amid this contrasted scene of the convulsive rage of nature, and the passive helplessness of her unsheltered loveliness, he felt a glow of excitement, like that which pervaded him, when the fearful powers of his ‘charmed life’ enabled him to penetrate the cells of a madhouse, or the dungeons of an Inquisition.

‘He saw this pure being surrounded by the terrors of nature, and felt a wild and terrible conviction, that though the lightning might blast her in a moment, yet there was a bolt more burning and more fatal, which was wielded by his own hand, and which, if he could aim it aright, must transfix her very soul.

‘Armed with all his malignity and all his power, he approached Immalee, armed only with her purity, and standing like the reflected beam of the last ray of light on whose extinction she was gazing. There was a contrast in her form and her situation, that might have touched any feelings but those of the wanderer.

‘The light of her figure shining out amid the darkness that enveloped her, — its undulating softness rendered still softer to the eye by the rock against which it reclined, — its softness, brightness, and flexibility, presenting a kind of playful hostility to the tremendous aspect of nature overcharged with wrath and ruin.

‘The stranger approached her unobserved; his steps were unheard amid the rush of the ocean, and the deep, portentous murmur of the elements; but, as he advanced, he heard sounds that perhaps operated on his feelings as the whispers of Eve to her flowers on the organs of the serpent. Both knew their power, and felt their time. Amid the fast approaching terrors of a storm, more terrible than any she had ever witnessed, the poor Indian, unconscious, or perhaps insensible of its dangers, was singing her wild song of desperation and love to the echoes of the advancing storm. Some words of this strain of despair and passion reached the ear of the stranger. They were thus:

‘The night is growing dark — but what is that to the darkness that his absence has cast on my soul? The lightnings are glancing round me — but what are they to the gleam of his eye when he parted from me in anger?

‘I lived but in the light of his presence — why should I not die when that light is withdrawn? Anger of the clouds, what have I to fear from you? You may scorch me to dust, as I have seen you scorch the branches of the eternal trees — but the trunk still remained, and my heart will be his for ever.

‘Roar on, terrible ocean! thy waves, which I cannot count, can never wash his image from my soul, — thou dashest a thousand waves against a rock, but the rock is unmoved — and so would be my heart amid the calamities of the world with which he threatens me, — whose dangers I never would have known but for him, and whose dangers for him I will encounter.’

‘She paused in her wild song, and then renewed it, regardless alike of the terrors of the elements, and the possible presence of one whose subtle and poisonous potency was more fatal than all the elements in their united wrath.

‘When we first met, my bosom was covered with roses — now it is shaded with the dark leaves of the ocynum. When he saw me first, the living things all loved me — now I care not whether they love me or not — I have forgot to love them. When he came to the isle every night, I hoped the moon would be bright — now I care not whether she rises or sets, whether she is clouded or bright. Before he came, every thing loved me, and I had more things to love than I could reckon by the hairs of my head — now I feel I can love but one, and that one has deserted me. Since I have seen him all things have changed. The flowers have not the colours they once had — there is no music in the flow of the waters — the stars do not smile on me from heaven as they did, — and I myself begin to love the storm better than the calm.’

‘As she ended her melancholy strain, she turned from the spot where the increasing fury of the storm made it no longer possible for her to stand, and turning, met the gaze of the stranger fixed on her. A suffusion, the most rich and vivid, mantled over her from brow to bosom; she did not utter her usual exclamation of joy at his sight, but, with averted eyes and faultering step, followed him as he pointed her to seek shelter amid the ruins of the pagoda. They approached it in silence; and, amid the convulsions and fury of nature, it was singular to see two beings walk on together without exchanging a word of apprehension, or feeling a thought of danger, — the one armed by despair, the other by innocence. Immalee would rather have sought the shelter of her favourite banyan-tree, but the stranger tried to make her comprehend, that her danger would be much greater there than in the spot he pointed out to her. ‘Danger!’ said the Indian, while a bright and wild smile irradiated her features; ‘can there be danger when you are near me?’ — ‘Is there, then, no danger in my presence? — few have met me without dreading, and without feeling it too!’ and his countenance, as he spoke, grew darker than the heaven at which he scowled. ‘Immalee,’ he added, in a voice still deeper and more thrilling, from the unwonted operation of human emotion in its tones; ‘Immalee, you cannot be weak enough to believe that I have power of controuling the elements? If I had,’ he continued, ‘by the heaven that is frowning at me, the first exertion of my power should be to collect the most swift and deadly of the lightnings that are hissing around us, and transfix you where you stand!’ — ‘Me?’ repeated the trembling Indian, her cheek growing paler at his words, and the voice in which they were uttered, than at the redoubling fury of the storm, amid whose pauses she scarce heard them. — ‘Yes — you — you — lovely as you are, and innocent, and pure, before a fire more deadly consumes your existence, and drinks your heart-blood — before you are longer exposed to a danger a thousand times more fatal than those with which the elements menace you — the danger of my accursed and miserable presence!’

‘Immalee, unconscious of his meaning, but trembling with impassioned grief at the agitation with which he spoke, approached him to soothe the emotion of which she knew neither the name or the cause. Through the fractures of the ruin the red and ragged lightnings disclosed, from time to time, a glimpse of her figure, — her dishevelled hair, — her pallid and appealing look, — her locked hands, and the imploring bend of her slight form, as if she was asking pardon for a crime of which she was unconscious, — and soliciting an interest in griefs not her own. All around her wild, unearthly, and terrible, — the floor strewed with fragments of stone, and mounds of sand, — the vast masses of ruined architecture, whose formation seemed the work of no human hand, and whose destruction appeared the sport of demons, — the yawning fissures of the arched and ponderous roof, through which heaven darkened and blazed alternately with a gloom that wrapt every thing, or a light more fearful than that gloom. — All around her gave to her form, when it was momently visible, a relief so strong and so touching, that it might have immortalized the hand who had sketched her as the embodied presence of an angel who had descended to the regions of woe and wrath, — of darkness and of fire, on a message of reconciliation, — and descended in vain.

‘The stranger threw on her, as she bent before him, one of those looks that, but her own, no mortal eye had yet encountered unappalled. Its expression seemed only to inspire a higher feeling of devotedness in the victim. Perhaps an involuntary sentiment of terror mingled itself with that expression, as this beautiful being sunk on her knees before her writhing and distracted enemy; and, by the silent supplication of her attitude, seemed to implore him to have mercy on himself. As the lightnings flashed around her, — as the earth trembled beneath her white and slender feet, — as the elements seemed all sworn to the destruction of every living thing, and marched on from heaven to the accomplishment of their purpose, with Væ victis written and legible to every eye, in the broad unfolded banners of that resplendent and sulphurous light that seemed to display the day of hell — the feelings of the devoted Indian seemed concentrated on the ill-chosen object of their idolatry alone. Her graduating attitudes beautifully, but painfully, expressed the submission of a female heart devoted to its object, to his frailties, his passions, and his very crimes. When subdued by the image of power, which the mind of man exercises over that of woman, that impulse becomes irresistibly humiliating. Immalee had at first bowed to conciliate her beloved, and her spirit had taught her frame that first inclination. In her next stage of suffering, she had sunk on her knees, and, remaining at a distance from him, she had trusted to this state of prostration to produce that effect on his heart which those who love always hope compassion may produce, — that illegitimate child of love, often more cherished than its parent. In her last efforts she clung to his hand — she pressed her pale lips to it, and was about to utter a few words — her voice failed her, but her fast dropping tears spoke to the hand which she held, — and its grasp, which for a moment convulsively returned hers, and then flung it away, answered her.

‘The Indian remained prostrate and aghast. ‘Immalee,’ said the stranger, in a struggling voice, ‘Do you wish me to tell you the feelings with which my presence should inspire you?’ — ‘No — no — no!’ said the Indian, applying her white and delicate hands to her ears, and then clasping them on her bosom; ‘I feel them too much.’ — ‘Hate me — curse me!’ said the stranger, not heeding her, and stamping till the reverberation of his steps on the hollow and loosened stones almost contended with the thunder; ‘hate me, for I hate you — I hate all things that live — all things that are dead — I am myself hated and hateful!’ — ‘Not by me,’ said the poor Indian, feeling, through the blindness of her tears, for his averted hand. ‘Yes, by you, if you knew whose I am, and whom I serve.’ Immalee aroused her newly-excited energies of heart and intellect to answer this appeal. ‘Who you are, I know not — but I am yours. — Whom you serve, I know not — but him will I serve — I will be yours for ever. Forsake me if you will, but when I am dead, come back to this isle, and say to yourself, The roses have bloomed and faded — the streams have flowed and been dried up — the rocks have been removed from their places — and the lights of heaven have altered in their courses, — but there was one who never changed, and she is not here!’

‘As she spoke the enthusiasm of passion struggling with grief, she added, ‘You have told me you possess the happy art of writing thought. — Do not write one thought on my grave, for one word traced by your hand would revive me. Do not weep, for one tear would make me live again, perhaps to draw a tear from you.’ — ‘Immalee!’ said the stranger. The Indian looked up, and, with a mingled feeling of grief, amazement, and compunction, beheld him shed tears. The next moment he dashed them away with the hand of despair; and, grinding his teeth, burst into that wild shriek of bitter and convulsive laughter that announces the object of its derision is ourselves.

‘Immalee, whose feelings were almost exhausted, trembled in silence at his feet. ‘Hear me, wretched girl!’ he cried in tones that seemed alternately tremulous with malignity and compassion, with habitual hostility and involuntary softness; ‘hear me! I know the secret sentiment you struggle with better than the innocent heart of which it is the inmate knows it. Suppress, banish, destroy it. Crush it as you would a young reptile before its growth had made it loathsome to the eye, and poisonous to existence!’ — ‘I never crushed even a reptile in my life,’ answered Immalee, unconscious that this matter-of-fact answer was equally applicable in another sense. ‘You love, then,’ said the stranger; ‘but,’ after a long and ominous pause, ‘do you know whom it is you love?’ — ‘You!’ said the Indian, with that purity of truth that consecrates the impulse it yields to, and would blush more for the sophistications of art than the confidence of nature; ‘you! You have taught me to think, to feel, and to weep.’ — ‘And you love me for this?’ said her companion, with an expression half irony, half commiseration. ‘Think, Immalee, for a moment, how unsuitable, how unworthy, is the object of the feelings you lavish on him. A being unattractive in his form, repulsive in his habits, separated from life and humanity by a gulph impassable; a disinherited child of nature, who goes about to curse or to tempt his more prosperous brethren; one who — what withholds me from disclosing all?’

‘At this moment a flash of such vivid and terrific brightness as no human sight could sustain, gleamed through the ruins, pouring through every fissure instant and intolerable light. Immalee, overcome by terror and emotion, remained on her knees, her hands closely clasped over her aching eyes.

‘For a few moments that she remained thus, she thought she heard other sounds near her, and that the stranger was answering a voice that spoke to him. She heard him say, as the thunder rolled to a distance, ‘This hour is mine, not thine — begone, and trouble me not.’ When she looked up again, all trace of human emotion was gone from his expression. The dry and burning eye of despair that he fixed on her, seemed never to have owned a tear; the hand with which he grasped her, seemed never to have felt the flow of blood, or the throb of a pulse; amid the intense and increasing heat of an atmosphere that appeared on fire, its touch was as cold as that of the dead.

‘Mercy!’ cried the trembling Indian, as she in vain endeavoured to read a human feeling in those eyes of stone, to which her own tearful and appealing ones were uplifted — ‘mercy!’ And while she uttered the word, she knew not what she deprecated or dreaded.

‘The stranger answered not a word, relaxed not a muscle; it seemed as if he felt not with the hands that grasped her, — as if he saw her not with the eyes that glared fixedly and coldly on her. He bore, or rather dragged, her to the vast arch that had once been the entrance to the pagoda, but which, now shattered and ruinous, resembled more the gulphing yawn of a cavern that harbours the inmates of the desert, than a work wrought by the hands of man, and devoted to the worship of a deity. ‘You have called for mercy,’ said her companion, in a voice that froze her blood even under the burning atmosphere, whose air she could scarce respire. ‘You have cried for mercy, and mercy you shall have. Mercy has not been dealt to me, but I have courted my horrible destiny, and my reward is just and sure. Look forth, trembler — look forth, — I command thee!’ And he stamped with an air of authority and impatience that completed the terror of the delicate and impassioned being who shuddered in his grasp, and felt half-dead at his frown.

‘In obedience to his command, she removed the long tresses of her auburn hair, which had vainly swept, in luxuriant and fruitless redundance, the rock on which the steps of him she adored had been fixed. With that mixture of the docility of the child, and the mild submission of woman, she attempted to comply with his demand, but her eyes, filled with tears, could not encounter the withering horrors of the scene before her. She wiped those brilliant eyes with hairs that were every day bathed in the pure and crystal lymph, and seemed, as she tried to gaze on the desolation, like some bright and shivering spirit, who, for its further purification, or perhaps for the enlargement of the knowledge necessary for its destination, is compelled to witness some evidence of the Almighty’s wrath, unintelligible in its first operations, but doubtless salutary in its final results.

‘Thus looking and thus feeling, Immalee shudderingly approached the entrance of that building, which, blending the ruins of nature with those of art, seemed to announce the power of desolation over both, and to intimate that the primeval rock, untouched and unmodulated by human hands, and thrown upwards perhaps by some volcanic eruption, perhaps deposited there by some meteoric discharge, and the gigantic columns of stone, whose erection had been the work of two centuries, — were alike dust beneath the feet of that tremendous conqueror, whose victories alone are without noise and without resistance, and the progress of whose triumph is marked by tears instead of blood.

‘Immalee, as she gazed around her, felt, for the first time, terror at the aspect of nature. Formerly, she had considered all its phenomena as equally splendid or terrific. And her childish, though active imagination, seemed to consecrate alike the sunlight and the storm, to the devotion of a heart, on whose pure altar the flowers and the fires of nature flung their undivided offering.

‘But since she had seen the stranger, new emotions had pervaded her young heart. She learned to weep and to fear; and perhaps she saw, in the fearful aspect of the heavens, the developement of that mysterious terror, which always trembles at the bottom of the hearts of those who dare to love.

‘How often does nature thus become an involuntary interpreter between us and our feelings! Is the murmur of the ocean without a meaning? — Is the roll of the thunder without a voice? — Is the blasted spot on which the rage of both has been exhausted without its lesson? — Do not they all tell us some mysterious secret, which we have in vain searched our hearts for? — Do we not find in them, an answer to those questions with which we are for ever importuning the mute oracle of our destiny? — Alas! how deceitful and inadequate we feel the language of man, after love and grief have made us acquainted with that of nature! — the only one, perhaps, capable of a corresponding sign for those emotions, under which all human expression faints. What a difference between words without meaning, and that meaning without words, which the sublime phenomena of nature, the rocks and the ocean, the moon and the twilight, convey to those who have ‘ears to hear.’

‘How eloquent of truth is nature in her very silence! How fertile of reflections amid her profoundest desolations! But the desolation now presented to the eyes of Immalee, was that which is calculated to cause terror, not reflection. Earth and heaven, the sea and the dry land, seemed mingling together, and about to replunge into chaos. The ocean, deserting its eternal bed, dashed its waves, whose white surf gleamed through the darkness, far into the shores of the isle. They came on like the crests of a thousand warriors, plumed and tossing in their pride, and, like them, perishing in the moment of victory. There was a fearful inversion of the natural appearance of earth and sea, as if all the barriers of nature were broken, and all her laws reversed.

‘The waves deserting their station, left, from time to time, the sands as dry as those of the desert; and the trees and shrubs tossed and heaved in ceaseless agitation, like the waves of a midnight storm. There was no light, but a livid grey that sickened the eye to behold, except when the bright red lightning burst out like the eye of a fiend, glancing over the work of ruin, and closing as it beheld it completed.

‘Amid this scene stood two beings, one whose appealing loveliness seemed to have found favour with the elements even in their wrath, and one whose fearless and obdurate eye appeared to defy them. ‘Immalee,’ he cried, ‘is this a place or an hour to talk of love! — all nature is appalled — heaven is dark — the animals have hid themselves — and the very shrubs, as they wave and shrink, seem alive with terror.’ — ‘It is an hour to implore protection,’ said the Indian, clinging to him timidly. ‘Look up,’ said the stranger, while his own fixed and fearless eye seemed to return flash for flash to the baffled and insulted elements; ‘Look up, and if you cannot resist the impulses of your heart, let me at least point out a fitter object for them. Love,’ he cried, extending his arm towards the dim and troubled sky, ‘love the storm in its might of destruction — seek alliance with those swift and perilous travellers of the groaning air, — the meteor that rends, and the thunder that shakes it! Court, for sheltering tenderness, those masses of dense and rolling cloud, — the baseless mountains of heaven! Woo the kisses of the fiery lightnings, to quench themselves on your smouldering bosom! Seek all that is terrible in nature for your companions and your lover! — woo them to burn and blast you — perish in their fierce embrace, and you will be happier, far happier, than if you lived in mine! Lived! — Oh who can be mine and live! Hear me, Immalee!’ he cried, while he held her hands locked in his — while his eyes, rivetted on her, sent forth a light of intolerable lustre — while a new feeling of indefinite enthusiasm seemed for a moment to thrill his whole frame, and new-modulate the tone of his nature; ‘Hear me! If you will be mine, it must be amid a scene like this for ever — amid fire and darkness — amid hatred and despair — amid — ‘ and his voice swelling to a demoniac shriek of rage and horror, and his arms extended, as if to grapple with the fearful objects of some imaginary struggle, he was rushing from the arch under which they stood, lost in the picture which his guilt and despair had drawn, and whose images he was for ever doomed to behold.

‘The slender form that had clung to him was, by this sudden movement, prostrated at his feet; and, with a voice choaked with terror, yet with that perfect devotedness which never issued but from the heart and lip of woman, she answered his frightful questions with the simple demand, ‘Will you be there? — ‘Yes! — THERE I must be, and for ever! And will you, and dare you, be with me?’ And a kind of wild and terrible energy nerved his frame, and strengthened his voice, as he spoke and cowered over pale and prostrate loveliness, that seemed in profound and reckless humiliation to court its own destruction, as if a dove exposed its breast, without flight or struggle, to the beak of a vulture. ‘Well, then,’ said the stranger, while a brief convulsion crossed his pale visage, ‘amid thunder I wed thee — bride of perdition! mine shalt thou be for ever! Come, and let us attest our nuptials before the reeling altar of nature, with the lightnings of heaven for our bed-lights, and the curse of nature for our marriage-benediction!’ The Indian shrieked in terror, not at his words, which she did not understand, but at the expression which accompanied them. ‘Come,’ he repeated, ‘while the darkness yet is witness to our ineffable and eternal union.’ Immalee, pale, terrified, but resolute, retreated from him.

‘At this moment the storm, which had obscured the heavens and ravaged the earth, passed away with the rapidity common in those climates, where the visitation of an hour does its work of destruction unimpeded, and is instantly succeeded by the smiling lights and brilliant skies of which mortal curiosity in vain asks the question, Whether they gleam in triumph or in consolation over the mischief they witness?

‘As the stranger spoke, the clouds passed away, carrying their diminished burden of wrath and terror where sufferings were to be inflicted, and terrors to be undergone, by the natives of other climes — and the bright moon burst forth with a glory unknown in European climes. The heavens were as blue as the waves of the ocean, which they seemed to reflect; and the stars burst forth with a kind of indignant and aggravated brilliancy, as if they resented the usurpation of the storm, and asserted the eternal predominance of nature over the casual influences of the storms that obscured her. Such, perhaps, will be the developement of the moral world. We shall be told why we suffered, and for what; but a bright and blessed lustre shall follow the storm, and all shall yet be light.

‘The young Indian caught from this object an omen alike auspicious to her imagination and her heart. She burst from him — she rushed into the light of nature, whose glory seemed like the promise of redemption, gleaming amid the darkness of the fall. She pointed to the moon, that sun of the eastern nights, whose broad and brilliant light fell like a mantle of glory over rock and ruin, over tree and flower.

‘Wed me by this light,’ cried Immalee, ‘and I will be yours for ever!’ And her beautiful countenance reflected the full light of the glorious planet that rode bright through the cloudless heaven — and her white and naked arms, extended towards it, seemed like two pure attesting pledges of the union. ‘Wed me by this light,’ she repeated, sinking on her knees, ‘and I will be yours for ever!’

‘As she spoke, the stranger approached, moved with what feelings no mortal thought can discover. At that moment a trifling phenomenon interfered to alter her destiny. A darkened cloud at that moment covered the moon — it seemed as if the departed storm collected in wrathful haste the last dark fold of its tremendous drapery, and was about to pass away for ever.

‘The eyes of the stranger flashed on Immalee the brightest rays of mingled fondness and ferocity. He pointed to the darkness, — ‘WED ME BY THIS LIGHT!’ he exclaimed, ‘and you shall be mine for ever and ever!‘ Immalee, shuddering at the grasp in which he held her, and trying in vain to watch the expression of his countenance, yet felt enough of her danger to tear herself from him. ‘Farewell for ever!’ exclaimed the stranger, as he rushed from her.

‘Immalee, exhausted by emotion and terror, had fallen senseless on the sands that filled the path to the ruined pagoda. He returned — he raised her in his arms — her long dark hair streamed over them like the drooping banners of a defeated army — her arms sunk down as if declining the support they seemed to implore — her cold and colourless cheek rested on his shoulder.

‘Is she dead?’ he murmured. ‘Well, be it so — let her perish — let her be any thing but mine!‘ He flung his senseless burden on the sands, and departed — nor did he ever revisit the island.’

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