Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin

Chapter 31

There is an oak beside the froth-clad pool,

Where in old time, as I have often heard,

A woman desperate, a wretch like me,

Ended her woes! — Her woes were not like mine!

* * * *

— Ronan will know;

When he beholds me floating on the stream,

His heart will tell him why Rivine died!

HOME’S FATAL DISCOVERY

‘The increasing decline of Elinor’s health was marked by all the family; the very servant who stood behind her chair looked sadder every day — even Margaret began to repent of the invitation she had given her to the Castle.

‘Elinor felt this, and would have spared her what pain she could; but it was not possible for herself to be insensible of the fast-fading remains of her withering youth and blighted beauty. The place — the place itself, was the principal cause of that mortal disease that was consuming her; yet from that place she felt she had less resolution to tear herself every day. So she lived, like those sufferers in eastern prisons, who are not allowed to taste food unless mixed with poison, and who must perish alike whether they eat or forbear.

‘Once, urged by intolerable pain of heart, (tortured by living in the placid light of John Sandal’s sunny smile), she confessed this to Margaret. She said, ‘It is impossible for me to support this existence — impossible! To tread the floor which those steps have trod — to listen for their approach, and when they come, feel they do not bear him we seek — to see every object around me reflect his image, but never — never to see the reality — to see the door open which once disclosed his figure, and when it opens, not to see him, and when he does appear, to see him not what he was — to feel he is the same and not the same, — the same to the eye, but not to the heart — to struggle thus between the dream of imagination and the cruel awaking of reality — Oh! Margaret — that undeception plants a dagger in the heart, whose point no human hand can extract, and whose venom no human hand can heal!’ Margaret wept as Elinor spoke thus, and slowly, very slowly, expressed her consent that Elinor should quit the Castle, if it was necessary for her peace.

‘It was the very evening after this conversation, that Elinor, whose habit was to wander among the woods that surrounded the Castle unattended, met with John Sandal. It was a glorious autumnal evening, just like that on which they had first met, — the associations of nature were the same, those of the heart alone had suffered change. There is that light in an autumnal sky, — that shade in autumnal woods, — that dim and hallowed glory in the evening of the year, which is indefinably combined with recollections. Sandal, as they met, had spoken to her in the same voice of melody, and with the same heart-thrilling tenderness of manner, that had never ceased to visit her ear since their first meeting, like music in dreams. She imagined there was more than usual feeling in his manner; and the spot where they were, and which memory made populous and eloquent with the imagery and speech of other days, flattered this illusion. A vague hope trembled at the bottom of her heart, — she thought of what she dared not to utter, and yet dared to believe. They walked on together, — together they watched the last light on the purple hills, the deep repose of the woods, whose summits were still like ‘feathers of gold,’ — together they once more tasted the confidence of nature, and, amid the most perfect silence, there was a mutual and unutterable eloquence in their hearts. The thoughts of other days rushed on Elinor, — she ventured to raise her eyes to that countenance which she once more saw ‘as it had been that of an angel.’ The glow and the smile, that made it appear like a reflexion of heaven, were there still, — but that glow was borrowed from the bright flush of the glorious west, and that smile was for nature, — not for her. She lingered till she felt it fade with the fading light, — and a last conviction striking her heart, she burst into an agony of tears. To his words of affectionate surprise, and gentle consolation, she answered only by fixing her appealing eyes on him, and agonizingly invoking his name. She had trusted to nature, and to this scene of their first meeting, to act as an interpreter between them, — and still even in despair she trusted to it.

‘Perhaps there is not a more agonizing moment than that in which we feel the aspect of nature give a perfect vitality to the associations of our hearts, while they lie buried in those in which we try in vain to revive them.

‘She was soon undeceived. With that benignity which, while it speaks of consolation, forbids hope — with that smile which angels may be supposed to give on the last conflict of a sufferer who is casting off the garments of mortality in pain and hope — with such an expression he whom she loved regarded her. From another world he might have cast such a glance on her, — and it sealed her doom in this for ever.

‘As, unable to witness the agony of the wound he had inflicted but could not heal, he turned from her, the last light of day faded from the hills — the sun of both worlds set on her eye and soul — she sunk on the earth, and notes of faint music that seemed designed to echo the words — ‘No — no — no — never — never more!’ trembled in her ears. They were as simple and monotonous as the words themselves, and were played accidentally by a peasant boy who was wandering in the woods. But to the unfortunate, every thing seems prophetic; and amid the shades of evening, and accompanied by the sound of his departing footsteps, the breaking heart of Elinor accepted the augury of these melancholy notes.1

1 As this whole scene is taken from fact, I subjoin the notes whose modulation is so simple, and whose effect was so profound.

music score

‘A few days after this final meeting, Elinor wrote to her aunt in York to announce, that if she still lived, and was not unwilling to admit her, she would reside with her for life; and she could not help intimating, that her life would probably not outlast that of her hostess. She did not tell what the widow Sandal had whispered to her at her first arrival at the Castle, and what she now ventured to repeat with a tone that struggled between the imperative and the persuasive, — the conciliating and the intimidative. Elinor yielded, — and the indelicacy of this representation, had only the effect to make her shrink from its repetition.

‘On her departure, Margaret wept, and Sandal shewed as much tender officiousness about her journey, as if it were to terminate in their renewed bridal. To escape from this, Elinor hastened her preparations for departure.

‘When she arrived at a certain distance from the Castle, she dismissed the family carriage, and said she would go on foot with her female servant to the farmhouse where horses were awaiting her. She went there, but remained concealed, for the report of the approaching bridal resounded in her ears.

‘The day arrived — Elinor rose very early — the bells rung out a merry peal — (as she had once heard them do on another occasion) — the troops of friends arrived in greater numbers, and with equal gaiety as they had once assembled to escort her — she saw their equipages gleaming along — she heard the joyous shouts of half the county — she imagined to herself the timid smile of Margaret, and the irradiated countenance of him who had been her bridegroom.

‘Suddenly there was a pause. She felt that the ceremony was going on — was finished — that the irrevocable words were spoken — the indissoluble tie was knit! Again the shout and wild joyance burst forth as the sumptuous cavalcade returned to the Castle. The glare of the equipages, — the splendid habits of the riders, — the cheerful groupe of shouting tenantry, — she saw it all!

‘When all was over, Elinor glanced accidentally at her dress — it was white like her bridal habit; — shuddering she exchanged it for a mourning habit, and set out, as she hoped, on her last journey.

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