Oh what was love made for, if ’tis not the same
Through joy and through torment, through glory and shame!
I know not, I ask not, what guilt’s in thine heart,
I but know I must love thee, whatever thou art.
‘The next day, the young female who had excited so much interest the preceding evening, was to quit Madrid, to pass a few weeks at a villa belonging to her family, at a short distance from the city. That family, including all the company, consisted of her mother Donna Clara di Aliaga, the wife of a wealthy merchant, who was monthly expected to return from the Indies; her brother Don Fernan di Aliaga, and several servants; for these wealthy citizens, conscious of their opulence and formerly high descent, piqued themselves upon travelling with no less ceremony and pompous tardiness than accompanied the progress of a grandee. So the old square-built, lumbering carriage, moved on like a hearse; the coachman sat fast asleep on the box; and the six black horses crawled at a pace like the progress of time when he visits affliction. Beside the carriage rode Fernan di Aliaga and his servants, with umbrellas and huge spectacles; and within it were placed Donna Clara and her daughter. The interior of this arrangement was the counterpart of its external appearance, — all announced dullness, formality, and withering monotony.
‘Donna Clara was a woman of a cold and grave temper, with all the solemnity of a Spaniard, and all the austerity of a bigot. Don Fernan presented that union of fiery passion and saturnic manners not unusual among Spaniards. His dull and selfish pride was wounded by the recollection of his family having been in trade; and, looking on the unrivalled beauty of his sister as a possible means of his obtaining an alliance with a family of rank, he viewed her with that kind of selfish partiality as little honourable to him who feels it, as to her who was its object.
‘And it was amid such beings that the vivid and susceptible Immalee, the daughter of nature, ‘the gay creature of the elements,’ was doomed to wither away the richly-coloured and exquisitely-scented flower of an existence so ungenially transplanted. Her singular destiny seemed to have removed her from a physical wilderness, to place her in a moral one. And, perhaps, her last state was worse than her first.
‘It is certain that the gloomiest prospect presents nothing so chilling as the aspect of human faces, in which we try in vain to trace one corresponding expression; and the sterility of nature itself is luxury compared to the sterility of human hearts, which communicate all the desolation they feel.
‘They had been some time on their way, when Donna Clara, who never spoke till after a long preface of silence, perhaps to give what she said a weight it might otherwise have wanted, said, with oracular deliberation, ‘Daughter, I hear you fainted in the public walks last night — did you meet with any thing that surprised or terrified you?’ — ‘No, Madam,’ — ‘What, then, could be the cause of the emotion you betrayed at the sight, as I am told — I know nothing — of a personage of extraordinary demeanour?’ — ‘Oh, I cannot, dare not tell!’ said Isidora, dropping her veil over her burning cheek. Then the irrepressible ingenuousness of her former nature, rushing over her heart and frame like a flood, she sunk from the cushion on which she sat at Donna Clara’s feet, exclaiming, ‘Oh, mother, I will tell you all!’ — ‘No!’ said Donna Clara, repelling her with a cold feeling of offended pride; ‘no! — there is no occasion. I seek no confidence withheld and bestowed in the same breath; nor do I like these violent emotions — they are unmaidenly. Your duties as a child are easily understood — they are merely perfect obedience, profound submission, and unbroken silence, except when you are addressed by me, your brother, or Father Jose. Surely no duties were ever more easily performed — rise, then, and cease to weep. If your conscience disturbs you, accuse yourself to Father Jose, who will, no doubt, inflict a penance proportioned to the enormity of your offence. I trust only he will not err on the side of indulgence.’ And so saying, Donna Clara, who had never uttered so long a speech before, reclined back on her cushion, and began to tell her beads with much devotion, till the arrival of the carriage at its destination awoke her from a profound and peaceful sleep.
‘It was near noon, and dinner in a cool low apartment near the garden awaited only the approach of Father Jose, the confessor. He arrived at length. He was a man of an imposing figure, mounted on a stately mule. His features, at first view, bore strong traces of thought; but, on closer examination, those traces seemed rather the result of physical conformation, than of any intellectual exercise. The channel was open, but the stream had not been directed there. However, though defective in education, and somewhat narrow in mind, Father Jose was a good man, and meant well. He loved power, and he was devoted to the interests of the Catholic church; but he had frequently doubts, (which he kept to himself), of the absolute necessity of celibacy, and he felt (strange effect!) a chill all over him when he heard of the fires of an auto da fe. Dinner was concluded; the fruit and wine, the latter untasted by the females, were on the table, — the choicest of them placed before Father Jose, — when Isidora, after a profound reverence to her mother and the priest, retired, as usual, to her apartment. Donna Clara turned to the confessor with a look that demanded to be answered. ‘It is her hour for siesta,’ said the priest, helping himself to a bunch of grapes. ‘No, Father, no!’ said Donna Clara sadly; ‘her maid informs me she does not retire to sleep. She was, alas! too well accustomed to that burning climate where she was lost in her infancy, to feel the heat as a Christian should. No, she retires neither to pray or sleep, after the devout custom of Spanish women, but, I fear, to’ — -‘To do what?’ said the priest, with horror in his voice — ‘To think, I fear,’ said Donna Clara; ‘for often I observe, on her return, the traces of tears on her face. I tremble, Father, lest those tears be shed for that heathen land, that region of Satan, where her youth was past.’ — ‘I’ll give her a penance,’ said Father Jose, ‘that will save her the trouble of shedding tears on the score of memory at least — these grapes are delicious.’ — ‘But, Father,’ pursued Donna Clara, with all the weak but restless anxiety of a superstitious mind, ‘though you have made me easy on that subject, I still am wretched. Oh, Father, how she will talk sometimes! — like a creature self-taught, that needed neither director or confessor but her own heart.’ — ‘How!’ exclaimed Father Jose, ‘need neither confessor or director! — she must be beside herself.’ — ‘Oh, Father,’ continued Donna Clara, ‘she will say things in her mild and unanswerable manner, that, armed with all my authority, I’ — ‘How — how is that?’ said the priest, in a tone of severity — ‘does she deny any of the tenets of the holy Catholic church?’ — ‘No! no! no!’ said the terrified Donna Clara crossing herself. ‘How then?’ — ‘Why, she speaks in a manner in which I never heard you, reverend Father, or any of the reverend brethren, whom my devotion to the holy church has led me to hear, speak before. It is in vain I tell her that true religion consists in hearing mass — in going to confession — in performing penance — in observing the fasts and vigils — in undergoing mortification and abstinence — in believing all that the holy church teaches — and hating, detesting, abhorring, and execrating — ‘ ‘Enough, daughter — enough,’ said Father Jose; ‘there can be no doubt of the orthodoxy of your creed?’ — ‘I trust not, holy Father,’ said the anxious Donna Clara. ‘I were an infidel to doubt it,’ interposed the priest; ‘I might as well deny this fruit to be exquisite, or this glass of Malaga to be worthy the table of his Holiness the Pope, if he feasted all the Cardinals. But how, daughter, as touching the supposed or apprehended defalcations in Donna Isidora’s creed?’ — ‘Holy Father, I have already explained my own religious sentiments.’ — ‘Yes — yes — we have had enough of them; now for your daughter’s .’ — ‘She will sometimes say,’ said Donna Clara, bursting into tears — ‘she will say, but never till greatly urged, that religion ought to be a system whose spirit was universal love. Do you understand any thing of that, Father?’ ‘Humph — humph!’ — ‘That it must be something that bound all who professed it to habits of benevolence, gentleness, and humility, under every difference of creed and of form.’ — ‘Humph — humph!’ — ‘Father,’ said Donna Clara, a little piqued at the apparent indifference with which Father Jose listened to her communications, and resolved to rouse him by some terrific evidence of the truth of her suspicions, ‘Father, I have heard her dare to express a hope that the heretics in the train of the English ambassador might not be everlastingly’ — ‘Hush! — I must not hear such sounds, or it might be my duty to take severer notice of these lapses. However, daughter,’ continued Father Jose, ‘thus far I will venture for your consolation. As sure as this fine peach is in my hand — another, if you please — and as sure as I shall finish this other glass of Malaga’ — here a long pause attested the fulfilment of the pledge — ‘so sure’ — and Father Jose turned the inverted glass on the table — ‘Madonna Isidora has — has the elements of a Christian in her, however improbable it may seem to you — I swear it to you by the habit I wear; — for the rest, a little penance — a — I shall consider of it. And now, daughter, when your son Don Fernan has finished his siesta, — as there is no reason to suspect him of retiring to think, — please to inform him I am ready to continue the game of chess which we commenced four months ago. I have pushed my pawn to the last square but one, and the next step gives me a queen.’ — ‘Has the game continued so long?’ said Donna Clara. ‘Long!’ repeated the priest, ‘Aye, and may continue much longer — we have never played more than three hours a-day on an average.’
‘He then retired to sleep, and the evening was passed by the priest and Don Fernan, in profound silence at their chess — by Donna Clara, in silence equally profound, at her tapestry — and by Isidora at the casement, which the intolerable heat had compelled them to leave open, in gazing at the lustre of the moon, and inhaling the odour of the tube-rose, and watching the expanding leaves of the night-blowing cereus. The physical luxuries of her former existence seemed renewed by these objects. The intense blue of the heavens, and the burning planet that stood in sole glory in their centre, might have vied with all that lavish and refulgent opulence of light in which nature arrays an Indian night. Below, too, there were flowers and fragrance; colours, like veiled beauty, mellowed, not hid; and dews that hung on every leaf, trembling and sparkling like the tears of spirits, that wept to take leave of the flowers.
‘The breeze, indeed, though redolent of the breath of the orange blossom, the jasmine, and the rose, had not the rich and balmy odour that scents the Indian air by night.
Ενθα νησον μακαρων Αυραι περιπνεϒσιν
‘Except this, what was not there that might not renew the delicious dream of her former existence, and make her believe herself again the queen of that fairy isle? — One image was wanting — an image whose absence made that paradise of islands, and all the odorous and flowery luxury of a moonlight garden in Spain, alike deserts to her. In her heart alone could she hope to meet that image, — to herself alone did she dare to repeat his name, and those wild and sweet songs of his country1 which he had taught her in his happier moods. And so strange was the contrast between her former and present existence, — so subdued was she by constraint and coldness, — so often had she been told that every thing she did, said, or thought, was wrong, — that she began to yield up the evidences of her senses, to avoid the perpetual persecutions of teazing and imperious mediocrity, and considered the appearance of the stranger as one of those visions that formed the trouble and joy of her dreamy and illusive existence.
‘I am surprised, sister,’ said Fernan, whom Father Jose’s gaining his queen had put in unusually bad humour — ‘I am surprised that you never busy yourself, as young maidens use, at your needle, or in some quaint niceties of your sex.’ — ‘Or in reading some devout book,’ said Donna Clara, raising her eyes one moment from her tapestry, and then dropping them again; ‘there is the legend of that Polish saint,1 born, like her, in a land of darkness, yet chosen to be a vessel — I have forgot his name, reverend Father.’ — ‘Check to the king,’ said Father Jose in reply. ‘You regard nothing but watching a few flowers, or hanging over your lute, or gazing at the moon,’ continued Fernan, vexed alike at the success of his antagonist and the silence of Isidora. ‘She is eminent in alms-deeds and works of charity,’ said the good-natured priest. ‘I was summoned to a miserable hovel near your villa, Madonna Clara, to a dying sinner, a beggar rotting on rotten straw!’ — ‘Jesu!’ cried Donna Clara with involuntary horror, ‘I washed the feet of thirteen beggars, on my knees in my father’s hall, the week before my marriage with her honoured father, and I never could abide the sight of a beggar since.’ — ‘Associations are sometimes indelibly strong,’ said the priest drily; — then he added, ‘I went as was my duty, but your daughter was there before me. She had gone uncalled, and was uttering the sweetest words of consolation from a homily, which a certain poor priest, who shall be nameless, had lent her from his humble store.’
1 I have read the legend of this Polish saint, which is circulated in Dublin, and find recorded among the indisputable proofs of his vocation, that he infallibly swooned if an indecent expression was uttered in his presence — when in his nurse’s arms!
‘Isidora blushed at this anonymous vanity, while she mildly smiled or wept at the harassings of Don Fernan, and the heartless austerity of her mother. ‘I heard her as I entered the hovel; and, by the habit I wear, I paused on the threshold with delight. Her first words were — Check-mate!’ he exclaimed, forgetting his homily in his triumph, and pointing, with appealing eye, and emphatic finger, to the desperate state of his adversary’s king. ‘That was a very extraordinary exclamation!’ said the literal Donna Clara, who had never raised her eyes from her work. — ‘I did not think my daughter was so fond of chess as to burst into the house of a dying beggar with such a phrase in her mouth.’ — ‘It was I said it, Madonna,’ said the priest, reverting to his game, on which he hung with soul and eye intent on his recent victory. ‘Holy saints!’ said Donna Clara, still more and more perplexed, ‘I thought the usual phrase on such occasions was pax vobiscum, or’ — Before Father Jose could reply, a shriek from Isidora pierced the ears of every one. All gathered round her in a moment, reinforced by four female attendants and two pages, whom the unusual sound had summoned from the antichamber. Isidora had not fainted; she still stood among them pale as death, speechless, her eye wandering round the groupe that encircled her, without seeming to distinguish them. But she retained that presence of mind which never deserts woman where a secret is to be guarded, and she neither pointed with finger, or glanced with eye, towards the casement, where the cause of her alarm had presented itself. Pressed with a thousand questions, she appeared incapable of answering them, and, declining assistance, leaned against the casement for support.
‘Donna Clara was now advancing with measured step to proffer a bottle of curious essences, which she drew from a pocket of a depth beyond calculation, when one of the female attendants, aware of her favourite habits, proposed reviving her by the scent of the flowers that clustered round the frame of the casement; and collecting a handful of roses, offered them to Isidora. The sight and scent of these beautiful flowers, revived the former associations of Isidora; and, waving away her attendant, she exclaimed, ‘There are no roses like those which surrounded me when he beheld me first!’ — ‘He! — who, daughter?’ said the alarmed Donna Clara. ‘Speak, I charge you, sister,’ said the irritable Fernan, ‘to whom do you allude?’ — ‘She raves,’ said the priest, whose habitual penetration discovered there was a secret, — and whose professional jealousy decided that no one, not mother or brother, should share it with him; ‘she raves — ye are to blame — forbear to hang round and to question her. Madonna, retire to rest, and the saints watch round your bed!’ Isidora, bending thankfully for this permission, retired to her apartment; and father Jose for an hour appeared to contend with the suspicious fears of Donna Clara, and the sullen irritability of Fernan, merely that he might induce them, in the heat of controversy, to betray all they knew or dreaded, that he might strengthen his own conjectures, and establish his own power by the discovery.
Scire volunt secreta domus, et inde timeri.
And this desire is not only natural but necessary, in a being from whose heart his profession has torn every tie of nature and of passion; and if it generates malignity, ambition, and the wish for mischief, it is the system, not the individual, we must blame.
‘Madonna,’ said the Father, ‘you are always urging your zeal for the Catholic church — and you, Senhor, are always reminding me of the honour of your family — I am anxious for both — and how can the interests of both be better secured than by Donna Isidora taking the veil?’ — ‘The wish of my soul!’ cried Donna Clara, clasping her hands, and closing her eyes, as if she witnessed her daughter’s apotheosis. ‘I will never hear of it, Father,’ said Fernan; ‘my sister’s beauty and wealth entitle me to claim alliance with the first families in Spain — their baboon shapes and copper-coloured visages might be redeemed for a century by such a graft on the stock, and the blood of which they boast would not be impoverished by a transfusion of the aurum potabile of ours into it.’ — ‘You forget, son,’ said the priest, ‘the extraordinary circumstances attendant on the early part of your sister’s life. There are many of our Catholic nobility who would rather see the black blood of the banished Moors, or the proscribed Jews, flow in the veins of their descendants, that that of one who’ — Here a mysterious whisper drew from Donna Clara a shudder of distress and consternation, and from her son an impatient motion of angry incredulity. ‘I do not credit a word of it,’ said the latter; ‘you wish that my sister should take the veil, and therefore you credit and circulate the monstrous invention.’ — ‘Take heed, son, I conjure you,’ said the trembling Donna Clara. ‘Take you heed, Madam, that you do not sacrifice your daughter to an unfounded and incredible fiction.’ — ‘Fiction!’ repeated Father Jose — ‘Senhor, I forgive your illiberal reflections on me, — but let me remind you, that the same immunity will not be extended to the insult you offer to the Catholic faith.’ — ‘Reverend Father,’ said the terrified Fernan, ‘the Catholic church has not a more devoted and unworthy professor on earth than myself.’ — ‘I do believe the latter,’ said the priest. ‘You admit all that the holy church teaches to be irrefragably true?’ — ‘To be sure I do.’ — ‘Then you must admit that the islands in the Indian seas are particularly under the influence of the devil?’ — ‘I do, if the church requires me so to believe.’ — ‘And that he possessed a peculiar sway over that island where your sister was lost in her infancy?’ — ‘I do not see how that follows,’ said Fernan, making a sudden stand at this premise of the Sorites. ‘Not see how that follows!’ repeated Father Jose, crossing himself;
Excæcavit oculos corum ne viderent.
But why waste I my Latin and logic on thee, who art incapable of both? Mark me, I will use but one unanswerable argument, the which whoso gainsayeth is a — gainsayer — that’s all. The Inquisition at Goa knows the truth of what I have asserted, and who will dare deny it now?’ — ‘Not I! — not I!’ exclaimed Donna Clara; ‘nor, I am sure, will this stubborn boy. Son, I adjure you, make haste to believe what the reverend Father has told you.’ — ‘I am believing as fast as I can,’ answered Don Fernan, in the tone of one who is reluctantly swallowing a distasteful mess; ‘but my faith will be choaked if you don’t allow it time to swallow. As for digestion,’ he muttered, ‘let that come when it pleases God.’ — ‘Daughter,’ said the priest, who well knew the mollia tempora fandi, and saw that the sullen and angry Fernan could not well bear more at present; ‘daughter, it is enough — we must lead with gentleness those whose steps find stumbling-blocks in the paths of grace. Pray with me, daughter, that your son’s eyes may yet be opened to the glory and felicity of his sister’s vocation to a state where the exhaustless copiousness of divine benignity places the happy inmates above all those mean and mundane anxieties, those petty and local wants, which — Ah! — hem — verily I feel some of those wants myself at this moment. I am hoarse with speaking; and the intense heat of this night hath so exhausted my strength, that methinks the wing of a partridge would be no unseasonable refreshment.’
‘At a sign from Donna Clara, a salver with wine appeared, and a partridge that might have provoked the French prelate to renew his meal once more, spite of his horror of toujours perdrix. ‘See, daughter, see how much I am exhausted in this distressing controversy — well may I say, the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.’ — ‘Then you and the zeal of the house will soon be quit,’ muttered Fernan as he retired. And drawing the folds of his mantle over his shoulder, he threw a glance of wonder at the happy facility with which the priest discussed the wings and breast of his favourite bird, — whispering alternately words of admonition to Donna Clara, and muttering something about the omission of pimento and lemon.
‘Father,’ said Don Fernan, stalking back from the door, and fronting the priest — ‘Father, I have a favour to ask of you.’ — ‘Glad, were it in my power to comply with it,’ said Father Jose, turning over the skeleton of the fowl; ‘but you see here is only the thigh, and that somewhat bare.’ — ‘It is not of that I speak or think, reverend Father,’ said Fernan, with a smile; ‘I have but to request, that you will not renew the subject of my sister’s vocation till the return of my father.’ — ‘Certainly not, son, certainly not. Ah! you know the time to ask a favour — you know I never could refuse you at a moment like this, when my heart is warmed, and softened, and expanded, by — by — by the evidences of your contrition and humiliation, and all that your devout mother, and your zealous spiritual friend, could hope or wish for. In truth, it overcomes me — these tears — I do not often weep but on occasions like these, and then I weep abundantly, and am compelled to recruit my lack of moisture thus.’ — ‘Fetch more wine,’ said Donna Clara. — The order was obeyed. — ‘Good night, Father,’ said Don Fernan. — ‘The saints watch round you, my son! Oh I am exhausted! — I sink in this struggle! The night is hot, and requires wine to slake my thirst — and wine is a provocative, and requires food to take away its deleterious and damnable qualities — and food, especially partridge, which is a hot and stimulative nutritive, requires drink again to absorb or neutralize its exciting qualities. Observe me, Donna Clara — I speak as to the learned. There is stimulation, and there is absorption; the causes of which are manifold, and the effects such as — I am not bound to tell you at present.’ — ‘Reverend Father,’ said the admiring Donna Clara, not guessing, in the least, from what source all this eloquence flowed, ‘I trespassed on your time merely to ask a favour also.’ — ‘Ask and ’tis granted,’ said Father Jose, with a protrusion of his foot as proud as that of Sixtus himself. ‘It is merely to know, will not all the inhabitants of those accursed Indian isles be damned everlastingly?’ — ‘Damned everlasting, and without doubt,’ returned the priest. ‘Now my mind is easy,’ rejoined the lady, ‘and I shall sleep in peace to-night.’
‘Sleep, however, did not visit her so soon as she expected, for an hour after she knocked at Father Jose’s door, repeating, ‘Damned to all eternity, Father, did you not say?’ — ‘Be damned to all eternity!’ said the priest, tossing on his feverish bed, and dreaming, in the intervals of his troubled sleep, of Don Fernan coming to confession with a drawn sword, and Donna Clara with a bottle of Xeres in her hand, which she swallowed at a draught, while his parched lips were gaping for a drop in vain, — and of the Inquisition being established in an island off the coast of Bengal, and a huge partridge seated with a cap on at the end of a table covered with black, as chief Inquisitor, — and various and monstrous chimeras, the abortive births of repletion and indigestion.
‘Donna Clara, catching only the last words, returned to her apartment with light step and gladdened heart, and, full of pious consolation, renewed her devotions before the image of the virgin in her apartment, at each side of whose niche two wax tapers were burning, till the cool morning breeze made it possible for her to retire with some hope of rest.
‘Isidora, in her apartment, was equally sleepless; and she, too, had prostrated herself before the sacred image, but with different thoughts. Her feverish and dreamy existence, composed of wild and irreconcileable contrasts between the forms of the present, and the visions of the past, — the difference between all that she felt within, and all that she saw around her, — between the impassioned life of recollection, and the monotonous one of reality, — was becoming too much for a heart bursting with undirected sensibilities, and a head giddy from vicissitudes that would have deeply tried much firmer faculties.
‘She remained for some time repeating the usual number of ave’s, to which she added the litany of the Virgin, without any corresponding impulses of solace or illumination, till at length, feeling that her prayers were not the expressions of her heart, and dreading this heterodoxy of the heart more than the violation of the ritual, she ventured to address the image of the Virgin in language of her own.
‘Mild and beautiful Spirit!’ she cried, prostrating herself before the figure — ‘you whose lips alone have smiled on me since I reached your Christian land, — you whose countenance I have sometimes imagined to belong to those who dwelt in the stars of my own Indian sky, — hear me, and be not angry with me! Let me lose all feeling of my present existence, or all memory of the past! Why do my former thoughts return? They once made me happy, now they are thorns in my heart! Why do they retain their power since their nature is altered? I cannot be what I was — Oh, let me then no longer remember it! Let me, if possible, see, feel, and think as those around me do! Alas! I feel it is much easier to descend to their level than to raise them to mine. Time, constraint, and dullness, may do much for me, but what time could ever operate such a change on them! It would be like looking for the pearls at the bottom of the stagnant ponds which art has dug in their gardens. No, mother of the Deity! divine and mysterious woman, no! — they never shall see another throb of my burning heart. Let it consume in its own fires before a drop of their cold compassion extinguishes them! Mother divine! are not burning hearts, then, worthiest of thee? — and does not the love of nature assimilate itself to the love of God! True, we may love without religion, but can we be religious without love? Yet, mother divine! dry up my heart, since there is no longer a channel for its streams to flow through! — or turn all those streams into the river, narrow and cold, that holds its course on to eternity! Why should I think or feel, since life requires only duties that no feeling suggests, and apathy that no reflection disturbs? Here let me rest! — it is indeed the end of enjoyment, but it is also the end of suffering; and a thousand tears are a price too dear for the single smile which is sold for them in the commerce of life. Alas! it is better to wander in perpetual sterility than to be tortured with the remembrance of flowers that have withered, and odours that have died for ever.’ Then a gush of uncontroulable emotion overwhelming her, she again bowed before the Virgin. ‘Yes, help me to banish every image from my soul but his — his alone! Let my heart be like this lonely apartment, consecrated by the presence of one sole image, and illuminated only by that light which affection kindles before the object of its adoration, and worships it by for ever!’
‘In an agony of enthusiasm she continued to kneel before the image; and when she rose, the silence of her apartment, and the calm smile of the celestial figure, seemed at once a contrast and a reproach to this excess of morbid indulgence. That smile appeared to her like a frown. It is certain, that in agitation we can feel no solace from features that express only profound tranquillity. We would rather wish corresponding agitation, even hostility — any thing but a calm that neutralizes and absorbs us. It is the answer of the rock to the wave — we collect, foam, dash, and disperse ourselves against it, and retire broken, shattered, and murmuring to the echoes of our disappointment.
‘From the tranquil and hopeless aspect of the divinity, smiling on the misery it neither consoles or relieves, and intimating in that smile the profound and pulseless apathy of inaccessible elevation, coldly hinting that humanity must cease to be, before it can cease to suffer — from this the sufferer rushed for consolation to nature, whose ceaseless agitation seems to correspond with the vicissitudes of human destiny and the emotions of the human heart — whose alternation of storms and calms, — of clouds and sun-light, — of terrors and delights — seems to keep a kind of mysterious measure of ineffable harmony with that instrument whose chords are doomed alternately to the thrill of agony and rapture, till the hand of death sweeps over all the strings, and silences them for ever. — With such a feeling, Isidora leaned against her casement, gasped for a breath of air, which the burning night did not grant, and thought how, on such a night in her Indian isle, she could plunge into the stream shaded by her beloved tamarind, or even venture amid the still and silvery waves of the ocean, laughing at the broken beams of the moonlight, as her light form dimpled the waters — snatching with smiling delight the brilliant, tortuous, and enamelled shells that seemed to woo her white footsteps as she turned to the shore. Now all was different. The duties of the bath had been performed, but with a parade of soaps, perfumes, and, above all, attendants, who, though of her own sex, gave Isidora an unspeakable degree of disgust at the operation. The sponges and odours sickened her unsophisticated senses, and the presence of another human being seemed to close up every pore.
‘She had felt no refreshment from the bath, or from her prayers — she sought it at her casement, but there also in vain. The moon was as bright as the sun of colder climates, and the heavens were all in a blaze with her light. She seemed like a gallant vessel ploughing the bright and trackless ocean alone, while a thousand stars burned in the wake of her quiet glory, like attendant vessels pursuing their course to undiscovered worlds, and pointing them out to the mortal eye that lingered on their course, and loved their light.
‘Such was the scene above, but what a contrast to the scene below! The glorious and unbounded light fell on an inclosure of stiff parterres, cropped myrtles and orange-trees in tubs, and quadrangular ponds, and bowers of trellis-work, and nature tortured a thousand ways, and indignant and repulsive under her tortures every way.
‘Isidora looked and wept. Tears had now become her language when alone — it was a language she dared not utter before her family. Suddenly she saw one of the moonlight alleys darkened by an approaching figure. It advanced — it uttered her name — the name she remembered and loved — the name of Immalee! ‘Ah!’ she exclaimed, leaning from the casement, ‘is there then one who recognizes me by that name?’ — ‘It is only by that name I can address you,’ answered the voice of the stranger — ‘I have not yet the honour of being acquainted with the name your Christian friends have given you.’ — ‘They call me Isidora, but do you still call me Immalee. But how is it,’ she added in a trembling voice, — her fears for his safety overcoming all her sudden and innocent joy at his sight — ‘how is it that you are here? — here, where no human being is ever beheld but the inmates of the mansion? — how did you cross the garden wall? — how did you come from India? Oh! retire for your own safety! I am among those whom I cannot trust or love. My mother is severe — my brother is violent. Oh! how did you obtain entrance into the garden? — How is it,’ she added in a broken voice, ‘that you risk so much to see one whom you have forgotten so long?’ — ‘Fair Neophyte, beautiful Christian,’ answered the stranger, with a diabolical sneer, ‘be it known to you that I regard bolts, and bars, and walls, as much as I did the breakers and rocks of your Indian isle — that I can go where, and retire when I please, without leave asked or taken of your brother’s mastiffs, or Toledos, or spring-guns, and in utter defiance of your mother’s advanced guard of duennas, armed in spectacles, and flanked with a double ammunition of rosaries, with beads as large as — ‘ ‘Hush! — hush! — do not utter such impious sounds — I am taught to revere those holy things. But is it you? — and did I indeed see you last night, or was it a thought such as visits me in dreams, and wraps me again in visions of that beautiful and blessed isle where first I— Oh that I never had seen you!’ — ‘Lovely Christian! be reconciled to your horrible destiny. You saw me last night — I crossed your path twice when you were sparkling among the brightest and most beautiful of all Madrid. It was me you saw — I rivetted your eye — I transfixed your slender frame as with a flash of lightning — you fell fainting and withered under my burning glance. It was me you saw — me, the disturber of your angelical existence in that isle of paradise — the hunter of your form and your steps, even amid the complicated and artificial tracks in which you have been concealed by the false forms of the existence you have embraced!’ — ‘Embraced! — Oh no! they seized on me — they dragged me here — they made me a Christian. They told me all was for my salvation, for my happiness here and hereafter — and I trust it will, for I have been so miserable ever since, that I ought to be happy somewhere.’ — ‘Happy,’ repeated the stranger with his withering sneer — ‘and are you not happy now? The delicacy of your exquisite frame is no longer exposed to the rage of the elements — the fine and feminine luxury of your taste is solicited and indulged by a thousand inventions of art — your bed is of down — your chamber hung with tapestry. Whether the moon be bright or dark, six wax tapers burn in your chamber all night. Whether the skies be bright or cloudy, — whether the earth be clothed with flowers, or deformed with tempests, — the art of the limner has surrounded you with ‘a new heaven and a new earth;’ and you may bask in suns that never set, while the heavens are dark to other eyes, — and luxuriate amid landscapes and flowers, while half your fellow-creatures are perishing amid snows and tempests!’ (Such was the over-flowing acrimony of this being, that he could not speak of the beneficence of nature, or the luxuries of art, without interweaving something that seemed like a satire on, or a scorn of both.) ‘You also have intellectual beings to converse with instead of the chirpings of loxias, and the chatterings of monkeys.’ — ‘I have not found the conversation I encounter much more intelligible or significant,’ murmured Isidora, but the stranger did not appear to hear her. ‘You are surrounded by every thing that can flatter the senses, intoxicate the imagination, or expand the heart. All these indulgences must make you forget the voluptuous but unrefined liberty of your former existence.’ — ‘The birds in my mother’s cages,’ said Isidora, ‘are for ever pecking at their gilded bars, and trampling on the clear seeds and limpid water they are supplied with — would they not rather rest in the mossy trunk of a doddered oak, and drink of whatever stream they met, and be at liberty, at all the risk of poorer food and fouler drink — would they not rather do anything than break their bills against gilded wires?’ — ‘Then you do not feel your new existence in this Christian land so likely to surfeit you with delight as you once thought? For shame, Immalee — shame on your ingratitude and caprice! Do you remember when from your Indian isle you caught a glimpse of the Christian worship, and were entranced at the sight?’ — ‘I remember all that ever passed in that isle. My life formerly was all anticipation, — now it is all retrospection. The life of the happy is all hopes, — that of the unfortunate all memory. Yes, I remember catching a glimpse of that religion so beautiful and pure; and when they brought me to a Christian land, I thought I should have found them all Christians.’ — ‘And what did you find them, then, Immalee?’ — ‘Only Catholics.’ — ‘Are you aware of the danger of the words you utter? Do you know that in this country to hint a doubt of Catholicism and Christianity being the same, would consign you to the flames as a heretic incorrigible? Your mother, so lately known to you as a mother, would bind your hands when the covered litter came for its victim; and your father, though he has never yet beheld you, would buy with his last ducat the faggots that were to consume you to ashes; and all your relations in their gala robes would shout their hallelujahs to your dying screams of torture. Do you know that the Christianity of these countries is diametrically opposite to the Christianity of that world of which you caught a gleam, and which you may see recorded in the pages of your Bible, if you are permitted to read it?’
‘Isidora wept, and confessed she had not found Christianity what she had at first believed it; but with her wild and eccentric ingenuousness, she accused herself the next moment of her confession, — and she added, ‘I am so ignorant in this new world, — I have so much to learn, — my senses so often deceive me, — and my habits and perceptions so different from what they ought to be — I mean from what those around me are — that I should not speak or think but as I am taught. Perhaps, after some years of instruction and suffering, I may be able to discover that happiness cannot exist in this new world, and Christianity is not so remote from Catholicism as it appears to me now.’ — ‘And have you not found yourself happy in this new world of intelligence and luxury?’ said Melmoth, in a tone of involuntary softness. ‘I have at times.’ — ‘What times?’ — ‘When the weary day was over, and my dreams bore me back to that island of enchantment. Sleep is to me like some bark rowed by visionary pilots, that wafts me to shores of beauty and blessedness, — and all night long I revel in my dreams with spirits. Again I live among flowers and odours — a thousand voices sing to me from the brooks and the breezes — the air is all alive and eloquent with invisible melodists — I walk amid a breathing atmosphere, and living and loving inanimation — blossoms that shed themselves beneath my steps — and streams that tremble to kiss my feet, and then retire; and then return again, wasting themselves in fondness before me, and touching me, as my lips press the holy images they have taught me to worship here!’ — ‘Does no other image ever visit your dreams, Immalee?’ — ‘I need not tell you,’ said Isidora, with that singular mixture of natural firmness, and partial obscuration of intellect, — the combined result of her original and native character, and extraordinary circumstances of her early existence — ‘I need not tell you — you know you are with me every night!’ — ‘Me?’ — ‘Yes, you; you are for ever in that canoe that bears me to the Indian isle — you gaze on me, but your expression is so changed, that I dare not speak to you — we fly over the seas in a moment, but you are for ever at the helm, though you never land — the moment the paradise isle appears, you disappear; and as we return, the ocean is all dark, and our course is as dark and swift as the storm that sweeps them — you look at me, but never speak — Oh yes! you are with me every night!’ — ‘But, Immalee, these are all dreams — idle dreams. I row you over the Indian seas from Spain! — this is all a vision of your imagination.’ — ‘Is it a dream that I see you now?’ said Isidora — ‘is it a dream that I talk with you? — Tell me, for my senses are bewildered; and it appears to me no less strange, that you should be here in Spain, than that I should be in my native island. Alas! in the life that I now lead, dreams have become realities, and realities seem only like dreams. How is it you are here, if indeed you are here? — how is it that you have wandered so far to see me? How many oceans you must have crossed, how many isles you must have seen, and none like that where I first beheld you! But is it you indeed I behold? I thought I saw you last night, but I had rather trust even my dreams than my senses. I believed you only a visitor of that isle of visions, and a haunter of the visions that recall it — but are you in truth a living being, and one whom I may hope to behold in this land of cold realities and Christian horrors?’ — ‘Beautiful Immalee, or Isidora, or whatever other name your Indian worshippers, or Christian god-fathers and god-mothers, have called you by, I pray you listen to me, while I expound a few mysteries to you.’ And Melmoth, as he spoke, flung himself on a bed of hyacinths and tulips that displayed their glowing flowers, and sent up their odorous breath right under Isidora’s casement. ‘Oh you will destroy my flowers!’ cried she, while a reminiscence of her former picturesque existence, when flowers were the companions alike of her imagination and her pure heart, awoke her exclamation. ‘It is my vocation — I pray you pardon me!’ said Melmoth, as he basked on the crushed flowers, and darted his withering sneer and scowling glance at Isidora. ‘I am commissioned to trample on and bruise every flower in the natural and moral world — hyacinths, hearts, and bagatelles of that kind, just as they occur. And now, Donna Isidora, with as long an et cetera as you or your sponsors could wish, and with no possible offence to the herald, here I am to-night — and where I shall be to-morrow night, depends on your choice. I would as soon be on the Indian seas, where your dreams send me rowing every night, or crashing through the ice near the Poles, or ploughing with my naked corse, (if corses have feeling), through the billows of that ocean where I must one day (a day that has neither sun or moon, neither commencement or termination), plough forever, and reap despair!’ — ‘Hush! — hush! — Oh forbear such horrid sounds! Are you indeed he whom I saw in the isle? Are you he, inwoven ever since that moment with my prayers, my hopes, my heart? Are you that being upon whom hope subsisted, when life itself was failing? On my passage to this Christian land, I suffered much. I was so ill you would have pitied me — the clothes they put on me — the language they made me speak — the religion they made me believe — the country they brought me to — Oh you! — you alone! — the thought — the image of you, could alone have supported me! I loved, and to love is to live. Amid the disruption of every natural tie, — amid the loss of that delicious existence which seems a dream, and which still fills my dreams, and makes sleep a second existence, — I have thought of you — have dreamt of you — have loved you!’ — ‘Loved me? — no being yet loved me but pledged me in tears.’ — ‘And have I not wept?’ said Isidora — ‘believe these tears — they are not the first I have shed, nor I fear will be the last, since I owe the first to you.’ And she wept as she spoke. ‘Well,’ said the wanderer, with a bitter and self-satirizing laugh, ‘I shall be persuaded at last that I am ‘a marvellous proper man.’ Well, if it must be so, happy man be his dole! And when shall the auspicious day, beautiful Immalee, still beautiful Isidora, in spite of your Christian name, (to which I have a most anti-catholic objection) — when shall that bright day dawn on your long slumbering eye-lashes, and waken them with kisses, and beams, and light, and love, and all the paraphernalia with which folly arrays misery previous to their union — that glittering and empoisoned drapery that well resembles what of old Dejanira sent to her husband — when shall the day of bliss be?’ And he laughed with that horrible convulsion that mingles the expression of levity with that of despair, and leaves the listener no doubt whether there is more despair in laughter, or more laughter in despair. ‘I understand you not,’ said the pure and timid Isidora; ‘and if you would not terrify me to madness, laugh no more — no more, at least, in that fearful way!’ — ‘I cannot weep,’ said Melmoth, fixing on her his dry and burning eyes, strikingly visible in the moonlight; ‘the fountain of tears has been long dried up within me, like that of every other human blessing.’ — ‘I can weep for both,’ said Isidora, ‘if that be all.’ And her tears flowed fast, as much from memory as from grief — and when those sources are united, God and the sufferer only know how fast and bitterly they fall. ‘Reserve them for our nuptial hour, my lovely bride,’ said Melmoth to himself; ‘you will have occasion for them then.’
‘There was a custom then, however indelicate and repulsive it may sound to modern ears, for ladies who were doubtful of the intentions of their lovers to demand of them the proof of their purity and honour, by requiring an appeal to their family, and a solemn union under the sanction of the church. Perhaps there was more genuine spirit of truth and chastity in this, than in all the ambiguous flirtation that is carried on with an ill-understood and mysterious dependence on principles that have never been defined, and fidelity that has never been removed. When the lady in the Italian tragedy asks her lover, almost at their first interview, if his intentions are honourable, and requires, as the proof of their being so, that he shall espouse her immediately, does she not utter a language more unsophisticated, more intelligible, more heartedly pure, than all the romantic and incredible reliance that other females are supposed to place in the volatility of impulse, — in that wild and extemporaneous feeling, — that ‘house on the sands,’ — which never has its foundation in the immoveable depths of the heart. Yielding to this feeling, Isidora, in a voice that faultered at its own accents, murmured, ‘If you love me, seek me no more clandestinely. My mother is good, though she is austere — my brother is kind, though he is passionate — my father — I have never seen him! I know not what to say, but if he be my father, he will love you. Meet me in their presence, and I will no longer feel pain and shame mingled with the delight of seeing you. Invoke the sanction of the church, and then, perhaps,’ — ‘Perhaps!’ retorted Melmoth; ‘You have learned the European ‘perhaps!’ — the art of suspending the meaning of an emphatic word — of affecting to draw the curtain of the heart at the moment you drop its folds closer and closer — of bidding us despair at the moment you intend we should feel hope!’ — ‘Oh no! — no!’ answered the innocent being; ‘I am truth. I am Immalee when I speak to you, — though to all others in this country, which they call Christian, I am Isidora. When I loved you first, I had only one heart to consult, — now there are many, and some who have not hearts like mine. But if you love me, you can bend to them as I have done — you can love their God, their home, their hopes, and their country. Even with you I could not be happy, unless you adored the cross to which your hand first pointed my wandering sight, and the religion which you reluctantly confessed was the most beautiful and beneficent on earth.’ — ‘Did I confess that?’ echoed Melmoth; ‘It must have been reluctantly indeed. Beautiful Immalee! I am a convert to you;’ and he stifled a Satanic laugh as he spoke; ‘to your new religion, and your beauty, and your Spanish birth and nomenclature, and every thing that you would wish. I will incontinently wait on your pious mother, and angry brother, and all your relatives, testy, proud, and ridiculous as they may be. I will encounter the starched ruffs, and rustling manteaus, and whale-boned fardingales of the females, from your good mother down to the oldest duenna who sits spectacled, and armed with bobbin, on her inaccessible and untempted sopha; and the twirled whiskers, plumed hats, and shouldered capas of all your male relatives. And I will drink chocolate, and strut among them; and when they refer me to your mustachoed man of law, with his thread-bare cloke of black velvet over his shoulder, his long quill in his hand, and his soul in three sheets of wide-spread parchment, I will dower you in the most ample territory ever settled on a bride.’ — ‘Oh let it be, then, in that land of music and sunshine where we first met! One spot where I might set my foot amid its flowers, is worth all the cultivated earth of Europe!’ said Isidora. — ‘No! — it shall be in a territory with which your bearded men of law are far better acquainted, and which even your pious mother and proud family must acknowledge my claim to, when they shall hear it asserted and explained. Perchance they may be joint-tenants with me there; and yet (strange to say!) they will never litigate my exclusive title to possession.’ — ‘I understand nothing of this,’ said Isidora; ‘but I feel I am transgressing the decorums of a Spanish female and a Christian, in holding this conference with you any longer. If you think as you once thought, — if you feel as I must feel for ever, — there needs not this discussion, which only perplexes and terrifies. What have I to do with this territory of which you speak? That you are its possessor, is its only value in my eyes!’ — ‘What have you to do with it?’ repeated Melmoth; ‘Oh, you know not how much you may have to do with it and me yet! In other cases, the possession of the territory is the security for the man, — but here the man is the security for the everlasting possession of the territory. Mine heirs must inherit it for ever and ever, if they hold by my tenure. Listen to me, beautiful Immalee, or Christian, or whatever other name you choose to be called by! Nature, your first sponsor, baptized you with the dews of Indian roses — your Christian sponsors, of course, spared not water, salt, or oil, to wash away the stain of nature from your regenerated frame — and your last sponsor, if you will submit to the rite, will anoint you with a new chrism. But of that hereafter. Listen to me while I announce to you the wealth, the population, the magnificence of that region to which I will endower you. The rulers of the earth are there — all of them. There be the heroes, and the sovereigns, and the tyrants. There are their riches, and pomp, and power — Oh what a glorious accumulation! — and they have thrones, and crowns, and pedestals, and trophies of fire, that burn for ever and ever, and the light of their glory blazes eternally. There are all you read of in story, your Alexanders and Cæsars, your Ptolemies and Pharaohs. There be the princes of the East, the Nimrods, the Belshazzars, and the Holoferneses of their day. There are the princes of the North, the Odins, the Attilas, (named by your church the scourge of God), the Alarics, and all those nameless and name-undeserving barbarians, who, under various titles and claims, ravaged and ruined the earth they came to conquer. There be the sovereigns of the South, and East, and West, the Mahommedans, the Caliphs, the Saracens, the Moors, with all their gorgeous pretensions and ornaments — the crescent, the Koran, and the horse-tail — the trump, the gong, and the atabal, (or to suit it to your Christianised ear, lovely Neophyte!) ‘the noise of the captains, and the shoutings.’ There be also those triple-crowned chieftains of the West, who hide their shorn heads under a diadem, and for every hair they shave, demand the life of a sovereign — who, pretending to humility, trample on power — whose title is, Servant of servants — and whose claim and recognizance is, Lord of lords. Oh! you will not lack company in that bright region, for bright it will be! — and what matter whether its light be borrowed from the gleam of sulphur, or the trembling light of the moon, by which I see you look so pale?’ — ‘I look pale?’ said Isidora gasping; ‘I feel pale! I know not the meaning of your words, but I know it must be horrible. Speak no more of that region, with its pride, its wickedness, and its splendour! I am willing to follow you to deserts, to solitudes, which human step never trod but yours, and where mine shall trace, with sole fidelity, the print of yours. Amid loneliness I was born; amid loneliness I could die. Let me but, wherever I live, and whenever I die, be yours! — and for the place, it matters not, let it be even’ — and she shivered involuntarily as she spoke; ‘Let it be even’ — ‘Even — where?’ asked Melmoth, while a wild feeling of triumph in the devotedness of this unfortunate female, and of horror at the destination which she was unconsciously imprecating on herself, mingled in the question. ‘Even where you are to be,’ answered the devoted Isidora, ‘Let me be there! and there I must be happy, as in the isle of flowers and sunlight, where I first beheld you. Oh! there are no flowers so balmy and roseate as those that once blew there! There are no waters so musical, or breezes so fragrant, as those that I listened to and inhaled, when I thought that they repeated to me the echo of your steps, or the melody of your voice — that human music the first I ever heard, and which, when I cease to hear’ — ‘You will hear much better!’ interrupted Melmoth; ‘the voices often thousand — ten millions of spirits — beings whose tones are immortal, without cessation, without pause, without interval!’ — ‘Oh that will be glorious!’ said Isidora, clasping her hands; ‘the only language I have learned in this new world worth speaking, is the language of music. I caught some imperfect sounds from birds in my first world, but in my second world they taught me music; and the misery they have taught me, hardly makes a balance against that new and delicious language.’ — ‘But think,’ rejoined Melmoth, ‘if your taste for music be indeed so exquisite, how it will be indulged, how it will be enlarged, in hearing those voices accompanied and reechoed by the thunders of ten thousand billows of fire, lashing against rocks which eternal despair has turned into adamant! They talk of the music of the spheres! — Dream of the music of those living orbs turning on their axis of fire for ever and ever, and ever singing as they shine, like your brethren the Christians, who had the honour to illuminate Nero’s garden in Rome on a rejoicing night.’ — ‘You make me tremble!’ — ‘Tremble! — a strange effect of fire. Fie! what a coyness is this! I have promised, on your arrival at your new territory, all that is mighty and magnificent, — all that is splendid and voluptuous — the sovereign and the sensualist — the inebriated monarch and the pampered slave — the bed of roses and the canopy of fire!’ — ‘And is this the home to which you invite me?’ — ‘It is — it is. Come, and be mine! — myriads of voices summon you — hear and obey them! Their voices thunder in the echoes of mine — their fires flash from my eyes, and blaze in my heart. Hear me, Isidora, my beloved, hear me! I woo you in earnest, and for ever! Oh how trivial are the ties by which mortal lovers are bound, compared to those in which you and I shall be bound to eternity! Fear not the want of a numerous and splendid society. I have enumerated sovereigns, and pontiffs, and heroes, — and if you should condescend to remember the trivial amusements of your present sejour, you will have enough to revive its associations. You love music, and doubtless you will have most of the musicians who have chromatized since the first essays of Tubal Cain to Lully, who beat himself to death at one of his own oratorios, or operas, I don’t know which. They will have a singular accompaniment — the eternal roar of a sea of fire makes a profound bass to the chorus of millions of singers in torture!’ — ‘What is the meaning of this horrible description?’ said the trembling Isidora; ‘your words are riddles to me. Do you jest with me for the sake of tormenting, or of laughing at me?’ — ‘Laughing!’ repeated her wild visitor; ‘that is an exquisite hint — vive la bagatelle! Let us laugh for ever! — we shall have enough to keep us in countenance. There will be all that ever have dared to laugh on earth — the singers, the dancers, the gay, the voluptuous, the brilliant, the beloved — all who have ever dared to mistake their destiny, so far as to imagine that enjoyment was not a crime, or that a smile was not an infringement of their duty as sufferers. All such must expiate their error under circumstances which will probably compel the most inveterate disciple of Democritus, the most inextinguishable laugher among them, to allow that there, at least, ‘laughter is madness.’ — ‘I do not understand you,’ said Isidora, listening to him with that sinking of the heart which is produced by a combined and painful feeling of ignorance and terror. ‘Not understand me?’ repeated Melmoth, with that sarcastic frigidity of countenance which frightfully contrasted the burning intelligence of his eyes, that seemed like the fires of a volcano bursting out amid masses of snow heaped up to its very edge; ‘not understand me! — are you not, then, fond of music?’ — ‘I am.’ — ‘Of dancing, too, my graceful, beautiful love?’ — ‘I was.’ — ‘What is the meaning of the different emphasis you give to those answers?’ — ‘I love music — I must love it for ever — it is the language of recollection. A single strain of it wafts me back to the dreamy blessedness, the enchanted existence, of my own — own isle. Of dancing I cannot say so much. I have learnt dancing — but I felt music. I shall never forget the hour when I heard it for the first time, and imagined it was the language which Christians spoke to each other. I have heard them speak a different language since.’ — ‘Doubtless their language is not always melody, particularly when they address each other on controverted points in religion. Indeed, I can conceive nothing less a-kin to harmony than the debate of a Dominican and Franciscan on the respective efficacy of the cowl of the order, to ascertain the salvation of him who happens to die in it. But have you no other reason for being fond of music, and for only having been fond of dancing? Nay, let me have ‘your most exquisite reason.’
1 Alluding possibly to ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
‘It seemed as if this unhappy being was impelled by his ineffable destiny to deride the misery he inflicted, in proportion to its bitterness. His sarcastic levity bore a direct and fearful proportion to his despair. Perhaps this is also the case in circumstances and characters less atrocious. A mirth which is not gaiety is often the mask which hides the convulsed and distorted features of agony — and laughter, which never yet was the expression of rapture, has often been the only intelligible language of madness and misery. Extacy only smiles, — despair laughs. It seemed, too, as if no keenness of ironical insult, no menace of portentous darkness, had power to revolt the feelings, or alarm the apprehensions, of the devoted being to whom they were addressed. Her ‘most exquisite reasons,’ demanded in a tone of ruthless irony, were given in one whose exquisite and tender melody seemed still to retain the modulation on which its first sounds had been formed, — that of the song of birds, mingled with the murmur of waters.
‘I love music, because when I hear it I think of you. I have ceased to love dancing, though I was at first intoxicated with it, because, when dancing, I have sometimes forgot you. When I listen to music, your image floats on every note, — I hear you in every sound. The most inarticulate murmurs that I produce on my guitar (for I am very ignorant) are like a spell of melody that raises a form indescribable — not you, but my idea of you. In your presence, though that seems necessary to my existence, I have never felt that exquisite delight that I have experienced in that of your image, when music has called it up from the recesses of my heart. Music seems to me like the voice of religion summoning to remember and worship the God of my heart. Dancing appears like a momentary apostasy, almost a profanation.’ — ‘That, indeed, is a sweet and subtle reason,’ answered Melmoth, ‘and one that, of course, has but one failure, — that of not being sufficiently flattering to the hearer. And so my image floats on the rich and tremulous waves of melody one moment, like a god of the overflowing billows of music, triumphing in their swells, and graceful even in their falls, — and the next moment appears, like the dancing demon of your operas, grinning at you between the brilliant movement of your fandangoes, and flinging the withering foam of his black and convulsed lips into the cup where you pledge at your banquetting. Well — dancing — music — let them go together! It seems that my image is equally mischievous in both — in one you are tortured by reminiscence, and in the other by remorse. Suppose that image is withdrawn from you for ever, — suppose that it were possible to break the tie that unites us, and whose vision has entered into the soul of both.’ — ‘You may suppose it,’ said Isidora, with maiden pride and tender grief blended in her voice; ‘and if you do, believe that I will try to suppose it too; the effort will not cost much, — nothing but — my life!’
‘As Melmoth beheld this blessed and beautiful being, once so refined amid nature, and now so natural amid refinement, still possessing all the soft luxuriance of her first angelic nature, amid the artificial atmosphere where her sweets were uninhaled, and her brilliant tints doomed to wither unappreciated, — where her pure and sublime devotedness of heart was doomed to beat like a wave against a rock, — exhaust its murmurs, — and expire; — As he felt this, and gazed on her, he cursed himself; and then, with the selfishness of hopeless misery, he felt that the curse might, by dividing it, be diminished.
‘Isidora!’ he whispered in the softest tones he could assume, approaching the casement, at which his pale and beautiful victim stood; ‘Isidora! will you then be mine?’ — ‘What shall I say?’ said Isidora; ‘if love requires the answer, I have said enough; if only vanity, I have said too much.’ — ‘Vanity! beautiful trifler, you know not what you say; the accusing angel himself might blot out that article from the catalogue of my sins. It is one of my prohibited and impossible offences; it is an earthly feeling, and therefore one which I can neither participate or enjoy. Certain it is that I feel some share of human pride at this moment.’ — ‘Pride! at what? Since I have known you, I have felt no pride but that of supreme devotedness, — that self-annihilating pride which renders the victim prouder of its wreath, than the sacrificer of his office.’ — ‘But I feel another pride,’ answered Melmoth, and in a proud tone he spoke it, — ‘a pride, which, like that of the storm that visited the ancient cities, whose destruction you may have read of, while it blasts, withers, and encrusts paintings, gems, music, and festivity, grasping them in its talons of annihilation, exclaims, Perish to all the world, perhaps beyond the period of its existence, but live to me in darkness and in corruption! Preserve all the exquisite modulation of your forms! all the indestructible brilliancy of your colouring! — but preserve it for me alone! — me, the single, pulseless, eyeless, heartless embracer of an unfertile bride, — the brooder over the dark and unproductive nest of eternal sterility, — the mountain whose lava of internal fire has stifled, and indurated, and inclosed for ever, all that was the joy of earth, the felicity of life, and the hope of futurity!’
‘As he spoke, his expression was at once so convulsed and so derisive, so indicative of malignity and levity, so thrilling to the heart, while it withered every fibre it touched and wrung, that Isidora, with all her innocent and helpless devotedness, could not avoid shuddering before this fearful being, while, in trembling and unappeaseable solicitude, she demanded, ‘Will you then be mine? Or what am I to understand from your terrible words? Alas! my heart has never enveloped itself in mysteries — never has the light of its truth burst forth amid the thunderings and burnings in which you have issued the law of my destiny.’ — ‘Will you then be mine, Isidora?’ — ‘Consult my parents. Wed me by the rites, and in the face of the church, of which I am an unworthy member, and I will be yours for ever.’ — ‘For ever!’ repeated Melmoth; ‘well-spoken, my bride. You will then be mine for ever? — will you, Isidora?’ — ‘Yes! — yes! — I have said so. But the sun is about to rise, I feel the increasing perfume of the orange blossoms, and the coolness of the morning air. Begone — I have staid too long here — the domestics may be about, and observe you — begone, I implore you.’ — ‘I go — but one word — for to me the rising of the sun, and the appearance of your domestics, and every thing in heaven above, and earth beneath, is equally unimportant. Let the sun stay below the horizon and wait for me. You are mine!’ — ‘Yes, I am yours; but you must solicit my family.’ — ‘Oh, doubtless! — solicitation is so congenial to my habits.’ — ‘And’ — ‘Well, what? — you hesitate.’ — ‘I hesitate,’ said the ingenuous and timid Isidora, ‘because’ — ‘Well?’ — ‘Because,’ she added, bursting into tears, ‘those with whom you speak will not utter to God language like mine. They will speak to you of wealth and dower; they will inquire about that region where you have told me your rich and wide possessions are held; and should they ask me of them, how shall I answer?’
‘At these words, Melmoth approached as close as possible to the casement, and uttered a certain word which Isidora did not at first appear to hear, or understand — trembling she repeated her request. In a still lower tone the answer was returned. Incredulous, and hoping that the answer had deceived her, she again repeated her petition. A withering monosyllable, not to be told, thundered in her ears, — and she shrieked as she closed the casement. Alas! the casement only shut out the form of the stranger — not his image.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57