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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 5 - Chapter 6. A Long Interval Of Years...
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Devereux - Book 5 - Chapter 6. A Long Interval Of Years... Post by :DENA_WALKER Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1807

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Devereux - Book 5 - Chapter 6. A Long Interval Of Years...

BOOK V CHAPTER VI. A LONG INTERVAL OF YEARS.--A CHANGE OF MIND AND ITS CAUSES

THE last accounts received of the Czar reported him to be at Dantzic. He had, however, quitted that place when I arrived there. I lost no time in following him, and presented myself to his Majesty one day after his dinner, when he was sitting with one leg in the Czarina's lap and a bottle of the best _eau de vie before him. I had chosen my time well; he received me most graciously, read my letter from the Regent--about which, remembering the fate of Bellerophon, I had had certain apprehensions, but which proved to be in the highest degree complimentary--and then declared himself extremely happy to see me again. However parsimonious Peter generally was towards foreigners, I never had ground for personal complaint on that score. The very next day I was appointed to a post of honour and profit about the royal person; from this I was transferred to a military station, in which I rose with great rapidity; and I was only occasionally called from my warlike duties to be intrusted with diplomatic missions of the highest confidence and importance.

It is this portion of my life--a portion of nine years to the time of the Czar's death--that I shall, in this history, the most concentrate and condense. In truth, were I to dwell upon it at length, I should make little more than a mere record of political events; differing, in some respects, it is true, from the received histories of the time, but containing nothing to compensate in utility for the want of interest. That this was the exact age for adventurers, Alberoni and Dubois are sufficient proofs. Never was there a more stirring, active, restless period; never one in which the genius of intrigue was so pervadingly at work. I was not less fortunate than my brethren. Although scarcely four and twenty when I entered the Czar's service, my habits of intimacy with men much older; my customary gravity, reserve, and thought; my freedom, since Isora's death, from youthful levity or excess; my early entrance into the world; and a countenance prematurely marked with the lines of reflection and sobered by its hue,--made me appear considerably older than I was. I kept my own counsel, and affected to be so: youth is a great enemy to one's success; and more esteem is often bestowed upon a wrinkled brow than a plodding brain.

All the private intelligence which during this space of time I had received from England was far from voluminous. My mother still enjoyed the quiet of her religious retreat. A fire, arising from the negligence of a servant, had consumed nearly the whole of Devereux Court (the fine old house! till _that went, I thought even England held one friend). Upon this accident, Gerald had gone to London; and, though there was now no doubt of his having been concerned in the Rebellion of 1715, he had been favourably received at court, and was already renowned throughout London for his pleasures, his excesses, and his munificent profusion.

Montreuil, whose lot seemed to be always to lose by intrigue what he gained by the real solidity of his genius, had embarked very largely in the rash but gigantic schemes of Gortz and Alberoni; schemes which, had they succeeded, would not only have placed a new king upon the English throne, but wrought an utter change over the whole face of Europe. With Alberoni and with Gortz fell Montreuil. He was banished France and Spain; the penalty of death awaited him in Britain; and he was supposed to have thrown himself into some convent in Italy, where his name and his character were unknown. In this brief intelligence was condensed all my information of the actors in my first scenes of life. I return to that scene on which I had now entered.

At the age of thirty-three I had acquired a reputation sufficient to content my ambition; my fortune was larger than my wants; I was a favourite in courts; I had been successful in camps; I had already obtained all that would have rewarded the whole lives of many men superior to myself in merit, more ardent than myself in desires. I was still young; my appearance, though greatly altered, manhood had rather improved than impaired. I had not forestalled my constitution by excesses, nor worn dry the sources of pleasure by too large a demand upon their capacities; why was it then, at that golden age, in the very prime and glory of manhood, in the very zenith and summer of success, that a deep, dark, pervading melancholy fell upon me? a melancholy so gloomy that it seemed to me as a thick and impenetrable curtain drawn gradually between myself and the blessed light of human enjoyment. A torpor crept upon me; an indolent, heavy, clinging languor gathered over my whole frame, the physical and the mental: I sat for hours without book, paper, object, thought, gazing on vacancy, stirring not, feeling not,--yes, feeling, but feeling only one sensation, a sick, sad, drooping despondency, a sinking in of the heart, a sort of gnawing within as if something living were twisted round my vitals, and, finding no other food, preyed, though with a sickly and dull maw, upon _them_. This disease came upon me slowly: it was not till the beginning of the second year, from its obvious and palpable commencement, that it grew to the height that I have described. It began with a distaste to all that I had been accustomed to enjoy or to pursue. Music, which I had always passionately loved, though from some defect in the organs of hearing, I was incapable of attaining the smallest knowledge of the science, music lost all its diviner spells, all its properties of creating a new existence, a life of dreaming and vain luxuries, within the mind: it became only a monotonous sound, less grateful to the languor of my faculties than an utter and dead stillness. I had never been what is generally termed a boon companion; but I had had the social vanities, if not the social tastes; I had insensibly loved the board which echoed with applause at my sallies, and the comrades who, while they deprecated my satire, had been complaisant enough to hail it as wit. One of my weaknesses is a love of show, and I had gratified a feeling not the less cherished because it arose from a petty source, in obtaining for my equipages, my mansion, my banquets, the celebrity which is given no less to magnificence than to fame: now I grew indifferent alike to the signs of pomp, and to the baubles of taste; praise fell upon a listless ear, and (rare pitch of satiety!) the pleasures that are the offspring of our foibles delighted me no more. I had early learned from Bolingbroke a love for the converse of men, eminent, whether for wisdom or for wit: the graceful _badinage, or the keen critique; the sparkling flight of the winged words which circled and rebounded from lip to lip, or the deep speculation upon the mysterious and unravelled wonders of man, of Nature, and the world; the light maxim upon manners, or the sage inquiry into the mines of learning, all and each had possessed a link to bind my temper and my tastes to the graces and fascination of social life. Now a new spirit entered within me: the smile faded from my lip, and the jest departed from my tongue; memory seemed no less treacherous than fancy, and deserted me the instant I attempted to enter into those contests of knowledge in which I had been not undistinguished before. I grew confused and embarrassed in speech; my words expressed a sense utterly different to that which I had intended to convey; and at last, as my apathy increased, I sat at my own board, silent and lifeless, freezing into ice the very powers and streams of converse which I had once been the foremost to circulate and to warm.

At the time I refer to, I was Minister at one of the small Continental courts, where life is a round of unmeaning etiquette and wearisome ceremonials, a daily labour of trifles, a ceaseless pageantry of nothings. I had been sent there upon one important event; the business resulting from it had soon ceased, and all the duties that remained for me to discharge were of a negative and passive nature. Nothing that could arouse, nothing that could occupy faculties that had for years been so perpetually wound up to a restless excitement, was left for me in this terrible reservoir of _ennui_. I had come thither at once from the skirmishing and wild warfare of a Tartar foe; a war in which, though the glory was obscure, the action was perpetual and exciting. I had come thither, and the change was as if I had passed from a mountain stream to a stagnant pool. Society at this court reminded me of a state funeral: everything was pompous and lugubrious, even to the drapery--even to the feathers--which, in other scenes, would have been consecrated to associations of levity or of grace; the hourly pageant swept on slow, tedious, mournful, and the object of the attendants was only to entomb the Pleasure which they affected celebrate. What a change for the wild, the strange, the novel, the intriguing, the varying life, which, whether in courts or camps, I had hitherto led! The internal change that came over myself is scarcely to be wondered at; the winds stood still, and the straw they had blown from quarter to quarter, whether in anger or in sport, began to moulder upon the spot where they had left it.

From this cessation of the aims, hopes, and thoughts of life I was awakened by the spreading, as it were, of another disease: the dead, dull, aching pain at my heart was succeeded by one acute and intense; the absence of thought gave way to one thought more terrible, more dark, more despairing than any which had haunted me since the first year of Isora's death; and from a numbness and pause, as it were, of existence, existence became too keen and intolerable a sense. I will enter into an explanation.

At the court of------, there was an Italian, not uncelebrated for his wisdom, nor unbeloved for an innocence and integrity of life rarely indeed to be met with among his countrymen. The acquaintance of this man, who was about fifty years of age, and who was devoted almost exclusively to the pursuit of philosophical science, I had sedulously cultivated. His conversation pleased me; his wisdom improved; and his benevolence, which reminded me of the traits of La Fontaine, it was so infantine, made me incline to love him. Upon the growth of the fearful malady of mind which seized me, I had discontinued my visits and my invitations to the Italian; and Bezoni (so was he called) felt a little offended by my neglect. As soon, however, as he discovered my state of mind, the good man's resentment left him. He forced himself upon my solitude, and would sit by me whole evenings,--sometimes without exchanging a word, sometimes with vain attempts to interest, to arouse, or to amuse me.

At last, one evening--it was the era of a fearful suffering to me--our conversation turned upon those subjects which are at once the most important and the most rarely discussed. We spoke of _religion_. We first talked upon the theology of revealed religion. As Bezoni warmed into candour, I perceived that his doctrines differed from my own, and that he inly disbelieved that divine creed which Christians profess to adore. From a dispute on the ground of faith, we came to one upon the more debatable ground of reason. We turned from the subject of revealed to that of natural religion; and we entered long and earnestly into that grandest of all earthly speculations,--the metaphysical proofs of the immortality of the soul. Again the sentiments of Bezoni were opposed to mine. He was a believer in the dark doctrine which teaches that man is dust and that all things are forgotten in the grave. He expressed his opinions with a clearness and precision the more impressive because totally devoid of cavil and of rhetoric. I listened in silence, but with a deep and most chilling dismay. Even now I think I see the man as he sat before me, the light of the lamp falling on his high forehead and dark features; even now I think I hear his calm, low voice--the silver voice of his country--stealing to my heart, and withering the only pure and unsullied hope which I yet cherished there.

Bezoni left me, unconscious of the anguish he bequeathed me, to think over all he had said. I did not sleep nor even retire to bed. I laid my head upon my hands, and surrendered myself to turbulent yet intense reflection. Every man who has lived much in the world, and conversed with its various tribes, has, I fear, met with many who, on this momentous subject, profess the same tenets as Bezoni. But he was the first person I had met of that sect who had evidently thought long and deeply upon the creed he had embraced. He was not a voluptuary nor a boaster nor a wit. He had not been misled by the delusions either of vanity or of the senses. He was a man pure, innocent, modest, full of all tender charities and meek dispositions towards mankind: it was evidently his interest to believe in a future state; he could have had nothing to fear from it. Not a single passion did he cherish which the laws of another world would have condemned. Add to this, what I have observed before, that he was not a man fond of the display of intellect, nor one that brought to the discussions of wisdom the artillery of wit. He was grave, humble, and self-diffident, beyond all beings. I would have given a kingdom to have found something in the advocate by which I could have condemned the cause: I could not, and I was wretched.

I spent the whole of the next week among my books. I ransacked whatever in my scanty library the theologians had written or the philosophers had bequeathed upon that mighty secret. I arranged their arguments in my mind. I armed myself with their weapons. I felt my heart spring joyously within me as I felt the strength I had acquired, and I sent to the philosopher to visit me, that I might conquer and confute him. He came; but he spoke with pain and reluctance. He saw that I had taken the matter far more deeply to heart than he could have supposed it possible in a courtier and a man of fortune and the world. Little did he know of me or my secret soul. I broke down his reserve at last. I unrolled my arguments. I answered his, and we spent the whole night in controversy. He left me, and I was more bewildered than ever.

To speak truth, he had devoted years to the subject: I had devoted only a week. He had come to his conclusions step by step; he had reached the great ultimatum with slowness, with care, and, he confessed, with anguish and with reluctance. What a match was I, who brought a hasty temper, and a limited reflection on that subject to a reasoner like this? His candour staggered and chilled me even more than his logic. Arguments that occurred not to me, upon my side of the question, _he stated at length and with force; I heard, and, till he replied to them, I deemed they were unanswerable: the reply came, and I had no counter-word. A meeting of this nature was often repeated; and when he left me, tears crept into my wild eyes, my heart melted within me, and I wept!

I must now enter more precisely than I have yet done into my state of mind upon religious matters at the time this dispute with the Italian occurred. To speak candidly, I had been far less shocked with his opposition to me upon matters of doctrinal faith than with that upon matters of abstract reasoning. Bred a Roman Catholic, though pride, consistency, custom, made me externally adhere to the Papal Church, I inly perceived its errors and smiled at its superstitions. And in the busy world, where so little but present objects or _human anticipations of the future engross the attention, I had never given the subject that consideration which would have enabled me (as it has since) to separate the dogmas of the priest from the precepts of the Saviour, and thus confirmed my belief as the Christian by the very means which would have loosened it as the Sectarian. So that at the time Bezoni knew me a certain indifference to--perhaps arising from an ignorance of--doctrinal points, rendered me little hurt by arguments against opinions which I embraced indeed, but with a lukewarm and imperfect affection. But it was far otherwise upon abstract points of reasoning, far otherwise, when the hope of surviving this frail and most unhallowed being was to be destroyed: I might have been indifferent to cavil upon _what was the word of God, but never to question of the justice of God Himself. In the whole world there was not a more ardent believer in our imperishable nature, nor one more deeply interested in the belief. Do not let it be supposed that because I have not often recurred to Isora's death (or because I have continued my history in a jesting and light tone) that that event ever passed from the memory which it had turned to bitterness and gall. Never in the masses of intrigue, in the festivals of pleasure, in the tumults of ambition, in the blaze of a licentious court, or by the rude tents of a barbarous host,--never, my buried love, had I forgotten thee! That remembrance, had no other cause existed, would have led me to God. Every night, in whatever toils or whatever objects, whatever failures or triumphs, the day had been consumed; every night before I laid my head upon my widowed and lonely pillow,--I had knelt down and lifted my heart to Heaven, blending the hopes of that Heaven with the memory and the vision of Isora. Prayer had seemed to me a commune not only with the living God, but with the dead by whom His dwelling is surrounded. Pleasant and soft was it to turn to one thought, to which all the holiest portions of my nature clung between the wearying acts of this hard and harsh drama of existence. Even the bitterness of Isora's early and unavenged death passed away when I thought of the heaven to which she was gone, and in which, though I journeyed now through sin and travail and recked little if the paths of others differed from my own, I yet trusted with a solemn trust that I should meet her at last. There was I to merit her with a love as undying, and at length as pure, as her own. It was this that at the stated hour in which, after my prayer for our reunion, I surrendered my spirit to the bright and wild visions of her far, but _not impassable home,--it was this which for that single hour made all around me a paradise of delighted thoughts! It was not the little earth, nor the cold sky, nor the changing wave, nor the perishable turf,--no, nor the dead wall and the narrow chamber,--which were around me then! No dreamer ever was so far from the localities of flesh and life as I was in that enchanted hour: a light seemed to settle upon all things around me; her voice murmured on my ear, her kisses melted on my brow; I shut my eyes, and I fancied that I beheld her.

Wherefore was this comfort? Whence came the spell which admitted me to this fairy land? What was the source of the hope and the rapture and the delusion? Was it not the deep certainty that _Isora yet existed_; that her spirit, her nature, her love were preserved, were inviolate, were the same? That they watched over me yet, that she knew that in that hour I was with her, that she felt my prayer, that even then she anticipated the moment when my soul should burst the human prison-house and be once more blended with her own?

What! and was this to be no more? Were those mystic and sweet revealings to be mute to me forever? Were my thoughts of Isora to be henceforth bounded to the charnel-house and the worm? Was she indeed _no more_? _No more_, oh, intolerable despair! Why, there was not a thing I had once known, not a dog that I had caressed, not a book that I had read, which I could know that I should see _no more_, and, knowing, not feel something of regret. No more! were we, indeed, parted forever and forever? Had she gone in her young years, with her warm affections, her new hopes, all green and unwithered at her heart, at once into dust, stillness, ice? And had I known her only for one year, one little year, to see her torn from me by a violent and bloody death, and to be left a mourner in this vast and eternal charnel, without a solitary consolation or a gleam of hope? Was the earth to be henceforth a mere mass conjured from the bones and fattened by the clay of our dead sires? Were the stars and the moon to be mere atoms and specks of a chill light, no longer worlds, which the ardent spirit might hereafter reach and be fitted to enjoy? Was the heaven--the tender, blue, loving heaven, in whose far regions I had dreamed was Isora's home, and had, therefore, grown better and happier when I gazed upon it--to be nothing but cloud and air? and had the love which had seemed so immortal, and so springing from that which had not blent itself with mortality, been but a gross lamp fed only by the properties of a brute nature, and placed in a dark cell of clay, to glimmer, to burn, and to expire with the frail walls which it had illumined? Dust, death, worms,--were these the heritage of love and hope, of thought, of passion, of all that breathed and kindled and exalted and _created within?

Could I contemplate this idea; could I believe it possible? _I could not_. But against the abstract, the logical arguments for this idea, had I a reply? I shudder as I write that at that time I had not! I endeavoured to fix my whole thoughts to the study of those subtle reasonings which I had hitherto so imperfectly conned: but my mind was jarring, irresolute, bewildered, confused; my stake seemed too vast to allow me coolness for the game.

Whoever has had cause for some refined and deep study in the midst of the noisy and loud world may perhaps readily comprehend that feeling which now possessed me; a feeling that it was utterly impossible to abstract and concentrate one's thoughts, while at the mercy of every intruder, and fevered and fretful by every disturbance. Men early and long accustomed to mingle such reflections with the avocations of courts and cities have grown callous to these interruptions, and it has been in the very heart of the multitude that the profoundest speculations have been cherished and produced; but I was not of this mould. The world, which before had been distasteful, now grew insufferable; I longed for some seclusion, some utter solitude, some quiet and unpenetrated nook, that I might give my undivided mind to the knowledge of these things, and build the tower of divine reasonings by which I might ascend to heaven. It was at this time, and in the midst of my fiercest internal conflict, that the great Czar died, and I was suddenly recalled to Russia.

"Now," I said, when I heard of my release, "now shall my wishes be fulfilled!"

I sent to Bezoni. He came, but he refused, as indeed he had for some time done, to speak to me further upon the question which so wildly engrossed me. "I forgive you," said I, when we parted, "I forgive you for all that you have cost me: I feel that the moment is now at hand when my faith shall frame a weapon wherewith to triumph over yours!"

Father in Heaven! thanks be to Thee that my doubts were at last removed, and the cloud rolled away from my soul.

Bezoni embraced me, and wept over me. "All good men," said he, "have a mighty interest in your success; for me there is nothing dark, even in the mute grave, if it covers the ashes of one who has loved and served his brethren, and done, with a wilful heart, no living creature wrong."

Soon afterwards the Italian lost his life in attending the victims of a fearful and contagious disease, whom even the regular practitioners of the healing art hesitated to visit.

At this moment I am, in the strictest acceptation of the words, a believer and a Christian. I have neither anxiety nor doubt upon the noblest and the most comforting of all creeds, and I am grateful, among the other blessings which faith has brought me,--I am grateful that it has brought me CHARITY! Dark to all human beings was Bezoni's doctrine,--dark, above all, to those who have mourned on earth; so withering to all the hopes which cling the most enduringly to the heart was his unhappy creed that he who knows how inseparably, though insensibly, our moral legislation is woven with our supposed self-interest will scarcely marvel at, even while he condemns, the unwise and unholy persecution which that creed universally sustains! Many a most wretched hour, many a pang of agony and despair, did those doctrines inflict upon myself; but I know that the intention of Bezoni was benevolence and that the practice of his life was virtue: and while my reason tells me that God will not punish the reluctant and involuntary error of one to whom all God's creatures were so dear, my religion bids me hope that I shall meet him in that world where no error _is_, and where the Great Spirit to whom all human passions are unknown avenges the momentary doubt of His justice by a proof of the infinity of His mercy.

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