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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 6 - Chapter 4. The Solution Of Many Mysteries...
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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 4. The Solution Of Many Mysteries... Post by :dzone Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1266

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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 4. The Solution Of Many Mysteries...


POWERFUL, though not clearly developed in my own mind, was the motive which made me so strongly desire to preserve the _incognito during my interview with the Hermit. I have before said that I could not resist a vague but intense belief that he was a person whom I had long believed in the grave; and I had more than once struggled against a dark but passing suspicion that that person was in some measure--mediately, though not directly--connected with the mysteries of my former life. If both these conjectures were true, I thought it possible that the communication the Hermit wished to make might be made yet more willingly to me as a stranger than if he knew who was in reality his confidant. And, at all events, if I could curb the impetuous gushings of my own heart, which yearned for immediate disclosure, I might by hint and prelude ascertain the advantages and disadvantages of revealing myself.

I arrived at the well: the Hermit was already at the place of rendezvous, seated in the same posture in which I had before seen him. I made my reverence and accosted him.

"I have not failed you, Father."

"That is rarely a true boast with men," said the Hermit, smiling mournfully, but without sarcasm; "and were the promise of greater avail, it might not have been so rigidly kept."

"The promise, Father, seemed to me of greater weight than you would intimate," answered I.

"How mean you?" said the Hermit, hastily.

"Why, that we may perhaps serve each other by our meeting: you, Father, may comfort me by your counsels; I you by my readiness to obey your request."

The Hermit looked at me for some moments, and, as well as I could, I turned away my face from his gaze. I might have spared myself the effort. He seemed to recognize nothing familiar in my countenance; perhaps his mental malady assisted my own alteration.

"I have inquired respecting you," he said, after a pause, "and I hear that you are a learned and wise man, who has seen much of the world, and played the part both of soldier and of scholar in its various theatres: is my information true?"

"Not true with the respect to the learning, Father, but true with regard to the experience. I have been a pilgrim in many countries of Europe."

"Indeed!" said the Hermit, eagerly. "Come with me to my home, and tell me of the wonders you have seen."

I assisted the Hermit to rise, and he walked slowly towards the cavern, leaning upon my arm. Ob, how that light touch thrilled through my frame! How I longed to cry, "Are you not the one whom I have loved, and mourned, and believed buried in the tomb?" But I checked myself. We moved on in silence. The Hermit's hand was on the door of the cavern, when he said, in a calm tone, but with evident effort, and turning his face from me while he spoke:--

"And did your wanderings ever carry you into the farther regions of the north? Did the fame of the great Czar ever lead you to the city he has founded?"

"I am right! I am right!" thought I, as I answered, "In truth, holy Father, I spent not a long time at Petersburg; but I am not a stranger either to its wonders or its inhabitants."

"Possibly, then, you may have met with the English favourite of the Czar of whom I hear in my retreat that men have lately spoken somewhat largely?" The Hermit paused again. We were now in a long, low passage, almost in darkness. I scarcely saw him, yet I heard a convulsed movement in his throat before he uttered the remainder of the sentence. "He is called the Count Devereux."

"Father," said I, calmly, "I have both seen and known the man."

"Ha!" said the Hermit, and he leaned for a moment against the wall; "known him--and--how--how--I mean, where is he at this present time?"

"That, Father, is a difficult question respecting one who has led so active a life. He was ambassador at the court of------just before I left it."

We had now passed the passage and gained a room of tolerable size; an iron lamp burned within, and afforded a sufficient but somewhat dim light. The Hermit, as I concluded my reply, sank down on a long stone bench, beside a table of the same substance, and leaning his face on his hand, so that the long, large sleeve he wore perfectly concealed his features, said, "Pardon me; my breath is short, and my frame weak; I am quite exhausted, but will speak to you more anon."

I uttered a short answer, and drew a small wooden stool within a few feet of the Hermit's seat. After a brief silence he rose, placed wine, bread, and preserved fruits before me and bade me eat. I seemed to comply with his request, and the apparent diversion of my attention from himself somewhat relieved the embarrassment under which he evidently laboured.

"May I hope," he said, "that were my commission to this--to the Count Devereux--you would execute it faithfully and with speed? Yet stay: you have a high mien, as of one above fortune, but your garb is rude and poor; and if aught of gold could compensate your trouble, the Hermit has other treasuries besides this cell."

"I will do your bidding, Father, without robbing the poor. You wish, then, that I should seek Morton Devereux; you wish that I should summon him hither; you wish to see and to confer with him?"

"God of mercy forbid!" cried the Hermit, and with such a vehemence that I was startled from the design of revealing myself, which I was on the point of executing. "I would rather that these walls would crush me into dust, or that this solid stone would crumble beneath my feet,--ay, even into a bottomless pit, than meet the glance of Morton Devereux!"

"Is it even so?" said I, stooping over the wine-cup; "ye have been foes then, I suspect. Well, it matters not: tell me your errand, and it shall be done."

"Done!" cried the Hermit, and a new and certainly a most natural suspicion darted within him, "done! and--fool that I am!--who or what are you that I should believe you take so keen an interest in the wishes of a man utterly unknown to you? I tell you that my wish is that you should cross seas and traverse lands until you find the man I have named to you. Will a stranger do this, and without hire? No--no--I was a fool, and will trust the monks, and give gold, and then my errand will be sped."

"Father, or rather brother," said I, with a slow and firm voice, "for you are of mine own age, and you have the passion and the infirmity which make brethren of all mankind, I am one to whom all places are alike: it matters not whether I visit a northern or a southern clime; I have wealth, which is sufficient to smooth toil; I have leisure, which makes occupation an enjoyment. More than this, I am one who in his gayest and wildest moments has ever loved mankind, and would have renounced at any time his own pleasure for the advantage of another. But at this time, above all others, I am most disposed to forget myself, and there is a passion in your words which leads me to hope that it may be a great benefit which I can confer upon you."

"You speak well," said the Hermit, musingly, "and I may trust you; I will consider yet a little longer, and to-morrow at this hour you shall have my final answer. If you execute the charge I entrust to you, may the blessing of a dying and most wretched man cleave to you forever! But hush; the clock strikes: it is my hour of prayer."

And, pointing to a huge black clock that hung opposite the door, and indicated the hour of nine (according to our English mode of numbering the hours), the Hermit fell on his knees, and, clasping his hands tightly, bent his face over them in the attitude of humiliation and devotion. I followed his example. After a few minutes he rose: "Once in every three hours," said he, with a ghastly expression, "for the last twelve years have I bowed my soul in anguish before God, and risen to feel that it was in vain: I am cursed without and within!"

"My Father, my Father, is this your faith in the mercies of the Redeemer who died for man?"

"Talk not to me of faith!" cried the Hermit, wildly. "Ye laymen and worldlings know nothing of its mysteries and its powers. But begone! the dread hour is upon me, when my tongue is loosed and my brain darkened, and I know not my words and shudder at my own thoughts. Begone! no human being shall witness those moments: they are only for Heaven and my own soul."

So saying, this unhappy and strange being seized me by the arm and dragged me towards the passage we had entered. I was in doubt whether to yield to or contend with him; but there was a glare in his eye and a flush upon his brow, which, while it betrayed the dreadful disease of his mind, made me fear that resistance to his wishes might operate dangerously upon a frame so feeble and reduced. I therefore mechanically obeyed him. He opened again the entrance to his rugged home, and the moonlight streamed wanly over his dark robes and spectral figure.

"Go," said he, more mildly than before, "go, and forgive the vehemence of one whose mind and heart alike are broken within him. Go, but return to-morrow at sunset. Your air disposes me to trust you."

So saying, he closed the door upon me, and I stood without the cavern alone.

But did I return home? Did I hasten to press my couch in sleep and sweet forgetfulness, while he was in that gloomy sepulture of the living, a prey to anguish, and torn by the fangs of madness and a fierce disease? No: on the damp grass, beneath the silent skies, I passed a night which could scarcely have been less wretched than his own. My conjecture was now and in full confirmed. Heavens! how I loved that man! how, from my youngest years, had my soul's fondest affections interlaced themselves with him! with what anguish had I wept his imagined death! and now to know that he lay within those walls, smitten from brain to heart with so fearful and mysterious a curse,--to know, too, that he dreaded the sight of me,--of me who would have laid down my life for his! the grave, which I imagined his home, had been a mercy to a doom like this.

"He fears," I murmured, and I wept as I said it, "to look on one who would watch over, and soothe, and bear with him, with more than a woman's love! By what awful fate has this calamity fallen on one so holy and so pure? or by what preordered destiny did I come to these solitudes, to find at the same time a new charm for the earth and a spell to change it again into a desert and a place of woe?"

All night I kept vigil by the cave, and listened if I could catch moan or sound; but everything was silent: the thick walls of the rock kept even the voice of despair from my ear. The day dawned, and I retired among the trees, lest the Hermit might come out unawares and see me. At sunrise I saw him appear for a few moments and again retire, and I then hastened home, exhausted and wearied by the internal conflicts of the night, to gather coolness and composure for the ensuing interview, which I contemplated at once with eagerness and dread.

At the appointed hour I repaired to the cavern: the door was partially closed; I opened it, hearing no answer to my knock, and walked gently along the passage; but I now heard shrieks and groans and wild laughter as I neared the rude chamber. I paused for a moment, and then in terror and dismay entered the apartment. It was empty, but I saw near the clock a small door, from within which the sounds that alarmed me proceeded. I had no scruple in opening it, and found myself in the Hermit's sleeping chamber,--a small dark room, where, upon a straw pallet, lay the wretched occupant in a state of frantic delirium. I stood mute and horror-struck, while his exclamations of frenzy burst upon my ear.

"There--there!" he cried, "I have struck thee to the heart, and now I will kneel, and kiss those white lips, and bathe my hands in that blood! Ha!--do I hate thee?--hate--ay--hate,--abhor, detest! Have you the beads there?--let me tell them. Yes, I will go to the confessional--confess?--No, no--all the priests in the world could not lift up a soul so heavy with guilt. Help--help--help! I am falling--falling--there is the pit, and the fire, and the devils! Do you hear them laugh?--I can laugh too!--ha! ha! ha! Hush, I have written it all out, in a fair hand; he shall read it; and then, O God! what curses he will heap upon my head! Blessed Saint Francis, hear me! Lazarus, Lazarus, speak for me!"

Thus did the Hermit rave, while my flesh crept to hear him. I stood by his bedside, and called on him, but he neither heard nor saw me. Upon the ground, by the bed's head, as if it had dropped from under the pillow, was a packet seated and directed to myself. I knew the handwriting at a glance, even though the letters were blotted and irregular, and possibly traced in the first moment that his present curse fell upon the writer. I placed the packet in my bosom; the Hermit saw not the motion; he lay back on the bed, seemingly in utter exhaustion. I turned away, and hastened to the monastery for assistance. As I hurried through the passage, the Hermit's shrieks again broke upon me, with a fiercer vehemence than before. I flew from them, as if they were sounds from the abyss of Hades. I flew till, breathless, and half-senseless myself, I fell down exhausted by the gate of the monastery.

The two most skilled in physic of the brethren were immediately summoned, and they lost not a moment in accompanying me to the cavern. All that evening, until midnight, the frenzy of the maniac seemed rather to increase than abate. But at that hour, exactly indeed as the clock struck twelve, he fell all at once into a deep sleep.

Then for the first time, but not till the weary brethren had at this favourable symptom permitted themselves to return for a brief interval to the monastery, to seek refreshment for themselves and to bring down new medicines for the patient,--then, for the first time, I rose from the Hermit's couch by which I had hitherto kept watch, and repairing to the outer chamber, took forth the packet superscribed with my name.

There, alone in that gray vault, and by the sepulchral light of the single lamp, I read what follows:--


Morton Devereux, if ever this reach you, read it, shudder, and, whatever your afflictions, bless God that you are not as I am. Do you remember my prevailing characteristic as a boy? No, you do not. You will say "devotion!" It was not! "Gentleness." It was not: it was JEALOUSY! Now does the truth flash on you? Yes, that was the disease that was in my blood, and in my heart, and through whose ghastly medium every living object was beheld. Did I love you? Yes, I loved you,--ay, almost with a love equal to your own. I loved my mother; I loved Gerald; I loved Montreuil. It was a part of my nature to love, and I did not resist the impulse. You I loved better than all; but I was jealous of each. If my mother caressed you or Gerald, if you opened your heart to either, it stung me to the quick. I it was who said to my mother, "Caress him not, or I shall think you love him better than me." I it was who widened, from my veriest childhood, the breach between Gerald and yourself. I it was who gave to the childish reproach a venom, and to the childish quarrel a barb. Was this love? Yes, it was love; but I could not endure that ye should love one another as ye loved me. It delighted me when one confided to my ear a complaint against the other, and said, "Aubrey, this blow could not have come from thee!"

Montreuil early perceived my bias of temper: he might have corrected it and with ease. I was not evil in disposition; I was insensible of my own vice. Had its malignity been revealed to me, I should have recoiled in horror. Montreuil had a vast power over me; he could mould me at his will. Montreuil, I repeat, might have saved me, and thyself, and a third being, better and purer than either of us was, even in our cradles. Montreuil did not: he had an object to serve, and he sacrificed our whole house to it. He found me one day weeping over a dog that I had killed. "Why did you destroy it?" he said; and I answered, "Because it loved Morton better than me!" And the priest said, "Thou didst right, Aubrey!" Yes, from that time he took advantage of my infirmity, and could rouse or calm all my passions in proportion as he irritated or soothed it.

You know this man's object during the latter period of his residence with us: it was the restoration of the House of Stuart. He was alternately the spy and the agitator in that cause. Among more comprehensive plans for effecting this object, was that of securing the heirs to the great wealth and popular name of Sir William Devereux. This was only a minor mesh in the intricate web of his schemes; but it is the character of the man to take exactly the same pains, and pursue the same laborious intrigues, for a small object as for a great one. His first impression, on entering our house, was in favour of Gerald; and I believe he really likes him to this day better than either of us. Partly your sarcasms, partly Gerald's disputes with you, partly my representations,--for I was jealous even of the love of Montreuil,--prepossessed him against you. He thought, too, that Gerald had more talent to serve his purposes than yourself and more facility in being moulded to them; and he believed our uncle's partiality to you far from being unalienable. I have said that, at the latter period of his residence with us, he was an agent of the exiled cause. At the time I _now speak of, he had not entered into the great political scheme which engrossed him afterwards. He was merely a restless and aspiring priest, whose whole hope, object, ambition, was the advancement of his order. He knew that whoever inherited, or whoever shared, my uncle's wealth, could, under legitimate regulation, promote _any end which the heads of that order might select; and he wished therefore to gain the mastery over us all. Intrigue was essentially woven with his genius, and by intrigue only did he ever seek to arrive at _any end he had in view.* He soon obtained a mysterious and pervading power over Gerald and myself. Your temper at once irritated him, and made him despair of obtaining an ascendant over one who, though he testified in childhood none of the talents for which he has since been noted, testified, nevertheless, a shrewd, penetrating, and sarcastic power of observation and detection. You, therefore, he resolved to leave to the irregularities of your own nature, confident that they would yield him the opportunity of detaching your uncle from you and ultimately securing to Gerald his estates.

* It will be observed that Aubrey frequently repeats former assertions; this is one of the most customary traits of insanity.--ED.

The trial at school first altered his intentions. He imagined that he then saw in you powers which might be rendered availing to him: he conquered his pride--a great feature in his character--and he resolved to seek your affection. Your subsequent regularity of habits and success in study confirmed him in his resolution; and when he learned from my uncle's own lips that the Devereux estates would devolve on you, he thought that it would be easier to secure your affection to him than to divert that affection which my uncle had conceived for you. At this time, I repeat, he had no particular object in view; none, at least, beyond that of obtaining for the interest of his order the direction of great wealth and some political influence. Some time after--I know not exactly when, but before we returned to take our permanent abode at Devereux Court--a share in the grand political intrigue which was then in so many branches carried on throughout England, and even Europe, was confided to Montreuil.

In this I believe he was the servant of his order, rather than immediately of the exiled House; and I have since heard that even at that day he had acquired a great reputation among the professors of the former. You, Morton, he decoyed not into this scheme before he left England: he had not acquired a sufficient influence over you to trust you with the disclosure. To Gerald and myself he was more confidential. Gerald eagerly embraced his projects through a spirit of enterprise; I through a spirit of awe and of religion. RELIGION! Yes,--then,--long after,--now,--when my heart was and is the home of all withering and evil passions, Religion reigned,--reigns, over me a despot and a tyrant. Its terrors haunt me at this hour; they people the earth and the air with shapes of ghastly menace! They--Heaven pardon me! what would my madness utter? Madness?--madness? Ay, _that is the real scourge, the real fire, the real torture, the real hell, of this fair earth!

Montreuil, then, by different pleas, won over Gerald and myself. He left us, but engaged us in constant correspondence. "Aubrey," he said, before he departed, and when he saw that I was wounded by his apparent cordiality towards you and Gerald--"Aubrey," he said, soothing me on this point, "think not that I trust Gerald or the arrogant Morton as I trust you. _You have my real heart and my real trust. It is necessary to the execution of this project, so important to the interests of religion and so agreeable to the will of Heaven, that we should secure all co-operators: but they, your brothers, Aubrey, are the tools of that mighty design; you are its friend." Thus it was that, at all times when he irritated too sorely the vice of my nature, he flattered it into seconding his views; and thus, instead of conquering my evil passions, he conquered by them. Curses--No, no, no!--I _will be calm.

We returned to Devereux Court, and we grew from boyhood into youth. I loved you then, Morton. Ah! what would I not give now for one pure feeling, such as I felt in your love? Do you remember the day on which you had extorted from my uncle his consent to your leaving us for the pleasures and pomps of London? Do you remember the evening of that day, when I came to seek you, and we sat down on a little mound, and talked over your projects, and you spoke then to me of my devotion and my purer and colder feelings? Morton, at that very moment my veins burned with passion!--at that very moment my heart was feeding the vulture fated to live and prey within it forever! Thrice did I resolve to confide in you, as we then sat together, and thrice did my evil genius forbid it. You seemed, even in your affection to me, so wholly engrossed with your own hopes; you seemed so little to regret leaving me; you stung, so often and so deeply, in our short conference, that feeling which made me desire to monopolize all things in those I loved, that I said inly,--"Why should I bare my heart to one who can so little understand it?" And so we turned home, and you dreamed not of that which was then within me, and which was destined to be your curse and mine.

Not many weeks previous to that night, I had seen one whom to see was to love! Love!--I tell you, Morton, that _that word is expressive of soft and fond emotion, and there should be another expressive of all that is fierce and dark and unrelenting in the human heart!--all that seems most like the deadliest and the blackest hate, and yet is not hate! I saw this being, and from that moment my real nature, which had slept hitherto, awoke! I remember well it was one evening in the beginning of summer that I first saw her. She sat alore in the little garden beside the cottage door, and I paused, and, unseen, looked over the slight fence that separated us, and fed my eyes with a loveliness that I thought till then only twilight or the stars could wear! From that evening I came, night after night, to watch her from the same spot; and every time I beheld her the poison entered deeper and deeper into my system. At length I had an opportunity of being known to her, of speaking to her, of hearing her speak, of touching the ground she had hallowed, of entering the home where she dwelt!

I must explain: I said that both Gerald and myself corresponded privately with Montreuil; we were both bound over to secrecy with regard to you; and this, my temper and Gerald's coolness with you rendered an easy obligation to both;--I say my temper, for I loved to think I had a secret not known to another; and I carried this reserve even to the degree of concealing from Gerald himself the greater part of the correspondence between me and the Abbe. In his correspondence with each of us, Montreuil acted with his usual skill; to Gerald, as the elder in years, the more prone to enterprise, and the manlier in aspect and in character, was allotted whatever object was of real trust or importance. Gerald it was who, under pretence of pursuing his accustomed sports, conferred with the various agents of intrigue who from time to time visited our coast; and to me the Abbe gave words of endearment and affected the language of more entire trust. "Whatever," he would say, "in our present half mellowed projects, is exposed to danger, but does not promise reward, I entrust to Gerald; hereafter, far higher employment, under far safer and surer auspices, will be yours. We are the heads: be ours the nobler occupation to plan; and let us leave to inferior natures the vain and perilous triumph to execute what we design."

All this I readily assented to; for, despite my acquiescence in Montreuil's wishes, I loved not enterprise, or rather I hated whatever roused me from the dreamy and abstracted indolence which was most dear to my temperament. Sometimes, however, with a great show of confidence, Montreuil would request me to execute some quiet and unimportant commission; and of this nature was one I received while I was thus, unknown even to the object, steeping my soul in the first intoxication of love. The plots then carried on by certain ecclesiastics I need not say extended, in one linked chain, over the greater part of the Continent. Spain, in especial, was the theatre of these intrigues; and among the tools employed in executing them were some who, though banished from that country, still, by the rank they had held in it, carried a certain importance in their very names. Foremost of these was the father of the woman I loved; and foremost, in whatever promised occupation to a restless mind, he was always certain to be.

Montreuil now commissioned me to seek out a certain Barnard (an underling in those secret practices or services, for which he afterwards suffered, and who was then in that part of the country), and to communicate to him some messages of which he was to be the bearer to this Spaniard. A thought flashed upon me--Montreuil's letter mentioned, accidentally, that the Spaniard had never hitherto seen Barnard: could I not personate the latter, deliver the messages myself, and thus win that introduction to the daughter which I so burningly desired, and which, from the close reserve of the father's habits, I might not otherwise effect? The plan was open to two objections: one, that I was known personally in the town in the environs of which the Spaniard lived, and he might therefore very soon discover who I really was; the other that I was not in possession of all the information which Barnard might possess, and which the Spaniard might wish to learn; but these objections had not much weight with me. To the first, I said inly, "I will oppose the most constant caution; I will go always on foot and alone; I will never be seen in the town itself; and even should the Spaniard, who seems rarely to stir abroad, and who, possibly, does not speak our language,--even should he learn by accident that Barnard is only another name for Aubrey Devereux, it will not be before I have gained my object; nor, perhaps, before the time when I myself may wish to acknowledge my identity." To the second objection I saw a yet more ready answer. "I will acquaint Montreuil at once," I said, "with my intention; I will claim his connivance as a proof of his confidence, and as an essay of my own genius of intrigue." I did so; the priest, perhaps delighted to involve me so deeply, and to find me so ardent in his project, consented. Fortunately, as I before said, Barnard was an underling,--young, unknown, and obscure. My youth, therefore, was not so great a foe to my assumed disguise as it might otherwise have been. Montreuil supplied all requisite information. I tried (for the first time, with a beating heart and a tremulous voice) the imposition! it succeeded; I continued it. Yes, Morton, yes!--pour forth upon me your bitterest execration, in me, in your brother, in the brother so dear to you,--in the brother whom you imagined so passionless, so pure; so sinless,--behold that Barnard, the lover, the idolatrous lover--the foe, the deadly foe,--of Isora d'Alvarez!

Here the manuscript was defaced for some pages by incoherent and meaningless ravings. It seemed as if one of his dark fits of frenzy had at that time come over the writer. At length, in a more firm and clear character than that immediately preceding it, the manuscript continued as follows:--

I loved her, but even then it was with a fierce and ominous love (ominous of what it became). Often in the still evenings, when we stood together watching the sun set; when my tongue trembled, but did not dare to speak; when all soft and sweet thoughts filled the heart and glistened in the eye of that most sensitive and fairy being; when my own brow perhaps seemed to reflect the same emotions,--feelings which I even shuddered to conceive raged within me. Had we stood together in those moments upon the brink of a precipice, I could have wound my arms around her and leaped with her into the abyss. Everything but one nursed my passion; nature, solitude, early dreams, all kindled and fed that fire: Religion only combated it; I knew it was a crime to love any of earth's creatures as I loved. I used the scourge and the fast;* I wept hot, burning tears; I prayed, and the intensity of my prayer appalled even myself, as it rose from my maddened heart, in the depth and stillness of the lone night: but the flame burned higher and more scorchingly from the opposition; nay, it was the very knowledge that my love was criminal that made it assume so fearful and dark a shape. "Thou art the cause of my downfall from Heaven!" I muttered, when I looked upon Isora's calm face: "thou feelest it not, and I could destroy thee and myself,--myself the criminal, thee the cause of the crime!"

* I need not point out to the novel-reader how completely the character of Aubrey has been stolen in a certain celebrated French romance. But the writer I allude to is not so unmerciful as M. de Balzac, who has pillaged scenes in "The Disowned" with a most gratifying politeness.

It must have been that my eyes betrayed my feelings that Isora loved me not, that she shrank from me even at the first: why else should I not have called forth the same sentiments which she gave to you? Was not my form cast in a mould as fair as yours? did not my voice whisper in as sweet a tone? did I not love her with as wild a love? Why should she not have loved me? I was the first whom she behold: she would--ay, perhaps she would have loved me, if you had not come and marred all. Curse yourself, then, that you were my rival! curse yourself that you made my heart as a furnace, and smote my brain with frenzy; curse--O sweet Virgin, forgive me!--I know not,--I know not what my tongue utters or my hand traces!

You came, then, Morton, you came; you knew her; you loved her; she loved you. I learned that you had gained admittance to the cottage, and the moment I learned it, I looked on Isora, and felt my fate, as by intuition: I saw at once that she was prepared to love you; I saw the very moment when that love kindled from conception into form; I saw--and at that moment my eyes reeled and my ears rang as with the sound of a rushing sea, and I thought I felt a cord snap within my brain, which has never been united again.

Once only, after your introduction to the cottage, did I think of confiding to you my love and rivalship; you remember one night when we met by the castle cave, and when your kindness touched and softened me despite of myself. The day after that night I sought you, with the intention of communicating to you all; and while I was yet struggling with my embarrassment and the suffocating tide of my emotions, you premeditated me by giving me _your confidence. Engrossed by your own feelings, you were not observant of mine; and as you dwelt and dilated upon your love for Isora, all emotions, save those of agony and of fury, vanished from my breast. I did not answer you then at any length, for I was too agitated to trust to prolix speech; but by the next day I had recovered myself, and I resolved, as far as I was able, to play the hypocrite, "he cannot love her as I do!" I said; "perhaps I may, without disclosure of my rivalship and without sin in the attempt, detach him from her by reason." Fraught with this idea, I collected myself, sought you, remonstrated with you, represented the worldly folly of your love, and uttered all that prudence preaches--in vain, when it preaches against passion!

Let me be brief. I saw that I made no impression on you; I stifled my wrath; I continued to visit and watch Isora. I timed my opportunities well: my constant knowledge of your motions allowed me to do that; besides, I represented to the Spaniard the necessity, through political motives, of concealing myself from you; hence, we never encountered each other. One evening, Alvarez had gone out to meet one of his countrymen and confederates. I found Isora alone, in the most sequestered part of the garden; her loveliness, and her exceeding gentleness of manner, melted me. For the first time audibly my heart spoke out, and I told her of my idolatry. Idolatry! ay, _that is the only word, since it signifies both worship and guilt! She heard me timidly, gently, coldly. She spoke; and I found confirmed from her own lips what my reason had before told me,--that there was no hope for me. The iron that entered also roused my heart. "Enough!" I cried fiercely, "you love this Morton Devereux, and for him I am scorned." Isora blushed and trembled, and all my senses fled from me. I scarcely know in what words my rage and my despair clothed themselves: but I know that I divulged myself to her; I know that I told her I was the brother, the rival, the enemy of the man she loved,--I know that I uttered the fiercest and the wildest menaces and execrations,--I know that my vehemence so overpowered and terrified her that her mind was scarcely less clouded--less lost, rather--than my own. At that moment the sound of your horse's hoofs was heard. Isora's eyes brightened and her mien grew firm. "He comes," she said, "and he will protect me!" "Hark!" I said, sinking my voice, and, as my drawn sword flashed in one hand, the other grasped her arm with a savage force,--"hark, woman!" I said,--and an oath of the blackest fury accompanied my threats,--"swear that you will never divulge to Morton Devereux who is his real rival, that you will never declare to him nor to any one else that the false Barnard and the true Aubrey Devereux are the same,--swear this, or I swear (and I repeated, with a solemn vehemence, that dread oath) that I will stay here; that I will confront my rival; that, the moment he beholds me, I will plunge this sword in his bosom; and that, before I perish myself, I will hasten to the town, and will utter there a secret which will send your father to the gallows: now, your choice?"

Morton, you have often praised, my uncle has often jested at, the womanish softness of my face. There have been moments when I have seen that face in the glass, and known it not, but started in wild affright, and fancied that I beheld a demon; perhaps in that moment this change was over it. Slowly Isora gazed upon me; slowly blanched into the hues of death grew her cheek and lip; slowly that lip uttered the oath I enjoined. I released my gripe, and she fell to the earth suddenly, and stunned as if struck by lightning. I stayed not to look on what I had done; I heard your step advance; I fled by a path that led from the garden to the beach; and I reached my home without retaining a single recollection of the space I had traversed to attain it.

Despite the night I passed--a night which I will leave you to imagine--I rose the next morning with a burning interest to learn from you what had passed after my flight, and with a power, peculiar to the stormiest passions, of an outward composure while I listened to the recital. I saw that I was safe; and I heard, with a joy so rapturous that I question whether even Isora's assent to my love would have given me an equal transport, that she had rejected you. I uttered some advice to you commonplace enough: it displeased you, and we separated.

That evening, to my surprise, I was privately visited by Montreuil. He had some designs in hand which brought him from France into the neighbourhood, but which made him desirous of concealment. He soon drew from me my secret; it is marvellous, indeed, what power he had of penetrating, ruling, moulding, my feelings and my thoughts. He wished, at that time, a communication to be made and a letter to be given to Alvarez. I could not execute this commission personally; for you had informed me of your intention of watching if you could not discover or meet with Barnard, and I knew you were absent from home on that very purpose. Nor was Montreuil himself desirous of incurring the risk of being seen by you,--you over whom, sooner or later, he then trusted to obtain a power equal to that which he held over your brothers. Gerald then was chosen to execute the commission. He did so; he met Alvarez for the first and only time on the beach, by the town of------. You saw him, and imagined you beheld the real Barnard.

But I anticipate; for you did not inform me of that occurrence, nor the inference you drew from it, till afterwards. You returned, however, after witnessing that meeting, and for two days your passions (passions which, intense and fierce as mine, show that, under similar circumstances, you might have been equally guilty) terminated in fever. You were confined to your bed for three or four days; meanwhile I took advantage of the event. Montreuil suggested a plan which I readily embraced. I sought the Spaniard, and told him in confidence that you were a suitor--but a suitor upon the most dishonourable terms--to his daughter. I told him, moreover, that you had detected his schemes, and, in order to deprive Isora of protection and abate any obstacles arising from her pride, meant to betray him to the Government. I told him that his best and most prudent, nay, his only chance of safety for Isora and himself was to leave his present home and take refuge in the vast mazes of the metropolis. I told him not to betray to you his knowledge of your criminal intentions, lest it might needlessly exasperate you. I furnished him wherewithal to repay you the sum which you had lent him, and by which you had commenced his acquaintance; and I dictated to him the very terms of the note in which the sum was to be inclosed. After this I felt happy. You were separated from Isora: she might forget you; you might forget her. I was possessed of the secret of her father's present retreat: I might seek it at my pleasure, and ultimately--so hope whispered--prosper in my love.

Some time afterwards you mentioned your suspicions of Gerald; I did not corroborate, but I did not seek to destroy them. "They already hate each other," I said; "can the hate be greater? meanwhile, let it divert suspicion from me!" Gerald knew of the agency of the real Barnard, though he did not know that I had assumed the name of that person. When you taxed him with his knowledge of the man, he was naturally confused. You interpreted that confusion into the fact of being your rival, while in truth it arose from his belief that you had possessed yourself of his political schemes. Montreuil, who had lurked chiefly in the islet opposite "the Castle Cave," had returned to France on the same day that Alvarez repaired to London. Previous to this, we had held some conferences together upon my love. At first he had opposed and reasoned with it; but, startled and astonished by the intensity with which it possessed me, he gave way to my vehemence at last.

I have said that I had adopted his advice in one instance. The fact of having received his advice,--the advice of one so pious, so free from human passion, so devoted to one object, which appeared to him the cause of Religion; advice, too, in a love so fiery and overwhelming, that fact made me think myself less criminal than I had done before. He advised me yet further. "Do not seek Isora," he said, "till some time has elapsed; till her new-born love for your brother has died away; till the impression of fear you have caused in her is somewhat effaced; till time and absence, too, have done their work in the mind of Morton, and you will no longer have for your rival one who is not only a brother, but a man of a fierce, resolute, and unrelenting temper."

I yielded to this advice: partly because it promised so fair; partly because I was not systematically vicious, and I wished, if possible, to do away with our rivalship; and principally, because I knew, in the meanwhile, that if I was deprived of her presence, so also were you; and jealousy with me was a far more intolerable and engrossing passion than the very love from which it sprang. So time passed on: you affected to have conquered your attachment; you affected to take pleasure in levity and the idlest pursuits of worldly men. I saw deeper into your heart; for the moment I entertained the passion of love in my own breast, my eyes became gifted with a second vision to penetrate the most mysterious and hoarded secrets in the love of others.

Two circumstances of importance happened before you left Devereux Court for London; the one was the introduction to your service of Jean Desmarais, the second was your breach with Montreuil. I speak now of the first. A very early friend did the priest possess, born in the same village as himself and in the same rank of life; he had received a good education and possessed natural genius. At a time when, from some fraud in a situation of trust which he had held in a French nobleman's family, he was in destitute and desperate circumstances, it occurred to Montreuil to provide for him by placing him in our family. Some accidental and frivolous remark of yours which I had repeated in my correspondence with Montreuil as illustrative of your manner, and your affected pursuits at that time, presented an opportunity to a plan before conceived. Desmarais came to England in a smuggler's vessel, presented himself to you as a servant, and was accepted. In this plan Montreuil had two views: first, that of securing Desmarais a place in England, tolerably profitable to himself and convenient for any plot or scheme which Montreuil might require of him in this country; secondly, that of setting a perpetual and most adroit spy upon all your motions.

As to the second occurrence to which I have referred; namely, your breach with Montreuil--

Here Aubrey, with the same terrible distinctness which had characterized his previous details and which shed a double horror over the contrast of the darker and more frantic passages in the manuscript, related what the reader will remember Oswald had narrated before, respecting the letter he had brought from Madame de Balzac. It seems that Montreuil's abrupt appearance in the hall had been caused by Desmarais, who had recognized Oswald, on his dismounting at the gate, and had previously known that he was in the employment of the Jansenistical _intriguante Madame de Balzac.

Aubrey proceeded then to say that Montreuil, invested with far more direct authority and power than he had been hitherto in the projects of that wise order whose doctrines he had so darkly perverted, repaired to London; and that, soon after my departure for the same place, Gerald and Aubrey left Devereux Court in company with each other; but Gerald, whom very trifling things diverted from any project, however important, returned to Devereux Court to accomplish the prosecution of some rustic _amour_, without even reaching London. Aubrey, on the contrary, had proceeded to the metropolis, sought the suburb in which Alvarez lived, procured, in order to avoid any probable chance of meeting me, a lodging in the same obscure quarter, and had renewed his suit to Isora. The reader is already in possession of the ill success which attended it. Aubrey had at last confessed his real name to the father. The Spaniard was dazzled by the prospect of so honourable an alliance for his daughter. From both came Isora's persecution, but in both was it resisted. Passing over passages in the manuscript of the most stormy incoherence and the most gloomy passion, I come to what follows--

I learned then from Desmarais that you had taken away her and the dying father, that you had placed them in a safe and honourable home. That man, so implicitly the creature of Montreuil, or rather of his own interest, with which Montreuil was identified, was easily induced to betray you also to me,--me whom he imagined, moreover, utterly the tool of the priest, and of whose torturing interest in this peculiar disclosure he was not at that time aware. I visited Isora in her new abode, and again and again she trembled beneath my rage. Then, for the second time, I attempted force. Ha! ha! Morton, I think I see you now!--I think I hear your muttered curse! Curse on! When you read this I shall be beyond your vengeance, beyond human power. And yet I think if I were mere clay; if I were the mere senseless heap of ashes that the grave covers; if I were not the thing that must live forever and forever, far away in unimagined worlds, where nought that has earth's life can come,--I should tremble beneath the sod as your foot pressed and your execration rang over it. A second time I attempted force; a second time I was repulsed by the same means,--by a woman's hand and a woman's dagger. But I knew that I had one hold over Isora from which, while she loved you, I could never be driven: I knew that by threatening your _life_, I could command her will and terrify her into compliance with my own. I made her reiterate her vow of concealment; and I discovered, by some words dropping from her fear, that she believed you already suspected me, and had been withheld by her entreaties from seeking me out. I questioned her more, and soon perceived that it was (as indeed I knew before) Gerald whom you suspected, not me; but I did not tell this to Isora. I suffered her to cherish a mistake profitable to my disguise; but I saw at once that it might betray me, if you ever met and conferred at length with Gerald upon this point, and I exacted from Isora a pledge that she would effectually and forever bind you not to breathe a single suspicion to him. When I had left the room, I returned once more to warn her against uniting herself with you. Wretch, selfish, accursed wretch that you were, why did you suffer her to transgress that warning?

I fled from the house, as a fiend flies from a being whom he has possessed. I returned at night to look up at the window, and linger by the door, and keep watch beside the home which held Isora. Such, in her former abode, had been my nightly wont. I had no evil thought nor foul intent in this customary vigil,--no, not one! Strangely enough, with the tempestuous and overwhelming emotions which constituted the greater part of my love was mingled--though subdued and latent--a stream of the softest, yea, I might add almost of the holiest tenderness. Often after one of those outpourings of rage and menace and despair, I would fly to some quiet spot and weep till all the hardness of my heart was wept away. And often in those nightly vigils I would pause by the door and murmur, "This shelter, denied not to the beggar and the beggar's child, this would you deny to me if you could dream that I was so near you. And yet, had you loved me, instead of lavishing upon me all your hatred and your contempt,--had you loved me, I would have served and worshipped you as man knows not worship or service. You shudder at my vehemence now: I could not then have breathed a whisper to wound you. You tremble now at the fierceness of my breast: you would then rather have marvelled at its softness."

I was already at my old watch when you encountered me: you addressed me; I answered not; you approached me, and I fled. Fled there--there was the shame, and the sting of my sentiments towards you. I am not naturally afraid of danger, though my nerves are sometimes weak and have sometimes shrunk from it. I have known something of peril in late years when my frame has been bowed and broken--perils by storms at sea, and the knives of robbers upon land--and I have looked upon it with a quiet eye. But you, Morton Devereux, you I always feared. I had seen from your childhood others whose nature was far stronger than mine yield and recoil at yours; I had seen the giant and bold strength of Gerald quail before your bent brow; I had seen even the hardy pride of Montreuil baffled by your curled lip and the stern sarcasm of your glance; I had seen you, too, in your wild moments of ungoverned rage, and I knew that if earth held one whose passions were fiercer than my own it was you. But your passions were sustained even in their fiercest excess; your passions were the mere weapons of your mind: my passions were the torturers and the tyrants of mine. Your passions seconded your will; mine blinded and overwhelmed it. From my infancy, even while I loved you most, you awed me; and years, in deepening the impression, had made it indelible. I could not confront the thought of your knowing all, and of meeting you after that knowledge. And this fear, while it unnerved me at some moments, at others only maddened my ferocity the more by the stings of shame and self-contempt.

I fled from you: you pursued; you gained upon me; you remember how I was preserved. I dashed through the inebriated revellers who obstructed your path, and reached my own lodging, which was close at hand; for the same day on which I learned Isora's change of residence I changed my own in order to be near it. Did I feel joy for my escape? No: I could have gnawed the very flesh from my bones in the agony of my shame. "I could brave," I said, "I could threat, I could offer violence to the woman who rejected me, and yet I could not face the rival for whom I am scorned!" At that moment a resolution flashed across my mind, exactly as if a train of living fire had been driven before it. Morton, I resolved to murder you, and in that very hour! A pistol lay on my table; I took it, concealed it about my person, and repaired to the shelter of a large portico, beside which I knew that you must pass to your own home in the same street. Scarcely three minutes had elapsed between the reaching my house and the leaving it on this errand. I knew, for I had heard swords clash, that you would be detained some time in the street by the rioters; I thought it probable also that you might still continue the search for me; and I knew even that, had you hastened at once to your home, you could scarcely have reached it before I reached my shelter. I hurried on; I arrived at the spot; I screened myself and awaited your coming. You came, borne in the arms of two men; others followed in the rear; I saw your face destitute of the hue and aspect of life, and your clothes streaming with blood. I was horror-stricken. I joined the crowd; I learned that you had been stabbed, and it was feared mortally.

I did not return home: no, I went into the fields, and lay out all night, and lifted up my heart to God, and wept aloud, and peace fell upon me,--at least, what was peace compared to the tempestuous darkness which had before reigned in my breast. The sight of you, bleeding and insensible,--you, against whom I had harboured a fratricide's purpose,--had stricken, as it were, the weapon from my hand and the madness from my mind. I shuddered at what I had escaped; I blessed God for my deliverance; and with the gratitude and the awe came repentance; and repentance brought a resolution to fly, since I could not wrestle with my mighty and dread temptation: the moment that resolution was formed, it was as if an incubus were taken from my breast. Even the next morning I did not return home: my anxiety for you was such that I forgot all caution; I went to your house myself; I saw one of your servants to whom I was personally unknown. I inquired respecting you, and learned that your wound had not been mortal, and that the servant had overheard one of the medical attendants say you were not even in danger.

At this news I felt the serpent stir again within me, but I resolved to crush it at the first: I would not even expose myself to the temptation of passing by Isora's house; I went straight in search of my horse; I mounted, and fled resolutely from the scene of my soul's peril. "I will go," I said, "to the home of our childhood; I will surround myself by the mute tokens of the early love which my brother bore me; I will think,--while penance and prayer cleanse my soul from its black guilt,--I will think that I am also making a sacrifice to that brother."

I returned then to Devereux Court, and I resolved to forego all hope--all persecution--of Isora! My brother--my brother, my heart yearns to you at this moment, even though years and distance, and, above all, my own crimes, place a gulf between us which I may never pass; it yearns to you when I think of those quiet shades, and the scenes where, pure and unsullied, we wandered together, when life was all verdure and freshness, and we dreamed not of what was to come! If even now my heart yearns to you, Morton, when I think of that home and those days, believe that it had some softness and some mercy for you then. Yes, I repeat, I resolved to subdue my own emotions, and interpose no longer between Isora and yourself. Full of this determination, and utterly melted towards you, I wrote you a long letter; such as we would have written to each other in our first youth. Two days after that letter all my new purposes were swept away, and the whole soil of evil thoughts which they had covered, not destroyed, rose again as the tide flowed from it, black and rugged as before.

The very night on which I had writ that letter, came Montreuil secretly to my chamber. He had been accustomed to visit Gerald by stealth and at sudden moments; and there was something almost supernatural in the manner in which he seemed to pass from place to place, unmolested and unseen. He had now conceived a villanous project; and he had visited Devereux Court in order to ascertain the likelihood of its success; he there found that it was necessary to involve me in his scheme. My uncle's physician had said privately that Sir William could not live many months longer. Either from Gerald or my mother Montreuil learned this fact; and he was resolved, if possible, that, the family estates should not glide from all chance of his influence over them into your possession. Montreuil was literally as poor as the rigid law of his order enjoins its disciples to be; all his schemes required the disposal of large sums, and in no private source could he hope for such pecuniary power as he was likely to find in the coffers of any member of our family, yourself only excepted. It was this man's boast to want, and yet to command, all things; and he was now determined that if any craft, resolution, or guilt could occasion the transfer of my uncle's wealth from you to Gerald or to myself, it should not be wanting.

Now, then, he found the advantage of the dissensions with each other which he had either sown or mellowed in our breasts. He came to turn those wrathful thoughts which when he last saw me I had expressed towards you to the favor and success of his design. He found my mind strangely altered, but he affected to applaud the change. He questioned me respecting my uncle's health, and I told him what had really occurred; namely, that my uncle had on the preceding day read over to me some part of a will which he had just made, and in which the vast bulk of his property was bequeathed to you. At this news Montreuil must have perceived at once the necessity of winning my consent to his project; for, since I had seen the actual testament, no fraudulent transfer of the property therein bequeathed could take place without my knowledge that some fraud had been recurred to. Montreuil knew me well; he knew that avarice, that pleasure, that ambition, were powerless words with me, producing no effect and affording no temptation: but he knew that passion, jealousy, spiritual terrors, were the springs that moved every part and nerve of my moral being. The two former, then, he now put into action; the last he held back in reserve. He spoke to me no further upon the subject he had then at heart; not a word further on the disposition of the estates: he spoke to me only of Isora and of you; he aroused, by hint and insinuation, the new sleep into which all those emotions--the furies of the heart--had been for a moment lulled. He told me he had lately seen Isora; he dwelt glowingly on her beauty; he commended my heroism in resigning her to a brother whose love for her was little in comparison to mine, who had, in reality, never loved _me_,--whose jests and irony had been levelled no less at myself than at others. He painted your person and your mind, in contrast to my own, in colors so covertly depreciating as to irritate more and more that vanity with which jealousy is so woven, and from which, perhaps (a Titan son of so feeble a parent), it is born. He hung lingeringly over all the treasure that you would enjoy and that I--I, the first discoverer, had so nobly and so generously relinquished.

"Relinquished!" I cried, "no, I was driven from it; I left it not while a hope of possessing it remained." The priest affected astonishment. "How! was I sure of that? I had, it is true, wooed Isora; but would she, even if she had felt no preference for Morton, would she have surrendered the heir to a princely wealth for the humble love of the younger son? I did not know women: with them all love was either wantonness, custom, or pride; it was the last principle that swayed Isora. Had I sought to enlist it on my side? Not at all. Again, I had only striven to detach Isora from Morton; had I ever attempted the much easier task of detaching Morton from Isora? No, never;" and Montreuil repeated his panegyric on my generous surrender of my rights. I interrupted him; I had not surrendered: I never would surrender while a hope remained. But, where was that hope, and how was it to be realized? After much artful prelude, the priest explained. He proposed to use every means to array against your union with Isora all motives of ambition, interest, and aggrandizement. "I know Morton's character," said he, "to its very depths. His chief virtue is honour; his chief principle is ambition. He will not attempt to win this girl otherwise than by marriage; for the very reasons that would induce most men to attempt it, namely, her unfriended state, her poverty, her confidence in him, and her love, or that semblance of love which he believes to be the passion itself. This virtue,--I call it so, though it is none, for there is no virtue out of religion,--this virtue, then, will place before him only two plans of conduct, either to marry her or to forsake her. Now, then, if we can bring his ambition, that great lever of his conduct, in opposition to the first alternative, only the last remains: I say that we _can employ that engine in your behalf; leave it to me, and I will do so. Then, Aubrey, in the moment of her pique, her resentment, her outraged vanity, at being thus left, you shall appear; not as you have hitherto done in menace and terror, but soft, subdued, with looks all love, with vows all penitence; vindicating all your past vehemence by the excess of your passion, and promising all future tenderness by the influence of the same motive, the motive which to a woman pardons every error and hallows every crime. Then will she contrast your love with your brother's: then will the scale fall from her eyes; then will she see what hitherto she has been blinded to, that your brother, to yourself, is a satyr to Hyperion; then will she blush and falter, and hide her cheek in your bosom." "Hold, hold!" I cried "do with me what you will; counsel, and I will act!"

Here again the manuscript was defaced by a sudden burst of execration upon Montreuil, followed by ravings that gradually blackened into the most gloomy and incoherent outpourings of madness; at length the history proceeded.

"You wrote to ask me to sound our uncle on the subject of your intended marriage. Montreuil drew up my answer; and I constrained myself, despite my revived hatred to you, to transcribe its expressions of affection. My uncle wrote to you also; and we strengthened his dislike to the step you had proposed, by hints from myself disrespectful to Isora, and an anonymous communication dated from London and to the same purport. All this while I knew not that Isora had been in your house; your answer to my letter seemed to imply that you would not disobey my uncle. Montreuil, who was still lurking in the neighbourhood and who at night privately met or sought me, affected exultation at the incipient success of his advice. He pretended to receive perpetual intelligence of your motions and conduct, and he informed me now that Isora had come to your house on hearing of your wound; that you had not (agreeably, Montreuil added to his view of your character) taken advantage of her indiscretion; that immediately on receiving your uncle's and my own letters, you had separated yourself from her; and, that though you still visited her, it was apparently with a view of breaking off all connection by gradual and gentle steps; at all events, you had taken no measures towards marriage.

"Now, then," said Montreuil, "for one finishing stroke, and the prize is yours. Your uncle cannot, you find, live long: could he but be persuaded to leave his property to Gerald or to you, with only a trifling legacy (comparatively speaking) to Morton, that worldly-minded and enterprising person would be utterly prevented from marrying a penniless and unknown foreigner. Nothing but his own high prospects, so utterly above the necessity of fortune in a wife, can excuse such a measure now, even to his own mind; if therefore, we can effect this transfer of property, and in the meanwhile prevent Morton from marrying, your rival is gone forever, and with his brilliant advantages of wealth will also vanish his merits in the eyes of Isora. Do not be startled at this thought: there is no crime in it; I, your confessor, your tutor, the servant of the Church, am the last person to counsel, to hint even, at what is criminal; but the end sanctifies all means. By transferring this vast property, you do not only insure your object, but you advance the great cause of Kings, the Church, and of the Religion which presides over both. Wealth, in Morton's possession, will be useless to this cause, perhaps pernicious: in your hands or in Gerald's, it will be of inestimable service. Wealth produced from the public should be applied to the uses of the public, yea, even though a petty injury to one individual be the price."

Thus, and in this manner, did Montreuil prepare my mind for the step he meditated; but I was not yet ripe for it. So inconsistent is guilt, that I could commit murder, wrong, almost all villany that passion dictated, but I was struck aghast by the thought of fraud. Montreuil perceived that I was not yet wholly his, and his next plan was to remove me from a spot where I might check his measures. He persuaded me to travel for a few weeks. "On your return," said he, "consider Isora yours; meanwhile, let change of scene beguile suspense." I was passive in his hands, and I went whither he directed.

Let me be brief here on the black fraud that ensued. Among the other arts of Jean Desmarais, was that of copying exactly any handwriting. He was then in London, in your service. Montrenil sent for him to come to the neighbourhood of Devereux Court. Meanwhile, the priest had procured from the notary who had drawn up, and who now possessed, the will of my unsuspecting uncle, that document. The notary had been long known to, and sometimes politically employed by, Montreuil, for he was half-brother to that Oswald, whom I have before mentioned as the early comrade of the priest and Desmarais. This circumstance, it is probable, first induced Montreuil to contemplate the plan of a substituted will. Before Desmarais arrived, in order to copy those parts of the will which my uncle's humour had led him to write in his own hand, you, alarmed by a letter from my uncle, came to the Court, and on the same day Sir William (taken ill the preceding evening) died. Between that day and the one on which the funeral occurred the will was copied by Desmarais; only Gerald's name was substituted for yours, and the forty thousand pounds left to him--a sum equal to that bestowed on myself--was cut down into a legacy of twenty thousand pounds to you. Less than this Montreuil dared not insert as the bequest to you: and it is possible that the same regard to probabilities prevented all mention of himself in the substituted will. This was all the alteration made. My uncle's writing was copied exactly; and, save the departure from his apparent intentions in your favour, I believe not a particle in the effected fraud was calculated to excite suspicion. Immediately on the reading of the will, Montreuil repaired to me and confessed what had taken place.

"Aubrey," he said, "I have done this for your sake partly; but I have had a much higher end in view than even your happiness or my affectionate wishes to promote it. I live solely for one object,--the aggrandizement of that holy order to which I belong; the schemes of that order are devoted only to the interests of Heaven, and by serving them I serve Heaven itself. Aubrey, child of my adoption and of my earthly hopes, those schemes require carnal instruments, and work, even through Mammon, unto the goal of righteousness. What I have done is just before God and man. I have wrested a weapon from the hand of an enemy, and placed it in the hand of an ally. I have not touched one atom of this wealth, though, with the same ease with which I have transferred it from Morton to Gerald, I might have made my own private fortune. I have not touched one atom of it; nor for you, whom I love more than any living being, have I done what my heart dictated. I might have caused the inheritance to pass to you. I have not done so. Why? Because then I should have consulted a selfish desire at the expense of the interests of mankind. Gerald is fitter to be the tool those interests require than you are. Gerald I have made that tool. You, too, I have spared the pangs which your conscience, so peculiarly, so morbidly acute, might suffer at being selected as the instrument of a seeming wrong to Morton. All required of you is silence. If your wants ever ask more than your legacy, you have, as I have, a claim to that wealth which your pleasure allows Gerald to possess. Meanwhile, let us secure to you that treasure dearer to you than gold."

If Montreuil did not quite blind me by speeches of this nature, my engrossing, absorbing passion required little to make it cling to any hope of its fruition. I assented, therefore, though not without many previous struggles, to Montreuil's project, or rather to its concealment; nay, I wrote some time after, at his desire and his dictation, a letter to you, stating feigned reasons for my uncle's alteration of former intentions, and exonerating Gerald from all connivance in that alteration, or abetment in the fraud you professed that it was your open belief had been committed. This was due to Gerald; for at that time, and for aught I know, at the present, he was perfectly unconscious by what means he had attained his fortune: he believed that your love for Isora had given my uncle offence, and hence your disinheritance; and Montreuil took effectual care to exasperate him against you, by dwelling on the malice which your suspicions and your proceedings against him so glaringly testified. Whether Montreuil really thought you would give over all intention of marrying Isora upon your reverse of fortune, which is likely enough from his estimate of your character; or whether he only wished by any means to obtain my acquiescence in a measure important to his views, I know not, but he never left me, nor ever ceased to sustain my fevered and unhallowed hopes, from the hour in which he first communicated to me the fraudulent substitution of the will till we repaired together to London. This we did not do so long as he could detain me in the country by assurances that I should ruin all by appearing before Isora until you had entirely deserted her.

Morton, hitherto I have written as if my veins were filled with water, instead of the raging fire that flows through them until it reaches my brain, and there it stops, and eats away all things,--even memory, that once seemed eternal! Now I feel as I approach the consummation of--ha--of what--ay, of what? Brother, did you ever, when you thought yourself quite alone, at night, not a breath stirring,--did you ever raise your eyes, and see exactly opposite to you a devil?--a dread thing, that moves not, speaks not, but glares upon you with a fixed, dead, unrelenting eye?--that thing is before me now and witnesses every word I write. But it deters me not! no, nor terrifies me. I have said that I would fulfil this task, and I have nearly done it; though at times the gray cavern yawned, and I saw its rugged walls stretch--stretch away, on either side, until they reached hell; and there I beheld--but I will not tell you till we meet there! Now I am calm again: read on.

We could not discover Isora nor her home: perhaps the priest took care that it should be so; for, at that time, what with his devilish whispers and my own heart, I often scarcely knew what I was or what I desired; and I sat for hours and gazed upon the air, and it seemed so soft and still that I longed to make an opening in my forehead that it might enter there, and so cool and quiet the dull, throbbing, scorching anguish that lay like molten lead in my brain; at length we found the house. "To-morrow," said the Abbe, and he shed tears over me,--for there were times when that hard man did feel,--"to-morrow, my child, thou shalt see her; but be soft and calm." To-morrow came; but Montreuil was pale, paler than I had ever seen him, and he gazed upon me and said, "Not to-day, Son, not to-day; she has gone out, and will not return till nightfall." My brother, the evening came, and with it came Desmarais; he came in terror and alarm. "The villain Oswald," he said, "has betrayed all; he drew me aside and told me so. 'Hark ye, Jean,' he whispered, 'hark ye: your master has my brother's written confession and the real will; but I have provided for your safety, and if he pleases it, for Montreuil's. The packet is not to be opened till the seventh day; fly before then. But I know," added Desmarais, "where the packet is placed;" and he took Montreuil aside, and for a while I heard not what they said; but I did overhear Desmarais at last, and I learned that it was your _bridal night_.

What felt I then? The same tempestuous fury,--the same whirlwind and storm of heart that I had felt before, at the mere anticipation of such an event? No; I felt a bright ray of joy flash through me. Yes, joy; but it was that joy which a conqueror feels when he knows his mortal foe is in his power and when he dooms that enemy to death. "They shall perish, and on this night," I said inly. "I have sworn it; I swore to Isora that the bridal couch should be stained with blood, and I will keep the oath!" I approached the pair; they were discussing the means for obtaining the packet. Montreuil urged Desmarais to purloin it from the place where you had deposited it, and then to abscond; but to this plan Desmarais was vehemently opposed. He insisted that there would be no possible chance of his escape from a search so scrutinizing as that which would necessarily ensue, and he evidently resolved not _alone to incur the danger of the theft. "The Count," said he, "saw that I was present when he put away the packet. Suspicion will fall solely on me. Whither should I fly? No: I will serve you with my talents, but not with my life." "Wretch," said Montreuil, "if that packet is opened, thy life is already gone." "Yes," said Desmarais; "but we may yet purloin the papers, and throw the guilt upon some other quarter. What if I admit you when the Count is abroad? What if you steal the packet, and carry away other articles of more seeming value? What, too, if you wound me in the arm or the breast, and I coin some terrible tale of robbers, and of my resistance, could we not manage then to throw suspicion upon common housebreakers,--nay, could we not throw it upon Oswald himself? Let us silence that traitor by death, and who shall contradict our tale? No danger shall attend this plan. I will give you the key of the escritoire: the theft will not be the work of a moment." Montreuil at first demurred to this proposal, but Desmarais was, I repeat, resolved not to incur the danger of the theft alone; the stake was great, and it was not in Montreuil's nature to shrink from peril, when once it became necessary to confront it. "Be it so," he said, at last, "though the scheme is full of difficulty and of danger: be it so. We have not a day to lose. To-morrow the Count will place the document in some place of greater safety, and unknown to us: the deed shall be done to-night. Procure the key of the escritoire; admit me this night; I will steal disguised into the chamber; I will commit the act from which you, who alone could commit it with safety, shrink. Instruct me exactly as to the place where the articles you speak of are placed. I will abstract them also. See that if the Count wake, he has no weapon at hand. Wound yourself, as you say, in some place not dangerous to life, and to-morrow, or within an hour after my escape, tell what tale you will. I will go, meanwhile, at once to Oswald; I will either bribe his silence--ay, and his immediate absence from England--or he shall die. A death that secures our own self-preservation is excusable in the reading of all law, divine or human." I heard, but they deemed me insensible: they had already begun to grow unheeding of my presence. Montreuil saw me, and his countenance grew soft. "I know all," I said, as I caught his eye which looked on me in pity, "I know all: they are married. Enough!--with my hope ceases my love: care not for me."

Montreuil embraced and spoke to me in kindness and in praise. He assured me that you had kept your wedding so close a secret that he knew it not, nor did even Desmarais, till the evening before,--till after he had proposed that I should visit Isora that very day. I know not, I care not, whether he was sincere in this. In whatever way one line in the dread scroll of his conduct be read, the scroll was written in guile, and in blood was it sealed. I appeared not to notice Montreuil or his accomplice any more. The latter left the house first. Montreuil stole forth, as he thought, unobserved; he was masked, and in complete disguise. I, too, went forth. I hastened to a shop where such things were procured; I purchased a mask and cloak similar to the priest's. I had heard Montreuil agree with Desmarais that the door of the house should be left ajar, in order to give greater facility to the escape of the former; I repaired to the house in time to see Montreuil enter it. A strange, sharp sort of cunning, which I had never known before, ran through the dark confusion of my mind. I waited for a minute, till it was likely that Montreuil had gained your chamber; I then pushed open the door, and ascended the stairs. I met no one; the moonlight fell around me, and its rays seemed to me like ghosts, pale and shrouded, and gazing upon me with wan and lustreless eyes. I know not how I found your chamber, but it was the only one I entered. I stood in the same room with Isora and yourself: ye lay in sleep; Isora's face--O God! I know no more--no more of that night of horror--save that I fled from the house reeking with blood,--a murderer,--and the murderer of Isora!

Then came a long, long dream. I was in a sea of blood,--blood-red was the sky, and one still, solitary star that gleamed far away with a sickly and wan light was the only spot, above and around, which was not of the same intolerable dye. And I thought my eyelids were cut off, as those of the Roman consul are said to have been, and I had nothing to shield my eyes from that crimson light, and the rolling waters of that unnatural sea. And the red air burned through my eyes into my brain, and then that also, methought, became blood; and all memory,--all images of memory,--all idea,--wore a material shape and a material colour, and were blood too. Everything was unutterably silent, except when my own shrieks rang over the shoreless ocean, as I drifted on. At last I fixed my eyes--the eyes which I might never close--upon that pale and single star; and after I had gazed a little while, the star seemed to change slowly--slowly--until it grew like the pale face of that murdered girl, and then it vanished utterly, and _all was blood!

This vision was sometimes broken, sometimes varied by others, but it always returned; and when at last I completely woke from it, I was in Italy, in a convent. Montreuil had lost no time in removing me from England. But once, shortly after my recovery, for I was mad for many months, he visited me, and he saw what a wreck I had become. He pitied me; and when I told him I longed above all things for liberty--for the green earth and the fresh air, and a removal from that gloomy abode--he opened the convent gates and blessed me, and bade me go forth. "All I require of you," said he, "is a promise. If it be understood that you live, you will be persecuted by inquiries and questions which will terminate in a conviction of your crime: let it therefore be reported in England that you are dead. Consent to the report, and promise never to quit Italy nor to see Morton Devereux."

I promised; and that promise I have kept: but I promised not that I would never reveal to you, in writing, the black tale which I have now recorded. May it reach you! There is one in this vicinity who has undertaken to bear it to you: he says he has known misery; and when he said so, his voice sounded in my ear like yours; and I looked upon him, and thought his features were cast somewhat in the same mould as your own; so I have trusted him. I have now told all. I have wrenched the secret from my heart in agony and with fear. I have told all: though things which I believe are fiends have started forth from the grim walls around to forbid it; though dark wings have swept by me, and talons, as of a bird, have attempted to tear away the paper on which I write; though eyes, whose light was never drunk from earth, have glared on me; and mocking voices and horrible laughter have made my flesh creep, and thrilled through the marrow of my bones,--I have told all; I have finished my last labour in this world, and I will now lie down and die.


The paper dropped from my hands. Whatever I had felt in reading it, I had not flinched once from the task. From the first word even to the last, I had gone through the dreadful tale, nor uttered a syllable, nor moved a limb. And now as I rose, though I had found the being who to me had withered this world into one impassable desert; though I had found the unrelenting foe and the escaped murderer of Isora, the object of the execration and vindictiveness of years,--not one single throb of wrath, not one single sentiment of vengeance, was in my breast. I passed at once to the bedside of my brother: he was awake, but still and calm,--the calm and stillness of exhausted nature. I knelt down quietly beside him. I took his hand, and I shrank not from the touch, though by that hand the only woman I ever loved had perished.

"Look up, Aubrey!" said I, struggling with tears which, despite of my most earnest effort, came over me; "look up: all is forgiven. Who on earth shall withhold pardon from a crime which on earth has been so awfully punished? Look up, Aubrey; I am your brother, and I forgive you. You are right: my childhood was harsh and fierce; and had you feared me less you might have confided in me, and you would not have sinned and suffered as you have done now. Fear me no longer. Look up, Aubrey, it is Morton who calls you. Why do you not speak? My brother, my brother,--a word, a single word, I implore you."

For one moment did Aubrey raise his eyes, one moment did he meet mine. His lips quivered wildly: I heard the death-rattle; he sank back, and his hand dropped from my clasp. My words had snapped asunder the last chord of life. Merciful Heaven! I thank Thee that those words were the words of pardon!

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