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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 6 - Chapter 5. In Which The History Makes A Great Stride...
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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 5. In Which The History Makes A Great Stride... Post by :dzone Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3065

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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 5. In Which The History Makes A Great Stride...

BOOK VI CHAPTER V. IN WHICH THE HISTORY MAKES A GREAT STRIDE TOWARDS THE FINAL CATASTROPHE.--THE RETURN TO ENGLAND, AND THE VISIT TO A DEVOTEE


AT night, and in the thrilling forms of the Catholic ritual, was Aubrey Devereux consigned to earth. After that ceremony I could linger no longer in the vicinity of the hermitage. I took leave of the Abbot and richly endowed his convent in return for the protection it had afforded to the anchorite, and the Masses which had been said for his soul. Before I left Anselmo, I questioned him if any friend to the Hermit had ever, during his seclusion, held any communication with the Abbot respecting him. Anselmo, after a little hesitation, confessed that a man, a Frenchman, seemingly of no high rank, had several times visited the convent, as if to scrutinize the habits and life of the anchorite; he had declared himself commissioned by the Hermit's relations to make inquiry of him from time to time; but he had given the Abbot no clew to discover himself, though Anselmo had especially hinted at the expediency of being acquainted with some quarter to which he could direct any information of change in the Hermit's habits or health. This man had been last at the convent about two months before the present date; but one of the brothers declared that he had seen him in the vicinity of the well on the very day on which the Hermit died. The description of this stranger was essentially different from that which would have been given of Montreuil, but I imagined that if not the Abbe himself, the stranger was one in his confidence or his employ.

I now repaired to Rome, where I made the most extensive though guarded inquiries after Montreuil, and at length I learned that he was lying concealed, or rather unnoticed, in England, under a disguised name; having, by friends or by money, obtained therein a tacit connivance, though not an open pardon. No sooner did I learn this intelligence, than I resolved forthwith to depart to that country. I crossed the Alps, traversed France, and took ship at Calais for Dover.

Behold me, then, upon the swift seas bent upon a double purpose,--reconciliation with a brother whom I had wronged, and vengeance,--no, not vengeance, but _justice against the criminal I had discovered. No! it was not revenge: it was no infuriate, no unholy desire of inflicting punishment upon a personal foe which possessed me; it was a steady, calm, unwavering resolution, to obtain justice against the profound and systematized guilt of a villain who had been the bane of all who had come within his contact, that nerved my arm and engrossed my heart. Bear witness, Heaven, I am not a vindictive man! I have, it is true, been extreme in hatred as in love; but I have ever had the power to control myself from yielding to its impulse. When the full persuasion of Gerald's crime reigned within me, I had thralled my emotion; I had curbed it within the circle of my own heart, though there, thus pent and self-consuming, it was an agony and a torture; I had resisted the voice of that blood which cried from the earth against a murderer, and which had consigned the solemn charge of justice to my hands. Year after year I had nursed an unappeased desire; nor ever when it stung the most, suffered it to become an actual revenge. I had knelt in tears and in softness by Aubrey's bed; I had poured forth my pardon over him; I had felt, while I did so,--no, not so much sternness as would have slain a worm. By his hand had the murderous stroke been dealt; on his soul was the crimson stain of that blood which had flowed through the veins of the gentlest and the most innocent of God's creatures; and yet the blow was unavenged and the crime forgiven. For him there was a palliative, or even a gloomy but an unanswerable excuse. In the confession which had so terribly solved the mystery of my life, the seeds of that curse, which had grown at last into MADNESS, might be discovered even in the first dawn of Aubrey's existence. The latent poison might be detected in the morbid fever of his young devotion, in his jealous cravings of affection, in the first flush of his ill-omened love,--even before rivalship and wrath began. Then, too, his guilt had not been regularly organized into one cold and deliberate system: it broke forth in impetuous starts, in frantic paroxysms; it was often wrestled with, though by a feeble mind; it was often conquered by a tender though a fitful temper; it might not have rushed into the last and most awful crime, but for the damning instigation and the atrocious craft of one, who (Aubrey rightly said) could wield and mould the unhappy victim at his will. Might not, did I say? Nay, but for Montreuil's accursed influence, had I not Aubrey's own word that that crime never _would have been committed? He had resolved to stifle his love,--his heart had already melted to Isora and to me,--he had already tasted the sweets of a virtuous resolution, and conquered the first bitterness of opposition to his passion. Why should not the resolution thus auspiciously begun have been mellowed into effect? Why should not the grateful and awful remembrance of the crime he had escaped continue to preserve him from meditating crime anew? And (oh, thought, which, while I now write, steals over me and brings with it an unutterable horde of emotions!) but for that all-tainting, all-withering influence, Aubrey's soul might at this moment have been pure from murder and Isora--the living Isora--by my side!

What wonder, as these thoughts came over me, that sense, feeling, reason, gradually shrank and hardened into one stern resolve? I looked as from a height over the whole conduct of Montreuil. I saw him in our early infancy with no definite motive (beyond the general policy of intrigue), no fixed design, which might somewhat have lessened the callousness of the crime, not only fomenting dissensions in the hearts of brothers; not only turning the season of warm affections, and yet of unopened passion, into strife and rancour, but seizing upon the inherent and reigning vice of our bosoms, which he should have seized to crush, in order only by that master-vice to weave our characters, and sway our conduct to his will, whenever a cool-blooded and merciless policy required us to be of that will the minions and the tools. Thus had he taken hold of the diseased jealousy of Aubrey, and by that handle, joined to the latent spring of superstition, guided him on his wretched course of misery and guilt. Thus, by a moral irresolution in Gerald had he bowed him also to his purposes, and by an infantine animosity between that brother and myself, held us both in a state of mutual hatred which I shuddered to recall. Readily could I now perceive that my charges or my suspicions against Gerald, which, in ordinary circumstances, he might have dispassionately come forward to disprove, had been represented to him by Montreuil in the light of groundless and wilful insults; and thus he had been led to scorn that full and cool explanation which, if it had not elucidated the mystery of my afflictions, would have removed the false suspicion of guilt from himself and the real guilt of wrath and animosity from me.

The crime of the forged will, and the outrage to the dead and to myself, was a link in his woven guilt which I regarded the least. I looked rather to the black and the consummate craft by which Aubrey had been implicated in that sin; and my indignation became mixed with horror when I saw Montreuil working to that end of fraud by the instigation not only of a guilty and unlawful passion, but of the yet more unnatural and terrific engine of _frenzy_,--of a maniac's despair. Over the peace, the happiness, the honour, the virtue of a whole family, through fraud and through blood, this priest had marched onward to the goal of his icy and heartless ambition, unrelenting and unrepenting; "but not," I said, as I clenched my hand till the nails met in the flesh, "not forever unchecked and unrequited!"

But in what manner was justice to be obtained? A public court of law? What! drag forward the deep dishonour of my house, the gloomy and convulsive history of my departed brother, his crime and his insanity? What! bring that history, connected as it was with the fate of Isora, before the curious and the insolent gaze of the babbling world? Bare that awful record to the jests, to the scrutiny, the marvel and the pity, of that most coarse of all tribunals,--an English court of law? and that most torturing of all exposures,--the vulgar comments of an English public? Could I do this? Yea, in the sternness of my soul, I felt that I could submit even to that humiliation, if no other way presented itself by which I could arrive at justice. _Was there no other way?--at that question conjecture paused: I formed no scheme, or rather, I formed a hundred and rejected them all; my mind settled, at last, into an indistinct, unquestioned, but prophetic resolution, that, whenever my path crossed Montreuil's, it should be to his destruction. I asked not how, nor when, the blow was to be dealt; I felt only a solemn and exultant certainty that, whether it borrowed the sword of the law, or the weapon of private justice, _mine should be the hand which brought retribution to the ashes of the dead and the agony of the survivor.

So soon as my mind had subsided into this determination, I suffered my thoughts to dwell upon subjects less sternly agitating. Fondly did I look forward to a meeting with Gerald, and a reconciliation of all our early and most frivolous disputes. As an atonement for the injustice my suspicions had done him, I resolved not to reclaim my inheritance. My fortune was already ample; and all that I cared to possess of the hereditary estates were the ruins of the old house and the copses of the surrounding park: these Gerald would in all likelihood easily yield to me; and with the natural sanguineness of my temperament, I already planned the reconstruction of the ancient building, and the method of that solitary life in which I resolved that the remainder of my years should be spent.

Turning from this train of thought, I recurred to the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Oswald: _that I was now easily able to account for. There could be no doubt but that Montreuil had (immediately after the murder), as he declared he would, induced Oswald to quit England, and preserve silence, either by bribery or by threats. And when I recalled the impression which the man had made upon me,--an impression certainly not favourable to the elevation or the rigid honesty of his mind,--I could not but imagine that one or the other of these means Montreuil found far from difficult of success. The delirious fever into which the wounds and the scene of that night had thrown me, and the long interval that consequently elapsed before inquiry was directed to Oswald, gave him every opportunity and indulgence in absenting himself from the country, and it was not improbable that he had accompanied Aubrey to Italy.

Here I paused, in deep acknowledgment of the truth of Aubrey's assertion, that "under similar circumstances I might perhaps have been equally guilty." My passions had indeed been "intense and fierce as his own;" and there was a dread coincidence in the state of mind into which each of us had been thrown by the event of that night, which made the epoch of a desolated existence to both of us; if mine had been but a passing delirium, and his a confirmed and lasting disease of the intellect, the causes of our malady had been widely different. He had been the criminal; I, only the sufferer.

Thus, as I leaned over the deck and the waves bore me homeward, after so many years and vicissitudes, did the shadows of thought and memory flit across me. How seemingly apart, yet how closely linked, had been the great events in my wandering and wild life! My early acquaintance with Bolingbroke, whom for more than nine years I had not seen, and who, at a superficial glance, would seem to have exercised influence over my public rather than my private life,--how secretly, yet how powerfully, had that circumstance led even to the very thoughts which now possessed me, and to the very object on which I was now bound. But for that circumstance I might not have learned of the retreat of Don Diego d'Alvarez in his last illness; I might never have renewed my love to Isora; and whatever had been her fate, destitution and poverty would have been a less misfortune than her union with me. But for my friendship for Bolingbroke, I might not have visited France, nor gained the favour of the Regent, nor the ill offices of Dubois, nor the protection and kindness of the Czar. I might never have been ambassador at the court of------, nor met with Bezoni, nor sought an asylum for a spirit sated with pomp and thirsting for truth, at the foot of the Apennines, nor read that history (which, indeed, might then never have occurred) that now rankled at my heart, urging my movements and colouring my desires. Thus, by the finest but the strongest meshes had the thread of my political honours been woven with that of my private afflictions. And thus, even at the licentious festivals of the Regent of France, or the lifeless parade of the court of------, the dark stream of events had flowed onward beneath my feet, bearing me insensibly to that very spot of time from which I now surveyed the past and looked upon the mist and shadows of the future.

Adverse winds made the little voyage across the Channel a business of four days. On the evening of the last we landed at Dover. Within thirty miles of that town was my mother's retreat; and I resolved, before I sought a reconciliation with Gerald or justice against Montreuil, to visit her seclusion. Accordingly, the next day I repaired to her abode.

What a contrast is there between the lives of human beings! Considering the beginning and the end of all mortal careers are the same, how wonderfully is the interval varied! Some, the weeds of the world, dashed from shore to shore,--all vicissitude, enterprise, strife, disquiet; others, the world's lichen, rooted to some peaceful rock, growing, flourishing, withering on the same spot,--scarce a feeling expressed, scarce a sentiment called forth, scarce a tithe of the properties of their very nature expanded into action.

There was an air of quiet and stillness in the red quadrangular building, as my carriage stopped at its porch, which struck upon me, like a breathing reproach to those who sought the abode of peace with feelings opposed to the spirit of the place. A small projecting porch was covered with ivy, and thence issued an aged portress in answer to my summons.

"The Countess Devereux," said she, "is now the superior of this society (convent they called it not), and rarely admits any stranger."

I gave in my claim to admission, and was ushered into a small parlour: all there, too, was still,--the brown oak wainscoting, the huge chairs, the few antique portraits, the _uninhabited aspect of the chamber,--all were silently eloquent of quietude, but a quietude comfortless and sombre. At length my mother appeared. I sprang forward: my childhood was before me,--years, care, change were forgotten,--I was a boy again,--I sprang forward, and was in my mother's embrace! It was long before, recovering myself, I noted how lifeless and chill was that embrace, but I did so at last, and my enthusiasm withered at once.

We sat down together, and conversed long and uninterruptedly, but our conversation was like that of acquaintances, not the fondest and closest of all relations (for I need scarcely add that I told her not of my meeting with Aubrey, nor undeceived her with respect to the date of his death). Every monastic recluse that I had hitherto seen, even in the most seeming content with retirement, had loved to converse of the exterior world, and had betrayed an interest in its events: for my mother only, worldly objects and interests seemed utterly dead. She expressed little surprise to see me,--little surprise at my alteration; she only said that my mien was improved, and that I reminded her of my father: she testified no anxiety to hear of my travels or my adventures; she testified even no willingness to speak of herself; she described to me the life of one day, and then said that the history of ten years was told. A close cap confined all the locks for whose rich luxuriance and golden hue she had once been noted,--for here they were not the victim of a vow, as in a nunnery they would have been,--and her dress was plain, simple, and unadorned. Save these alterations of attire, none were visible in her exterior: the torpor of her life seemed to have paralyzed even time; the bloom yet dwelt in her unwrinkled cheek; the mouth had not fallen; the faultless features were faultless still. But there was a deeper stillness than ever breathing through this frame: it was as if the soul had been lulled to sleep; her mien was lifeless; her voice was lifeless; her gesture was lifeless; the impression she produced was like that of entering some chamber which has not been entered before for a century. She consented to my request to stay with her all the day: a bed was prepared for me; and at sunrise the next morning I was folded once more in the chilling mechanism of her embrace, and dismissed on my journey to the metropolis.

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