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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Pilgrims Of The Rhine - Chapter The Last. The Conclusion Of This Tale
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The Pilgrims Of The Rhine - Chapter The Last. The Conclusion Of This Tale Post by :jackkapala Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1047

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The Pilgrims Of The Rhine - Chapter The Last. The Conclusion Of This Tale

FROM that day Gertrude's spirit resumed its wonted cheerfulness, and for the ensuing week she never reverted to her approaching fate; she seemed once more to have grown unconscious of its limit. Perhaps she sought, anxious for Trevylyan to the last, not to throw additional gloom over their earthly separation; or, perhaps, once steadily regarding the certainty of her doom, its terrors vanished. The chords of thought, vibrating to the subtlest emotions, may be changed by a single incident, or in a single hour; a sound of sacred music, a green and quiet burial-place, may convert the form of death into the aspect of an angel. And therefore wisely, and with a beautiful lore, did the Greeks strip the grave of its unreal gloom; wisely did they body forth the great principle of Rest by solemn and lovely images, unconscious of the northern madness that made a Spectre of REPOSE!

But while Gertrude's _spirit resumed its healthful tone, her _frame rapidly declined, and a few days now could do the ravage of months a little while before.

One evening, amidst the desolate ruins of Heidelberg, Trevylyan, who had gone forth alone to indulge the thoughts which he strove to stifle in Gertrude's presence, suddenly encountered Vane. That calm and almost callous pupil of the adversities of the world was standing alone, and gazing upon the shattered casements and riven tower, through which the sun now cast its slant and parting ray.

Trevylyan, who had never loved this cold and unsusceptible man, save for the sake of Gertrude, felt now almost a hatred creep over him, as he thought in such a time, and with death fastening upon the flower of his house, he could yet be calm, and smile, and muse, and moralize, and play the common part of the world. He strode slowly up to him, and standing full before him, said with a hollow voice and writhing smile, "You amuse yourself pleasantly, sir: this is a fine scene; and to meditate over griefs a thousand years hushed to rest is better than watching over a sick girl and eating away your heart with fear!"

Vane looked at him quietly, but intently, and made no reply.

"Vane!" continued Trevylyan, with the same preternatural attempt at calm, "Vane, in a few days all will be over, and you and I, the things, the plotters, the false men of the world, will be left alone,--left by the sole being that graces our dull life, that makes by her love either of us worthy of a thought!"

Vane started, and turned away his face. "You are cruel," said he, with a faltering voice.

"What, man!" shouted Trevylyan, seizing him abruptly by the arm, "can _you feel? Is your cold heart touched? Come then," added he, with a wild laugh, "come, let us be friends!"

Vane drew himself aside, with a certain dignity, that impressed Trevylyan even at that hour. "Some years hence," said he, "you will be called cold as I am; sorrow will teach you the wisdom of indifference--it is a bitter school, sir,--a bitter school! But think you that I do indeed see unmoved my last hope shivered,--the last tie that binds me to my kind? No, no! I feel it as a man may feel; I cloak it as a man grown gray in misfortune should do! My child is more to me than your betrothed to you; for you are young and wealthy, and life smiles before you; but I--no more--sir, no more!"

"Forgive me," said Trevylyan, humbly, "I have wronged you; but Gertrude is an excuse for any crime of love; and now listen to my last prayer,--give her to me, even on the verge of the grave. Death cannot seize her in the arms, in the vigils of a love like mine."

Vane shuddered. "It were to wed the dead," said he. "No!"

Trevylyan drew back, and without another word, hurried away; he returned to the town; he sought, with methodical calmness, the owner of the piece of ground in which Gertrude had wished to be buried. He purchased it, and that very night he sought the priest of a neighbouring church, and directed it should be consecrated according to the due rite and ceremonial.

The priest, an aged and pious man, was struck by the request, and the air of him who made it.

"Shall it be done forthwith, sir?" said he, hesitating.

"Forthwith," answered Trevylyan, with a calm smile,--"a bridegroom, you know, is naturally impatient."

For the next three days, Gertrude was so ill as to be confined to her bed. All that time Trevylyan sat outside her door, without speaking, scarcely lifting his eyes from the ground. The attendants passed to and fro,--he heeded them not; perhaps as even the foreign menials turned aside and wiped their eyes, and prayed God to comfort him, he required compassion less at that time than any other. There is a stupefaction in woe, and the heart sleeps without a pang when exhausted by its afflictions.

But on the fourth day Gertrude rose, and was carried down (how changed, yet how lovely ever!) to their common apartment. During those three days the priest had been with her often, and her spirit, full of religion from her childhood, had been unspeakably soothed by his comfort. She took food from the hand of Trevylyan; she smiled upon him as sweetly as of old. She conversed with him, though with a faint voice, and at broken intervals. But she felt no pain; life ebbed away gradually, and without a pang. "My father," she said to Vane, whose features still bore their usual calm, whatever might have passed within, "I know that you will grieve when I am gone more than the world might guess; for I alone know what you were years ago, ere friends left you and fortune frowned, and ere my poor mother died. But do not--do not believe that hope and comfort leave you with me. Till the heaven pass away from the earth there shall be comfort and hope for all."

They did not lodge in the town, but had fixed their abode on its outskirts, and within sight of the Neckar; and from the window they saw a light sail gliding gayly by till it passed, and solitude once more rested upon the waters.

"The sail passes from our eyes," said Gertrude, pointing to it, "but still it glides on as happily though we see it no more; and I feel--yes, Father, I feel--I know that it is so with _us_. We glide down the river of time from the eyes of men, but we cease not the less to _be_!"

And now, as the twilight descended, she expressed a wish, before she retired to rest, to be left alone with Trevylyan. He was not then sitting by her side, for he would not trust himself to do so, but with his face averted, at a little distance from her. She called him by his name; he answered not, nor turned. Weak as she was, she raised herself from the sofa, and crept gently along the floor till she came to him, and sank in his arms.

"Ah, unkind!" she said, "unkind for once! Will you turn away from me? Come, let us look once more on the river: see! the night darkens over it. Our pleasant voyage, the type of our love, is finished; our sail may be unfurled no more. Never again can your voice soothe the lassitude of sickness with the legend and the song; the course is run, the vessel is broken up, night closes over its fragments; but now, in this hour, love me, be kind to me as ever. Still let me be your own Gertrude, still let me close my eyes this night, as before, with the sweet consciousness that I am loved."

"Loved! O Gertrude! speak not to me thus!"

"Come, that is yourself again!" and she clung with weak arms caressingly to his breast. "And now," she said more solemnly, "let us forget that we are mortal; let us remember only that life is a part, not the whole, of our career; let us feel in this soft hour, and while yet we are unsevered, the presence of The Eternal that is within us, so that it shall not be as death, but as a short absence; and when once the pang of parting is over, you must think only that we are shortly to meet again. What! you turn from me still? See, I do not weep or grieve, I have conquered the pang of our absence; will you be outdone by me? Do you remember, Albert, that you once told me how the wisest of the sages of old, in prison, and before death, consoled his friends with the proof of the immortality of the soul? Is it not a consolation; does it not suffice; or will you deem it wise from the lips of wisdom, but vain from the lips of love?"

"Hush, hush!" said Trevylyan, wildly; "or I shall think you an angel already."

But let us close this commune, and leave unrevealed the _last sacred words that ever passed between them upon earth.

When Vane and the physician stole back softly into the room, Trevylyan motioned to them to be still. "She sleeps," he whispered; "hush!" And in truth, wearied out by her own emotions, and lulled by the belief that she had soothed one with whom her heart dwelt now, as ever, she had fallen into sleep, or it may be, insensibility, on his breast. There as she lay, so fair, so frail, so delicate, the twilight deepened into shade, and the first star, like the hope of the future, broke forth upon the darkness of the earth.

Nothing could equal the stillness without, save that which lay breathlessly within. For not one of the group stirred or spoke, and Trevylyan, bending over her, never took his eyes from her face, watching the parted lips, and fancying that he imbibed the breath. Alas, the breath was stilled! from sleep to death she had glided without a sigh,--happy, most happy in that death! cradled in the arms of unchanged love, and brightened in her last thought by the consciousness of innocence and the assurances of Heaven!

.......

Trevylyan, after a long sojourn on the Continent, returned to England. He plunged into active life, and became what is termed in this age of little names a distinguished and noted man. But what was mainly remarkable in his future conduct was his impatience of rest. He eagerly courted all occupations, even of the most varied and motley kind,--business, letters, ambition, pleasure. He suffered no pause in his career; and leisure to him was as care to others. He lived in the world, as the worldly do, discharging its duties, fostering its affections, and fulfilling its career. But there was a deep and wintry change within him,--_the sunlight of his life was gone_; the loveliness of romance had left the earth. The stem was proof as heretofore to the blast, but the green leaves were severed from it forever, and the bird had forsaken its boughs. Once he had idolized the beauty that is born of song, the glory and the ardour that invest such thoughts as are not of our common clay; but the well of enthusiasm was dried up, and the golden bowl was broken at the fountain. With Gertrude the poetry of existence was gone. As she herself had described her loss, a music had ceased to breathe along the face of things; and though the bark might sail on as swiftly, and the stream swell with as proud a wave, a something that had vibrated on the heart was still, and the magic of the voyage was no more.

And Gertrude sleeps on the spot where she wished her last couch to be made; and far--oh, far dearer, is that small spot on the distant banks of the gliding Neckar to Trevylyan's heart than all the broad lands and fertile fields of his ancestral domain. The turf too preserves its emerald greenness; and it would seem to me that the field flowers spring up by the sides of the simple tomb even more profusely than of old. A curve in the bank breaks the tide of the Neckar; and therefore its stream pauses, as if to linger reluctantly, by that solitary grave, and to mourn among the rustling sedges ere it passes on. And I have thought, when I last looked upon that quiet place, when I saw the turf so fresh, and the flowers so bright of hue, that aerial hands might _indeed tend the sod; that it was by no _imaginary spells that I summoned the fairies to my tale; that in truth, and with vigils constant though unseen, they yet kept from all polluting footsteps, and from the harsher influence of the seasons, the grave of one who so loved their race; and who, in her gentle and spotless virtue claimed kindred with the beautiful Ideal of the world. Is there one of us who has not known some being for whom it seemed not too wild a fantasy to indulge such dreams?


(THE END)
Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Novel: Pilgrims Of The Rhine

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