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Chapter 14

 

But if for me thou dost forsake

Some other maid, and rudely break

Her worshipped image from its base.

To give to me the ruined place—

Then fare thee well—I'd rather make

My bower upon some icy lake.

When thawing suns begin to shine.

Than trust to love so false as thine!

—Lalla Rookh.

On the same day Mr. and Mrs. Villiers left their sad dwelling to take possession of lady 's house. The generosity and kindness of her mother, such as it appeared, though she knew but the smallest portion of it, charmed Ethel. Her heart, which had so long struggled to love her, was gladdened by the proofs given that she deserved her warmest affection. The truest delight beamed from her lovely countenance. Even she had felt the gloom and depression of adversity. The sight of misery or vice in those around her tarnished the holy fervour with which she would otherwise have made every sacrifice for Edward's sake. There is something in this world, which even while it gives an unknown grace to rough, and hard, and mean circumstances, contaminates the beauty and harmony of the noble and exalted. Ethel had been aware of this; she dreaded its sinister influence over Villiers, and in spite of herself she pined; she had felt with a shudder that in spite of love and fortitude, a sense, chilling and deponding, was creeping over her, making her feel the earth alien to her, and calling her away from the sadness of the scene around to a world bright and pure as herself. Her very despair thus dressed itself in the garb of religion; and though these visitations of melancholy only came during the absence of Villiers and were never indulged in, yet they were too natural a growth of their wretched abode to be easily or entirely dismissed. Even now that she was restored to the fairer scences of life, compassion for the unfortunate beings she quitted haunted her, and her feelings were too keenly alive to the miseries which her fellow-creatures suffered, to permit her to be relieved from all pain by her own exemption. She turned from such reflections to the image of her dear kind mother with delight. The roof that sheltered her was hallowed as hers; all the blessings of life which she enjoyed came to her from the same source as life itself. She delighted to trace the current of feeling which had occasioned her to give up so much, and to imagine the sweetness of disposition, the vivacity of mind, the talents and accomplishments which her physiognomy expressed, and the taste manifested in her house, and all the things which she had collected around her, evinced.

In less than a month after their liberation, she gave birth to son. The mingled danger and rejoicing attendant on this event, imparted fresh strength to the attachment that united Edward to her; and the little stranger himself was a new object of tenderness and interest. Thus their days of mourning were exchanged for a happiness most natural and welcome to the human heart. At this time also Horatio Saville returned from Italy with his little girl. She was scarcely more than a year old, but displayed an intelligence to be equalled only by her extraordinary beauty. Her golden silken ringlets were even then profuse, her eyes were as dark and brilliant as her mother's, but her complexion was fair, and the same sweet smile flitted round her infant mouth, as gave the charm to her father's face. He idolized her, and tried by his tenderness and attention to appease, as it were, the manes of the unfortunate Clorinda.

She, poor girl, had been the victim of the violence of passion and ill-regulated feelings native to her country, excited into unnatural force by the singularity of her fate. When Saville saw her first in her convent, she was pining for liberty; she did not think of any joy beyond escaping the troublesome impertinence of the nuns and the monotonous tenor of monastic life, of associating with people she loved, and enjoying the common usages of life, unfettered by the restrictions that rendered her present existence a burthen. But though she desired no more, her disgust for the present, her longing for a change, was a powerful passion. She was adorned by talents, by genius; she was eloquent and beautiful, and full of enthusiasm and feeling. Saville pitied her; he lamented her future fate among her unworthy countrymen; he longed to cherish, to comfort, and to benefit her. His heart, so easily won to tenderness, gave her readily a brother's regard. Others, seeing the active benevolence and lively interest that this sentiment elicited, might have fancied him inspired by a warmer feeling; but he well knew the difference, he ardently desired her happiness, but did not seek his own in her.

He visited her frequently, he brought her books, he taught her English. They were allowed to meet daily in the parlour of the convent, in the presence of a female attendant; and his admiration of her talents, her imagination, her ardent comprehensive mind, increased on every interview. They talked of literature—the poets—the arts; Clorinda sang to him, and her fine voice, cultivated by the nicest art, was a source of deep pleasure and pain to her auditor. His sensibility was awakened by the tones of love and rapture—sensibility, not alas! for her who sang, but for the false and absent. While listening, his fancy recalled Lady 's image; the hopes she had inspired, the rapture he had felt in her presence—the warm vivifying effect her voice and looks had on him were remembered, and his heart sank within him to think that all this sweetness was deceptive, fleeting, lost. Once, overcome by these thoughts, he resolved to return suddenly to England, to make one effort more to exchange unendurable wretchedness for the most transporting happiness;—absence from Cornelia, to the joy of pouring out the overflowing sentiments of his heart at her feet. While indulging in this idea, a letter from his sister Lucy caused a painful revulsion; she painted the woman of the world given up to ambition and fashion, rejoicing in his departure, and waiting only the moment when she might with decency become the wife of another. Saville was almost maddened—he did not visit Clorinda for three days. She received him, when at last he came, without reproach, but with transport; she saw that sadness, even sickness, dimmed his eye; she soothed him, she hung over him with fondness, she sung to him her sweetest, softest airs; his heart melted, a tear stole from his eye. Clorinda saw his emotion; it excited hers; her Neapolitan vivacity was not restrained by shame nor fear,—she spoke of her love for him with the vehemence she felt, and youth and beauty hallowed the frankness and energy of her expressions. Saville was touched and pleased,—he left her to meditate on this new state of things—for free from passion himself, he had never suspected the growth of it in her heart. He reflected on all her admirable qualities, and the pity it was that they should be cast at the feet of one of her own unrefined, uneducated countrymen, who would be incapable of appreciating her talents—even her love—so that at last she would herself become degraded, and sink into that system of depravity which makes a prey of all that is lovely or noble in our nature. He could save her—she loved him, and he could save her; lost as he was to real happiness, it were to approximate to it, if he consecrated his life to her welfare.

Yet he would not deceive her. The excess of love which she bestowed demanded a return which he could not give. She must choose whether, such as he was, he were worth accepting. Actuated by a sense of justice, he opened his heart to her without disguise: he told her of his ill-fated attachment to another—of his self-banishment, and misery—he declared his real and earnest affection for her—his desire to rescue her from her present fate, and to devote his life to her. Clorinda scarcely heard what he said,—she felt only that she might become his—that he would marry her; her rapture was undisguised, and he enjoyed the felicity of believing that one so lovely and excellent would at once owe every blessing of life to him, and that the knowledge of this must ensure his own content. The consent of her parents was easily yielded,—the Pope is always ready to grant a dispensation to a Catholic wife marrying a Protestant husband,—the wedding speedily took place—and Saville became her husband.

Their mutual torments now began. Horatio was a man of high and unshrinking principle. He never permitted himself to think of Lady , and the warmth and tenderness of his heart led him to attach himself truly and affectionately to his wife. But this did not suffice for the Neapolitan. Her marriage withdrew the veil of life—she imagined that she distinguished the real from the fictitious, but her new sense of discernment was the source of torture. She desired to be loved as she loved; she insisted that her rival should be hated—she was shaken by continual tempests of jealousy, and the violence of her temper, restrained by no reserve of disposition, displayed itself frightfully. Saville reasoned, reproached, reprehended, without any avail, except that when her violence had passed its crisis, she repented, and wept, and besought forgiveness. Ethel's visit had been a blow hard to bear. She was the daughter of her whom Saville loved—whom he regretted—on whom he expended that passion and idolatry, to attain which she would have endured the most dreadful tortures. These were the reflections, or rather, these were the ravings, of Clorinda. She had never been so furious in her jealousy, or so frequent in her fits of passion, as during the visit of the unconscious and gentle Ethel.

The birth of her child operated a beneficial change for a time; and except when Saville spoke of England, or she imagined that he was thinking of it, she ceased to torment him. He was glad; but the moment was passed when she could command his esteem, or excite his spontaneous sympathy. He pitied and he loved her; but it was almost as we may become attached to an unfortunate and lovely maniac; less than ever did he seek his happiness in her. He loved his infant daughter now better than any other earthly thing. Clorinda rejoiced in this tie, though she soon grew jealous even of her own child.

The arrival of Lord Maristow and his daughters was at first full of benefit to the discordant pair. Clorinda was really desirous of obtaining their esteem, and she exerted herself to please: when they talked of her return to England with them, it only excited her to try to render Italy so agreeable as to induce them to remain there. They were not like Ethel. They were good girls, but fashionable and fond of pleasure. Clorinda devised a thousand amusements—concerts, tableaux, the masquerades of the carnival, were all put in requisition. They carried their zeal for amusement so far as to take up their abode for a day or two at Pompeii, feigning to be its ancient inhabitants, and, bringing the corps operatique to their aid, got up Rossini's opera of the Ultimi Giorni di Pompeii among the ruins, ending their masquerade by a mimic eruption. These gaieties did not accord with the classic and refined tastes of Saville; but he was glad to find his wife and sisters agree so well, and under the blue sky, and in the laughing land of Naples, it was impossible not to find beauty and enjoyment even in extravagance and folly.

Still, like a funeral bell heard amidst a feast, the name of England, and the necessity of her going thither, struck on the ear and chilled the heart of the Neapolitan. She resolved never to go; but how could she refuse to accompany her husband's sisters? how resist the admonitions and commands of his father? She did not refuse therefore—she seemed to consent—while she said to Saville, "Poison, stab me—cast me down the crater of the mountain—exhaust your malice and hatred on me as you please here—but you shall never take me to England but as a corpse."

Saville replied, "As you will." He was tired of the struggle, and left the management of his departure to others.

One day his sisters described the delights of a London season, and strove to win Clorinda by the mention of its balls, parties, and opera; they spoke of Almack's, and the leaders of fashion; they mentioned Lady . They were unaware that Clorinda knew any thing of their brother's attachment, and speaking of her as one of the most distinguished of their associates in the London world, made their sister—in-law aware, that when she made a part of it, she would come into perpetual contact with her rival. This allusion caused one of her most violent paroxysms of rage as soon as she found herself alone with her husband. So frantic did she seem, that Horatio spoke seriously to his father, and declared he knew of no argument nor power which could induce Clorinda to accompany them to England. "Then you must go without her," said Lord Maristow; "your career, your family, your country, must not be sacrificed to her unreasonable folly." And then, wholly unaware of the character of the person with whom he had to deal, he repeated the same thing to Clorinda. "You must choose," he said, "between Naples and your husband—he must go; do you prefer being left behind?"

Clorinda grew pale, even livid. She returned home. Horatio was not there; she raved through her house like a maniac; her servants even hid her child from her, and she rushed from room to room tearing her hair, and calling for Saville. At length he entered; her eyes were starting from her head, her frame working with convulsive violence; she strove to speak—to give utterance to the vehemence pent up within her. She darted towards him; when suddenly, as if shot to the heart, she fell on the marble pavement of her chamber, and a red stream poured from her lips—she had burst a blood-vessel.

For many days she was not allowed to speak nor move. Saville nursed her unremittingly—he watched by her at night—he tried to soothe her—he brought her child to her side—his sweetness, and gentleness, and real tenderness were all expended on her. Although violent, she was not ungenerous. She was touched by his attentions, and the undisguished solicitude of his manner. She resolved to conquer herself, and in a fit of heroism formed the determination to yield, and to go to England. Her first words, when permitted to speak, were to signify her assent. Saville kissed and thanked her. She had half imagined that he would imitate her generosity, and give up the journey. No such thought crossed his mind; her distaste was too unreasonable to elicit the smallest sympathy, and consequently any concession. He thanked her warmly, it is true; and looked delighted at this change, but without giving her time to retract, he hurried to communicate to his relations the agreeable tidings.

As she grew better she did not recede, but she felt miserable. The good spirits and ready preparations of Horatio were all acts of treason against her: sometimes she felt angry—but she checked herself. Like all Italians, Clorinda feared death excessively; besides that, to die was to yield the entire victory to her rival. She struggled therefore, and conquered herself; and neither expressed her angry jealousy nor her terrors. She had many causes of fear; she was again in a situation to increase her family within a few months; and while her safety depended on her being able to attain a state of calm, she feared a confinement in England, and believed that it was impossible that she should survive.

She was worn to a skeleton—her large eyes were sunk and ringed with black, while they burnt with unnatural brilliancy, for her vivacity did not desert her, and that deceived those around; they fancied that she was convalescent, and would soon recover strength and good looks, while she nourished a deep sense of wrong for the slight attention paid to her sufferings. She wept over herself and her friendless state. Her husband was not her friend, for he was not her countryman: and full as Saville was of generous sympathy and kindliness for all, the idea of returning to England, to his home and friends, to the stirring scenes of life, and the society of those who loved literature, and were endowed with the spirit of liberal inquiry and manly habits of thinking, so absorbed and delighted him, that he could only thank Clorinda again and again—caress her, and entreat her to get well, that she might share his pleasures. His words chilled her, and she shrunk from his caresses. "He is thinking of her, and of seeing her again," she thought. She did him the most flagrant injustice. Saville was a man of high and firm principle, and had he been aware of any latent weakness, of any emotion allied to the master-passion of his soul, he would have conquered it, or have fled from the temptation. He never thought less of Lady than now. The unwonted gentleness and concessions of his wife—his love for his child, and the presence of his father and dear sisters, dissipated his regrets,—his conscience was wholly at ease, and he was happy.

Clorinda dared not complain to her English relatives, but she listened to the lamentations of her Neapolitan friends with a luxury of woe. They mourned over her as if she were going to visit another sphere; they pointed out the little island on a map, and seated far off as it was amidst the northern sea, night and storms, they averred, perpetually brooded over it, while from the shape of the earth they absolutely proved that it was impossible to get there. It is true that Lord Maristow and his daughters, and Saville himself, had come thence—that was nothing—it was easy to come away. "You see," they said, "the earth slopes down, and the sun is before them; but when they have to go back, ah! it is quite another affair; the Alps rise, and the sea boils over, and they have to toil up the wall of the world itself into winter and darkness. It is tempting God to go there. O stay, Clorinda, stay in sunny Italy. Orazio will return: do not go to die in that miserable birth-place of night and frost."

Clorinda wept yet more bitterly over her hard fate, and the impossibility of yielding to their wishes. "Would to God," she thought, "I could abandon the ingrate, and let him go far from Italy and Clorinda, to die in his wretched country! Would I could forget, hate, desert him! Ah, why do I idolize one born in that chilly land, where love and passion are unknown or despised!"

At length the day arrived when they left Naples. It was the month of May, and very warm. No imagination could paint the glorious beauty of this country of enchantment, on the completion of spring, before the heats of summer had withered its freshness. The sparkling waves of the blue Mediterranean encircled the land, and contrasted with its hues: the rich foliage of the trees—the festooning of the luxuriant vines, and the abundant vegetation which sprung fresh from the soil, decorating the rocks, and mantling the earth with flowers and verdure, were all in the very prime and blossoming of beauty. The sisters of Saville expressed their admiration in warm and enthusiastic terms; the words trembled on poor Clorinda's lips; she was about to say, "Why then desert this land of bliss?" but Horatio spoke instead: "It is splendid, I own, and once I felt all that you express. Now a path along a grassy field—a hedge-row—a copse with a rill murmuring through it—a white cottage with simple palings enclosing a flower-garden—the spire of a country church rising from among a tuft of elms—the skies all shadowy with soft clouds—and the homesteads of a happy thriving peasantry—these are the things I sigh for. A true English home-scene seems to me a thousand times more beautiful, as it must be a thousand times dearer than the garish showy splendour of Naples."

Clorinda's thoughts crept back into her chilled heart; large tear-drops rose in her eyes, but she concealed them, and shrinking into a corner of the carriage, she felt more lonely and deserted than she would have done among strangers who had loved Italy, and participated in her feelings.

They arrived at the inn called the Villa di Cicerone, at the Mola di Gaeta. All the beauty of the most beautiful part of the Peninsula seems concentered in that enchanting spot—the perfume of orange flowers filled the air—the sea was at their feet—the vine-clad hills around. All this excess of loveliness only added to the unutterable misery of the Neapolitan girl. Her companions talked and laughed, while she felt her frame convulsed by internal combats, and the unwonted command she exercised over her habitual vehemence. Horatio conversed gaily with his sisters, till catching a glimpse of the pale face of his wretched wife, her mournful eyes and wasted cheeks, he drew near her. "You are fatigued, dearest Clorinda," he said, "will you not go to rest?"

He said this in a tender caressing tone, but she felt, "He wants to send me away—to get rid even of the sight of me." But he sat down by her, and perceiving her dejection, and guessing partly at its cause, he soothed her, and talked of their return to her native land, and cheered her by expressions of gratitude for the sacrifice she was making. Her heart began to soften, and her tears to flow more freely, when a man entered, such as haunt the inns in Italy, and watch for the arrival of rich strangers to make profit in various ways out of them. This man had a small picture for sale, which he declared to be an original Carlo Dolce. It was the head of a seraph painted on copper—it was probably a copy, but it was beautifully executed; besides the depth of colour and grace of design, there was something singularly beautiful in the expression of the countenance portrayed,—it symbolized happiness and love; a beaming softness animated the whole face; a perfect joy, an ineffable radiance shone out of it. Clorinda took it in her hand—the representation of heart-felt gladness increased her self-pity; she was turning towards her husband with a reproachful look, thinking, "Such smiles you have banished from my face for ever,"—when Sophia Saville, who was looking over her shoulder, exclaimed, "What an extraordinary resemblance! there was never any thing so like."

"Who? what?" asked her sister.

"It is Lady herself," replied Sophia; "her eyes, her mouth, her very smile."

Lucy gave a quick glance towards her brother. Horatio involuntarily stepped forward to look, and then as hastily drew back. Clorinda saw it all—she put down the picture, and left the room—she could not stay—she could not speak—she knew not what she felt, but that a fiery torture was eating into her, and she must fly, she knew not whither. Saville was pained; he hesitated what to do or say—so he remained; supper was brought in, and Clorinda not appearing, it was supposed that she had retired to rest. In about an hour and a half after, Horatio went into her room, and to his horror beheld her stretched upon the cold bricks of the chamber, senseless; the moon-beams rested on her pale face, which bore the hues of death. In a moment the house was alarmed, the village doctor summoned, a courier dispatched to Naples for an English physician, and every possible aid-afforded the wretched sufferer. She was placed on the bed,—she still lived; her faint pulse could not be felt, and no blood flowed when a vein was opened, but she groaned, and now and then opened her eyes with a ghastly stare, and closed them again as if mechanically. All was horror and despair—no help—no resource presented itself; they hung round her, they listened to her groans with terror, and yet they were the only signs of life that disturbed her death-like state. At tast, soon after the dawn of day, she became convulsed, her pulse fluttered, and blood flowed from her wounded arm; in about an hour from this time she gave birth to a dead child. After this she grew calmer and fainter. The physician arrived, but she was past mortal cure,—she never opened her eyes more, nor spoke, nor gave any token of consciousness. By degrees her groans ceased, and she faded into death: the slender manifestations of lingering vitality gradually decreasing till all was still and cold. After an hour or two her face resumed its loveliness, pale and wasted as it was: she seemed to sleep, and none could regret that repose possessed that heart, which had been alive only to the deadliest throes of unhappy passion. Yet Saville did more than regret—he mourned her sincerely and deeply,—he accused himself of hard-heartedness,—he remembered what she was when he had first seen her;—how full of animation, beauty, and love. He did not remember that she had perished the victim of uncontrolled passion; he felt that she was his victim. He would have given worlds to restore her to life and enjoyment. What was a residence in England—the promises of ambition—the pleasures of his native land—all that he could feel or know, compared to the existence of one so young, so blessed with Heaven's choicest gifts of mind and person. She was his victim, and he could never forgive himself.

For his father's and sisters' sake he subdued the expression of his grief, for they also loved Clorinda, and were struck with sorrow at the sudden catastrophe. His strong mind, also, before long, mastered the false view he had taken of the cause of her death. He lamented her deeply, but he did not give way to unavailing remorse, which was founded on his sensibility, and not on any just cause for repentance. He turned all his thoughts to repairing her errors, rather than his own, by cherishing her child with redoubled fondness. The little girl was too young to feel her loss; she had always loved her father, and now she clung to his bosom and pressed her infant lips to his cheek, and by her playfulness and caresses repaid him for the tenderness that he lavished on her.

After some weeks spent in the north of Italy he returned to England with her. Lord Maristow and his daughters were already there, and had gone to Maristow Castle. Saville took up his abode with his cousin Villiers. His situation was new and strange. He found himself in the very abode of the dreaded Cornelia, yet she was away, unheard of, almost, it seemed, forgotten. Did he think of her as he saw the traces of by-gone scenes around? He played with his child—he secluded himself among his books—he talked with Ethel of what had happened since their parting, and reproached Villiers bitterly for not having applied to him in his distress. But a kind of spell sealed the lips of each, and Lady , who was the living spirit of the scene around—the creator of its peace and happiness—seemed to have passed away from the memory of all. It was in appearance only. Not an hour, not a minute of the day passed, that did not bring her idea to their minds, and Saville and Ethel each longed for the word to be uttered by either, which would permit them to give expression to the thoughts that so entirely possessed them.