Read CHAPTER XII. of Eugene Aram, free online book, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, on ReadCentral.com.

A strange habit. ­Walter’s interview with Madeline. ­Her generous and confiding disposition. ­Walter’s anger. ­The parting meal. ­Conversation between the uncle and nephew. ­ Walter alone. ­Sleep the blessing of the young.

Fall.  Out, out, unworthy to speak where he breatheth....

Punt.  Well now, my whole venture is forth, I will resolve
to depart. 
­Ben Jonson. ­Every Man out of his Humour.

It was now the eve before Walter’s departure, and on returning home from a farewell walk among his favourite haunts, he found Aram, whose visit had been made during Walter’s absence, now standing on the threshold of the door, and taking leave of Madeline and her father.  Aram and Walter had only met twice before since the interview we recorded, and each time Walter had taken care that the meeting should be but of short duration.  In these brief encounters, Aram’s manner had been even more gentle than heretofore; that of Walter’s, more cold and distant.  And now, as they thus unexpectedly met at the door, Aram, looking at him earnestly, said: 

“Farewell, Sir!  You are to leave us for some time, I hear.  Heaven speed you!” Then he added in a lower tone, “Will you take my hand, now, in parting?”

As he said, he put forth his hand, ­it was the left.

“Let it be the right hand,” observed the elder Lester, smiling:  “it is a luckier omen.”

“I think not,” said Aram, drily.  And Walter noted that he had never remembered him to give his right hand to any one, even to Madeline; the peculiarity of this habit might, however, arise from an awkward early habit, it was certainly scarce worth observing, and Walter had already coldly touched the hand extended to him:  when Lester carelessly renewed the subject.

“Is there any superstition,” said he gaily, “that makes you think, as some of the ancients did, the left hand luckier than the right?”

“Yes,” replied Aram; “a superstition.  Adieu.”

The Student departed; Madeline slowly walked up one of the garden alleys, and thither Walter, after whispering to his uncle, followed her.

There is something in those bitter feelings, which are the offspring of disappointed love; something in the intolerable anguish of well-founded jealousy, that when the first shock is over, often hardens, and perhaps elevates the character.  The sterner powers that we arouse within us to combat a passion that can no longer be worthily indulged, are never afterwards wholly allayed.  Like the allies which a nation summons to its bosom to defend it from its foes, they expel the enemy only to find a settlement for themselves.  The mind of every man who conquers an unfortunate attachment, becomes stronger than before; it may be for evil, it may be for good, but the capacities for either are more vigorous and collected.

The last few weeks had done more for Walter’s character than years of ordinary, even of happy emotion, might have effected.  He had passed from youth to manhood, and with the sadness, had acquired also something of the dignity, of experience.  Not that we would say that he had subdued his love, but he had made the first step towards it; he had resolved that at all hazards it should be subdued.

As he now joined Madeline, and she perceived him by her side, her embarrassment was more evident than his.  She feared some avowal, and from his temper, perhaps some violence on his part.  However, she was the first to speak:  women, in such cases, always are.

“It is a beautiful evening,” said she, “and the sun set in promise of a fine day for your journey to-morrow.”

Walter walked on silently; his heart was full.  “Madeline,” he said at length, “dear Madeline, give me your hand.  Nay, do not fear me; I know what you think, and you are right; I loved ­I still love you! but I know well that I can have no hope in making this confession; and when I ask you for your hand, Madeline, it is only to convince you that I have no suit to press; had I, I would not dare to touch that hand.”

Madeline, wondering and embarrassed, gave him her hand; he held it for a moment with a trembling clasp, pressed it to his lips, and then resigned it.

“Yes, Madeline, my cousin, my sweet cousin; I have loved you deeply, but silently, long before my heart could unravel the mystery of the feelings with which it glowed.  But this ­all this ­it were now idle to repeat.  I know that I have no hope of return; that the heart whose possession would have made my whole life a dream, a transport, is given to another.  I have not sought you now, Madeline, to repine at this, or to vex you by the tale of any suffering I may endure:  I am come only to give you the parting wishes, the parting blessing, of one, who, wherever he goes, or whatever befall him, will always think of you as the brightest and loveliest of human beings.  May you be happy, yes even with another!”

“Oh, Walter!” said Madeline, affected to tears, “if I ever encouraged ­if I ever led you to hope for more than the warm, the sisterly affection I bear you, how bitterly I should reproach myself!”

“You never did, dear Madeline; I asked for no inducement to love you, ­I never dreamed of seeking a motive, or inquiring if I had cause to hope.  But as I am now about to quit you, and as you confess you feel for me a sister’s affection, will you give me leave to speak to you as a brother might?”

Madeline held her hand to him in frank cordiality:  “Yes!” said she, “speak!”

“Then,” said Walter, turning away his head in a spirit of delicacy that did him honour, “is it yet all too late for me to say one word of caution as relates to ­Eugene Aram?”

“Of caution! you alarm me, Walter; speak, has aught happened to him?  I saw him as lately as yourself.  Does aught threaten him?  Speak, I implore you, ­quick?”

“I know of no danger to him!” replied Walter, stung to perceive the breathless anxiety with which Madeline spoke; “but pause, my cousin, may there be no danger to you from this man?”

“Walter!”

“I grant him wise, learned, gentle, ­nay, more than all, bearing about him a spell, a fascination, by which he softens, or awes at will, and which even I cannot resist.  But yet his abstracted mood, his gloomy life, certain words that have broken from him unawares, ­certain tell-tale emotions, which words of mine, heedlessly said, have fiercely aroused, all united, inspire me, ­shall I say it, ­with fear and distrust.  I cannot think him altogether the calm and pure being he appears.  Madeline, I have asked myself again and again, is this suspicion the effect of jealousy? do I scan his bearing with the jaundiced eye of disappointed rivalship?  And I have satisfied my conscience that my judgment is not thus biassed.  Stay! listen yet a little while!  You have a high ­a thoughtful mind.  Exert it now.  Consider your whole happiness rests on one step!  Pause, examine, compare!  Remember, you have not of Aram, as of those whom you have hitherto mixed with, the eye-witness of a life!  You can know but little of his real temper, his secret qualities; still less of the tenor of his former life.  I only ask of you, for your own sake, for my sake, your sister’s sake, and your good father’s, not to judge too rashly!  Love him, if you will; but observe him!”

“Have you done?” said Madeline, who had hitherto with difficulty contained herself; “then hear me.  Was it I? was it Madeline Lester whom you asked to play the watch, to enact the spy upon the man whom she exults in loving?  Was it not enough that you should descend to mark down each incautious look ­to chronicle every heedless word ­to draw dark deductions from the unsuspecting confidence of my father’s friend ­to lie in wait ­to hang with a foe’s malignity upon the unbendings of familiar intercourse ­to extort anger from gentleness itself, that you might wrest the anger into crime!  Shame, shame upon you, for the meanness!  And must you also suppose that I, to whose trust he has given his noble heart, will receive it only to play the eavesdropper to its secrets?  Away!”

The generous blood crimsoned the cheek and brow of this high-spirited girl as she uttered her galling reproof; her eyes sparkled, her lip quivered, her whole frame seemed to have grown larger with the majesty of indignant love.

“Cruel, unjust, ungrateful!” ejaculated Walter, pale with rage, and trembling under the conflict of his roused and wounded feelings.  “Is it thus you answer the warning of too disinterested and self-forgetful a love?”

“Love!” exclaimed Madeline.  “Grant me patience! ­Love!  It was but now I thought myself honoured by the affection you said you bore me.  At this instant, I blush to have called forth a single sentiment in one who knows so little what love is!  Love! ­methought that word denoted all that was high and noble in human nature ­confidence, hope, devotion, sacrifice of all thought of self! but you would make it the type and concentration of all that lowers and debases! ­suspicion ­cavil ­fear ­selfishness in all its shapes!  Out on you ­love!”

“Enough, enough!  Say no more, Madeline, say no more.  We part not as I had hoped; but be it so.  You are changed indeed, if your conscience smite you not hereafter for this injustice.  Farewell, and may you never regret, not only the heart you have rejected, but the friendship you have belied.”  With these words, and choked by his emotions, Walter hastily strode away.

He hurried into the house, and into a little room adjoining the chamber in which he slept, and which had been also appropriated solely to his use.  It was now spread with boxes and trunks, some half packed, some corded, and inscribed with the address to which they were to be sent in London.  All these mute tokens of his approaching departure struck upon his excited feelings with a suddenness that overpowered him.

“And it is thus ­thus,” said he aloud, “that I am to leave, for the first time, my childhood’s home.”

He threw himself on his chair, and covering his face with his hands, burst, fairly subdued and unmanned, into a paroxysm of tears.

When this emotion was over, he felt as if his love for Madeline had also disappeared; a sore and insulted feeling was all that her image now recalled to him.  This idea gave him some consolation.  “Thank God!” he muttered, “thank God, I am cured at last!”

The thanksgiving was scarcely over, before the door opened softly, and Ellinor, not perceiving him where he sat, entered the room, and laid on the table a purse which she had long promised to knit him, and which seemed now designed as a parting gift.

She sighed heavily as she laid it down, and he observed that her eyes seemed red as with weeping.

He did not move, and Ellinor left the room without discovering him; but he remained there till dark, musing on her apparition, and before he went down-stairs, he took up the little purse, kissed it, and put it carefully into his bosom.

He sate next to Ellinor at supper that evening, and though he did not say much, his last words were more to her than words had ever been before.  When he took leave of her for the night, he whispered, as he kissed her cheek; “God bless you, dearest Ellinor, and till I return, take care of yourself, for the sake of one, who loves you now, better than any thing on earth.”

Lester had just left the room to write some letters for Walter; and Madeline, who had hitherto sat absorbed and silent by the window, now approached Walter, and offered him her hand.

“Forgive me, my dear cousin,” she said, in her softest voice.  “I feel that I was hasty, and to blame.  Believe me, I am now at least grateful, warmly grateful, for the kindness of your motives.”

“Not so,” said Walter, bitterly, “the advice of a friend is only meanness.”

“Come, come, forgive me; pray, do not let us part unkindly.  When did we ever quarrel before?  I was wrong, grievously wrong ­I will perform any penance you may enjoin.”

“Agreed then, follow my admonitions.”

“Ah! any thing else,” said Madeline, gravely, and colouring deeply.

Walter said no more; he pressed her hand lightly and turned away.

“Is all forgiven?” said she, in so bewitching a tone, and with so bright a smile, that Walter, against his conscience, answered, “Yes.”

The sisters left the room.  I know not which of the two received his last glance.

Lester now returned with the letters.  “There is one charge, my dear boy,” said he, in concluding the moral injunctions and experienced suggestions with which the young generally leave the ancestral home (whether practically benefited or not by the legacy, may be matter of question) ­“there is one charge which I need not entrust to your ingenuity and zeal.  You know my strong conviction, that your father, my poor brother, still lives.  Is it necessary for me to tell you to exert yourself by all ways and in all means to discover some clue to his fate?  Who knows,” added Lester, with a smile, “but that you may find him a rich nabob.  I confess that I should feel but little surprise if it were so; but at all events you will make every possible inquiry.  I have written down in this paper the few particulars concerning him which I have been enabled to glean since he left his home; the places where he was last seen, the false names he assumed, I shall watch with great anxiety for any fuller success to your researches.”

“You needed not, my dear uncle,” said Walter seriously, “to have spoken to me on this subject.  No one, not even yourself, can have felt what I have; can have cherished the same anxiety, nursed the same hope, indulged the same conjecture.  I have not, it is true, often of late years spoken to you on a matter so near to us both, but I have spent whole hours in guesses at my father’s fate, and in dreams that for me was reserved the proud task to discover it.  I will not say indeed that it makes at this moment the chief motive for my desire to travel, but in travel it will become my chief object.  Perhaps I may find him not only rich, ­that for my part is but a minor wish, ­but sobered and reformed from the errors and wildness of his earlier manhood.  Oh, what should be his gratitude to you for all the care with which you have supplied to the forsaken child the father’s place; and not the least, that you have, in softening the colours of his conduct, taught me still to prize and seek for a father’s love!”

“You have a kind heart, Walter,” said the good old man, pressing his nephew’s hand, “and that has more than repaid me for the little I have done for you; it is better to sow a good heart with kindness, than a field with corn, for the heart’s harvest is perpetual.”

Many, keen, and earnest were that night the meditations of Walter Lester.  He was about to quit the home in which youth had been passed, in which first love had been formed and blighted:  the world was before him; but there was something more grave than pleasure, more steady than enterprise, that beckoned him to its paths.  The deep mystery that for so many years had hung over the fate of his parent, it might indeed be his lot to pierce; and with a common waywardness in our nature, the restless son felt his interest in that parent the livelier from the very circumstance of remembering nothing of his person.  Affection had been nursed by curiosity and imagination, and the bad father was thus more fortunate in winning the heart of the son, than had he perhaps, by the tenderness of years, deserved that affection.

Oppressed and feverish, Walter opened the lattice of his room, and looked forth on the night.  The broad harvest-moon was in the heavens, and filled the air as with a softer and holier day.  At a distance its light just gave the dark outline of Aram’s house, and beneath the window it lay bright and steady on the green, still church-yard that adjoined the house.  The air and the light allayed the fitfulness at the young man’s heart, but served to solemnize the project and desire with which it beat.  Still leaning from the casement, with his eyes fixed upon the tranquil scene below, he poured forth a prayer, that to his hands might the discovery of his lost sire be granted.  The prayer seemed to lift the oppression from his breast; he felt cheerful and relieved, and flinging himself on his bed, soon fell into the sound and healthful sleep of youth.  And oh! let Youth cherish that happiest of earthly boons while yet it is at its command; ­for there cometh the day to all, when “neither the voice of the lute or the birds”

[Quotation from Horace]

shall bring back the sweet slumbers that fell on their young eyes, as unbidden as the dews.  It is a dark epoch in a man’s life when Sleep forsakes him; when he tosses to and fro, and Thought will not be silenced; when the drug and draught are the courters of stupefaction, not sleep; when the down pillow is as a knotted log; when the eyelids close but with an effort, and there is a drag and a weight, and a dizziness in the eyes at morn.  Desire and Grief, and Love, these are the young man’s torments, but they are the creatures of Time; Time removes them as it brings, and the vigils we keep, “while the evil days come not,” if weary, are brief and few.  But Memory, and Care, and Ambition, and Avarice, these are the demon-gods that defy the Time that fathered them.  The worldlier passions are the growth of mature years, and their grave is dug but in our own.  As the dark Spirits in the Northern tale, that watch against the coming of one of a brighter and holier race, lest if he seize them unawares, he bind them prisoners in his chain, they keep ward at night over the entrance of that deep cave ­the human heart ­and scare away the angel Sleep!