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

Fraud and violence enter even Grassdale. ­Peter’s news. ­The lovers’ walk. ­The reappearance.

Auf. ­“Whence comest thou ­what wouldst thou?”
­Coriolanus.

One evening Aram and Madeline were passing through the village in their accustomed walk, when Peter Dealtry sallied forth from The Spotted Dog, and hurried up to the lovers with a countenance full of importance, and a little ruffled by fear.

“Oh, Sir, Sir, ­(Miss, your servant!) ­have you heard the news?  Two houses at Checkington, (a small town some miles distant from Grassdale,) were forcibly entered last night, ­robbed, your honour, robbed.  Squire Tibson was tied to his bed, his bureau rifled, himself shockingly confused on the head; and the maidservant Sally ­her sister lived with me, a very good girl she was, ­was locked up in the ­the ­the ­I beg pardon, Miss ­was locked up in the cupboard.  As to the other house, they carried off all the plate.  There were no less than four men, all masked, your honour, and armed with pistols.  What if they should come here! such a thing was never heard of before in these parts.  But, Sir, ­but, Miss, ­do not be afraid, do not ye now, for I may say with the Psalmist,

’But wicked men shall drink the dregs
Which they in wrath shall wring,
For I will lift my voice, and make
Them flee while I do sing!’”

“You could not find a more effectual method of putting them to flight, Peter,” said Madeline smiling; “but go and talk to my uncle.  I know we have a whole magazine of blunderbusses and guns at home:  they may be useful now.  But you are well provided in case of attack.  Have you not the Corporal’s famous cat Jacobina, ­surely a match for fifty robbers?”

“Ay, Miss, on the principle of set a thief to catch a thief, perhaps she may; but really it is no jesting matter.  Them ere robbers flourish like a green bay tree, for a space at least, and it is ’nation bad sport for us poor lambs till they be cut down and withered like grass.  But your house, Mr. Aram, is very lonesome like; it is out of reach of all your neighbours.  Hadn’t you better, Sir, take up your lodgings at the Squire’s for the present?”

Madeline pressed Aram’s arm, and looked up fearfully in his face.  “Why, my good friend,” said he to Dealtry, “robbers will have little to gain in my house, unless they are given to learned pursuits.  It would be something new, Peter, to see a gang of housebreakers making off with a telescope, or a pair of globes, or a great folio covered with dust.”

“Ay, your honour, but they may be the more savage for being disappointed.”

“Well, well, Peter, we will see,” replied Aram impatiently; “meanwhile we may meet you again at the hall.  Good evening for the present.”

“Do, dearest Eugene, do, for Heaven’s sake,” said Madeline, with tears in her eyes, as they, now turning from Dealtry, directed their steps towards the quiet valley, at the end of which the Student’s house was situated, and which was now more than ever Madeline’s favourite walk, “do, dearest Eugene, come up to the Manor-house till these wretches are apprehended.  Consider how open your house is to attack; and surely there can be no necessity to remain in it now.”

Aram’s calm brow darkened for a moment.  “What! dearest,” said he, “can you be affected by the foolish fears of yon dotard?  How do we know as yet, whether this improbable story have any foundation in truth.  At all events, it is evidently exaggerated.  Perhaps an invasion of the poultry-yard, in which some hungry fox was the real offender, may be the true origin of this terrible tale.  Nay, love, nay, do not look thus reproachfully; it will be time enough for us when we have sifted the grounds of alarm to take our precautions; meanwhile, do not blame me if in your presence I cannot admit fear.  Oh Madeline, dear, dear Madeline, could you know, could you dream, how different life has become to me since I knew you!  Formerly, I will frankly own to you, that dark and boding apprehensions were wont to lie heavy at my heart; the cloud was more familiar to me than the sunshine.  But now I have grown a child, and can see around me nothing but hope; my life was winter ­your love has breathed it into spring.”

“And yet, Eugene ­yet ­” “Yet what, my Madeline?”

“There are still moments when I have no power over your thoughts; moments when you break away from me; when you mutter to yourself feelings in which I have no share, and which seem to steal the consciousness from your eye and the colour from your lip.”

“Ah, indeed!” said Aram quickly; “what! you watch me so closely?”

“Can you wonder that I do?” said Madeline, with an earnest tenderness in her voice.

“You must not then, you must not,” returned her lover, almost fiercely; “I cannot bear too nice and sudden a scrutiny; consider how long I have clung to a stern and solitary independence of thought, which allows no watch, and forbids account of itself to any one.  Leave it to time and your love to win their inevitable way.  Ask not too much from me now.  And mark, mark, I pray you, whenever, in spite of myself, these moods you refer to darken over me, heed not, listen not ­Leave me! solitude is their only cure! promise me this, love ­promise.”

“It is a harsh request, Eugene, and I do not think I will grant you so complete a monopoly of thought;” answered Madeline, playfully, yet half in earnest.

“Madeline,” said Aram, with a deep solemnity of manner, “I ask a request on which my very love for you depends.  From the depths of my soul, I implore you to grant it; yea, to the very letter.”

“Why, why, this is ­” began Madeline, when encountering the full, the dark, the inscrutable gaze of her strange lover, she broke off in a sudden fear, which she could not analyse; and only added in a low and subdued voice, “I promise to obey you.”

As if a weight were lifted from his heart, Aram now brightened at once into himself in his happiest mood.  He poured forth a torrent of grateful confidence, of buoyant love, that soon swept from the remembrance of the blushing and enchanted Madeline, the momentary fear, the sudden chillness, which his look had involuntarily stricken into her mind.  And as they now wound along the most lonely part of that wild valley, his arm twined round her waist, and his low but silver voice pouring magic into the very air she breathed ­she felt perhaps a more entire and unruffled sentiment of present, and a more credulous persuasion of future, happiness, than she had ever experienced before.  And Aram himself dwelt with a more lively and detailed fulness, than he was wont, on the prospects they were to share, and the security and peace which retirement would instill into their mode of life.

“Is it not,” said he, with a lofty triumph that we shall look from our retreat upon the shifting passions, and the hollow loves of the distant world?  We can have no petty object, no vain allurement to distract the unity of our affection:  we must be all in all to each other; for what else can there be to engross our thoughts, and occupy our feelings here?

“If, my beautiful love, you have selected one whom the world might deem a strange choice for youth and loveliness like yours; you have, at least, selected one who can have no idol but yourself.  The poets tell you, and rightly, that solitude is the fit sphere for love; but how few are the lovers whom solitude does not fatigue! they rush into retirement, with souls unprepared for its stern joys and its unvarying tranquillity:  they weary of each other, because the solitude itself to which they fled, palls upon and oppresses them.  But to me, the freedom which low minds call obscurity, is the aliment of life; I do not enter the temples of Nature as the stranger, but the priest:  nothing can ever tire me of the lone and august altars, on which I sacrificed my youth:  and now, what Nature, what Wisdom once were to me ­no, no, more, immeasurably more than these, you are!  Oh, Madeline! methinks there is nothing under Heaven like the feeling which puts us apart from all that agitates, and fevers, and degrades the herd of men; which grants us to control the tenour of our future life, because it annihilates our dependence upon others, and, while the rest of earth are hurried on, blind and unconscious, by the hand of Fate, leaves us the sole lords of our destiny; and able, from the Past, which we have governed, to become the Prophets of our Future!”

At this moment Madeline uttered a faint shriek, and clung trembling to Aram’s arm.  Amazed, and roused from his enthusiasm, he looked up, and on seeing the cause of her alarm, seemed himself transfixed, as by a sudden terror, to the earth.

But a few paces distant, standing amidst the long and rank fern that grew on either side of their path, quite motionless, and looking on the pair with a sarcastic smile, stood the ominous stranger, whom the second chapter of our first volume introduced to the reader.

For one instant Aram seemed utterly appalled and overcome; his cheek grew the colour of death; and Madeline felt his heart beat with a loud, a fearful force beneath the breast to which she clung.  But his was not the nature any earthly dread could long abash.  He whispered to Madeline to come on; and slowly, and with his usual firm but gliding step, continued his way.

“Good evening, Eugene Aram,” said the stranger; and as he spoke, he touched his hat slightly to Madeline.

“I thank you,” replied the Student, in a calm voice; “do you want aught with me?”

“Humph! ­yes, if it so please you?”

“Pardon me, dear Madeline,” said Aram softly, and disengaging himself from her, “but for one moment.”

He advanced to the stranger, and Madeline could not but note that, as Aram accosted him, his brow fell, and his manner seemed violent and agitated; but she could not hear the words of either; nor did the conference last above a minute.  The stranger bowed, and turning away, soon vanished among the shrubs.  Aram regained the side of his mistress.

“Who,” cried she eagerly, “is that fearful man?  What is his business?  What his name?”

“He is a man whom I knew well some fourteen years ago,” replied Aram coldly, and with ease; “I did not then lead quite so lonely a life, and we were thrown much together.  Since that time, he has been in unfortunate circumstances ­rejoined the army ­he was in early life a soldier, and had been disbanded ­entered into business, and failed; in short, he has partaken of those vicissitudes inseparable from the life of one driven to seek the world.  When he travelled this road some months ago, he accidentally heard of my residence in the neighbourhood, and naturally sought me.  Poor as I am, I was of some assistance to him.  His route brings him hither again, and he again seeks me:  I suppose too that I must again aid him.”

“And is that indeed all,” said Madeline, breathing more freely; “well, poor man, if he be your friend, he must be inoffensive ­I have done him wrong.  And does he want money?  I have some to give him ­here Eugene!” And the simple-hearted girl put her purse into Aram’s hand.

“No, dearest,” said he, shrinking back; “no, we shall not require your contribution; I can easily spare him enough for the present.  But let us turn back, it grows chill.”

“And why did he leave us, Eugene?”

“Because I desired him to visit me at home an hour hence.”

“An hour! then you will not sup with us to-night?”

“No, not this night, dearest.”

The conversation now ceased; Madeline in vain endeavoured to renew it.  Aram, though without relapsing into any of his absorbed reveries, answered her only in monosyllables.  They arrived at the Manor-house, and Aram at the garden gate took leave of her for the night, and hastened backward towards his home.  Madeline, after watching his form through the deepening shadows until it disappeared, entered the house with a listless step; a nameless and thrilling presentiment crept to her heart; and she could have sate down and wept, though without a cause.