Read CHAPTER XXVI. of Eugene Aram, free online book, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, on

Aram alone among the mountains. ­His soliloquy and project. ­ Scene between himself and Madeline.

         Luce non grata fruor;

Trepidante semper corde, non mortis metu
Sed ­

       ­Seneca:  Octavia, act i.

The two men servants of the house remained up the rest of the night; but it was not till the morning had progressed far beyond the usual time of rising in the fresh shades of Grassdale, that Madeline and Ellinor became visible; even Lester left his bed an hour later than his wont; and knocking at Aram’s door, found the Student was already abroad, while it was evident that his bed had not been pressed during the whole of the night.  Lester descended into the garden, and was there met by Peter Dealtry, and a detachment of the band; who, as common sense and Lester had predicted, were indeed, at a very early period of the watch, driven to their respective homes.  They were now seriously concerned for their unmanliness, which they passed off as well as they could upon their conviction “that nobody at Grassdale could ever really be robbed;” and promised with sincere contrition, that they would be most excellent guards for the future.  Peter was, in sooth, singularly chop-fallen; and could only defend himself by an incoherent mutter, from which the Squire turned somewhat impatiently, when he heard, louder than the rest, the words “seventy-seventh psalm, seventeenth verse,

“The clouds that were both thick and black,

          Did rain full plenteously.”

Leaving the Squire to the edification of the pious host, let us follow the steps of Aram, who at the early dawn had quitted his sleepless chamber, and, though the clouds at that time still poured down in a dull and heavy sleet, wandered away, whither he neither knew, nor heeded.  He was now hurrying, with unabated speed, though with no purposed bourne or object, over the chain of mountains that backed the green and lovely valleys, among which his home was cast.

“Yes!” said he, at last halting abruptly, with a desperate resolution stamped on his countenance, “yes!  I will so determine.  If, after this interview, I feel that I cannot command and bind Houseman’s perpetual secrecy, I will surrender Madeline at once.  She has loved me generously and trustingly.  I will not link her life with one that may be called hence in any hour, and to so dread an account.  Neither shall the grey hairs of Lester be brought with the sorrow of my shame, to a dishonoured and untimely grave.  And after the outrage of last night, the daring outrage, how can I calculate on the safety of a day? though Houseman was not present, though I can scarce believe that he knew or at least abetted the attack; yet they were assuredly of his gang:  had one been seized, the clue might have traced to his detection ­and he detected, what should I have to dread!  No, Madeline! no; not while this sword hangs over me, will I subject thee to share the horror of my fate!”

This resolution, which was certainly generous, and yet no more than honest, Aram had no sooner arrived at, than he dismissed, at once, by one of those efforts which powerful minds can command, all the weak and vacillating thoughts that might interfere with the sternness of his determination.  He seemed to breathe more freely, and the haggard wanness of his brow, relaxed at least from the workings that, but the moment before, distorted its wonted serenity, with a maniac wildness.

He pursued his desultory way now with a calmer step.

“What a night!” said he, again breaking into the low murmur in which he was accustomed to hold commune with himself.  “Had Houseman been one of the ruffians! a shot might have freed me, and without a crime, for ever!  And till the light flashed on their brows, I thought the smaller man bore his aspect.  Ha, out, tempting thought! out on thee!” he cried aloud, and stamping with his foot, then recalled by his own vehemence, he cast a jealous and hurried glance round him, though at that moment his step was on the very height of the mountains, where not even the solitary shepherd, save in search of some more daring straggler of the flock, ever brushed the dew from the cragged, yet fragrant soil.  “Yet,” he said, in a lower voice, and again sinking into the sombre depths of his reverie, “it is a tempting, a wondrously tempting thought.  And it struck athwart me, like a flash of lightning when this hand was at his throat ­a tighter strain, another moment, and Eugene Aram had not had an enemy, a witness against him left in the world.  Ha! are the dead no foes then?  Are the dead no witnesses?” Here he relapsed into utter silence, but his gestures continued wild, and his eyes wandered round, with a bloodshot and unquiet glare.  “Enough,” at length he said calmly; and with the manner of one ‘who has rolled a stone from his heart;’ [Note:  Eastern saying.] “enough!  I will not so sully myself; unless all other hope of self-preservation be extinct.  And why despond? the plan I have thought of seems well-laid, wise, consummate at all points.  Let me consider ­forfeited the moment he enters England ­not given till he has left it ­paid periodically, and of such extent as to supply his wants, preserve him from crime, and forbid the possibility of extorting more:  all this sounds well; and if not feasible at last, why farewell Madeline, and I myself leave this land for ever.  Come what will to me ­death in its vilest shape ­let not the stroke fall on that breast.  And if it be,” he continued, his face lighting up, “if it be, as it may yet, that I can chain this hell-hound, why, even then, the instant that Madeline is mine, I will fly these scenes; I will seek a yet obscurer and remoter corner of earth:  I will choose another name ­Fool! why did I not so before?  But matters it?  What is writ is writ.  Who can struggle with the invisible and giant hand, that launched the world itself into motion; and at whose predecree we hold the dark boon of life and death?”

It was not till evening that Aram, utterly worn out and exhausted, found himself in the neighbourhood of Lester’s house.  The sun had only broken forth at its setting; and it now glittered from its western pyre over the dripping hedges, and spread a brief, but magic glow along the rich landscape around; the changing woods clad in the thousand dies of Autumn; the scattered and peaceful cottages, with their long wreaths of smoke curling upward, and the grey and venerable walls of the Manor-house, with the Church hard by, and the delicate spire, which, mixing itself with heaven, is at once the most touching and solemn emblem of the Faith to which it is devoted.  It was a sabbath eve; and from the spot on which Aram stood, he might discern many a rustic train trooping slowly up the green village lane towards the Church; and the deep bell which summoned to the last service of the day now swung its voice far over the sunlit and tranquil scene.

But it was not the setting sun, nor the autumnal landscape, nor the voice of the holy bell that now arrested the step of Aram.  At a little distance before him, leaning over a gate, and seemingly waiting till the ceasing of the bell should announce the time to enter the sacred mansion, he beheld the figure of Madeline Lester.  Her head, at the moment, was averted from him, as if she were looking after Ellinor and her uncle, who were in the churchyard among a little group of their homely neighbours; and he was half in doubt whether to shun her presence, when she suddenly turned round, and seeing him, uttered an exclamation of joy.  It was now too late for avoidance; and calling to his aid that mastery over his features, which, in ordinary times, few more eminently possessed, he approached his beautiful mistress with a smile as serene, if not as glowing, as her own.  But she had already opened the gate, and bounding forward, met him half way.

“Ah, truant, truant,” said she, the whole day absent, without inquiry or farewell!  After this, when shall I believe that thou really lovest me?

“But,” continued Madeline, gazing on his countenance, which bore witness, in its present languor, to the fierce emotions which had lately raged within, “but, heavens! dearest, how pale you look; you are fatigued; give me your hand, Eugene, ­it is parched and dry.  Come into the house; ­you must need rest and refreshment.”

“I am better here, my Madeline, ­the air and the sun revive me:  let us rest by the stile yonder.  But you were going to Church? and the bell has ceased.”

“I could attend, I fear, little to the prayers now,” said Madeline, “unless you feel well enough and will come to Church with me.”

“To Church!” said Aram, with a half shudder, “no; my thoughts are in no mood for prayer.”

“Then you shall give your thoughts to me and I, in return, will pray for you before I rest.”

And so saying, Madeline, with her usual innocent frankness of manner, wound her arm in his, and they walked onward towards the stile Aram had pointed out.  It was a little rustic stile, with chesnut-trees hanging over it on either side.  It stands to this day, and I have pleased myself with finding Walter Lester’s initials, and Madeline’s also, with the date of the year, carved in half-worn letters on the wood, probably by the hand of the former.

They now rested at this spot.  All around them was still and solitary; the groups of peasants had entered the Church, and nothing of life, save the cattle grazing in the distant fields, or the thrush starting from the wet bushes, was visible.  The winds were lulled to rest, and, though somewhat of the chill of autumn floated on the air, it only bore a balm to the harassed brow and fevered veins of the Student; and Madeline! ­she felt nothing but his presence.  It was exactly what we picture to ourselves of a sabbath eve, unutterably serene and soft, and borrowing from the very melancholy of the declining year an impressive, yet a mild solemnity.

There are seasons, often in the most dark or turbulent periods of our life, when, why we know not, we are suddenly called from ourselves, by the remembrances of early childhood:  something touches the electric chain, and, lo! a host of shadowy and sweet recollections steal upon us.  The wheel rests, the oar is suspended, we are snatched from the labour and travail of present life; we are born again, and live anew.  As the secret page in which the characters once written seem for ever effaced, but which, if breathed upon, gives them again into view; so the memory can revive the images invisible for years:  but while we gaze, the breath recedes from the surface, and all one moment so vivid, with the next moment has become once more a blank!

“It is singular,” said Aram, “but often as I have paused at this spot, and gazed upon this landscape, a likeness to the scenes of my childish life, which it now seems to me to present, never occurred to me before.  Yes, yonder, in that cottage, with the sycamores in front, and the orchard extending behind, till its boundary, as we now stand, seems lost among the woodland, I could fancy that I looked upon my father’s home.  The clump of trees that lies yonder to the right could cheat me readily to the belief that I saw the little grove in which, enamoured with the first passion of study, I was wont to pore over the thrice-read book through the long summer days; ­a boy, ­a thoughtful boy; yet, oh! how happy!  What worlds appeared then to me, to open in every page! how exhaustless I thought the treasures and the hopes of life! and beautiful on the mountain tops seemed to me the steps of Knowledge!  I did not dream of all that the musing and lonely passion that I nursed was to entail upon me.  There, in the clefts of the valley, or the ridges of the hill, or the fragrant course of the stream, I began already to win its history from the herb or flower; I saw nothing, that I did not long to unravel its secrets; all that the earth nourished ministered to one desire: ­and what of low or sordid did there mingle with that desire?  The petty avarice, the mean ambition, the debasing love, even the heat, the anger, the fickleness, the caprice of other men, did they allure or bow down my nature from its steep and solitary eyrie?  I lived but to feed my mind; wisdom was my thirst, my dream, my aliment, my sole fount and sustenance of life.  And have I not sown the whirlwind and reaped the wind?  The glory of my youth is gone, my veins are chilled, my frame is bowed, my heart is gnawed with cares, my nerves are unstrung as a loosened bow:  and what, after all, is my gain?  Oh, God! what is my gain?”

“Eugene, dear, dear Eugene!” murmured Madeline soothingly, and wrestling with her tears, “is not your gain great? is it no triumph that you stand, while yet young, almost alone in the world, for success in all that you have attempted?”

“And what,” exclaimed Aram, breaking in upon her, “what is this world which we ransack, but a stupendous charnel-house?  Every thing that we deem most lovely, ask its origin? ­Decay!  When we rifle nature, and collect wisdom, are we not like the hags of old, culling simples from the rank grave, and extracting sorceries from the rotting bones of the dead?  Every thing around us is fathered by corruption, battened by corruption, and into corruption returns at last.  Corruption is at once the womb and grave of Nature, and the very beauty on which we gaze and hang, ­the cloud, and the tree, and the swarming waters, ­all are one vast panorama of death!  But it did not always seem to me thus; and even now I speak with a heated pulse and a dizzy brain.  Come, Madeline, let us change the theme.”

And dismissing at once from his language, and perhaps, as he proceeded, also from his mind, all of its former gloom, except such as might shade, but not embitter, the natural tenderness of remembrance, Aram now related, with that vividness of diction, which, though we feel we can very inadequately convey its effect, characterised his conversation, and gave something of poetic interest to all he uttered; those reminiscences which belong to childhood, and which all of us take delight to hear from the lips of any one we love.

It was while on this theme that the lights which the deepening twilight had now made necessary, became visible in the Church, streaming afar through its large oriel window, and brightening the dark firs that overshadowed the graves around:  and just at that moment the organ, (a gift from a rich rector, and the boast of the neighbouring country,) stole upon the silence with its swelling and solemn note.  There was something in the strain of this sudden music that was so kindred with the holy repose of the scene, and which chimed so exactly to the chord that now vibrated in Aram’s mind, that it struck upon him at once with an irresistible power.  He paused abruptly “as if an angel spoke!” that sound so peculiarly adapted to express sacred and unearthly emotion none who have ever mourned or sinned can hear, at an unlooked for moment, without a certain sentiment, that either subdues, or elevates, or awes.  But he, ­he was a boy once more! ­he was again in the village church of his native place:  his father, with his silver hair, stood again beside him! there was his mother, pointing to him the holy verse; there the half arch, half reverent face of his little sister, (she died young!) ­there the upward eye and hushed countenance of the preacher who had first raised his mind to knowledge, and supplied its food, ­all, all lived, moved, breathed, again before him, ­all, as when he was young and guiltless, and at peace; hope and the future one word!

He bowed his head lower and lower; the hardness and hypocrisies of pride, the sense of danger and of horror, that, in agitating, still supported, the mind of this resolute and scheming man, at once forsook him.  Madeline felt his tears drop fast and burning on her hand, and the next moment, overcome by the relief it afforded to a heart preyed upon by fiery and dread secrets, which it could not reveal, and a frame exhausted by the long and extreme tension of all its powers, he laid his head upon that faithful bosom, and wept aloud.