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

Madeline, her hopes. ­A mild autumn characterised.  ­A landscape. ­A return.

’Tis late, and cold ­stir up the fire,
Sit close, and draw the table nigher;
Be merry and drink wine that’s old,
A hearty medicine ’gainst a cold,
Welcome ­welcome shall fly round! 
­Beaumont and Fletcher:  Song in the Lover’s Progress.

As when the Great Poet, ­

          Escaped the Stygian pool, though long detained
          In that obscure sojourn; while, in his flight
          Through utter and through middle darkness borne,
          He sang of chaos, and eternal night: ­

As when, revisiting the “Holy Light, offspring of heaven first-born,” the sense of freshness and glory breaks upon him, and kindles into the solemn joyfulness of adjuring song:  so rises the mind from the contemplation of the gloom and guilt of life, “the utter and the middle darkness,” to some pure and bright redemption of our nature ­some creature of “the starry threshold,” “the regions mild of calm and serene air.”  Never was a nature more beautiful and soft than that of Madeline Lester ­never a nature more inclined to live “above the smoke and stir of this dim spot, which men call earth” ­to commune with its own high and chaste creations of thought ­to make a world out of the emotions which this world knows not ­a paradise, which sin, and suspicion, and fear, had never yet invaded ­where God might recognise no evil, and Angels forebode no change.

Aram’s return was now daily, nay, even hourly expected.  Nothing disturbed the soft, though thoughtful serenity, with which his betrothed relied upon the future.  Aram’s letters had been more deeply impressed with the evidence of love, than even his spoken vows:  those letters had diffused not so much an agitated joy, as a full and mellow light of happiness over her heart.  Every thing, even Nature, seemed inclined to smile with approbation on her hopes.  The autumn had never, in the memory of man, worn so lovely a garment:  the balmy and freshening warmth, which sometimes characterises that period of the year, was not broken, as yet, by the chilling winds, or the sullen mists, which speak to us so mournfully of the change that is creeping over the beautiful world.  The summer visitants among the feathered tribe yet lingered in flocks, showing no intention of departure; and their song ­but above all, the song of the sky-lark ­which, to the old English poet, was what the nightingale is to the Eastern ­seemed even to grow more cheerful as the sun shortened his daily task; ­the very mulberry-tree, and the rich boughs of the horse chesnut, retained something of their verdure; and the thousand glories of the woodland around Grassdale were still chequered with the golden hues that herald, but beautify Decay.  Still, no news had been received of Walter:  and this was the only source of anxiety that troubled the domestic happiness of the Manor-house.  But the Squire continued to remember, that in youth he himself had been but a negligent correspondent; and the anxiety he felt, assumed rather the character of anger at Walter’s forgetfulness, than of fear for his safety.  There were moments when Ellinor silently mourned and pined; but she loved her sister not less even than her cousin; and in the prospect of Madeline’s happiness, did not too often question the future respecting her own.

One evening, the sisters were sitting at their work by the window of the little parlour, and talking over various matters of which the Great World, strange as it may seem, never made a part.

They conversed in a low tone, for Lester sat by the hearth in which a wood fire had been just kindled, and appeared to have fallen into an afternoon slumber.  The sun was sinking to repose, and the whole landscape lay before them bathed in light, till a cloud passing overhead, darkened the heavens just immediately above them, and one of those beautiful sun showers, that rather characterize the spring than autumn, began to fall; the rain was rather sharp, and descended with a pleasant and freshening noise through the boughs, all shining in the sun light; it did not, however, last long, and presently there sprang up the glorious rainbow, and the voices of the birds, which a minute before were mute, burst into a general chorus, the last hymn of the declining day.  The sparkling drops fell fast and gratefully from the trees, and over the whole scene there breathed an inexpressible sense of gladness ­

        “The odour and the harmony of eve.”

“How beautiful!” said Ellinor, pausing from her work ­“Ah, see the squirrel, is that our pet one? he is coming close to the window, poor fellow!  Stay, I will get him some bread.”

“Hush!” said Madeline, half rising, and turning quite pale, “Do you hear a step without?”

“Only the dripping of the boughs,” answered Ellinor.

“No ­no ­it is he ­it is he!” cried Madeline, the blood rushing back vividly to her cheeks, “I know his step!”

And ­yes ­winding round the house till he stood opposite the window, the sisters now beheld Eugene Aram; the diamond rain glittered on the locks of his long hair; his cheeks were flushed by exercise, or more probably the joy of return; a smile, in which there was no shade or sadness, played over his features, which caught also a fictitious semblance of gladness from the rays of the setting sun which fell full upon them.

“My Madeline, my love, my Madeline!” broke from his lips.

“You are returned ­thank God ­thank God ­safe ­well?”

“And happy!” added Aram, with a deep meaning in the tone of his voice.

“Hey day, hey day!” cried the Squire, starting up, “what’s this? bless me, Eugene! ­wet through too, seemingly!  Nell, run and open the door ­more wood on the fire ­the pheasants for supper ­and stay, girl, stay ­there’s the key of the cellar ­the twenty-one port ­you know it.  Ah! ah!  God willing, Eugene Aram shall not complain of his welcome back to Grassdale!”