Page images

strong. But she will be better soon. I will not yield to her fancies.' So I went on writing my poems.

Occasionally we took long walks in the woods, as we had been accustomed to do, but the old pleasure was gone. There was a coldness and constraint between us, which marred our enjoyment of nature. We saw every thing with different eyes. We spoke but little; chiefly on indifferent topics; like friends about to become enemies. I hid my thoughts from Elma, for I fancied she could not sympathize with them, and she hid hers from me. It was a pretence on both sides, for we knew each other thoroughly. I remember but one of our woodland walks, in which we were our old true selves. It was at the close of a calm afternoon in the last days of autumn. We had sauntered on for a time in silence, hearkening to the rustling of leaves, when we reached the edge of the wood. Through the last ranks of the trees we saw the village illuminated by the setting sun. The windows of the nearer cottages burned redly, while a tender and pensive light lingered on their walls. Something sweet and melancholy in that light recalled the smiles of my wife. I turned and gazed in her face. We looked at each other long and sadly. A flood of tender memories swept over my soul. We rushed into each other arms, and wept. I was dejected and melancholy all the evening. My mind was full of regrets for the past, and apprehensions for the future. If I should die to-night?' I thought. I went to bed early, leaving Elma up, reading. I had a great mind to kneel down and pray before I slept; but pride and shame prevented me. I undressed myself forgetfully, and crept into bed. 'As I lie here now,' I said, 'I shall one day lie in the grave.' I closed my eyes, laid my hands on my breast, and tried to imagine myself dead. My brain grew drowsy. I heard Elma come in the room where I was, but before she could undress, I was asleep.

As she was the last thing in my thoughts, she passed into my sleep, and peopled my dreams. At first my dreams were too vague and dim to remember; rather the unrest of the body than the activity of the mind; but they perplexed and troubled me, nevertheless. I was haunted with a sense of danger somewhere. Wandering from one dusky realm to another, passing shadows and phantoms and shapes, I found myself at last in a land that seemed familiar to me, walking side by side with Elma. We cheered our journey with pleasant talk_and_songs, now and then plucking the flowers from the road-side. I was seized with a desire to loiter, but Elma was for going on to our journey's end. We will stay here,' I said, and stretched forth my hand to detain her. 'I must go,' she replied, and glided from me. I clutched her robe angrily, but it slipped through my fingers like mist! I clutched at it again, but failed to reach it. 'I must leave you,' she said. I was alarmed. My heart leaped: I awoke, and sat upright in bed. The room was intensely dark: I could see nothing. I heard the muffled tick of the clock in the next chamber, and the sea washing on the shore. All other sounds were hushed: the night was breathless. The

stillness and darkness frightened me: my blood froze in my veins. I stretched forth my arms and felt for Elma. She was gone! I sprang out of bed, and groped for her, overturning the furniture in all directions, as I rushed about the room. I found her at last,

[ocr errors]

lying on the floor senseless. I lifted her in my arms a cold, dead weight, and bore her to the bed. I chafed her hands and temples, and finally succeeded in restoring her to consciousness. Then I lighted a lamp and held it up to her face. It was haggard, ghastly, death-like.

Are you dying, Elma?' I whispered.

She shook her head. I dared not believe her. I threw myself on my knees, and stormed the gates of Heaven with prayer. 'Give her back to me, O GOD!' I said: she is my life, and I cannot lose her!' I burst into tears, and sobbed like a child While I wept, I felt a light touch on my head a hand that caressed and soothed me. I pressed it to my lips reverently, and rose with a lighter heart. She motioned me to remove the lamp. I placed it on the floor, and shading the light from her eyes, seated myself by the bed-side in an arm-chair. The rest of the night was spent in watching.

A few days afterward, Elma seemed to have regained her strength, and I started for the city alone. She gave me a parting kiss at the door, and watched me till I was out of sight. I looked back as I went down the road: she waved her hand to me as long as I could see her.

It was twilight when I reached the city; the dusk of a sober autumnal day. The last beams of evening had faded, and the lamps were being lighted. The streets were crowded with men who were hurrying home after their day's work. The tide set so strongly in one direction through the principal thoroughfare, that I was carried with it, whether I would or no. Seldom merry in a city at any time, I am always melancholy in one at sun-set. I never feel so much alone as when I am jostled by a crowd at night. "They are going,' I think, 'to their wives and children, to the com forts and joys of home. Bright eyes will grow brighter when they come; love-words and kisses will be exchanged; and tiny little hands will be outstretched, eager to clasp their necks. I have no children, no wife, no home.'

A feeling of lonesomeness came over me as I was borne along by the crowd. To rid myself of it, I stopped at the theatre. The curtain was up when I entered, the play was just commenced. It was that strange and dark attempt to solve the riddle of life, the old story of Faust. Faust was on the stage, bewailing the nothingness of knowledge. He pored over his books of magic, and summoned the demon to his aid. 'He should not have done that,' I said; he should have trusted to himself alone. We are strong when we rely upon ourselves, weak when we rely on others.' Suddenly the demon appeared, rising from the stage at his feet. 'I wonder how a man would feel,' I said, 'if the devil should appear to him? It would depend somewhat on the form the devil

took, I fancy, but more on the man's nerves. It would terrify most men: it would shock even me, but not so much as to prevent my speaking to his Highness! But pshaw! there is no devil. I might believe in an angel now, could I only see one; but a devil, that myth is exploded. In the mean time, Faust and the demon had come to an understanding. The demon was to give Faust all the pleasures of the world, in exchange for which he was to have his soul. Faust,' I said, 'was a great fool to buy what he could have had for nothing; but the devil, a greater fool still, to buy what he could not have at all. The world belongs to man, and man to GOD. Now, the world belonging to man, the devil has no right to sell it to him. And man belonging to GOD, he has no right to sell himself to the devil. And, having no right, of course the bargain is null. So you see, devil, you are cheated.'

While my brain was spinning this web, the scene had changed, and instead of the study of Faust, I saw a street at Nuremberg. On one side of it was a tavern; on the other, the entrance to a cathedral. The back-ground was made up of quaint old houses, with pointed gable-roofs. Three or four roysterers sat in front of the tavern drinking, and bands of grave citizens, burghers and their wives, filed into the cathedral. The musicians of the theatre were behind the scenes playing a mass. While my eye was taking in the picture, and my ear the music, Faust appeared again, no longer the haggard student in his thread-bare suit, but a young and gallant cavalier, arrayed in mantle and plume. Mephistopheles dogged him like his shadow. They stationed themselves behind the roysterers, who had come to the bottom of their tankards, and watched the last of the church-goers. The procession ended, the stage business paused a moment, and then Margaret entered, on her way to church. She moved across the stage slowly, apparently lost in thought. Her garb was neither that of a peasant-girl nor a gentlewoman, but something between both a simple but graceful gown, fitting tight to the waist, and ending in a small train. She wore a quaint little cap on her head, and carried a prayerbook in her hand. Faust lifted his cap as she passed him, and gazed after her admiringly. Mephistopheles shrugged his shoulders. She reached the threshold of the church, bowed her head reverently as she crossed it, and was lost in the music within. 'How sweet and pure she is!' I said; 'how tragic too! Poor child! poor child! I forgot that I was looking at an actress, who was playing a part; I seemed to behold the real Margaret. She was no poetic abstraction, but a sweet and touching reality. Pursuing the thought, and hearkening to the music which was still playing behind the scenes, it flashed across my mind that the meeting of Faust and Margaret was like that of Elma and myself. 'He met Margaret outside of the church,' I added mentally, 'while I met Elma inside.'

Up to this moment I had taken an interest in the play, however slight, but now it was gone: my thoughts ran on Elma. I lived over the last few months of my life, and regretted the change that

had taken place in my feelings toward her. I recalled her patience and gentleness, her sincere and earnest piety; I recalled her genius and her loveliness. She is too good for me,' I said, shaking my head mournfully. I closed my eyes and pictured her in our little cottage by the sea. It was night, and she was in her room. She sat by the round table, in the light of the astral lamp, writing a letter. I peeped over her shoulder and read the word, 'Return!' The music was still playing, but its spirit had changed, for the curtain had fallen on the first act, and the musicians were again in the orchestra. These were playing one of Strauss's waltzes. Elma laid down her pen when the waltz commenced, and went to the window and looked out into the night. She stood there a moment, straining her sight through the pane, and then took down her hood and cloak. She opened the door, and glided out into the lane. The wind blew back her hood, and I saw her pale face in the darkness. The sickly moon had been shining through a ragged cloud, but it set now, and the sky began to drop rain; it was intensely dark. The waltz went on merrily, whirling and whirling, but it grated on my ear. I could not keep Elma out of my mind; her leaving the house so late, alarmed me. What a fool I am,' I thought, to be cheated so by my fancy;' but I could not reassure myself. My heart beat rapidly, my eyes filled with tears. I rose and left the theatre.

It was a dark and rainy night without, but the streets were crowded still, and the shop-windows were bright. I lingered awhile on the steps of the theatre, looking up and down the city, uncertain where to go. 'I will walk off my melancholy,' I said at length, and then go to a hotel and sleep.' I wrapt my cloak about me and plunged into the crowd again. There is something strange and grim in a city at night, and I never felt it so profoundly as I did then. The long avenues of lamps that stretched away in the distance; the broad window-plates, roughened and dimmed by the rain; the shining, sloppy pavement, that muffled the noise of my feet; the shadowy figures that jostled me in the light, and disappeared in the darkness. How unreal they all seemed, how lonesome they made me feel! 'I wish I had some body to talk with,' I said, 'I am heartily sick of myself. Won't some body speak to me? ask me a question, or let me ask one? any thing for a few pleasant words. The sound of a friendly voice would do me good. Friendly, forsooth! There is not a soul in this great city that cares whether I live or die! I might throw myself under the feet of the horses in the street, or go down to the river and plunge into the black water- who would save me?' I stopped the next man that I met and inquired the way to a hotel. He cursed me for stopping him, and hurried on without giving me an answer. 'I thought these dusky figures were men,' I said, 'but I was wrong; they are evil phantoms. If I believed in devils I should say they were abroad to-night; but the only devils are men.' As I said this, I was seized by the arm. Before me stood a woman, a brazen creature, bedecked with flowers and feathers, and deeply

rouged. She cast a leer in my face from her bold black eyes, and attempted to take my hand. I shook her off, and passed on.

I could not shake off my melancholy; it deepened every moment. My nerves were irritated, my heart was as heavy as lead: I was very wretched. And, to add to my discomfort still more, I found that I was wet through. Shivering with cold, and reckless with wretchedness, I entered a saloon, and called for a bottle of wine. It was brought me. I poured out a brimming glass, and drank it. 'It is the true vintage,' I said, and filled again. I held the golden sweetness to the light, and watched the little bubbles as they rose to the surface. There they go, the tiny jewels, shining and wavering upward, until they are lost in the bed of jewels above them. The wine is a perfect Golconda. It will enrich my sluggish blood and kindle my brain. It is like drinking the sun-shine to sip it. I taste the flavor of summer, the light and warmth of the south. I will fill again.' I drained the glass, and leaned back in the box. 'I wonder I did not think of this before: what a fool I was! This is comfort now, solid comfort. My blood begins to run warmly in my veins; my heart grows as light as a feather. I'll have another bottle.' I remember drinking the second bottle, but after that, my memory was confused. I paid some body something; walked somewhere in the dark; was dazzled by a great chandelier; danced a waltz to the sweetest saddest music, (but perhaps that was a dream;) took a coach: I can remember no more till morning.

It was a dull day when I rode home; cold without wind, and damp without fog. The roads were miry from the rain over night; puddles of muddy water had fallen in the wagon ruts, and in the prints of the horses' feet. The woods through which I journeyed were bare; all bare skeleton forests of withered trees, whose dead leaves were rotting on the ground. There was no heaven above me; only a dim gray roof of mist, an indistinct dreariness, that weighed upon my soul. The sky was pitiless.

I rode on in a strange mood, perplexed with a double consciousness. I saw the dull sky, the dead trees, the stagnant water, not as in a real landscape, but as in a picture. They passed before my sight, but left no impression on my brain. There was another picture on my mind, and for my life I could not banish it thence; it would not depart. As a picture, it was beautiful, and instead of troubling, it should have delighted me, but it did not. The thought that it was not so much a picture as a remembrance, filled me with apprehension and grief. I tried to persuade myself it was but the creation of my heated fancy, but something told me it was a reality all the while.


I saw in my dream a richly-furnished chamber. The walls were lined with yellow damask, and hung with voluptuous paintings. The mantle was loaded with bronze and alabaster vases. chairs and couches were rose-wood and satin. A Turkey carpet of the deepest dyes covered the floor. The window-curtains were crimson and lace. On a small mosaic stand were two Bohemian

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »