| ||Montalbert. Volume 2 of 3|
MRS. Vyvian on the following day thus proceeded——
"When I look back on the situation I was now in, I am astonished that I ever supported it—description at this distance of time could but do little justice to the state of my mind, even if I were capable of discriminating now the variety of miseries I then suffered under. It seems, on retrospection, the most extraordinary circumstance in the world, that in such a state of mind as I was in, I should have acquired resolution enough to appear before my father, as Mr. Hayward recommended, on the following day; but this I did do; and though I cannot but suppose that my figure and countenance bore full testimony to the state of my heart,
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he seemed determined not to notice the deadly paleness of my countenance, or the feeble and uncertain step with which I approached him: yet, when he supposed I did not remark him, he cast toward me looks of indignation and resentment, the meaning of which I could not mistake. I shuddered when I observed them, but in my turn affected to be as tranquil as before this storm that had wrecked for ever my happiness and my peace.
"It was highly probable that the violent agitation I had undergone, as well as the dreadful uneasiness that preyed on my mind, for the fate of my unfortunate lover, would finish my inquietudes for the future, and bury in oblivion the fatal secret of this hapless affection; but this did not happen, and now every hour as it passed added such insupportable dread of what was to happen in future to the miseries of the present moment, that to exist long in such a state seemed impossible—yet were my sufferings but begun.
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"Nothing could be more dreary and desolate than every object appeared round the house. It was the dark and melancholy month of November, and nature seemed to be in unison with my feeling. I looked now on the same scenes as I had so lately beheld luxuriant in foliage, and illuminated with the summer sun—the same scenes in which Ormsby had so long been a principal object.....Now—as the leaves fell slowly from the sallow trees, they seemed to strew his grave—the wind, as murmured hollow though the perennial foliage of the pines and furs, sounded to my ears as if it were loaded with his dying groans——I heard him sigh among the thick shrubs that bordered the wood walks; he seemed to reproach my calmness—yet it was not the tranquility of indifference, it was the torpor of despair.
"I went out alone, that I might weep at liberty; yet, when I found myself in the silent solitude of the woods, I was unable to shed a tear, but sat down on
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one of the benches, and gazed on vacancy with fixed eyes, and without having any distinct idea of the object I beheld. In these dismal rambles rain and tempest, and once or twice night, overtook me. I was careless or insensible of outward circumstances; and certainly if my father had not determined to shut his eyes to the truth, as if the only alternative were between extreme severity and total ignorance, he must have discovered from my conduct that all his suspicions did not go beyond the reality.
"Some very fatal catastrophe would have followed the state of mind I was in, had not the pious and friendly councils of the Abbé Hayward, and the assiduous care of Helene, saved me from myself: the one exhorted me to patience, and a reliance on the mercy of Heaven; the other soothed and flattered my sickening soul with the hope of better days, and enabled me to endure the present by encouraging me to look forward to the return of Mrs. Les-
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sington, who alone seemed to be likley to advise and succour me in a situation which every hour and every day rendered more perilous.
"Mr. Hayward frequently followed me into the depth of the woods, argued, remonstrated, and then soothed and endeavoured to console me. I heard his arguments, and even his reproofs, with submission and calmness; but when he told me that I ought to be cheerful, to be resigned, to endeavour to conquer my affection for Ormsby, and to attempt, by every means in my power, to conceal that it had ever existed to so fatal an excess—I lost my patience, and my respect for this good man did not prevent my flying from him with something like resentment and disgust.
"So passed a month—a wretched month, during which time the name of Ormsby had never reached my ears, save only when Mr. Hayward, in the conversation which he thought it necessary to hold
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with me, reluctantly named him, or when I could so far command the agonies with which my heart was torn as to name him to Helene, and listen to the conjectures with which she attempted to relieve me as to what was become of him.
"Of this, however, she knew no more than I did; yet, from the looks and manners of the servants with whom she conversed at the times when they were necessarily altogether, a thousand vague ideas floated in her mind, to which she sometimes gave utterance with more zeal than prudence. From her I learned, that the two men who had disappeared when Ormsby was so suddenly sent away had never since returned, and that the places they filled were now occupied by others. I heard too, that though the name of Ormsby was never mentioned whenever the steward, my father's old servant, or the housekeeper were present; yet that the inferior servants were continually whispering strange things, and that the
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people in the neighbourhood talked of nothing else; some of them going so far as to say, that inquiry ought to be made by people authorised, for that Mr. Ormsby had certainly been spirited away; while others gave dark hints, that, considering the revengeful temper of Mr. Montalbert, it would be well if something worse than being spirited away had not befallen the poor young man.
"All this I heard with alternate anguish and depression, of which it would be difficlut to convey with any idea to another. The fatal predilection that I had for Ormsby was then known, for no other reason could be given for such conduct towards him as was imputed to my father. I now saw none of the neighbours, for of the very few who had been accustomed to visit at the house, not one at this time approached it, and as I believed curiosity would have prompted them to come if they had no other motive, I thought it certain that my father had taken measures to prevent their visits. This I was not
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displeased at, for their looks would have been more uneasy to me than were those of the servants; whenever I saw any of them I was covered with confusion, and fancied they would remark and account for the sad change in my face and figure, of which I could not fail to be myself conscious.
"But if I fled thus from the observation of servants, what was my fear when compelled to appear before the severe and scrutinising eyes of my father?——I had always an awe approaching to dread of him, even in those comparatively happy days when no reproaches of conscience assailed me......Now I endeavoured to attend on him with the same assiduity as I used to do before Ormsby became a sharer in the task, or rather undertook it entirely; but whether it was that my timidity made me awkward, and that, therefore, I was incapable of acquitting myself as I formerly did, or whether my father, more really angry than he chose to avow, took these occasions to vent in
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peevishness some part of the resentment and indignation he felt. Certain it is, that his harshness and asperity were almost insupportable, and the unkind expressions he sometimes used, the looks of rage and disdain he cast upon me, were not unfrequently such as affected my spirits so much as to throw me into fainting fits, from which I reproached my poor Helene for recalling me....Death, which alone seemed likely to end my miseries, I continually invoked, and I know not what would have been the consequence of such a series of present suffering, added to the dread of the future, had they continued much longer.
"Yet before the return of Mrs. Lessington, to which only I looked forward with the least hope of mitigating my woes, I had some trial of fortitude to encounter more difficult to sustain than any I had yet experienced.
"At the end of a long row of elms, of which now a few single trees only re-
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main, you recollect a high mount now planted with firs, poplar, and larches, into which, as it is railed round, nobody now enters; you perhaps remember too, the very large yew tree that shadows a great space of ground near it, and which is also railed round. That mound covers the ruins of a small parish church, and that yew tree was in the church yard.
"An avenue of ancient trees was terminated by this church, at the distance of something more than a quarter of a mile from the house. It was merely the chancel of a larger edifice which had belonged to a monastery, some of the ruins of which remained scattered over the ground, and when I and my brother were children, we had been told by the servants many of those legends that almost always belong to such places. It was said too among them, that beneath these vestiges of buildings, which were not considerable above the ground, there were arched vaults, and subterraneous passages, which
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formerly served as burial places for the religious persons of this monastery. Their coffins, placed in niches along the walls, had been formerly seen by several persons, who had given a very terrific account of the skeletons in these dismal recesses; accounts which were now traditional in the neighbouring villages, and were of course greatly exaggerated.—The mournful relics that had been seen under the earth were imagined to visit its surface, and the place was universally believed to be haunted. The style of the building that remained, where light was admitted through long windows obscured by pieces of coloured glass, and now darkened by the ivy that mantled almost the whole edifice; the walls of great thickness, in some places green with the damps that continually streamed from the roof, in others marked with the remains of Latin sentences, surrounding the half-effaced representations of the crucifixion, all contributed to give an air of wildness and horror to this almost-deserted build-
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ing; where, though at the Reformation, as it is called, under Henry the Eighth, it became a parish church, yet service was performed in it only once a year, as a mere matter of form, for the parish contained only the house of Holmwood, and three cottages belonging to my father, and since pulled down. So that when it was his pleasure to destroy this small church entirely, and unite the parish it belonged to with another, there were none to oppose the act of parliament he solicited and obtained for that purpose. At the time, however, of which I am speaking, this desolate spot inspired all that melancholy sort of horror which naturally gives rise to the reports of supernatural appearences; there was not a servant who would on any account have gone thither of a night, and even the gardeners and workmen, who were at any time occupied near it, related strange stories of uncommon noises, as of mourning and complaint, and more than once have run in terror to their fellow labourers, de-
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claring that some obscure figures had issued from the vaults beneath, and then melted into air.
"Such as was the stern spirit of my father, and he so little knew how to make allowances for any weakness which he had never felt, that had any domestic betrayed fears of this sort before him, they would have been dismissed with disgrace; nor did my brother and I, while children, though we knew all the legends of the country, ever dare to speak to him of the stories we had been taught. Thus compelled to stifle our infantine fears, they were gradually subdued as our reason became stronger; and we were accustomed not only to find our way in the dark all over the extensive old buildings of Holmwood, but to traverse without fear the avenue that led to, and even the area that surrounded, the ruined church, though we credited the probable account that in the vaults beneath rested the remains of the former inhabitants of the decayed monastery.
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"At the time I am now speaking of, I mean about six weeks after the departure of Ormsby, such was the gloomy temper of my soul, that I was pleased only with the horrors, and it was through the avenue of elms, and toward the ruins that I now frequently directed my solitary walk. I observed, however, that when, in compliance with Helene's earnest entreaty, I told her which way I was going, she shuddered and turned pale; and if I seemed disposed to go thither, when she was with me, she would find every possible excuse, such as that it was dewy from the high grass, or dirty, or the wind was in our faces, or any other objection she could raise against our taking that path; but none seemed to suit me so well......I found a melancholy sort of satisfaction in indulging the sad thoughts that incessantly pressed on my mind, in a place where I was sure none would interrupt my sorrow: even the labourer, fatigued with the toils of the day, or the benighted traveller from one village to another
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would not, to save a longer journey, cross my father's grounds near this place. An adventurous sportsman, perhaps, might violate the gloomy shade with his gun; but, at the season of which I now speak, the end of December, even the hostile sounds of field sports were seldom heard—a dreary and mournful silence reigned around Holmwood, for it was long since the voice of hospitality or gaitey had been heard. The rooks returning in the evening to the high elm trees that led to the church-yard, and the owls that inhabited the ivies that half mantled it, seemed to be the only living creatures that could endure the melancholy solitude.
"My father, who had at this time an interval of ease, though the asperities of his temper were now seldom mitigated, sometimes released me from my attendance after dinner early enough to allow me to take my solitary walk before it was too dark.
"The intelligence I had received on this particular evening from Mr. Hay-
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ward, that he had heard Mrs. Lessington would be at home in two or three days, had given some relief to my spirits, and, rather less oppressed than usual, I strolled almost mechanically up the avenues. It was a calm and still evening—so still, indeed, that every bird was heard whose slender feet perched on the leafless boughs, or flitted among them, and the bells of the sheep folding in the distant fields, and the remoter sound of a mill and mill stream, were brought in low murmurs to the ear.
"The well-known objects around me were becoming indistinct, but I continued to walk slowly on—I even sat down for a few moments on the remains of a rustic tomb, and listened to the dull sighing of the wind as it sang round the buttresses, and waved the black boughs of the old yew tree. As I sat musing, I recollected the stories I had often heard of spectres being seen, and strange noises being heard round these receptacles of the dead.——So little pleasure had I in looking forward
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to any thing that life could now afford me, so long had my thoughts been accustomed to consider death as the only end of all my miseries, that I felt no horror in the idea of seeing, or, if it were possible, of conversing with departed spirits. A sort of chilly and shuddering sensation, however, warned me to return before it was quite dark to the house. I arose from the mass of broken stone on which I had been sitting, and, advancing a few paces to return into the elm avenue, I fancied I saw a form glide before me among the trunks of the trees; but beneath the trees it was so dark, that I could not distinguish what it was. I continued, however, to gaze steadily on the place where I fancied this shape had appeared: the illusion was over—I saw nothing. Without any emotion of fear I proceeded, therefore, exactly to that spot, for it was my direct path to the house; I entered it, and, looking down the avenue, again fancied I saw an object moving at a distance about fifty
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yards beyond me; but almost immediately my attention was attracted by something white that lay just before me in the path. It seemed to be a book, a letter, or a folded handkerchief: I stooped and took it up—it was a sheet of paper, folded like a large letter, and tied with a bit of black ribbon. The circumstance rather surprised than alarmed me: I wondered what it could be, because I knew that the path was never frequented, or at least by persons who were likely to drop a paper. I put it into my pocket, and went hastily towards the house; when I got thither, I found my father had been inquiring for me, and I soon discovered that his temper was much disturbed......For more than two hours I was compelled to stay with him, and listen to reproaches and sarcasms uttered with the utmost ill-humour. Alas! I should have borne these more calmly, had I not felt that I deserved his indignation; but now they pierced my very soul.—At length, how
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ever, I was dismissed to my own room, where the vision, or fancied vision, of the evening, immediately recurring to me, I hastliy drew the paper from my pocket. Ah, Rosalie! imagine the sensations with which I read these lines——
'Vivo oh Dio!—ma più non ti vedrò—Prima di scriverti in questo modo, pensa quante pene, e quanti martiri bisogna aver sofferti, o più tosto che il tuo bel cor non fa rislessione sopra la nostra forte tiranna Abbia cura della tua prezioza salute; ora non si puo far 'altro per il sventurato O.'
'I exist—but we never meet again!—Think what I must have endured before I could write thus, or rather do not reflect on our inevitable miseries, but take care of your health—it is all you can now do for the unhappy O.'
"The writing appeared to be Ormsby's; but the lines were crooked, and the letters ill-formed, as if they had been traced by a weak and uncertain hand. As I gazed on the paper, that, and every object round
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me, swam before my eyes——again I read the words, again attempted to recall what I had seen , or supposed I had seen, in the elm walk, and it seemed possible that it was Ormsby himself—for who else could have appeared there?—Yet, from whence did he come?—Where had he so long been confined, or how could he now escape?—If it were indeed himself, why did he not approach?—if it had been but to have spoken one word to me, with the assurance that he lived.....Ah! it could not be Ormsby!—Ormsby would never have seen me so near him, and have left me to tears, conjectures, and terrors; but if it were not himself, who could have written the billet I found there, in a language only a scholar, no other person in the house, except my father and the Abbé Hayward, knew a syllable?—Who was likely to write a hand resembling Ormsby's?—Who, indeed, except my father, whose fingers being entirely disabled by
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the gout, had almost always employed Ormsby to write, knew his hand well enough to attempt an immitation of it?—Any conjecture that led to a supposition of its being a forgery, seemed even more probable than that it should be Ormsby himself—if any thing could be more improbable than that he was so greatly changed as to be so near me, and yet fly from me. This uncertainty, and my own conjectures, equally endless and uncertain, soon became so insupportable, that my reason once more threatened to forsake me, and I believe I should have lost it, had I not communicated to Helene what had happened, and explained to her the purport of the letter. As I did this, I observed her countenance change; she grew pale and trembled—then, in an hurried way, said in her own language, that I should recollect how often she had entreated me not to go into the elm walk—not to frequent the ruins about the chapel.
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"I eagerly inquired what those precautions had to do with what I was now talking of. Helene, trembling and weeping, at length told me, it was the opinion in the family, that Mr. Ormsby had been killed in attempting to resist the force that was used to remove him from the house; that he was buried in the vaults under the old church and ruined monastery; and that his spirit had been frequently seen since. This at once accounted for the apprehensions I had seen Helene so often express, and renewed all the terrors for the life of Ormsby, which the assurances of Mr. Hayward had a little appeased.....My heart sank within me, and again I seemed to be on the point of losing my misery and my existence together. The horrible idea thus conveyed, could not be a moment sustained without forcing the mind to an effort for its own relief. The moment I had recovered myself enough to reflect, my reason returned to dissipate this hi-
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deous fantasy. I might have believed that I had seen the shade of Ormsby lingering about the place of his interment—for to what weakness might not such sufferings as I underwent subject the understanding? but I knew that the spirit of the dead write no letters, and by whom but Ormsby could the lines I held have been written? Who, but either himself, or some agent he had employed, could have dropped the unsealed paper I had found? As soon as the tumult of my spirits were a little calmed by these reflections, I took courage to question Helene farther on the reports that had passed on this subject in the family.
"She told me that ever since the sudden disappearance of my unhappy lover, strange stories had been whispered in the family at every opportunity, when the inferior domestics had an oportunity of escaping from the observation of the steward and housekeeper; that the most frightful reports had got abroad in the
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country; and that it was every where believed that Mr. Ormsby had fallen the victim of my father's violence, and had been buried in the vaults: a report which was the more strongly credited, as the two men who disappeared with him had never returned. To this account, which was nearly the same in substance as that which she had at first related, she added many wild stories of noises heard, and sights seen, every one of which some person might be brought to attest. Nothing could be more dreadful than to reflect on these impressions among the neighbours, which, from the account given by Helene, seemed to be gaining ground, and might not improbably bring on some inquiry that might irritate to frenzy such a temper as my father's, and overwhelm me with shame and disgrace."
The recollection of this part of her life, added to the fatigue of having spoken so long, was more than Mrs. Vyvian could now sustain; and Rosalie once more pre-
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vailed upon her to delay the rest of her strange and melancholy narrative till the next day, which was likely to be the last they should uninterruptedly pass together.