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Chapter 10

It was six months after this miserable conclusion to his long nursed
hopes that I first saw him. He had retired to a part of the country
where he was not known that he might peacefully indulge his grief. All
the world, by the death of his beloved Elinor, was changed to him, and
he could no longer remain in any spot where he had seen her or where
her image mingled with the most rapturous hopes had brightened all
around with a light of joy which would now be transformed to a
darkness blacker than midnight since she, the sun of his life, was set
for ever.

He lived for some time never looking on the light of heaven but
shrouding his eyes in a perpetual darkness far from all that could
remind him of what he had been; but as time softened his grief[57]
like a true child of Nature he sought in the enjoyment of her beauties
for a consolation in his unhappiness. He came to a part of the country
where he was entirely unknown and where in the deepest solitude he
could converse only with his own heart. He found a relief to his
impatient grief in the breezes of heaven and in the sound of waters
and woods. He became fond of riding; this exercise distracted his mind
and elevated his spirits; on a swift horse he could for a moment gain
respite from the image that else for ever followed him; Elinor on her
death bed, her sweet features changed, and the soft spirit that
animated her gradually waning into extinction. For many months
Woodville had in vain endeavoured to cast off this terrible
remembrance; it still hung on him untill memory was too great a
burthen for his loaded soul, but when on horseback the spell that
seemingly held him to this idea was snapt; then if he thought of his
lost bride he pictured her radiant in beauty; he could hear her voice,
and fancy her "a sylvan Huntress by his side," while his eyes
brightened as he thought he gazed on her cherished form. I had several
times seen him ride across the heath and felt angry that my solitude
should be disturbed. It was so long [since] I had spoken to any but
peasants that I felt a disagreable sensation at being gazed on by one
of superior rank. I feared also that it might be some one who had seen
me before: I might be recognized, my impostures discovered and I
dragged back to a life of worse torture than that I had before
endured. These were dreadful fears and they even haunted my
dreams.[58]

I was one day seated on the verge of the clump of pines when Woodville
rode past. As soon as I perceived him I suddenly rose to escape from
his observation by entering among the trees. My rising startled his
horse; he reared and plunged and the Rider was at length thrown. The
horse then galopped swiftly across the heath and the stranger remained
on the ground stunned by his fall. He was not materially hurt, a
little fresh water soon recovered him. I was struck by his exceeding
beauty, and as he spoke to thank me the sweet but melancholy cadence
of his voice brought tears into my eyes.

A short conversation passed between us, but the next day he again
stopped at my cottage and by degrees an intimacy grew between us. It
was strange to him to see a female in extreme youth, I was not yet
twenty, evidently belonging to the first classes of society &
possessing every accomplishment an excellent education could bestow,
living alone on a desolate health [_sic_]--One on whose forehead the
impress of grief was strongly marked, and whose words and motions
betrayed that her thoughts did not follow them but were intent on far
other ideas; bitter and overwhelming miseries. I was dressed also in a
whimsical nunlike habit which denoted that I did not retire to
solitude from necessity, but that I might indulge in a luxury of
grief, and fanciful seclusion.

He soon took great interest in me, and sometimes forgot his own grief
to sit beside me and endeavour to cheer me. He could not fail to
interest even one who had shut herself from the whole world, whose
hope was death, and who lived only with the departed. His personal
beauty; his conversation which glowed with imagination and
sensibility; the poetry that seemed to hang upon his lips and to make
the very air mute to listen to him were charms that no one could
resist. He was younger, less worn, more passionless than my father and
in no degree reminded me of him: he suffered under immediate grief yet
its gentle influence instead of calling feelings otherwise dormant
into action, seemed only to veil that which otherwise would have been
too dazzling for me. When we were together I spoke little yet my
selfish mind was sometimes borne away by the rapid course of his
ideas; I would lift my eyes with momentary brilliancy until memories
that never died and seldom slept would recur, and a tear would dim
them.

Woodville for ever tried to lead me to the contemplation of what is
beautiful and happy in the world.[59] His own mind was constitunially
[_sic_] bent to a former belief in good [rather] than in evil and this
feeling which must even exhilirate the hopeless ever shone forth in
his words. He would talk of the wonderful powers of man, of their
present state and of their hopes: of what they had been and what they
were, and when reason could no longer guide him, his imagination as if
inspired shed light on the obscurity that veils the past and the
future. He loved to dwell on what might have been the state of the
earth before man lived on it, and how he first arose and gradually
became the strange, complicated, but as he said, the glorious creature
he now is. Covering the earth with their creations and forming by the
power of their minds another world more lovely than the visible frame
of things, even all the world that we find in their writings. A
beautiful creation, he would say, which may claim this superiority to
its model, that good and evil is more easily seperated[:] the good
rewarded in the way they themselves desire; the evil punished as all
things evil ought to be punished, not by pain which is revolting to
all philanthropy to consider but by quiet obscurity, which simply
deprives them of their harmful qualities; why kill the serpent when
you have extracted his fangs?

The poetry of his language and ideas which my words ill convey held me
enchained to his discourses. It was a melancholy pleasure to me to
listen to his inspired words; to catch for a moment the light of his
eyes[;] to feel a transient sympathy and then to awaken from the
delusion, again to know that all this was nothing,--a dream--a shadow
for that there was no reallity for me; my father had for ever deserted
me, leaving me only memories which set an eternal barrier between me
and my fellow creatures. I was indeed fellow to none. He--Woodville,
mourned the loss of his bride: others wept the various forms of misery
as they visited them: but infamy and guilt was mingled with my
portion; unlawful and detestable passion had poured its poison into my
ears and changed all my blood, so that it was no longer the kindly
stream that supports life but a cold fountain of bitterness corrupted
in its very source.[60] It must be the excess of madness that could
make me imagine that I could ever be aught but one alone; struck off
from humanity; bearing no affinity to man or woman; a wretch on whom
Nature had set her ban.

Sometimes Woodville talked to me of himself. He related his history
brief in happiness and woe and dwelt with passion on his and Elinor's
mutual love. "She was["], he said, "the brightest vision that ever
came upon the earth: there was somthing in her frank countenance, in
her voice, and in every motion of her graceful form that overpowered
me, as if it were a celestial creature that deigned to mingle with me
in intercourse more sweet than man had ever before enjoyed. Sorrow
fled before her; and her smile seemed to possess an influence like
light to irradiate all mental darkness. It was not like a human
loveliness that these gentle smiles went and came; but as a sunbeam on
a lake, now light and now obscure, flitting before as you strove to
catch them, and fold them for ever to your heart. I saw this smile
fade for ever. Alas! I could never have believed that it was indeed
Elinor that died if once when I spoke she had not lifted her almost
benighted eyes, and for one moment like nought beside on earth, more
lovely than a sunbeam, slighter, quicker than the waving plumage of a
bird, dazzling as lightning and like it giving day to night, yet mild
and faint, that smile came; it went, and then there was an end of all
joy to me."

Thus his own sorrows, or the shapes copied from nature that dwelt in
his mind with beauty greater than their own, occupied our talk while I
railed in my own griefs with cautious secresy. If for a moment he
shewed curiosity, my eyes fell, my voice died away and my evident
suffering made him quickly endeavour to banish the ideas he had
awakened; yet he for ever mingled consolation in his talk, and tried
to soften my despair by demonstrations of deep sympathy and
compassion. "We are both unhappy--" he would say to me; "I have told
you my melancholy tale and we have wept together the loss of that
lovely spirit that has so cruelly deserted me; but you hide your
griefs: I do not ask you to disclose them, but tell me if I may not
console you. It seems to me a wild adventure to find in this desart
one like you quite solitary: you are young and lovely; your manners
are refined and attractive; yet there is in your settled melancholy,
and something, I know not what, in your expressive eyes that seems to
seperate you from your kind: you shudder; pardon me, I entreat you
but I cannot help expressing this once at least the lively interest I
feel in your destiny.

"You never smile: your voice is low, and you utter your words as if
you were afraid of the slight sound they would produce: the expression
of awful and intense sorrow never for a moment fades from your
countenance. I have lost for ever the loveliest companion that any man
could ever have possessed, one who rather appears to have been a
superior spirit who by some strange accident wandered among us earthly
creatures, than as belonging to our kind. Yet I smile, and sometimes I
speak almost forgetful of the change I have endured. But your sad mien
never alters; your pulses beat and you breathe, yet you seem already
to belong to another world; and sometimes, pray pardon my wild
thoughts, when you touch my hand I am surprised to find your hand warm
when all the fire of life seems extinct within you.

"When I look upon you, the tears you shed, the soft deprecating look
with which you withstand enquiry; the deep sympathy your voice
expresses when I speak of my lesser sorrows add to my interest for
you. You stand here shelterless[.] You have cast yourself from among
us and you wither on this wild plain fo[r]lorn and helpless: some
dreadful calamity must have befallen you. Do not turn from me; I do
not ask you to reveal it: I only entreat you to listen to me and to
become familiar with the voice of consolation and kindness. If pity,
and admiration, and gentle affection can wean you from despair let me
attempt the task. I cannot see your look of deep grief without
endeavouring to restore you to happier feelings. Unbend your brow;
relax the stern melancholy of your regard; permit a friend, a sincere,
affectionate friend, I will be one, to convey some relief, some
momentary pause to your sufferings.

"Do not think that I would intrude upon your confidence: I only ask
your patience. Do not for ever look sorrow and never speak it; utter
one word of bitter complaint and I will reprove it with gentle
exhortation and pour on you the balm of compassion. You must not shut
me from all communion with you: do not tell me why you grieve but only
say the words, "I am unhappy," and you will feel relieved as if for
some time excluded from all intercourse by some magic spell you should
suddenly enter again the pale of human sympathy. I entreat you to
believe in my most sincere professions and to treat me as an old and
tried friend: promise me never to forget me, never causelessly to
banish me; but try to love me as one who would devote all his energies
to make you happy. Give me the name of friend; I will fulfill its
duties; and if for a moment complaint and sorrow would shape
themselves into words let me be near to speak peace to your vext
soul."

I repeat his persuasions in faint terms and cannot give you at the
same time the tone and gesture that animated them. Like a refreshing
shower on an arid soil they revived me, and although I still kept
their cause secret he led me to pour forth my bitter complaints and to
clothe my woe in words of gall and fire. With all the energy of
desperate grief I told him how I had fallen at once from bliss to
misery; how that for me there was no joy, no hope; that death however
bitter would be the welcome seal to all my pangs; death the skeleton
was to be beautiful as love. I know not why but I found it sweet to
utter these words to human ears; and though I derided all consolation
yet I was pleased to see it offered me with gentleness and kindness. I
listened quietly, and when he paused would again pour out my misery in
expressions that shewed how far too deep my wounds were for any cure.

But now also I began to reap the fruits of my perfect solitude. I had
become unfit for any intercourse, even with Woodville the most gentle
and sympathizing creature that existed. I had become captious and
unreasonable: my temper was utterly spoilt. I called him my friend but
I viewed all he did with jealous eyes. If he did not visit me at the
appointed hour I was angry, very angry, and told him that if indeed he
did feel interest in me it was cold, and could not be fitted for me, a
poor worn creature, whose deep unhappiness demanded much more than his
worldly heart could give. When for a moment I imagined that his manner
was cold I would fretfully say to him--"I was at peace before you
came; why have you disturbed me? You have given me new wants and now
your trifle with me as if my heart were as whole as yours, as if I
were not in truth a shorn lamb thrust out on the bleak hill side,
tortured by every blast. I wished for no friend, no sympathy[.] I
avoided you, you know I did, but you forced yourself upon me and gave
me those wants which you see with triump[h] give you power over me. Oh
the brave power of the bitter north wind which freezes the tears it
has caused to shed! But I will not bear this; go: the sun will rise
and set as before you came, and I shall sit among the pines or wander
on the heath weeping and complaining without wishing for you to
listen. You are cruel, very cruel, to treat me who bleed at every pore
in this rough manner."[61]

And then, when in answer to my peevish words, I saw his countenance
bent with living pity on me[,] when I saw him

Gli occhi drizzo ver me con quel sembiante
Che madre fa sopra figlioul deliro P[a]radiso. C 1.[62]

I wept and said, "Oh, pardon me! You are good and kind but I am not
fit for life. Why am I obliged to live? To drag hour after hour, to
see the trees wave their branches restlessly, to feel the air, & to
suffer in all I feel keenest agony. My frame is strong, but my soul
sinks beneath this endurance of living anguish. Death is the goal that
I would attain, but, alas! I do not even see the end of the course. Do
you, my compassionate friend,[63] tell me how to die peacefully and
innocently and I will bless you: all that I, poor wretch, can desire
is a painless death."

But Woodville's words had magic in them, when beginning with the
sweetest pity, he would raise me by degrees out of myself and my
sorrows until I wondered at my own selfishness: but he left me and
despair returned; the work of consolation was ever to begin anew. I
often desired his entire absence; for I found that I was grown out of
the ways of life and that by long seclusion, although I could support
my accustomed grief, and drink the bitter daily draught with some
degree of patience, yet I had become unfit for the slightest novelty
of feeling. Expectation, and hopes, and affection were all too much
for me. I knew this, but at other times I was unreasonable and laid
the blame upon him, who was most blameless, and pevishly thought that
if his gentle soul were more gentle, if his intense sympathy were more
intense, he could drive the fiend from my soul and make me more human.
I am, I thought, a tragedy; a character that he comes to see act: now
and then he gives me my cue[64] that I may make a speech more to his
purpose: perhaps he is already planning a poem in which I am to
figure. I am a farce and play to him, but to me this is all dreary
reality: he takes all the profit and I bear all the burthen.

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