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Chapter 3

It was on my sixteenth birthday that my aunt received a letter from my
father. I cannot describe the tumult of emotions that arose within me
as I read it. It was dated from London; he had returned![15] I could
only relieve my transports by tears, tears of unmingled joy. He had
returned, and he wrote to know whether my aunt would come to London or
whether he should visit her in Scotland. How delicious to me were the
words of his letter that concerned me: "I cannot tell you," it said,
"how ardently I desire to see my Mathilda. I look on her as the
creature who will form the happiness of my future life: she is all
that exists on earth that interests me. I can hardly prevent myself
from hastening immediately to you but I am necessarily detained a week
and I write because if you come here I may see you somewhat sooner." I
read these words with devouring eyes; I kissed them, wept over them
and exclaimed, "He will love me!"--

My aunt would not undertake so long a journey, and in a fortnight we
had another letter from my father, it was dated Edinburgh: he wrote
that he should be with us in three days. "As he approached his desire
of seeing me," he said, "became more and more ardent, and he felt that
the moment when he should first clasp me in his arms would be the
happiest of his life."

How irksome were these three days to me! All sleep and appetite fled
from me; I could only read and re-read his letter, and in the solitude
of the woods imagine the moment of our meeting. On the eve of the
third day I retired early to my room; I could not sleep but paced all
night about my chamber and, as you may in Scotland at midsummer,
watched the crimson track of the sun as it almost skirted the northern
horizon. At day break I hastened to the woods; the hours past on while
I indulged in wild dreams that gave wings to the slothful steps of
time, and beguiled my eager impatience. My father was expected at noon
but when I wished to return to me[e]t him I found that I had lost my
way: it seemed that in every attempt to find it I only became more
involved in the intracacies of the woods, and the trees hid all trace
by which I might be guided.[16] I grew impatient, I wept; [_sic_] and
wrung my hands but still I could not discover my path.

It was past two o'clock when by a sudden turn I found myself close to
the lake near a cove where a little skiff was moored--It was not far
from our house and I saw my father and aunt walking on the lawn. I
jumped into the boat, and well accustomed to such feats, I pushed it
from shore, and exerted all my strength to row swiftly across. As I
came, dressed in white, covered only by my tartan _rachan_, my hair
streaming on my shoulders, and shooting across with greater speed that
it could be supposed I could give to my boat, my father has often told
me that I looked more like a spirit than a human maid. I approached
the shore, my father held the boat, I leapt lightly out, and in a
moment was in his arms.

And now I began to live. All around me was changed from a dull
uniformity to the brightest scene of joy and delight. The happiness I
enjoyed in the company of my father far exceeded my sanguine
expectations. We were for ever together; and the subjects of our
conversations were inexhaustible. He had passed the sixteen years of
absence among nations nearly unknown to Europe; he had wandered
through Persia, Arabia and the north of India and had penetrated among
the habitations of the natives with a freedom permitted to few
Europeans. His relations of their manners, his anecdotes and
descriptions of scenery whiled away delicious hours, when we were
tired of talking of our own plans of future life.

The voice of affection was so new to me that I hung with delight upon
his words when he told me what he had felt concerning me during these
long years of apparent forgetfulness. "At first"--said he, "I could
not bear to think of my poor little girl; but afterwards as grief wore
off and hope again revisited me I could only turn to her, and amidst
cities and desarts her little fairy form, such as I imagined it, for
ever flitted before me. The northern breeze as it refreshed me was
sweeter and more balmy for it seemed to carry some of your spirit
along with it. I often thought that I would instantly return and take
you along with me to some fertile island where we should live at peace
for ever. As I returned my fervent hopes were dashed by so many fears;
my impatience became in the highest degree painful. I dared not think
that the sun should shine and the moon rise not on your living form
but on your grave. But, no, it is not so; I have my Mathilda, my
consolation, and my hope."--

My father was very little changed from what he described himself to be
before his misfortunes. It is intercourse with civilized society; it
is the disappointment of cherished hopes, the falsehood of friends, or
the perpetual clash of mean passions that changes the heart and damps
the ardour of youthful feelings; lonly wanderings in a wild country
among people of simple or savage manners may inure the body but will
not tame the soul, or extinguish the ardour and freshness of feeling
incident to youth. The burning sun of India, and the freedom from all
restraint had rather encreased the energy of his character: before he
bowed under, now he was impatient of any censure except that of his
own mind. He had seen so many customs and witnessed so great a variety
of moral creeds that he had been obliged to form an independant one
for himself which had no relation to the peculiar notions of any one
country: his early prejudices of course influenced his judgement in
the formation of his principles, and some raw colledge ideas were
strangely mingled with the deepest deductions of his penetrating mind.

The vacuity his heart endured of any deep interest in life during his
long absence from his native country had had a singular effect upon
his ideas. There was a curious feeling of unreality attached by him to
his foreign life in comparison with the years of his youth. All the
time he had passed out of England was as a dream, and all the interest
of his soul[,] all his affections belonged to events which had
happened and persons who had existed sixteen years before. It was
strange when you heard him talk to see how he passed over this lapse
of time as a night of visions; while the remembrances of his youth
standing seperate as they did from his after life had lost none of
their vigour. He talked of my Mother as if she had lived but a few
weeks before; not that he expressed poignant grief, but his
discription of her person, and his relation of all anecdotes connected
with her was thus fervent and vivid.

In all this there was a strangeness that attracted and enchanted me.
He was, as it were, now awakened from his long, visionary sleep, and
he felt some what like one of the seven sleepers, or like
Nourjahad,[17] in that sweet imitation of an eastern tale: Diana was
gone; his friends were changed or dead, and now on his awakening I was
all that he had to love on earth.

How dear to me were the waters, and mountains, and woods of Loch
Lomond now that I had so beloved a companion for my rambles. I visited
with my father every delightful spot, either on the islands, or by the
side of the tree-sheltered waterfalls; every shady path, or dingle
entangled with underwood and fern. My ideas were enlarged by his
conversation. I felt as if I were recreated and had about me all the
freshness and life of a new being: I was, as it were, transported
since his arrival from a narrow spot of earth into a universe
boundless to the imagination and the understanding. My life had been
before as a pleasing country rill, never destined to leave its native
fields, but when its task was fulfilled quietly to be absorbed, and
leave no trace. Now it seemed to me to be as a various river flowing
through a fertile and lovely lanscape, ever changing and ever
beautiful. Alas! I knew not the desart it was about to reach; the
rocks that would tear its waters, and the hideous scene that would be
reflected in a more distorted manner in its waves. Life was then
brilliant; I began to learn to hope and what brings a more bitter
despair to the heart than hope destroyed?

Is it not strange[18] that grief should quickly follow so divine a
happiness? I drank of an enchanted cup but gall was at the bottom of
its long drawn sweetness. My heart was full of deep affection, but it
was calm from its very depth and fulness. I had no idea that misery
could arise from love, and this lesson that all at last must learn was
taught me in a manner few are obliged to receive it. I lament now, I
must ever lament, those few short months of Paradisaical bliss; I
disobeyed no command, I ate no apple, and yet I was ruthlessly driven
from it. Alas! my companion did, and I was precipitated in his
fall.[19] But I wander from my relation--let woe come at its appointed
time; I may at this stage of my story still talk of happiness.

Three months passed away in this delightful intercourse, when my aunt
fell ill. I passed a whole month in her chamber nursing her, but her
disease was mortal and she died, leaving me for some time
inconsolable, Death is so dreadful to the living;[20] the chains of
habit are so strong even when affection does not link them that the
heart must be agonized when they break. But my father was beside me to
console me and to drive away bitter memories by bright hopes:
methought that it was sweet to grieve that he might dry my tears.

Then again he distracted my thoughts from my sorrow by comparing it
with his despair when he lost my mother. Even at that time I shuddered
at the picture he drew of his passions: he had the imagination of a
poet, and when he described the whirlwind that then tore his feelings
he gave his words the impress of life so vividly that I believed while
I trembled. I wondered how he could ever again have entered into the
offices of life after his wild thoughts seemed to have given him
affinity with the unearthly; while he spoke so tremendous were the
ideas which he conveyed that it appeared as if the human heart were
far too bounded for their conception. His feelings seemed better
fitted for a spirit whose habitation is the earthquake and the volcano
than for one confined to a mortal body and human lineaments. But these
were merely memories; he was changed since then. He was now all love,
all softness; and when I raised my eyes in wonder at him as he spoke
the smile on his lips told me that his heart was possessed by the
gentlest passions.

Two months after my aunt's death we removed to London where I was led
by my father to attend to deeper studies than had before occupied me.
My improvement was his delight; he was with me during all my studies
and assisted or joined with me in every lesson. We saw a great deal of
society, and no day passed that my father did not endeavour to
embellish by some new enjoyment. The tender attachment that he bore
me, and the love and veneration with which I returned it cast a charm
over every moment. The hours were slow for each minute was employed;
we lived more in one week than many do in the course of several months
and the variety and novelty of our pleasures gave zest to each.

We perpetually made excursions together. And whether it were to visit
beautiful scenery, or to see fine pictures, or sometimes for no object
but to seek amusement as it might chance to arise, I was always happy
when near my father. It was a subject of regret to me whenever we were
joined by a third person, yet if I turned with a disturbed look
towards my father, his eyes fixed on me and beaming with tenderness
instantly restored joy to my heart. O, hours of intense delight! Short
as ye were ye are made as long to me as a whole life when looked back
upon through the mist of grief that rose immediately after as if to
shut ye from my view. Alas! ye were the last of happiness that I ever
enjoyed; a few, a very few weeks and all was destroyed. Like
Psyche[21] I lived for awhile in an enchanted palace, amidst odours,
and music, and every luxurious delight; when suddenly I was left on a
barren rock; a wide ocean of despair rolled around me: above all was
black, and my eyes closed while I still inhabited a universal death.
Still I would not hurry on; I would pause for ever on the
recollections of these happy weeks; I would repeat every word, and how
many do I remember, record every enchantment of the faery habitation.
But, no, my tale must not pause; it must be as rapid as was my
fate,--I can only describe in short although strong expressions my
precipitate and irremediable change from happiness to despair.[22]

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