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Chapter 8

I was carried to the next town: fever succeeded to convulsions and
faintings, & for some weeks my unhappy spirit hovered on the very
verge of death. But life was yet strong within me; I recovered: nor
did it a little aid my returning health that my recollections were at
first vague, and that I was too weak to feel any violent emotion. I
often said to myself, my father is dead. He loved me with a guilty
passion, and stung by remorse and despair he killed himself. Why is it
that I feel no horror? Are these circumstances not dreadful? Is it not
enough that I shall never more meet the eyes of my beloved father;
never more hear his voice; no caress, no look? All cold, and stiff,
and dead! Alas! I am quite callous: the night I was out in was fearful
and the cold rain that fell about my heart has acted like the waters
of the cavern of Antiparos[43] and has changed it to stone. I do not
weep or sigh; but I must reason with myself, and force myself to feel
sorrow and despair. This is not resignation that I feel, for I am dead
to all regret.

I communed in this manner with myself, but I was silent to all around
me. I hardly replied to the slightest question, and was uneasy when I
saw a human creature near me. I was surrounded by my female relations,
but they were all of them nearly strangers to me: I did not listen to
their consolations; and so little did they work their designed effect
that they seemed to me to be spoken in an unknown tongue. I found if
sorrow was dead within me, so was love and desire of sympathy. Yet
sorrow only slept to revive more fierce, but love never woke
again--its ghost, ever hovering over my father's grave, alone
survived--since his death all the world was to me a blank except where
woe had stampt its burning words telling me to smile no more--the
living were not fit companions for me, and I was ever meditating by
what means I might shake them all off, and never be heard of again.

My convalescence rapidly advanced, yet this was the thought that
haunted me, and I was for ever forming plans how I might hereafter
contrive to escape the tortures that were prepared for me when I
should mix in society, and to find that solitude which alone could
suit one whom an untold grief seperated from her fellow creatures.
Who can be more solitary even in a crowd than one whose history and
the never ending feelings and remembrances arising from it is [_sic_]
known to no living soul. There was too deep a horror in my tale for
confidence; I was on earth the sole depository of my own secret. I
might tell it to the winds and to the desart heaths but I must never
among my fellow creatures, either by word or look give allowance to
the smallest conjecture of the dread reality: I must shrink before the
eye of man lest he should read my father's guilt in my glazed eyes: I
must be silent lest my faltering voice should betray unimagined
horrors. Over the deep grave of my secret I must heap an impenetrable
heap of false smiles and words: cunning frauds, treacherous laughter
and a mixture of all light deceits would form a mist to blind others
and be as the poisonous simoon to me.[44] I, the offspring of love,
the child of the woods, the nursling of Nature's bright self was to
submit to this? I dared not.

How must I escape? I was rich and young, and had a guardian appointed
for me; and all about me would act as if I were one of their great
society, while I must keep the secret that I really was cut off from
them for ever. If I fled I should be pursued; in life there was no
escape for me: why then I must die. I shuddered; I dared not die even
though the cold grave held all I loved; although I might say with Job

Where is now my hope? For my hope who shall see it?

They shall go down together to the bars of the pit, when our
rest together is in the dust--[45]

Yes my hope was corruption and dust and all to which death brings
us.--Or after life--No, no, I will not persuade myself to die, I may
not, dare not. And then I wept; yes, warm tears once more struggled
into my eyes soothing yet bitter; and after I had wept much and called
with unavailing anguish, with outstretched arms, for my cruel father;
after my weak frame was exhausted by all variety of plaint I sank once
more into reverie, and once more reflected on how I might find that
which I most desired; dear to me if aught were dear, a death-like
solitude.

I dared not die, but I might feign death, and thus escape from my
comforters: they will believe me united to my father, and so indeed I
shall be. For alone, when no voice can disturb my dream, and no cold
eye meet mine to check its fire, then I may commune with his spirit;
on a lone heath, at noon or at midnight, still I should be near him.
His last injunction to me was that I should be happy; perhaps he did
not mean the shadowy happiness that I promised myself, yet it was that
alone which I could taste. He did not conceive that ever [qu.
_never_?] again I could make one of the smiling hunters that go
coursing after bubles that break to nothing when caught, and then
after a new one with brighter colours; my hope also had proved a
buble, but it had been so lovely, so adorned that I saw none that
could attract me after it; besides I was wearied with the pursuit,
nearly dead with weariness.

I would feign to die; my contented heirs would seize upon my wealth,
and I should purchase freedom. But then my plan must be laid with art;
I would not be left destitute, I must secure some money. Alas! to what
loathsome shifts must I be driven? Yet a whole life of falsehood was
otherwise my portion: and when remorse at being the contriver of any
cheat made me shrink from my design I was irresistably led back and
confirmed in it by the visit of some aunt or cousin, who would tell me
that death was the end of all men. And then say that my father had
surely lost his wits ever since my mother's death; that he was mad and
that I was fortunate, for in one of his fits he might have killed me
instead of destroying his own crazed being. And all this, to be sure,
was delicately put; not in broad words for my feelings might be hurt
but

Whispered so and so
In dark hint soft and low[E][46]

with downcast eyes, and sympathizing smiles or whimpers; and I
listened with quiet countenance while every nerve trembled; I that
dared not utter aye or no to all this blasphemy. Oh, this was a
delicious life quite void of guile! I with my dove's look and fox's
heart: for indeed I felt only the degradation of falsehood, and not
any sacred sentiment of conscious innocence that might redeem it. I
who had before clothed myself in the bright garb of sincerity must now
borrow one of divers colours: it might sit awkwardly at first, but use
would enable me to place it in elegant folds, to lie with grace. Aye,
I might die my soul with falsehood untill I had quite hid its native
colour. Oh, beloved father! Accept the pure heart of your unhappy
daughter; permit me to join you unspotted as I was or you will not
recognize my altered semblance. As grief might change Constance[47] so
would deceit change me untill in heaven you would say, "This is not my
child"--My father, to be happy both now and when again we meet I must
fly from all this life which is mockery to one like me. In solitude
only shall I be myself; in solitude I shall be thine.

Alas! I even now look back with disgust at my artifices and
contrivances by which, after many painful struggles, I effected my
retreat. I might enter into a long detail of the means I used, first
to secure myself a slight maintenance for the remainder of my life,
and afterwards to ensure the conviction of my death: I might, but I
will not. I even now blush at the falsehoods I uttered; my heart
sickens: I will leave this complication of what I hope I may in a
manner call innocent deceit to be imagined by the reader. The
remembrance haunts me like a crime--I know that if I were to endeavour
to relate it my tale would at length remain unfinished.[48] I was led
to London, and had to endure for some weeks cold looks, cold words and
colder consolations: but I escaped; they tried to bind me with fetters
that they thought silken, yet which weighed on me like iron, although
I broke them more easily than a girth formed of a single straw and
fled to freedom.

The few weeks that I spent in London were the most miserable of my
life: a great city is a frightful habitation to one sorrowing. The
sunset and the gentle moon, the blessed motion of the leaves and the
murmuring of waters are all sweet physicians to a distempered mind.
The soul is expanded and drinks in quiet, a lulling medecine--to me it
was as the sight of the lovely water snakes to the bewitched
mariner--in loving and blessing Nature I unawares, called down a
blessing on my own soul. But in a city all is closed shut like a
prison, a wiry prison from which you can peep at the sky only. I can

not describe to you what were [_sic_] the frantic nature of my
sensations while I resided there; I was often on the verge of madness.
Nay, when I look back on many of my wild thoughts, thoughts with which
actions sometimes endeavoured to keep pace; when I tossed my hands
high calling down the cope of heaven to fall on me and bury me; when I
tore my hair and throwing it to the winds cried, "Ye are free, go seek
my father!" And then, like the unfortunate Constance, catching at
them again and tying them up, that nought might find him if I might
not. How, on my knees I have fancied myself close to my father's grave
and struck the ground in anger that it should cover him from me. Oft
when I have listened with gasping attention for the sound of the ocean
mingled with my father's groans; and then wept untill my strength was
gone and I was calm and faint, when I have recollected all this I have
asked myself if this were not madness. While in London these and many
other dreadful thoughts too harrowing for words were my portion: I
lost all this suffering when I was free; when I saw the wild heath
around me, and the evening star in the west, then I could weep, gently
weep, and be at peace.

Do not mistake me; I never was really mad. I was always conscious of
my state when my wild thoughts seemed to drive me to insanity, and
never betrayed them to aught but silence and solitude. The people
around me saw nothing of all this. They only saw a poor girl broken in
spirit, who spoke in a low and gentle voice, and from underneath whose
downcast lids tears would sometimes steal which she strove to hide.
One who loved to be alone, and shrunk from observation; who never
smiled; oh, no! I never smiled--and that was all.

Well, I escaped. I left my guardian's house and I was never heard of
again; it was believed from the letters that I left and other
circumstances that I planned that I had destroyed myself. I was sought
after therefore with less care than would otherwise have been the
case; and soon all trace and memory of me was lost. I left London in a
small vessel bound for a port in the north of England. And now having
succeeded in my attempt, and being quite alone peace returned to me.
The sea was calm and the vessel moved gently onwards, I sat upon deck
under the open canopy of heaven and methought I was an altered
creature. Not the wild, raving & most miserable Mathilda but a
youthful Hermitess dedicated to seclusion and whose bosom she must
strive to keep free from all tumult and unholy despair--The fanciful
nunlike dress that I had adopted;[49] the knowledge that my very
existence was a secret known only to myself; the solitude to which I
was for ever hereafter destined nursed gentle thoughts in my wounded
heart. The breeze that played in my hair revived me, and I watched
with quiet eyes the sunbeams that glittered on the waves, and the
birds that coursed each other over the waters just brushing them with
their plumes. I slept too undisturbed by dreams; and awoke refreshed
to again enjoy my tranquil freedom.

In four days we arrived at the harbour to which we were bound. I would
not remain on the sea coast, but proceeded immediately inland. I had
already planned the situation where I would live. It should be a
solitary house on a wide plain near no other habitation: where I could
behold the whole horizon, and wander far without molestation from the
sight of my fellow creatures. I was not mysanthropic, but I felt that
the gentle current of my feelings depended upon my being alone. I
fixed myself on a wide solitude. On a dreary heath bestrewen with
stones, among which short grass grew; and here and there a few rushes
beside a little pool. Not far from my cottage was a small cluster of
pines the only trees to be seen for many miles: I had a path cut
through the furze from my door to this little wood, from whose topmost
branches the birds saluted the rising sun and awoke me to my daily
meditation. My view was bounded only by the horizon except on one side
where a distant wood made a black spot on the heath, that every where
else stretched out its faint hues as far as the eye could reach, wide
and very desolate. Here I could mark the net work of the clouds as
they wove themselves into thick masses: I could watch the slow rise of
the heavy thunder clouds and could see the rack as it was driven
across the heavens, or under the pine trees I could enjoy the
stillness of the azure sky.

My life was very peaceful. I had one female servant who spent the
greater part of the day at a village two miles off. My amusements were
simple and very innocent; I fed the birds who built on the pines or
among the ivy that covered the wall of my little garden, and they soon
knew me: the bolder ones pecked the crumbs from my hands and perched
on my fingers to sing their thankfulness. When I had lived here some
time other animals visited me and a fox came every day for a portion
of food appropriated for him & would suffer me to pat his head. I had
besides many books and a harp with which when despairing I could
soothe my spirits, and raise myself to sympathy and love.

Love! What had I to love? Oh many things: there was the moonshine, and
the bright stars; the breezes and the refreshing rains; there was the
whole earth and the sky that covers it: all lovely forms that visited
my imagination[,] all memories of heroism and virtue. Yet this was
very unlike my early life although as then I was confined to Nature
and books. Then I bounded across the fields; my spirit often seemed to
ride upon the winds, and to mingle in joyful sympathy with the ambient
air. Then if I wandered slowly I cheered myself with a sweet song or
sweeter day dreams. I felt a holy rapture spring from all I saw. I
drank in joy with life; my steps were light; my eyes, clear from the
love that animated them, sought the heavens, and with my long hair
loosened to the winds I gave my body and my mind to sympathy and
delight. But now my walk was slow--My eyes were seldom raised and
often filled with tears; no song; no smiles; no careless motion that
might bespeak a mind intent on what surrounded it--I was gathered up
into myself--a selfish solitary creature ever pondering on my regrets
and faded hopes.

Mine was an idle, useless life; it was so; but say not to the lily
laid prostrate by the storm arise, and bloom as before. My heart was
bleeding from its death's wound; I could live no otherwise--Often amid
apparent calm I was visited by despair and melancholy; gloom that
nought could dissipate or overcome; a hatred of life; a carelessness
of beauty; all these would by fits hold me nearly annihilated by their
powers. Never for one moment when most placid did I cease to pray for
death. I could be found in no state of mind which I would not
willingly have exchanged for nothingness. And morning and evening my
tearful eyes raised to heaven, my hands clasped tight in the energy of
prayer, I have repeated with the poet--

Before I see another day
Oh, let this body die away!

Let me not be reproached then with inutility; I believed that by
suicide I should violate a divine law of nature, and I thought that I
sufficiently fulfilled my part in submitting to the hard task of
enduring the crawling hours & minutes[50]--in bearing the load of time
that weighed miserably upon me and that in abstaining from what I in
my calm moments considered a crime, I deserved the reward of virtue.
There were periods, dreadful ones, during which I despaired--& doubted
the existence of all duty & the reality of crime--but I shudder, and
turn from the rememberance.


[E] Coleridge's Fire, Famine and Slaughter.

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