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VAUDRACOUR AND JULIA

          O HAPPY time of youthful lovers (thus
          My story may begin) O balmy time,
          In which a love-knot on a lady's brow
          Is fairer than the fairest star in heaven!
          To such inheritance of blessed fancy
          (Fancy that sports more desperately with minds
          Than ever fortune hath been known to do)
          The high-born Vaudracour was brought, by years
          Whose progress had a little overstepped
          His stripling prime. A town of small repute,                10
          Among the vine-clad mountains of Auvergne,
          Was the Youth's birth-place. There he wooed a Maid
          Who heard the heart-felt music of his suit
          With answering vows. Plebeian was the stock,
          Plebeian, though ingenuous, the stock,
          From which her graces and her honours sprung:
          And hence the father of the enamoured Youth,
          With haughty indignation, spurned the thought
          Of such alliance.--From their cradles up,
          With but a step between their several homes,                20
          Twins had they been in pleasure; after strife
          And petty quarrels, had grown fond again;
          Each other's advocate, each other's stay;
          And, in their happiest moments, not content,
          If more divided than a sportive pair
          Of sea-fowl, conscious both that they are hovering
          Within the eddy of a common blast,
          Or hidden only by the concave depth
          Of neighbouring billows from each other's sight.
            Thus, not without concurrence of an age                   30
          Unknown to memory, was an earnest given
          By ready nature for a life of love,
          For endless constancy, and placid truth;
          But whatsoe'er of such rare treasure lay
          Reserved, had fate permitted, for support
          Of their maturer years, his present mind
          Was under fascination;--he beheld
          A vision, and adored the thing he saw.
          Arabian fiction never filled the world
          With half the wonders that were wrought for him.            40
          Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring;
          Life turned the meanest of her implements,
          Before his eyes, to price above all gold;
          The house she dwelt in was a sainted shrine;
          Her chamber-window did surpass in glory
          The portals of the dawn; all paradise
          Could, by the simple opening of a door,
          Let itself in upon him:--pathways, walks,
          Swarmed with enchantment, till his spirit sank,
          Surcharged, within him, overblest to move                   50
          Beneath a sun that wakes a weary world
          To its dull round of ordinary cares;
          A man too happy for mortality!
            So passed the time, till whether through effect
          Of some unguarded moment that dissolved
          Virtuous restraint--ah, speak it, think it, not!
          Deem rather that the fervent Youth, who saw
          So many bars between his present state
          And the dear haven where he wished to be
          In honourable wedlock with his Love,                        60
          Was in his judgment tempted to decline
          To perilous weakness, and entrust his cause
          To nature for a happy end of all;
          Deem that by such fond hope the Youth was swayed,
          And bear with their transgression, when I add
          That Julia, wanting yet the name of wife,
          Carried about her for a secret grief
          The promise of a mother.
                                    To conceal
          The threatened shame, the parents of the Maid
          Found means to hurry her away by night,                     70
          And unforewarned, that in some distant spot
          She might remain shrouded in privacy,
          Until the babe was born. When morning came
          The Lover, thus bereft, stung with his loss,
          And all uncertain whither he should turn,
          Chafed like a wild beast in the toils; but soon
          Discovering traces of the fugitives,
          Their steps he followed to the Maid's retreat.
          Easily may the sequel be divined--
          Walks to and fro--watchings at every hour;                  80
          And the fair Captive, who, whene'er she may,
          Is busy at her casement as the swallow
          Fluttering its pinions, almost within reach,
          About the pendent nest, did thus espy
          Her Lover!--thence a stolen interview,
          Accomplished under friendly shade of night.
            I pass the raptures of the pair;--such theme
          Is, by innumerable poets, touched
          In more delightful verse than skill of mine
          Could fashion; chiefly by that darling bard                 90
          Who told of Juliet and her Romeo,
          And of the lark's note heard before its time,
          And of the streaks that laced the severing clouds
          In the unrelenting east.--Through all her courts
          The vacant city slept; the busy winds,
          That keep no certain intervals of rest,
          Moved not; meanwhile the galaxy displayed
          Her fires, that like mysterious pulses beat
          Aloft;--momentous but uneasy bliss!
          To their full hearts the universe seemed hung              100
          On that brief meeting's slender filament!
            They parted; and the generous Vaudracour
          Reached speedily the native threshold, bent
          On making (so the Lovers had agreed)
          A sacrifice of birthright to attain
          A final portion from his father's hand;
          Which granted, Bride and Bridegroom then would flee
          To some remote and solitary place,
          Shady as night, and beautiful as heaven,
          Where they may live, with no one to behold                 110
          Their happiness, or to disturb their love.
          But 'now' of this no whisper; not the less,
          If ever an obtrusive word were dropped
          Touching the matter of his passion, still,
          In his stern father's hearing, Vaudracour
          Persisted openly that death alone
          Should abrogate his human privilege
          Divine, of swearing everlasting truth,
          Upon the altar, to the Maid he loved.
            "You shall be baffled in your mad intent                 120
          If there be justice in the court of France,"
          Muttered the Father.--From these words the Youth
          Conceived a terror; and, by night or day,
          Stirred nowhere without weapons, that full soon
          Found dreadful provocation: for at night
          When to his chamber he retired, attempt
          Was made to seize him by three armed men,
          Acting, in furtherance of the father's will,
          Under a private signet of the State.
          One the rash Youth's ungovernable hand                     130
          Slew, and as quickly to a second gave
          A perilous wound--he shuddered to behold
          The breathless corse; then peacefully resigned
          His person to the law, was lodged in prison,
          And wore the fetters of a criminal.
            Have you observed a tuft of winged seed
          That, from the dandelion's naked stalk,
          Mounted aloft, is suffered not to use
          Its natural gifts for purposes of rest,
          Driven by the autumnal whirlwind to and fro                140
          Through the wide element? or have you marked
          The heavier substance of a leaf-clad bough,
          Within the vortex of a foaming flood,
          Tormented? by such aid you may conceive
          The perturbation that ensued;--ah, no!
          Desperate the Maid--the Youth is stained with blood;
          Unmatchable on earth is their disquiet!
          Yet as the troubled seed and tortured bough
          Is Man, subjected to despotic sway.
            For him, by private influence with the Court,            150
          Was pardon gained, and liberty procured;
          But not without exaction of a pledge,
          Which liberty and love dispersed in air.
          He flew to her from whom they would divide him--
          He clove to her who could not give him peace--
          Yea, his first word of greeting was,--"All right
          Is gone from me; my lately-towering hopes,
          To the least fibre of their lowest root,
          Are withered; thou no longer canst be mine,
          I thine--the conscience-stricken must not woo              160
          The unruffled Innocent,--I see thy face,
          Behold thee, and my misery is complete!"
            "One, are we not?" exclaimed the Maiden--"One,
          For innocence and youth, for weal and woe?"
          Then with the father's name she coupled words
          Of vehement indignation; but the Youth
          Checked her with filial meekness; for no thought
          Uncharitable crossed his mind, no sense
          Of hasty anger rising in the eclipse
          Of true domestic loyalty, did e'er                         170
          Find place within his bosom.--Once again
          The persevering wedge of tyranny
          Achieved their separation: and once more
          Were they united,--to be yet again
          Disparted, pitiable lot! But here
          A portion of the tale may well be left
          In silence, though my memory could add
          Much how the Youth, in scanty space of time,
          Was traversed from without; much, too, of thoughts
          That occupied his days in solitude                         180
          Under privation and restraint; and what,
          Through dark and shapeless fear of things to come,
          And what, through strong compunction for the past,
          He suffered--breaking down in heart and mind!
            Doomed to a third and last captivity,
          His freedom he recovered on the eve
          Of Julia's travail. When the babe was born,
          Its presence tempted him to cherish schemes
          Of future happiness. "You shall return,
          Julia," said he, "and to your father's house               190
          Go with the child.--You have been wretched; yet
          The silver shower, whose reckless burthen weighs
          Too heavily upon the lily's head,
          Oft leaves a saving moisture at its root.
          Malice, beholding you, will melt away.
          Go!--'tis a town where both of us were born;
          None will reproach you, for our truth is known;
          And if, amid those once-bright bowers, our fate
          Remain unpitied, pity is not in man.
          With ornaments--the prettiest, nature yields               200
          Or art can fashion, shall you deck our boy,
          And feed his countenance with your own sweet looks
          Till no one can resist him.--Now, even now,
          I see him sporting on the sunny lawn;
          My father from the window sees him too;
          Startled, as if some new-created thing
          Enriched the earth, or Faery of the woods
          Bounded before him;--but the unweeting Child
          Shall by his beauty win his grandsire's heart
          So that it shall be softened, and our loves                210
          End happily, as they began!"
                                        These gleams
          Appeared but seldom; oftener was he seen
          Propping a pale and melancholy face
          Upon the Mother's bosom; resting thus
          His head upon one breast, while from the other
          The Babe was drawing in its quiet food.
          --That pillow is no longer to be thine,
          Fond Youth! that mournful solace now must pass
          Into the list of things that cannot be!
          Unwedded Julia, terror-smitten, hears                      220
          The sentence, by her mother's lip pronounced,
          That dooms her to a convent.--Who shall tell,
          Who dares report, the tidings to the lord
          Of her affections? so they blindly asked
          Who knew not to what quiet depths a weight
          Of agony had pressed the Sufferer down:
          The word, by others dreaded, he can hear
          Composed and silent, without visible sign
          Of even the least emotion. Noting this,
          When the impatient object of his love                      230
          Upbraided him with slackness, he returned
          No answer, only took the mother's hand
          And kissed it; seemingly devoid of pain,
          Or care, that what so tenderly he pressed,
          Was a dependant on the obdurate heart
          Of one who came to disunite their lives
          For ever--sad alternative! preferred,
          By the unbending Parents of the Maid,
          To secret 'spousals meanly disavowed.
          --So be it!
                       In the city he remained                       240
          A season after Julia had withdrawn
          To those religious walls. He, too, departs--
          Who with him?--even the senseless Little-one.
          With that sole charge he passed the city-gates,
          For the last time, attendant by the side
          Of a close chair, a litter, or sedan,
          In which the Babe was carried. To a hill,
          That rose a brief league distant from the town,
          The dwellers in that house where he had lodged
          Accompanied his steps, by anxious love                     250
          Impelled;--they parted from him there, and stood
          Watching below till he had disappeared
          On the hill top. His eyes he scarcely took,
          Throughout that journey, from the vehicle
          (Slow-moving ark of all his hopes!) that veiled
          The tender infant: and, at every inn,
          And under every hospitable tree
          At which the bearers halted or reposed,
          Laid him with timid care upon his knees,
          And looked, as mothers ne'er were known to look,           260
          Upon the nursling which his arms embraced.
            This was the manner in which Vaudracour
          Departed with his infant; and thus reached
          His father's house, where to the innocent child
          Admittance was denied. The young man spake
          No word of indignation or reproof,
          But of his father begged, a last request,
          That a retreat might be assigned to him
          Where in forgotten quiet he might dwell,
          With such allowance as his wants required;                 270
          For wishes he had none. To a lodge that stood
          Deep in a forest, with leave given, at the age
          Of four-and-twenty summers he withdrew;
          And thither took with him his motherless Babe,
          And one domestic for their common needs,
          An aged woman. It consoled him here
          To attend upon the orphan, and perform
          Obsequious service to the precious child,
          Which, after a short time, by some mistake
          Or indiscretion of the Father, died.--                     280
          The Tale I follow to its last recess
          Of suffering or of peace, I know not which:
          Theirs be the blame who caused the woe, not mine!
            From this time forth he never shared a smile
          With mortal creature. An Inhabitant
          Of that same town, in which the pair had left
          So lively a remembrance of their griefs,
          By chance of business, coming within reach
          Of his retirement, to the forest lodge
          Repaired, but only found the matron there,                 290
          Who told him that his pains were thrown away,
          For that her Master never uttered word
          To living thing--not even to her.--Behold!
          While they were speaking, Vaudracour approached;
          But, seeing some one near, as on the latch
          Of the garden-gate his hand was laid, he shrunk--
          And, like a shadow, glided out of view.
          Shocked at his savage aspect, from the place
          The visitor retired.
                                Thus lived the Youth
          Cut off from all intelligence with man,                    300
          And shunning even the light of common day;
          Nor could the voice of Freedom, which through France
          Full speedily resounded, public hope,
          Or personal memory of his own deep wrongs,
          Rouse him: but in those solitary shades
          His days he wasted, an imbecile mind!
                                                              1805.


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