Chapter Eighteen.

The Alpen-Gluhen.

                    “And, last of all,
Love, like an Alpine harebell, hung with tears,
By some cold morning glacier.”
                    The Princess.

Violet’s fluttered nerves and wearied frame rendered it necessary for the party of English travellers to stay for a few days at Mürrem, and afterwards it was decided that they should all go down to Grindelwald, and spend there the remainder of the time which they had set apart for the Swiss tour. The landlord of the Jungfrau treated them with the utmost consideration, and amused Kennedy by paying him as much deference as if he had been Tell or Arnold himself. Leaving in his hands all endeavours to discover the two scoundrels, who had entirely decamped, Kennedy gave him one of the guns, while he carried with him the other to keep as a trophy in his rooms at Camford.

There are few sights more pleasant than that of two families bound together by the ties of friendship and affection, and living together as though they were all brothers and sisters of a common home. For long years afterwards the Homes and the Kennedys looked back on those days at Grindelwald as among the happiest of their lives, and, indeed, they glided by like a dream of unbroken pleasure. How is it that there can be such a thing as ennui, or that people ever can be at a loss what to do? In the morning they took short excursions to the glaciers or the roots of the great mountains, and Cyril made adventurous expeditions with his fishing-rod to the mountain-streams. And at evening they sat in the long twilight in the balcony of their room, while Eva and Violet sang them sweet, simple English songs, which rang so softly through the air, that the crowd of guides and porters which always hang about a Swiss hotel used to gather in the streets to listen, and the English visitors collected in the garden to catch the familiar tones. Julian and Kennedy always gave some hours every day to their books, and Cyril, though he could be persuaded to do little else, spent some of his unemployed time on his much-abused holiday task for the ensuing quarter at Marlby.

And when the candles were lit, the girls would sketch or work, and Julian or Kennedy would read or translate to them aloud. Sometimes they spent what Mr Kennedy used to call “an evening with the immortals,” and taking some volume of the poets, would each choose a favourite passage to read aloud in turn. This was Mr Kennedy’s great delight, and he got quite enthusiastic when the well-remembered lines came back to him with fresh beauty, borne on the pleasant voices of Eva, Julian, or Cyril, like an old jewel when new facets are cut on its lustrous surface.

“Stop there; that’s an immortal, lad—an immortal,” he would say to Cyril, when the boy seemed to be passing over some flower of poetic thought without sufficient admiration; and then he would repeat the passage from memory with such just emphasis, that on these evenings all felt that they were laying up precious thoughts for happy future hours.

“Now, Mrs Dudley, and you young ladies, we’re going to translate you part of a Greek novel to-night,” said Julian.

“A Greek novel!” said Cyril, with a touch of incredulous suspicion. “Those old creatures didn’t write novels, did they?”

“Only the best novel that ever was written, Cyril.”

“What’s it called?”

“The Odyssey.”

“Oh, what a chouse! You don’t mean to call that a novel, do you?”

“Well, let the ladies decide.”

So he read to them how Ulysses returned in the guise of a beggar, after twenty years of war and wandering to his own palace-door, and saw the haughty suitors revelling in his halls; and how, as he reached the door, Argus, the hunting-dog, now old and neglected, and full of fleas, recollected him, when all had forgotten him, and fawned upon him, and licked his hand and died; and how the suitors insulted him, and one of them threw a foot-stool at him, which by one quick move he avoided, and said nothing, and another flung a shin-bone at his head, which he caught in his hand, and said nothing, but only smiled grimly in his heart—ever so little, a grim, sardonic smile and how the old nurse recognised him by the scar of the boar’s tusk on his leg, but he quickly repressed the exclamation of wonderment which sprang to her lips; and how he sat, ragged but princely, by the fire in his hall, and the red light flickered over him, and he spake to the suitors words of solemn warning; and how, when Agelaus warned them, a strange foreboding seized their souls, and they looked at each other with great eyes, and smiled with alien lips, and burst into quenchless laughter, though their eyes were filled with tears; and how Ulysses drew his own mighty bow, which not one of them could use, and how he handled it, and twanged the string till it sang like a swallow in his ear, and sent the arrow flying with a whiz through the twelve iron rings of the line of axes; and then, lastly, how, like to a god, he leapt on his own threshold with a shout, and gathered his rags about him, and aided by the young Telemachus and the divine Swineherd, sent hurtling into the band of wine-stained rioters the swift arrows of inevitable death.

Pleased with the tale, which the girls decided, in spite of Cyril’s veto, to be a genuine novel, they asked for a new Greek romance, and Julian read to them from Herodotus about the rise and fall of empires, and “Strange stories of the deaths of kings.” One of his stories was the famous one of Croesus, and the irony of his fate, and the warning words of Solon, all of which, rendered into quaint rich English, struck Cyril so much, that, mingling up the tale with reminiscences of Longfellow’s “Blind Bartimeus,” he produced, with much modesty at the breakfast-table next morning, the following very creditable boyish imitation:—

“Speak Grecia’s wisest, thou, ’tis said,
Full deeply in Life’s page hast read,
And many a clime hath known my tread;
        Tis pantoon olbiotatos?
“The monarch raised his eager eye,
Gazed on the sage exultingly,
And slow came forth the calm reply
        Tellos ho Atheenaios.
“Upon his funeral pyre he lay
Crownless, his sceptre passed away,
The shade of Solon seem to say,
        oudeis toon zoontoon holbios.
“How little thought that Grecian sage
Those words should live from aye to aye,
        Tis pantoon olbiotatos?
        Tellos ho Atheenaios,
        oudeis toon zoontoon holbios.”

(Note. These verses were really written by a boy of fourteen.)

In a manner such as this the summer hours glided happily away. But all things, happy or mournful, must come to an end, lest we should forget God in our prosperity, or curse Him in our despair. Too quickly for all their wishes their last Sunday in Switzerland had come. Most of them had spent the day in thoughtful retirement or quiet occupations, and both morning and evening they assembled together in their pleasant sitting-room for matins and evensong. Their thoughts were full of the coming separation, and it gave a deep interest to these last services; for the Homes, unwilling to leave their mother and Frank so long alone at Ildown, were to start for England on the following day, and the Kennedys intended to visit Chamounix for two weeks more.

On the Sunday evening they strolled down to the glacier to look once again, for the last time, into its crevices, and wonder at its fairy caverns, fringed with icicles, like rows of silver daggers, and ceiled with translucent sapphire, beneath whose blue fretwork the stray sunbeams lost their way amid ice-blocks of luminous green, and pillars of lapis-lazuli and crystal. They sat on a huge boulder of granite, which some avalanche had torn down, and tumbled from the mountain’s side, and there enjoyed the icy wind which tempered the warm evening air, as it swept over the leaping waves of the glacier stream.

“What a mixture of terror and beauty these monstrous glaciers are,” said Julian; “crawling down the valleys, and shearing away the solid rocks before them like gigantic ploughshares.”

“Yes,” said Eva. “When you look up at the tumbled pinnacles of those séracs, does it not seem as if Summer had rent in anger with some great ice-axe the huge enemy whom she could not quite destroy?”

“And see,” said Mr Kennedy, “how Nature gets out of these terrible heaps of shattered ice both use and beauty; and since she must leave them as the eternal fountains of her rivers, see how she tinges them with her loveliest blue.”

They talked on until it was time to return, but Violet and Kennedy still lingered, sitting on the vast boulder, under pretence of seeing the sunset.

“Well, don’t get lost again, that’s all,” said Cyril sagely.

“Oh no, we shall be back very soon,” answered Violet, but she felt instinctively that the “very soon” in time might measure an eternity of emotion.

Need we say that Kennedy and Violet had, since that night of wild adventure, loved each other, hour by hour, with deeper affection? He was young, and brave, and light-hearted, and of a pleasant countenance; and she was a young, and confiding, and graceful, and lovely girl, and they were drawn to one another with a love which absorbed all other thoughts, and overpowered all other considerations; and it was unspeakable happiness for each to know how lovely were all their acts, and how dear were all their words in the other’s eyes. And now that the time was come to declare the love in words, and ratify it by a plighted troth, there was something in the act so solemn as almost to disturb their dream of a lover’s paradise.

They sat silent on the rock until the sun had set behind the peaks of snow, and their eyes were filled with idle yet delicious tears. Ripples of luminous sunshine, and banks of primrose-coloured cloud still lingered on the path which the sun had traversed, and, when even these began to fade, there stole along the hill crests above them a film of tender colour, flinging a veil of the softest carnation over their cold grey rocks, and untrodden fields of perpetual snow.

“Look, Violet, at that rose-colour on the hills; does it not seem as it rests on those chill ledges, as though Nature had said that her last act to-day should be a triumph of glory, and her last thought a thought of love?”

Violet murmured an assent.

“Oh, Violet,” he continued, “you know that I love you, and I know that you love me;—is it not so, Violet?”

He hardly heard the “Yes,” which came half like a sigh from her lips.

“Violet, dear Violet, we part to-morrow; let me hear you say ‘Yes’ more clearly still.”

“You know I love you, Edward—did you not save my life?”

“I know you love me,” he repeated slowly, “but, oh Violet, I am not worthy of you—I am not all you think me.” There passed over his fair forehead the expression of humiliation and pain which she had seen there with wonder once or twice before.

“You are good and noble, Edward,” she answered; “I see you to be good and noble, or I could not love you as I do.”

“No,” he said, “alas! not good, not noble, Violet—in no wise worthy of one so pure, and bright, and beautiful as you are.” He bent his face over her hand, and his warm tears fell fast upon it. “But,” he continued, “I will strive to be so hereafter, Violet, for your sweet sake. Oh, can you take me as I am? Will you make me good and noble, Violet, as Julian is? Can you let the sunshine of your life fall on the shadow of mine?”

She did not understand his passion as he raised to her his face, not bright and laughing as it generally was, but stained with the traces of many tears; she only knew that he had won her whole heart, and for one moment she let her hand rest in the curls of the head which he had bent once more.

“Oh, Violet,” he said, looking up again, “I can be anything if you love me.” In an instant the cloud had passed away from his face, and the old sunshine brightened his blue eyes. For one instant their eyes met with that lustrous and dewy love-gleam that only lovers know, but during that instant it seemed as if their souls had flowed together into a common fount. With a happy look she suffered him to take her hand, and draw off from her finger a sapphire ring; this he put on his own finger, while on hers he replaced it by the gold-set ruby, his mother’s gift, which he usually wore.

The crescent moon had risen as they walked home, and they found the rest of the party seated in the hotel garden, under her soft silver light; but nobody seemed to be much in a mood for talking, until that little monkey Cyril, who observed everything, exclaimed—

“Why, Julian, do look; Violet has got Kennedy’s ring on, and—well, I declare if he hasn’t got hers.”

“Let us all come up-stairs,” said Kennedy hastily and then, before them all, he drew Violet to his side, and said—

“Julian, Violet and I are betrothed to each other.”

“As I thought,” said Julian with a smile, as a rush of sudden emotion made his eyes glisten, and he warmly grasped Kennedy’s hand.

“And as I hoped, Julian,” said Mr Kennedy, as he turned away to wipe his spectacles, which somehow had grown dim.

The moonlight streamed over them as the two stood there together, young, happy, hopeful, beautiful, and while Cyril held Kennedy’s hand, Eva and Violet exchanged a sister’s kiss.

And Julian looked on with a glow of happiness—happiness that had one drawback only—a passing shadow of sorrow for the possible feelings of De Vayne.

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