Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, , at sacred-texts.com
They thus beguile the way
Untill the blustring storme is overblowne,
When weening to returne whence they did stray,
They cannot finde that path which first was showne,
But wander to and fro in waies unknowne.
—Spenser's "Faerie Queene," book i. canto i. st. x.
Yes, Viola, thou art another being than when, by the threshold of thy Italian home, thou didst follow thy dim fancies through the Land of Shadow; or when thou didst vainly seek to give voice to an ideal beauty, on the boards where illusion counterfeits earth and heaven for an hour, till the weary sense, awaking, sees but the tinsel and the scene-shifter. Thy spirit reposes in its own happiness. Its wanderings have found a goal. In a moment there often dwells the sense of eternity; for when profoundly happy, we know that it is impossible to die. Whenever the soul FEELS ITSELF, it feels everlasting life.
The initiation is deferred,—thy days and nights are left to no other visions than those with which a contented heart enchants a guileless fancy. Glendoveers and Sylphs, pardon me if I question whether those visions are not lovelier than yourselves.
They stand by the beach, and see the sun sinking into the sea. How long now have they dwelt on that island? What matters!—it may be months, or years—what matters! Why should I, or they, keep account of that happy time? As in the dream of a moment ages may seem to pass, so shall we measure transport or woe,—by the length of the dream, or the number of emotions that the dream involves?
The sun sinks slowly down; the air is arid and oppressive; on the sea, the stately vessel lies motionless; on the shore, no leaf trembles on the trees.
Viola drew nearer to Zanoni. A presentiment she could not define made her heart beat more quickly; and, looking into his face, she was struck with its expression: it was anxious, abstracted, perturbed. "This stillness awes me," she whispered.
Zanoni did not seem to hear her. He muttered to himself, and his eyes gazed round restlessly. She knew not why, but that gaze, which seemed to pierce into space,—that muttered voice in some foreign language—revived dimly her earlier superstitions. She was more fearful since the hour when she knew that she was to be a mother. Strange crisis in the life of woman, and in her love! Something yet unborn begins already to divide her heart with that which had been before its only monarch.
"Look on me, Zanoni," she said, pressing his hand.
He turned: "Thou art pale, Viola; thy hand trembles!"
"It is true. I feel as if some enemy were creeping near us."
"And the instinct deceives thee not. An enemy is indeed at hand. I see it through the heavy air; I hear it through the silence: the Ghostly One,—the Destroyer, the PESTILENCE! Ah, seest thou how the leaves swarm with insects, only by an effort visible to the eye. They follow the breath of the plague!" As he spoke, a bird fell from the boughs at Viola's feet; it fluttered, it writhed an instant, and was dead.
"Oh, Viola!" cried Zanoni, passionately, "that is death. Dost thou not fear to die?"
"To leave thee? Ah, yes!"
"And if I could teach thee how Death may be defied; if I could arrest for thy youth the course of time; if I could—"
He paused abruptly, for Viola's eyes spoke only terror; her cheek and lips were pale.
"Speak not thus,—look not thus," she said, recoiling from him. "You dismay me. Ah, speak not thus, or I should tremble,—no, not for myself, but for thy child."
"Thy child! But wouldst thou reject for thy child the same glorious boon?"
"The sun has sunk from our eyes, but to rise on those of others. To disappear from this world is to live in the world afar. Oh, lover,—oh, husband!" she continued, with sudden energy, "tell me that thou didst but jest,—that thou didst but trifle with my folly! There is less terror in the pestilence than in thy words."
Zanoni's brow darkened; he looked at her in silence for some moments, and then said, almost severely,—
"What hast thou known of me to distrust?"
"Oh, pardon, pardon!—nothing!" cried Viola, throwing herself on his breast, and bursting into tears. "I will not believe even thine own words, if they seem to wrong thee!" He kissed the tears from her eyes, but made no answer.
"And ah!" she resumed, with an enchanting and child-like smile, "if thou wouldst give me a charm against the pestilence! see, I will take it from thee." And she laid her hand on a small, antique amulet that he wore on his breast.
"Thou knowest how often this has made me jealous of the past; surely some love-gift, Zanoni? But no, thou didst not love the giver as thou dost me. Shall I steal thine amulet?"
"Infant!" said Zanoni, tenderly; "she who placed this round my neck deemed it indeed a charm, for she had superstitions like thyself; but to me it is more than the wizard's spell,—it is the relic of a sweet vanished time when none who loved me could distrust."
He said these words in a tone of such melancholy reproach that it went to the heart of Viola; but the tone changed into a solemnity which chilled back the gush of her feelings as he resumed: "And this, Viola, one day, perhaps, I will transfer from my breast to thine; yes, whenever thou shalt comprehend me better,—WHENEVER THE LAWS OF OUR BEING SHALL BE THE SAME!"
He moved on gently. They returned slowly home; but fear still was in the heart of Viola, though she strove to shake it off. Italian and Catholic she was, with all the superstitions of land and sect. She stole to her chamber and prayed before a little relic of San Gennaro, which the priest of her house had given to her in childhood, and which had accompanied her in all her wanderings. She had never deemed it possible to part with it before. Now, if there was a charm against the pestilence, did she fear the pestilence for herself? The next morning, when he awoke, Zanoni found the relic of the saint suspended with his mystic amulet round his neck.
"Ah! thou wilt have nothing to fear from the pestilence now," said Viola, between tears and smiles; "and when thou wouldst talk to me again as thou didst last night, the saint shall rebuke thee."
Well, Zanoni, can there ever indeed be commune of thought and spirit, except with equals?
Yes, the plague broke out,—the island home must be abandoned. Mighty Seer, THOU HAST NO POWER TO SAVE THOSE WHOM THOU LOVEST! Farewell, thou bridal roof!—sweet resting-place from care, farewell! Climates as soft may greet ye, O lovers,—skies as serene, and waters as blue and calm; but THAT TIME,—can it ever more return? Who shall say that the heart does not change with the scene,—the place where we first dwelt with the beloved one? Every spot THERE has so many memories which the place only can recall. The past that haunts it seems to command such constancy in the future. If a thought less kind, less trustful, enter within us, the sight of a tree under which a vow has been exchanged, a tear has been kissed away, restores us again to the hours of the first divine illusion. But in a home where nothing speaks of the first nuptials, where there is no eloquence of association, no holy burial-places of emotions, whose ghosts are angels!—yes, who that has gone through the sad history of affection will tell us that the heart changes not with the scene! Blow fair, ye favouring winds; cheerily swell, ye sails; away from the land where death has come to snatch the sceptre of Love! The shores glide by; new coasts succeed to the green hills and orange-groves of the Bridal Isle. From afar now gleam in the moonlight the columns, yet extant, of a temple which the Athenian dedicated to wisdom; and, standing on the bark that bounded on in the freshening gale, the votary who had survived the goddess murmured to himself,—
"Has the wisdom of ages brought me no happier hours than those common to the shepherd and the herdsman, with no world beyond their village, no aspiration beyond the kiss and the smile of home?"
And the moon, resting alike over the ruins of the temple of the departed creed, over the hut of the living peasant, over the immemorial mountain-top, and the perishable herbage that clothed its sides, seemed to smile back its answer of calm disdain to the being who, perchance, might have seen the temple built, and who, in his inscrutable existence, might behold the mountain shattered from its base.