Francesca Carrara/Chapter 95

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"Love is not love
Which alters where it alteration finds."
Shakespeare's Sonnets.

It was a beautiful but stormy-looking sky that canopied that lonely pool and the lovers, whose shadows were scarcely visible on the dark and undisturbed water below. On the far side was reflected a single red and meteoric cloud, which had treasured one last crimson ray from the sunset, or perhaps nursed within it the fiery leaven. The moon had swollen into a full and golden round; but the clouds swept athwart her, and her fitful glee came but at intervals. A low wind seemed gaining strength amid the branches; but it was uncertain, and sometimes not even a leaf was stirred. But there was light enough to show the tranquil beauty of Francesca's pale and sweet face. She stood at Evelyn's side in that quiet and intense happiness which is so rare a feeling in the lot of humanity.

He had told her all,—the arduous enterprise in which he had embarked; he had softened nothing of the dangers which would surround their future and forest home. But she felt that, shared with him, life had no lot that would not bring its blessing; and he, as he gazed into those clear dark eyes which rested on him so confidingly, that if the most entire, the most devoted love could repay the woman that trusted to its protection, that love was his own. Both knew in their inmost soul, that each was the other's happiness. The heart confided in the destiny itself had created.

"I feel too happy," at length exclaimed Francesca, in a voice soft as the moonlight silence which it broke; "And yet 'tis strange how the image of death is uppermost in my thought, as if I desired that the grave should be a security against further change! At this moment I could be content to die."

"Ah, dearest!" replied he, "your spirits are exhausted,—perhaps unconsciously oppressed with the idea of that future whose pain and whose peril I have rather heightened than palliated."

"Not so," returned the young Italian, fixing her large black eyes upon him with a wild and melancholy expression. "I think not of the future—my whole existence is, as it were, absorbed in the present. There is something within me which says, 'Yield to the delicious repose which now stills every beating pulse: life has known no such soothing tranquillity before—it will never know it more.' Ah, Evelyn! you cannot conceive how wretched my life has been—how desolate and how miserable! I am not accustomed to be glad, and to be loved. I cannot help the dread, which haunts me like a perpetual shadow, that fate will exact some terrible penalty for this moment's feeling."

"Nay, my beloved Francesca, this is the vainest folly that ever made an omen of its own weakness."

"Omen!" repeated she in a low, broken voice, that feared the sound of its own words; "omen!—you have said aright. The shadow flung from the soul is an omen; and mine at this very time holds some mysterious communion with its fate. There are some whose web in life has a dark yarn even from the first—dark and brief—a gloomy river, with a short and troubled course. And such is mine. I look back on that which has been, and dread that which may be. How much of care, how much of sorrow has been mine! I am so little accustomed to happiness, that I tremble in its presence."

"I would rather, my dearest! believe that the future owed the past a debt. Many, many years are before us—years of tender watchfulness, of mutual hope, of devoted love. I would that the old tales were true, which held, that life had its annals in those stars which are now looking down upon us, and that I had an enchanter's skill, and could bid them reveal from their shiny depths the truth and worship of a heart that henceforth encircles you with itself. The strength of my love communicates itself. With you and for you everything seems possible."

She did not speak, but stood gazing in silence on the water at their feet.—one bright moonbeam was trembling upon it. Slowly a mass of dense black clouds came sailing upon the air; a sudden wind shook the branches—the dark vapour parted, but a portion swallowed up the line of radiance that had vibrated among the waves, and the whole pool lay in darkness.

"That is my fate!" whispered Francesca. "Struggles, shadows, a transient beauty, and then the night comes—the long last night of death!"

Evelyn saw that her nerves had been too highly excited; and, to divert her from these imaginative phastasies, he turned to the more actual exertions required by their situation, and resumed the plan of their arrangements, which their late conversation had interrupted.

"This very night, my beloved Francesca, you must be mine for ever. I have seen St. Aubyn to-day, and told him how entirely my every hope in life rested on the present interview. At ten o'clock he will wait for us in the church. The hour will secure us from intrusion, and I can rely on St. Aubyn. Can you, dare you meet me?"

"Yes!" said she, in a low but steady voice.

"The Castle once left, the forest path is lonely but safe. I would meet you here, but I have a sacred duty to perform,—"

"And," interrupted Francesca, "there is so much risk in coming here! For my sake you must be cautious."

"But, dearest, the forest is dark and solitary. Are not you afraid?"

"Afraid of our quiet woods, with those of America before us! You cannot think how brave I mean to be. Besides, I know the path to the church so well."

"To-night, then, we meet at the altar, and to-morrow evening we sail. Pause, my own love, if your heart falter—even on the threshold of the church."

She spoke not; but the strong affection of those large and tender eyes needed no aid from words. The lovers parted, and neither looked back—they must have said farewell again if they had.