Tales of College Life/A Long-Vacation Vigil/Chapter 7

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Tales of College Life by Cuthbert Bede
A Long-Vacation Vigil
Chapter 7



It is a midsummer night of rare beauty. The dew lies heavy upon the grass, telling of the morrow's heat. The broad moon is at the full, making a light almost equal to that of day. The air, which has been so sultry, is now cool and refreshing, and comes floating through the lime-tree boughs with the most delicious perfume. The quivering leaves of the overhanging trees are stirred by its rich breath, and throb as though with rapture. Through the dewy screen of leaves and interlacing boughs, the wandering moonbeams pass, dancing and leaping, and making bright floating circles on the shaded floor of the road beneath. In the hedgerows honeysuckles hang their links of sweetness, and mingle their odours with the scent of the newly-mown hay: the ripening corn gently sways in the soft night breeze; sea gulls are settling down into their rocky nests; and the querulous note of a quail reaches me from a distant meadow. A little wayside brook comes babbling on toward the sea, with a light musical song of ferns, and foxgloves, and flowering heather; while the sonorous roll of the ocean, breaking on the beach below, fills up, with its deep diapason, the summer-hymn of Nature.

I look down through the vista of chequered light and shade, and I see the great cliffs, and over them the wide expanse of sea, and the blue-paved heaven thick inlaid with its "patines of bright gold;" and, though the dense foliage over-head shuts out the moon from view, I see her beams reflected in the waters in a long line of streaming light, that insensibly takes my thoughts back to one, who, in the days of Earth's youth, laid him down to sleep in the lonely desert, and, in a vision, saw a ladder of light that reached to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending the shining stars of glory.

Midnight is proclaimed from the old church tower. The reverberations of the last stroke become fainter and fainter; and I listen attentively for the sound of carriage-wheels. I hear nothing but the babbling brook and the distant breakers. I light a cigar, and ask Trap to favour me with his opinion of Lord Glenarvon. There is no danger of our being interfered with, and told to "Move on!" by the police. Westcliffe can't boast a guardian of the night; we have the Queen's highway all to ourselves. The North-road lies bare and white in the moonlight; and I could see a carriage at three miles' distance could hear it, at more. Captain Alvanley is decidedly not a punctual man! I think that if I had a girl like Amy waiting to fly off with me, and be my wife, I should be rather before my time than after it. I am not at all cold; on the contrary, out-of-doors is more refreshing than in, this hot weather; but I dance a polka, merely for a little amusement and change. Trap sits in the middle of the road, and gravely watches me from under his shaggy eyebrows, as I polk round him. "What! can't you make it out, old doggie?" He evidently takes me for a lunatic; but I explain the matter to him, and he rubs his cold nose in my hand, to show that his confidence in me is restored. I pause from my exertions, and sit on the mile stone, smoking my weed; while Trap turns out an unfortunate field-mouse, and amuses himself to his great satisfaction.

One o'clock! No carriage, no sound of wheels. Captain Alvanley, Sir! what are you thinking about, to keep a gentleman and lady waiting in this way? I will walk down the Avenue-road, to see if Amy is on the watch. Softly! there she is! bonneted and shawled, sitting at her open window. How the moonlight falls full upon her face! Captain Alvanley, if you could now see that face, and its intense expression of anxious expectation, you would give your post-boys any fabulous fee to whirl you the sooner to your Amy's side. She sees me at once as I emerge from the avenue, and I come softly under her window. She points within, as though towards her mother's room, and lays her finger on her lips. No talking allowed; I take the hint, and am speechless. She looks full upon me with those deep-blue eyes, and she lays her hand upon her heart, and bends towards me. She is thanking me for my vigil. Then she folds her hands together, and looks inquiringly. I shake my head in reply, and point towards the North-road. Then we go through a little ballet of action, and I am almost inclined to pirouette on one toe, as I signify to her that I will return to my post, and keep on the watch. And so I turn away while she dumbly expresses her thanks.

I walk back to my mile-stone, and light another weed. Trap don't understand it at all, and sits in the road, and yawns; so I throw stones to divert him. But even this lively pastime fails on too great repetition. Still no carriage! I watch the scented smoke curling lightly from my lips, and I begin to think of "Locksley Hall:"—

"Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung,
And I said, "My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me;
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee."

If Captain Alvanley thinks so, why does n't he come? "O, my cousin, shallow-hearted!" Tennyson must decidedly alter his verses, and make the gentleman the one who is "falser than all fancy fathoms."

Two o'clock strikes, and no sight or sound of carriage. I pace again down the Avenue-road. There is faithful Amy, still at her window—still on the watch. She looks as though she had been weeping, and I try, by friendly signs and nods, to comfort her. "She speaks, and yet she says nothing. What of that? Her eye discourses." As I look up to her, I wish that "I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek;" and, of course, I think of "Romeo and Juliet," and the Balcony Scene. But where is her Romeo? Are his "love's light wings" impeded by a yellow post-chaise? Once more, I silently go back to my mile-stone.

I hum operatic snatches, and go through the chief part of my vocal performances; but Trap has a delicate ear for music, and he howls down my attempts. Another hour slowly passes, and still no Captain Alvanley.

I steal under the shadow of the trees, and I see poor Amy looking so sad, that I have scarcely the heart to approach her without good tidings. I go back, therefore, to my mile-stone; and my comforting cigar-case is being rapidly diminished. Only one weed is left, for I did not calculate on such a lengthened vigil—so I husband it; but, at last, it is smoked out, and I am cigarless. And still there is no carriage—no Captain Alvanley!

Something must have surely occurred to prevent his coming. Perhaps he cannot obtain leave of absence from his regiment. If this is the case, I can fancy what his state of mind must be just about the present time.

Four o'clock strikes. Once more I go to Amy's window. She is still there, and, being ready dressed for her departure, I feel almost inclined to propose an elopement on my own account, and so, provide a substitute for the Captain; but my mirth is checked as soon as I have seen her sad, sad features. She weeps outright this time—bursts into a silent agony of tears, that I can well understand. My heart is touched with pity, and I scribble on a piece of paper—"He may not be able to get leave of absence. He will probably come to-morrow night, and I will watch and meet him. Be of good cheer." I toss this up to her, and as the morning is breaking, there is sufficient light for her to read it She cheers up directly, and smiles and waves her hand to me. I signify to her that I shall continue on my watch till five o'clock, and then I go back to my mile-stone.

But, when the hour has passed, no Captain Alvanley has arrived; and I see that to prolong my vigil would be useless, for it is broad day now, and people are beginning to move about to their boats and their work; so, much to Trap's satisfaction, I turn my steps towards the hotel. Amy is still at her window. She thanks me as much as any one could thank me without speaking. She again reads my scrap of a note, and looks towards me with a cheerful face, as though she depended upon the fulfilment of my promise; and then she noiselessly lets down her window and blind. Having seen this, I quietly make use of my latch-key, and pass up-stairs to my sister's room. She has not gone to bed, but has fallen asleep in her chair, from sheer exhaustion. I tell her the result of my night's vigil, and am presently in my own room, and a sound sleep.