NO. XVII

 

A FRAGMENT 

 

In the manner of the old Romances. 

 

The sun was sinking in the bosom of the Western Ocean, when after a bright day in the autumnal season, the young and beauteous Cleanthe strayed into a thick forest, that spread its solemn shade behind the stately castle of the baron her father. The faint tints of gold and purple that streaked the varying clouds, the last sighs of the sinking breeze, the variegated hues of the fading foliage, the plaintive cooings of the wood-pigeon, and the hollow murmurs [213] of a distant torrent — conspired to sooth her soul into a tender and pleasing melancholy; and awaken those lively and vivid trains of fancy, that by degrees abstract the mind from sensible object, and bewilder it amid distant and visionary pursuits. 

            Resting on a bank of camomile, at the foot of an aged oak, she perceived not that her hair was wet with the dew, and that the shades of evening veiled the prospect in darkness. She was at length roused from her reverie by the soft and melodious sound of a lute, which floating on the wind, gradually swelled into notes of joy and triumph, and then trembling as in broken air,* melted away in remote and languid strains. A deep silence succeeded — interrupted only at distant intervals by the cry of the night raven: the moon rose, and tinged the waving branches with silver. Cleanthe started; and gazing wildly around, perceived with terror she had wandered out of the various paths [214] which presented themselves, was at a loss to conjecture which would conduct her to the peaceful, parental asylum she had unwarily quitted.  

 

“In broken air, trembling, the wild music floats.”

                                                                                    Pope.

 

            In the midst of this perplexity — her ears were assailed by the most mournful, and piercing shrieks; a thick cloud covered the moon, out of which darted incessant flashes of blue and sulphureous lightning; the trees shook, the caverns of the forest groaned, and the roarings of the savage beasts resounded on every side. A mortal paleness covered the cheek of Cleanthe — her limbs trembled — a cold damp bewildered her face — and she sunk spiritless on the earth. From this trance she was awakened by a slashing of swords, and saw approaching her two knights completely armed, (mounted on fiery coursers richly caparisoned,) who seemed engaged in a fierce and desperate combat. Collecting her spirits she arose, and winged by fear, rushed precipitately through the entangled branches, till faint and scarce able to respire, she found herself incapable of proceeding. She stopped — and looking [215] fearfully forwards, — spied a glimmering light through the trees, which appeared to proceed from the bosom of a cypress shade, but a few paces distant; she pressed onwards, with mingled hope and apprehension, and advancing nearer, beheld the pillars and broken arches of a ruined abbey. She entered trembling, — and directing her steps towards a long aisle which remained yet entire, in the centre of which a burning lamp was suspended, saw at the foot of an altar, half destroyed by time, a female figure stretched on the pavement, who seemed as if expiring; her eyes were closed, and her features livid and ghastly: a stream of blood flowed from her bosom — one hand grasped a dagger — the other held a crucifix to her heart. Cleanthe struck with horror and astonishment, unable to move either to assist, or fly from the miserable victim extended before her, gazed on her with unutterable anguish. The dying phantom at length opening her eyes — turned them mournfully on Cleanthe. Whoever though art! (said she) in a faultering and hollow tone of voice — behold in this awful scene, which heaven [216] permits thee to witness, the fatal effects of heedlessness, guilt, and criminal despair! she ceased — and screaming wildly — in convulsive pangs breathed her last. No sooner had the guilty soul forsook the lacerated body, than the light was extinguished, the earth trembled and shook, and loud peals of thunder, mixed with the howling of winds, and the roaring waters, confounded and overwhelmed the remaining spirits of the terrified maid, who shrieked aloud, and again fell motionless on the ground. 

            After a few minutes returning to life and recollection — with pleasure and surprise she found herself reclining on a bank of violets, beneath an arbour of roses and jasmine, in an extensive and beautiful garden, surrounded with all that can delight and exhilarate the senses. The sun shone in meridian brightness — cool and gentle zephyrs refreshed the air, perfumed with aromatic odours. The trees were at once loaded with the richest fruits of autumn, and ornamented with the blossoms of the spring; the bees hummed among the beds of wild thyme, and the [217] nightingale warbled in the thicket; the lamb broused on the lawn, and the kid spirted in the shade. Soft music floated — “above, about, and underneath” — sent by the unseen genius of the wood.” From every bower was heard the voice of festivity — every object breathed voluptuous pleasure, and refined delight. 

            The terrors which had lately agitated the gentle bosom of Cleanthe quickly subsided — the roles again crimsoned her cheek — her eyes sparkled with joy — and her soul dissolved in softness. Rising to explore a scene so new paradisaical, she saw advancing towards her, arrayed in slowing vestments, and crowned with immortal amaranths, the brave and beauteous Alcanzor; (for whom she had long cherished a tender and faithful affection,) grace and sprightliness animated his form, and more than mortal beauty glowed in his face: — drawing near he knelt at her feet. — A train of nymphs crowded around, and taking her hand, conducted her to a temple supported by Corinthian pillars, entwined [218] with chaplets of flowers, and throwing over her a snowy mantle, embroidered with silver, hailed her fairest of the fair! Her senses swam in pleasure, while half fainting she leant on her beloved Alcanzor. A damsel more lovely than the rest quitted her companions, and approached the enamored pair. Presenting them with a bowl containing an intoxicating mixture, drink! (said she) and partake of immortal felicity, of happiness that will experience neither vicissitude, nor decay. The lover seizing the bowl, drank deep of its contents, and raising it to the lips of Cleanthe, she was about to taste — when a low melancholy voice sounded in her ear— forbear! call to remembrance the dying victim — the streaming blood — the convulsive pangs — the despairing groans! — thoughtless folly first exposed thee to danger — thou art now sailing down the stream of pleasure — and advancing towards the shoals of vice — despair, death, and destruction are behind! It ceased — Cleanthe started — and dashed on the floor the poisonous beverage: a thick cloud filled the temple — it tottered from its foundation, [219] and falling with a hideous crash — the whole vision faded away. 

            Cleanthe looked around, and beheld the moon and stars glittering over her head, the waving foliage of the forest which sheltered her father’s mansion, and the welcome portico of his hospitable gate. She hastened towards it, and rushing in, from the soothings of parental tenderness sought consolation and repose for her perturbed and agitated spirits.