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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

Rene took the incident as an omen


When

the woman returns, the album in her hand, the calm of death is upon her. She has lived prepared for this emergency, provided also with the means of escaping from it. But she will not die without entreating her young admirer to shake off, before it is too late, the evil influence to which both, though in different ways, have succumbed; and her dignity, her kindness, the instinctive reverence, and now chivalrous pity, with which she has inspired him carry all before them. He renews his declaration; implores her to accept him as her husband, if she is free--her friend if she is not; her husband even if the relation she is living in be something less than marriage; to exact any delay, to impose any probation, so that in the end she accepts him.

She replies by putting her hand into his, _to remain there_, as she says, _till death shall part them_. The older man, who has just re-entered the room, congratulates them on having arrived at so sensible an understanding. The woman, now very pale, contrives to point to the fatal entry in the album which she still grasps; and asks her friend--after quoting the writer's words--how, but in her own way, the mouth of such a one could have been stopped.

"So," exclaims the youth. And he flies at the man's throat, and strangles him.

She has only time to thank her deliverer; to tell him why his devotion is unavailing--to provide for his safety by

writing in the album from which he has torn the fatal page, that he has slain a man who would have outraged her: and that her last breath is spent in blessing him.

A merry voice is heard; and the young, light-hearted girl comes all unconscious to the scene of the tragedy. The curtain falls before she has entered upon it.

The betrayal of the lady, the transaction of which she becomes the subject, and her consequent suicide, are taken from an episode in English high life, which occurred in the present century.

"THE TWO POETS OF CROISIC" is an extract from the history of two writers of verse, whose respective works obtained from circumstances a brilliant but short-lived renown. It forms part of a reminiscence, supposed to be conjured up by a wood fire near which the narrator, with his wife, is sitting. The fire, as he describes it, is made of ship-wood: for it burns in all the beautiful colours which denote the presence of metallic substances and salts; and as his fancy reconstructs the ship, it also raises the vision of a distant coast well known to his companion and to himself. He sees Le Croisic--the little town it is--the poor village it was[81]--with its storm-tossed sea--its sandy strip of land, good only for the production of salt--its solitary Menhir, which recalls, and in some degree perpetuates, the wild life and the barbarous Druid worship of old Breton times.[82] And in the bright-hued flames, which leap up and vanish before his bodily eyes, he sees also the two ephemeral reputations which flashed forth and expired there.

Rene Gentilhomme, born 1610, was a rhymer, as his father had been before him. He became page to the Prince of Conde, and occupied his spare time by writing complimentary verse. One day, as he was hammering at an ode, a violent storm broke out; and the lightning shattered a ducal crown in marble which stood on a pedestal in the room in which he sat. Conde was regarded as future King of France: for Louis XIII. was childless, and his brother Gaston believed to be so; in consideration of this fact, men called him "Duke." Rene took the incident as an omen, and turned his ode into a prophecy which he delivered to his master as the utterance of God. "The Prince's hopes were at an end: a Dauphin would be born in the ensuing year." A Dauphin was born; and Rene, who had at first been terrified at his own boldness, received the title of Royal Poet, and the honours due to a seer. But he wrote little or no more; and he and the tiny volume which composed his works soon disappeared from sight.


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