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She laid her hand softly, but firmly, on his lips : for the present was indeed no fitting moment in which to evoke memories that, Alas! were far from sinless, and she felt her boasted courage fail her as she called to mind the laws they had outraged, and the avenging Deity they had so long offended with impunity.
It was a fine, and rather an intellectual head that lay upon the pillow : on it middle age had but slightly set its signet, and across the broad brow there were but few lines by which the footsteps of Time could be traced. Helen kept her eyes fixed upon the pale face, and marked its fitful changes mournfully.
Again there swept across his brain strange visions of those whom he had known in days gone by; and figures, fanciful and swiftly changing as in a dream, flitted between his sight and reality. At length, of these untangible shadows, one stood out from among the rest, and, seemingly endowed with form and
substance, faced him boldly. The shape was that of a woman, pale and thin and worn; the dress was rich and flowing, and on her transparent hands bright gems were sparkling. She was not beautiful, but had a sweet and melancholy face, that dwelt upon his reproachfully. He could not escape her eyes; for whether he closed his own to shut them out, or turned upon his pillow to avoid them, there they still were, with a fixed gaze, cold and ghastly. At length, to break the nightmare-like spell that bound him, he cried aloud in his agony:
Helen! for the love of Heaven, stand between us; for this is more than I can endure!'
She almost lost her breath with fear; so terrible was the voice that called to her in its mortal terror; and then, pressing closely to bim, and showering kisses on his poor torpid hands, she entreated him, by the love he bore her, to be calm, and tell her what was the thing he dreaded.
*Calm !' he cried, with what was well nigh a shriek; Calm ! when she has come to me for justice ? Calm ! when the wife I have wronged is calling to me to save her from disgrace? Go, pray to God! He may. pardon you, but my portion is in the lake burning with fire and brimstone, into which you have helped to drag me;' and with a shudder of despair, he turned on her a look of loathing and of horror.
The faithful creature still clung about him, and would not be repulsed. But was this, she asked herself, to be the reward of the lifelove she had given him? Oh no-sinner as she had been, surely God would be more merciful, and would restore the companion of her errors to a sense of all she had done and suffered for him; and so, kneeling by his side, she prayed humbly and fervently to the God who is mighty to pardon-prayed for the one to be taken, and for the other that was to be left alone.
Exhausted by the mental struggle he had
undergone, the unhappy man lay for awhile still, and almost breathless, the woman continuing patiently to bathe his clammy brow, and to administer the restoratives that had been prepared for him ; her gentle touch was better than medicine, recalling him to saner thoughts and softer feelings.
My poor love,' he faintly murmured, .am I cruel to you? God knows I should not be, for you have been kinder, far kinder to me than I deserve; and I have made you but a poor return,' and he laid his cheek upon her arm, and rested there.
Oh! Philip,' she moaned, this is too hard-it cannot be that we are to part thus ?
• Nay," he said, do not weep so bitterly (for her tears were falling now like rain), ‘I have much to say, much to ask of you. You will not mind taking some trouble for me, Helen, when I am in my grave ? and a faint shadow of a smile flitted across his features ; for well he knew the needlessness of his
question, and how strong and untiring would be her will to serve him.
Trouble, Philip ! only give me something that I can do for you ; let me feel that I am working for you, or I shall die; for what have I else to live for?'
*Live for me, dear Helen, as faithfully as you have ever lived, and let my last wishes remain in your memory as a tie to bind those whom Death has striven to part.'
For you! oh, Heaven! but I am powerless and despised ! a lost, friendless creature, who is alone upon God's earth!'
' And have you no reproaches, my poor Helen, for him who has made you desolate ? and for which and for my many sins may God in his mercy pardon me. But, Nellie, poor and friendless as you think yourself, you may aid me still, and give some peace to my dying hours; all I ask is a promise, a vow I would rather call it, that in all things you will obey me, both to the letter and in the spirit.'