صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

cheek upon

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

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

[ocr errors]

me lies

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.

“As the Almighty may look with pity on me, when my last hour of trial comes, so will I as far as in

be true to you,” said Helen, solemnly. He hung upon her words eagerly, and when her vow was spoken, he, still resting on her arm, addressed her in smothered tones:

"Helen, you know all the history of my past life, and I have not now to tell you of the cruel mystery that veils the conduct of my wife; nay, start not, dearest; you will not be jealous of the love of a dying man?” and, gazing at her wistfully, the same faint smile, sweet and almost unearthly, Aickered across his face. “I may go on, may I not? I may trust that my best friend will have patience with me?”

Helen was very human; and having believed and hoped that his last thoughts of earthly things would have been for her, it was hard to find that another and a more absorbing interest was paramount in his breast; she gave, however, no sign of her disappointment, but in a steady voice bade him command her in everything

“Helen,” he continued, “I have seen my wife, seen her here, and but a moment since. She was close


[ocr errors]

to me, standing at my pillow, and with trembling lips, as though whispering words of menace in my ears."

“A dream, dear Philip; believe me that it was a mere delusion, for your commands have been strictly obeyed, and all entrance to the room denied. It is the opiate you have taken that has conjured up these unreal visitors; strive to forget them, love, — to forget them, and to rest."

“There is no rest for me, no rest even in the grave of the weary, for her sad face will haunt me there."

"Her face! Oh, Philip!"

“It should be yours, Nellie, you would say; but no, you can grant me your forgiveness ere I go;

while Oh! Helen, we parted in anger, and now the longing for reconciliation comes too late. Speak again to me; tell me that other men would have acted as I acted would have believed as I believed.”

“Indeed they would. It must have been hard to decide otherwise.” But Helen spoke hesitatingly; for with all her wish to comfort him, having no clue to guide her to the opinion that would best effect her object, she was as one groping in the dark.

“Then I may trust that I was not wholly unjust, and that


conduct but alas! there is poor consolation in the thought that my proceedings were justified by guilt of hers; and something tells me now that I was perhaps to hasty, and that I may have utterly wronged her by my suspicions. Often of late such an idea has crossed my mind; but, presuming on the morrow that might never be mine, I banished the thought as troublesome and oppressive. Since I have lain here, many a word and look of hers that during the period of those terrible discoveries seemed to bring

conviction to my mind, have forced themselves upon me, and taught me once more to doubt. Helen, I may have been in error;


may, in the angry sensitiveness for what men call their honour, have been wanting in the faith that would have saved us all; and therefore at this, my eleventh hour, have received a warning that I dare not neglect. Nellie, I am fast hastening where doubts and suspicions will harass me no more; but to the faithful love of her I leave behind me, I delegate the duty that I have so culpably neglected. Helen, your task must be to investigate into the truth or falsehood of all and everything connected with Lady Thornleigh's former life. God grand that you may prove her innocent; but if so, heavy indeed must be

my guilt.”

The bed shook with the intensity of his emotion, and she, fearing that the final crisis was approaching, bent over him in speechless agitation; but her alarm was premature, for Death was not yet ready for his prey, and after the lapse of a few minutes, Philip spoke again:

“Forgive me, if I pain you. Remember that she was my wife, and that I loved her dearly once. If I have wronged her — foully, cruelly wronged her, — my spirit will not rest till tardy justice be done to the woman whose existence I have embittered, and to the children whose opening years I have darkened with shame. Her young sister, too

poor pretty Alice – methinks I see her now, and hear her beseeching voice, vainly imploring me to believe, and to have mercy on my wife. But I was deaf to their


I worse than deaf, I was inhuman; and turning those helpless women from my doors, I loaded them with


scorn, heaping insult on the mother of my children, and on the wife to whose protestations and oaths of innocence I refused all credit. Truly there were no bounds to my virtuous indignation, and verily I have had my reward.”

There was a pause, which the sympathising woman knew not to how to break, and after a few moments he continued thus:

“My time is short, love; very short for all I have to do; and I have much to say while power of speech is granted me. My words come thick and with difficulty now, Helen, but you can comprehend my meaning, however confusedly it may be conveyed to you. Many obstacles will lie in your path, and years may possibly elapse before your work is over; but let no difficulties deter you, and no opposition frighten you from your duty. In no other soul that lives would I repose a confidence so sacred and so entire; and on the disinterestedness of no other friend could I so truly rely as on yours. When, therefore, the innocence (for the proofs of which you will diligently seek) is firmly established, and in the opinion of the good, and even in that of the world, the stain on her reputation is removed; if my wife be proved to be falsely accused, and if her honour come out brightly from the ordeal it will undergo, then by you, and you alone, must restitution be made, and full amends be offered to her and to her children.”

“By me! Surely, Philip, you cannot mean this? The whole world will cry out “Shame!' upon you, if such a one as I be made the judge of a woman's conduct and the arbitress of her fate.'

"And think you, Nellie, that I owe no reparation

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »