صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

morrow? He will be in another world then, or haply sleeping the sleep that knows no waking; and yet he is still

, though by no wish or will of his, busying himself concerning the trivial interests with which he has no more to do than the man who had died and been buried a century ago. It was passing strange; but he detected himself at one moment in the very act of considering how he could best dispose of the animal whose scurvy trick had brought him to this disagreeable pass. And then there flashed across him a sense of his own neglect, in forgetting to inquire whether “Miranda” (and never had the mare's name seemed more familiar to him) had received any injury in the fall that had so disgraced her: while as to her ultimate destination he found some difficulty in making up his mind; doubting whether at Tattersall's she would “fetch" more than

Ah! poor fool! poor mortal! No more will "Sunday shine a betting day to you.” There are no more earthly "settling days” to which you may look forward; and your place in the “ring” will know you no more. The confusion of ideas, which thoughts such as these created in a brain already weakened by his accident, terrified him into a sudden suspicion that his mind was wandering; and a cold perspiration breaking out over his forehead, he trembled violently. "God have mercy upon me,” he exclaimed with sudden vehemence, “for I am losing my senses.” A gentle touch (need I say

it a woman's?) rested on his shoulder, and recalled him to himself; and so for a passing moment he was comforted, and his nervous tremor ceased. Ah! how true is the oftrepeated saying, that in scenes of sorrow and of sick


ness, from the sight of which bold men shrink appalled, women seem in their most fitting place! Even the weak and foolish among them find that their powers strengthen in the hour of trial, and that their nerves become more fitted for their work; and when a man is poor

and helpless, and sick and miserable, he will rather turn for assistance and consolation to the woman he has wronged and slighted, than to the boon companion who, in happier days, had feasted at his board and called himself his friend. The remembrance of his mother comes strongly upon the suffering nian, when humbled and prostrate he is awaiting his final summons. He turns back, and through the long vista of years he sees her there. She looks as she did in the early days, long years ago, when in his fretful childhood she laid him down upon his little bed, with a mother's kiss upon his lips and a mother's blessing on his head; he hears her, as she patiently teaches him to lisp his infant

prayer, and he sees her, as she shed tears of agony over his first great fault; ever at hand whenever sympathy was called for, or useful service required; forgetting herself in her constant memory of those she loved, a memory that fills her mind throughout the day, and keeps it wakeful during the watches of the night. In sorrow and in anguish does a woman bring a man into the world: the life she has given is, alas! but too often for her one long trial; and when the last scene that closes the sad eventful history comes, in trouble and in anguish deeper still, she strives to smooth his passage to eternity!

“Helen,” exclaimed the dying man to the woman whose loving hand rested on his shoulder, “Helen! speak to me — and speak aloud — for whispers worry

me, and I love your voice; but, above all, give me light, and let me once more see the sun of heaven, that shines alike on the just and the unjust."

The last words were muttered almost inaudibly; but the woman's anxious sense had caught their import, and she sighed heavily as, moving towards the window, she prepared to do his bidding.

“Helen, this must be a dream a dream from which I long to waken.”

For all reply, the woman, bowing down her head, murmured faintly, "No dream, alas! Oh! my poor Philip! my poor love!” and a sob rising in her throat was checked with difficulty. There was a word (and that word was Death) which was clutching at her heart, as if with fingers of ice; but she tried to seem (poor soul!) as though she were still hopeful; and looking down on him, she smiled faintly. They were silent again; not making the most of the few moments granted to them, but grieving inwardly.

The midsummer sun, which shines as brightly on the grave as on the cradle, came struggling through the half-closed shutters and drawn curtains; tracing a narrow stream of light along the room in which the motes danced merrily, while summer insects, disporting themselves on the window-frames, hummed noisily in the sunshine. Above these mocking sights and sounds the woman's voice at length arose.

“You feel no pain, love? Tell me at least that you do not suffer.”

“Pain? No. For me pain of body is, I imagine, nearly over: lay your hand on me press hard upon my limbs. Nellie, my poor girl, I feel your touch no more than I do that of the fly that settles on the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

coverlid. I am more than half-dead already, for it is only here that I retain sensation;" and he moved his head slowly. “But kiss me, my darling, for I would gladly feel the touch of your warm lips once more.

She leant over him, and pressed a kiss on his cold damp forehead. It was a solemn, almost a parting caress, one which sent a sharp stinging pain through Helen's heart, as she turned aside to hide the grief she could not repress.

"Nay, Helen, this must not be!" said Philip. “My time here is short, and I cannot afford to lose one look of the face I am so soon to leave. Call up all your courage: you were ever a brave woman.

Do you remember?

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

his re

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 proachfully. 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 him, 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 life-love 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

« السابقةمتابعة »