« ПредишнаНапред »
and by my side he sat down, when we left the pianoforte and went into the next room. I will not minutely record the details of our proceedings, or of the various alternations of hopes and fears which agitated me during the next few days. Sometimes when Edward spoke to me, his voice had a tone, his eyes an expression, which made me forget for an instant everything but what I heard in that tone and read in those eyes, and the ecstasy of such moments made the contrast darker and bitterer each time when, under the influence of my secret misgivings, or of my jealous pangs, that flash of transient joy gave way before the gloom which suddenly succeeded it. Mrs. Middleton had taught me to tear away the veil from my own thoughts and feelings—to be true to myself and merciless to my own illusions; and therefore, though I could sometimes read love in Edward's eyes,—though I could see that when an expression of strong feeling escaped me it awoke emotion in his soul and struck a chord which vibrated to the touch,-I could also see the struggle which he made to master and repress these feelings. I saw well his deep appreciation of the pure and unsullied truth of Rosa's character. When her eyes were fixed upon him with the bold simplicity and innocent daring of one
‘Who feared no danger, for she knew no sin,”
I have seen him turn to me with an earnest gaze of thoughtful inquiry, which I dared not meet but by a mute appeal for mercy. I had heard him murmur in a low voice one evening, in which storms of jealous anger and gloomy abstraction had swept over my soul and clouded my brow,-I heard him murmur, as Rosa's joyous laugh reached our ears,
‘O, blest with temper, whose unclouded ray
I had heard this, and yet I did not hate her. No, God be praised–and I bless Him for it!—not all my sufferings, not all my faults, not even the tortures of jealousy itself, have robbed me of that one pure emotion, that one spontaneous impulse—instinctive homage to what is pure, admiration of what is good. But how I envied her the privilege of truth ! how bitterly I contrasted her fate with mine when, one day, I saw her snatch up her little sister to her knees, while Mr. Escourt was asserting that there was no one who would willingly consent to lay open their thoughts to another, and devouring her with kisses, exclaim, ‘Now, Minny, you know I should not mind if you could read every one of my thoughts.” At the outset of this history of myself and of my sufferings, I had to gather strength for the task; one fatal day stood out in dreadful prominence, and to describe it was to live over again its agonising hours. Again I feel the same kind of emotion; again I must pause; for I am arrived at that moment which dragged me down a step lower into the abyss which I had seen from afar off, and from which I had vainly struggled to recede. For days, for weeks, I have shut up this book, and put it aside as an enemy whose sight I feared; but, like the rattlesnake, this very fear fascinates and subdues me; and as the stern spells of memory cannot be conjured away, they must be braved and conquered.
‘La douleur a trahi les secrets de son âme,
ONE morning, after we had been a few days at Hampstead, I felt the greatest wish to slip quietly out of the house and stroll about alone for an hour or two. I had been in the habit of doing so at Elmsley, and I found nothing so effectual as this in subduing agitation, and recalling my mind to a state of composure. After making the tour of the grounds, walking round the lake and dawdling some time in the shrubberies, I opened a small gate into a lane which led towards the common. This lane was scarcely wider than a path, and was only divided from the grounds of the villa by a ditch and a slight railing. I was intently occupied in examining an ant's nest and the various evolutions performed by its black citizens on the sudden fall of a snail among them, which had dropt off a branch of dog-roses while I was gathering it, when all at once a sound as of many people running, joined to loud cries and vociferations, caught my ear. There was something ominous in the noise, and my heart beat quick as I looked with a mixture of fear and curiosity towards the end of the lane which opened on the heath. The noise increased; and suddenly round the corner and into the lane dashed a dog, followed by several men armed with pitchforks, and shouting. The appalling cry of ‘A mad dog! a mad dog!’ struck distinctly upon my ears, and brought a deadly faintness over my limbs, and a cold sweat on my forehead. I tried to run, and my strength utterly failed me. I tried to scream and could not. The animal was coming nearer and nearer. I clung to the railing; the shouts grew louder: “Get out of the way l—a mad dog !—get out of the way!' Two more seconds and the beast would have been upon me with swollen tongue, glaring eye, and foaming mouth, when, quick as lightning, across the ditch and over the railing sprang Edward, with a face as pale as a sheet and almost convulsed with terror. The dog was close to me; he seized it, flung it across the hedge into a pond on the other side, and dragged me to the grounds and up to a bank on which he placed me. For a moment I closed my eyes, overpowered by the terror I had felt, and the sense of escape from it; but I heard Edward murmur in a tone of anguish, “Good God, what shall I do?’ I opened my eyes and looked up into his face; it was so dreadfully pale that I exclaimed, ‘You are ill—very ill; for God’s sake sit down.” ‘No, he answered—‘no; now that you are better, it is all right; I will go home and send somebody to you.’ ‘I can go now,' I said; “I can walk.” But what was it I saw at that moment on the ground before me? There were spots of blood on the gravel ! There was blood on Edward's sleeve Sudden as the flash that rends the skies, as the bolt that blasts the oak, the truth burst upon me. I neither shrieked nor swooned; the very excess of anguish made me calm. On Edward's hand was the fatal scar. I seized his arm, and so quickly and suddenly that he neither foresaw nor could prevent the act. I pressed my lips to it, and sucked the poisoned blood from the wound. When he tried to draw his hand from my grasp, I clung to it and retained it with the strength which nothing but love and terror can give. When at last by a violent effort he disengaged it, I fell on my knees before him, and, clinging to his feet, in words which I cannot write, with passion which no words can describe, I implored him by that love which had been the torture and the joy of my life, its bane and its glory, to yield again his hand to me that I might save his life as he had saved mine. As he still refused, still struggled to get away, I seized on the blood-stained handkerchief with which I wiped my mouth, and eagerly clasping it to my bosom I exclaimed, ‘This, if you leave me, shall make me run the same risks as yourself. If there is poison in this blood it shall mingle with mine.’ An expression of intense emotion passed over Edward's face in a moment, and his resolution suddenly changed. He sat down on the bench and held out his hand to me. “Do what you will,” he said. “Nothing but death shall part us now.’ There was such thrilling tenderness, such intense feeling in these few words, such belief in me, that, as I sank on my knees by his side, and pressed my lips again on that hand, now passive in my grasp, while with the other he supported me as I knelt, -as he fixed his eyes in silent but ardent affection on mine,—there was such a suspension in my soul of everything but deep, boundless, inexpressible love, which thrilled through every nerve and absorbed every faculty, that I could have wished to die in that state of blissful abstraction. . . . The blood had ceased to flow; the task of love was over, and still I knelt by Edward's side; still his arm supported my head; still he murmured words of tenderness in my ear—when we were roused by the sudden