Графични страници
PDF файл

confessions, tore him thence! Truth itself 's a sin, after such treachery to a husband ! If you do believe that your soul is leaving you, and would atone before it 's gone, die with the lie on your lips ! lie, lie on! in mercy and in virtue, die, saying he is your own! he is your own !—but it's too late.”

With brilliant, yet ghastly smile, and the hectic flush, now heightened to a burning crimson, Margaret sprung up of her own sudden strength, the impulse of the emotion which had stopped her utterance, and threw her arms around his neck ere he was aware, crying out, “And so he is ! he is, on the word and oath of a dying woman, he is your own! I meant that I was false when I said otherwise, when I allowed my brother's wicked lie to pass on you; and so I was, on my life and my soul's life, I was !” He shook his head, incredulous. " You don't believe me, then ?" she cried vehemently, wringing her hands, “then it is too late, indeed! my poor wronged little boy!” “Foolish, wretched woman,” said her husband; “could you suppose me in earnest, when I bade you feed me with that honied lie?” “My breath fails me: what can I say? Oh, heaven! oh, God of truth, speak for me! Some pitying mother, now an angel in heaven, speak for me; right my child; convince my husband before I die!” A dawn of comfort was visible in the gloomy eyes of the father. “Woman, remember,” said he, “this is, perhaps, your death-bed.” “I do, I do! I hope it is -and revenging God so deal with me as I speak true or false, when I say he is your own! And I, too-I, too, though that you regard not,--but I was ever true to you, David. I came to your bosom as I left my mother's in my weaning time, untouched in person, in heart, and I go to my bed in the earth as I left yours! I take your last kiss on my lips to the grave with me, husband, mine! Could you say as much? But no matter—my child! my child ! 'Death, I feel, has decided for us now which shall have the keeping of him."

David pored on her face of pale exhaustion, as if to search her very soul; then he took her hand again tenderly. "Margaret !” he said, with a quavering yet solemn voice, “by that Heaven you call on, I call on you, I implore you, torment me no further! I am ready for the worst: truth, truth is what I ask, I demand of you.


indeed, swear that child is mine?” “For God's sake, bring a Bible: quick! there is one,-hand it me,” she exclaimed, her agi

tation increasing her frightful expectoration every moment. “Invent any form of oath the most dreadful,-on the soul's peril of a dying woman; one who knows herself dying; look at my life ebbing fast to prove me dying: with this last breath I

say he is your own: so saying, with my lips' last motion, I kiss this book of God, and swear he is your child. Look! I have sealed it with my blood! the stamp of a bloody lip is on the page! Yours—yours, David! Now shall I be believed? Can I depart in peace now? And oh! now shall I not see our child before I die? Now can you forgive my angry, wicked, unnatural, lie? If you can, kiss me once, in token, and take one kiss to him from me, my injured, innocent, poor little boy! I would kneel to you, would my weakness allow-to him, were he here: oh, God, that he were here!”

The husband kissed her in transport. “You have heaved a mountain from off my breast, dear Peggy: I breathe again! I live again ! and you must live, too! my poor, poor wife, mother of my darling! Oh, that we were all now together! come to my heart again—to my heart and home! Oh, lost Peggy; yet not lost, I trust in God; live for both our sakes ! We shall be so happy yet! We will both keep him—no more dispute.”. She shook her head, unable to speak. “In what a dream have we been wasting our lives! How have we been abused ! for you, too, have had your wrong suspicion

Now hear me swear, you never had rival in my heart or arms, but our little Peter,-never!”

The door flew open; one of the shepherds of Llandevillog entered in great haste, and broke at once the speechless solemn embrace which sealed this late, but perfect reconciliation. He had ridden hard to overtake the master, for “the womankind” thought there was “a change in little Peter.” This was an awful announcement for David, who well knew that a “change for death” is meant by that term, although often announced mistakenly. The very ghastliness of death overspread the father's face. “And I must be here! at this horrid distance !" said he. Again the newly-reconciled wife of his bosom seemed the murderess of his child; she caught the full feeling of his altered mind through his eyes, which scowled the dumb curse of his infuriated misery, though he spoke not, as he released himself from her embrace. "Not one, David ; not one more?” Whether kiss or embrace was her meaning, he vouchsafed not one, but almost before time had elapsed for his descent, as she thought, she heard the

of me.

two horses on the rock of the fold round the house. She sunk back on her bed in utter prostration of soul and body, betwixt exhaustion by his sudden cold departure, but more by the blasting effect of that farewell curse of his gloomy eyes. Yet she listened for the last of his horse's hoof tramp. She heard it die away in desperate speed along the dangerous declivities of a rugged mountain opposite, and heart seemed to die away within her as the sound without.

Little did the impatient father reck of the road he had to travel, except its dreadful length. He pictured to himself his child dying, now, now that he could once more hold him to his heart, as if come out of a hideous dream, dying, and he away, no more perhaps to behold him forever! anobstructed journey of many mountain miles was before him. Perhaps no severer a trial of mortal patience can be endured than that he was suffering. The stretching forward of the fond soul before the tardy body; the spiritual flight, the devouring of the way, in the one; the heavy, gradual, laborious progress of the other; that constant conflict, how cruel and terrible is it, when life or death, one more word of the dying, another look, another living kiss, one more sight of the sentient being, or everlasting silence, blue and moveless lips, that being's horrid effigy in chilling, perishing clay; when so vast is the question pending on that body's speed, for eternal decision?

“ Believe in one who by experience knows

This is the woe surpassing other woes !" Hoole's Ariosto. This trial had our master shepherd to endure to agony. There were craggy water-courses to be crossed with slow care, out of which madness itself could not force even a spirited horse; broken up peat ground presenting ascentor descentof a foot or even two, at every few paces; pale green rounds of verdure concealing quaking bogsto be avoided: the plashy mountain foot-road where the soil is at once clogging and hindering, with great stones fallen from the top; and then the rolling stones of the long, long defile between banks which lead down to the real base of the mountain in the cultivated valley, the place of homes and green fields; and as more than one moun tain was to be crossed, there was a repetition of these obs cles, every one of which seemed to his heart-gnawing tience, as so many inhuman foes, deaf and blind to his agony, and groan and sweat, standing between him and the deathbed, (for such fancy painted it,) between him and the restless rolling head; the faint face he saw, in idea, turning for him to the opening door! his mind was there, but round him was the


life near,

same dreadful, far-stretching distance, the brown moor, the far-fading rock horizon, (for it grew dark:) and the only

that of creatures alien to the nature of his torment, the kite, the owl, and the dismal bittern of the marsh. It seemed the ordinary pain of absence condensed into an agony bitterer than death; the sick impatience of years comprised in one horrid hour!

True, it was but a child, but a little child, for whom he felt all this. Could a man so feel ? was it natural ? Yes, to the man of nature, for such in some degree was David. What little he had seen of mankind had taught him to exalt in his mind the unperfected being above the perfect, or what the sense of the world regards as such. He reversed the scale of their claims to love or veneration: to him the man was as the child, and the child as the man. Besides, he had made his little helpmate of his son, young as he was ; and accustomed thus to companionship with him in all things, he seemed to have as much claim to his heart's fierce remorse, as his other affections. Hence every unkind word and look his uncomplaining patient boy had suffered from him, and which no worldly father would have once thought on more, rose like armed furies each from its sleep to stab his heart, in his desperate impatience to atone (to his own mind,) for past estrangement, by once more clasping him to that heart, and closing the dreadful gulf falsehood had fixed between them for ever.

That delightful embrace was at hand. He threw himself from his horse, at his own door, seized the string of the latch; paused to listen; the quietness soothed his nerves, for it seemed to assure him that all was well, that at least he lived. To him it appeared that death in the house must have produced, had it actually occurred, some degree, at least, of that tremendous commotion which its mere idea, the conceit of a black imagination and sick heart, had kept in his mind all the way. Alas! he forgot what a mere dream, or if ever more, how fleeting a reality, is human sympathy! he forgot that even had his worst fears been realized, should his child lie dead that moment within,-in the midst of his madness, and outcry, and agony of heart, no more would be said or done in the next farm, in the house of even his kindest neighbour, than a question asked and answered, “is Davy Llandevillog's little boy dead?” “Yes;” no more! He was in the room before any knew of his return: a black evening, joined to the shade of leaves round the casement, made all dim within. What

was his ease of heart to see, not only all quiet, but one woman, his usual nurse, tying on the night-cap of his darling, in all tranquillity! the very suddenness of that ease was of itself a shock. He gasped deep, it seemed as if he had not breathed since he received the alarming message, till then. He pushed aside the nurse, exclaiming, “ going to sleep, my precious? one kiss, first, mine own!—mine own darling boy! but one for foolish, foolish father.” Bending over him in the dusk, he saw a pretty smile on the wan little face, but it was not at him. The lips had a dreadful formality in their closure: it was the chin band,-it was the falling jaw the woman was tying up, which he mistook for the cap! In the moment of his pronouncing “father,” the horrible truth flashing in his mind stopped the word in his throat; he felt he was now, indeed, no father! the frightful appearance of two eye holes, instead of those mild blue eyes he looked into, produced by a small copper coin laid on each, as is the custom, completed the sad certainty. He jirked up his head in shuddering horror, for his lips and those of clay, his eyes and those blind sockets, almost met. His sudden outcry betwixt

groan and shriek, and the name of “Christ!" halfuttered, was so wild, and loud, and frightful, that it was beard by two of his shepherds on the height of the mountain opposite, so mournful that they were distinctly heard to answer it, instinctively groaning, in a short word of pitying grief. It told them that their unhappy master had just then commenced his new childless existence.

He had no sooner uttered that dreadful cry than he fell at length on the ground, and lay for some time without sense, without motion. His rising was slow, solemn, ghost-like, shocking to look upon. His face had taken the very pale of the death that had so suddenly blasted his eyes and stunned his sense. He stood like some effigy with its stony eyeballs fixed on vacancy; but the officious nurse had covered the body with a sheet, so that he looked but upon the ghastly outline of the small body with projecting face and feet.

He pointed to it to have it removed, and she obeyed, for his action had in it something commanding, like that of a mournful apparition. Then he waved her from the room with the same dumb gestures alone, after which he resumed his fixed gaze on the composed and beautiful figure of the little corpse. The whole household stood without, just peeping in occasionally, without daring to disturb the stricken father in this his first stern interview with death ;-his dire new

« ПредишнаНапред »