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him for himself! He had sunned his chilled and haughty nature in its genial warmth without ever inquiring into its consequences to her or assigning to it any
well-defined in his own mind. He knew perfectly well that in the ordinary sense of the word he did not love Alice—that he had no interest in her which he would have been reluctant to confess before the whole world—on this all-important point his conscience gave no feeble or wavering response--and, content with that, he had accepted and encouraged the young girl's humble yet fervent attachment, thinking himself safe because he did not love her, thinking her secure because she loved anothertransferring to the unknown and imaginary beloved every involuntary betrayal of herself which ought to have opened his eyes to the reality—and caring no more to analyse that attachment than a traveller journeying through a waste of ice (to which his inner world might in many respects be likened) would care to examine from what tree the wood was cut which hospitable hands might kindle to thaw his benumbed limbs, or than a pilgrim parched with drought would ask the name of a river before drinking of its limpid waters. He had loved Alice—the fond, grateful girl-friend, with her trusting eyes and perfect faith, whom chance had thrown so utterly upon his tenderness and his honour—as prisoners have been known to prize a slender plant which has pushed its pale leaves and odorous buds between the crevices of their dungeon pavement; he had plucked the blossom of her love as it were from a stony ground, where none such
had ever flowered for him before; he had bent again and again to inhale its pure and abundant fragrance, sweeter than ever by contrast with the wrangling and din, the gross selfishness and evil of every sort amongst which he had cast his lot; and now he rebelled passionately against the implacable fate which had found this unshielded place beneath the triple bronze, and planted in his breast a friendship so deep and ennobling only to bid him abandon it for ever. He turned upon this harsh destiny, he fought with it—demanding fiercely why he should be forbidden by conscience to do as other men, and take the love so freely offered—why he should have no liberty—but be hedged in, and driven to immolate every weakness at the shrine of this grim Moloch, Duty—and what curse he carried about with him which withered up all the beauty and gladness of life when he sought to take his share in it? No—this he would keep—this heart he had so fairly won; she loved him, let her love on; he would not be the one to crush it. If she must learn his marriage, let her learn it from other lips when he was far away, too far to hear her agonized reproaches. No
, falsehood was needed, merely silence and concealment of the truth; why should he uselessly torture her now that the mischief was done?
And-humbling proof of the corruption of our human nature on the very side we proudly deem invulnerable—this self-indulgent, shallow sophistry this temptation, seen all the while in its true light, abhorred by his better self, was a real and fearful one!
For a moment only, to be discarded the next amidst
a rush of such self-reproach as he had rarely or never inflicted
himself before. He, who had not even the poor excuse of passion to plead in extenuation of such deception-he, to connive at so fatal a delusion! and in the moral cowardice of wishing to spare himself the sight of her affliction, and her the grief of knowing that he was beyond all love save that of a sister or a daughter, embark upon a career of deliberate though tacit falsehood, of which it was impossible to see the end-lead her on with a lie in his right hand, perhaps to find himself at last involved in a labyrinth where he might lose his honour and self-respect--Alice her innocence and her peace !- With an exertion of the will as sudden and imperious as an effort of the body, he trampled down the base, pernicious thought, and trod it in the dust.
“ Now out upon thee, false knight and recreant gentleman!” he said in his heart. “Is this thy vaunted courage, to quail before the sight of a woman's tears? is this thy stainless honour, to wile away that of one who loves thee, and give her by thy ungenerous weakness cause for sorrow more hopeless than ever hereafter? What devil has been tempting me to-night? Am I a dog that I should do this thing?"
" Alas! I have offended you, my lord,” said Alice, for his long silence, and the cold, serious countenance with which he had let her hand fall from his, had chased
away all the sunny gleam from her brow, and the rose from her glowing cheek.
- You offend me Alice !-I am but too deeply indebted to you-Heaven grant that before this inter
view is ended you may not tell me that you Whatever claim you may conceive me to have upon your gratitude, I never could have dared to ask from you one-tenth of the sacrifice you must have made for me.”
" I do not understand —” she said, wonderingly, the tears which still stole down her face ceasing, as if some sudden shock had closed the spring within. “A sacrifice? I made none—and oh! God has been very merciful, and I very faithless! I despaired of his goodness, I could not believe that you would be saved; but He has not put that great burden on His poor trembling servant, and how can I fear what else may happen unto me?”
“ Alice, you are a brave, patient girl, and you will need all
firmness. There is worse coming than you seem to guess. My poor child, am I to understand that when you wrote that warning-ah! you do not deny it-you entertained no idea that you had a deeper interest in its contents than a stranger's welfare?”
"A stranger! am I a stranger to you, or you to me?” murmured poor Alice—the expression cut her to the heart.
"A stranger certainly, except in friendship—and one would fain be more so," he thought, as he reflected
" upon what he was about to speak. “But, Alice,
• , answer me at once, for this dark doubt of
has grievously pained me. How did you become mistress of the intelligence you sent to me, without being also
“Say on, I can bear any thing from you," she answered faintly.
His language was an enigma as yet, but her fine instinct gave warning of some new calamity, and, like the sensitive plants which close their petals when a storm draws nigh, she felt the coming blow even before it reached her.
“ Did you recognise my assassins? Did you not surmise how dreadful a share you had in their crime and its reward? Alice, Alice! what am I to think? Was the name of one at least never spoken in your hearing? did no voice of nature whisper to you whom you were betraying?”
Her large hazel eyes had grown quite fixed, and dilated almost to circles; she shrank into herself, raising her small quivering hands to her head, as if to exclude the sounds from her brain, and exclaimed in a low, horror-struck whisper,
“Norman, oh Norman ! it is come-all is fulfilled now !
say no more-I know “ Thrice this night his sword has missed my heart, my
blood is still wet on it; but my time is not yet at hand, and until my hour hath struck man's enmity is vain. He is now my prisoner, and when to-morrow dawns
She heard no more; she had wavered and tottered as the flame of a taper shivers in a blast of wind, and his arm was extended to sustain her—but, true to herself even at that appalling moment, she neither shrieked nor wept, but ere he could prevent her was on the ground at his feet, clasping his knees, kissing his hands, burying her face in the folds of his cloak, supplicating in words that might have melted a rock, with gestures