Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

of wild entreaty, for the pardon of her wretched brother.

Vainly did Lord Dundee try to soothe her—vainly did he strive to assure her of his intentions; she would not listen nor comprehend in her tumult of anguish, in her shame for Norman's guilt, to which Lord Dundee's unsolicited clemency on a former occasion gave a tenfold sting, if it could not impart a blacker dye, and, goaded on by one dread peculiar to herself, which, sharpening her horror of his vengeance to the last intensity, sprang from her lips, mingling her solicitations for a brother's life with the confession of her fated love.

“Oh, Lord Dundee, have mercy on him, have mercy on him! he has sinned against you, but leave him time to repent for his sin against Heaven! Be pitiful as you hope for pity, spare if you would be spared, and for vengeance heap those coals of fire

upon his head! Hear me, befriend me, if not for his sake, for mine—that I may not loathe my own life because I can never dare to love you more! See, I will kneel here until my knees grow to the earth, I will hold you until you strike me from you, I will cry until you are weary, for if he has hated I have loved you, with a love that might atone for his worst guilt !”

He shaded his averted face with unsteady hand-he could not look at her. She sank together almost insensible, as his unmoved manner, in which she could not discern the agitation caused by her own words, seemed to bid her leave all hope behind, but, recover

a

ing herself instantly, exclaimed with redoubled vehemence,

No, no! you will not be cruel; you will not be inhuman; you will not ruin the noble image of all generous goodness enthroned in my innermost soul; you will not tear from me the right to love you, the

, happiness of praying for you as I have never ceased to do! Oh dinna turn so coldly away—dinna seek to harden your heart against the orphan who has none but you to help her! If you have on your soul one burden of grief, one load of remorse, one memory

of evil done which you would gladly undo, grant me now my despairing petition, and your forgiveness of another's crime shall return as a messenger of joy to your own bosom, such joy as vengeance never could bring! But if justice must be satisfied, if the forfeit must be paid, blood for blood, life for life, take mine, and be merciful even in that--for dying so I shall escape the agony of hating you, far worse than the bitterest death! No, you need not raise a finger to harm me-speak the word which sends my brother unrepentant and unforgiven to a murderer's doom, slay by that awful sentence the love which fills my heart of hearts, and Alice will never reproach you, for that heart will break ! ”

• Rise, rise, Alicerise, my poor child, I cannot see you so,” said Lord Dundee, his voice tremulous with genuine emotion, and trying gently to lift her—"you cannot think how much you are distressing me by such abasement."

My soul is bowed to the dust with the remorse he will never feel; my attitude is but too fit a one. Leave

66

me here, my lord, at least until I have won the word of pardon from your generous lips, and paid my tribute of thankfulness for mercy undeserved by him for whom I implore it. Let the sister's humiliation and tears efface the brother's crime."

She had resisted all his efforts to raise her, and, clinging fast to him, cast up her eyes to watch for the relenting of his stern, mournful, face. It came with her last words, and his, mingling with them, sadly rejected all claim to that enthusiastic gratitude.

“ Alice, I will not pretend to a generosity which, but for

you,

I never should have exercised. I never should have dreamed of such leniency as pardoning and releasing your brother, had your affectionate friendship not contributed to save my life, or striven to do so as far as your power could extend. I had resolved on this, even before I came hither, but only for your sake, and lest I might add a straw's weight to your sore burden. But with his life, I frankly tell you, Alice, I have given you my own. Nothing but my death will ever appease his wanton hatred, and my forgiveness will but add fuel to flame-malignity to his detestation."

“Oh! never, never! Wild, perverted he is, alas ! but not so utterly base! He could never injure you more; a fiend would blush at such vile, hateful, ingratitude !” ejaculated Alice; and, gathering the viscounts hands to her bosom, she folded them in her own, laid her hot cheek upon them, pressed them to her lips with all the enthusiasm of her adoring thankfulness; then rose and stood before him, trembling with the

[ocr errors]

violence of her agitation. And that she believed him free as herself, he knew now as certainly as that she loved him. Innocence, most heavenly and unsullied, shone in her every act and look—the innocence on which a passion condemned by man, unblessed by Heaven, could have no hold.

Alice, I have more to say—more to tell you—to confess to you—” He struggled through these sen

. tences, then failed. How was it that he-the ready, accomplished, eloquent, speaker to all men and women he had ever met, should be at such a loss in this emergency?

Alice,” he began afresh, “the first time we met, I asked, at this hour, on this very night, almost in this very place, that you would lend no car to the calumnies that are spread abroad against me, and, remembering that I had tried to be a friend to you, think

, kindly of me in turn.”

“ Heaven knows I kept my word, and, oh, too well !” said the poor girl in broken accents.

“ Too well, indeed, for your own happiness, I sadly fear; too well, perhaps, for mine. Nay, my child, I do not mean that I love you; do not think, do not hope such a thing—it would be too great a misfortune for both--unfeeling, insolent as I may seem in saying it so plainly; but duty commands, and I obey her dictates now as ever. Alice, I cannot tell you, I knew not myself, until I was doomed to lose it, how green a spot your regard has been in my wild and wearing life; but I must give up that, and your gratitude, and your unselfish love, were they what they could not be -ten thousand times more precious--and bid you forget that ever I asked them of you, that ever I did anything which might seem to justify them-to forget me.”

Overwhelmed by the consciousness that her secret had irrevocably rushed from her unguarded lips, Alice had buried her face in her arms; a scarlet flame flushing over cheek, neck, and bosom, to the very tips of her slender fingers; the clear, full, stream of her abounding love which had long run so calm and deep, had suddenly, swollen by the recent tempest, risen into a furious torrent and overflowed its quiet banks, leaving utter confusion behind. But, gradually, as the voice of him she loved sank like a gale from heaven over the surgings of her trembling shame, the thought that he had heard and understood, and had not spurned her in contemptuous anger, nay, that his pitying respect enfolded her still in undiminished gentleness, gave her the only comfort she desired or could receive. She lifted her eyes to his, and, folding her small hands firmly together, said, as a martyr might refuse to abjure his creed,

“I cannot; and I would not if I could. I am lowly in your sight, and in my own; my love may be presumptuous and vain, but it is the last treasure I possess, and none shall take it from me.

It is mine, my very own-bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh; it cannot grieve you; leave it me in peace; even without one ray of hope, I can still be happy.”

“ Alice, you must not indulge even that affection, I cannot conceive how you can have remained in this

« PredošláPokračovať »