Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

when they did wrong me, they permitted me to know it. These thoughts never affected my brain ;- there was no fear of that. I thought no longer from the brain ;-these thoughts were in my heart, and never moved thence.

One evening, as I was ascending the stairs, I overheard the child inquiring of one of the servants “who that white-haired gentleman was, and why he lived in the house ?” I had hitherto refused to see the child ; but I now rang the bell, and ordered the housekeeper, who constantly waited upon me, to bring him to me.

He was much grown since I had last seen him, and was a fine boy. He did not know me, and was at first fearful of approaching me ; but I induced him to sit upon my knee, and, putting his hair from the forehead, asked him if he would not give me a kiss. As he lifted his face, and looked up at me—that look i his very mother was gazing through those eyes! A sudden faintness possessed me. I lifted the child gently from my knee, and motioned the housekeeper to take him from my sight. I did not see him again.

But there was comfort still:-Hastings was in London, I was certain of it.

And so he was. One night, about a fortnight after my return to town from Paris, where I was told he had been seen, and where I had sought him in vain, I was proceeding home, baffled in my endeavours to discover him in some of his old haunts, which I had ascertained after many and fruitless inquiries. I was walking rapidly down a miserable street in the vicinity of Clare Market, when a squalid wretch, issuing from a public-house, came in contact with me. I think no human being in the world would have recognised him but myself. Hideously changed as he was, I knew him instantly. The half-shriek that burst from him as he recoiled from me showed that he had recognised me also. The struggle was a short one,-1 had omitted to put my pistols in my pocket on that evening. With what a savage triumph, when I had dashed him on the pavement, did I stamp upon the prostrate carcass of the groaning wretch! But my joy was brief; for I was suddenly seized by three or four men, who held me firmly by the arms. I could not get at him. Heedless of my ravings, they assisted the miscreant to rise, who, casting one glance of terror towards me, darted down an alley, and was lost to me for ever. He had escaped me.

How I reached home I know not. Herbert, who visited me next morning, forbade me to rise from my bed. He said my brain was unsettled, and I believe it was. But I was well again in a month.

The one idea pervaded my whole being when I arose from my bed. My rencontre with Hastings had whetted my appetite for revenge so keenly, that no reason, no thought, no feeling could control me. He was evidently in a state of the most abject beggary and want. That conviction did not disarm me; it rendered me only the more determined and inflexible.

I went forth one evening, and with much difficulty discovered the public-house from which I had seen him emerge on that night. From the landlord I obtained every particular I required to know. Hastings had, it seemed, changed his name ;-it was now Harris. He resided in one small room on the first floor of a house in a filthy court hard by ; that is, if he had not left the neighbourhood, for the man had not seen him for a month past.

It was well. I drank two glasses of brandy, for it was a cold night, and proceeded towards my destination. I found it easily. There was a light in the window, and, from the reflection of a man's figure on the wall, I judged he was at home. The house-door was open, and I entered the narrow passage. At that moment I trembled, and for an instant could not proceed. No: it was not that which made me tremble ; I knew, and was prepared for, what I had to do. It was the other,-it was that face which I feared I could not bear to behold.

This was, as I have said, the weakness of a moment. I mounted the stairs, and burst into the room suddenly. A man and a woman were seated at a small fire, who arose abruptly on my entrance.

It was not Harris and his wife.

“Where is the man-Hastings?" I exclaimed, addressing the old couple.

As I uttered these words, a loud shriek proceeded from a bed behind me, and a female dropt upon the floor. I knew that voice,-I knew it well ;--but it did not move me.

“ Mrs. Harris is ill,” said the old woman; “ permit us to pass you, sir;—it is one of the fits to which she is subject.”

I allowed the woman to step by me, who, raising the lifeless form beside her, drew it into an adjoining room.

“What do you want, sir ? what is your business here?" inquired the man.

I placed one hand into my coat-pocket and grasped a pistol, and with the other seized the man by the collar.

“ Where is Harris ?” said I. “ You had best tell me; you are a dead man else. He is bid somewhere—he is below, in the housewhere is he?"

“ He is there,” gasped the man ; and he pointed towards the bed, upon which a body was lying, covered with a linen cloth.

I sank upon a chair. Hastings had indeed escaped me, and for ever. I was left alone, for the man had hurried from the room. I cannot describe the agony of feeling which I underwent during the next half-hour. I took the light, and, walking to the bed, drew the linen cloth from the face of the corpse.

How awful ! how mysterious is the power of death! The man who had insulted, who had wronged, who had betrayed me,--whose ingratitude-of all crimes the vilest and the basest—had inverted my very soul,—this man lay before me cold, serene, tranquil, miserable, callously insensible,—and yet I had no power to curse him. There was no serenity, no tranquillity upon the face, when I gazed upon it more closely. The brow was corrugated, the cheeks collapsed, and the eyelids sunken; and there was the soul's torture, as it left a tortured body impressed upon the face. Enough to have mitigated a more implacable hatred than mine!

I left the room, and walked down stairs. As I proceeded along the passage, the man whom I had before seen came out of a lower room, and opened the door for me. I was about to depart, when he caught me gently but firmly by the arm.

“Oh, sir !” said he earnestly,“ do not leave the house without seeing Mrs. Harris. She has relapsed into another fit; but when she comes to herself, it will be a comfort to her to see a friend of her husband. You knew him, sir, when living; and for his sake, perhaps --"

the man paused for a moment, and continued, "you have a benevolent heart, sir,-I am sure you have, -- and if you knew all, even though he may have wronged you '

It was an unseasonable time for an appeal of this nature. The passions that had been forced back upon my heart had yet scarce begun to subside, but I spoke calmly.

“ You will tell her Mr. Saville has been here;" and I was going.

“ Mr. Saville !" repeated the man. “ Oh, sir, we have heard that name mentioned frequently of late. You will come again, or send, perhaps ;--will you not, sir ?"

“She will know where to find me, should she wish to see me, which I think is hardly probable;" and with a cold “good-night" I left bim. I called

upon Herbert on my way home, and told him all that had taken place.

He was surprised and shocked. “ Saville,” said he, after a long pause, during which he had been absorbed in reflection, “ this cursed affair is destroying you. I am a plain man. You may shake your head, and tell me coolly and calmly that you have ceased to feel the injury which all the while is preying upon you. It is that calmness which I fear most ; it will kill you, or worse than that,-you understand me. You must pursue this matter no farther. The man is dead, and your wife— Well," he resumed, " I beg your pardon ; I was wrong to call her by that name. May I speak plainly?"

“ You may."

“ She is evidently in a state of want—of destitution. This must not be. You must allow her-settle upon her-enough to rescue her from poverty and its temptations. She must not starve ;-I see you could not bear that. And you must forget her. It will not do to see a young man like yourself sacrificed, self-sacrificed, to the villany of a scoundrel. I will say no more, Saville. Vice has too much homage paid to her when an honourable man is made her victim.”

Herbert was right—he was always so. No, no ;-she must not starve. That were indeed a miserable triumph to me. I went to my solicitor on the next morning, and a deed was made out, settling a competence upon her, and I sent with it as much money as she could require for immediate exigencies. And I was resolved that I would forget her. The worst was past, and time and occupation would do much, and I would think this misery down. But the worst was not yet past.

I was informed, one morning, that a woman in the hall desired to speak with me. Concluding that she was one of the many persons who are accustomed to wait upon the wealthy with petitions, I ordered the servant to admit her. A woman meanly dressed, and whose countenance was concealed, moved towards me, and sinking upon her knees, with her palms pressed together and raised towards me, looked up into my face. Madness in me, and misery and famine in her, must have wrought more strongly, if that were possible, than they had done, could I have failed to recognise that face instantly. Her lips moved, --she would have spoken, but she had no power to speak,- and with a deep and heavy groan she fell upon the floor before me. I rang the bell violently. A servant entered the room.

“ Send Mrs. Martin to me instantly. Mrs. Martin," said I, as the

woman hastened into the room, “ let Dr. Herbert be sent for immediately. You must take care of her. See that she wants nothing."

“Gracious God! it is my mistress !" said the woman, as she raised her head upon her knee. « You will let her remain in the house, Mr. Saville ?—in one of the upper rooms ?”

“ In her own room, Mrs. Martin.--I commit her to you. When she recovers, we can make other arrangements."

It is out of the power of fortune or of fate to excite such feelings within me now as pressed upon my heart for some days after this scene. I thank God for it. Human strength or weakness could not again endure so dreadful a conflict of brute passion and of human feeling. That piteous face raised to mine would not depart from me. That she should kneel,—that she should have been degraded abjectly to crouch before me for forgiveness, for pardon, for the vilest pity, and that I should know and feel that the base expiation was the poorest recompense-oh! I cannot pursue this farther.

Some days after this,—it was on a Sunday forenoon,-Mrs. Martin entered the room. She took a seat opposite to me.

“ I am come to speak with you, Mr. Saville,” she said.
- Well, madam, proceed."
“ Mrs. Saville, my mistress, sir, is dying."

I spoke not for some minutes, although I was not altogether unprepared for a communication of this nature.

“ You will take the child to her, madam; she will wish to see him.”

“Oh, sir, she has seen him every day since she came here, and he is with her now. You will not be offended, sir, if I tell you that she has seen him many times within the last two years. Yes, sir, when you were

“ Mad, madam !-speak plainly!-I was mad."

“ She came, sir, to me, and fell at my feet, imploring to see the child, and I could not refuse her. I could not bear that my

mistress should kneel to me, and not be permitted to behold her own son;" and here the woman wept bitterly.

“ It is very well,” said I, after a pause; “I do not blame you. It is better, perhaps, that it should have been so."

“ Could I prevail upon you, sir?" she continued, wiping her eyes; “ might I be so bold as to hope"

I anticipated the woman's thoughts. “ She has expressed no wish that I should see her, Mrs. Martin.”

“ She does not mention your name even to me,” said she; “ but she must not die without seeing you ;-she must not, Mr. Saville.” · My nature at times was changed from what it had been since I was released from the mad-house. "I cast a glance at the woman, which she understood and feared.

“ Mention not this subject again, madam, and leave me. I would be alone.”

I was disturbed by what the housekeeper had told me. dying. It was well. I wished her to die. I felt that until she was dead, my heart could not be brought to forgive her.

I walked out, and bent' my steps towards the lodging which Hastings had formerly occupied. I found the woman of the house at home, and, with a calmness which I have since marvelled at, I drew from her all the particulars of their sojourn at her house. They had been

She was

living with her about ten months before the death of Hastings, who, she understood, had been entirely deserted by his relations, but why she knew not. About a month previous to the decease of Hastings, he came home one night, saying that he had been waylaid by a ruftian and much injured, and he had never risen from his bed again.

I ventured to ask“ if Mr. Harris and his wife lived happily together?"

The woman shook her head. “ There was a strange mystery about them,” said she, " which I never could rightly make out.

She was ever gentle and obedient; but still there was something unlike a wife, I used to think, whenever she addressed him. And he, sir,-poor man ! we should not speak ill of the dead,—but when he came home - from the gaming-house, we often thought-how he used to strike and beat her, telling her to go to her Mr. Saville! He was jealous of you, sir, I suppose, but I am certain without cause ; for she was an angel, sir, if ever angel was born upon this earth.—But you are ill, sir. What is the matter?"

“ Nothing, nothing," said I, rising suddenly; “ I am better now;" and pressing my purse upon the woman, I rushed from the house.

God of justice l how dreadful is thy vengeance, and how thou ofttimes makest the sinner work out his own punishment! I thought not of the wife at first,—I thought of Isabella Denham. My heart dwelt upon her once more as I had first beheld her at the theatre,—the young, the lovely, the innocent being of former days. I remembered when but to see her for a moment at the window was happiness unspeakable,—when even the pressure of her hand in mine was a blessing and a delight to me. And to think that this creature, who had lain in my bosom, who had been tended, watched, almost served, with a degree of love akin to idolatry,—who had never seen one glance of unkindness from me, who had heard no tone from my lips save of affection—too often of foolish weakness ;- to think that this creature should have become the slave, the drudge,—the spurned and beaten drudge of a brutal miscreant,—the thought was too horrible!

I had scarcely entered my own house when Mrs. Martin sought me.

“ For mercy's sake, sir !” she said in agitation, “ come and take your last leave of my mistress. She is dying, and has prayed to see you once more.”

I followed her in silence. I met Herbert at the door of the room, “ I am glad you are come,” said he. He was in tears.

“ I am too weak, Herbert ; am I not ?"
He pressed my hand, —"No, no,"--and he left me.

I entered the room, and sat down by her side. She spoke not for some minutes.

“ I wished to see you once more, Mr. Saville,” she said at length in a low tone, and without raising her eyes to my face, “ to implore, not your pardon, for that I dare not expect; but that you will not curse my memory when I am gone. You would not, Edward,”—and she tremblingly touched my hand as it lay upon the bed, --“ if you knew all, or if I could tell you all.”

I answered something, but I know not what.

“ I have been guilty,” she resumed, “ but I did not meditate guilt. Heaven is my witness that I speak the truth. I was betrayed ;--and the rest was fear, and frenzy, and despair !"

« PředchozíPokračovat »