Part 8 out of 8
paying his bill, and the expenses of his funeral, was left in his
purse, upon the paper.
Kingsley assumed the final direction of these affairs; and having
seen everything in a fair way for the funeral, which was appointed
to take place the next morning, he hurried me away to his lodging-house.
CONFESSION OF EDGERTON.
When within his chamber, he carefully fastened the door and placed
a packet in my hands.
"This is addressed to you," he said. "I found it on the table
with other papers, and seeing the address, and fearing that if the
jury laid eyes on it, they might insist on knowing its contents, I
thrust it into my pocket and said nothing about it there. Read it
at your leisure, while I smoke a cigar below."
He left me, and I opened the seal with a sense of misgiving and
apprehension for which I could not easily account. The outer packet
was addressed to myself. But the envelope contained several other
papers, one of which was addressed to his father; another--a small
billet, unsealed--bore the name of my wife upon it.
"That," I inly (sic) muttered, "she shall never read!"
An instant after, I trembled with a convulsive horror, as the demon
who had whispered in my ears so long, seemed to say, in mocking
"Shall not! Ha! ha! She can not! can not!" and then the fiend
seemed to chuckle, and I remembered the insuppressible anguish of
Othello's apostrophe, to make all its eloquence my own. I murmured
"My wife! my wife! What wife?--I have no wife!
Oh, insupportable--oh, heavy hour!"
My eyes were blinded. My face sunk down upon the table, and a cold
shiver shook my frame as if I had an ague. But I recovered myself
when I remembered the wrongs I had endured--her guilt and the guilt
of Edgerton. I clutched the papers--brushed the big drops from my
forehead, and read.
"Clifford, I save you guiltless of my death. You would be less
happy were my blood upon your hands, for, though I deserve to die
by them, I know your nature too well--to believe that you would
enjoy any malignant satisfaction at the performance of so sad
a duty. Still, I know that this is no atonement. I have simply
ceased from persecuting you and the angelic woman, your wife. But
how shall I atone for the tortures and annoyances of the past,
inflicted upon you both? Never! never! I perish without hope of
forgiveness, though, here, alone with God, in the extreme of mortal
humility, I pray for it!
"Perhaps, you know all. From what escaped you this morning, it
would seem so. You knew of my madness when in C----; you know that
it pursued you here. Nothing then remains for me to tell. I might
simply say all is true; but that, in the confession of my guilt
and folly, each particular act of sin demands its own avowal, as
it must be followed by its own bitter agony and groan.
"My passion for your wife began soon after your marriage. Until
then I had never known her. You will acquit me of any deliberate
design to win her affections. I strove, as well as I could, to
suppress my own. But my education did not fit me for such a struggle.
The indulgence of fond parents had gratified all my wishes, and
taught me to expect their gratification. I could not subdue my
passions even when they were unaccompanied by any hopes. Without
knowing my own feelings, I approached your wife. Our tastes were
similar, and these furnished the legitimate excuse for frequently
bringing us together. The friendly liberality of your disposition
enlarged the privileges of the acquaintance, and, without meaning
it at first, I abused them. I sought your dwelling at unsuitable
periods. Unconsciously, I did so, just at those periods when you
were most likely to be absent. I first knew that my course was
wrong, by discovering the unwillingness which I felt to encounter
you. This taught me to know the true nature of my sentiments, but
without enforcing the necessity of subduing them. I did not seek
to subdue them long. I yielded myself up, with the recklessness
of insanity, to a passion whose very sweetness had the effect to
"My fondness for your wife was increased by pity. You neglected her.
I was at first indignant and hated you accordingly. But I became
glad of your neglect for two reasons. It gave me the opportunities
for seeing her which I desired, and I felt persuaded with a vain
folly, that nothing could be more natural than that she would make
a comparison, favorable of course to myself, between my constant
solicitude and attention and your ungenerous abandonment. But
I was mistaken. The steady virtue of the wife revenged the wrong
which, without deliberately intending it, I practised against the
husband. When my attentions became apparent, she received me with
marked coolness and reserve; and finally ceased to frequent the
atelier, which, while art alone was my object, yielded, I think,
an equal and legitimate pleasure to us both.
"I saw and felt the change, but had not the courage to discontinue
my persecutions. My passion, and the tenacity with which it enforced
its claims, seemed to increase with every difficulty and denial.
The strangeness of your habits facilitated mine. Almost nightly
I visited your house, and though I could not but see that the
reserve of your wife now rose into something like hauteur, yet my
infatuation was so great that I began to fancy this appearance to
be merely such a disguise as Prudence assumes in order to conceal
its weaknesses, and discourage the invader whom it can no longer
baffle. With this impression, I hurried on to the commission of an
offence, the results of which, though they did not quell my desires,
had the effect of terrifying them, for some, time at least, into
partial submission." Would to God, for all our sakes, that their
submission had been final!
"You remember the ball at Mrs. Delaney's marriage? I waltzed once
with your wife that evening. She refused to waltz a second time.
The privileges of this intoxicating dance are such as could be
afforded by no other practice in social communion--the lady still
preserving the reputation of virtue. I need not say with what
delight I employed these privileges. The pressure of her arm and
waist maddened me; and when the hour grew late, and you did not appear,
Mrs. Delaney counselled me to tender my carriage for the purpose
of conveying her home. I did so;--it was refused: but, through the
urgent suggestions of ner mother, it was finally accepted. I assisted
her to the carriage, immediately followed, and took my place beside
her. She was evidently annoyed, and drew herself up with a degree
of lofty reserve, which, under other circumstances, and had I been
less excited than I was, by the events of the evening, would have
discouraged my presumption. It did not. I proceeded to renew those
liberties which I had taken during the dance. I passed my arm about
her waist. She repulsed me with indignation, and insisted upon
my setting her down where we were, in the unfrequented street, at
midnight. This I refused. She threatened me with your anger; and
when, still deceiving myself on the subject of her real feelings,
I proceeded to other liberties, she dashed her hand through the
windows of the coach, and cried aloud for succor. This alarmed me.
I promised her forbearance, and finally set her down, very much
agitated, at the entrance of your dwelling. She refused my assistance
to the house, but fell to the ground before reaching it. That night
her miscarriage ensued, and my passions for a season were awed into
inactivity, if not silence.
"Still I could not account for her forbearance to reveal everything
to you. You were still kind and affectionate to me as ever. I very
well knew that had she disclosed the secret, you were not the man
to submit to such an indignity as that of which I had been guilty.
It seems--so I infer from what you said this morning--that you knew
it all. If you did, your forbearance was equally unexpected and
merciful. Believing that she had kept my secret, my next conclusion
was inevitable. 'She is not altogether insensible to the passion
she inspires. Her strength is in her virtues alone. Her sympathies
are clearly mine!' These conclusions emboldened me. I haunted your
house nightly with music. Sheltered beneath your trees, I poured
forth the most plaintive strains which I could extort from my flute.
Passion increased the effect of art. I strove at no regular tunes;
I played as the mood prompted; and felt myself, not unfrequently,
weeping over my own strange irregular melodies.
"Your sudden determination to remove prevented the renewal of my
persecutions. I need not say how miserable I was made, and how much
I was confounded by such a determination. Explained by yourself
this morning, it is now easily understood; but, ignorant then of
the discoveries you had made--ignorant of your merciful forbearance
toward my unhappy parents--for I can regard your forbearance with
respect to myself as arising only from your consideration of them--it
was unaccountable that you should give up the prospect of fortune
and honors, which success, in every department of your business,
seemed certainly to secure you.
"The last night--the eve of your departure from C---, I resumed
my place among the trees before your dwelling. Here I played and
wandered with an eye ever fixed upon your windows. While I gazed,
I caught the glimpse of a figure that buried itself hurriedly behind
the folds of a curtain. I could suppose it to be one person only.
I never thought of you. Urged by a feeling of desperation, which
took little heed of consequences, I clambered up into the branches
of a pride of India, which brought me within twenty feet of the
window. I distinctly beheld the curtain ruffled by the sudden motion
of some one behind it. I was about to speak--to say--no matter
what. The act would have been madness, and such, doubtless, would
have been the language. I fortunately did not speak. A few moments
only had elapsed after this, when I heard a few brief words, spoken
in HER voice, from the same window. The words were few, and spoken
in tones which denoted the great agitation of the speaker. These
apprized me of my danger.
"'Fly, madman, for your life! My husband is on the stairs.'
"Her person was apparent. Her words could not be mistaken though
spoken in faint, feeble accents. At the same moment I heard the lower
door of the dwelling unclose, and without knowing what I did or
designed, I dropped from the tree to the ground. To my great relief,
you did not perceive me. I was fortunately close to the fence,
and in the deepest shadow of the tree. You hurried by, within five
steps of me, and jumped the fence, evidently thinking to find me
in the next enclosure. Breathing freely and thankfully after this
escape, I fled immediately to the little boat in which I usually
made my approaches to your habitation on such occasions; and was
in the middle of the lake, and out of sight, long before you had
given over your fruitless pursuit. The next day you left the city
and I remained, the wasted and wasting monument of pas sions which
had been as profitlessly as they were criminally exercised.
"You were gone;--you had borne with you the object of my devotion;
but the passion remained and burnt with no less frenzy than before.
You were not blind to the effect of this frenzy upon my health and
constitution. You saw that I was consuming with a nameless disease.
Perhaps you knew the cause and the name, and your departure may
have been prompted by a sentiment of pity for myself, in addition
to that which you felt for my unhappy parents. If this be so--and
it seems probable--it adds something to the agony of life--it will
assist me in the work of atonement--it will better reconcile me to
the momentary struggle of death.
"My ill health increased with the absence of the only object for
whom health was now desirable. To see her again--to the last--for
I now knew that that last could not be very remote--was the great
desire of my mind. Besides, strange to say, a latent hope was
continually rising and trembling in my soul. I still fancied that
I had a place in the affections of your wife. You will naturally
ask on what this hope was founded. I answer, on the supposition
that she had concealed from you the truth on the subject of my
presumptuous assault upon her; and on those words of warning by
which she had counselled me to fly from your pursuit on that last
night before you left the city. These may not be very good reasons
for such a hope, but the faith of the devotee needs but slight
supply of aliment; and the fanaticism of a flame like mine needs
even less. A whisper, a look, a smile--nay, even a frown--has many
a time prompted stronger convictions than this, in wiser heads,
and firmer hearts than mine.
"My father counselled me to travel, and I was only too glad to obey
his suggestions. He prescribed the route, but I deceived him. Once
on the road, I knew but one route that could do me good, or at least
afford me pleasure. I pursued the object of my long devotion. Here
your conduct again led me astray. I found you still neglectful of
your wife. Still, you received me as if I had been a brother, and
thus convinced me that Julia had kept my secret. In keeping it
thus long I now fancied it had become hers. I renewed my devotions,
but with as little profit as before. She maintained the most rigid
distance, and I grew nervous and feeble in consequence of the
protracted homage which I paid, and the excitement which followed
from this homage. You had a proof of this nervousness and excitement
in the incident which occurred while crossing the stream let.
I extended her my hand to assist her over, and scarcely had her
fingers touched mine, when I felt a convulsion, and sunk, fainting
and hopelessly into the stream. [Footnote: An incident somewhat
similar to this occurs in the Life of Petrarch, as given by Mrs.
Dobson, but the precise facts are not remembered, and I have not the
volume by me] Conscious of nothing besides, I was yet conscious of
her screams. This tender interest in my fate increased my madness.
It led to a subsequent exhibition of it which at length fully opened
my eyes to the enormity of my offence.
"You blindly as I then thought, took me to your dwelling as if I
had been a brother. Ah! why? If I was mad, Clifford, your madness
was not less than mine. It was the blindest madness if not the
worst. The progress of my insanity was now more rapid than ever.
I fancied that I perceived signs of something more than coldness
between yourself and wife. I fancied that you frowned upon her;
and in the grave, sad, speaking looks which she addressed to you,
I thought I read the language of dislike and defiance. My own attentions
to her were redoubled whenever an opportunity was afforded me; but
this was not often. I saw as little of her while living in your
cottage as I had seen before, and, but for the good old lady, Mrs.
Porterfield, I should probably have been even less blessed by her
presence. She perceived my dullness, and feeble health, and dreaming
no ill, insisted that your wife should assist in beguiling me of my
weariness. She set us down frequently at chess, and loved to look
on and watch the progress of the game.
"She did not always watch, and last night, while we played together,
in a paroxysm of madness, I proceeded to those liberties which I
suppose provoked her to make the revelation which she had so long
forborne. My impious hands put aside the board, my arms encircled
her waist; while, kneeling beside her, I endeavored to drag her
into my embrace. She repulsed me; smote me to her feet with her
open palm; and spurning me where I lay grovelling, retired to her
chamber. I know not what I said--I know not what she answered--yet
the tones of her voice, sharp with Horror and indignation, are even
now ringing in my ears!
"Clifford, I have finished this painful narration. I have cursed
your home with bitterness, yet I pray you not to curse me! Let
me implore you to ask for merciful forbearance from her, to whom
I feel I have been such a sore annoyance--too happy if I have not
been also a curse to her. What I have written is the truth--sadly
felt--solemly spoken--God alone being present while I write, while
death lingers upon the threshold impatient till. I shall end. I leave
a brief sentence, which you may or may not, deliver to your wife.
You will send the letter to my father. You will see me buried in some
holy inclosure; and if you can, you will bury with my unconscious
form, the long strifes of feeling which I have made you endure, and
the just anger which I have awakened in your bosom. Farewell!--and
may the presiding spirit of your home hereafter, be peace and love!"
The billet which was addressed to my wife was in the following
"Lady, on the verge of the grave, having sincerely repented of the
offense I have given you, I implore you to pity and to pardon. A
sense of guilt and shame weighs me down to earth. You can not apply
a harsher judgment to my conduct than I feel it deserves; but I am
crushed already. You will not trample the prostrate. In a few hours
my body will be buried in the dust. My soul is already there. But,
though writhing, I do not curse; and still loving, I yet repent.
In my last moments I implore you to forgive! forgive! forgive!"
This was all, and I considered the two documents with keen and
conflicting feelings. There was an earnestness--a sincerity about
them, which I could not altogether discredit. He had freely avowed
his own errors; but he had not spoken for hers. I did not dare
to admit the impression which he evidently wished to convey of
her entire innocence, not only from the practices, but the very
thoughts of guilt. It is in compliance with a point of honor that
the professed libertine yet endeavors to excuse and save the partner
of his wantonness. In this light I regarded all those parts of
his narrative which went to extenuate her conduct. There was one
part of her conduct, indeed, which, as it exceeded his ability to
account for, was beyond his ability to excuse--namely, her strange
concealment of his insolence. This was the grand fault which, it
appeared to me, was conclusive of all the rest. It was now my policy
to believe in this fault wholly. If I did not, where was I? what
was my condition?--my misery?
I sat brooding, with these documents open before me on the table,
when Kingsley tapped at the door. I bade him enter, and put the
papers in his hands. He read them in silence, laid them down without
a word, and looked me with a grave composure in the face.
"What do you think of it?" I demanded.
"That he speaks the truth," he replied.
"Yes, no doubt--so far as he himself is concerned."
"I should think it all true."
"Indeed! I think not."
"Why do you doubt, and what?"
"I doubt those portions in which he insists upon my wife's integrity."
"There are many reasons; the principal of which is her singular
concealment of the truth. She suffers a strange man to offend her
virtue with the most atrocious familiarities, and says nothing to
her husband, who, alone, could have redressed the wrong and remedied
"That certainly is a staggering fact."
"According to his own admission, she warns him to fly from the wrath
of her husband, to which his audacity had exposed him--warns him,
in her night-dress, and from the window of her chamber."
"True, true! I had forgotten that."
"Look at all the circumstances. He haunts the house--according
to his own showing, persecutes her with attentions, which are so
marked, that, when he finds her husband ignorant of them, leads him
to the conclusion--which is natural--that they are not displeasing
to the wife. He avails himself of the privileges of the waltz, at
the marriage of Mrs. Delaney, to gratify his lustful anticipations.
He presses her arm and waist with his d----d fingers. Rides home
with her, and, according to his story, takes other liberties,
which she baffles and sets aside. But, mark the truth. Though she
requires him to set her down in the street--though she makes terms
for his forbearance--a wife making terms with a libertine--yet
he evidently sees her into the house, and when she is taken sick,
hurries for the mother and the physician. He tells just enough of
the story to convict himself, but suppresses everything which may
convict her. How know I that this resistance in the carriage was
more than a sham? How know I that he did not attend her in the house?
That they did not dabble together on their way through the dark
piazza--along the stairs?--Nay, what proof is there that he did not
find his way, with polluting purpose, into the very chamber?--that
chamber, from which, not three weeks after, she bade him fly to
avoid my wrath! What makes her so precious of his life--the life
of one who pursues her with lust and dishonor--if she does not burn
with like passions? But there is more."
Here I told him of the letter of Mrs. Delaney, in which that
permanent beldame counsels her daughter, less against the passion
itself, than against the imprudent exhibition of it. It was clear
that the mother had seen what had escaped my eyes. It was clear
that the mother was convinced of the attachment of the daughter
for this man. Now, the attachment being shown, what followed from
the concealment of the indignities to which Edgerton had subjected
her, but that she was pleased with them, and did not feel them
to be such. These indignities are persevered in--are frequently
repeated. Our footsteps are followed from one country to another.
The husband's hours of absence are noted. His departure is the
invariable signal for them to meet. They meet. His hands paddle
with hers; his arms grasp her waist. True, we are told by him, that
she resists; but it is natural that he should make this declaration.
Its truth is combated by the fact that, of these insults, SHE says
nothing. That fact is everything. That one fact involves all the
rest. The woman who conceals such a history, shares in the guilt.
Kingsley assented to these conclusions.
"Yet," he said, "there is an air of truthfulness about these
papers--this narrative--that I should be pleased to believe, even
if I could not;--that I should believe for your sake, Clifford,
if for no other reason. Honestly, after all you have said and
shown--with all the unexplained and perhaps unexplainable particulars
before me, making the appearances so much against her--I can not
think your wife guilty. I should be sorry to think so."
"I should now be sorry to think otherwise," I said huskily. I
thought of that poisonous draught. I thought with many misgivings,
and trembled where I sat.
"You surprise me to hear you speak so. Surely, Clifford, you love
"Love her!" I exclaimed; I could say no more. My sobs choked my
"Nay, do not give up," he said tenderly. "Be a man. All will go well
yet. The facts are anything but conclusive. These papers have a
realness about them, which have their weight against any suspicions,
however strong. Remember, these are the declarations of a dying man!
Surely, all minor considerations of policy would give way at such
a moment to the all-important necessity of speaking the truth.
Besides, there is one consideration alone, to which we have made no
reference, which yet seems to me full of weight and value. Edgerton
could scarcely have been successful in his designs upon your wife.
He was in fact dying of the disappointment of his passions. They
could not have been gratified. Success takes an exulting aspect.
He was always miserable and wo-begone--always desponding, sad,
unhappy, from the first moment when this passion began, to the
"Guilt, guilt, nothing but guilt!"
"No, Clifford, no!--The guilt that works so terribly upon conscience
as to produce such effects upon the frame, inevitably leads to
repentance. Now, we find that Edgerton pursued his object until he
I shook my head.
"Do not steel yourself against probabilities, my dear fellow," said
"Proofs against probabilities always!"
"No! none of these are proofs except the papers you have in your
hands, and the imperfect events which you witnessed. I am so much
an admirer of your wife myself, that I am ready to believe this
statement against the rest; and to believe that, however strange
may have been her conduct in some respects, it will yet be explained
in a manner which shall acquit her of misconduct. Believe me,
Clifford, think with me--"
"No! no! I can not--dare not! She is a--"
"Do not! Do not! No harsh words, even were it so! She has been
your wife. She should still be sacred in your eyes, as one who has
slept upon your bosom."
"A traitress all the while, dreaming of the embraces of another."
"Clifford, what can this mean? You are singularly inveterate."
"Should I not be so? Am I not lost--abandoned--wrecked on the high
seas of my hope--my fortunes scattered to the winds--my wealth, the
jewel which I prized beyond all beside, which was worth the whole,
gone down, swallowed up, and the black abyss closed over it for
"We are not sure of this"
"I am! Though she be innocent, who shall rid me of the doubt, the
fear, the ineradicable suspicion! THAT blackens all my sunlight;
THAT poisons all my peace. I can never know delight. Nay, though
you proved her innocent, it is now too late. Kingsley, by this time
I have no wife!"
"Ha! Surely, Clifford, you have not--"
"Hark! Some one knocks! Again!--again!--I understand it. I know
what it means. They are looking for me. She is dead or dying. I
tell you it is quite in vain that you should argue. Above all, do
not seek to prove her innocent."
The knocking without increased. He seized my arm as I was going
forward, and prevented me.
"Compose yourself," he said, thrusting me into a chair. "Remain
here till I return. I will see what is wanted."
But I followed him, and reached the door almost as soon as himself.
It was as I expected. I had been sent for. My wife was dangerously
ill. Such was the tenor of the message. More I could not learn.
The servant had been an hour in search of me. Had sought me at the
office and in other places which I had been accustomed to frequent;
and I felt that after so long a delay, there was no longer need
for haste. Still, I was about to depart with hasty footsteps. The
servant was already dismissed. Kingsley grasped my arm.
"I will go along with you." he said; and as we went, he spoke, in
low accents, to the following effect:--
"I know not what you have done, Clifford; and there is no need
that I should know. Keep your secret. I do not think the worse of
you that you have been maddened to crime. Let the same desperation
nerve you now to sufficient composure. Beware of what you say,
lest these people suspect you."
"And what if they do? Think you, Kingsley, that I fear? No! no!
Life has nothing now. I lost fear, and hope, and everything in
"But may she not live?"
"No, I think not; the poison is most deadly. Though, even if she
lives, my loss would not be less. She ceased to live for me the
moment that she began to live for another!"
Nothing more was said until we reached the cottage. Mrs. Porterfield
and the physician met us at the entrance. We had come too late!
She was dead. They had found her so when they despatched the
servant in quest of me; but they were not certain of the fact, and
the servant was instructed to say she was only very ill. The physician
was called in as soon as possible; but had declared himself, as
soon as he came, unable to do anything for her. He had bled her;
and, before our arrival, had already pronounced upon her disease.
It was apoplexy!
"Apoplexy!" I exclaimed, involuntarily. Kingsley gave me a look.
"Yes, sir, apoplexy," continued the learned gentleman. "She must
have had several fits. It is evident that she was conscious after
the first, for she appears to have endeavored to reach the door.
She was found at the entrance, lying upon the floor. When I saw
her, she must have been lifeless a good hour." [The reader will be
reminded of the melancholy details in the ease of Miss Liuulon-L.
E. L.-whose fate is still a mystery.]
He added sundry reasons, derived from her appearance, which he
assured us were conclusive on this subject; but to these I gave
little heed. I did not stop to listen. I hurried to the chamber,
closed the door, and was alone with my victim, with my wife!
My victim!--my wife!
I stood above her inanimate form. How lovely in death--but, oh!
how cold! I looked upon her pale, transparent cheeks and forehead,
through which the blue lines of veins, that were pulseless now,
gleamed out, showing the former avenues of the sweet and blessed
life. I was disarmed of my anger while I gazed. I bent down beside
her, took the rigid fingers of her hand in mine, and pressed my
lips upon the bloodless but still beautiful forms of hers.
I remembered her youth and her beauty--the glowing promise of her
mind, and the gentle temper of her heart. I remembered the dear
hours of our first communion--how pure were our delights--how perfect
my felicity. How we moved together as with one being only--beside
the broad streams of our birthplace--under the shelter of shady
pines--morning, and noon, and in the star-lighted night--never once
dreaming that an hour like this would come!
And she seemed so perfect pure, as she was so perfect lovely! Never
did I hear from her lips sentiment that was not--not only virtuous,
but delicate and soft--not only innocent but true--not only true
but fond! Alas! so to fall--so too yield herself at last! To feel
the growth of rank passion--to surrender her pure soul and perfect
form to the base uses of lust--to be no better than the silly harlot,
that, beguiled by her eager vanity, surrenders the precious jewel
in her trust, to the first cunning sharper that assails her with
a smiling lie!
Oh God! how these convictions shook my frame! I had no longer strength
for thought or action. I was feebler than the child, who, lost in
the woods, struggles and sinks at last, through sheer exhaustion,
into sobbing slumber at the foot of the unfeeling tree. I did
not sob. I had no tears. But at intervals, the powers of breathing
becoming choked, and my struggles for relief were expressed in a
groan which I vainly endeavored to keep down. The sense of desolation
was upon me much more strongly than that of either crime or death.
I did not so much feel that she was guilty, as that I was alone!
That, henceforth, I must for ever be alone. This was the terrible
conviction;--and oh! how lone! To lessen its pangs, I strove to
recall the fault for which she perished--to renew the recollection
of those thousand small events, which, thrown together, had seemed
to me mountains of rank and reeking evidence against her. But even
my memory failed me in this effort. All this was a blank. The
few imperfect and shadowy facts which I could recall seemed to me
wholly unimportant in establishing the truth of what I sought to
believe; and I shuddered with the horrible doubt that she might be
innocent! If she were indeed innocent, what am I?
With the desperate earnestness of the cast-away, who strives, in
mid-ocean, for the only plank which can possibly retard his doom,
did I toil to re-establish in my mind that conviction of her guilt
which the demon in my soul had made so certain by his assurances
before. Alas! I had not only lost the wife of my bosom, but its
fiend also. Vainly now did I seek to summon him back. Vainly did I
call upon him to renew his arguments and proofs! He had fled--fled
for ever; and I could fancy that I heard him afar off, chuckling
with hellish laughter, over the triumphant results of his malice.
I know not how long I hung over that silent speaker. Her pale,
placid countenance--her bloodless lips, that still seemed to smile
upon me as they had ever done before;--and that eye of speaking
beauty--only half closed--oh! what conclusive assurances did they
seem to give of that innocence which it now seemed the worst impiety
to doubt! I would have given worlds--alas! how impotent is such a
speech! Death sets his seal upon hope, and love, and endeavor; and
the regrets of that childish precipitation which has obeyed the
laws of passion only, are only so many mocking memorials of the
blind heart, that jaundiced the face of truth, and distorted all
the aspects of the beautiful.
Once more I laughed--a vain hysterical laugh--the expression of
my conviction that I was self-doomed and desperate; and, writhing
beside the inanimate angel whom I then would have recalled though
with all her guilt--assuming all of it to have been true--to
the arms that wantonly cast her off for ever--I grasped the cold
senseless limbs in my embrace, and placed the drooping head once more
upon the bosom where it could not long remain! What a weight! The
pulsation in my own heart ceased, and, with a shudder, I released
the chilling form from my grasp, and found strength barely to
compose the limbs once more in the bed beside me.
I pass over the usual and unnecessary details. There was a show of
inquiry of course; but the one word of the learned young gentleman
in black silenced any further examination. It was shown to the
mquest by Mrs. Porterfield that my wife had been sick--that she
was suddenly found dead. The physician furnished the next necessary
fact. I was not examined at all, I stood by in silence. I heard the
verdict--"Death by apoplexy"---with a smile. I was not unwilling
to state the truth. Had I been called upon I should have done so.
At first I was about to proffer my testimony, but a single sentence
from the lips of Kingsley, when I declared to him my purpose,
"If you are not afraid to declare your own act, you should at least
scruple to denounce her shame! She died your wife. Let, that seal
your tongue. The shame would be shared between you! Yov could only
justify your crime by exposing hers!"
With the stern strength of desperation I stood above the grave,
and heard the heavy clod ring hollowly upon the coffin. And there
closed two lives in one. My hopes were buried there as effectually
as her unconscious form.
Life is not breath simply. Not the capacity to move, and breathe,
to act, eat, drink, sleep, and say, "Thank God! we have ate, drank,
and slept!" The life of humanity consists in hope, love, and labor.
In the capacity to desire, to affect, ant to struggle. I had now
nothing for which I could hope, nothing to love, nothing to struggle
Yes! life has something more:--endurance! This is a part of the
allotment. The conviction of this renewed my strength But it was
the strength of desolation I I had taken courage from despair!
REVELATION--THE LETTER OF JULIA.
It must be remembered, that, in all this time--amidst all my
agonies--my feelings of destitution and despair--I had few or no
doubts of the guilt of Julia Clifford. My sufferings arose from
the love which I had felt--the defeat of my hopes and fortune--the
long struggle of conflicting feelings, mortified pride, and disappointed
enjoyment. Excited by the melancholy spectacle before me--beholding
the form of her, once so beautiful--still so beautiful--whom I had
loved with such an absorbing passion--whom I could not cease to
love--suddenly cut off from life--her voice, which was so musical,
suddenly hushed for ever--the tides of her heart suddenly stopped--and
all the sweet waters of hope dried up in her bosom, and turned
into bitterness and blight in mine--the force of my feelings got
the better of my reason, and cruel and oppressive doubts of the
justness of her doom overpowered my soul. But, with the subsiding
of my emotions, under the stern feeling of resolve which came to my
relief, and which my course of education enabled me to maintain,
my persuasions of her guilt were resumed, and I naturally recurred
to the conclusions which had originally justified me to myself, in
inflicting the awful punishment of death upon her. But I was soon
to be deprived of this justification--to be subjected to the terrible
recoil of all my feelings of justice, love, honor and manliness,
in the new and overwhelming conviction, not only that I had
been premature, but that she was innocent!--innocent, equally of
thought and deed, which could incur tire reproach of impurity, or
the punishment of guilt.
Three days had elapsed after her burial, when I re-opened and
re-appeared in my office. I did not re-open it with any intention
to resume my business. That was impossible in a place, where, at
every movement, the grave of my victim rose, always green, in my
sight. My purpose was to put my papers in order transfer them to
other parties, dispose of my effects, and depart with Kingsley to
the new countries, of which he had succeeded in impressing upon
me some of his own opinions. Not that these furnished for me any
attractions. I was not persuaded by any customary arguments held
out to the ambitious and the enterprising. It was a matter of small
moment to me where I went, so that I left the present scene of my
misery and over-throw. In determining to accompany him to Texas,
no part of my resolve was influenced by the richness of its soil,
or the greatness of its probable destinies. These, though important
in the eyes of my friend, were as nothing in mine. In taking that
route my object was simply, TO GO WITH HIM. He had sympathized with
me, after a rough fashion of his own, the sincerity of which was
more dear to me than the rougbress was repulsive. He had witnessed
my cares--he knew my guilt and my griefs--this knowledge endeared
him to me more strongly than ever, and made him now more necessary
to my affections than any other living object.
I re-opened my office and resumed my customary seat at the table.
But I sat only to ruminate upon things and thoughts which, following
the track of memory, diverted my sight as well as my mind, from
all present objects. I saw nothing before me, except vaguely, and
in a sort of shadow. I had a hazy outline of books against the
wall; and a glimmering show of papers and bundles upon the table.
I sat thus for some time, lost in painful and humiliating revery.
Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a packet on the table, which I did
not recollect to have seen before. It bore my name. I shuddered to
behold it, for it was in the handwriting of my wife. This, then,
was the writing upon which she had been secretly engaged, for so
many days, and of which Mrs. Porterfield had given me the first
intimation. I remembered the words of Julia when she assured
me that it was intended for me--when she playfully challenged my
curiosity, and implored me to acknowledge an anxiety to knew the
contents. The pleading tenderness of her speech and manner now rose
vividly to my recollection. It touched me more now--now that the
irrevocable step had been taken--far more than it ever could have
affected me then. Then, indeed, I remained unaffected save by the
caprice of my evil genius. The demon of the blind heart was then
uppermost. In vain now did I summon him to my relief. Where was
he? Why did he not come?
I took up the packet with trembling fingers. My nerves almost failed
me. My heart shrank and sank with painful presentiments. What could
this writing mean? Of what had Julia Clifford to write? Her whole
world's experience was contained, and acquired, in my household.
The only portion of this experience which she might suppose unknown
to me was her intercourse with Edgerton. The conclusion, then, was
natural that this writing related to this matter; but, if natural,
why had I not conjectured it before? Why, when I first heard of
it, had the conclusion not forced itself upon me as directly as it
did now? Alas! it was clear to me now that I was then blind; and,
with this clearness of sight, my doubts increased; but they were
doubts of myself, rather than doubts of her.
It required an effort before I could recover myself sufficiently to
break the seal of the packet. First, however, I rose and reclosed
the office. Whatever might be the contents of the paper, to me it
was the language of a voice from the grave. It contained the last
words of one I never more should hear. The words of one whom I
had loved as I could never love again. It was due to her, and to
my own heart, that she should be heard in secret;--that her words--whether
in reproach or repentence--whether in love or scorn--should fall
upon mine ear without witness, in a silence as solemn as was that
desolate feeling which now sat, like a spectre, brooding among the
ruins of my heart.
My pulses almost ceased to beat--my respiration was impeded--my
eyes swam--my senses reeled in dismay and confusion--as I read
the following epistle. Too late! too late! Blind, blind heart! And
still I was not mad!--No! no!--that would have been a mercy which
I did not merit!--that would have been forgetfulness--utter oblivion
of the woe which I can never cease to feel.
The Last Letter of Julia.
"Husband, Dear Husband!
"I write to you in fear and trembling. I have striven to speak to
you, more than once, but my tongue and strength have failed me. What
I have to tell you is so strange and offensive, and will be to you
so startling, that you will find it hard to believe me; and yet,
dear husband, there is not a syllable of it which is not true! If
I knew that I were to die to-morrow I could with perfect safety
and confidence make the same confession which I make now. But I
do not wish you to take what I say on trust; look into the matter
yourself--not precipitately--above all, not angrily--and you will
see that I say nothing here which the circumstances will not prove.
Indeed, my wonder is that so much of it has remained unknown to
"Husband, Mr. Egerton deceives you--he has all along deceived you--he
is neither your friend nor mine. I would call him rather the most
dangerous enemy; for he comes by stealth, and abuses confidence,
and, like the snake in the fable, seeks to sting the very hand that
has warmed him. I know how much this will startle you, for I know
how much you think of him, and love him, and how many are the
obligations which you owe to his father. But hear me to the end,
and you will be convinced, as I have been, that, so far from your
seeking his society and permitting his intimacy in our household,
you would be justified in the adoption of very harsh measures for
his expulsion--at least, it would become your duty to inform him
that you can no longer suffer his visits.
"To begin, then, dear husband. Mr. Egerton has been bold enough
to speak to me in such language, as was insulting in him to utter,
and equally painful and humiliating for me to hear. He has done
this, not once, nor twice, nor thrice, but many times. You will
ask why I have not informed you of this before; but I had several
reasons for forbearing to do so, which I will relate in the proper
places. I fancied that I could effectually repel insult of this
sort without making you a party to it, for I feared the violence of
your temper, and dreaded that the consequences might be bloodshed.
I am only prompted to take a different course now, as I find that
I was mistaken in this impression--and perceive that there is no
hope of a remedy against the impertinence but by appealing to you
"It was not long after our marriage before the attentions of Mr.
Edgerton became so particular as to annoy me; and I consulted my
mother on the subject, but she assured me that such were customary,
and so long as you were satisfied I had no reason to be otherwise.
I was not quite content with this assurance, but did not know what
other course to take, and there was nothing in the conduct of Mr.
Edgerton so very marked and offensive as to justify me in making
any communication to you. What offended me in his bearing was his
fixed and continued watchfulness--the great earnestness of his
looks--the subdued tones of his voice when he spoke to me, almost
falling to a whisper, and the unusual style of his language, which
seemed to address itself to such feelings only as do not belong to
the common topics of discourse. The frequency of his visits to the
studio afforded him opportunities for indulging in these practices;
and your strange indifference to his approaches, and your equally
strange and most unkind abandonment of my society for that of
others, increased these opportunities, of which he scrupled not to
take constant advantage. I soon perceived that he sought the house
only at the periods when you were absent. He seemed always to know
when this was the case; and I noted the fact, particularly, that,
if, on such occasions, you happened to arrive unexpectedly he never
remained long afterward, but took his departure with an abruptness
that, it seemed wonderful to me you should not have perceived.
Conduct so strange as this annoyed rather than alarmed me; and it
made me feel wretched, perhaps beyond any necessity for it, when
I found myself delivered up, as it were, to such persecution, by
the very person whose duty it was to preserve me, and whose own
presence, which would have been an effectual protection, was so dear
to me always. Do not suppose, dear Edward, that I mean to reproach
you. I do not know what may have been your duties abroad, and the
trials which drew you so much from home, and from the eyes of a
wife who knows no dearer object of contemplation than the form of
her husband. Men in business, I know, have a thousand troubles out
of doors, which a generous sensibility makes them studious never
to bring home with them; and, knowing this, I determined to think
lovingly of you always--to believe anything rather than that
you would willingly neglect me;--and, by the careful exercise of
my thoughts and affections, as they should properly be exercised,
so to protect my own dignity and your honor, as to spare you any
trouble or risk in asserting them, and, at the same time, to save
both from reproach.
"But, though I think I maintained the most rigid reserve, as well
of looks as of language, this unhappy young man continued his
persecutions. In order to avoid him, I abandoned my usual labors
in the studio. From the moment when I saw that he was disposed
to abuse the privileges of friendship, I yielded that apartment
entirely to him, and invariably declined seeing him when he visited
the house in the mornings. But I could not do this at evening; and
this became finally a most severe trial, for it so happened, that
you now adopted a habit which left him entirely unrestrained, unless
in the manner of his reception by myself. You now seldom remained
at home of an evening, and thus deprived me of that natural protector
whose presence would have spared me much pain with which I will not
distress you. Ah! dearest husband, why did you leave me on such
occasions? Why did you abandon me to the two-fold affliction of
combating the approaches of impertinence, at the very moment when
I was suffering from the dreadful apprehension that I no longer
possessed those charms which had won me the affections of a husband.
Forgive me! My purpose is not to reproach, but to entreat you.
"I need not pass over the long period through which this persecution
continued. Your indifference seemed to me to give stimulus to the
perseverance of this young man. Numberless little circumstances
combined to make me think that, from this cause, indeed, he drew
something like encouragement for his audacious hopes. The strength
of your friendship for him blinded you to attentions which, it
seemed to me, every eye must have seen but yours. I grew more and
more alarmed; and a second time consulted with my mother. Her written
answer you will find, marked No. 1, with the rest of the enclosures
in this envelope. She laughed at my apprehensions, insisted that
Mr. Edgerton had not transcended the customary privileges, and
intimated, very plainly as you will see, that a wife can suffer
nothing from the admiration of a person, not her husband, however
undisguised this admiration may be--provided she herself shows
none in return;--an opinion with which I could not concur, for
the conclusive reason that, whatever the world may think on such a
subject, the object of admiration, if she has any true sensibilities,
must herself. suffer annoyance, as I did, from the special designation
which attends such peculiar and marked attention as that to which
I was subjected. My mother took much pains, verbally and in writing,
as the within letters will show you, to relieve me from the feeling
of disquiet under which I suffered, but without effect; and I was
further painfully afflicted by the impression which her general
tone of thought forced upon me, that her sense of propriety was
so loose and uncertain that I could place no future reliance upon
her councils in relation to this or any other kindred subject. Ah,
Edward! little can you guess how lonely and desolate I felt, when,
unable any longer to refer to her, I still did not dare to look to
"One opinion of hers, however, had very much alarmed me. You will
find it expressed in the letter marked No. 8, in this collection.
When I complained to her of the approaches of Mr. Edgerton, and
declared my purpose of appealing to you if they were continued, she
earnestly and expressly exhorted me against any such proceeding.
She assured me that such a step would only lend to violence and
bloodshed--reminded me of your sudden anger--your previous duel--and
insisted that nothing more was necessary to check the impertinence
than my own firmness and dignity. Perhaps this would have been
enough, were it always practicable to maintain the reserve and
coldness which was proper to effect this object, and, indeed, I
could not but perceive that the effect was produced in considerable
degree by this course. Mr. Edgerton visited the house less frequently;
grew less impressive in his manner, and much more humble, until
that painful and humiliating night of my mother's marriage. That
night he asked me to dance with him. I declined; but afterward he
came to me accompanied by my mother. She whispered in my ears that
I was harsh in my refusal, and called my attention to his wretched
appearance. Had I reflected upon it then, as I did afterward, this
very allusion would have been sufficient to have determined me not
to consent;--but I was led away by her suggestions of pity, and
stood up with him for a cotillion. But the music changed, the set
was altered, and the Spanish dance was substituted in its place.
In the course of this dance, I could not deceive myself as to the
degree of presumption which my partner displayed; and, but for the
appearance of the thing, and because I did not wish to throw the
room into disorder, I would have stopped and taken my seat long
before it was over. When I did take my seat, I found myself still
attended by him, and it was with difficulty that I succeeded finally
in defeating his perseverance, by throwing myself into the midst
of a set of elderly ladies, where he could no longer distinguish
me with his attentions. In the meantime you had left the room. You
had deserted me. Ah! Clifford, to what annoyance did your absence
expose me that night! To that absence, do we owe that I lost the
only dear pledge of love that God had ever vouchsafed us--and you
know how greatly my own life was perilled. Think not, dearest,
that I speak this to reproach you; and yet--could you have
remained!--could you have loved, and longed to be and remain with
me, as most surely did I long for your presence only and always--ah!
how much sweeter had been our joys--how more pure our happiness--our
faith--with now--perhaps, even now--the dear angel whom we then
lost, living and smiling beneath our eyes, and linking our mutual
hearts more and more firmly together than before!
"That night, when it became impossible to remain longer without
trespassing--when all the other guests had gone--I consented to
be taken home in Mr. Edgerton's carriage. Had I dreamed that Mr.
Edgerton was to have been my companion, I should have remained
all night before I would have gone with him, knowing what I knew,
and feeling the mortification which I felt. But my mother assured
me that I was to have the carriage to myself--it was she who had
procured it;--and it was not until I was seated, and beheld him
enter, that I had the least apprehension of such an intrusion.
Edward! it is with a feeling almost amounting to horror, that I am
constrained to think that my mother not only knew of his intention
to accompany me, but that she herself suggested it. This, I say
to YOU! You will find the reasons for my suspicions in the letters
which I enclose. It is a dreadful suspicion--at the expense of
one's own mother! I dare not believe in the dark malice which it
implies.--I strive to think that she meant and fancied only some
"I shudder to declare the rest! This man, your friend--he whom you
sheltered in your bosom, and trusted beyond all others--whom you
have now taken into your house with a blindness that looks more
like a delusion of witchcraft than of friendship--this impious man,
I say, dared to wrap me in his embrace--dared to press his lips
"My cheek even now burns as I write, and I must lay down the pen
because of my trembling. I struggled from his grasp--I broke the
window by my side, and cried for help from the wayfarers. I cried
for you! But, you did not answer! Oh, husband! where were you? Why,
why did you expose me to such indignities?
"He was alarmed. He promised me forbearance; and, convulsed with
fright and fear, I found myself within our enclosure, I knew not
how; but before I reached the cottage I became insensible, and
knew nothing more until the pangs of labor subdued the more lasting
pains of thought and recollection.
"You resolved to leave our home--to go abroad among strangers, and
Oh! how I rejoiced at your resolution. It seemed to promise me
happiness; at least it promised me rescue and relief. I should at
all events be free from the persecution of this man. I dreaded the
consequences, either to you or to him-self, of the exposure of his
insolence. I had resolved on making it; and only hesitated, day by
day, as my mother dwelt upon the dangers which would follow. And
when you determined on removal, it seemed to me the most fortunate
providence, it promised to spare me the necessity of making this
painful revelation at all. Surely, I thought, and my mother said,
as this will put an effectual stop to his presumption, there will
be no need to narrate what is already past. The only motive in
telling it at all would be to prevent, not to punish: if the previous
one is effected by other means, it is charity only to forbear the
relation of matters which would breed hatred, and probably provoke
strife. This made me silent; and, full of new hope--the hope that
having discarded all your old associates and removed from all your
old haunts, you would become mine entirely--I felt a new strength
in my frame, a new life in my breast, and a glow upon my cheeks as
within my soul, which seemed a guaranty for a long and happy term
of that love which had begun in my bosom with the first moments of
its childish consciousness and confidence.
"But one painful scene and hour I was yet compelled to endure the
night before our departure. Mr. Edgerton came to play his flute
under our window. I say Mr. Edgerton, but it was only by a sort
of instinct that I fixed upon him as the musician. Perhaps it was
because I knew not what other person to suspect. Frequently, before
this night, had I heard this music; but on this occasion he seemed
to have approached more nearly to the dwelling; and, indeed, I finally
discovered that he was actually beneath the China-tree that stood
on the south front of the cottage. I was asleep when the music
began. He must have been playing for some time before I awakened.
How I was awakened I know not; but something disturbed me, and I
then saw you about to leave the room stealthily. I heard your feet
upon the stairs, and in the next moment I discovered one of your
pistols lying upon the window-sill, just beneath my eyes. This
alarmed me; a thousand apprehensions rushed into my brain; all the
suggestions of strife and bloodshed which my mother had ever told
me, filled my mind; and without knowing exactly what I did or said,
I called out to the musician to fly with all possible speed. He
did so; and after a delay which was to me one of the most cruel
apprehension, you returned in safety. Whether you suspected, and
what, I could not conjecture; but if you had any suspicions of
me, yon did not seem to entertain any of him, for you spoke of him
afterward with the same warm tone of friendship as before.
"That something in my conduct had not pleased you, I could see from
your deportment as we travelled the next morning. You were sad,
and very silent and abstracted. This disappeared, however, and, day
by day, my happiness, my hope, my confidence in you, in myself, in
all things, increased--and I felt assured of realizing that perfect
idea of felicity which I proposed to myself from the moment when
you declared your purpose to emigrate. Were we not happy, husband--so
happy at M----, for weeks, for months--always, morning, noon, and
night--until the reappearance of this false friend of yours? Then,
it seemed to me as if everything changed. Then, that other friend
of yours--who, though he never treated me with aught but respect,
I yet can call no friend of mine--Mr. Kingsley, drew you away
again from your home--carried you with him to his haunts--detained
you late and long, by night and day--and I was left once more
exposed to the free and frequent familiarity of Mr. Edgerton. He
renewed his former habits; his looks were more presuming, and his
attentions more direct and loathsome than ever. More than once
I strove to speak with you on this hateful subject; but it was so
shocking, and you were so fond of him, and I still had my fears! At
length, moved by compassion, you brought him to our house. Blind
and devoted to him--with a blindness and devotion beyond that which
the noblest friendship would deserve, but which renders tenfold
more hateful the dishonest and treacherous person upon whom it is
thrown away--you command me to meet him with kindness--to tend his
bed of sickness--to soothe his moments of sadness and despondency--to
expose myself to his insolence!
"Husband, my soul revolts at this charge! I have disobeyed it and
you; and I must justify myself in this my disobedience. I must at
length declare the truth. I have striven to do so in the preceding
narrative. This narrative I began when you brought this false friend
into our dwelling. He must leave it. You must command his departure.
Do not think me moved by any unhappy or unbecoming prejudices against
him. My antipathies have arisen solely from his presumption and
misconduct. I esteemed him--nay, I even liked him--before. I liked
his taste for the arts, his amiable manners, his love of music and
poetry, and all those graces of the superior mind and education,
which dignify humanity, and indicate its probable destinies. But when
he showed me how false he was to a friendship so free and confiding
as was yours--when he abused my eyes and ears with expressions
unbecoming in him, and insulting and ungenerous to me--I loathed
and spurned him. While he is in your house I will strive and treat
him civilly, but do not tax me further. For your sake I have borne
much; for the sake of peace, and to avoid strife and crime, I have
been silent--perhaps too long. The strange, improper letters of
my mother, which I enclose, almost make me tremble to think that
I have paid but too much defference to her opinion. But, in the
expulsion of this miserable man from your dwelling, there needs
no violence, there needs no crime! A word will overwhelm him with
shame. Remember, dear husband, that he is feeble and sick; it is
probable he has not long to live. Perform your painful duty privily,
and with all the forbearance which is consistent with a proper
firmness. In truth, he has done us no real harm. Let us remember
THAT! If anything, he has only made me love you the more, by showing
so strongly how generous is the nature which he has so infamously
abused. Once more, dear husband, do no violence. Let not our future
days be embittered by any recollections of the present. Command,
compel his departure, and come home to me, and keep with me always.
"Your own true wife,
"Postscript.--I had closed this letter yesterday, thinking to send
it to your office in the afternoon. I had hoped that there would
be nothing more;--but last night, this madman--for such I must
believe him to be--committed another outrage upon my person! He has
a second time seized me in his arms and endeavored to grasp me in
his embrace. O husband!--why, why do you thus expose me? Do you
indeed love me? I sometimes tremble with a fear lest you do not.
But I dare not think so. Yet, if you do, why am I thus exposed--thus
deserted--thus left to a companionship which is equally loathsome
to me and dishonoring to you? I implore you to open your eyes--to
believe me, and discard this false friend from your dwelling and
your confidence. But, oh, be merciful, dear husband! Strike no
sudden blow! Send him forth with scorn but remember his feebleness,
his family, and spare his life. I send this by Emma. Let no one
see the letters of my mother but burn them instantly.
"Your own Julia."
And this was the writing which had employed her time for days
before the sad catastrophe! And it was for this reason that she
asked, with so much earnestness, if I had been to my office on the
day when I drove Edgerton out into the woods for the adjustment of
our issue? No wonder that she was anxious at that moment. How much
depended upon that simple and ordinary proceeding. Had I but gone
that day to my office as usual!......
There were no longer doubts. There could be none. There was now
no mystery. It was all clear. The most ambiguous portions of her
conduct had been as easily and simply explained as the rest. But it
availed nothing! The blow had fallen. I was an accursed man--truly
accursed, and miserably desolate.
I still sat, stolid, seemingly, as the insensible chair which
sustained me, when Kingsley came in. He took the papers from my
unresisting hands. He read them in silence. I heard but one sentence
from his lips, and it came from them unconsciously:--
"Poor, poor girl!"
I looked round and started to my feet. The tears were on on manly
checks. I hatched none. My eyes were dry! The fountains of tears
seemed shut up, arid and dusty.
"I must make atonement!" I exclaimed. "I must deliver myself up to
"This is madness," said he, seizing my arm as I was about to leave
"No: retribution only! I have destroyed her. I must make the only
atonement which is in my power. I must die!"
"What you design is none," he said solemnly. "Your death will atone
nothing. It is by living only that you can atone!"
"By repentance! This is the grand--the only sovereign atonement which
the spirit of man can ever make. There is no other mode provided
in nature. The laws, which would take your life, would deprive you
of the means of atonement. This is due to God; it can be performed
only by living and suffering. Life is a duty because it is an ordeal.
You must preserve life, as a sacred trust, for this reason. Even
if you were a felon--one wilfully resolving and coldly executing
crime--you were yet bound to preserve life! Throw it away, and
though you comply with the demand of social laws, you forfeit the
only chance of making atonement to those which are far superior.
Rather pray that life may be spared you. It was with this merciful
purpose that God not only permitted Cain to live, but commanded
that none should slay him. You must live for this!"
"Yet I slew HER!"
He did with me as he pleased. Three days after beheld us on our way
to the rich empire of Texas--its plains, rich but barren--unstocked,
wild-running to waste with its tangled weeds--needing, imploring
the vigorous hand of cultivation. Even such, at that moment, was
my heart! Rich in fertile affections, yet gone to waste; waiting,
craving, praying for the hand of the cultivator!--Yet who now was
To this question the words of Kingsley, which were those of truth
and wisdom, were a sufficient answer; and evermore an echo arose
as from the bottom of my soul; and my lips repeated it to my own
ears only; and but one word was spoken; and that word was--"ATONEMENT!"