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Confession by W. Gilmore Simms

Part 5 out of 8

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while a seal-ring, of official dimensions, with characters cut in
lava, decorated the other. His movements betrayed the same nice method
which distinguished the arrangement of his dress. His evolutions
might all have been performed by trumpet signal, and to the sound
of measured music. He was evidently one of those persons whose
feelings are too little earnest, ever to affect their policy; too
little warm ever to disparage the rigor of their customary play;
one of those cold, nice men, who, without having a single passion
at work to produce one condition of feeling higher than another, are
yet the very ideals of the most narrow and concentrated selfishness.
His face was thin, pale, and intelligent. His lips were thick,
however--the eyes bright, like those of a snake, but side-looking,
never direct, never upward, and always with a smiling shyness in
their glance, in which a suspicious mind like my own would always
find sufficient occasion for distrust.

Mr. Cleveland bestowed a single keen glance upon me while going
through the ordeal of introduction. But his scrutiny labored under
one disadvantage. His eyes did not encounter mine! One loses a great
deal, if his object be the study of tuman nature, if he fails in
this respect.

"Much pleasure in making your acquaintance, Mr. Clifford; I trust,
however, you will find me no worse enemy than your friend has done."

"If he find YOU no worse, he will find himself no better. He will
pay for his enmity, whatever its degree, as I have done, ancl be
wiser, by reason of his losses."

"Ah! you think too much of your ill fortunes. That is bad. It
takes from your confidence and so enfeebles your skill. You should
think of it less seriously. Another cast, and the tables chinge.
You will have your revenge."

"I WILL!" said Kingsley with some emphasis, and a gravity which
the other did not see. He evidently heard the words only as he
had been accustomed to hear them--from the lips of young gamesters
who perpetually delude themselves with hopes based upon insane
expectations. A benignant smile mantled the cheeks of the gamester.

"Ah, well! I am ready; but if you think me too much for you--"

He paused. The taunt was deliberately intended. It was the customary
taunt of the gamester. On the minds of half the number of young
men, it would have had the desired efiect--of goading vanity,
and provoking the self-esteem of the conceited boy into a sort of
desperation, when the powers of sense and caution become mostly
suspended, and no unnecessary suspicion or watchfulness then
interferes to increase the difficulty of plucking the pigeon. I read
the smile on Kingsley's lip. It was brief, momentary, pleasantly
contemptuous. Then, suddenly, as if he had newly recollected his
policy, his countenance assumed a new expression--one more natural
to the youth who has been depressed by losses, vexed at defeat, but
flatters himself that the atonement is at hand. Perhaps, something
of the latent purpose of his mind increased the intense bitterness
in the manner and tones of my companion.

"Too much for me, Mr. Cleveland! No, no! You are willing, I see, to
rob good fortune of some of her dues. You crow too soon. I have a
shrewd presentiment that I shall be quite too much FOR YOU to-night."

A pleasant and well-satisfied smile of Cleveland answered the
speaker.

"I like that," said he; "it proves two things, both of which
please me. Your trifling losses have not hurt your fortunes. nor
the adverse run of luck made you despond of better success hereafter.
It is something of a guaranty in favor of one's performance that he
is sure of himself. In such case he is equally sure of his opponent."

"Look to it, then, for I have just that sort of self-guaranty
which makes me sure of mine. I shall play deeply, that I may make
the most of my presentiments. Nay, to show you how confident I am,
this night restores me all that I have lost, or leaves me nothing
more to lose."

The eyes of the other brightened.

"That is said like a man. I thank you for your warning. Shall we
begin?"

"Ready, ay, ready!" was the response of Kingsley, as he turned to
one of the tables. Quietly laying down upon it the short, heavy
stick which he carried, he threw off his gloves, and rubbed his
hands earnestly together, laughing the while without restraint, as
if possessed suddenly of some very pleasant and ludicrous fancy.

"They laugh who win," remarked Cleveland, with something of coldness
in his manner.

"Ha! ha! ha!" was the only answer of Kingsley to this remark. The
other continued--and I now clearly perceived that his purpose was
provocation:--

"It is certainly a pleasure to win your money, Kingsley--you bear
it with so much philosophy. Nay, it seems to give you pleasure,
and thus lessens the pain I should otherwise feel in receiving the
fruits of my superiority."

"Ha! ha! ha!" again repeated Kingsley. "Excuse me, Mr. Cleveland.
I am reminded of your remark, 'They laugh who win.' I am laughing,
as it were, anticipatively. I am so certain that I shall have my
revenge to-night."

Cleveland looked at him for a moment with some curiosity, then
called:--

"Philip!"

He was answered by a young mulatto--a tall, good-looking fellow,
who approached with a mixed air of equal deference and self-esteem,
plaited frills to a most immaculately white shirt-collar, a huge
bulbous breastpin in his bosom, chains and seals, and all the usual
equipments of Broadway dandyism. The fellow approached us with
a smile; his eyes looking alternately to Cleveland and Kingsley,
and, as I fancied, with no unequivocal sneer in their expression,
as they settled on the latter. A significance of another kind
appeared in the look of Cleveland as he addressed him.

"Get us the pictures, Philip--the latest cuts--and bring--ay, you
may bring the ivories."

In a few moments, the preliminaries being despatched, the two were
seated at a table, and a couple of packs of cards were laid beside
them. Kingsley drew my attention to the cards. They were of a
kind that my experience had never permitted me to see before. In
place of ordinary kings and queens and knaves, these figures were
represented in attitudes and costumes the most indecent--such
as the prolific genius of Parisian bawdry alone could conceive
and delineate. It seems to be a general opinion among rogues that
knavery is never wholly triumphant unless the mind is thoroughly
degraded; and for this reason it is, perhaps, that establishments
devoted to purposes like the present, have, in most countries, for
their invariable adjuncts, the brothel and the bar-room. If they
are not in the immediate tenement, they are sufficiently nigh to
make the work of moral prostitution comparatively easy, in all its
ramifications, with the young and inconsiderate mind. Kingsley
turned over the cards, and I could see that while affecting to
show me the pictures he was himself subjecting the cards to a close
inspection of another kind. This object was scarcely perceptible
to myself, who knew his suspicions, and could naturally conjecture
his policy. It did not excite the alarm of his antagonist.

The parties sat confronting each other. Kingsley drew forth a wallet,
somewhat ostentatiously, which he laid down beside him. The sight
of his wallet staggered me. By its bulk I should judge it to have
held thousands; yet he had assured me that he had nothing beside,
the one hundred dollars which he had procured from me. My surprise
increased as I saw him open the wallet, and draw from one of its
pockets the identical roll which I had put into his hands. The
bulk of the pocket-book seeemed (sic) scarcely to be diminished.
My suspicions were beginning to be roused. I began to think that
he had told me a falsehood; but he looked up at this instant, and
a bright manly smile on his deep purposeful countenance, reassured
me. I felt that there was some policy in the business which was not
for me then to fathom. The cards were cut. A box of dice was also
in the hands of Cleveland.

"Spots or pictures?" said Cleveland.

"Pictures first, I suppose," said Kingsley, "till the blood gets up.
The ivories then as the most rapid. But these pictures are really
so tempting. A new supply, Philip!"

"Just received, sir," said the other.

"And how shall we begin?" demanded Cleveland, drawing a handful of
bills, gold, and silver, from his pocket; "yellow, white, or brown?"

It was thus, I perceived, that gold, silver, and paper money, were
described.

"Shall it be child's play, or--"

"Man's, man's!" replied Kingsley, with some impatience "I am
for beginning with a cool hundred," and, to my consternation, he
unfolded the roll he had of me, counted out the bills, refolded them
and placed them in a saucer, where they were soon covered with a
like sum by his antagonist. I was absolutely sickened, and stared
aghast upon my reckless companion. He looked at me with a smile.

"To your own game, Clifford. You will find men enough for your
money in either of the rooms. Should you run short, come to me."

Thus confidently did he speak; yet he had actually but the single
hundred which he had so boldly staked on the first issue. I thought
him lost; but he better knew his game than I. He also knew his man.
The eyes of Cleveland were on the huge wallet in reserve, of which
the "cool hundred" might naturally be considered a mere sample. I
had not courage to wait for the result, but wandered off, with a
feeling not unallied to terror, into an adjoining apartment.

CHAPTER XXX.

FALSE LUCK.

Though confounded with what I had seen of the proceedings of Kingsley,
I was yet willing to promote, so far as I could, the purpose for
which we came. I felt too, that, unless I played, that purpose,
or my own, might reasonably incur suspicion. To rove through the
several rooms of a gambling-house, surveying closely the proceedings
of others, without partaking, in however slight a degree, in the
common business of the establishment, was neither good policy nor
good manners. Unless there to play, what business had I there?
Accordingly I resolved to play. But of these games I knew nothing.
It was necessary to choose among them, and, without a choice I
turned to one of the tables where the genius of Roulette presided.
A motley group, none of whom I knew, surrounded it. I placed my
dollar upon one of the spots, red or black, I know not which, and
saw it, in a moment after, spooned up with twenty others by the
banker. I preferred this form of play to any other, for the simple
reason that it did not task my own faculties, and left me free
to bestow my glances on the proceedings of my friend. But I soon
discovered that the contagion of play is irresistible; and so
far from putting my stake down at intervals, and with philosophic
indifference, I found myself, after a little while, breathlessly
eager in the results. These, after the first few turns of the machine,
had ceased to be unfavorable. I was confounded to discover myself
winning. Instead of one I put down two Mexicans.

"Put down ten," said one of the bystanders, a dark, sulky-looking
little yellow man, who seemed a veteran at these places. "You are
in luck--make the most of it."

The master of the ceremonies scowled upon the speaker; and this
determined me to obey his suggestions. I did so, and doubled the
money; left my original stake and the winnings on the same spot, and
doubled that also; and it was not long before, under this stimulus
of success, and the novelty of my situation, I found myself as
thoroughly anxious and intensely interested, as if I had gone to
the place in compliance with a natural passion. I know not how
long I had continued in this way, but I was still fortunate. I
had doubled my stakes repeatedly, and my pockets were crammed with
money.

"Stop now, if you are wise," whispered the same sulky-looking little
man who had before urged me to go on more boldly, as he sidled along
by me for this object; "never ride a good horse to death. There's
a time to stop just as there's a time to push. You had better stop
now. Stake another dollar and you lose all your winnings."

"Let the gentleman play his own game, Brinckoff. I don't see why
you come here to spoil sport."

Such was the remark of the keeper of the table. He had overheard
my counsellor. He felt his losses, and was angry. I saw that, and
it determined me. I took the counsel of the stranger. I was the
more willing to do so, as I reproached myself for my inattention
to my friend. It was time to see what had been his progress, and I
prepared to leave the theatre of my own success. Before doing so,
I turned to my counsellor, and thus addressed him: "Your advice has
made me win; I trust I will not offend a gentleman who has been so
courteous, by requesting him to take my place upon a small capital."

I put twenty pieces into his hand.

"I am but a young beginner," I continued, "and I owe you for my
first lesson."

"You are too good," he said, but his hand closed over the dollars.
The keeper of the table renewed his murmurs of discontent as he
saw me turn away.

"Ah! bah! Petit, what's the use to grumble?" demanded my representative.
"Do you suppose I will give up my sport for yours? When would I
get a sixpence to stake, if it were not that I was kind to young
fellows just beginning? There; growl no more; the twenty Mexicans
upon the red!"

The next minute my gratuity was swallowed up in the great spoon of
the banker. I was near enough, to see the result. I placed another
ten pieces in the hand of the unsuccessful gambler.

"Very good," said he; "very much obliged to you; but if you please,
I will do no more to-night. It's not my lucky night. I've
lost every set."

"As you please--when you please."

"You are a gentleman," he said; "the sooner you go home the better.
A young beginner seldom wins in the small hours."

This was said in another whisper. I thanked him for his further
suggestion, and turned away, leaving him to a side squabble with the
banker, who finally concluded by telling him that he never wished
to see him at his table.

"The more fool you, Petit," said Brinckoff; "for the youngster that
wins comes back, and he does not always win. You finish him in the
end as you finished me, and what more would you have?"

The rest, and there was much more, was inaudible to me. I hurried
from the place somewhat ashamed of my success. I doubt whether
I should have had the like feelings had I lost. As it was, never
did possession seem more cumbrous than the mixed gold, paper, and
silver, with which my pockets were burdened. I gladly thought of
Kingsley, to avoid thinking of myself. It was certain, I fancied,
that he had not lost, else how could he have continued to play? My
anxiety hurried me into the room where I had left him.

They sat together, he and Cleveland, as before. I observed that
there was now an expression of anxiety--not intense, but obvious
enough--upon the countenance of the latter. Philip, too, the mulatto,
stood on one side, contemplating the proceedings with an air of
grave doubt and uncertainty in his countenance. No such expression
distinguished the face of Kingsley. Never did a light-hearted,
indifferent, almost mocking spirit, shine out more clearly from
any human visage. At times he chuckled as with inward satisfaction.
Not unfrequently he laughed aloud, and his reckless "Ha! ha! ha!"
had more than once reached and startled me in the midst of my own
play, in the adjoining room. The opponents had discarded their
"pictures," They were absolutely rolling dice for their stakes. I
saw that the wallet of Kingsley lay untouched, and quite as full
as ever, in the spot where he had first laid it down. A pile of
money lay open beside him; the gold and silver pieces keeping down
the paper. When he saw me approach, he laughed aloud, as he cried
out:--

"Have they disburdened you, Clifford? Help yourself. I am punishing
my enemy famously. I can spare it."

A green, sickly smile mantled the lips of Cleveland. He replied in
low, soft tones, such as I could only partly hear; and, a moment
after, he swept the stake before the two, to his own side of the
table. The amount was large, but the features of Kingsley remained
unaltered, while his laugh was renewed as heartily as if he really
found pleasure in the loss.

"Ha! ha! ha! that is encouraging; but the end is not yet. The tug
is yet to come!"

I now perceived that Kingsley took up his wallet with one hand
while he spread his handkerchief on his lap with the other. Into
this he drew the pile of money which he had loose before on his
side of the table, and appeared to busy himself in counting into
it the contents of the wallet. This he did with such adroitness,
that, though I felt assured he had restored the wallet to his bosom
with its bulk undiminished, yet I am equally certain that no such
conclusion could have been reached by any other person. This done,
he lifted the handkerchief, full as it was, and dashed it down upon
the table.

"There! cover that, if you be a man!" was his speech of defiance.

"How much?" huskily demanded Cleveland.

"All!"

"Ah!"

"Yes, all. I know not the number of dollars, cents, or sixpences,
but face it with your winnings: there need be no counting. It is
loss of time. Stir the stuff with your fingers, and you will find
it as good, and as much, as you have here to put against it. On
that hangs my fate or yours. Mine for certain! I tell you, Mr.
Cleveland, it is all!"

Cleveland lifted the ends of the handkerchief, as if weighing its
contents; and then, without more scruple, flung into it a pile not
unlike it in bulk and quality: a handful of mixed gold paper, and
silver. Kingsley grasped the dice before him, and with a single
shake dashed them out upon the table.

"Six, four, two," cried Philip with a degree of excitement which
did not appear in either of the active opponents. Meanwhile my
heart was in my mouth. I looked on Kingsley with a sentiment of
wonder. Every muscle of his face was composed into the most quiet
indifference. He saw my glance, and smilingly exclaimed:--

"I trust to my star, Clifford. Sans Souci--remember!"

No time was allowed for more. The moment was a breathless one.
Cleveland had taken up the dice. His manner was that of the most
singular deliberation. His eyes were cast down upon the table. His
lips strongly closed together; and now it was that I could see the
keen, piercing look which Kingsley addressed to every movement of
the gambler. I watched him also. He did not immediately throw the
dice, and I was conscious of some motion which he made with his
hands before he did so. What that motion was, however, I could
neither have said nor conceived. But I saw a grim smile, full of
intelligence, suddenly pass over Kingsley's lips. The dice descended
upon the table with a sound that absolutely made me tremble.

"Five, four, six!" cried Philip, loudly, with tones of evident
exultation. I felt a sense like that of suffocation, which was
unrelieved even by the seemingly unnatural laughter of my companion.
He did laugh, but in a manner to render less strange and unnatural
that in which he had before indulged. Even as he laughed he rose
and possessed himself of the dice which the other had thrown down.

"The stakes are mine," cried Cleveland, extending his hand toward
the handkerchief.

"No!" said Kingsley, with a voice of thunder, and as he spoke,
he handed me the kerchief of money, which I grasped instantly, and
thrust with some difficulty into my bosom. This was done instinctively;
I really had no thoughts of what I was doing. Had I thought at all
I should most probably have refused to receive it.

"How!" exclaimed Cleveland, his face becoming suddenly pale. "The
cast is mine--fifteen to twelve!"

"Ay, scoundrel, but the game I played for is mine! As for the
cast, you shall try another which you shall relish less. Do you
see these?"

He showed the dice which he had gathered from the table. The
gambler made an effort to snatch them from his hands.

"Try that again," said Kingsley, "and I lay this hickory over your
pate, in a way that shall be a warning to it for ever."

By this time several persons from the neighboring tables and the
adjoining rooms, hearing the language of strife, came rushing in.
Kingsley beheld their approach without concern. There were several
old gamblers among them, but the greater number were young ones.

"Gentlemen," said Kingsley, "I am very glad to see you. You come
at a good time. I am about to expose a scoundrel to you."

"You shall answer for this, sir," stammered Cleveland, in equal
rage and confusion.

"Answer, shall I? By Jupiter! but you shall answer too! And you
shall have the privilege of a first answer, shall you?"

"Mr. Kingsley, what is the meaning of this?" was the demand of a
tall, dark-featured man, who now made his appearance from an inner
room, and whom I now learned, was, in fact, the proprietor of the
establishment.

"Ah! Radcliffe--but before another word is wasted put your fingers
into the left breeches pocket of that scoundrel there, and see what
you will find."

Cleveland would have resisted. Kingsley spoke again to Radcliffe,
and this time in stern language, which was evidently felt by the
person to whom it was addressed.

"Radcliffe, your own credit--nay, safety--will depend upon your
showing that you have no share in this rogue's practice. Search
him, if you would not share his punishment."

The fellow was awed, and obeyed instantly. Himself, with three
others, grappled with the culprit. He resisted strenuously, but in
vain. He was searched, and from the pocket in question three dice
were produced.

"Very good," said Kingsley; "now examine those dice, gentlemen, and
see if you can detect one of my initials, the letter 'K,' which I
scratched with a pin upon each of them."

The examination was made, and the letter was found, very small and
very faint, it is true, but still legible, upon the ace square of
each of the dice.

"Very good," continued Kingsley; "and now, gentlemen, with your
leave--"

He opened his hand and displayed the three dice with which Cleveland
had last thrown.

"Here you see the dice with which this worthy gentleman hoped
to empty my pockets. These are they which he last threw upon the
table. He counted handsomely by them! I threw, just before him,
with those which you have in your hand. I had contrived to mark
them previously, this very evening, in order that I might know them
again. Why should he put them in his pocket, and throw with these?
As this question is something important, I propose to answer it to
your satisfaction as well as my own; and, for this reason, I came
here, as you see, prepared to make discoveries."

He drew from his pocket, while he spoke, a small saddler's hammer and
steel-awl. Fixing with the sharp point of the awl in the ace spot
of the dice, he struck it a single but sudden blow with the hammer,
split each of the dice in turn, and disclosed to the wondering, or
seemingly wondering, eyes of all around, a little globe of lead in
each, inclining to the lowest numeral, and necessarily determining
the roll of the dice so as to leave the lightest section uppermost.

"Here, gentlemen," continued Kingsley, "you see by what process I
have lost my money. But it is not in the dice alone. Look at these
cards. Do you note this trace of the finger-nail, here, and there,
and there--scarcely to be seen unless it is shown to you, but clear
enough to the person that made it, and is prepared to look for it.
Radcliffe, your fellow, Philip, has been concerned in this business.
You must dismiss him, or your visiters will dismiss you. Neither
myself nor my friends will visit you again--nay, more, I denounce
you to the police. Am I understood?"

Radcliffe assented without scruple, evidently not so anxious for
justice as for the safety of his establishment. But it appeared
that there were others in the room not so well pleased with the
result. A hubbub now took place, in which three or four fellows
made a rush upon Kingsley--Cleveland urging and clamoring from the
rear, though without betraying much real desire to get into the
conflict.

But the assailants had miscalculated their forces. The youngsters
in the establishment, regarding Kingsley's development as serving
the common cause, were as soon at his side as myself. The scuffle
was over in an instant. One burly ruffian was prostrated by a
blow from Kingsley's club; I had my share in the prostration of a
second, and some two others took to their heels, assisted in their
progress by a smart application from every foot and fist that
happened to be convenient enough for such a service.

But Cleveland alone remained. Why he had not shared the summary fate
of the rest it would be difficult to say, unless it was because he
had kept aloof from the active struggle to which he had egged them
on. Perhaps, too, a better reason--he was reserved for some more
distinguishing punishment. Why he had shown no disposition for
flight himself, was answered as soon as Kingsley laid down his club,
which he did with a laugh of exemplary good-nature the moment he
had felled with it his first assailant. The flight of his allies
left the path open between himself and Cleveland, and, suddenly
darting upon him, the desperate gambler aimed a blow at his breast
with a dirk which he had drawn that instant from his own. He
exclaimed as he struck:--

"Here is something that escaped your search. Take this! this!"

Kingsley was just lifting up the cap, which he had worn that night,
from the table to his brows. Instinctively he dashed it into the
face of his assassin, and his simple evolution saved him. The
next moment the fearless fellow had grappled with his enemy, torn
the weapon from his grasp, and, seizing him around the body as if
he had been an infant, moved with him to an open window looking out
upon a neighboring court. The victim struggled, yelled for succor,
but before any of us could interpose, the resolute and powerful man
in whose hold he writhed and struggled vainly, with the gripe of
a master, had thrust him through the opening, his heels, in their
upward evolutions, shattering a dozen of the panes as he disappeared
from sight below. We all concluded that he was killed. We were
in an upper chamber, which I estimated to be twenty or thirty feet
from the ground. I was too much shocked for speech, and rushed
to the window, expecting to hehold the mangled and bloody corpse
of the miserable criminal beneath. The laughter of Radclifle half
reassured me.

"He will not suffer much hurt," said he; "there is something to
break his fall."

I looked down, and there the unhappy wretch was seen squatting and
clinging to the slippery shingles of an old stable, unhurt, some
twelve feet below us, unable to reascend, and very unwilling to adopt
the only alternative which the case presented---that of descending
softly upon the rank bed of stable-ordure which the provident care
of the gardener had raised up on every hand, the recking fumes of
which were potent enough to expel us very soon from our place of
watch at the window. Of the further course of the elegant culprit
we took no heed. The ludicrousness of his predicament had the
effect of turning the whole adventure into merriment among those
who remained in the establishment; and availing ourselves of the
clamorous mirth of the parties, we made our escape from the place
with a feeling, on my part, of indescribable relief.

Chapter XXXI

How the Game was Played

"WELL, we may breathe awhile," said Kingsley, as we found ourselves
once more in the pure air, and under the blue sky of midnight. "We
have got through an ugly task with tolerable success. You stood by
me like a man, Clifford. I need not tell you how much I thank you."

"I heartily rejoice that you are through with it, Kingsley; but I
am not so sure that we can deliberately approve of everything that
we may have been required by the circumstances of the case to do."

"What! you did not relish the playing? I respect your scruples,
but it does not follow that it must become a habit. You played to
enable a friend to get back from a knave what he lost as a fool,
and to punish the knavery that he could not well hope to reform. I
do not see, considering the amount of possible good which we have
done, that the evil is wholly inexcusable."

"Perhaps not; but this heap of money which I have in my bosom--should
you have taken it?"

"And why not? Whose should it be, if not mine?"

"You took with you but one hundred dollars. I should say you have
more than a thousand here."

"I trust I have," said he coolly. "What of that? I won it fairly,
and he played fairly, until the last moment when everything was at
stake. His false dice were then called in--and would you have me
yield to his roguery what had been the fruits of a fair conflict?
No! no! friend of mine! no! no! all these things did I consider
well before I took you with me to-night. I have been meditating
this business for a week, from the moment when a friendly fellow
hinted to me that I was the victim of knavery."

"But that wallet of money, Kingsley? You assured me that you were
pennyless."

"All! that wallet bedevilled Mr. Latour Cleveland, as it seems to
have bedevilled you. There, by the starlight, look at the contents
of this precious wallet, and see how much further your eyes can
pierce into the mystery of my proceedings.'"

He handed me the wallet, which I opened. To my great surprise, I
found it stuffed with old shreds of newspaper, bits of rag, even
cotton, but not a cent of money.

"There! ara you satisfied? You shall have that wallet, with all
its precious contents, as a keepsake from me. It will remind you of
a strange scene. It will have a history for you when you are old,
which you will tell with a chuckle to your children."

"Children!" I involuntarily murmured, while my voice trembled, and
a tear started to my eye. That one word recalled me back, at once,
to home, to my particular woes--to all that I could have wished
banished for ever, even in the unwholesome stews and steams of a
gaming-house. But Kingsley did not suffer me to muse over my own
afflictions. He did not seem to hear the murmuring exclamation of
my lips. He continued:--

"I have no mysteries from you, and you need, as well as deserve,
an explanation. All shall be made clear to you. The reason of this
wallet, and another matter which staggered you quite as much--my
audacious bet of a cool hundred--your own disconsolate hundred--as
a first stake! I have no doubt you thought me mad when you heard
me."

I confessed as much. He laughed.

"As I tell you, I had studied my game beforehand, even in its
smallest details. By this time, I knew something of the play of
most gamblers, and of Mr. Latour Cleveland, in particular. These
people do not risk themselves for trifles. They play fairly enough
when the temptation is small. They cheat only when the issues are
great. I am speaking now of gamesters on the big figure, not of
the petty chapmen who pule over their pennies and watch the exit
of a Mexican, with the feelings of one who sees the last wave of a
friend's handkerchief going upon the high seas. My big wallet and
my hundred dollar bet, were parts of the same system. The heavy
stake at the beginning led to the inference that I had corresponding
resources. My big wallet lying by me, conveniently and ostentatiously,
confirmed this impression. The cunning gambler was willing that I
should win awhile. His policy was to encourage me; to persuade me
on and on, by gradual stimulants, till all was at stake. Well! I
knew this. All was at stake finally, and I had then to call into
requisition all the moral strength of which I was capable, so that
eye and lip and temper should not fail me at those moments when I
would need the address and agency of all.

"The task has been an irksome one; the trial absolutely painful.
But I should have been ashamed, once commencing the undertaking,
not to have succeeded. He, too, was not impregnable. I found out
his particular weakness. He was a vain man; vain of his bearing,
which he deemed aristocratic; his person, which he considered very
fine. I played with these vanities. Failing to excite him on the
subject of the game, I made HIMSELF my subject. I chattered with
him freely; so as to prompt him to fancy that I was praising his
style, air, appearance; anon, by some queer jibe, making him half
suspicious that I was quizzing him. My frequent laughter, judiciously
disposed, helped this effect; and, to a certain extent, I succeeded.
He became nervous, and was excited, though you may not have seen
it. I saw it in the change of his complexion, which became suddenly
quite bilious. I found, too, that he could only speak with some
effort, when, if you remember, before we began to play, his tongue,
though deliberate, worked pat enough. I felt my power over him
momently increase; and I sometimes won where he did not wish it.
I do verily believe that he ceased to see the very marks which he
himself had made upon the cards. Nervous agitation, on most persons,
produces a degree of blindness quite as certainly as it affects
the speech. Well, you saw the condition of our funds when you
re-appeared. I had determined to bring the business to a close.
I had marked the dice, actually before his face, while we took a
spell of rest over a bottle of porter. I had scratched them quietly
with a pin which I carried in my sleeve for that purpose, while
he busied himself with a fidgety shuffling of the cards. My leg,
thrown over one angle of the table, partly covered my operations,
and I worked upon the dice in my lap. You may suppose the etching
was bad enough, doing precious little credit to the art of engraving
in our country. But the thing was thoroughly done, for I had worked
myself into a rigorous sort of philosophic desperation which made
me as cool as a cucumber. To seem to empty the contents of the
wallet into my lap was my next object, and this I succeeded in,
without his suspecting that my movement was a sham only. The purse
thus made up, I emphatically told him was all I had--this was the
truth--and then came the crisis. His trick was to be employed
now or never. It was employed, but he had become so nervous, that
I caught a sufficient glimpse of his proceedings. I saw the slight
o'hand movement which he attempted, and--you know the rest. I regard
the money as honestly mine--so far as good morals may recognise the
honesty of getting money by gambling;--and thinking so, my dear
Clifford, I have no scruple in begging you to share it with me.
It is only fit that you, who furnished all the capital--you see I
say nothing of the wallet which should, however, be priceless in
our eyes--should derive at least a moiety of the profit. It is
quite as much yours as mine. I beg you so to consider it."

I need not say, however, that I positively refused to accept this
offer. I would take nothing but the hundred which I had lent him,
and placed the handkerchief with all its contents into his hands.

"And now, Clifford, I must leave you. You have yet to learn another
of my secrets. I take the rail-car at daylight in the morning. I
am off for Alabama; and considering my Texan and Mexican projects,
I leave you, perhaps, for ever."

"So soon?"

"Yes, everything is ready. There need be no delay. I have no wife
nor children to cumber me. My trunks are already packed; my resolve
made; my last business transacted I have some lands in Alabama
which I mean to sell. This done, I am off for the great field of
performance, south and southwest. You shall hear of me, perhaps may
wish to hear FROM me. Here is my address, meanwhile, in Alabama.
I shall advise you of my further progress, and shall esteem highly
a friendly scrawl from you. If you write, do not fail to tell me
what you may hear of Mr. Latour Cleveland, and how he got down from
the muck-heap. Write me all about it, Clifford, and whatever else
you can about our fools and knaves, for though I leave them without
a tear, yet, d--n 'em, I keep 'em in my memory, if it's only for
the sake of the old city whom they bedevil."

Enough of our dialogue that night. Kingsley was a fellow of every
excellent and some very noble qualities. We did not sympathize in
sundry respects, but I parted from him with regret; not altogether
satisfied, however, that there were not some defects in that reasoning
by which he justified our proceedings with the gamblers. I turned
from him with a sad, sick heart. In his absence the whole feeling
of my domestic doubts and difficulties rushed back upon me freshly
and with redoubled force.

"Children!" I murmured mournfully, as I recalled one of his remarks;
"children! children! these, indeed, were blessings; but if we only
had love, truth, peace. If that damning doubt were not there!--that
wild fear, that fatal, soul-petrifying suspicion!"

I groaned audibly as I traversed the streets, and it seemed as
if the pavements groaned hollowly in answer beneath my hurrying
footsteps. In a moment more I had absolutely forgotten the recent
strife, the strange scene, the accents of my friend; for but that
one.

"Children! children! These might bind her to me; might secure
her erring affections; might win her to love the father, when he
himself might possess no other power to tempt her to love. Ah! why
has Providence denied me the blessing of a child?"

Alas! it was not probable that Julia should ever have children. This
was the conviction of our physician. Her health and constitution
seemed to forbid the hope; and the gloomy despair under which I
suffered was increased by this reflection. Yet, even at that moment,
while thus I mused and murmured, my poor wife had been unexpectedly
and prematurely delivered of an infant son--a tiny creature, in
whom life was but a passing gleam, as of the imperfect moonlight,
and of whom death took possession in the very instant of its birth.

CHAPTER XXXII.

SUDDEN LESSON AND NEW SUSPICIONS.

While I had been wasting the precious hours of midnight in a
gaming-house, my poor Julia had undergone the peculiar pangs of a
mother! While I had been reproaching her in my secret soul for a
want of ardency and attachment, she had been giving me the highest
proof that she possessed the warmest. These revelations, however,
were to reach me slowly; and then, like those of Cassandra, they
were destined to encounter disbelief.

Leaving Kingsley, I turned into the street where my wife's mother
lived. But the house was shut up--the company gone. I had not
been heedful of the progress of the hours. I looked up at the tall,
white, and graceful steeple of our ancient church, which towered
in serene majesty above us; but, in the imperfect light I failed
to read the letters upon the dial-plate. At that moment its solemn
chimes pealed forth the hour, as if especially in answer to my quest.
How such sounds speak to the very soul at midnight! They seem the
voice from Time himself, informing, not man alone, but Eternity,
of his progress to that lone night, in which his minutes, hours,
days, and years, are equally to be swallowed up and forgotten.

Sweet had been those bells to me in boyhood. Sad were they to me
now. I had heard them ring forth merry peals on the holydays of
the nation; and peals on the day of national mourning; startling
and terrifying peals in the hour of midnight danger and alarm;
but never till then had they spoken with such deep and searching
earnestness to the most hidden places of my soul. That 'one, two,
three, four,' which they then struck, as they severally pronounced
the thrilling monotones, seemed to convey the burden of four impressive
acts in a yet unfinished tragedy. My heart beat with a feeling of
anxiety, such as overcomes us, when we look for the curtain to rise
which is to unfold the mysterious progress of the catastrophe.

That fifth act of mine! what was it to be? Involuntarily my lips
uttered the name of William Edgerton! I started as if I had trodden
upon a viper. The denouement of the drama at once grew up before
my eyes. I felt the dagger in my grasp; I actually drew it from my
bosom. I saw the victim before me--a smile upon his lips--a fire
in his glance--an ardor, an intelligence, that looked like exulting
passion; and my own eyes grew dim. I was blinded; but, even in the
darkness, I struck with fatal precision. I felt the resistance,
I heard the groan and the falling body; and my hair rose, with a
cold, moist life of its own, upon my clammy and shrinking temples.

I recovered from the delusion. My dagger had been piercing the empty
air; but the feeling and the horror in my soul were not less real
because the deed had been one of fancy only. The foregone conclusion
was in tny mind, and I well knew that fate would yet bring the
victim to the altar.

I know not how I reached my dwelling, but when there I was soon
brought to a sober condition of the senses. I found everything in
commotion. Mrs. Delaney, late Clifford, was there, busy in my wife's
chamber, while her husband, surly with such an interruption to his
domestic felicity, even at the threshold, was below, kicking his
heels in solemn disquietude in the parlor. The servants had been
despatched to bring her and to seek me, in the first moments of
my wife's danger. She had consciousness enough for that, and Mrs.
Delaney had summoned the physician. He too--the excellent old man,
who had assisted us in our clandestine marriage--he too was there;
sad, troubled, and regarding me with looks of apprehension and rebuke
which seemed to ask why I was abroad at that late hour, leaving my
wife under such circumstances. I could not meet his glance with a
manly eye. They brought me the dead infant--poor atom of mortality--no
longer mortal; but I turned away from the spectacle. I dared not
look upon it. It was the form of a perished hope, ended in a dream!
And such a dream! The physician gave me a brief explanation of the
condition of things.

"Your wife is very ill. It is difficult to say what will happen.
Make up your mind for the worst. She has fever--has been delirious.
But she sleeps now under the effect of some medicine I have given
her. She will not sleep long; and everything will depend upon her
wakening. She must be kept very quiet."

I asked if he could conjecture what should bring about such an
event. "Though delicate, Julia was not out of health. She had been
well during the evening when I left her."

"You have left her long. This is a late hour, Mr. Clifford, for
a young husband to be out. Nothing but matter of necessity could
excuse--"

I interrupted him with some gravity:--

"Suppose then it was a matter of necessity--of seeming necessity,
at least."

He observed my emotion.

"Do not be angry with me. I assisted your dear wife into the world,
Clifford. I would not see her hurried out of it. She is like a
child of my own; I feel for her as such."

I said something apologetic, I know not what, and renewed my
question.

"She has been alarmed or excited, perhaps; possibly has fallen
while ascending the stair. A very slight accident will sometimes
suffice to produce such a result with a constitution such as hers.
She needs great watchfulness, Clifford; close attention, much
solicitude. She needs and deserves it, Clifford."

I saw that the old man suspected me of indifference and neglect. Alas!
whatever might be my faults in reference to my wife, indifference
was not among them. What he had said, however, smote me to the
heart. I felt like a culprit. I dared not meet his eye when, at
daylight, he took his departure, promising to return in a few hours.

My excellent mother-in-law was more capable and copious in her
details. From her I learned that Julia, though anxious to depart
for some time before, had waited for my return until the last of
her guests were about to retire. Among these happened to be Mr.
William Edgerton!"

"He offered his carriage, but Julia put off accepting for a long
time, saying you would soon return. But at last he pressed her
so, and seeing everybody else gone, she concluded to go, and Mr.
Delaney helped her into the carriage, and Mr. Edgerton got in too,
to see her home; and off they drove, and it was not an hour after,
when Becky (the servant-girl) came to rout us up, saying that her
mistress was dying. I hurried on my clothes, and Delaney--dear
good man--he was just as quick; and off we came, and sure enough,
we found her in a bad way, and nobody with her but the servants;
and I sent off after you, and after the doctor; and he just came
in time to help her; but she went on wofully; was very lightheaded;
talked a great deal about you; and about Mr. Edgerton; I suppose
because he had just been seeing her home; but didn't seem to know
and doesn't know to this moment what has happened to her."

I have shortened very considerably the long story which Mrs. Delaney
made of it. Rambling as it was--full of nonsense--with constant
references to her "dear good man," and her party, the company,
herself, her fashion, and frivolities--there was yet something to
sting and trouble me at the core of her narration. Edgerton and my
wife linger to the last--Edgerton rides home with her--he and she
in the carriage, alone, at midnight;--and then this catastrophe,
which the doctor thought was a natural consequence of some excitement
or alarm.

These facts wrought like madness in my brain. Then, too, in her
delirium she raves of HIM! Is not that significant? True, it comes
from the lips of that malicious old woman! she, who had already
hinted to me that my wife--her daughter--was likely to be as faithless
to me as she had been to herself. Still, it is significant, even
if it be only the invention of this old woman. It showed what
she conjectured--what she thought to be a natural result of these
practices which had prompted her suspicions as well as my own.

How hot was the iron-pressure upon my brain--how keen and scorching
was that fiery arrow in my soul, when I took my place of watch
beside the unconscious form of my wife, God alone can know. If
I am criminal--if I have erred with wildest error--surely I have
struggled with deepest misery. I have been misled by wo, not
temptation! Sore has been my struggle, sore my suffering, even in
the moment of my greatest fault and folly. Sore!---how sore!

CHAPTER XXXIII.

STILL THE CLOUD.

For three days and nights did I watch beside the sick bed of my
wife. In all this time her fate continued doubtful. I doubt if any
anxiety or attention could have exceeded mine; as it was clear to
myself that, in spite of jealousy and suspicion, my love for her
remained without diminution. Yet this watch was not maintained
without some trials far more severe and searching than those which
it produced upon the body. Her mind, wandering and purposeless, yet
spoke to mine, and renewed all its racking doubts, and exaggerated
all its nameless fears. Her veins burned with fever. She was fitfully
delirious. Words fell from her at spasmodic moments--strange,
incoherent words, but all full of meaning in my ears. I sat beside
the bed on one hand, while, on one occasion, her mother occupied
a seat upon that opposite. The eyes of my wife opened upon both of
us--turned from me, convulsively, with an expression, as I thought,
of disgust, then closed--while her lips, taking up their language,
poured forth a torrent of threats and reproaches.

I can not repeat her words. They rang in my ears, understood, indeed,
but so wildly and thrillingly, that I should find it a vain task
to endeavor to remember them. She spoke of persecution, annoyance,
beyond propriety, beyond her powers of endurance. She threatened
me--for I assumed myself to be the object of her denunciation--with
the wrath of some one capable to punish--nay, to rescue her, if
need be, by violence, from the clutches of her tyrant. Then followed
another change in her course of speech. She no longer threatened or
denounced. She derided. Words of bitter scorn and loathing contempt
issued from those bright, red, burning, and always beautiful lips,
which I had never supposed could have given forth such utterance,
even if her spirit could have been supposed capable of conceiving
it. Keen was the irony which she expressed--irony, which so well
applied to my demerits in one great respect, that I could not help
making the personal application.

"How manly and generous," she proceeded, "was this sort of persecution
of one so unprotected, so dependent, so placed, that she must even
be silent, and endure without speech or complaint, in the dread of
dangers which, however, would not light upon her head. Oh, brave
as generous!" she exclaimed, with a burst of tremendous delirium,
terminating in a shriek; "oh, brave as generous!--scarcely lion-like,
however, for the noble beast rushes upon his victim. He does not
prowl, and skulk, and sneak, watching, cat-like; crouching and base,
in stealth and darkness. Very noble, but mousing spirit! Beware!
Do I not know you now! Fear you not that I will show your baseness,
and declare the truth, and guide other eyes to your stealthy
practice? Beware! Do not drive me into madness!"

Thus she raved. My conscience applied these stinging words of scorn,
which seemed particularly fitted to the mean suspicious watch which
I had kept upon her. I could have no thought that they were meant
for any other ears than my own, and the crimson flush upon my
cheeks was the involuntary acknowledgment which my soul made of the
demerits of my unmanly conduct. I fancied that Julia had detected
my espionage, and that her language had this object in reference
only. But there were other words; and, passing with unexpected
transition from the language of dislike and scorn, she now
indulged in that of love--language timidly suggestive of love, as
if its utterance were restrained by bashfulness, as if it dreaded
to be heard. Then a deep sigh followed, as if from the bottom of
her heart, succeeded by convulsive sobs, at last ending in a gushing
flood of tears.

For the space of half an hour I had been an attentive but suffering
listener to this wild raving. My pangs followed every sentence
from her lips, believing, as I did, that they were reproachful
of myself, and associated with a now unrestrained expression of
passion for another. Gradually I had ceased, in the deep interest
which I felt, to be conscious that Mrs. Delaney was present. I
leaned across the couch; I bent my ear down toward the lips of the
speaker, eager to drink up every feeble sound which might help to
elucidate my doubts, and subdue or confirm my suspicions. Then,
as the accumulating conviction formed itself, embodied and sharp,
like a knife, into my soul, I groaned aloud, and my teeth were
gnashed together in the bitterness of my emotion! In that moment I
caught the keen gray eyes of my mother-in-law fixed upon me, with
a jibing expression, which spoke volumes of mockery. They seemed
to say, "Ah! you have it now! The truth is forced upon you at last!
You can parry it no longer. I see the iron in your soul. I behold
and enjoy your contortions!"

Fiend language! She was something of a fiend! I started from the
bedside, and just then a flood of tears came to the relief of my
wife, and lessened the excitement of her brain. The tears relieved
her. The paroxysm passed away. She turned her eyes upon me, and
closed them involuntarily, while a deep crimson tint passed over
her cheek, a blush, which seemed to me to confirm substantially
the tenor of that language in which, while delirious, she had
so constantly indulged. It did not lessen the seeming shame and
dislike which her countenance appeared at once to embody, that
a soft sweet smile was upon her lips at the same moment, and she
extended to me her hand with an air of confidence which staggered
and surprised me.

"What is the matter, dear husband? And you here, mother? Have I
been sick? Can it be?"

"Hush!" said the mother. "You have been sick ever since the night
of my marriage."

"Ah!" she exclaimed with an air of anxiety and pain, while pressing
her hand upon her eyes, "Ah! that night!"

A shudder shook her frame as she uttered this simple and
short sentence. Simple and short as it was, it seemed to possess
a strange signification. That it was associated in her mind with
some circumstances of peculiar import, was sufficiently obvious.
What were these circumstances? Ah! that question! I ran over in
my thought, in a single instant, all that array of events, on that
fatal night, which could by any possibility distress me, and confirm
my suspicions. That waltz with Edgerton--that long conference between
them--that lonely ride together from the home of Mrs. Delaney,
in a close carriage--and the subsequent disaster--her unconscious
ravings, and the strong, strange language which she employed,
clearly full of meaning as it was, but in which I could discover
one meaning only! all these topics of doubt and agitation passed
through my brain in consecutive order, and with a compact arrangement
which seemed as conclusive as any final issue. I said nothing; but
what I might have said, was written in my face. Julia regarded me
with a gaze of painful anxiety. What she read in my looks must have
been troublously impressive. Her cheeks grew paler as she looked.
Her eyes wandered from me vacantly, and I could see her thin soft
lips quivering faintly like rose-leaves which an envious breeze
has half separated from the parent-flower. Mrs. Delaney watched
our mutual faces, and I left the room to avoid her scrutiny. I only
re-entered it with the physician. He administered medicine to my
wife.

"She will do very well now, I think," he said to me when leaving
the house; "but she requires to be treated very tenderly. All
causes of excitement must be kept from her. She needs soothing,
great care, watchful anxiety. Clifford, above all, you should leave
her as little as possible. This old woman, her mother, is no fit
companion for her--scarcely a pleasant one. I do not mean to reproach
you; ascribe what I say to a real desire to serve and make you
happy; but let me tell you that Mrs. Delaney has intimated to me
that you neglect your wife, that you leave her very much at night;
and she further intimates, what I feel assured can not well be the
case, that you have fallen into other and much more evil habits."

"The hag!"

"She is all that, and loves you no better now than before. Still,
it is well to deprive such people of their scandal-mongering, of
the meat for it at least. I trust, Clifford, for your own sake,
that you were absent of necessity on Wednesday night."

"It will be enough for me to think so, sir," was my reply.

"Surely, if you DO think so; but I am too old a man, and too old
a friend of your own and wife's family, to justify you in taking
exception to what I say. I hope you do not neglect this dear child,
for she is one too sweet, too good, too gentle, Clifford, to be
subjected to hard usage and neglect. I think her one of earth's
angels--a meek creature, who would never think or do wrong, but
would rather suffer than complain. I sincerely hope, for your own
sake, as well as hers, that you truly estimate her worth."

I could not answer the good old man, though I was angry with him.
My conscience deprived me of the just power to give utterance to
my anger. I was silent, and he forbore any further reference to
the subject. Shortly after he took his leave, and I re-ascended the
stairs. Wearing slippers, I made little noise, and at the door of
my wife's chamber I caught a sentence from the lips of Mrs. Delaney,
which made me forget everything that the doctor had been saying.

"But Julia, there must have been some accident--something must
have happened. Did your foot slip? perhaps, in getting out of the
carriage, or in going up stairs, or--. There must have been something
to frighten you, or hurt you. What was it?"

I paused; my heart rose like a swelling, struggling mass in the
gorge of my throat. I listened for the reply. A deep sigh followed;
and then I heard a reluctant, faint utterance of the single word,
"Nothing!"

"Nothing?" repeated the old lady. "Surely, Julia, there was something.
Recollect yourself. You know you rode home with Mr. Edgerton. It
was past one o'clock--"

"No more--no more, mother. There was nothing--nothing that I
recollect. I know nothing of what happened. Hardly know where I am
now."

I felt a momentary pang that I had lingered at the entrance.
Besides, there was no possibility that she would have revealed
anything to the inquisitive old woman. Perhaps, had this been
probable, I should not have felt the scruple and the pang. The
very questions of Mrs. Delaney were as fully productive of evil
in my mind, as if Julia had answered decisively on every topic. I
entered the room, and Mrs. Delaney, after some little lingering,
took her departure, with a promise to return again soon. I paced
the chamber with eyes bent upon the floor.

"Come to me, Edward-come sit beside me." Such were the gentle
words of entreaty which my wife addressed to me. Gentle words, and
so spoken--so sweetly, so frankly, as if from the very sacredest
chamber of her heart. Could it be that guilt also harbored in that
very heart--that it was the language of cunning on her lips--the
cunning of the serpent? Ah! how can we think that with serpent-like
cunning, there should be dove-like guilelessness? My soul revolted
at the idea. The sounds of the poor girl's voice sounded like
hissing in my ears. I sat beside her as she requested, and almost
started, as I felt her fingers playing with the hair upon my temples.

"You are cold to me, dear husband; ah! be not cold. I have narrowly
escaped from death. So they tell me--so I feel! Be not cold to
me. Let me not think that I am burdensome to you."

"Why should you think so, Julia?"

"Ah! your words answer your question, and speak for me. They are
so few--they have no warmth in them; and then, you leave me so
much, dear husband--why, why do you leave me?"

"You do not miss me much, Julia."

"Do I not! ah! you do me wrong. I miss nothing else but you. I
have all that I had when we were first married--all but my husband!"

"Do not deceive yourself, Julia; these fine speeches do not deceive
me. I am afraid that the love of woman is a very light thing. It
yields readily to the wind. It does not keep in one direction long,
any more than the vane on the house-top."

"You do NOT think so, Edward. Such is not MY love. Alas! I know
not how to make it known to you, husband, if it be not already
known; and yet it seems to me that you do not know it, or, if
you do, that you do not care much about it. You seem to care very
little whether I love you or not."

I exclaimed bitterly, and with the energy of deep feeling.

"Care little! _I_ care little whether you love me or no! Psha!
Julia, you must think me a fool!"

It did seem to me a sort of mockery, knowing my feelings as _I_
did--knowing that all my folly and suffering came from the very
intensity of my passion--that I should be reproached, by its
object, with indifference! I forgot, that, as a cover for my
suspicion, I had been striving with all the industry of art to put
on the appearance of indifference. I did not give myself sufficient
credit for the degree of success with which I had labored, or I
might have suddenly arrived at the gratifying conclusion, that,
while I was impressed and suffering with the pangs of jealousy,
my wife was trembling with fear that she had for ever lost
my affections. My language, the natural utterance of my real
feelings, was not true to the character I had assumed. It filled
the countenance of the suffering woman with consternation. She
shrunk from me in terror. Her hand was withdrawn from my neck, as
she tremulously replied:--

"Oh, do not speak to me in such tones. Do not look so harshly upon
me. What have I done?"

"Ay! ay!" I muttered, turning away.

She caught my hand.

"Do not go--do not leave me, and with such a look! Oh! husband,
I may not live long. I feel that I have had a very narrow escape
within these few days past. Do not kill me with cruel looks; with
words, that, if cruel from you, would sooner kill than the knife
in savage hands. Oh! tell me in what have I offended? What is it
you think? For what am I to blame? What do you doubt--suspect?"

These questions were asked hurriedly, apprehensively, with a
look of vague terror, her cheoks whitening as she spoke, her eyes
darting wildly into mine, and her lips remaining parted after she
had spoken.

"Ah!" I exclaimed, keenly watching her. Her glance sank beneath
my gaze. I put my hand upon her own.

"What do I suspect I What should I suspect? Ha!"--Here I arrested
myself. My ardent anxiety to know the truth led me to forget my
caution; to exhibit a degree of eagerness, which might have proved
that I did suspect and seriously. To exhibit the possession of
jealousy was to place her upon her guard--such was the suggestion
of that miserable policy by which I had been governed--and defeat
the impression of that feeling of perfect security and indifference,
which I had been so long striving to awaken. I recovered myself,
with this thought, in season to re-assume this appearance.

"Your mind still wanders, Julia. What should I suspect? and whom?
You do not suppose me to be of a suspicious nature, do you?"

"Not altogether--not always--no! But, of course, there is nothing
to suspect. I do not know what I say. I believe I do wander."

This reply was also spoken hurriedly, but with an obvious effort
at composure. The eagerness with which she seized upon my words,
insisting upon the absence of any cause of suspicion, and ascribing to
her late delirium, the tacit admissions which her look and language
had made, I need not say, contributed to strengthen my suspicions,
and to confirm all the previous conjectures of my jealous spirit.

"Be quiet," I said with an air of sang froid. "Do not worry yourself
in this manner. You need sleep. Try for it, while I leave you."

"Do not leave me; sit beside me, dear Edward. I will sleep so much
better when you are beside me."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, believe me. Ah! that I could always keep you beside me!"

"What! you are for a new honeymoon?" I said this in a TONE of
merriment, which Heaven knows, I little felt.

"Do not speak of it so lightly, Edward. It is too serious a matter.
Ah! that you would always remain with me; that you would never
leave me."

"Pshaw! What sickly tenderness is this! Why, how could I earn my
bread or yours?"

"I do not mean that you should neglect your business, but that
when business is over, you should give me all your time as you
used to. Remember, how pleasantly we passed the evenings after
our marriage. Ah! how could you forget?"

"I do not, Julia."

"But you do not care for them. We spend no such evenings now!"

"No! but it is no fault of mine!" I said gloomily; then, interrupting
her answer, as if dreading that she might utter some simple but
true remark, which might refute the interpretation which my words
conveyed, that the fault was hers, I enjoined silence upon her.

"You scarcely speak in your right mind yet, Julia. Be quiet,
therefore, and try to sleep."

"Well, if you will sit beside me."

"I will do so, since you wish for it; but where's the need?"

"Ah! do not ask the need, if you still love me," was all she
said, and looked at me with such eyes--so tearful, bright, so sad,
soliciting--that, though I did not less doubt, I could no longer
deny. I resumed the seat beside her. She again placed her fingers
in my hair, and in a little while sunk into a profound slumber,
only broken by an occasional sob, which subsided into a sigh.

Were she guilty--such was the momentary suggestion of the good
angel--could she sleep thus?--thus quietly, confidingly, beside the
man she had wronged--her fingers still paddling in his hair--her
sleeping eyes still turning in the direction of his face?

To the clear, open mind, the suggestion would have had the force
of a conclusive argument; but mine was no longer a clear, open
mind. I had the disease of the blind heart upon me, and all things
came out upon my vision as through a glass, darkly. The evil one
at my elbow jeered when the good angel spoke.

"Fool! does she not see that she can blind you still!" Then, in
the vanity and vexation of my spirit, I mused upon it further, and
said to myself:--"Ay, but she will find, ere many days, that I am
no longer to be blinded!" The scales were never thicker upon my
sight than when I boasted in this foolish wise.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

A FATHER'S GRIBFS.

She continued to improve, but slowly. Her organization was always
very delicate. Her frame was becoming thin, almost to meagreness;
and this last disaster, whatever might be its cause, had contributed
still more to weaken a constitution which education and nature had
never prepared for much hard encounter. But, though I saw these
proofs of feebleness--of a feebleness that might have occasioned
reasonable apprehensions of premature decay, and possibly very rapid
decline--there were little circumstances constantly occurring--looks
shown, words spoken--which kept up the irritation of my soul,
and prevented me from doing justice to her enfeebled condition.
My sympathies were absorbed in my suspicions. My heart was the
debateable land of self. The blind passion which enslaved it, I
need scarce say, was of a nature so potent, that it could easily
impregnate, with its own color, all the objects of its survey.
Seen through the eyes of suspicion, there is no truth, no virtue;
the smile is that of the snake; the tear, that of the crocodile;
the assurance, that of the traitor. There is no act, look, word,
of the suspected object, however innocent, which, to the diseased
mind of jealousy, does not suggest conjectures and arguments,
all conclusive or confirmatory of its doubts and fears. It is not
necessary to say that I shrunk from Julia's endearment, requited
her smiles with indifference; and, though I did not avoid her
presence--I could not, in the few days when her case was doubtful--yet
exhibited, in all respects, the conduct of one who was in a sort
of Coventry.

But one fact may be stated--one of many--which seemed to give
a sanction to my suspicions, will help to justify my course, and
which, at the time, was terribly conclusive, to my reason, of the
things which I feared. She spoke audibly the name of Edgerton,
twice, thrice, while she slept beside me, in tones very faint, it
is true, but still distinct enough. The faintness of her utterance,
gave the tones an emphasis of tenderness which perhaps was
unintended. Twice, thrice, that fatal name; and then, what a sigh
from the full volume of a surcharged heart. Let any one conceive my
situation--with my feelings, intense on all subjects--my suspicions
already so thoroughly awakened; and then fancy what they must have
been on hearing that utterance; from the unguarded lips of slumber;
from the wife lying beside him; and of the name of him on whom
suspicion already rested. I hung over the sleeper, breathless,
almost gasping, finally, in the effort to contain my breath--in
the hope to hear something, however slight, which was to confirm
finally, or finally end my doubts. I heard no more; but did
more seem to be necessary? What jealous heart had not found this
sufficiently conclusive? And that deep-drawn sigh, sobbing, as
of a heart breaking with the deferred hope, and the dream of youth
baffled at one sweeping, severing blow.

I rose. I could no longer subdue my emotions to the necessary
degree of watchfulness. I trod the chamber till daylight. Then,
I dressed myself and went out into the street. I had no distinct
object. A vague persuasion only, that I must do something--that
something must be done--that, in short, it was necessary to force
this exhausting drama to its fit conclusion. Of course William
Edgerton was my object. As yet, how to bring about the issue, was
a problem which my mind was not prepared to solve. Whether I was
to stab or shoot him; whether we were to go through the tedious
processes of the duel; to undergo the fatigue of preliminaries,
or to shorten them by sudden rencounter; these were topics which
filled my thoughts confusedly; upon which I had no clear conviction;
not because I did not attempt to fix upon a course, but from a sheer
inability to think at all. My whole brain was on fire; a chaotic
mass, such as rushes up from the unstopped vents of the volcano--fire,
stones, and lava--but dense smoke enveloping the whole.

In this frame of mind I hurried through the streets. The shops were
yet unopened. The sun was just about to rise. There was a humming
sound, like that of distant waters murmuring along the shore, which
filled my ears; but otherwise everything was silent. Sleep had not
withdrawn with night from his stealthy watch upon the household. It
seemed to me that I alone could not sleep. Even guilt--if my wife
were really guilty--even guilt could sleep. I left her sleeping,
and how sweetly! as if the dream which had made her sob and sigh,
had been succeeded by others, that made all smiles again. I could
not sleep, and yet, who, but a few months before, had been possessed
of such fair prospects of peace and prosperity? Fortune held
forth sufficient promise; fame--so far as fame can be accorded by
a small community--had done something toward giving me an honorable
repute; and love--had not love been seemingly as liberal and prompt
as ever young passions could have desired? I was making money; I was
getting reputation; the only woman whom I had ever loved or sought,
was mine; and mine, too, in spite of opposition and discouragements
which would have chilled the ardor of half the lovers in the world.
And yet I was not happy. It takes so small an amount of annoyance
to produce misery in the heart of selfesteem, when united with
suspicion, that it was scarcely possible that I should be happy.
Such a man has a taste for self-torture; as one troubled with an
irritating humor, is never at rest, unless he is tearing the flesh
into a sore; he may then rest as he may.

I took the way to my office. It was not often that I went thither
before breakfast. But William Edgerton had been in the habit of
doing so. He lived in the neighborhood, and his father had taught
him this habit during the period when he was employed in studying
the profession. It might be that I should find him there on the
present occasion. Such was my notion. What farther thought I had
I know not; but a vague suggestion that, in that quiet hour--there--without
eye to see, or hand to interpose, I might drag from his heart the
fearful secret--I might compel confession, take my vengeance, and
rid myself finally of that cruel agony which was making me its
miserable puppet. Crude, wild notions these, but very natural.

I turned the corner of the street. The window of my office was open.
"He is then there," I muttered to myself; and my teeth clutched each
other closely. I buttoned my coat. My heart was swelling. I looked
around me, and up to the windows. The street was very silent--the
grave not more so. I strode rapidly across, threw open the door
of the office which stood ajar, and beheld, not the person whom I
sought, but his venerable father.

The sight of that white-headed old man filled me with a sense of
shame and degradation. What had he not done for me? How great his
assistance, how kind his regards, how liberal his offices. He had
rescued me from the bondage of poverty. He had put forth the hand
of help, with a manly grasp of succor at the very moment when it was
most needed; had helped to make me what I was; and, for all these,
I had come to put to death his only son. A revulsion of feeling
took place within my bosom. These thoughts were instantaneous--a
sort of lightning-flash from the moral world of thought. I stood
abashed; brought to my senses in an instant, and was scarcely able
to conceal my discomfiture and confusion. I stood before him with
the feeling, and must have worn the look, of a culprit. Fortunately,
he did not perceive my confusion. Poor old man! Cares of his
own--cares of a father, too completely occupied his mind, to suffer
his senses to discharge their duties with freedom.

"I am glad to see you, Clifford, though I did not expect it. Young
men of the present day are not apt to rise so early."

"I must confess, sir, it is not my habit."

"Better if it were. The present generation, it seems to me, may be
considered more fortunate, in some respects, than the past, though
they are scarcely wiser. They seem to me exempt from such necessities
as encountered their fathers. Their tasks are fewer--their labor
is lighter--"

"Are their cares the lighter in consequence?" I demanded.

"That is the question," he replied. "For myself, I think not. They
grow gray the sooner. They have fewer tasks, but heavier troubles.
They live better in some respects. They have luxuries which, in
my day, youth were scarcely permitted to enjoy; and which, indeed,
were not often enjoyed by age. But they have little peace:-and,
look at the bankruptcies of our city. They are without number--they
produce no shame--do not seem to affect the credit of the parties;
and, certainly, in no respect diminish their expenditures. They live
as if the present day were the last they had to live; and living
thus, they must live dishonestly. It is inevitable. The moral sense
is certainly in a much lower condition in our country, than I have
ever known it. What can be the reason?"

"The facility of procuring money, perhaps. Money is the most
dangerous of human possessions."

"There can be none other. Clifford!"

"Sir."

"I change the subject abruptly. Have you seen my son lately,
Clifford?"

The question was solemnly, suddenly spoken. It staggered me. What
could it mean? That there was a meaning in it--a deep meaning--was
unquestionable. But of what nature? Did the venerable man suspect
my secret--could he by any chance conjecture my purpose? It is
one quality of a mind not exactly satisfied of the propriety of
its proceedings, to be suspicious of all things and persons--to
fancy that the consciousness which distresses itself, is also the
consciousness of its neighbors. Hence the blush upon the cheek--the
faltering accents--the tremulousncss of limb, and feebleness of
movement. For a moment after the old man spoke--troubled with this
consciousness, I could not answer. But my self-esteem came to my
relief--nay, it had sufficed to conceal my disquiet. My looks were
subdued to a seeming calm--my voice was un-broken, while I answered:--

"I have seen him within a few days, sir--a few nights ago we were
at Mrs. Delaney's party. But why the question, sir?--what troubles
you?"

"Strange that you have not seen! Did you not remark the alteration
in his appearance?"

"I must confess, sir, I did not; but, perhaps, I did not remark
him closely among the crowd."

"He is altered--terribly altered, Clifford. It is very strange that
you have not seen it. It is visible to myself--his mother--all the
family, and some of its friends We tremble for his life. He is a
mere skeleton--moves without life or animation, feebly--his cheeks
are pale and thin, his lips white, and his eyes have an appearance
which, beyond anything besides, distresses me--either lifelessly
dull, or suddenly flushed up with an expression of wildness, which
occurs so suddenly as to distress us with the worst apprehensions
of his sanity."

"Indeed, sir!" I exclaimed with natural surprise.

"So it appears to us, his mother and myself, though, as it has
escaped your eyes, I trust that we have exaggerated it. That we have
not imagined all of it, however, we have other proofs to show. His
manner is changed of late, and most of his habits. The change is
only within the last six months; so suddenly made that it has been
forced upon our sight. Once so frank, he is now reserved and shrinking
to the last degree; speaks little; is reluctant to converse; and,
I am compelled to believe, not only avoids my glance, but fears
it."

"It is very strange that he should do so, sir. I can think of no
reason why he should avoid YOUR glance. Can you sir? Have you any
suspicions?"

"I have."

"Ha! have you indeed?"

The old man drew his chair closer to me, and, putting his hand on
mine, with eyes in which the tears, big, slow-gathering, began to
fill--trickling at length, one by one, through the venerable furrows
of his cheeks--he replied in faltering accents:--

"A terrible suspicion, Clifford. I am afraid he drinks; that he
frequents gambling-houses; that, in short, he is about to be lost
to us, body and soul, for ever."

Deep and touching was the groan that followed from that old man's
bosom. I hastened to relieve him.

"I am sure, sir, that you do your son great injustice. I cannot
conceive it possible that he should have fallen into these habits"

"He is out nightly--late--till near daylight. But two hours ago he
returned home. Let me confess to you, Clifford, what I should be
loath to confess to anybody else. I followed him last night. He
took the path to the suburbs, and I kept him in sight almost till
he reached your dwelling. Then I lost him. He moved too rapidly
then for my old limbs, and disappeared among those groves of wild
orange that fill your neighborhood. I searched them as closely as
I could in the imperfect starlight, but could see nothing of him.
I am told that there are gambling-houses, notorious enough, in the
suburbs just beyond you. I fear that he found shelter in these--that
he finds shelter in them nightly."

I scarcely breathed while listening to the unhappy father's,
narrative. There was one portion of it to which I need not refer
the reader, as calculated to confirm my own previous convictions.
I struggled with my feelings, however, in respect for his. I kept
them down and spoke.

"In this one fact, Mr. Edgerton, I see nothing to alarm you. Your
son may have been engaged far more innocently than you imagine. He
is young--you know too well the practices of young men. As for the
drinking he is perhaps the very last person whom I should suspect
of excess. I have always thought his temperance unquestionable."

"Until recently, I should have had no fears myself. But connecting
one fact with another--his absence all night, nightly--the
stealthiness with which he departs from home after the family has
retired--the stealthiness with which he returns just before day--his
visible agitation when addressed--and, oh Clifford! worst of all
signs, the shrinking of his eye beneath mine and his mother's--the
fear to meet, and the effort to avoid us--these are the signs which
most pain me, and excite my apprehensions But look at his face and
figure also. The haggard misery of the one, sign of sleeplessness
and late watching--the attenuated feebleness of the other, showing
the effects of some practices, no matter of what particular sort,
which are undermining his constitution, and rapidly tending to
destroy him. If you but look in his eye as I have done, marking
its wildness, its wandering, its sensible expression of shame--you
can hardly fail to think with me that something is morally wrong.
He is guilty--"

"He is guilty!"

I echoed the words of the father, involuntarily. They struck the
chord of conviction in my own soul, and seemed to me the language
of a judgment.

"Ha! You know it, then?" cried the old man. "Speak! Tell me,
Clifford--what is his folly? What is the particular guilt and shame
into which he has fallen?"

I knew not that I had spoken until I heard these words. The
agitation of the father was greatly increased. Truly, his sorrows
were sad to look upon. I answered him:--

"I simply echoed your words, sir--I am ignorant, as I said before;
and, indeed, I may venture, I think, with perfect safety, to assure
you that gaming and drink have nothing to do with his appearance
and deportment. I should rather suspect him of some improper--SOME
GUILTY CONNECTION--"

I felt that, in the utterance of these words, I too had become
excited. My voice did not rise, but I knew that it had acquired
an intenseness which I as quickly endeavored to suppress. But the
father had already beheld the expression in my face, and perhaps
the sudden change in my tones grated harshly upon his ear. I could
see that his looks became more eager and inquiring. I could note
a greater degree of apprehension and anxiety in his eyes. I subdued
myself, though not without some effort.

"William Edgerton may be erring, sir--that I do not deny, for I have
seen too little of him of late to say anything of his proceedings;
but I am very confident when I say that excess in liquor can not
be a vice of his; and as for gaming, I should fancy that he was the
last person in the world likely to be tempted to the indulgence of
such a practice."

The father shook his head mournfully.

"Why this shame?--this fear? Besides, Clifford, what we know of
our son makes us equally sure that women have nothing to do with
his excesses. But these conjectures help us nothing. Clifford, I
must look to you."

"What can I do for you, sir?"

"He is my son, my only son--the care of many sad, sleepless hours.
It was his mother's hope that he would be our solace in the weary
and the sad ones. You can not understand yet how much the parent
lives in the child--how many of his hopes settle there. William has
already disappointed us in our ambition. He will be nothing that
we hoped him to be; but of this I complain not. But that he should
become base, Clifford; a night-prowler in the streets; a hanger-on
of stews and gaming-houses; a brawler at an alehouse bar; a man
to skulk through life and society; down-looking in his father's
sight; despised in that of the community--oh! these are the cruel,
the dreadful apprehensions!"

"But you know not that he is any of these."

"True; but there is something grievously wrong when the son dares
not meet the eye of a parent with manly fearlessness; when he
looks without joyance at the face of a mother, and shrinks from
her endearments as if he felt that he deserved them not. William
Edgerton is miserable; that is evident enough. Now, misery does
not always imply guilt; but, in his case, what else should it
imply! He has had no misfortunes. He is independent; he is beloved
by his parents, and by his friends; he has had no denial of the
affections; in short, there is no way of accounting for his conduct
or appearance, but by the supposition that he has fallen into
vicious habits. Whatever these habits are, they are killing him.
He is a mere skeleton; his whole appearance is that of a man
running a rapid course of dissipation which can only advance in
shame, and terminate in death. Clifford, if I have ever served
you in the hour of your need, serve me in this of mine. Save my
son for me. Bring him back from his folly; restore him, if you
can, to peace and purity. See him, will you not? Seek him out;
see him; probe his secret; and tell me what can be done to rescue
him before it be too late."

"Really, Mr. Edgerton, you confound me. What can I do?"

"I know not. Every thing, perhaps! I confess I can not counsel
you. I can not even suggest how you should begin. You must judge
for yourself. You must think and make your approaches according to
your own judgment. Remember, that it is not in his behalf only.
Think of the father, the mother! our hope, our all is at stake. I
speak to you in the language of a child, Clifford. I am a child
in this. This boy has been the apple of our eyes. It is our sight
for which I seek your help. I know your good sense and sagacity.
I know that you can trace out his secret when I should fail. My
feelings would blind me to the truth. They might lead me to use
language which would drive him from me. I leave it all to you. I
know not who else can do for me half so well in a matter of this
sort. Will you undertake it?"

Could I refuse? This question was discussed in all its bearings,
in a few lightning-like progresses of thought. I felt all its
difficulties--anticipated the annoyances to which it would subject
me, and the degree of self-forbearance which it would necessarily
require; yet, when I looked on the noble old gentleman who sat
beside me--his gray hairs, his pleading looks, the recollection of
the deep debt of gratitude which I owed him--I put my hand in his;
I could resist no longer.

"I will try!" was the brief answer which I made him.

"God bless, God speed you!" he exclaimed, squeezing my hand with a
pressure that said everything, and we separated; he for his family,
and I for that new task which I had undertaken. How different from
my previous purpose! I was now to seek to save the person whom I
had set forth that morning with the purpose (if I had any purpose)
to destroy. What a volume made up of contradictions and inconsistencies,
strangely bound together, is the moral world of man!

CHAPTER XXXV.

APPLICATON OF "THE QUESTION."

But how to save him? How to approach him? How to keep down my
own sense of wrong, my own feeling of misery, while representing
the wishes and the feelings of that good old man--that venerable
father? These were questions to afflict, to confound me! Still,
I was committed; I must do what I had promised; undertake it at
least; and the conviction that such a task was to be the severest
trial of my manliness, was a conviction that necessarily helped to
strengthen me to go through with it like a man,

What I had heard from Mr. Edgerton in relation to his son, though
new, and somewhat surprising to myself, had not altered, in any
respect, my impressions on the subject of his conduct toward, or
with, my wife. Indeed, it rather served to confirm them. I could
have told the old man, that, in losing all traces of his son in
the neighborhood of my dwelling the night when he pursued him, he
had the most conclusive proofs that he had gone to no gaming-houses.
But where did he go? That was a question for myself. Had he entered
my premises, and hidden himself amidst the foliage where I had myself
so often harbored, while my object had been the secret inspection
of my household? Could it be that he had loitered there during the
last few nights of my wife's illness, in the vain hope of seeing
me take my departure? This was the conclusion which I reached,
and with it came the next thought that he would revisit the spot
again that night. Ha! that thought! "Let him come!" I muttered to
myself. "I will endeavor to be in readiness!"

But, surely, the father was grievously in error; his parental
fear, alone, had certainly drawn the picture of his son's reduced
and miserable condition. I had seen nothing of this. I had observed
that he was shy, incommunicative--seeking to avoid me, as, according
to their showing, he had striven to avoid his parents. So far our
experience had been the same. But I had totally failed to perceive
the marks of suffering or of sin which the vivid feelings of the
father on this subject had insisted were so apparent. I had seen
in Edgerton only the false friend, the traitor, stealing like a
serpent to my bower, to beguile from my side the only object which
made it dear to me. I could see in him only the exulting seducer,
confident in his ability, artful in his endeavors, winning in his
accomplishments, and striving with practised industry of libertinism,
in the prosecution of his cruel schemes. I could see the grace of
his bearing, the ease of his manner, the symmetry of his person,
the neatness of his costume, the superiority of his dancing, the
insinuation of his address. I could see these only! That he looked
miserable--that he was thin to meagreness, I had not seen.

Yet, even were it so, what could this prove, as the father had
conclusively shown, but guilt. Poverty could not trouble him--he
had never been an unrequited lover. He had gone along the stream of
society, indifferent to the lures of beauty, and with a bark that
had always appeared studiously to keep aloof from the shores or
shoals of matrimony. If he was miserable, his misery could only come
from misconduct, not from misfortune. It was a misery engendered
by guilt, and what was that guilt? I KNEW that he did not drink;
and was not his course in regard to Kingsley, as narrated by that
person on the night when we went to the gaming-house together--was
not that sufficient to show that he was no gamester, unless he
happened to be one of the most bare faced of all canting hypocrites,
which I could not believe him to be. What remained, but that my
calculations were right? It was guilt that was sinking him, body
and soul, so that his eye no longer dared to look upward--so that
his ear shrunk from the sounds of those voices which, even in the
language of kindness, were still speaking to him in the severest
language of rebuke. And whom did that guilt concern more completely
than myself? Say that the father was to lose his son, his only
son--what was my loss, what was my shame! and upon whom should
the curse most fully and finally fall, if not upon the wrong-doer,
though it so happened that the ruin of the guilty brought with it
overthrow to the innocent scarcely less complete!

The extent of that guilt of Edgerton?

On this point all was a wilderness, vague, inconclusive, confused
and crowded within my understanding. I believed that he had
approached my wife with evil designs--I believed, without a doubt,
that he had passed the boundaries of propriety in his intercourse
with her; but I believed not that she had fallen! No! I had an
instinctive confidence in her purity, that rendered it apparently
impossible that she should lapse into the grossness of illicit love.
What, then, was my fear? That she did love him, though, struggling
with the tendency of her heart, she had not yielded in the struggle.
I believed that his grace, beauty, and accomplishments--his
persevering attention--his similar tastes--had succeeded in making
an impression upon her soul which had effectually eradicated mine.
I believed that his attentions were sweet to her--that she had
not the strength to reject them; and, though she may have proved
herself too virtuous to yield, she had not been sufficiently strong
to repulse him with virtuous resentment.

That Edgerton had not succeeded, did not lessen HIS offence. The
attempt was an indignity that demanded atonement--that justified
punishment equally severe with that which should have followed a
successful prosecution of his purpose. Women are by nature weak.
They are not to be tempted. He who, knowing their weakness, attempts
their overthrow by that medium, is equally cowardly and criminal.
I could not doubt that he had made this attempt; but now it seemed
necessary that I should suspend my indignation, in obedience with
what appeared to be a paramount duty. A selfish reasoning now
suggested compliance with this duty as a mean for procuring better
intelligence than I already possessed. I need not say that the
doubt was the pain in my bosom. I felt, in the words of the cold
devil Iago, those "damned minutes" of him "who dotes, yet doubts,
suspects, yet strongly loves."

The shapeless character of my fears and suspicions did not by any
means lessen their force and volume. On the contrary it caused
them to loom out through the hazy atmosphere of the imagination,
assuming aspects more huge and terrible, in consequence of their
very indistinctness; as the phantom shapes along the mountains of
the Brocken, gathering and scowling in the morning or the evening
twilight. To obtain more precise knowledge--to be able to subject
to grasp and measure the uncertain phantoms which I feared--was,
if not to reduce their proportions, at least to rid me of that
excruciating suspense, in determining what to do, which was the
natural result of my present ignorance.

With some painstaking, I was enabled to find and force an interview
with Edgerton that very day. He made an effort to elude me--such
an effort as he could make without allowing his object to be seen.
But I was not to be baffled. Having once determined upon my course,
I was a puritan in the inveteracy with which I persevered in it.
But it required no small struggle to approach the criminal, and
so utterly to subdue my own sense of wrong, my suspicions and my
hostility, as to keep in sight no more than the wishes and fears of
the father. I have already boasted of my strength in some respects,
even while exposing my weaknesses in others. That I could persuade
Edgerton and my wife, equally, of my indifference, even at the
moment when I was most agonized by my doubts of their purity, is
a sufficient proof that I possessed a certain sort of strength. It
was a moral strength, too, which could conceal the pangs inflicted
by the vulture, even when it was preying upon the vitals of the
best affections and the dearest hopes of the heart. It was necessary
that I should put all this strength in requisition, as well to do
what was required by the father, as to pierce, with keen eye, and
considerate question, to the secret soul of the witness. I must
assume the blandest manner of our youthful friendship; I must say
kind things, and say them with a certain frank unconsciousness. I
must use the language of a good fellow--a sworn companion--who is
anxious to do justice to my friend's father, and yet had no notion
that my friend himself was doing the smallest thing to justify the
unmeasured fears of the fond old man. Such was my cue at first. I
am not so sure that I pursued it to the end; but of this hereafter.

My attention having been specially drawn to the personal appearance
of William Edgerton, I was surprised, if not absolutely shocked,
to see that the father had scarcely exaggerated the misery of his
condition. He was the mere shadow of his former self. His limbs,
only a year before, had been rounded even to plumpness. They were
now sharp and angular. His skin was pale, his looks haggard; and
that apprehensive shrinking of the eye, which had called forth
the most keen expressions of fear and suspicion from the father's
lips, was the prominent characteristic which commanded my attention
during our brief interview. His eye, after the first encounter,
no longer rose to mine. Keenly did I watch his face, though for an
instant only. A sudden hectic flush mantled its paleness. I could
perceive a nervous muscular movement about his mouth, and he slightly
started when I spoke.

"Edgerton," I said, with tones of good-humored reproach, "there's
no finding you now-a-days. You have the invisible cap. What do you
do with yourself? As for law, that seems destined to be a mourner
so far as you are concerned. She sits like a widow in her weeds.
You have abandoned her: do you mean to abandon your friends also?"

He answered, with a faint attempt to smile:--

"No; I have been to see you often, but you are never at home."

"Ah! I did not hear of it. But if you really wished to see a husband
who has survived the honeymoon, I suspect that home is about the
last place where you should seek for him. Julia did the honors, I
trust?"

His eye stole upward, met mine, and sunk once more upon the floor.
He answered faintly:--

"Yes, but I have not seen her for some days."

"Not since Mother Delaney's party, I believe?"

The color came again into his cheeks, but instantly after was
succeeded by a deadly paleness.

"What a bore these parties are! and such parties as those of Mrs.
Delaney are particularly annoying to me. Why the d--l couldn't
the old tabby halter her hobby without calling in her neighbors to
witness the painful spectacle? You were there, I think?"

"Yes."

"I left early. I got heartily sick. You know I never like such
places; and, as soon as they began dancing, I took advantage of
the fuss and fiddle to steal off. It was unfortunate I did so, for
Julia was taken sick, and has had a narrow chance for it. I thought
I should have lost her."

All this was spoken in tones of the coolest imaginable indifference.
Edgerton was evidently surprised. He looked up with some curiosity
in his glance, and more confidence; and, with accents that slightly
faltered, he asked:--

"Is she well again? I trust she is better now."

"Yes!" I answered, with the same sang-froid. "But I've had a serious
business of watching through the last three nights. Her peril was
extreme. She lost her little one."

A visible shudder went through his frame.

"Tired to death of the walls of the house, which seems a dungeon
to me, I dashed out this morning, at daylight, as soon as I found
I could safely leave her; and, strolling down to the office,
who should I find there but your father, perched at the desk, and
seemingly inclined to resume all his former practice?"

"Indeed! my father--so early? What could be the matter? Did he
tell you?

"Yes, i'faith, he is in tribulation about you. He fancies you are
in a fair way to destruction. You can't conceive what he fancies.
It seems, according to his account, that you are a night-stalker.
He dwells at large upon your nightly absences from home, and then
about your appearance, which, to say truth, is very wretched. You
scarcely look like the same man. Edgerton. Have you been sick?
What's the matter with you?"

"I am NOT altogether well," he said, evasively.

"Yes, but mere indisposition would never produce such a change, in
so short a period, in any man! Your father is disposed to ascribe
it to other causes."

"Ah! what does he think?"

I fancied there was mingled curiosity and trepidation in this
inquiry.

"He suspects you of gaming and drinking; but I assured him, very
confidently, that such was not the case. On one of these heads I
could speak confidently, for I met Kingsley the other night--the
night of Mother Delaney's party--who was hot and heavy against
you because you refused to lend him money for such purposes. I was
more indulgent, lent him the money, went with him to the house,
and returned home with a pocket full of specie, sufficient to set
up a small banking-operation of my own."

"You! can it be possible!"

"True; and no such dull way of spending an evening either. I
got home in the small hours, and found Julia delirious. I haven't
had such a fright for a stolen pleasure, Heaven knows when. There
was the doctor, and there my eternal mother-in-law, and my poor
little wife as near the grave as could be! But the circumstance
of refusing the money to Kingsley, knowing his object, made me
confident that gaming was not the cause of your night-stalking,
and so I told the old gentleman."

"And what did he say?"

"Shook his head mournfully, and reasoned in this manner: 'He has
no pecuniary necessities, has no oppressive toils, and has never
had any disappointment of heart. There is nothing to make him behave
so, and look so, but guilt--GUILT!'"

I repeated the last word with an entire change in the tone of my
voice. Light, lively, and playful before, I spoke that single word
with a stern solemnity, and, bending toward him, my eye keenly
traversed the mazes of his countenance.

"HE HAS IT!" I thought to myself, as his head drooped forward, and
his whole frame shuddered momentarily.

"But"--here my tones again became lively and playful--I even
laughed--"I told the old man that I fancied I could hit the nail more
certainly on the head. In short, I said I could pretty positively
say what was the cause of your conduct and condition."

"Ah!" and, as he uttered this monosyllable, he made a feeble effort
to rise from his seat, but sunk back, and again fixed his eye upon
the floor in visible emotion.

"Yes! I told him--was I not right?--that a woman was at the bottom
of it all!"

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