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Confession by W. Gilmore Simms

Part 7 out of 8

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last letter. I owe the son much. He has been a true friend to me.
I must do for him as if he were a brother, and should he get sick,
Julia, you must be his nurse."

"Impossible, Mr. Clifford!" she replied, with unwonted energy,
while a deep, dark flush settled over her otherwise placid features,
which were now not merely discomposed but ruffled. "It is impossible
that I should be what you require. Suffer me, in this case, to
determine my duties for myself. Do for YOUR FRIEND what you think
proper. You can provide a nurse, and secure by money, the best
attendance in the town. I do not think that I can do better service
than a hundred others whom you may procure; and you will permit me
to say, without seeking to displease you, that I will not attempt
it."

I was not displeased at what she said, but it was not my policy
to admit this. With an air almost of indignation, I replied:

"And you would leave my friend to perish?"

"I trust he will not perish--I sincerely trust he will continue in
health while he remains here. I implore you, dear husband, to make
no requisition such as this. I can not serve your friend in this
capacity. I pray that he may not need it."

"But should he?"

"I can not serve him."

"Julia, you are a cold-hearted woman--you do not love me."

"Cold-hearted, Edward, cold-hearted? Not love you, Edward?--Oh,
surely, you can not mean it. No! no! you can not!"

She threw herself into my arms, clasped me fondly in hers, and the
warm tears from her eyes gushed into my bosom.

"Love me, love my dog--at least my friend!" I exclaimed, in austere
accents, but without repulsing her. I could not repulse her.
I had not strength to put her from me. The embrace was too dear;
and the energy with which she rejected a suggestion in which
I proposed only to try and test her, made her doubly dear at that
moment to my bosom. Alas! how, in the attempt to torture others,
do we torture ourselves! If I afflicted Julia in this scene, I
am very sure that my own sufferings were more intense. One thing
alone would have made them so. The ONE quality of evil, of the
bad spirit which mingled in with MY feelings, and did not trouble
HERS. But, just then I did not think her innocent altogether.
I still had my doubts that her resistance to my wishes was simply
meant to conceal that tendency in her own, the exposure of which
she had naturally every reason to dread. The demon of the blind
heart, though baffled for awhile, was still busy. Alas! he was not
always to be baffled.

CHAPTER XLII.

CROSS PURPOSES.

Weeks passed and still William Edgerton was a resident of M---,
and a constant guest at our little cottage. He had, in this time,
effectually broken up the harmony and banished the peace which
had previously prevailed there. The unhappy young man pursued the
same insane course of conduct which had been productive of so much
bitterness and trouble to us all before; and, under the influence
of my evil demon, I adopted the same blind policy which had already
been so fruitful of misery to myself and wife. I gave them constant
opportunities together. I found my associates, and pursued my
pastimes--pastimes indeed--away from home. Poetry and song were
given up--we no longer wandered by the river-side, and upon the
green heights of our sacred hill. My evenings were consumed in dreary
rambles, alone with my own evil thoughts, and miserable fancies,
or consumed with yellow-eyed watching, from porch or tree, upon
those privacies of the suspected lovers, in which I had so shamefully
indulged before. I felt the baseness of this vocation, but I had
not the strength to give it up. I know there is no extenuation for
it. I know that it was base! base! base! It is a point of conscience
with me, not only to declare the truth, but to call things by the
truest and most characteristic names. Let me do my understanding
the justice to say that, even when I practised the meanness, I was
not ignorant--not insensible of its character. It was the strength
only--the courage to do right, and to forbear the wrong--in which
I was deficient. It was the blind heart, not the unknowing head to
which the shame was attributable, though the pang fell not unequally
upon heart and head.

Meanwhile, Kingsley returned from Texas. He became my principal
companion. We strolled together in my leisure hours by day. We sat
and smoked together in his chamber by night. My blind fortitude
may be estimated, when the reader is told that Kingsley professed
to find me a very agreeable companion. He complimented me on my
liveliness, my wit, my humor, and what not--and this, too, when I
was all the while meditating, with the acutest feeling of apprehension,
upon the very last wrong which the spirit of man is found willing
to endure;--when I believed that the ruin of my house was at hand;
when I believed that the ruin of my heart and hope had already taken
place;--and when, hungering only for the necessary degree of proof
which justice required before conviction, I was laying my gins and
snares with the view to detecting the offenders, and consummating
the last terrible but necessary work of vengeance! But Kingsley
did not confine himself altogether to the language of compliment.

"Good fellow and good companion as you are, Clifford--and loath as
I should be to give up these pleasant evenings, still I think you
very wrong in one respect. You neglect your wife."

"Ha! ha! what an idea! You are not serious?"

"As a judge."

"Psha! She does not miss me."

"Perhaps not," he answered gravely--"but for your own sake if not
for hers, it seems to me you should pursue a more domestic course."

"What mean you?"

"Yon leave your wife too much to herself!--nay--let me be frank--not
too much to herself, for there would be little danger in that, but
too much with that fellow Edgerton."

"What? You would not have me jealous, Kingsley?"

"No! Only prudent."

"You dislike Edgerton, Kingsley."

"I do! I frankly confess it. I think he wants manliness of character,
and such a man always lacks sincerity. But I do not speak of him.
I should utter the same opinion with respect to any other man, in
similar circumstances. A wife is a dependent creature--apt to be
weak!--If young, she is susceptible--equally susceptible to the
attentions of another and to the neglect of her husband. I do not
say that such is the case--with your wife. Far from it. I esteem
her very much as a remarkable woman. But women were intended to
be dependents. Most of them are governed by sensibilities rather
than by principles. Impulse leads them and misleads. The wife
finds herself neglected by the very man who, in particular, owes
her duty. She finds herself entertained, served, watched, tended
with sleepless solicitude, by another; one, not wanting either in
personal charms and accomplishments, and having similar tastes and
talents. What should be the result of this? Will she not become
indifferent where she finds indifference--devoted where she
finds devotion? A cunning fellow, like Edgerton, may, under these
circumstances, rob a man of his wife's affections. Mark me, I do
not say that he will do anything positively dishonorable, at least
in the world's acceptation of the term. I do not intimate--I would
not willingly believe--that she would submit to anything of the
sort. I speak of the affections, not of the virtues. There is shame
to the man in his wife's dishonor; but the misfortune of losing
her affections is neither more nor less than the suffering without
the shame. Look to it. I do not wish to prejudice your mind against
Edgerton. Far from it. I have forborne to speak hitherto because
I knew that my own mind was prejudiced against him. Even now I
say nothing against HIM. What I say has reference to your conduct
only.--I do not think Edgerton a bad man. I think him a weak
one. Weak as a woman--governed, like her, by impulse rather than
by principle--easily led away--incapable of resisting where his
affections are concerned--repenting soon, and sinning, in the same
way, as fast as he repents. He is weak, very weak--washy-weak--he
wants stamina, and, wanting that, wants principle!"

"Strange enough, if you should be right! How do you reconcile this
opinion with his refusal to lend you money to game upon? He was
governed in that by principle."

"Not a bit of it! He was governed by habit. He knew nothing
of gambling--had heard his father always preaching against it--it
was not a temptation with him. His tastes were of another sort. He
could not be tried in that way. The very fact that he was susceptible,
in particular, to the charms of female society, saved him from
the passion for gaming, as it would save him from the passion for
drink. But the very tastes that saved him from one passion make him
particularly susceptible to another. He can stand the temptation of
play, but not that of women. Let him be tried THERE, and he falls!
his principle would not save him--would not be worth a straw to a
drowning man."

"You underrate--undervalue Edgerton. He has always been a true,
generous friend of mine."

"Be it so! with that I have nothing to do. But friendship has its
limits which it can not pass. Were Edgerton truly your friend, he
would advise you as I have done. Nay, a proper sense of friendship
and of delicacy would have kept him from paying that degree of
attention to the wife which must be an hourly commentary on the
neglect of her husband. I confess to you it was this very fact that
made me resolve to speak to you."

"I thank you, my dear fellow, but I have nothing to fear. Poor
Edgerton is dying--music and painting are his solace--they minister
to his most active tastes. As for Julia, she is immaculate."

"I distrust neither; but you should not throw away your pearl,
because you think it can not suffer stain."

"I do not throw it away."

"You do not sufficiently cherish it."

"What would you have me do--wear it constantly in my bosom?"

"No! not exactly that; but at least wear nothing else there so
frequently or so closely as that."

"I do not. I fancy I am a very good husband. You shall not put me
out of humor, Kingsley, either with my wife or myself. You shall
not make me jealous. I am no Othello--I have no visitations of the
moon."

And I laughed--laughed while speaking thus--though the keen pang
was writhing at that moment like a burning arrow through my brain.

"I have no wish to make you jealous, Clifford, and I very much
admire your superiority and strength. I congratulate you on your
singular freedom from this unhappy passion. But you may become too
confident. You may lose your wife's affections by your neglect,
when you might not lose them by treachery."

"You are grown a croaker, Kingsley, and I will leave you. I will
go home. I will show you what a good husband I am, or can become."

"That's right; but smoke another cigar before you go."

"There it is!" I exclaimed, laughingly. "You blow hot and cold.
You would have me go and stay."

"Take the cigar, at least, and smoke it as you go. My advice is
good, and that it is honest you may infer from my reluctance to
part with you. I will see you at the office at nine in the morning.
There is some prospect of a compromise with Jeffords about the tract
in Dallas, and he is to meet Wharton and myself at your law-shop
to-morrow. It is important to make an arrangement with Jeffords--his
example will be felt by Brownsell and Gibbon. We may escape a
long-winded lawsuit, after all, to your great discomfiture and my
gain. But you do not hear me!"

"Yes, yes, every word--you spoke of Jeffords, and Wharton, and
Gibbon--yes, I heard you."

"Now I know that you did not hear me--not understandingly, at
least. I should not be surprised if I have made you jealous. You
look wild, mon ami!"

"Jealous, indeed! what nonsense!" and I prepared to depart when
I had thus spoken.

"Well, at nine you must meet us at the office. My business must
not suffer because you are jealous."

"Come, no more of that, Kingsley!"

"By heavens, you are touched."

He laughed merrily. I laughed also, but with a choking effort
which almost cost me a convulsion as I left the tavern. The sport
of Kingsley was my death. What he had said previously sunk deep
into my soul. Not rightly--not as it should have sunk--showing me
the folly of my own course without assuming, as I did, the inevitable
wilfulness of the course of others; but actually confirming me in
my fears--nay, making them grow hideous as THINGS and substantive
convictions. It seemed to me, from what Kingsley said that I was
already dishonored--that the world already knew my shame; and that
he, as my friend, had only employed an ambiguous language to soften
the sting and the shock which his revelations must necessarily
occasion. With this new notion, which occurred to me after leaving
the house, I instantly returned to it. It required a strong effort
to seem deliberate in what I spoke.

"Kingsley," I said, "perhaps I did not pay sufficient heed to your
observations. Do you mean to convey to my mind the idea that people
think Edgerton too familiar with my wife? Do you mean to say that
such a notion is abroad? That there is anything wrong?"

"By no means."

"Ah! then there is nothing in it. I see no reason for suspicion.
I am not a jealous man; but it becomes necessary when one's neighbors
find occasion to look into one's business, to look a little into
it one's self."

"One must not wait for that," said Kingsley; "but where is your
cigar?"

The question confused me. I had dropped it in the agitation of my
feelings, without being conscious of its loss.

"Take another," said he, with a smile, "and let your cares end in
smoke as you wend homeward. My most profound thoughts come from
my cigar. To that I look for my philosophy, my friendship, my
love--almost my religion. A cigar is a brain-comforter, verily.
You should smoke more, Clifford. You will grow better, wiser--COOLER."

"I take your cigar and counsel together," was my reply. "The one
shall reconcile me to the other. Bon repos!" And so I left him.

I was not likely to have bon repos myself. I was troubled. Kingsley
suspects me of being jealous. Such an idea was very mortifying.
This is another weakness of the suspicious nature. It loathes
above all things to be suspected of jealousy. I hurried home,
vexed with my want of coolness--doubly vexed at the belief that
other eyes than my own were witnesses of the attentions of Edgerton
to my wife.

I stopped at the entrance of our cottage. HE was there as usual.
Mrs. Porterfield was not present. The candle was burning dimly. He
sat upon the sofa. Julia was seated upon chair at a little distance.
Her features wore an expression of exceeding gravity. His were pale
and sad, but his eyes burnt with an eager intensity that betrayed
the passionate feeling in his heart. Thus they sat--she looking
partly upon the floor--he looking at her. I observed them for
more than ten minutes; and in all that time I do not believe they
exchanged two sentences.

"Surely," I thought, "this must be a singularly sufficing passion
which can enjoy itself in this manner without the help of language."

Of course, this reflection increased the strength of my suspicions.
I became impatient, and entered the cottage. The eyes of Julia
seemed to brighten at my appearance, but they were aiso full of
sadness. Edgerton soon after rose and took his departure. I believe,
if I had stayed away till midnight, he would have lingered until
that time; but I also believe that if I had returned two hours
before, he would have gone as soon. His passion for the wife seemed
to produce an antipathy to the husband, quite as naturally as that
which grew up in my bosom in regard to him. When he was gone, my
wife approached me, almost vehemently exclaiming--

"Why, why do you leave me thus, Clifford? Surely you can not love
me."

"Indeed I do; but I was with Kingsley. I had business, and did not
suppose you would miss me."

"Why suppose otherwise, Edward? I do miss you. I beg that you will
not leave me thus again."

"What do you mean? You are singularly earnest, Julia. What has
happened? What has offended you? Was not Edgerton with you all the
evening?"

My questions, coupled with my manner, which has been somewhat
excited, seemed to alarm her. She replied hurriedly:--

"Nothing has happened! nothing has offended me! But I feel that
you should not leave me thus. It does not look well. It looks as
if you did not love me."

"Ah! but when you KNOW that I do!"

"I do not know it. Oh, show me that you do, Edward. Stay with me
as you did at first--when we first came here--when we were first
married. Then we were so--so happy!"

"You would not say that you are not happy now?"

"I am not! I do not see you as I wish--when I wish! You leave
me so often--leave me to strangers, and seem so indifferent. Oh!
Edward, do not let me think that you care for me no longer."

"Strangers! Why, how you talk!--Good old Mrs. Porterfield seems
to me like my own grandmother, and Edgerton has been my friend---"

Did I really hear her say the single word, "Friend!" and with such
an accent! The sound was a very slight one--it may have been my
fancy only;--and she turned away a moment after. What could it mean?
I was bewildered. I followed her to the chamber. I endeavored to
renew the subject in such a manner as not to offend her suspicions,
but she seemed to have taken the alarm. She answered me in monosyllables
only, and without satisfying the curiosity which that single word,
doubtfully uttered, had so singularly awakened.

"Only love me--love me, Edward, and keep with me, and I will not
complain. But if you leave me--if you neglect me--I am desolate!"

CHAPTER XLIII.

ACCIDENT AND MORE AGONIES.

There was something very unaccountable in all this. I say unaccountable,
with the distinct understanding that it was unaccountable only to
that obtuse condition of mind which is produced by the demon of
the blind heart. My difficulties of judging were only temporary,
however. The sinister spirit made his whisper conclusive in the
end.

"This vehemence," it suggested, "which is so unwonted with her, is
evidently unnatural, It--is affected for an object. What is that
object? It is the ordinary one with persons in the wrong, who always
affect one extreme of feeling when they would conceal another. She
fears that you will suspect that she is very well satisfied in
your absence; accordingly she strives to convince you that she was
never so dissatisfied. Of course you can not believe that a man
so well endowed as Edgerton, so graceful, having such fine tastes
and accomplishments, can prove other than an agreeable companion!
What then should be your belief?"

There was a devilish ingenuity in this sort of perversion. It had its
effect. I believed it; and believing it, revolted, with a feeling
of hate and horror, at the supposed loathsome hypocrisy of that
fond embrace, and those earnest pleadings, which, in the moment
of their first display, had seemed so precious to my soul. In the
morning, when I was setting forth from home, she put her arm on my
shoulder:--

"Come home soon. Edward, and let us go together on the hill. Let
nobody know. Surely we shall be company enough for each other. I
will sketch you a view of the river while you read Wordsworth to
me."

"Now," whispered my demon in my ears, "that is ingenious. Let nobody
know; as if, having a friend in the neighborhood--on a visit--he
sick and in bad spirits--you should propose to yourself a pleasure
trip of any kind without inviting him to partake of it? She knows
THAT to be out of the question, and that you must ask Edgerton if
you resolve to go yourself."

Such was the artful suggestion of my familiar. My resolve--still
recognising the cruel policy by which I had been so long governed--was
instantly taken. This was to invite Edgerton and Kingsley both.

"I will give them every opportunity. While Kingsley and myself ramble
together, well leave this devoted pair to their own cogitations,
taking care, however, to see what comes of them."

I promised Julia to be home in season, but said nothing of
my intention to ask the gentlemen. She thanked me with a look and
smile, which, had I not seen all things through eyes of the most
jaundiced green, would have seemed to me that of an angel, expressive
only of the truest love.

"Ah! could I but believe!" was the bitter self-murmur of my soul,
as I left the threshold.

On my way through the town I stopped at the postoffice to get
letters, and received one from Mrs. Delaney--late Clifford--my
wife's exemplary mother, addressed to Julia. I then proceeded to
Edgerton's lodgings. He was not yet up, and I saw him in his chamber.
His flute lay upon the toilet. Seeing it, I recalled, with all its
original vexing bitterness, the scene which took place the night
previous to my departure from my late home. And when I looked on
Edgerton--saw with what effort he spoke, and how timidly he expressed
himself--how reluctant were his eyes to meet the gaze of mine--his
guilt seemed equally fresh and unequivocal. I marked him out,
involuntarily, as my victim. I felt assured, even while conveying
to him the complimentary invitation which I bore, that my hand
was commissioned to do the work of death upon his limbs. Strange
and fascinating conviction! But I did not contemplate this necessity
with any pleasure. No! I would have prayed--I did pray--that the
task might be spared me. If I thought of it at all, it was as the
agent of a necessity which I could not countervail. The fates had
me in their keeping. I was the blind instrument obeying the inflexible
will, against which

"Reluctant nature strives in vain."

I felt then, most truly, though I deceived myself, that I had no
power, though every disposition, to save and to spare. I conveyed
my invitation as a message from my wife.

"Edgerton, my wife has planned a little ramble for this afternoon.
She wishes to show you some of the beauties of landscape in our
new abode. She commissions me to ask you to join us."

"Ah! did SHE?" he demanded eagerly, with a slight emphasis on the
last word.

"Ay, did she! Will you come?"

"Certainly--with pleasure!"

He need not have said so much. The pleasure spoke in his bright
eyes--in the tremulous hurry of his utterance. I turned away from
him, lest I should betray the angry feeling which disturbed me.
He did not seek to arrest my departure. He had few words. It was
sufficiently evident that he shrunk from my glance and trembled
in my presence. How far otherwise, in the days of our mutual
innocence--in our days of boyhood--when his face seemed clear
like that of a pure, perfect star, shining out in the blue serene
of night, unconscious of a cloud.

Kingsley was already at my office when I reached it, and soon after
came Mr. Wharton, followed by two of our opponents. We were engaged
with them the better part of the morning. When the business hours
were consumed, our transactions remained unfinished, and another
meeting was appointed for the ensuing day. I invited Wharton as well
as Kingsley to join us in our afternoon rambles, which they both
promised to do. I went home something sooner to make preparations,
and only recollected, on seeing Julia, that I had thrown the letter
from her mother, with other papers, into my desk. When I told her
of the letter, her countenance changed to a death-like paleness
which instantly attracted my notice.

"What is the matter--are you sick, Julia!"

"No! nothing. But the letter--where is it?"

"I threw it on my table, or in my desk, with other papers, to have
them out of the way; and hurrying home sooner than usual, forgot to
bring it with me. I suppose there's nothing in it of any importance?"

"No, nothing, I suppose," she answered faintly.

I told her what I had done with respect to our guests.

"I am very sorry," she answered, "that you have done so. I do not
feel like company, and wished to have you all to myself."

"Oh, selfish; but of this I will believe moderately! As for company,
with the exception of Wharton, they are old friends; and it would
not do to take a pleasure ramble, with poor Edgerton here, and
not make him a party."

There was an earnest intensity of gaze, almost amounting to a painful
stare, in Julia's eyes, as I said these words. She really seemed
distressed.

"But really, Edward, our pleasure ramble is not such a one as would
make it a duty to invite your friends. How difficult it seems for
you to understand me. Could not we two stroll a piece into the
woods without having witnesses?"

"Why, is that all? Why then should you have made a formal appointment
for such a purpose? Could we not have gone as before--without
premeditation?"

The question puzzled her. She looked anxious. Had she answered with
sincerity--with truth--and could I have believed her to have been
sincere, how easy would it have been to have settled our difficulties.
Had she said--"I really wish to avoid Mr. Edgerton, whose presence
annoys me--who will be sure to come--when you are sure to be
gone--and whom I have particular reasons to wish not to meet--not
to see."

This, which might be the truth, she did not dare to speak. She
had her reasons for her apprehension. This, which was reasonable
enough, I could not conjecture; for the demon of the blind heart
was too busy in suggesting other conjectures. It was evident
enough that she had secret motives for her course, which she did
not venture to reveal to me; and nothing could be more natural, in
the diseased state of my mind, than that I should give the worst
colorings to these motives in the conjectures which I made upon
them. We were destined to play at cross-purposes much longer, and
with more serious issues.

Our friends came, and we set forth in the pleasant part of
the afternoon. We ascended our hill, and resting awhile upon the
summit, surveyed the prospect from that position. Then I conducted
the party through some of our woodland walks, which Julia and myself
had explored together. But I soon gave up the part of cicerone
to Wharton, who was to the "MANOR BORN." He was a native of the
neighborhood, boasted that he knew every "bosky dell of this wild
wood" and certainly conducted us to glimpses of prettiest heights,
and groves, and far vistas, where the light seemed to glide before
us in an embodied gray form, that stole away, and peeped backward
upon us from long allies of the darkest and most solemn-sighted
pines.

"But there is a finer spot just below us," he said--"a creek that
is like no other that I have ever met with in the neighborhood. It
is formed by the Alabama--is as deep in some places, and so narrow,
at times, that a spry lad can easily leap across it."

"Is it far?"

"No--a mile only."

"But your wife may be fatigued, Clifford?" was the suggestion of
Kingsley. She certainly looked so; but I answered for her, and
insisted otherwise. I met her glance as I spoke, but, though she
looked dissatisfaction, her lips expressed none. I could easily
conjecture that she felt none. She was walking with Edgerton--and
while all eyes watched the scenery, he watched her alone. I hurried
forward with Kingsley, but he immediately fell behind, loitered
on very slowly, and left Wharton and myself to proceed together.
I could comprehend the meaning of this. My demon made his suggestion.

"Kingsley suspects them--he sees what you are unwilling to see--he
is not so willing to leave them together."

We reached the stream, and wandered along its banks. It had some
unusual characteristics. It was sometimes a creek, deep and narrow,
but clear; a few steps farther and it became what, in the speech
of the country, is called a branch; shallow, purling soft over a
sand-bed, limpid yellow, and with a playful prattle that put one
in mind of the songs of thoughtless children, humming idly as they
go. The shrubbery along its (sic) seemed to follow its changes.
Where the bluffs were high, the foliage was dense and the trees
large. The places where its waters shallowed, were only dotted
with shrub trees and wild vines, which sometimes clambered across
the stream and wedded the opposing branches, in bonds as hard to
break as those of matrimony. The waters were sinuous, and therefore
slow. They seemed only to glide along, like some glittering
serpent, who trails at leisure his silvery garments through the
woods quietly and slow, as if he had no sort of apprehension.

When we had reached a higher spot of bluff than the rest, Wharton,
who was an active rather than an athletic man, challenged me to
follow him. He made the leap having little space to spare. I had
not done such a thing for some years. But my boyhood had been one
of daring. The school in which I had grown up had given me bodily
hardihood and elasticity; at all events I could not brook defiance
in such a matter, and, with moderate effort, succeeded in making
a longer stride. I looked back at this moment and saw Julia, still
closely attended by Edgerton, just about emerging into view from a
thick copse that skirted the foot of a small hill over which our
course had brought us. I could not distinguish their features.
They were, however, close together. Kingsley was on their right,
a little in advance of them, but still walking slowly. I pointed
my finger toward a shallow and narrow part of the stream as that
which they would find it most easy to cross. A tree had been felled
at the designated point, and just below it, in consequence of the
obstructions which its limbs presented to the easy passage of the
water, several sand bars had been made, by which, stepping from
one to the other, one might cross dryshod even without the aid of
the tree. Kingsley repeated my signal to those behind him, and
led the way. I went on with Wharton, without again looking behind
me.

But few minutes had elapsed after this, when I heard Julia scream
in sudden terror. I looked round, but the foliage had thickened
behind me, and I could no longer see the parties. I bounded backward,
with no enviable feelings. My apprehensions for my wife's safety
made me forgetful of my suspicions. I reached the spot in time to
discover the cause of her alarm.

She was in the midst of the stream, standing upon one of the
sandflats, steadying herself with difficulty, while she supported
the whole form of William Edgerton, who lay, seemingly lifeless,
and half buried in one of the sluices of water which ran between
the sandrifts. I had just time to see this, and to feel all the
pangs of my jealousy renewed, when Kingsley rushed into the water
to his rescue. He lifted him out to the banks as if he had been an
infant, and laid him on the shore. I went to the relief of Julia,
who, trembling like a leaf, fainted in my arms the moment she felt
herself in safety.

The whole affair was at that time unaccountable to me. It necessarily
served to increase my pangs. Had I not seen her with my own eyes
tenderly supporting the fainting frame of the man whom I believed
to be my rival--whom I believed she loved? Had I not heard her scream
of terror announcing her interest in his fate--her apprehensions for
his safety? His danger had made her forgetful of her caution--such
was the assurance of my demon--and in the fullness of her
heart her voice found utterance. Besides, how was I to know what
endearments--what fond pressure of palms--had been passing between
them, making them heedless of their course, and consequently,
making them liable to the accident which had occurred. For, it
must be remembered, that the general impression was that Edgerton's
foot had slipped, and, falling into the stream while endeavoring to
assist Julia, he had nearly pulled her in after him. His fainting
afterward we ascribed to the same nervous weakness which had
induced that of Julia. On this head, however, Kingsley was better
informed. He told me, in a subsequent conversation, that he had
narrowly observed the parties--that, until the moment before he
fell, the hands of the two had not met--that then, Edgerton offered
his to assist my wife over the stream, and scarcely had their
fingers touched, when Edgerton sank down, like a stone, seemingly
lifeless, and falling into the water only after he had become
insensible.

All was confusion. Mine, however, was not confusion. It was
commotion--commotion which I yet suppressed--a volcano smothered,
but smothered only for a time, and ready to break forth with
superior fury in consequence of the restraint put upon it. This one
event, with the impressive spectacle of the parties in such close
juxtaposition, seemed almost to render every previous suspicion
conclusive.

Julia was soon recovered; but the swoon of Edgerton was of much
longer duration. We sprinkled him with water, subjected him to
fanning and friction, and at length aroused him. His mind seemed
to wander at his first consciousness--he murmured incoherently.
One or two broken sentences, however, which he spoke, were not
without significance in my ears.

"Closer! closer! leave me not now--not yet."

I bent over him to catch the words. Kingsley, as if he feared the
utterance of anything more, pushed me away, and addressing Edgerton
sternly, asked him if he felt pain.

"What hurts you, Mr. Edgerton? Where is your pain?"

The harsh and very loud tones which he employed, had the effect
which I have no doubt he intended. The other came to complete
consciousness in a moment.

"Pain!" said he--"no! I feel no pain. I feel feeble only."

And he strove to rise from the ground as he spoke.

"Do not attempt it," said Kingsley--"you are not able. Wharton,
my good fellow, will you run back to town, and bring a carriage?"

"It will not need," said Edgerton, striving again to rise, and
staggering up with difficulty.

"It will need. You must not overtask yourself. The walk is a long
one before us."

Meantime, Wharton was already on his way. It was a tedious interval
which followed before his return with the carriage, which found
considerable difficulty in picking a track through the woods.
Julia, after recovery, had wandered off about a hundred yards from
the party. She betrayed no concern--no uneasiness--made no inquiries
after Edgerton, of whose condition she knew nothing--and, by this
very course, convinced me that she was conscious of too deep an
interest in his fate to trust her lips in referring to it. All that
she said to me was, that "she had been so terrified on seeing him
fall, that she did not even know that she had screamed."

"Natural enough!" said my demon. "Had she been able to have
controlled her utterance, she would have taken precious good care
to havo maintained the silence of the grave. But her feelings were
too strong for her policy."

And I took this reasoning for gospel.

The carriage came. Edgerton was put into it, but Julia positively
refused to ride. She insisted that she was perfectly equal to the
walk and walk she would. I was pleased with this determination,
but not willing to appear pleased. I expostulated with her even
angrily, but found her incorrigible. Chagrin and disappointment
were obvious enough on the face of William Edgerton.

I took my seat beside him, and left Kingsley and Wharton to
escort my wife home. We had scarcely got in motion before a rash
determination seized my mind.

"You must go home with me, Edgerton. It will not do, while you are
in this feeble state, to remain at a public tavern."

He said something very faintly about crowding and inconveniencing
us.

"Pshaw--room enough--and Julia can be your nurse."

His eyes closed, he sunk back in the carriage, and a deep sigh
escaped him. I fancied that he had a second time fainted; but I
soon discovered that his faintness was simply the sudden sense of
an overcoming pleasure. I knit my teeth spasmodically together;
I cursed him in the bitterness of my heart, but said nothing. It
was a feeling of desperation that had prompted the rash resolution
which I had taken.

"At least," I muttered to myself, "it will bring these damning doubts
to a final trial. If they have been fools heretofore, opportunity
will serve to madden them. We shall see--we shall know all very
soon;--and then!--"

Ay, then!

CHAPTER XLIV.

THE DAMNING LETTER.

Mrs Porterfield, good old lady, half blind, half deaf, infirm and
gouty, but very good natured, easily complied with my request to
accommodate my friend. My friend!--She soon put one of her bed-rooms in
order, and Edgerton was in quiet possession of it sometime before
the pedestrians came home. When my wife was told of what I had
done, she was perfectly aghast. Her air of chagrin was well put on
and excellently worn. But she said nothing. Kingsley wore a face
of unusual gravity.

"You are either the most wilful or the most indifferent husband
in the world," was his whispered remark to me as he bade me good
night, refusing to remain for supper.

I said something to my wife about tending Edgerton--seeing to his
wants--nursing him if he remained unwell, and so forth She looked
at me with a face of intense sadness, but made no reply.

"She is too happy for speech," said my demon; "and such faces are
easily made for such an occasion."

I went in to Edgerton after a brief space; I found him feeble,
complaining of chill. His hands felt feverish. I advised quiet and
sent off for a physician. I sat with him until the physician came,
but I observed that my presence seemed irksome to him. He answered
me in monosyllables only; his eyes, meanwhile, being averted, his
countenance that of one excessively weary and impatient for release.
The physician prescribed and left him, as I did myself. I thought
he needed repose and desired to be alone. To my great surprise he
followed me in less than half an hour into the supper-room, where
he stubbornly sat out the evening. He refused to take the physic
prescribed for him and really did not now appear to need it. His
eyes were lighted up with unusual animation, his cheeks had an
improved color, and without engaging very actively in the conversation,
what he said was said with a degree of spirit quite uncommon with
him during the latter days of our intimacy.

Mr. Wharton spent the evening with us, and the ball of talk was
chiefly sustained by him and myself. My wife said little, nothing
save when spoken to, and wore a countenance of greater gravity
than ever. It seemed that Edgerton made some effort to avoid any
particularity in his manner, yet seldom did I turn my eyes without
detecting his in keen examination of my wife's countenance. At
such times, his glance usually fell to the ground, but toward the
close of evening, he almost seemed to despise observation, or--which
was more probable--was not conscious of it--for his gaze became
fixed with a religious earnestness, which no look of mine could
possibly divert or unfix. He solicited my wife to play on the
guitar, but she declined, until requested by Mrs. Porterfield,
when she took up the instrument passively, and sung to it one of
those ordinary negro-songs which are now so shockingly popular. I
was surprised at this, for I well knew that she heartily detested
the taste and spirit in which such things were conceived. Under
the tuition of my demon, I immediately assumed this to be another
proof of the decline of her delicacy. And yet, though I did not think
of this at the time, she might have employed the coarse effusion
simply as an antidote against the predominance of a morbid
sentimentalism. There is a moment in the history of the heart's
suffering, when the smallest utterance of the lips, or movement of
the form, or expression of the eye, is prompted by some prevailing
policy--some motive which the excited sensibilities deem of importance
to their desires.

She retired soon. Her departure was followed by that of Edgerton
first, and next of Wharton. Mrs. Porterfield had already gone. I
was alone at the entrance of our cottage. Not alone! My demon was
with me--suggestive of his pangs as ever--full of subtlety, and
filling me with the darkest imaginings. The destroyer of my peace
was in my dwelling. My wife may or may not be innocent. Happy for
her if she is, but how can that be known? It mattered little to
me in the excited mood which possessed me. Let any man fancy, as I
did, that one, partaking of his hospitality, lying in the chamber
which adjoined his own, yet meditated the last injury in the power
of man to inflict against the peace and honor of his protector. Let
him fancy this, and then ask what would be his own feelings--what
his course?

Still, there is a sentiment of justice which is natural to every
bosom with whom education has not been utter perversion. I believed
much against Edgerton; I suspected my wife; I had seen much to offend
my affections; much to alarm my fears; yet I KNEW nothing which
was conclusive. That last event, the occurrence of the afternoon,
seemed to prove not that the two were guilty, but that my wife
loved the man who meditated guilt. This belief, doubtful so long,
and against which I had really striven, seemed now to be concluded.
I had heard her scream; I had seen her tenderly sustaining his form;
I had felt her emotions, when, the danger being over, her feminine
nature gained the ascendancy and she fainted in my arms. I could
no longer doubt, that if she was still pure in mind, she was no
longer insensible to a passion which must lessen that purity with
every added moment of its permitted exercise. Still, even with this
conviction, something more was necessary to justify me in what I
designed. There must be no doubt. I must see. I must have sufficient
proof, for, as my vengeance shall be unsparing, my provocation
must be complete. That it might be so I had brought Edgerton into
the house. Something more was necessary. Time and opportunity must
be allowed him. This I insisted on, though, more than once, as I
walked under the dark whispering groves which girdled our cottage,
and caught a glimpse of the light in Edgerton's chamber, my demon
urged me to go in and strangle him. I had strength to resist this
suggestion, but the struggle was a long one.

I did not soon retire to rest. When I did, I still remained sleepless.
But Julia slept. In her sleep she threw herself on my bosom, and
seemed to cling about and clasp me as if with some fear of separation.
Had I not fancied that this close embrace was meant for another
than myself, I had been more indulgent to the occasional moanings
of distress that escaped her lips. But, thinking as I did, I forced
her from me, and in doing so she wakened.

"Edward," she exclaimed on wakening, "is it you?"

"Who should it be?" I demanded--all my suspicions renewed by her
question.

"I am so glad. I have had such a dream. Oh! Edward, I dreamed that
you were killing me!"

"Ha! what could have occasioned such a dream?"

My demon suggested, at this moment, that her dream had been
occasioned by a consciousness of what her guilty fancies deserved.
But she replied promptly:--

"Nay, I know not. It was the strangest fancy. I thought that you
pursued me along the river--that my foot slipped and I fell among
the bushes, where you caught me, and it was just when you were
strangling me that I wakened."

"Your dream was occasioned by the affair of the afternoon. Was
nobody present but ourselves?"

"Yes--there was a man at a little distance beyond us, and he seemed
to be running from you also."

"A man! who was he?"

"I don't know exactly--his back was turned, but it seemed as if it
was Mr. Edgerton."

"Ha! Mr. Edgerton!"

A deep silence followed. She had spoken her reply firmly, but so
slowly as to convince me of the mental reluctance which she felt in
uttering this part of the dream. When the imagination is excited,
how small are the events that confirm its ascendency, and stimulate
its progress. This dream seemed to me as significant as any of the
signs that informed the ancient augurs. It bore me irresistibly
forward in the direction of my previous thoughts. I began to see
the path--dark, dismal--perhaps bloody--which lay before me. I began
to feel the deed, already in my soul, which destiny was about to
require me to perform. A crime, half meditated, is already half
committed. This is the danger of brooding upon the precipice of
evil thoughts. A moment's dizziness--a single plunge--and all is
over!

I doubt whether Julia slept much the remainder of the night. I know
that I did not. She had her consciousness as well as mine. THAT I
now know. The question--"was her consciousness a guilty one?" That
was the only question which remained for me!

Tho next morning I saw Edgerton. He looked quite as well as on the
previous night, but professed to feel otherwise--declined coming
forth to breakfast and begged me to send the physician to him on
my way to the office. I immediately conjectured that this was mere
practice, for he had not taken the medicine which had been prescribed.

"He must keep sick to keep HERE," said my demon. "He can have no
pretext, otherwise, to stay!"

When I was about to leave the house Julia followed me to the door.

"Don't forget to bring mother's letter with you," was her parting
direction. I had not been half an hour at the office before
a little servant-girl, who tended in the house, came to me with a
message from her, requesting that the letter might be sent by her.

This earnestness struck me with surprise. I remembered the expression
in my wife's face the day before when I told her the letter had been
received, I now recalled to mind the fact, that, on no occasion,
had she ever shown me any of her mother's letters; though nothing
surely would have seemed more natural, as she knew how keen was my
anxiety to hear at all times from the old maternal city.

My suspicions began to warm, and I resolved upon another act of
baseness in obedience to the counsel of my evil spirit. I pretended
to look awhile for the letter, but finally dismissed the girl,
saying that I had mislaid it, but would bring it home with me when
I came to dinner. The moment she had gone I examined this precious
document. It was sealed with one of those gum wafers which are stuck
on the outside of the envelope. In turning it over, as if everything
was prepared to gratify my wish, I discovered that one section of
the wafer had nearly parted from the paper. To the upper section of
the fold it adhered closely. To the lower it was scarcely attached
at all, and seemed never to have been as well fastened as the upper.

The temptation was irresistible. A very slight effort enabled me
to complete the separation without soiling the paper or fracturing
the seal. This was all done within my desk, the leaf of the desk
being raised and resting upon my head. In this position I could
easily close the desk, in the event of any intrusion, without
suffering the intruder to see in what I had been engaged. Thus
guarded I proceeded to read the precious epistle, which I found
very much what I should have expected from such a woman. It said
a great deal about her neighbors and her neighbors' dresses; and
how her dear Delaney was sometimes "obstropolous," though in the
end a mighty good man; and much more over which I hurried with all
the rapidity of disgust. But there was matter that made me linger.
One or two sentences thrown into the postscript contained a volume. I
read, with lifted hair and a convulsed bosom, the following passage:--

"Delaney tells me that Bill Edgerton has gone to travel. He says
to Tennessee. But I know better. I know he can't keep from you,
let him try his best. But be on your guard, Julia. Don't let him
get too free. Your husband's a jealous man, and if he was once to
dream of the truth, he'd just as leave shoot him as look at him.
I thought at one time he'd have guessed the truth before. So far
you've played your cards nicely, but that was when I was by you,
to tell you how. I feel quite ticklish when I think of you, and
remember you've got nobody now to consult with. All I can say is,
keep close. It would be the most terrible thing if Clifford should
find out or even suspect. He wouldn't spare either of you. It's
better for a woman in this country to drag on and be wretched, than
to expose herself to shame, for no one cares for her after that.
Be sure and burn this the moment you've read it. I would not have
it seen for the world. I only write it as a matter of duty, for I
can't forget that I'm your mother, though I must say, Julia, there
were times when you have not acted the part of a daughter."

Precious, voluminous postscript! Considerate mother! "Be on
your guard, Julia. Don't let him get too free!" Prudent, motherly
counsel! "You've played your cards nicely." Nice lady! "I feel
quite ticklish!" Elegant sensibilities!

Enough! The evil was done. Here was another piece of damning
testimony, indirect but conclusive, to show that I was bedevilled.
I refolded the letter, but I could not place my lips to the wafer.
The very letter seemed to breathe of poison. Faugh! I put it from
me, went to the basin, and wetting the end of my finger, sufficiently
softened the gum to make it more effectually fasten the letter than
when I had received it. This done, I proceeded to the business of
the day with what appetite was left me.

CHAPTER XLV.

VERGE OF THE PRECIPICE.

I do not know how I got through with the business of that day. Even
in my weakness I was possessed of a singular degree of strength.
I saw Kingsley, Wharton, and all of the parties whom we met the
day before. We came to a final decision on the subject of Kingsley's
claims; I took down the heads of several papers which were to be
drawn up; the terms of sale and transfer, bounds and characteristics
of the land to be conveyed; and engaged in the discussion of the
various topics which were involved in these transactions, with as
keen a sense of business, I suspect, as any among them. The habit
of suppressing my feelings availed me sufficiently under the present
circumstances. Kingsley said nothing on the subject of yesterday's
adventure, nor was I in the mood to refer to it. With some effort
I was cheerful; spoke freely of indifferent topics, and pleased
myself with the idea of my own firmness, while persuading my hearers
of my good humor and my legal ability. I do not deny that I paid
for these proofs of stoicism. Who does not? There is no such thing
as suppressing passions which are already in action--at least, there
is no such thing as suppressing them long. If the summer tempest
keeps off to-day it will come to-morrow, and its force and volume
is always in due proportion to the delay in its utterance. The
solitudes of the forest heard my groans and agonies when man did
not--and the venom which I kept from my lips, overflowed and poisoned
the very sources of life and happiness within my heart.

I gave the letter to Julia without a word. She did not look at me
while extending the hand to receive it, and hurried to her chamber
without breaking the seal. I watched her departing form with a vague,
painful emotion of inquiry, such as would possess the bosom of one,
looking on a dear object, with whom he felt that a disruption was
hourly threatened of every earthly tie. That day she ate no dinner.
Her brow was clouded throughout the meal. Edgerton was present,
seemingly as well as at his first arrival. I had learned casually
from Mrs. Porterfield that he had been in our little parlor all
the morning; while another remark from the good old lady gave me
a new idea of the employment of my wife.

"This writing," said she, addressing the latter, "does your eyes
no good. Indeed they look as if you had been crying over your task."

"What writing?" I asked, looking at Julia, She blushed, but said
nothing, and the blush passed off, leaving the sadness more distinct
than ever.

"Oh, she has been writing whole sheets for the last two mornings.
I went in this morning to bring her out to assist me in entertaining
Mr. Edgerton, who looked so lonesome; and I do assure you I thought
at first, from the quantity of writing, that you had given her some
of your law-papers to do. The table was covered with it."

"Indeed!" said I--"this must be looked into. It will not do for the
wife to take the husband's business from him. It looks mischievous,
Mrs. Porterfield--there's something wrong about it."

"Indeed there must be, Mr. Clifford, for only see how very sad it
makes her. I declare, she looks this last few weeks like a very
different woman. She does nothing now but mope. When she first
came here she seemed to me so cheerful and happy."

All this was so much additional wormwood to my bitter. The change
in Julia, which had even struck this blind old lady, corresponded
exactly with the date of Edgerton's arrival. When I saw the earnest
tenderness in his countenance as he watched her, while Mrs.
Porterfield was speaking, I ceased to feel any sympathy for the
intense sadness which I yet could not but see in hers. I turned
away, and leaving the table soon after, went to our chamber, but
the traces of writing were no longer to be seen. The voluminous
manuscripts had all been carefully removed. I was about to leave
the chamber when Julia met me at the door.

"Come back; sit with me," she said. "Why do you go off in such a
hurry always? Once it was not so, Edward."

"What! are you for the honeymoon again?"

"Do not smile so, and speak so irreverently!" she said, with a
reproachful earnestness that certainly seemed to me very strange,
thinking of her as I did. My evil spirit was silent. He lacked
readiness to account for it. But he was not unadroit, and moved me
to change the ground.

"But what long writing is this, Julia?"

"Ah! you are curious?"

"Scarcely."

"TELL me that you are?"

"What! at the expense of truth?"

"No! but to gratify my desire. I hoped you were; but, curious or
not, it is for you."

"Let me see it, then."

"Not yet; it is not ready."

"What! shall there be more of it?"

"Yes, a good deal."

"Indeed! but why take this labor? Why not tell me what you have to
say?"

"I wish I could, but I can not. You do not encourage me."

"What encouragement do you wish to speak to your husband?"

"Oh, much! Stay with me, dear husband."

"That will keep you from your writing."

"Ah! perhaps it will render it unnecessary."

"At all events it will keep me from mine;" and I prepared to go. She
put her hand upon my shoulder--looked into my eyes pleadingly--hers
were dewy wet--and spoke:--

"Do not go-stay with me dear husband, do stay. Stay only for half
an hour."

Why did I not stay? I should ask that question of myself in vain.
When the heart grows perverse, it acquires a taste for wilfulness.
I, myself, longed to stay; could I have been persuaded that she
certainly desired it, I should have found my sweetest pleasure in
remaining. But there was the rub--that doubt! all that she said,
looked, did, seemed, through the medium of the blind heart, to be
fraudulent.

"She would disguise her anxiety, that you should be gone. Leave
her, and in twenty minutes she and Edgerton will be together."

Such was the whisper of my demon. I did leave her. I went forth for
an hour into the woods--returned suddenly and found them together!
They were playing chess, Mrs. Porterfield, with all her spectacles,
watching the game. I did not ask, and did not know, till afterward,
that the express solicitation of the old lady had drawn her from
her chamber, and placed her at the table. The conjecture of the
evil spirit proved so far correct, and this increased my confidence
in his whispers. Alas! how readily do we yield our faith to the
spirit of hate! how slow to believe the pure and gentle assurances
of love!

Three days passed after this fashion. Edgerton no longer expressed
indisposition, yet he made no offer to depart. I took care that
neither word nor action should remind him of his trespass. I gave
the parties every opportunity, and exhibited the manner of an
indifference which was free from all disquiet--all suspicion. The
sadness, meanwhile, increased upon the countenance of Julia. She
gazed at me in particular with a look of earnestness amounting to
distress. This I ascribed to the strength of her passions. There
was even at moments a harshness in her tones when addressing me
now, which was unusual to her. I found some reason for this, equally
unfavorable to her fidelity. After dinner I said to Edgerton:--

"You are scarcely strong enough for a bout at the bottle. I take
wine with Kingsley this afternoon. He has commissioned me to ask
you."

"I dare not venture, but that should not keep you away."

"It will not," I said indifferently.

"Thank him for me, if you please, but tell him it will not do for
one so much an invalid as myself."

"Very good!" and I left him, and joined Kingsley. The business of
this friend being now in a fair train for final adjustment, he was
preparing for his return to Texas. He had not been at my lodgings
since Edgerton's arrival in M--, but we had seen each other,
nevertheless, almost every day at his or at my office. Our afternoon
was rather merry than cheerful. Heaven knows I was in no mood to
be a bon compagnon, but I took sufficient pains that Kingsley should
not suspect I had any reasons for being otherwise. I had my jest--I
emptied my bottle--I said my good things, and seemed to say them
without effort. Kingsley, always cheerful and strong-minded, was
in his best vein, and mingling wit and reflection happily together,
maintained the ball of conversation with equal ease and felicity.
He had the happy knack of saying happy things quietly--of waiting
for, and returning the ball, without running after it. At another
time, I should have been content simply to have provoked him. Now,
I was quite too miserable not to seek employment; and to disguise
feelings, which I should have been ashamed to expose, I contrived
to take the lead and almost grew voluble in the frequency
of my utterance. Perhaps, if Kingsley failed in any respect as a
philosopher, it was in forbearing to look with sufficient keenness
of observation into the heart of his neighbor. He evidently did
not see into mine. He was deceived by my manner. He credited all
my fun to good faith, and gravely pronounced me to be a fortunate
fellow.

"How?" I demanded with a momentary cessation of the jest. His gravity
and--to me--the strange error in such an observation--excited my
curiosity.

"In your freedom from jealousy."

"Oh! that, eh? But why should I be jealous?'

"It is not exactly why a man should be jealous--but why, knowing
what men are, usually, that you are not. Nine men in ten would be
so under your circumstances?"

"How, what circumstances?"

"With Edgerton in your house--evidently fond of your wife, you
leave them utterly to themselves. You bring him into your house
unnecessarily, and give him every opportunity. I still think you
risk everything imprudently. You may pay for it."

I felt a strange sickness at my heart. I felt that the flame
was beginning to boil up within me. The perilous turning-point of
passion--the crisis of strength and endurance--was at hand My eyes
settled gloomily upon the table. I was silent longer than usual. I
felt THAT, and Loked up. The keen glance of Kingsley was upon me.
It would not do to suffer him to read my feelings. I replied with
some precipitation:--

"I see, Kingsley, you are not cared of your prejudices against
Edgerton."

"I am not--I have seen nothing to cure me. But my prejudice against
him, has nothing to do with my opinion of your prudence. Were it
any other man, the case would be the same."

"Well, but I do not think it so clear that Edgerton loves my wife
more than is natural and proper."

"Of the naturalress of his love I say nothing--perhaps, nothing
could be more natural. But that he does love her, and loves her as
no married woman should be loved, by another than her husband, is
clear enough."

"Suppose, then, it be as you say! So long as he does nothing
improperly, there is nothing to be said. There is no evil."

"Ah, but there is evil. There is danger."

"How? I do not see."

"Suppose your wife makes the same discovery which other persons
have made? Suppose she finds out that Edgerton loves her?"

"Well--what then?"

"She can not remain uninfluenced by it. It will affect her feelings
sensibly in some way. No creature in the world can remain insensible
to the attachment of another."

"Indeed! Why, agreeable to that doctrine, there could be no security
from principle. There could be no virtue certain--nay, not even
love."

"Do not mistake me. When I say SHE would be influenced--I do
not mean to say that she would be so influenced as to requite the
illicit sentiment. Far from it. But she must pity or she must scorn.
She may despise or she may deplore. In either case her feelings
would be aroused, and in either case would produce uneasiness if
not unhappiness. I KNOW, Clifford, that your wife perceives the
passion of Edgerton--I am confident, also, that it has influenced
her feelings. What may be the sentiment produced by this influence
I do not pretend to say. I would not insinuate that it is more than
would be natural to the breast of any virtuous woman. She may pity
or she may scorn--she may despise or she may deplore. I know not.
But, in either case, I regard your bringing Edgerton into the house
and conferring upon him so many opportunities, as being calculated
either to make yourself or your wife miserable. In either event
you have done wrong. Look to it--remedy it as soon as you can."

My face burned like fire. My eyes were fixed upon the table. I
dared not look upon my companion. When I spoke, I felt a choking
difficulty in my utterance which compelled me to speak loud to be
understood, and which yet left my speech thick, husky, and unnatural.

"Say no more, Kingsley. What you have said disturbs me Nay, I
acknowledge, I have been disturbed before. Perhaps, indeed, I know
more than yourself. Time will show. At all events, be sure of one
thing. These opportunities, if what you say he true, afford an
ordeal through which it is necessary that the parties should now
go--if it be only to afford the necessary degree of relief to my
mind. Enough has been seen to excite suspicion--enough has been
done, you yourself think, to awaken the feelings of my wife. Those
feelings must now be tried. Opportunity will do this. She must
go through the trial. I am not blind as you suppose. Nay, I am
watchful, and I tell you, Kingsley, that the time approaches when
all my doubts must cease one way or the other."

"But I still think, Clifford--" he began.

"No more, Kingsley. I tell you, matters must go on. Edgerton can now
only be driven from my house by my wife. If she expels him, I shall
be too happy not to forgive him. But if she makes it necessary that
the expulsion shall be effected by my hands, and with violence--God
have mercy upon both of them for I shall not. Good night!"

"But why will you go? Stay awhile longer. Be not rash--do nothing
precipitately, Clifford."

I smiled bitterly in replying:--

"You need not fear me. Have I not proved myself patient--patient
until you pronounced me cold and indifferent? Why should you suppose
that, having waited and forborne so long I should be guilty of
rashness now? No, Kingsley! My wife is very dear to me--how dear
I will not say; I will be deliberate for her sake--for my own. I
will be sure, very sure--quite sure;--but, once sure!--Good night."

Kingsley followed me to the door. His last injunctions exhorted me
to forbearance and deliberation. I silenced them by a significant
repetition of the single words, "Good night--good night!" and
hurried, with every feeling of anxiety and jealousy awakened, in
the direction of my cottage.

CHAPTER XLVI.

THE UNBRIDLED MADNESS.

The night did not promise to be a good one. The clouds were scudding
wildly from east to west. The air was moist and chill. There was
no light from moon or stars, and I strode with difficulty, though
still rapidly, through the unpaved streets. I was singularly and
painfully excited by the conversation with Kingsley. My own experience
before, had prepared me to become so, with the slightest additional
provocation. Facts were rapidly accumulating to confirm my fears,
and lessen my doubts. That dark, meaning letter of Mrs. Delaney!
The adventure in the streamlet.--The scream--the look--the secrecy!
What a history seemed to be compressed in these few topics.

I hurried forward--I was now among the trees. I had almost to grope
my way, it was so dark. I was helped forward by some governing
instincts. My fiend was busy all the while. I fancied, now, that
there was something exulting in his tone. But he drove me forward
without forbearance. I felt that these clouds in the sky--this gloom
and excitement in my heart--were not for nothing. Every gust of
wind brought to me some whisper of fear; and there seemed a constant
murmur among the trees--one burden--whose incessant utterance was
only shame and wo. How completely the agony of one's spirit sheds
its tone of horror upon the surrounding world. How the flowers wither
as our hearts wither--how sickly grows sunlight and moonlight, in
our despair--how lonely and utter sad is the breath of winds, when
our bosoms are about to be laid bare of hope and sustenance by the
brooding tempest of our sorrows.

I had a terrible prescience of some dreadful experience which awaited
me as I drove forward. Obstructions of tree and shrub, and tangled
vines, encountered me, but did not long arrest, and I really felt
them not. I put them aside without a consciousness.

At length a glimmering light informed me I was near the cottage.
I could see the heavy dark masses of foliage that crowded before
the entrance. The light was in the parlor. There was also one in
the room of Mrs. Porterfield. Ours, which was on the same floor
with hers, was in darkness. I never experienced sensations more
like those of a drunken man than when, working my way cautiously
among the trees, I approached the window. The glasses were down,
possibly in consequence of the violence of the gust. But there was
one thing unusual. The curtains were also down at both windows.
These curtains were half-curtains only. They fell from the upper
edge of the lower sash, and were simply meant to protect the inmates
from the casual glance of persons in front. The house was on an
elevation of two or three feet from the ground. It was impossible
to see into the apartment unless I could raise myself at least that
much above my own stature. I looked around me for a stump, bench,
block--anything; but there was nothing, or in the darkness I failed
to find it. To clamber up against the side of the house would have
disturbed the inmates. I ascended a tree, and buried within its
leaves, looked directly into the apartment.

They were together! alone!--at the eternal chess! Julia sat upon the
sofa. Edgerton in front of her. A small table stood between them.
I had arrived at an opportune moment. Julia's hand was extended
to the board. I saw the very piece it rested upon. It was the white
queen; but, just at that moment--nothing could be more clearly
visible--the hand of Edgerton was laid upon hers. She instantly withdrew
it, and looked upward. Her face was the color of carnation--flushed
--so said my demon, with the overwhelming passions in her breast.
The next moment the table was thrust aside--the chess-men tumbled
upon the floor, and Edgerton kneeling before my wife had grasped
her about the waist, and was dragging her to his knee.

I saw no more. A sudden darkness passed over my eyes. A keen,
quick, thrilling pang went through my whole frame, and I fell from
the tree, upon the earth below, in utter unconsciousness.

CHAPTER XLVII.

FATAL SILENCE.

Strange and cruel destiny! When everything depended apon my firmness,
I was overwhelmed by feebleness. It seemed as if I had not before
believed that this terrible moment of confirmation would come.
And yet, if anybody could have been prepared for such a discovery,
I should have been. I had brooded over it for months. A thousand
times had my imagination pictured it to me in the most vivid
and fearful aspect. I fancied that I should have been steeled by
conviction against every other feeling but that of vengeance. But
in reality, my hope was so sanguine, my love for Julia so fervent,
I did not, amidst all my fears, really believe that such a thing
could ever prove true. All my boasted planning and preparation,
and espionage, had only deceived myself. I believed, at worst, that
Julia might be brought to love William Edgerton,--but that he would
presume to give utterance to his love, and that she would submit
to listen, was not truly within my belief. I had not been prepared
for this, however much, in my last interview with Kingsley, I had
professed myself to be.

But had she submitted? That was still a question. I had seen
nothing beyond what I have stated. His audacious hand had rested
upon hers--his impious arm had encircled her waist, and then
my blindness and darkness followed. I was struck as completely
senseless, and fell from the tree with as little seeming life, as
if a sudden bullet had traversed my heart.

In this state I lay. How long I know not--it must have been for
several hours. I was brought to consciousness by a sense of cold.
I was benumbed--a steady rain was falling, and from the condition
of my clothes, which were completely saturated, must have been
falling for some time previous. I rose with pain and difficulty to
my feet. I was still as one stunned and stupified, by one of those
extremes of suffering for which the overcharged heart can find no
sufficient or sufficiently rapid method of relief. When I rose,
the light was no longer in the parlor. The parties were withdrawn.

Horrible thought! That I should have failed at that trying moment.
I knew everything--I knew nothing. It was still possible that Julia
had repulsed him. I had seen HIS audacity only--was it followed by
HER guilt? How shall that be known? I could answer this question
as Kingsley would have answered it.

"If your wife be honest, she must now reveal the truth. She can
no longer forbear. The proceeding of Edgerton has been too decided,
and she shares his guilt if she longer keeps it secret. The wife
who submits to this form of insult, without seeking protection where
alone it may be found, clearly shows that the offence is grateful
to her--that she deems it no insult."

That, then, shall be the test! So I determined. Edgerton must be
punished. There is no escape. But for her--if she does not seek
the earliest occasion to reveal the truth, she is guilty beyond
doubt--doomed beyond redemption.

I entered the house with difficulty. I was as feeble as if I had been
under the hands of the physician for weeks. A light was burning on
the staircase. I took it and went into the parlor, which I narrowly
examined. There were no remaining proofs of the late disorder. The
table was set against the wall. The chess-men were all gathered
up, and neatly put away in the box, which stood upon the mantel.

"There is proof of coolness and deliberation here!" I muttered
to myself, as I took my way up-stairs. When I entered my chamber,
I felt a pang, the fore-runner of a spasm. I had been for several
years afflicted with these spasms, in great or small degree. They
marked every singular mental excitement under which I labored. It
was no doubt one of these spasms which had seized and overpowered
me while I sat within the tree. Never before had I suffered from
one so severe; but the violence of this was naturally due to the
extreme of agony--as sudden as it was terrible--which seized upon
my soul. My physician had provided me with a remedy against these
attacks to which I was accustomed to resort. This, though a potent
remedy, was also a potent poison. It was a medicine called the
hydrocyanic or prussic acid. Five minims was a dose, but two drops
were death. I went to the medicine-case which stood beneath the
head of the bed, with the view to getting out the vial; but my wife
started up eagerly as I approached, and with trembling accents,
demanded what was the matter. She saw me covered with mud and
soaking with water. I told her that I had got wet coming homeward
and had slipped down the hill.

"Why did you stay so late--why not come home sooner, dear husband?"

"Hypocrite!" I muttered while stooping down for the chest.

"You are sick--you have your spasms!" she now said, rising from the
bed and offering to measure the medicine. This she had repeatedly
done before; but I was not now willing to trust her. Doubts of her
fidelity led to other doubts.

"If she is prepared to dishonor, she is prepared to destroy you!"
said my familiar.

This suggestion seized upon my brain, and while I measured out the
minims, the busy fiend reminded me that I grasped the bane as well
as the antidote in my hand. A stern, a terrible image of retributive
justice presented itself before my thoughts. The feeling of
an awful necessity grew strong within me. "Shall the adulterer
alone perish? Shall the adultress escape?" The fiend answered with
tremulous but stern passion--"She shall surely die!"

"If she reveals not the truth in season," I said in my secret soul;
"if she claims not protection at my hands against the adulterer,
she shall share his fate!" and with this resolve, even at the moment
when I was measuring the antidote for myself, I resolved that the
same vial should furnish the bane for her!

The medicine relieved me, though not with the same promptness as
usual. I looked at the watch and found it two o'clock. My wife
begged me to come to bed, but that was impossible. I proceeded
to change my garments. By the time that I had finished, the rain
ceased, the stars came out, the morning promised to be clear. I
determined to set forth from my office. I had no particular purpose;
but I felt that I could not meditate where she was. She continually
spoke to me--always tenderly and with great earnestness. I pleaded
my spasms as a reason for not lying down. But I lingered. I was as
unwilling to go as to stay. I longed to hear her narrative; and,
once or twice, I fancied that she wished to tell me something. But
she did not. I waited till near daylight, in order that she should
have every opportunity, but she said little beyond making professions
of love, and imploring me to come to bed.

In sheer despair, at last, I went out, taking my pistol-case,
unperceived by her, under my arm. I went to my office where I
locked it up. There I seated myself, brooding in a very whirlwind
of thought, until after daylight.

When the sun had risen, I went to a man in the neighborhood who
hired out vehicles. I ordered a close carriage to be at my door
by a certain hour, immediately after breakfast. I then despatched
a note to Kingsley, saying briefly that Edgerton and myself would
call for him at nine. I then returned home. My wife had arisen, but
had not left the chamber. She pleaded headache and indisposition,
and declined coming out to breakfast. She seemed very sad and
unhappy, not to say greatly disquieted--appearances which I naturally
attributed to guilt. For--still she said nothing. I lingered near
her on various small pretences in the hope to hear her speak. I
even made several approaches which, I fancied, might tend to provoke
the wished-for revelation. Indeed, it was wished for as ardently
as ever soul wished for the permission to live--prayed for as
sincerely as the dying man prays for respite, and the temporary
remission of his doom.

In vain! My wife said little, and nothing to the purpose. The
moments became seriously short. Could she have anything to say?
Was it possible that, being innocent, she should still lock up the
guilty secret in her bosom? She could not be innocent to do so!
This conclusion seemed inevitable. In order that she should have
no plea of discouragement, I spoke to her with great tenderness of
manner, with a more than usual display of feeling. It was no mere
show. I felt all that I said and looked. I knew that a trying and
terrible event was at hand--an event painful to us both--and all
my love for her revived with tenfold earnestness. Oh! how I longed
to take her into my arms, and warn her tenderly of the consequences
of her error; but this, of course, was impossible. But, short of
this, I did everything that I thought likely to induce her confidence.
I talked familiarly to her, and fondly, with an effort at childlike
simplicity and earnestness, in the hope that, by thus renewing the
dearest relations of ease and happiness between us, she should be
beguiled into her former trusting readiness of speech. She met my
fondnesses with equal fondness. It seemed to give her particular
pleasure that I should be thus fond. In her embrace, requiting
mine, she clung to me; and her tears dropping warm upon my hands,
were yet attended by smiles of the most hearty delight. A thousand
times she renewed the assurances of her love and attachment--nay,
she even went so far as tenderly to upbraid me that our moments
of endearment were so few;--yet, in spite of all this, she still
forbore the one only subject. She still said nothing; and as I knew
how much she COULD say and ought to say, which she did not say, I
could not resist the conviction that her tears were those of the
crocodile, and her assurances of love the glozing commonplaces of
the harlot.

In silence she suffered me to leave her for the breakfast-table.
She looked, it is true--but what had I to do with looks, however
earnest and devoted? I went from her slowly. When on the stairs,
fancying I had heard her voice, I returned, but she had not called
me. She was still silent. Full of sadness I left her, counting
slowly and sadly every step which I took from her presence.

Edgerton was already at table. He looked very wretched I observed
him closely. His eye shrunk from the encounter of mine. His looks
answered sufficiently for his guilt. I said to him:--

"I have to ride out a little ways in the country this morning, and
count upon your company. I trust you feel well enough to go with
me? Indeed, it will do you good."

Of course, my language and manner were stripped of everything that
might alarm his fears. He hesitated, but complied. The carriage
was at the door before we had finished breakfast; and with no
other object than simply to afford her another opportunity for the
desired revelation, I once more went up to my wife's chamber. Here
I lingered fully ten minutes, affecting to search for a paper in
trunks where I knew it could not be found. While thus engaged I
spoke to her frequently and fondly. She did not need the impulse
to make her revelation, except in her own heart. The occasion was
unemployed. She suffered me once more to depart in silence; and
this time I felt as if the word of utter and inevitable wo had been
spoken. The hour had gone by for ever. I could no longer resist
the conviction of her shameless guilt. All her sighs and tears,
professions of love and devotion, the fond tenacity of her embrace,
the deep-seated earnestness and significance in her looks--all went
for nothing in her failure to utter the one only, and all-important
communication.

Let no woman, on any pretext, however specious, deceive herself
with the fatal error, that she can safely harbor, unspoken to her
husband, the secret of any insult, or base approach, of another to
herself!

CHAPTER XLVIII.

TOO LATE!

Edgerton announced himself to be in readiness, and, at the same
time, declared his intention to withdraw at once from our hospitality
and return to his old lodging-house. He had already given instructions
to his servant for the removal of his things.

"What!" I said with a feeling of irony, which did not make itself
apparent in my speech--"you are tired of our hospitality, Edgerton?
We have not treated you well, I am afraid."

"Yes," he muttered faintly, "too well. I have every reason to be
gratified and grateful. No reason to complain."

He forced himself to say something more by way of acknowledgment;
but to this I gave little heed. We drove first to Kingsley's, and
took him up; then, to my office, where I got out, and, entering
the office, wrapped up my pistol-case carefully in a newspaper, so
that the contents might not be conjectured, and bringing it forth,
thrust it into the boot of the carriage.

"What have you got there?" demanded Kingsley. "Something for
digestion," was my reply. "We may be kept late."

"You are wise enough to be a traveller," said Kingsley; and without
further words we drove on. I fancied that when I put the case into
the vehicle, Edgerton looked somewhat suspicious. That he was
uneasy was evident enough. He could not well be otherwise. The
consciousness of guilt was enough to make him so; and then there
was but little present sympathy between himself and Kingsley.

I had already given the driver instructions. He carried us into
the loneliest spot of woods some four miles from M----, and in a
direction very far from the beaten track.

"What brings you into this quarter?" demanded Kingsley. "What
business have you here?"

"We stop here," I said as the carriage drove up. "I have some land
to choose and measure here. Shall we alight, gentlemen?"

I took the pistol-case in my hands and led the way. They followed
me. The carriage remained. We went on together several hundred
yards until I fancied we should be quite safe from interruption.
We were in a dense forest. At a little distance was a small stretch
of tolerably open pine land, which seemed to answer the usual
purposes. Here I paused and confronted them.

"Mr. Kingsley," I said without further preliminaries, "I have
taken the liberty of bringing you here, as the most honorable man
I know, in order that you should witness the adjustment of an affair
of honor between Mr. Edgerton and myself."

As I spoke I unrolled the pistol-case. Edgerton grew pale as death,
but remained silent. Kingsley was evidently astonished, but not so
much so as to forbear the obvious answer.

"How! an affair of honor? Is this inevitable--necessary, Clifford?"

"Absolutely!"

"In no way to be adjusted?"

"In but one! This man has dishonored me in the dearest relations
of my household."

"Ha! can it be?"

"Too true! There is no help for it now. I am dealing with him
still as a man of honor. I should have been justified in shooting
him down like a dog--as one shoots down the reptile that crawls to
the cradle of his children. I give him an equal chance for life."

"It is only what I feared!" said Kingsley, looking at Edgerton as
he spoke.

The latter had staggered back against a tree. Big drops of sweat
stood upon his brows. His head hung down. Still he was silent. I
gave the weapons to Kingsley, who proceeded to charge them.

"I will not fight you, Clifford!" exclaimed the criminal with husky
accents.

"You must!"

"I can not--I dare not--I will not! You may shoot me down where I
stand. I have wronged you. I dare not lift weapon at your breast."

"Wretch! say not this!" I answered. "You must make the atonement."

"Be it so! Shoot me! You are right! I am ready to die."

"No, William Edgerton, no! You must not refuse me the only atonement
you can make. You must not couple that atonement with a sting.
Hear me! You have violated the rites of hospitality, the laws of
honor and of manhood, and grossly abused all the obligations of
friendship. These offences would amply justify me in taking your
life without scruple, and without exposing my own to any hazard.
But my soul revolts at this. I remember the past--our boyhood
together--and the parental kindness of your venerated parent. These
deprive me of a portion of that bitterness which would otherwise
have moved me to destroy you. Take the pistol. If life is nothing
to you, it is as little to me now. Use the privilege which I give
you, and I shall be satisfied with the event."

He shook his head while he repeated:--

"No! I can not. Say no more, Clifford. I deserve death!"

I clapped the pistol to his head. He folded his arms, lifted his
eyes, and regarded me more steadily than he had done for months
before. Kingsley struck up nay arm, as I was cocking the weapon.

"He must die!" I exclaimed fiercely.

"Yes, that is certain!" replied the other. "But I am not willing
that I should be brought here as the witness to a murder. If he
will fight you, I will see you through. If he will not fight you,
there needs no witness to your shooting him. You have no right,
Clifford, to require this of me."

"You are not a coward, William Edgerton?"

"Coward!" he exclaimed, and his form rose to its fullest height,
and his eye flashed out the fires of a manhood, which of late he
had not often shown.

"Coward! No! Do I not tell you shoot? I do not fear death. Nay,
let me say to you, Clifford, I long for it. Life has been a long
torture to me--is still a torture. It can not now be otherwise.
Take it--you will see me smile in the death agony."

"Hear me William Edgerton, and submit to my will. You know not
half your wrong. You drove me from my home--my birthplace. When I
was about to sacrifice you for your previous invasion of my peace
in C--, I looked on your old father, I heard the story of his
disappointment--his sorrows--and you were the cause. I determined
to spare you--to banish myself rather, in order to avoid the
necessity of taking your life. You were not satisfied with having
wrought this result. You have pursued me to the woods, where my
cottage once more began to blossom with the fruits of peace and
love. You trample upon its peace--you renew your indignities and
perfidies here. You drive me to desperation and fill my habitation
with disgrace. Will you deny me then what I ask? Will you refuse
me the atonement--any atonement--which I may demand?"

"No, Clifford!" he replied, after a pause in which he seemed subdued
with shame and remorse. "You shall have it as you wish. I will fight
you. I am all that you declare. I am guilty of the wrong you urge
against me. I knew not, till now, that I had been the cause of your
flight from C--. Had I known that!"

Kingsley offered him the pistol.

"No!" he said, putting it aside. "Not now! I will give you this
atonement this afternoon. At this moment I can not. I must write.
I must make another atonement. Your claim for justice, Clifford,
must not preclude my settlement of the claims of others."

"Mine must have preference!"

"It shall! The atonement which I propose to make shall be, one of
repentance. You would not deny me the melancholy privilege of saying
a few last words to my wretched parents?"

"No! no! no!"

"I thank you, Clifford. Come for me at four to my lodgings--bring
Mr. Kingsley with you. You will find me ready to atone, and to save
you every unnecessary pang in doing so."

This ended our conference. Kingsley rode home with him, while,
throwing myself upon the ground, I surrendered myself to such
meditations as were natural to the moods which governed me. They
were dark and dismal enough. Edgerton had avowed his guilt. Could
there be any doubt on the subject of my wife's? He had made no
sort of qualification in his avowal of guilt, which might acquit
her. He had evidently made his confession with the belief that
I was already in possession of the whole truth. One hope alone
remained--that my wife's voluntary declaration would still be
forthcoming. To that I clung as the drowning man to his last plank.
When Kingsley and Edgerton first left me, I had resolved to waste
the hours in the woods and not to return home until after my final
meeting in the afternoon with the latter. It might be that I should
not return home then, and in such an event I was not unwilling that
my wife should still live, the miserable thing which she had made
herself. But, with the still fond hope that she might speak, and
speak in season, I now resolved to return at the usual dinner hour;
and, timing myself accordingly, I prolonged my wanderings through
the woods until noon. I then set forward, and reached the cottage
a little sooner than I had expected.

I found Julia in bed. She complained of headache and fever. She
had already taken medicine--I sat beside her. I spoke to her in
the tenderest language. I felt, at the moment when I feared to lose
her for ever, that I could love nothing half so well. I spoke to
her with as much freedom as fondness; and, momently expecting her
to make the necessary revelation, I hung upon her slightest words,
and hung upon them only to be disappointed.

The dinner hour came. The meal was finished. I returned to the
chamber, and once more resumed my place beside her on the couch. I
strove to inspire her with confidence--to awaken her sensibilities--to
beguile her to the desired utterance, but in vain. Of course I
could give no hint whatsoever of the knowledge which I had obtained.
After that, her confession would have been no longer voluntary,
and could no longer have been credited.

Time sped--too rapidly as I thought. Though anxious for vengeance,
I loved her too fondly not to desire to delay the minutes in the
earnest expectation that she would speak at last. She did not. The
hour approached of my meeting with Edgerton; and then I felt that
Edgerton was not the only criminal.

Mrs. Porterfield just then brought in some warm tea and placed it
on the table at the bed head. After a few moments delay, she left
us alone together. The eyes of my wife were averted. The vial of
prussic acid stood on the same table with the tea. I rose from the
couch, interposed my person between it and the table--and, taking
up the poison, deliberately poured three drops into the beverage.
I never did anything more firmly. Yet I was not the less miserable,
because I was most firm. My nerve was that of the executioner who
carries out a just judgment. This done, I put the vial into my
pocket. Julia then spoke to me. I turned to her with eagerness. I
was prepared to cast the vessel of tea from the window. It was my
hope that she was about to speak, though late, the necessary truths.
But she only called to me to know if I had been to my office during
the morning.

"Not since nine o'clock," was my answer. "Why?"

"Nothing. But are you going to your office now, dear husband?"

"Not directly. I shall possibly be there in the course of the
afternoon. What do you wish? Why do you ask?"

"Oh, nothing," she replied; "but I will tell you to-morrow why I
ask."

"To-morrow!--tell me now, if it be anything of moment. Now! now
is the appointed time!" The serious language of Scripture, became
natural to me in the agonizing situation in which I stood.

"No! no! to-morrow will do. I will not gratify your curiosity. You
are too curious, husband" and she turned from me, smiling, upon
the couch.

I felt that what she might tell me to-morrow could have nothing
to do with the affair between herself and Edgerton. THAT could be
no object for jest and merriment. I turned from her slowly, with a
feeling at my heart which was not exactly madness--for I knew then
what I was doing--but it was just thec feeling to make me doubtful
how long I should be secure from madness.

"To-morrow will not do" I muttered to myself as I descended the
stairs. "Too late!--too late!"

CHAPTER XLIX.

SUICIDE.

From the cottage I proceeded to Kingsley's. He was in readiness,
and waiting me. We drove directly to Edgerton's lodging-house,
the appointed hour of four being at hand. Kingsley only alighted
from the carriage, and entered the dwelling. He was absent several
minutes. When he returned, he returned alone.

"Edgerton is either asleep or has gone out. His room-door is locked.
The landlord called and knocked, but received no answer. He lacks
manliness, and I suspect has fled. The steamboat went at two."

"Impossible!" I exclaimed, leaping from the carriage. "I know
Edgerton better. I can not think he would fly, after the solemn
pledge he gave me."

"You have only thought too well of him always," said the other, as
we entered the house.

"Let us go to the room together," I said to the landlord. "I fear
something wrong."

"Well, so do I," responded the publican. "The poor gentleman has
been looking very badly, and sometimes gets into a strange wild
taking, and then he goes along seeing nobody. Only last Saturday
I said to my old woman, as how I thought everything warn't altogether
right HERE,"--and the licensed sinner touched his head with his
fore-finger, himself looking the very picture of well-satisfied
sagacity. We said nothing, but leaving the eloquence to him, followed
him up to Edgerton's chamber. I struck the door thrice with the
butt end of my whip, then called his name, but without receiving
any answer. Endeavoring to look through the key-hole, I discovered
the key on the inside, and within the lock. I then immediately
conjectured the truth. William Edgerton had committed suicide.

And so it was. We burst the door, and found him suspended by a
silk handkerchief to a beam that traversed the apartment. He had
raised himself upon a chair, which he had kicked over after the knot
had been adjusted. Such a proceeding evinced the most determined
resolution.

We took him down with all despatch, but life had already been
long extinct. He must have been hanging two hours. His face was
perfectly livid--his eyeballs dilated--his mouth distorted--but the
neck remained unbroken. He had died by suffocation. I pass over the
ordinary proceedings--the consternation, the clamor, the attendance
of the grave-looking gentlemen with lancet and lotion. They did
a great deal, of course, in doing nothing. Nothing could be done.
Then followed the "crowner's" inquest. A paper, addressed to the
landlord, was submitted to them, and formed the burden of their
report.

"I die by my own hands," said this document, "that I may lose the
sense of pain, bodily and mental. I die at peace with the world.
It has never wronged me. I am the source of my own sorrows, as I
am the cause of my own death. I will not say that I die sane. I am
doubtful on that head. I am sure that I have been the victim of a
sort of madness for a very long time. This has led me to do wrong,
and to meditate wrong--has made me guilty of many things, which,
in my better moments of mind and body, I should have shrunk from
in horror. I write this that nobody may be suspected of sharing
in a deed the blame of which must rest on my head only."

Then followed certain apologies to the landlord for having made
his house the scene of an event so shocking. The same paper also
conveyed certain presents of personal stuff to the same person, with
thanks for his courtesy and attention. An adequate sum of money,

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