Imágenes de página

he met me first-the world might count me bad, but he knew better than that, and she could love him no more faithfully than I did .... I think the one poor kiss that I coveted, but was too proud to beg for, wouldn't have harmed her if she had been as good a woman as you are .. and my baby was born upon his father's wedding-day.”

And did he know?” cried Madcap, her heart on fire with pity for the woman, with condemnation for the man.

Who was to tell him ?” said Hester. My father never knew with whom I had fled, nor did Janet, my foster-sister. Janet -when she came at my summons I told her nothing, fearing that her wild love for me would impel her to some lawless deed of vengeance upon him

him ... and it did, only the punishment fell upon me

“And so he never knew,” said Madcap, looking straight before her; "and perhaps she believes him to be good, and loves him

“Men like him are always loved," said Hester. “I heard of her once.

She was young-little more than a child. I think she must have been something like you; and her hair had sunbeams in it, they said ...

“You are better than I am," cried Madcap, her hands clasped tightly together, her grey eyes flashing. “I should hate her; I think I should wish to make her suffer too..

“ She couldn't have harmed me but for my own sin,” said Hester sadly; "and I swore to his friend that I wouldn't harm her, or tell her; and I kept my word. When he begged and prayed with me never to let that knowledge darken her life, something good seemed to come into my soul. I said to myself, • I'm a wicked woman, but I'll do as much for her as a good one could have done, and I won't break her heart.' Only when I thought she might have got children like him, I felt to hate her .... Hark!” she cried, suddenly, “don't you hear

” children's voices? They're coming this way!” and she sprang to her feet, a great light of eagerness and love breaking out on her features. “Perhaps-perhaps one of them may be like what my little baby would have been if he had lived to grow up

. I've looked for him so long,” she added, wistfully, “all the world over, I think; but I'd never found anything like him yet ...."

She parted the boughs and looked out. Dody and Doune came dancing through the shadows hand in hand, their voices preceding them as they came. Doune was impressing on Dody

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

that the latter did not understand riddles, and therefore was not competent to propose one to their mother ; but Dody .maintained a contrary opinion, and pleaded to be given a trial, “ Though to be sure," he added, with a shout of glee, “mummy 'll never guess it!"

Suddenly the boughs were thrust aside and Hester, stepping out, ran to the startled children, and down she fell on her knees before one of them and hugged him all up together to her breast, then put him from her, gazing wildly on his features, then pushed the clustering hair from his brow, and caught one of his little hands and twined it round her neck, then dropped her brow on his soft neck, “My child," she cried in a voice of rapture, “it's my child come back to me from the dead !” Dody stretched his arms towards Madcap. “Mamma!” he

“ said, scared by Hester's wild look and feverish clutch; she loosed him and looked up, a gleam as of Heaven shining athwart her face. “Do you hear ?'' she said ; "it was not my baby that Janet drowned in the pool, eyes, lips, hair, all are my child's ; she told me a lie, but I'll forgive her, and he knows his mother.

“Mummy," cried Dody, once more struggling to escape, while Madcap fearing to permit the illusion to continue, yet dreading to awaken her from it, knelt down beside the poor distraught woman and said :

“It is not your little baby—but you shall love him as you will . ... and he will love you ..

Over Hester's face a chill look of awakening came--slowly her arm relaxed, and Dody ran to and clutched his mother's neck, while with his little soft hand he patted her cheek and kissed her fondly. “Mummy,” he said, "dear mummy. “He calls you mother, too,” said Hester slowly; “ but he is

' mine, mine-speak, or I shall go mad," she cried, seizing Madcap's arm; “is he not mine?"

“No,” said Madcap, gently; "he is my child—it is a chance resemblance that has misled you."

A chance resemblance!” cried Hester in a terrible tone, “He is either my child or my child's brother . are his mother? Oh! it is impossible ... he is mine, I say.

And who are you—what are you—that you say you are his mother ?" For a moment her eyes seemed flames that drank

up Madcap's tears of pity—“His father then-is-must be ...

.“ "My husband is Mr. Eyre,” said Madcap, feeling as though

[ocr errors]

[ocr errors]

and you

Hester's eyes beckoned her over a hideous precipice, at whose base life, love, and happiness must needs be shattered for evermore.

Neither had perceived Frank approaching with steps that devoured the distance, but at this moment he reached them, and seizing Hester by the arm, lifted her from the ground, and without a word, dragged her away.

“Poor ooman,” said Dody, looking after them; “I hope he won't hurt her. Wonder if that's the one daddy punished the other day, eh, mummy?”

“Mother," said Doune, returning from a prolonged chase after a yellow butterfly, “we've got a riddle to ask you, 'What's a cat

a ‘ got no other animal's got ?'

“Not none,” cried Dody, dancing about with delight. “Oh, she'll never guess it, not never!”

Their voices pierced her heart, she looked down at the two little upturned faces without a word; she seemed to see three, not two, and one was drowned and cold, and the father of all three was-was

“She can't guess it,” said Dody's voice, sounding in her ears as from a great way off, “ don't you see how hard she is trying, and she can't? Why, mummy, dear, kittens, to be sure !”


As to that very rare variety of truth murder, the object of which

is to save others, let casuists decide its degree of sin. “Mummy's falleded asleep!” said Dody in a tone of awe, as Madcap sank to the ground, and lay, with closed eyes, against a clump of wood sorrel no whiter than the face it partly hid : “Mustn't wake her up, eh, Doony ?”

“Of course not,” said Doune, with decision; and a bee-moth sailing by at that moment, the two boys instantly gave chase, and were led such a dance after it over hill and dale that they did not once think of their mother for a full hour. Madcap lay so still that a bird hopped upon her shoulder, and a butterfly rested for a moment in a stray sunbeam on her hair ; her ears



were as dull to the distant shouts of the children as to the footsteps then approaching her, and beneath Frank's eyes she rested unconsciously as though she were indeed wrapped in that slumber which knows no waking.

So would she look, he thought, when—when—with a groan he covered his face, for he knew that Madcap was not of those who could live on with all her idols shattered around her-


She was not made
Through years or moons the inner weight to bear,
Which colder hearts endure till they are laid
By age in earth; her days and pleasures were
Brief but delightful, such as had not stayed

Long with her destiny He folded his arms on his breast, and all the love and longing of a lifetime—all the bitter scorn and hatred of the longburied sin that had reached forth its lean talon as from the grave, to destroy the innocent, burned in his blue eyes as he stood looking down upon the still face, whose rounded beauty had taken new curves of nobility, that, alas! come suddenly to no human countenance save by the touch of death or the bitter pangs of heart-break. He would not awaken her-let her sleep on; aye, he almost wished for ever—for it could not be Madcap who would struggle back to life ; Madcap, whose step was music and whose glance was sunshine—the fulness of whose woman's life was grounded in the truth and honour of the man she loved.

How many years ago was it that he had seen her tripping over the cowslips' heads, a child playing with her children ? There had come to his mind, as he looked at her, these two verses, that had surely been written for her, and her alone :

O zun, mëake the gil cups all glitter

In goold all around her;
And ake o' the aisy's white flowers

A bed in the spring.

O light-rollen wind, blow me hither

The väice of her talkèn,
Or bring vrom her feet the light doust

She do tread in the spring.

He shivered in the warm air as she stirred, and sighed. What was he going to say to her? -how should he meet her



eyes, he asked himself, as with a long gasping breath she lifted herself, and gazed around.

I suppose that two drowning friends, shipwrecked from different points of the compass, and for a moment tossed up by the waters face to face with one another, do not in that moment either feel or express amazement or gladness at the meeting; and to Madcap it was not strange that Frank should be here—with the old resistless impulse of affection towards him that had never left her, she stretched out her hands, crying, “Oh, Frank !... Frank ! ... "

Madcap !” he said, just as simply, and kneeled down beside her; and so, for a minute, they looked in each other's pale faces, and then a sob broke from one of them: but it was not Madcap.

Why are you so sorry ? ” she said, her hand lying cold and still in his. “ Then it is true. ... I was not quite sure there are so many men in the world .... but now I know

. . and you must not be sorry for me—but for her." She drew her hand away and put it to her head, trying to remember. “Something came to my mind as my senses were slipping away,” she said. All love is lost save upon God alone. That was it. It was a strange thought to come into my head, was it not? I have been very happy. ..." She looked up wistfully at Frank, but his eyes were bent on th ground as he stood before her.

“I always said that I should die young,” she went on, in a voice as like her own as a whitethroat's song is to a blackbird's “and I was sorry ... but that was nothing. And so he stayed away so long, because .. because . . and that is why he did not ask me before he went and Lady Betty was right ... and and no doubt he loved her once," she added, below her breath, shaken out of her torpor by a sharp headlong spasm of that jealousy whose fierce pain makes à woman humble, and shows her to her own heart helpless at the feet of her master,

You love him, Madcap?” cried Frank, as one who speaks against his will.

She dropped her head on her hands. “Love him?” Ay, she loved yet-loved as we must love, as we do love for evil as for good, and the deeper the sin, so it be not against ourselves, the more closely we cling to the sinner. We loved him in his honour-shall we thrust him from us in his shame? But to the woman who has looked up all the days of her life, that moment is a terrible one when she sees her other self laid in





« AnteriorContinuar »