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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 234, 5 January 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A WOMAN ALONE. [continued.] “ Only a dreamer, madam. I had a hope one day to my philosophy, but that is dying out.” “As fast as other dreams. Ah, they soon fade !” she muruured. She did not say any more ; it seemed almost as if she had turned from me, disappointed that her estimate of me had been incorrect. I was only one of the crowd she had taken so much pains to avoid, and there was no sympathy between us. This was a clever woman, and I was a weak fool. I had said too much, and let her see how shallow I was, and she did not care for my boy’s philosophy. I made no further effort to engage her in conversation ; my pride told me she was tired of me, and I was very quickly silent. It was only after she had withdrawn that I felt I had lost an advantage in her eyes, and that I might have said something to prove at least that I had thought a great deal. I noticed that I was regarded with some suspicion by the guests, and I knew afterward that it was the first time the young lady in grey had been seen to converse at length with any of the visitors at the hotel. I was the favored one —or the old friend lurking about in disguise, and for some hidden purpose, which they hoped to fathom presently. The next day I had made up my mind to cross the Channel and proceed but my plans were all upset by last night’s conversation. I was a man under a spell; here was the unseen, incomprehensible motive force in which I believed, and which was drawing me toward this mystery, and making this young Frenchwoman a part of my waking life. The dreams had vanished, and she was here in the foreground to ensnare or counsel me—to exercise a supernatural power over me, if she were vain fond of power, I did not own, I could not think at this time, that it was simply love for her which was affecting me. I had no belief in the love of man for woman. I would more readily place credence in my theory of mysterious attraction, which was but a heart’s deep passion under another name. I was a wealdjng boasting of my strength ; but I close upon my knowledge of the trudi; and it would soon dismay me. I did not know what havoc love .could make in a man naturally weak, and naturally anxious to be trusted.
We became friends, Virginie and I. The ice once broken between two reserved natures, each alone in a strange country, and each not one-and-twenty, and there was no fearing again of her demeanor towards me. If she did not look up to me she respected me at least, and the smile with which she met me of a morning, her readiness to converse, to speak of her family and mine, to let me by degrees learn something of her, and tell her not a little of myself, were ties to draw me closer every day. T knew that I loved her then, despite the mystery which still surrounded her,' despite the assurance to my heart that she was not telling me her whole history, and thrt there would be more to learn some day. I could not expect
implicit confidence from her, and yet. she had had entire confidence from me. I felt that I could trust her; I was only secretly pained that she could not put her faith in me. Presently she knew all my life, my ambitions, my wild theories, out of many of which she reasoned me with keen, incisive arguments that proved how much stronger and brighter this mind was than my own. She was my junior by eighteen months, but I was like a child in the hands of its mother when she took me to task and railed at my speculations. “ You are very weak, Armand,” she said to me one day, and with so pitying a look in her eyes that I winced under it.” “ I could wish, for your sake, that you were a stronger-minded man.” “ You think 1 am easily led away, then ? ”
“ I hardly know what to think of you,” she said, sadly, “or what —” “ Well ?” I asked, as she paused. “ —or what will become of you,” she added. “ Without jou?” I said, impulsively. “Ah ! I don’t know now.”’ She colored. She had not been prepared for so hasty an outburst of my feelings. I was not prepared myself. The very misery of ray tone of voice perhaps convinced her for the first time of the deep love I had for her. She was surprised, and for a moment abashed. She knew my secret now, and was too wise to seem wholly to misinterpret it. She was above so womanly an affectation. We were sitting at the pier-head together waiting for the Channel boat’s arrival. It was wintry weather, and no one was abroad that day but ourselves. The wind was coming fiercely across the sea, and the clouds were threatening rain. The holiday visitors had all flown homeward, and there was only life and bustle in the little harbor beyond, and two strange hearts trying perhaps to understand each other here, and one failing very miserably. “ You will soon be going home for good now ?” she said, after an awkward silence. “ I fancy even that your friends are growing anxious.” “ What makes you think this ?” I asked, quickly. “ Letters come more frequently to you, and you are sad after their perusal.” “Just as if I did not care to return to the home to which I am summoned,” I added, with a forced laugh. “ And that is true, too.” “Yes, quite true.” I answered, “and you know it.” She regaided me very steadily now, and looked no longer away. The crisis had come, and she was prepared for it.
“ Because you leave me here, and after a fashion ” —she shivered as with the northern blast —“ we have become friends.”
“ Ah, you speak bitterly,” I cried, “ but God knows you are a friend that is very dear to me. To lose you is to submerge my whole life, which I would rather part with than say goodbye.” “ Why this is the raving of a man on the stage, Armand,” said she, warmlj, “and Twill beg of you to cease.” “ Oh, I know you don’t care for me ; that lam never likely to be more in your estimation than a madman and a misanthrope; that we are not even suited for each other; but,” I added, “ I can’t help loving you, or saying so, any more than I can help breathing. It is the plain truth, and you may as well know it, Virginie.”
She looked at me with the same steady, pitying look. “ I am sorry to hear it.”
“ And it is no news to you,” I added. “ I may have feared that this was to be the end offriendship born in hours of idleness together, and I would have stopped it, if I could, w-eeks ago. But a woman is powerless.” “ Not always.” “ I have been waiting for you to speak,” she added, frankly, and for me to end this folly. I am glad it has come thus early, for both our sakes. You will forget me, possibly hate me, all the sfinaSk.” I sawjHP tears in her eyes before she dasfflVf them away with a quick hand.
“ Virginie ! —hate you ?” “ Love repulsed turns quickly to hate, it is said, and it will be natural on your part. If not now, presently.”
“ Impossible.” “ I don’t know,” she answered, very thoughtfully. “ Your self-love is wounded when I tell you it is hopeless that I can think of you as one dear to me in any way, or as one even with whom I shall be sorry to part.” “ Ah, don’t say that ! Spare me a little.”
“ Not sorry, because I am sure it is for the best. What would your fatter say to such a mesalliance as you have had in your thoughts ? What would he, a French officer and gentleman, think of it— a power in the Senate, a minister of state ? Have you not told me more than once how proud he is ? and is there not that about my I'fe which is not to be explained ?” She spoke fearlessly now, but she was startled by my answer. Prepared for many eccentricities on my part, she was not prepared for this. “My father is proud, but he loves his son,” I said ; “here is his answer to your question.”
“His answer ?” she cried in her amazement.
“ I have no secrets from him. I wrote and told him all there was in my heart,” I said. I spoke of my love for you, and of the one chance of peace and happiness which it afforded me.”
“ This was unwise, before you knew or thought—” “ Read his letter, Virginia, and see what he says for himself and—for me.” I put my father’s letter into her hands, which trembled very much as she received it ; the face was of a new pallor also, and the fresh young lips were quivering as with a grief or pain. Her emotion gave me a new hope, and my heart bounded at once from the depth of despair.
I watched her read the letter. I had a strong faith in its contents impressing her. It was the epistle of a loving father to an only son—of a man who was very anxious for his son’s welfare, and had been for years terribly solicitous concerning him. “ I shall only be too happy to see you united to a lady well educated, well born, and amiable,” he wrote. “ I can
krtow of na.bar to such a union, and I , have pot a; > word to urge against it. Strange as you are, Armand, I think I can trust your judgment in this matter and I believe you are not the man to have set your affection on this lady hastily, and -without fair reflection. More, I believe in her as you do your- ■ self. You give me no particulars of her family. Ask her, should she favor your suit, in due course of time, to put me in communication with herparents, and' let us all meet together fMf happy hearts,” . ■ U T (Y'f There was more than rfiis, news of ‘ home and of- old-friends,- but4feef r epßtte*“? returned to my love for Vjrgi#iis:tgai»iA “ Bring her to us at Paris, have gone for a holiday. She be welcome,” were his last'words. ' ‘ '. Virginia read the letter ihd jA by degrees was firm arid cahn again. “ Yes, this is a trusting father;” ‘ &e| murmured; “and I have, thought him cruel arid exacting—oll6,” she added, quickly, “ who by . bis r austerity and want of sympathy with you had driven you from home. See how easy it is to judge, and judge falsely.” “You thought this of my Tather, Virginia?” “ Yes. You were a man so ill-tfairied and wild,” she answered, “ that your youth had been uncared for, orxared for too much, I felt assured. But what would he think of me?. You have, not told him that I am alone here, to many an object of suspicion, -and to many more incomprehensible. lam a wtoman f alone ; and there is always a doubti over such an anomaly, and the world has a right to be wary of her.” : spoke indignantly • now, and bent th® letter I had given her in the ■ paltry L of her gloved hand. ,v : . - “ But you can defy the world, 1 There .r is no mystery which you cannot: clear;; There is—”
“ There is nothing but resignation tti my position,” said Virginte. “I cannot defy the world, and it is beyond my. ■ power to explain.” _ v “ I ask for no explanation; I willfbel ) content with you,” I cried. “Give me only a hope to win, you* anjl iysh|& care for nothing else.” “That is romance,’ and we are in a r prosaic world, Armand. Still;”' she “ added, after a pause, .“T thank you,for| all your faith in me : it is far more than-«-I deserve.” - -
“ And you will—” . v ; “ I will think again,” she added, with , the old puzzled, pitying look returning: to her face. “ Give, me four days- toT consider everything. Leave tne this •. letter to offer me some strength even — your father’s words of faith in the woman his son loves—and meet .me beta r four days hence, in the Christmas week • approaching; Will you?” ; I' “ Will I?” I cried. “ with what b hope and with what prayers will I wait ,1 And meanwhile—”
“Meanwhile leave me to Don’t watch me,” she added, jvitli a new and terrified look, “'fat' I am afraid of you and of my own strength, and am desperately unhappy. I may remain here, I may disappear, but do not say a word to me again until we meet in this place. '. J (7 o be continued. ) ~~
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 234, 5 January 1881
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