THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A WOMAN ALONE. [continued.] I promised her, and she rose, and, in an impatient, agitated way, waved me from her. The ordeal of my silence had commenced; the beginning of many hopes and bright visions from a roseate cloud-land had set in, to be followed by hours of deep regrets and unavailing doubts. It was the traveller, Saunders, who turned my secret joys and hopes to a grief bitter and inconsolable. He had been away some months, in lieu of weeks, and was full of spirits at the result of his travels, and the commissions he had obtained. In his horrible frankness he told me what he had earned, what business be had transacted, and how immensely he had been admired abroad by everybody—“male and female,” he added, with a wink. “ And that reminds me of the grey lady. You remember the grey lady, who was here when you came down ?”
“ Yes, I remember.” “I met her in Paris yesterday* and, of all places in the world,.'guess where?” , “ I am not handy at guessing,” I said, with a sickening feeling at my heart; “I do not care to guess.” “ At the bal masque at the Opera, then —half a dozen swells with her, and she the biggest swell of all. No more of your grey suits and simpering smiley —(s, trust her 1” “Are you sure of this ? This must be a lie, for certain.”
“Hello ! draw it mild, old fellow, please,” he cried. “ She was at the Opera —at a masquerade ?” “ I’ll swear to her—when she took her mask off, there wasn’t a doubt about it. Why, I never saw another face like
hers.” “ Nor I,” was my honest reply. “ And what beame of her ?" “ Oh, I didn’t run after her, you may be certain. It was just for a moment, and then,poof!—gone!” “ You may have been deceived.” “ I was never deceived in my life,” was the boastful reply. “I am a thundering site too cute for that.” It seemed impossible that I could place credence in this, but it impressed me,' She had disappeared from the hotel ; the waiter, whom I bribed into my confidence, told me she had left for France by the mail-boat on the very day she had implored my silence. It was so like the truth, and yet so like a dream ! I stole away from the hotel; I was afraid of the man Saunders,- and what he might tell me presently. I was haunted, and more miserable than ever. When the four days had expired I returned to Folkestone, in the cold boisterous Christmas week, and took up my place at the lighthouse where I had parted from her last. I believed she would return. In all my agonising doubts of her, I did not doubt her word. ‘ And after that, the accusation and the last farewell —the woman triumphant, perhaps, but the man no longer the dupe of his implicit trust in her. I was before my time ; and before its time also, hurled over by a fierce wind and tide, came the Channel boat. It swept in, storm-tossed and panting, and I looked down upon its drenched deck from the pier-head as if in search of her, and as if assured she would be there. And I was not mistaken. It was she, paler and more beautiful even, whose face looked at me from beneath the hood, and did not smile a recognition. By her side, and with her two hands linked upon his arm, was a tall, grey-haired man, of some fifty years : for the first time in her life she was not a woman alone to me. I shrank back; I could have slunk away for good—for ever —from her. This was the meeting, then, and this her answer. I stood by the lighthouse still. There came a second thought to me, that this could not be the end of all—that she would approach and offer some words of explanation, perhaps of comfort, to me. In my own wild theory I had faith enough yet to believe that she would come to me. And she came. With her hood thrown back, and tears brimming in her eyeS, she advanced, both hands extended to me. The tall man by whom she was accompanied stood like a sentinel in the background, some fifty paces away, as though he respected us, and would leave us to ourselves. “ Virginie,” I cried, “ you have returned—you have come back to me ! ” , . I had forgotten everything at the sight of her—at the contact of .her hands with mine. I remembered only that I loved her desperately. “Armand, I have come to ask your forgiveness, if you will give it to me, as I pray you will.” “ What does it mean ?” “ That I have deceived you, in my own selfish interests, very cruelly, and that I have only your hate to look to.” “ That man—who is he ?” “My father —an escaped prisoner from the French government, a political refugee, who stands at last where tyranny cannot touch him. I have been living here and watching here for two years in the hope of his escape. I have waited for him, oh ! so long and hopelessly, until you—” “ Your father !” I exclaimed. “ Oh, thank God ? Let me go to him. Let me—” “ No —please, no—for my sake.” “Is there another mystery?—do I know all the truth, Virginie ?” “ Not yet.” “ Ha! is it true that you were in Paris at the Opera bal masque a few nights ago ?” “ Quite true,” she answered. “ I inet my father’s friends there, and it was in that motley, dissipated crowd some earnest souls plotted his deliverance.” “ But —” “ But I was a spy, Armand, to you,” she continued. ’“ It was the knowledge that you were travelling in England that set me on your track. Orders were telegraphed to me to seek you out, to make you my friend—you, son of the minister—to deceive you. “ And,” she added, sorrowfully, “ I have done so.” “ A spy !” I echoed —“ a spy !” “ For my father’s sake, a spy. Yes, that is all I am, and all I have been, and can ever be to you. And if you will forgive me, knowing how I loved that father, and how cruelly he had been treated by his enemies—if you will only say forgiveness, I shall be happy presently.” “ You shall be happy now ; you have attained all that you strove for. Why should any words of mine be of any comfort ?” “ Because it is only you whom I have deceived, and you thought so highly of me, and had so deep a faith. Because*” she said, “ it was by that letter which you left with me that we forged your father’s signature to an order for the immediate release of one terribly unfortunate; because —” “Ha ! I remember. Yes that 7cas treachery.” “It was a daughter’s love surmounting every trust but one: because of that, forgive me, Armand, if you can.” “ I have been cruelly deceived.” “ Because I am going away to make his life content; because you I shall never see again, forgive me—do !” I was still silent. “ Because I am unhappy, even in the midst of my success ; because we part thus and for ever ; because, Armand, I —I had learned to love you very deeply at the last, and knew not what to do.” “ Virginie, is this true ?” “ Heaven be my witness that it is !” she answered, solemnly. “ Then—” “ Nay, let me go away now, forgiven by the only man I have loved—-and deceived. God bless you ! Kiss me—and good-by.” She held her face up to me like a little child, and I stooped and kissed it —sign of forgiveness, and of my strange ! love for her.
Then she tottered away, and would have fallen had I not hastened after her and supported her steps toward the grim man waiting for his daughter. He raised his hat as we approached, and she passed from me to him, and I saw her no more in all my after-life. (Concluded).
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 235, 6 January 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 235, 6 January 1881
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