A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 42.

It was twilight when I entered, unannounced (as had been my wont in our familiar intercourse), the quiet sitting-room in which I expected to find mother and child. But Lilian was there alone, seated by the open window, her hands crossed and drooping on her knee, her eye fixed upon the darkening summer skies, in which the evening star had just stolen forth, bright and steadfast, near the pale sickle of a half-moon that was dimly visible, but gave as yet no light.

Let any lover imagine the reception he would expect to meet from his betrothed coming into her presence after he had passed triumphant through a terrible peril to life and fame — and conceive what ice froze my blood, what anguish weighed down my heart, when Lilian, turning towards me, rose not, spoke not, gazed at me heedlessly as if at some indifferent stranger — and — and — But no matter. I cannot bear to recall it even now, at the distance of years! I sat down beside her, and took her hand, without pressing it; it rested languidly, passively in mine, one moment; I dropped it then, with a bitter sigh.

“Lilian,” I said quietly, “you love me no longer. Is it not so?”

She raised her eyes to mine, looked at me wistfully, and pressed her hand on her forehead; then said, in a strange voice, “Did I ever love you? What do you mean?”

“Lilian, Lilian, rouse yourself; are you not, while you speak, under some spell, some influence which you cannot describe nor account for?”

She paused a moment before she answered, calmly, “No! Again I ask what do you mean?”

“What do I mean? Do you forget that we are betrothed? Do you forget how often, and how recently, our vows of affection and constancy have been exchanged?”

“No, I do not forget; but I must have deceived you and myself —”

“It is true, then, that you love me no more?”

“I suppose so.”

“But, oh, Lilian, is it that your heart is only closed to me; or is it — oh, answer truthfully — is it given to another — to him — to him — against whom I warned you, whom I implored you not to receive? Tell me, at least, that your love is not gone to Margrave —”

“To him! love to him! Oh, no — no —”

“What, then, is your feeling towards him?”

Lilian’s face grew visibly paler, even in that dim light. “I know not,” she said, almost in a whisper; “but it is partly awe — partly —”

“What?”

“Abhorrence!” she said almost fiercely, and rose to her feet, with a wild defying start.

“If that be so,” I said gently, “you would not grieve were you never again to see him —”

“But I shall see him again,” she murmured in a tone of weary sadness, and sank back once more into her chair.

“I think not,” said I, “and I hope not. And now hear me and heed me, Lilian. It is enough for me, no matter what your feelings towards another, to learn from yourself that the affection you once professed for me is gone. I release you from your troth. If folks ask why we two henceforth separate the lives we had agreed to join, you may say, if you please, that you could not give your hand to a man who had known the taint of a felon’s prison, even on a false charge. If that seems to you an ungenerous reason, we will leave it to your mother to find a better. Farewell! For your own sake I can yet feel happiness — happiness to hear that you do not love the man against whom I warn you still more solemnly than before! Will you not give me your hand in parting — and have I not spoken your own wish?”

She turned away her face, and resigned her hand to me in silence. Silently I held it in mine, and my emotions nearly stifled me. One symptom of regret, of reluctance, on her part, and I should have fallen at her feet, and cried, “Do not let us break a tie which our vows should have made indisoluble; heed not my offers, wrung from a tortured heart! You cannot have ceased to love me!” But no such symptom of relenting showed itself in her, and with a groan I left the room.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31