Two Years Ago, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter xxvii.

A Recent Explosion in an Ancient Crater.

It is, perhaps, a pity for the human race in general, that some enterprising company cannot buy up the Moselle (not the wine, but the river), cut it into five-mile lengths, and distribute them over Europe, wherever there is a demand for lovely scenery. For lovely is its proper epithet; it is not grand, not exciting — so much the better; it is scenery to live and die in; scenery to settle in, and study a single landscape, till you know every rock, and walnut-tree, and vine-leaf by heart: not merely to run through in one hasty steam-trip, as you now do, in a long burning day, which makes you not “drunk”— but weary —“with excess of beauty.” Besides, there are two or three points so superior to the rest, that having seen them, one cares to see nothing more. That paradise of emerald, purple, and azure, which opens behind Treis; and that strange heap of old-world houses at Berncastle, which have scrambled up to the top of a rock to stare at the steamer, and have never been able to get down again — between them, and after them, one feels like a child who, after a great mouthful of pine-apple jam, is condemned to have poured down its throat an everlasting stream of treacle.

So thought Stangrave on board the steamer, as he smoked his way up the shallows, and wondered which turn of the river would bring him to his destination. When would it all be over? And he never leaped on shore more joyfully than he did at Alf that afternoon, to jump into a carriage, and trundle up the gorge of the Issbach some six lonely weary miles, till he turned at last into the wooded caldron of the Romer-kessel, and saw the little chapel crowning the central knoll, with the white high-roofed houses of Bertrich nestling at its foot.

He drives up to the handsome old Kurhaus, nestling close beneath heather-clad rocks, upon its lawn shaded with huge horse-chestnuts, and set round with dahlias, and geraniums, and delicate tinted German stocks, which fill the air with fragrance; a place made only for young lovers:— certainly not for those black, petticoated worthies, each with that sham of a sham, the modern tonsure, pared down to a poor florin’s breadth among their bushy, well-oiled curls, who sit at little tables, passing the lazy day “à muguetter les bourgeoises” of Sarrebruck and Treves, and sipping the fragrant Josephshofer — perhaps at the good bourgeois’ expense.

Past them Stangrave slips angrily; for that “development of humanity” can find no favour in his eyes; being not human at all, but professedly superhuman, and therefore, practically, sometimes inhuman.

He hurries into the public room; seizes on the visitor’s book.

The names are there, in their own handwriting: but where are they?

Waiters are seized and questioned. The English ladies came back last night, and are gone this afternoon.

“Where are they gone?”

Nobody recollects: not even the man from whom they hired the carriage. But they are not gone far. Their servants and their luggage are still here. Perhaps the Herr Ober–Badmeister, Lieutenant D—— will know. “Oh, it will not trouble him. An English gentleman? Der Herr Lieutenant will be only too happy;” and in ten minutes der Herr Lieutenant appears, really only too happy; and Stangrave finds himself at once in the company of a soldier and a gentleman. Had their acquaintance been a longer one, he would have recognised likewise the man of taste and of piety.

“I can well appreciate, sir,” says he, in return to Stangrave’s anxious inquiries, “your impatience to rejoin your lovely countrywomen, who have been for the last three weeks the wonder and admiration of our little paradise; and whose four days’ absence was regarded, believe me, as a public calamity.”

“I can well believe it; but they are not countrywomen of mine. The one lady is an Englishwoman; the other — I believe — an Italian.”

“And der Herr?”

“An American.”

“Ah! A still greater pleasure, sir. I trust that you will carry back across the Atlantic a good report of a spot all but unknown, I fear, to your compatriots. You will meet one, I think, on the return of the ladies.”

“A compatriot?”

“Yes. A gentleman who arrived here this morning, and who seemed, from his conversation with them, to belong to your noble fatherland. He went out driving with them this afternoon, whither I unfortunately know not. Ah! good Saint Nicholas! — For though I am a Lutheran, I must invoke him now — Look out yonder!”

Stangrave looked, and joined in the general laugh of lieutenant, waiters, priests, and bourgeoises.

For under the chestnuts strutted, like him in Struwelpeter, as though he were a very king of Ashantee, Sabina’s black boy, who had taken to himself a scarlet umbrella, and a great cigar; while after him came, also like them in Struwelpeter, Caspar, bretzel in hand, and Ludwig with his hoop, and all the naughty boys of Bertrich town, hooting and singing in chorus, after the fashion of German children.

The resemblance to the well-known scene in the German child’s book was perfect, and as the children shouted —

“Ein kohlpechrabenschwarzer Mohr,

Die Sonne schien ihm ins gehirn,

Da nahm er seinen Sonnenschirm”—

more than one grown person joined therein.

Stangrave longed to catch hold of the boy, and extract from him all news; but the blackamoor was not quite in respectable company enough at that moment; and Stangrave had to wait till he strutted proudly up to the door, and entered the hall with a bland smile, evidently having taken the hooting as a homage to his personal appearance.

“Ah? Mas’ Stangrave? glad see you, sir! Quite a party of us, now, ‘mong dese ‘barian heathen foreigners. Mas’ Thurnall he come dis mornin’; gone up picken’ bush wid de ladies. He! he! Not seen him dis tree year afore.”

“Thurnall!” Stangrave’s heart sank within him. His first impulse was to order a carriage, and return whence he came; but it would look so odd, and, moreover, be so foolish, that he made up his mind to stay and face the worst. So he swallowed a hasty dinner, and then wandered up the narrow valley, with all his suspicions of Thurnall and Marie seething more fiercely than ever in his heart.

Some half-mile up, a path led out of the main road to a wooden bridge across the stream. He followed it, careless whither he went; and in five minutes found himself in the quaintest little woodland cavern he ever had seen.

It was simply a great block of black lava, crowned with brushwood, and supported on walls and pillars of Dutch cheeses, or what should have been Dutch cheeses by all laws of shape and colour, had not his fingers proved to them that they were stone. How they got there, and what they were, puzzled him; for he was no geologist; and finding a bench inside, he sat down and speculated thereon.

There was more than one doorway to the “Cheese Cellar.” It stood beneath a jutting knoll, and the path ran right through; so that, as he sat, he could see up a narrow gorge to his left, roofed in with trees; and down into the main valley on his right, where the Issbach glittered clear and smooth beneath red-berried mountain-ash and yellow leaves.

There he sat, and tried to forget Marie in the tinkling of the streams, and the sighing of the autumn leaves, and the cooing of the sleepy doves; while the ice-bird, as the Germans call the water-ouzel, sat on a rock in the river below, and warbled his low sweet song, and then flitted up the grassy reach to perch and sing again on the next rock above.

And, whether, it was that he did forget Marie awhile; or whether he were tired, as he well might have been; or whether he had too rapidly consumed his bottle of red Walporzheimer, forgetful that it alone of German wines combines the delicacy of the Rhine sun with the potency of its Burgundian vinestock, transplanted to the Ahr by Charlemagne; — whether it were any of these causes, or whether it were not, Stangrave fell fast asleep in the Kaise-kellar, and slept till it was dark, at the risk of catching a great cold.

How long he slept he knew not: but what wakened him he knew full well. Voices of people approaching; and voices which he recognised in a moment.

Sabina? Yes; and Marie too, laughing merrily; and among their shriller tones the voice of Thurnall. He had not heard it for years; but, considering the circumstances under which he had last heard it, there was no fear of his forgetting it again.

They came down the side-glen; and before he could rise, they had turned the sharp corner of the rock, and were in the Kaise-kellar, close to him, almost touching him. He felt the awkwardness of his position. To keep still was, perhaps, to overhear, and that too much. To discover himself was to produce a scene; and he could not trust his temper that the scene would not be an ugly one, and such as women must not witness.

He was relieved to find that they did not stop. They were laughing about the gloom; about being out so late.

“How jealous some one whom I know would be,” said Sabina, “if he found you and Tom together in this darksome den!”

“I don’t care,” said Tom; “I have made up my mind to shoot him out of hand, and marry Marie myself. Sha’n’t I now, my —” and they passed on; and down to their carriage, which had been waiting for them in the road below.

What Marie’s answer was, or by what name Thurnall was about to address her, Stangrave did not hear: but he had heard quite enough.

He rose quietly after a while, and followed them.

He was a dupe, an ass! The dupe of those bad women, and of his ancient enemy! It was maddening! Yet, how could Sabina be in fault? She had not known Marie till he himself had introduced her; and he could not believe her capable of such baseness. The crime must lie between the other two. Yet —

However that might be mattered little to him now. He would return, order his carriage once more, and depart, shaking off the dust of his feet against them! “Pah! There were other women in the world; and women, too, who would not demand of him to become a hero.”

He reached the Kurhaus, and went in; but not into the public room, for fear of meeting people whom he had no heart to face.

He was in the passage, in the act of settling his account with the waiter, when Thurnall came hastily out, and ran against him.

Stangrave stood by the passage lamp, so that he saw Tom’s face at once.

Tom drew back; begged a thousand pardons; and saw Stangrave’s face in turn.

The two men looked at each other for a few seconds. Stangrave longed to say, “You intend to shoot me? Then try at once;” but he was ashamed, of course, to make use of words which he had so accidentally overheard.

Tom looked carefully at Stangrave, to divine his temper from his countenance. It was quite angry enough to give Tom excuse for saying to himself —

“The fellow is mad at being caught at last. Very well.”

“I think, sir,” said he, quietly enough, “that you and I had better walk outside for a few minutes. Allow me to retract the apology I just made, till we have had some very explicit conversation on other matters.”

“Curse his impudence!” thought Stangrave. “Does he actually mean to bully me into marrying her?” and he replied haughtily enough —

“I am aware of no matters on which I am inclined to be explicit with Mr. Thurnall, or on which Mr. Thurnall has a right to be explicit with me.”

“I am, then,” quoth Tom, his suspicion increasing in turn. “Do you wish, sir, to have a scene before this waiter and the whole house, or will you be so kind as to walk outside with me?”

“I must decline, sir; not being in the habit of holding intercourse with an actress’s bully.”

Tom did not knock him down: but replied smilingly enough —

“I am far too much in earnest in this matter, sir, to be stopped by any coarse expressions. Waiter, you may go. Now, will you fight me to-morrow morning, or will you not?”

“I may fight a gentleman: but not you.”

“Well, I shall not call you a coward, because I know that you are none; and I shall not make a row here, for a gentleman’s reasons, which you, calling yourself a gentleman, seem to have forgotten. But this I will do; I will follow you till you do fight me, if I have to throw up my own prospects in life for it. I will proclaim you, wherever we meet, for what you are — a mean and base intriguer; I will insult you in Kursaals, and cane you on public places; I will be Frankenstein’s man to you day and night, till I have avenged the wrongs of this poor girl, the dust of whose feet you are not worthy to kiss off.”

Stangrave was surprised at his tone. It was certainly not that of a conscious villain: but he only replied sneeringly —

“And pray what may give Mr. Thurnall the right to consider himself the destined avenger of this frail beauty’s wrongs?”

“I will tell you that after we have fought; and somewhat more. Meanwhile, that expression, ‘frail beauty,’ is a fresh offence, for which I should certainly cane you, if she were not in the house.”

“Well,” drawled Stangrave, feigning an ostentatious yawn, “I believe the wise method of ridding oneself of impertinents is to grant their requests. Have you pistols? I have none.”

“I have both duellers and revolvers at your service.”

“Ah? I think we’ll try the revolvers then,” said Stangrave, savage from despair, and disbelief in all human goodness. “After what has passed, five or six shots apiece will be hardly outré.”

“Hardly, I think,” said Tom. “Will you name your second’?”

“I know no one. I have not been here two hours; but I suppose they do not matter much.”

“Humph! it is as well to have witnesses in case of accident. There are a couple of roystering Burschen in the public room, who, I think, would enjoy the office. Both have scars on their faces, so they will be au fait at the thing. Shall I have the honour of sending one of them to you?”

“As you will, sir; my number is 34.” And the two fools turned on their respective heels, and walked off.

At sunrise next morning Tom and his second are standing on the Falkenhohe, at the edge of the vast circular pit, blasted out by some explosion which has torn the slate into mere dust and shivers, now covered with a thin coat of turf.

“Schöne aussicht!” says the Bursch, waving his hand round, in a tone which is benevolently meant to withdraw Tom’s mind from painful considerations.

“Very pretty prospect indeed. You’re sure you understand that revolver thoroughly?”

The Bursch mutters to himself something about English nonchalance, and assures Thurnall that he is competently acquainted with the weapon; as indeed he ought to be; for having never seen one before, he has been talking and thinking of nothing else since they left Bertrich.

And why does not Tom care to look at the prospect? Certainly not because he is afraid. He slept as soundly as ever last night; and knows not what fear means. But somehow, the glorious view reminds him of another glorious view, which he saw last summer walking by Grace Harvey’s side from Tolchard’s farm. And that subject he will sternly put away. He is not sure but what it might unman even him.

The likeness certainly exists; for the rock, being the same in both places, has taken the same general form; and the wanderer in Rhine–Prussia and Nassau might often fancy himself in Devon or Cornwall. True, here there is no sea: and there no Moselkopf raises its huge crater-cone far above the uplands, all golden in the level sun. But that brown Tannus far away, or that brown Hundsruck opposite, with its deep-wooded gorges barred with level gleams of light across black gulfs of shade, might well be Dartmoor, or Carcarrow moor itself, high over Aberalva town, which he will see no more. True, in Cornwall there would be no slag-cliffs of the Falkenley beneath his feet, as black and blasted at this day as when yon orchard meadow was the mouth of hell, and the south-west wind dashed the great flame against the cinder cliff behind, and forged it into walls of time-defying glass. But that might well be Alva stream, that Issbach in its green gulf far below, winding along toward the green gulf of the Moselle — he will look at it no more, lest he see Grace herself come to him across the down, to chide him, with sacred horror, for the dark deed which he has come to do.

And yet he does not wish to kill Stangrave. He would like to “wing him.” He must punish him for his conduct to Marie; punish him for last night’s insult. It is a necessity, but a disagreeable one; he would be sorry to go to the war with that man’s blood upon his hand. He is sorry that he is out of practice.

“A year ago I could have counted on hitting him where I liked. I trust I shall not blunder against his vitals now. However, if I do, he has himself to blame!”

The thought that Stangrave may kill him never crosses his mind. Of course, out of six shots, fired at all distances from forty paces to fifteen, one may hit him: but as for being killed! . . .

Tom’s heart is hardened; melted again and again this summer for a moment, only to freeze again. He all but believes that he bears a charmed life. All the miraculous escapes of his past years, instead of making him believe in a living, guiding, protecting Father, have become to that proud hard heart the excuse for a deliberate, though unconscious, atheism. His fall is surely near.

At last Stangrave and his second appear. Stangrave is haggard, not from fear, but from misery, and rage, and self-condemnation. This is the end of all his fine resolves! Pah! what use in them? What use in being a martyr in this world? All men are liars, and all women too!

Tom and Stangrave stand a little apart from each other, while one of the seconds paced the distance. He steps out away from them, across the crater floor, carrying Tom’s revolver in his hand, till he reaches the required point, and turns.

He turns: but not to come back. Without a gesture or an exclamation which could explain his proceedings, he faces about once more, and rushes up the slope as hard as legs and wind permitted.

Tom is confounded with astonishment: either the Bursch is seized with terror at the whole business, or he covets the much-admired revolver; in either case, he is making off with it before the owner’s eyes.

“Stop! Hillo! Stop thief! He’s got my pistol!” and away goes Thurnall in chase after the Bursch, who, never looking behind, never sees that he is followed: while Stangrave and the second Bursch look on with wide eyes.

Now the Bursch is a “gymnast,” and a capital runner; and so is Tom likewise; and brilliant is the race upon the Falkenhohe. But the victory, after a while, becomes altogether a question of wind; for it was all up-hill. The crater, being one of “explosion, and not of elevation,” as the geologists would say, does not slope downward again, save on one side, from its outer lip: and Tom and the Bursch were breasting a fair hill, after they had emerged from the “kessel” below.

Now, the Bursch had had too much Thronerhofberger the night before; and possibly, as Burschen will in their vacations, the night before that also; whereby his diaphragm surrendered at discretion, while his heels were yet unconquered; and he suddenly felt a strong gripe, and a stronger kick, which rolled him over on the turf.

The hapless youth, who fancied himself alone upon the mountain tops, roared mere incoherences; and Tom, too angry to listen, and too hurried to punish, tore the revolver out of his grasp; whereon one barrel exploded —

“I have done it now!”

No: the ball had luckily buried itself in the ground.

Tom turned, to rush down hill again, and meet the impatient Stangrave.

Crack — whing — g — g!

“A bullet!”

Yes! And, prodigy on prodigy, up the hill towards him charged, as he would upon a whole army, a Prussian gendarme, with bayonet fixed.

Tom sat down upon the mountain-side, and burst into inextinguishable laughter, while the gendarme came charging up, right toward his very nose.

But up to his nose he charged not; for his wind was short, and the noise of his roaring went before him. Moreover, he knew that Tom had a revolver, and was a “mad Englishman.” Now, he was not afraid of Tom, or of a whole army: but he was a man of drills and of orders, of rules and of precedents, as a Prussian gendarme ought to be; and for the modes of attacking infantry, cavalry, and artillery, man, woman, and child, thief and poacher, stray pig, or even stray wolf, he had drill and orders sufficient: but for attacking a Colt’s revolver, none.

Moreover, for arresting all manner of riotous Burschen, drunken boors, French red Republicans, Mazzini-hatted Italian refugees, suspect Polish incendiaries, or other feras naturse, he had precedent and regulation: but for arresting a mad Englishman, none. He held fully the opinion of his superiors, that there was no saying what an Englishman might not, could not, and would not do. He was a sphinx, a chimera, a lunatic broke loose, who took unintelligible delight in getting wet, and dirty, and tired, and starved, and all but lolled; and called the same “taking exercise:” who would see everything that nobody ever cared to see, and who knew mysteriously everything about everywhere; whose deeds were like his opinions, utterly subversive of all constituted order in heaven and earth; being, probably, the inhabitant of another planet; possibly the man in the moon himself, who had been turned out, having made his native satellite too hot to hold him. All that was to be done with him was to inquire whether his passport was correct, and then (with a due regard to self-preservation) to endure his vagaries in pitying wonder.

So the gendarme paused panting; and not daring to approach, walked slowly and solemnly round Tom, keeping the point of his bayonet carefully towards him, and roaring at intervals —

“You have murdered the young man!”

“But I have not!” said Tom. “Look and see.”

“But I saw him fall!”

“But he has got up again, and run away.”

“So! Then where is your passport?”

That one other fact cognisable by the mind of a Prussian gendarme, remained as an anchor for his brains under the new and trying circumstances, and he used it. “Here!” quoth Tom, pulling it out.

The gendarme stepped cautiously forward.

“Don’t be frightened. I’ll stick it on your bayonet-point;” and suiting the action to the word, Tom caught the bayonet-point, put the passport on it, and pulled out his cigar-case.

“Mad Englishman!” murmured the gendarme. “So! The passport is correct. But der Herr must consider himself under arrest. Der Herr will give up his death-instrument.”

“By all means,” says Tom: and gives up the revolver.

The gendarme takes it very cautiously; meditates awhile how to carry it; sticks the point of his bayonet into its muzzle, and lifts it aloft.

“Schon! Das kriegt! Has der Herr any more death-instruments?”

“Dozens!” says Tom, and begins fumbling in his pockets; from whence he pulls a case of surgical instruments, another of mathematical ones, another of lancets, and a knife with innumerable blades, saws, and pickers, every one of which he opens carefully, and then spreads the whole fearful array upon the grass before him.

The gendarme scratches his head over those too plain proofs of some tremendous conspiracy.

“So! Man must have a dozen hands! He is surely Palmerston himself; or at least Hecker, or Mazzini!” murmurs he, as he meditates how to stow them all.

He thinks now that the revolver may be safe elsewhere; and that the knife will do best on the bayonet-point So he unships the revolver.

Bang goes barrel number two, and the ball goes into the turf between his feet.

“You will shoot yourself soon, at that rate,” says Tom.

“So? Der Herr speaks German like a native,” says the gendarme, growing complimentary in his perplexity. “Perhaps der Herr would be so good as to carry his death-instruments himself, and attend on the Herr Polizeirath, who is waiting to see him.”

“By all means!” And Tom picks up his tackle, while the prudent gendarme reloads; and Tom marches down the hill, the gendarme following, with his bayonet disagreeably near the small of Tom’s back.

“Don’t stumble! Look out for the stones, or you’ll have that skewer through me!”

“So! Der Herr speaks German like a native,” says the gendarme, civilly. “It is certainly der Palmerston,” thinks he, “his manners are so polite.”

Once at the crater edge, and able to see into the pit, the mystery is, in part at least, explained: for there stand not only Stangrave and Bursch number two, but a second gendarme, two elderly gentlemen, two ladies, and a black boy.

One is Lieutenant D— — by his white moustache. He is lecturing the Bursch, who looks sufficiently foolish. The other is a portly and awful-looking personage in uniform, evidently the Polizeirath of those parts, armed with the just terrors of the law: but Justice has, if not her eyes bandaged, at least her hands tied; for on his arm hangs Sabina, smiling, chatting, entreating. The Polizeirath smiles, bows, ogles, evidently a willing captive. Venus had disarmed Rhadamanthus, as she has Mars so often; and the sword of Justice must rust in its scabbard.

Some distance behind them is Stangrave, talking in a low voice, earnestly, passionately — to whom but to Marie?

And lastly, opposite each other, and like two dogs who are uncertain whether to make friends or fight, are a gendarme and Sabina’s black boy: the gendarme, with shouldered musket, is trying to look as stiff and cross as possible, being scandalised by his superior officer’s defection from the path of duty; and still more by the irreverence of the black boy, who is dancing, grinning, snapping his fingers, in delight at having discovered and prevented the coming tragedy.

Tom descends, bowing courteously, apologises for having been absent when the highly distinguished gentleman arrived; and turning to the Bursch, begs him to transmit to his friend who has run away his apologies for the absurd mistake which led him to, etc. etc.

The Polizeirath looks at him with much the same blank astonishment as the gendarme had done; and at last ends by lifting up his hands, and bursting into an enormous German laugh; and no one on earth can laugh as a German can, so genially and lovingly, and with such intense self-enjoyment.

“Oh, you English! you English! You are all mad, I think! Nothing can shame you, and nothing can frighten you! Potz! I believe when your Guards at Alma walked into that battery the other day, every one of them was whistling your Jim Crow, even after he was shot dead!” And the jolly Polizeirath laughed at his own joke, till the mountain rang. “But you must leave the country, sir; indeed you must. We cannot permit such conduct here — I am very sorry.”

“I entreat you not to apologise, sir. In any case, I was going to Alf by eight o’clock, to meet the steamer for Treves. I am on my way to the war in the East, viâ Marseilles. If you would, therefore, be so kind as to allow the gendarme to return me that second revolver, which also belongs to me —”

“Give him his pistol!” shouted the magistrate.

“Potz! Let us be rid of him at any cost, and live in peace, like honest Germans. Ah, poor Queen Victoria! What a lot! To have the government of five-and-twenty million such!”

“Not five-and-twenty millions,” says Sabina.

“That would include the ladies; and we are not mad too, surely, your Excellency?”

The Polizeirath likes to be called your Excellency, of course, or any other mighty title which does or does not belong to him; and that Sabina knows full well.

“Ah, my dear madam, how do I know that? The English ladies do every day here what no other dames would dare or dream — what then, must you be at home? Ach! your poor husbands!”

“Mr. Thurnall!” calls Marie, from behind. “Mr. Thurnall!”

Tom comes, with a quaint, dogged smile on his face.

“You see him, Mr. Stangrave! You see the man who risked for me liberty, life — who rescued me from slavery, shame, suicide — who was to me a brother, a father, for years! — without whose disinterested heroism you would never have set eyes on the face which you pretend to love. And you repay him by suspicion — insult — Apologise to him, sir! Ask his pardon now, here, utterly, humbly: or never speak to Marie Lavington again!”

Tom looked first at her, and then at Stangrave. Marie was convulsed with excitement; her thin cheeks were crimson, her eyes flashed very flame. Stangrave was pale — calm outwardly, but evidently not within. He was looking on the ground, in thought so intense that he hardly seemed to hear Marie. Poor fellow! he had heard enough in the last ten minutes to bewilder any brain.

At last he seemed to have strung himself for an effort, and spoke, without looking up.

“Mr. Thurnall!”

“Sir?”

“I have done you a great wrong!”

“We will say no more about it, sir. It was a mistake, and I do not wish to complicate the question. My true ground of quarrel with you is your conduct to Miss Lavington. She seems to have told you her true name, so I shall call her by it.”

“What I have done, I have undone!” said Stangrave, looking up. “If I have wronged her, I have offered to right her; if I have left her, I have sought her again; and if I left her when I knew nothing, now that I know all, I ask her here, before you, to become my wife!”

Tom looked inquiringly at Marie.

“Yes; I have told him all — all?” and she hid her face in her hands.

“Well,” said Tom, “Mr. Stangrave is a very enviable person; and the match in a worldly point of view, is a most fortunate one for Miss Lavington; and that stupid rascal of a gendarme has broken my revolver.”

“But I have not accepted him,” cried Marie; “and I will not unless you give me leave.”

Tom saw Stangrave’s brow lower, and pardonably enough, at this.

“My dear Miss Lavington, as I have never been able to settle my own love affairs satisfactorily to myself, I do not feel at all competent to settle other people’s. Good-bye! I shall be late for the steamer.” And, bowing to Stangrave and Marie, he turned to go.

“Sabina! Stop him!” cried she; “he is going, without even a kind word!”

“Sabina,” whispered Tom as he passed her — “a had business — selfish coxcomb; when her beauty goes, won’t stand her temper and her flightiness: but I know you and Claude will take care of the poor thing, if anything happens to me.”

“You’re wrong — prejudiced — indeed!”

“Tut, tut, tut! — Good-bye, you sweet little sunbeam. Good morning, gentlemen!”

And Tom hurried up the slope and out of sight, while Marie burst into an agony of weeping.

“Gone, without a kind word!”

Stangrave bit his lip, not in anger, but in manly self-reproach.

“It is my fault, Marie! my fault! He knew me too well of old, and had too much reason to despise me! But he shall have reason no longer. He will come back, and find me worthy of you; and all will be forgotten. Again I say it, I accept your quest, for life and death. So help me God above, as I will not fail or falter, till I have won justice for you and for your race! Marie?”

He conquered: how could he but conquer! for he was man, and she was woman; and he looked more noble in her eyes, while he was confessing his past weakness, than he had ever done in his proud assertion of strength.

But she spoke no word in answer. She let him take her hand, pass her arm through his, and lead her away, as one who had a right.

They walked down the hill behind the rest of the party, blest, but silent and pensive; he with the weight of the future, she with that of the past.

“It is very wonderful,” she said at last. “Wonderful . . . that you can care for me. . . . Oh, if I had known how noble you were, I should have told you all at once.”

“Perhaps I should have been as ignoble as ever,” said Stangrave, “if that young English Viscount had not put me on my mettle by his own nobleness.”

“No! no! Do not belie yourself. You know what he does not; — what I would have died sooner than tell him.”

Stangrave drew the arm closer through his, and clasped the hand. Marie did not withdraw it.

“Wonderful, wonderful love!” she said quite humbly. Her theatric passionateness had passed; —

“Nothing was left of her,

Now, but pure womanly.”

“That you can love me — me, the slave; me, the scourged; the scarred — Oh Stangrave! it is not much — not much really; — only a little mark or two. . . . ”

“I will prize them,” he answered, smiling through tears, “more than all your loveliness. I will see in them God’s commandment to me, written not on tables of stone, but on fair, pure, noble flesh. My Marie! You shall have cause even to rejoice in them!”

“I glory in them now; for, without them, I never should have known all your worth.”

The next day Stangrave, Marie, and Sabina were hurrying home to England! while Tom Thurnall was hurrying to Marseilles, to vanish Eastward Ho.

He has escaped once more: but his heart is hardened still. What will his fall be like?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/charles/two_years_ago/chapter27.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48