I left Faber on the stairs, and paused at the door of Lilian’s room. The door opened suddenly, noiselessly, and her mother came out with one hand before her face, and the other locked in Amy’s, who was leading her as a child leads the blind. Mrs. Ashleigh looked up, as I touched her, with a vacant, dreary stare. She was not weeping, as was her womanly wont in every pettier grief, but Amy was. No word was exchanged between us. I entered, and closed the door; my eyes turned mechanically to the corner in which was placed the small virgin bed, with its curtains white as a shroud. Lilian was not there. I looked around, and saw her half reclined on a couch near the window. She was dressed, and with care. Was not that her bridal robe?
“Allen! Allen!” she murmured. “Again, again my Allen — again, again your Lilian!” And, striving in vain to rise, she stretched out her arms in the yearning of reunited love. And as I knelt beside her, those arms closed round me for the first time in the frank, chaste, holy tenderness of a wife’s embrace.
“Ah!” she said, in her low voice (her voice, like Cordelia’s, was ever low), “all has come back to me — all that I owe to your protecting, noble, trustful, guardian love!”
“Hush! hush! the gratitude rests with me; it is so sweet to love, to trust, to guard! my own, my beautiful — still my beautiful! Suffering has not dimmed the light of those dear eyes to me! Put your lips to my ear. Whisper but these words: ‘I love you, and for your sake I wish to live.’”
“For your sake, I pray — with my whole weak human heart — I pray to live! Listen. Some day hereafter, if I am spared, under the purple blossoms of yonder waving trees I shall tell you all, as I see it now; all that darkened or shone on me in my long dream, and before the dream closed around me, like a night in which cloud and star chase each other! Some day hereafter, some quiet, sunlit, happy, happy day! But now, all I would say is this: Before that dreadful morning —” Here she paused, shuddered, and passionately burst forth, “Allen, Allen! you did not believe that slanderous letter! God bless you! God bless you! Great-hearted, high-souled — God bless you, my darling! my husband! And He will! Pray to Him humbly as I do, and He will bless you.” She stooped and kissed away my tears; then she resumed, feebly, meekly, sorrowfully —
“Before that morning I was not worthy of such a heart, such a love as yours. No, no; hear me. Not that a thought of love for another ever crossed me! Never, while conscious and reasoning, was I untrue to you, even in fancy. But I was a child — wayward as the child who pines for what earth cannot give, and covets the moon for a toy. Heaven had been so kind to my lot on earth, and yet with my lot on earth I was secretly discontented. When I felt that you loved me, and my heart told me that I loved again, I said to myself, ‘Now the void that my soul finds on earth will be filled.’ I longed for your coming, and yet when you went I murmured, ‘But is this the ideal of which I have dreamed?’ I asked for an impossible sympathy. Sympathy with what? Nay, smile on me, dearest! — sympathy with what? I could not have said. Ah, Allen, then, then, I was not worthy of you! Infant that I was, I asked you to understand me: now I know that I am a woman, and my task is to study you. Do I make myself clear? Do you forgive me? I was not untrue to you; I was untrue to my own duties in life. I believed, in my vain conceit, that a mortal’s dim vision of heaven raised me above the earth; I did not perceive the truth that earth is a part of the same universe as heaven! Now, perhaps, in the awful affliction that darkened my reason, my soul has been made more clear. As if to chastise but to teach me, my soul has been permitted to indulge its own presumptuous desire; it has wandered forth from the trammels of mortal duties and destinies; it comes back, alarmed by the dangers of its own rash and presumptuous escape from the tasks which it should desire upon earth to perform. Allen, Allen, I am less unworthy of you now! Perhaps in my darkness one rapid glimpse of the true world of spirit has been vouchsafed to me. If so, how unlike to the visions my childhood indulged as divine! Now, while I know still more deeply that there is a world for the angels, I know, also, that the mortal must pass through probation in the world of mortals. Oh, may I pass through it with you, grieving in your griefs, rejoicing in your joy!”
Here language failed her. Again the dear arms embraced me, and the dear face, eloquent with love, hid itself on my human breast.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06