The Forsaken Inn, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter 10

At the Foot of the Stairs.

“‘You think I am playing with you,’ she murmured. ‘I am not. I have sickened of these nuptials and am going back. If you want to, you may kill me where I sit. You carry a dagger, I know; one more red blossom will not show on my breast. Give it to me if you will, but turn the horses.’

“She meant it, however much my lost heart might cry out for its happiness and honor. Leaning forward, I told the pompous driver that Miss Leighton had been taken very ill, and bade him drive back; and then with the calmness born of utter despair and loss, I said to her:

“‘In pity for my pride drop your head upon my shoulder. I have said you were sick, and sick you must be. It is the least you can do for me now.’

“She obeyed me. That head on which in fancy I had set the crowns of empires, for whose every hair my heart had given a throb, sank coldly down till it rested upon the heart she had broken; and while I steadied my nerves to meet the changed faces of the crowd, the carriage gave a sudden turn, and amid murmurings that fell almost unheeded on my benumbed senses, we wheeled about and faced again the gates through which we had so lately issued.

“‘She is ill,’ I shouted to Miss Dudleigh, as we passed her carriage. But she gave me no reply. She was gazing over the heads of the crowd at some distant object that enthralled her every look and sense; and moved by her expression as I thought never to be moved by anything again, I followed her glance, and there, on the outskirts of the crowd, crouching amid branches that yet refused to hide him, I saw Edwin Urquhart; and the miserable truth smote home to my heart that it was he who had stopped my marriage — he, whom I had thought far distant, but who had now come to hinder, by some secret gesture or glance, my bride on her path to the altar.

“A dagger was hidden in my breast, and I still wonder that I did not leap from the carriage, burst through the crowd, and slay him where he crouched in cowardly ambush. But I let the moment go by, perhaps because I dreaded to bring the shadow of another woe into Miss Dudleigh’s white face, and almost immediately the throng had surged in thickly between us, and Miss Dudleigh’s carriage had turned after ours, and there was nothing further to do but to ride back, with the false face pressed in seeming insensibility to my breast, and that false heart beating out its cold throbs of triumph upon mine.

“I bore it, glancing down but once upon her. Had the ride before me been one of miles I should have gone on in the same mechanical way, for my very being was petrified. Rage, fear, sorrow and despair, all seemed like dreams to me. I wondered that I had ever felt anything, and stared on and on at the blue sky before me, conscious of but one haunting thought that repeated itself again and again in my brain — that her power lay not in her eyes, as I had always been assured, but in those strange curves about her mouth. For her eyes were closed now, and yet I was coldly conscious of the fact that she had never looked more beautiful or more fitted to move a man, if a man had any heart left to be moved.

“The stopping of the carriage before the great door of Miss Dudleigh’s house roused me to the necessity for action.

“‘I must carry you in,’ I whispered. ‘I beg your pardon for it, but it is necessary to the farce.’ And following up my words by action, I lifted her from the seat, cold and unresponsive as a stone, and carried her into the house and set her down before the astonished eyes of such servants as had remained to guard the house in our absence.

“‘Miss Leighton has not been married,’ I cried. ‘She was taken ill on the way to church, and I have brought her back. She needs no attendance.’ And I waved them all back, for their startled, gaping countenances infuriated me, and threatened to shatter the dreadful calmness which was my only strength.

“As they disappeared, murmuring and peering, Miss Dudleigh entered. I gave her one glance and dropped my eyes. She and I could not bear each other’s looks yet. Meantime Marah stood erect in the center of the hall, her face pale, her lips set, her eyes fixed upon vacancy. Not a word passed our three mouths. At last a petulant murmur broke the dreadful silence, and Marah, tossing her head in disdain, turned away before our eyes and began to mount the stairs.

“I felt my blood, which for many minutes had seemed at a standstill, pour with a rush through vein and artery, and darting to her side, I caught her by the hand and held her to her place.

“‘You shall not go up,’ I cried, ‘till you and I have understood each other. You have refused to marry me to-day. Was it some caprice that moved you, or —’ I paused and looked behind me; Miss Dudleigh had shrunk from sight into one of the rooms —‘or because you saw Edwin Urquhart in the crowd and followed his commanding gesture?’

“The hand which I held grew cold as ice. She drew it away and looked at me haughtily, but I saw that I had frightened her.

“‘Edwin Urquhart is nothing to me,’ came in low but emphatic tones from her lips. ‘I did not want to marry any one, and I said so. It would be better if more brides hesitated on the threshold of matrimony instead of crossing it to their ruin.’

“I could have killed her, but I subdued myself. I knew that I had lost her; that in another moment she would be gone, never to enter my presence again as my promised wife; but I uttered no word, honored her with no glance; merely made her a low bow and stepped back, as I thought, master of myself again.

“But in that final instant one last arrow entered my breast, and darting back to her side, I whispered, in what must have been a terrible voice:

“‘Go, falsest of the false! I have done with you! But if you have lied to me — if you think to trip up Edwin Urquhart in his duty, and break Honora Dudleigh’s noble heart, and shame my honor — I will kill you as I would a snake in the grass! You shall never approach the altar with another as nearly as you have this day with me!’

“And with the last mockery of a look, in which every detail of her beauty flashed with almost an unbearable insistence upon my eyes, I turned my back upon her and strode toward the outer door.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55