There was silence in the cave. Mark Felt’s story was at an end.
For a moment I sat and watched him; then, as I realized all that I must yet gather from his lips, I broke the stillness by saying, in my lowest and most suggestive tone, these two words:
The name did not seem unwelcome. Striking his breast, he cried:
“She lies here! Though she despised me, deceived me, broke my heart in life, and in death betrayed a devotion for another that was at once my dishonor and the downfall of my every hope, I have never been able to cast her out of my heart. I love her, and shall ever love her, and so I am never lonely. For in my dreams I imagine that death has changed her. That she can see now where truth and beauty lie; that she would fain come back to them and me; and that she does, walking with softened steps through the forest, beaming upon me in the moon rays and smiling upon me in the sunshine till —”
Great sobs broke from the man’s surcharged breast. He flung himself down on the floor of the cave and hid his face in his hands. He had forgotten that I had come on an errand of vengeance. He had forgotten the object of that vengeance; he had forgotten everything but her.
I saw the mistake I had made, and for the moment I quailed before the prospect of rectifying it. He had shown me his heart. I had peered into its depths, and it seemed an impossible thing to tear the last hope from his broken life; to show her in her true light to his horrified eyes; to tell him she was not dead; that it was Honora Urquhart who was dead; and that the woman he mourned and beheld in his visions as a sanctified spirit was not only living upon the fruits of a crime, but triumphing in them; that, in short, he had thrown away communion with men to brood upon a demon.
My feelings were so strong, my shrinking so manifest, that he noticed them at last. Rising up, he surveyed me with a growing apprehension.
“How you look at me!” he cried. “It is not only pity for the past I see in your eyes, but fear for the future. What is it? What can threaten me now of importance enough to call up such an expression to your face? Since Marah is dead —”
“Wait!” I cried. “First let me ask if Marah is dead.” His face, which was turned toward me, grew so pale I felt my own heart contract.
“If — Marah — is — dead!” he gasped, growing huskier with each intonation till the last word was almost unintelligible.
“Yes,” I continued, ignoring his glance and talking very rapidly; “her body was never found. You have no proof that she perished. The letter that she wrote you may have been a blind. Such things have happened. Try and remember that such things have happened.”
He did not seem to hear me. Turning away, he looked about him with wide-open and questioning eyes, like a child lost in a wood.
“I cannot follow you,” he murmured. “Marah living?” His own words seemed to give him life. He turned upon me again. “Do you know that she is living?” he asked. “Is it this you have come to tell me? If so, speak, speak! I can bear the news. I have not lost all firmness. I— I—”
He stopped and looked at me piteously. I saw I must speak, and summoned up my courage.
“Marah may not be living,” I said, “but she did not perish in the river. It would have been better for you, though, and infinitely better for her if she had. She only lived to do evil, Mr. Felt. In bemoaning her you have wasted a noble manhood.”
The cry came suddenly, and rang through the cavern like a knell. I could not bear it, and hurried forward my revelation.
“You tell me that you received a letter from Mrs. Urquhart before she set sail for France. Was it the only letter which she has ever sent you? Have you never heard from her since?”
“Never!” He looked at me almost in anger. “I did not want to. I bade the postmaster to destroy any letters which came for me. I had cut myself loose from the world.”
“Have you that letter? Did you keep it?”
“No; I gave it back to the men who opened it. What was it to me?”
“Mark Felt,” I now asked, “did you know Honora Dudleigh’s writing?”
“Of course. Why should you question it? Why —”
“And was this letter in her writing? written by her hand?”
“Of course — of course; wasn’t it signed with her name?”
“But the handwriting? Couldn’t it have been an imitation? Wasn’t it one? Was it not written by Marah, and not Honora? She was a clever woman, and —”
“Written by Marah? By Marah? Great heavens, did she go with them, then? Were my secret doubts right? Is she lost to me in eternity as well as here? Is she living with him?”
“She was living with him, and there is good reason to believe she is doing so still. There is a Mr. Urquhart in Paris, and a Mrs. Urquhart. As Marah is the woman he loved, she must be this latter.”
“Must be? I do not see why you should say must be! Is Honora dead? Is —”
“Honora is dead — has been dead for sixteen years. The woman who sailed with Mr. Urquhart called herself Honora, but she was not Honora. She who rightfully bore this name was dead and hidden away. It is of crime that I am speaking. Edwin Urquhart is a murderer, and his victim was —”
It was not necessary to say more. In the suddenly outstretched hand, with its open palm; in the white face so drawn that his mother would not have known it; in the gradual sinking and collapsing of the whole body, I saw that I had driven the truth home at last, and that silence now was the only mercy left to show him.
I was silent, therefore, and waited as we wait beside a death bed for the final sigh of a departing spirit. But life, and not death, was in the soul of this man before me. Ere long he faintly stirred, then a smothered moan left his lips, followed by one word, and that word was the echo of my own:
The sound it made seemed to awake whatever energy of horror lay dormant within him. Bestirring himself, he lifted his head and repeated again that fearsome word:
Then he leaped to his feet, and his aspect grew terrible as he looked up and shouted, as it were, into the heavens that same dread word:
Filled with horror, I endeavored to take him by the arm, but he shook me off, and cried in a terrible voice:
“A fiend, a demon, a creature of the darkest hell! I have worshiped her, pardoned her, dreamed of her for fifteen years in solitudes dedicated to God! O Creator of all good! What sacrilege I have committed! How shall I ever atone for a manhood wasted on a dream, and for thoughts that must have made the angels of Heaven veil their faces in wonder and pity.
“You must have a story to tell,” he now said, turning toward me, with the first look of natural human curiosity which I had seen in his face since I came.
“Yes,” said I, “I have; but it will not serve to lessen your horror; it will only add to it.”
“Nothing can add to it,” was his low reply. “And yet I thank you for the warning.”
Encouraged by his manner, which had become strangely self-possessed, I immediately began, and told him of the visit of this bridal party at your inn; then as I saw that he had judged himself correctly, and that he was duly prepared for all I could reveal, I added first your suspicions, and then a full account of our fatal discovery in the secret chamber.
He bore it like a man upon whom emotion has spent all its force; only, when I had finished, he gave one groan, and then, as if he feared I would mistake the meaning of this evidence of suffering, he made haste to exclaim:
“Poor Honora! My heart owes her one cry of pity, one tear of grief. I shall never weep for any one else; though, if I could, it would be for myself and the wasted years with which I have mocked God’s providence.”
Relieved to find him in this mood, I rose and shook his hand cordially.
“You will come back to Albany with me?” I entreated. “We have need of you, and this spot will never be a home to you again.”
The echo was unexpected, but welcome. I led the way out of the cave.
“See! it is late,” I urged.
He shook his head and cast one prolonged look around him.
“What do I not leave behind me here? Love, grief, dreams. And to what do I go forward? Can you tell me? Has the future in it anything for a man like me?”
“It has vengeance!”
He gave a short cry.
“In which she is involved. Talk to me not of that! And yet,” he presently added, “what it is my duty to do, I shall do. It is all that is left to me now. But I will do nothing for vengeance. That would be to make a slave of myself again.”
I had no answer for this, and therefore gave none. Instead I shouted to my guide, and after receiving from him such refreshments as my weary condition demanded, I gave notice that I was ready to descend, and asked the recluse if he was ready to accompany me.
He signified an instant acquiescence, and before the sun had quite finished its course in the west we found ourselves at the foot of the mountains. As civilization broke upon us Mr. Felt drew himself up, and began to question me about the changes which the revolution had made in our noble country.
. . . . .
I will not weary you, my dear Mrs. Truax, with the formalities which followed upon our return to Albany. I will merely add that you may expect a duly authorized person to come to you presently for such testimony in this matter as it may be in your power to give; after which a suitable person will proceed to France with such papers as may lead to the delivering up of these guilty persons to the United States authorities; in which case justice must follow, and your inn will be avenged for the most hideous crime which has ever been perpetrated within our borders.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50