“As for myself,” continued Mark Felt, “I stood crushed, and after the first torrent of emotion had swept by, lifted my head like a drowning man and looked wildly about, as if, in the catastrophe which overwhelmed me, all nature must have changed, and I should find myself in a strange place. The sight of the door through which Marah Leighton had passed stung me into tortured existence again. With a roar of passion and hate I sprang toward it, burst it open, and passed in. Instantly silence and semi-darkness fell upon me, through which I felt her presence exhaling its wonted perfume, though I could see nothing but the dim shapes of unaccustomed articles of furniture grouped against a window that was almost completely closed from the light of day.
“Advancing, I gazed upon chair after chair. They were all empty, and not till I reached the further corner did I find her, thrown at full length upon a couch, with her head buried in her arms, and motionless as any stone. Confused, appalled even, for I had never seen her otherwise than erect and mocking, I stumbled back, and would have fled, but that she suddenly arose, and flinging back her head, gave me one look, which I felt rather than saw, and bursting into a peal of laughter, called me to account for disturbing the first minute of rest she had known that day.
“I was dumfounded. If she had consulted all her wiles, and sought for the one best way to silence me, she could not have chanced on one surer than this. I gazed at her quite helpless, and forgot — actually forgot — what had drawn me into her presence, and only asked to get a good glimpse of her face, which, in the dim light, was more like that of a spirit than of a woman — a mocking spirit, in whom no love could lodge, whatever my fancy might have pictured in the delirium of the moment that had just passed.
“She seemed to comprehend my mood, for she flung back the curtain and drew herself up to her full height before me.
“‘Did you think I was playing the coquette?’ she asked. ‘Well, perhaps I was; women like me must have their amusements; but —’
“Oh! the languishment in that but. I shut my eyes as I heard it. I could neither bear its sound, nor the sight of her face.
“‘You listened to him. He was making love to you — he, the promised husband of another; and you —’
“She forced me to open my eyes.
“‘And I?’ she repeated, with an indescribable emphasis that called up the blushes to my cheek.
“‘And you,’ I went on, answering her demand without hesitation, ‘the beloved of an honest man who would die to keep you true, and will die if you play him false!’
“She sighed. Softness took the place of scorn; she involuntarily held out her hand.
“I was amazed; she had never done so much before. I seized that hand, I pressed it wildly, hungrily, and with lingering fondness.
“‘Do you not know that you are everything to me?’ I asked. ‘That to win you I am ready to do everything, barter anything, suffer anything but shame! You are my fate, Marah; will you not let me be yours?’
“She was silent; she had drawn her hand from mine and had locked it in its fellow, and now stood with them hanging down before her, fixed as a statue, in a reverie I could neither fathom nor break.
“‘You are beautiful,’ I went on, ‘too beautiful for me; but I love you. You are proud, also, and would grace the noblest palaces of the old world; but they are far away, and my home is near and eager to welcome you. You are dainty and have never taught your hands to toil, or your feet to walk our common earth; but there are affections that sweeten labor, and under my roof you will be so honored, so aided and so beloved, that you will soon learn there are pleasures of the fireside that can compensate for its cares, and triumphs of the affections that are beyond the dignities of outside life.’
“Her lip curled and her hands parted. She lifted one rosy palm and looked at it, then she glanced at me.
“‘I shall never work,’ she said.
“My heart contracted, but I could not give her up. Madness as it was to put faith and life in the grasp of such a woman, I was too little of a man or too much of a one to turn my back upon a hope which, even in its realization, could bring me nothing but pain.
“‘You shall not work,’ I declared. And I meant it. If I died she should not handle anything harsher than rose leaves in her new home.
“‘You want me?’ She breathed it. I stood in a gasp of hope and fear.
“‘More than I want heaven! Or, rather, you are my heaven.’
“‘We will be married before Honora,’ she murmured. And gliding from my side before I had recovered from the shock of a promise so unexpected, a bliss so unforeseen and immediate, she vanished from my sight, and nothing but the perfume which lingered behind her remained to tell me that it was not all a dream, and I the most presumptuous being alive.
“And so the hour that opened in disaster ended in joy; and from the heart of what I deemed an irredeemable disaster rose a hope that for several days put wings to my feet. Then something began to tarnish my delight, an impalpable dread seized me, and though I worked with love and fury upon my house, which I had begun adorning for my bride, I began to question if she had played the coquette in smiling upon Edwin Urquhart, and whether in the mockery of the laugh with which she had dismissed my accusations there had not been some regret for a love she dared not entertain, but yet suffered to lose. The memory of the glow in her eyes, as she turned away from him at my step, returned with growing power, and I decided that if this were coquetry, it were sweeter than love, and longed to ask her to play the coquette with me. But she never did, and though she did not smile upon him again in my presence, I felt that her beauty was more bewildering, her voice more enchanting, when he was in the room with us than when chance or my purpose found us alone. To settle my doubts, I left watching her and began to watch him, and when I found that he betrayed nothing, I turned my attention from them both and bestowed it upon Miss Dudleigh.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50