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- The Golden Lion of Granpere - 20/36 -
her to be so sufficient was all blown to the winds.
It is true that had all her feelings been guided by reason only, she might have been as strong as ever. In truth she had not sinned against him. In truth she had not sinned at all. She had not done that which she herself had desired. She had not been anxious for wealth, or ease, or position; but had, after painful thought, endeavoured to shape her conduct by the wishes of others, and by her ideas of duty, as duty had been taught to her. O, how willingly would she have remained as servant to her uncle, and have allowed M. Urmand to carry the rich gift of his linen-chest to the feet of some other damsel, had she believed herself to be free to choose! Had there been no passion in her heart, she would now have known herself to be strong in duty, and would have been able to have answered and to have borne the rebuke of her old lover. But passion was there, hot within her, aiding every word as he spoke it, giving strength to his complaints, telling her of all that she had lost, telling her of all she had taken from him. She forgot to remember now that he had been silent for a year. She forgot now to think of the tone in which he had asked about her marriage when no such marriage was in her mind. But she remembered well the promise she had made, and the words of it. 'Your vow was for ever and ever.' When she heard those words repeated from his lips, her heart too was broken. All idea of holding herself before him as one injured but ready to forgive was gone from her. If by falling at his feet and owning herself to be vile and mansworn she might get his pardon, she was ready now to lie there on the ground before him.
'O George!' she said; 'O George!'
'What is the use of that now?' he replied, turning away from her. He had thrown his thunderbolt, and he had nothing more to say. He had seen that he had not thrown it quite in vain, and he would have been contented to be away and back at Colmar. What more was there to be said?
She came to him very gently, very humbly, and just touched his arm with her hand. 'Do you mean, George, that you have continued to care for me--always?'
'Care for you? I know not what you call caring. Did I not swear to you that I would love you for ever and ever, and that you should be my own? Did I not leave this house and go away,--till I could earn for you one that should be fit for you,--because I loved you? Why should I have broken my word? I do not believe that you thought that it was broken.'
'By my God, that knows me, I did!' As she said this she burst into tears and fell on her knees at his feet.
'Marie,' he said, 'Marie;--there is no use in this. Stand up.'
'Not till you tell me that you will forgive me. By the name of the good Jesus, who knows all our hearts, I thought that you had forgotten me. O George, if you could know all! If you could know how I have loved you; how I have sorrowed from day to day because I was forgotten! How I have struggled to bear it, telling myself that you were away, with all the world to interest you, and not like me, a poor girl in a village, with no thing to think of but my lover! How I have striven to do my duty by my uncle, and have obeyed him, because,--because,--because, there was nothing left. If you could know it all! If you could know it all!' Then she clasped her arms round his legs, and hid her face upon his feet.
'And whom do you love now?' he asked. She continued to sob, but did not answer him a word. Then he stooped down and raised her to her feet, and she stood beside him, very near to him with her face averted. 'And whom do you love now?' he asked again. 'Is it me, or is it Adrian Urmand?' But she could not answer him, though she had said enough in her passionate sorrow to make any answer to such a question unnecessary, as far as knowledge on the subject might be required. It might suit his views that she should confess the truth in so many words, but for other purpose her answer had been full enough. 'This is very sad,' he said, 'sad indeed; but I thought that you would have been firmer.'
'Do not chide me again, George.'
'No;--it is to no purpose.'
'You said that I was--a curse to you?'
'O Marie, I had hoped,--I had so hoped, that you would have been my blessing!'
'Say that I am not a curse to you, George!'
But he would make no answer to this appeal, no immediate answer; but stood silent and stern, while she stood still touching his arm, waiting in patience for some word at any rate of forgiveness. He was using all the powers of his mind to see if there might even yet be any way to escape this great shipwreck. She had not answered his question. She had not told him in so many words that her heart was still his, though she had promised her hand to the Basle merchant. But he could not doubt that it was so. As he stood there silent, with that dark look upon his brow which he had inherited from his father, and that angry fire in his eye, his heart was in truth once more becoming soft and tender towards her. He was beginning to understand how it had been with her. He had told her, just now, that he did not believe her, when she assured him that she had thought that she was forgotten. Now he did believe her. And there arose in his breast a feeling that it was due to her that he should explain this change in his mind. 'I suppose you did think it,' he said suddenly.
'Think what, George?'
'That I was a vain, empty, false-tongued fellow, whose word was worth no reliance.'
'I thought no evil of you, George,--except that you were changed to me. When you came, you said nothing to me. Do you not remember?'
'I came because I was told that you were to be married to this man. I asked you the question, and you would not deny it. Then I said to myself that I would wait and see.' When he had spoken she had nothing farther to say to him. The charges which he made against her were all true. They seemed at least to be true to her then in her present mood,--in that mood in which all that she now desired was his forgiveness. The wish to defend herself, and to stand before him as one justified, had gone from her. She felt that having still possessed his love, having still been the owner of the one thing that she valued, she had ruined herself by her own doubts; and she could not forgive herself the fatal blunder. 'It is of no use to think of it any more,' he said at last. 'You have to become this man's wife now, and I suppose you must go through with it.'
'I suppose I must,' she said; 'unless--'
'Nothing, George. Of course I will marry him. He has my word. And I have promised my uncle also. But, George, you will say that you forgive me?'
'Yes;--I will forgive you.' But still there was the same black cloud upon his face,--the same look of pain,--the same glance of anger in his eye.
'O George, I am so unhappy! There can be no comfort for me now, unless you will say that you will be contented.'
'I cannot say that, Marie.'
'You will have your house, and your business, and so many things to interest you. And in time,--after a little time--'
'No, Marie, after no time at all. You told me at supper to-night that I had better get a wife for myself. But I will get no wife. I could not bring myself to marry another girl, I could not take a woman home as my wife if I did not love her. If she were not the person of all persons most dear to me, I should loathe her.'
He was speaking daggers to her, and he must have known how sharp were his words. He was speaking daggers to her, and she must have felt that he knew how he was wounding her. But yet she did not resent his usage, even by a motion of her lip. Could she have brought herself to do so, her agony would have been less sharp. 'I suppose,' she said at last, 'that a woman is weaker than a man. But you say that you will forgive me?'
'I have forgiven you.'
Then very gently she put out her hand to him, and he took it and held it for a minute. She looked up at him as though for a moment she had thought that there might be something else,--that there might be some other token of true forgiveness, and then she withdrew her hand. 'I had better go now,' she said. 'Good-night; George.'
'Good-night, Marie.' And then she was gone.
As soon as he was alone he sat himself down on the bedside, and began to think of it. Everything was changed to him since he had called her into the room, determining that he would crush her with his thunderbolt. Let things go as they may with a man in an affair of love, let him be as far as possible from the attainment of his wishes, there will always be consolation to him if he knows that he is loved. To be preferred to all others, even though that preference may lead to no fruition, is in itself a thing enjoyable. He had believed that Marie had forgotten him,--that she had been captivated either by the effeminate prettiness of his rival, or by his wealth and standing in the world. He believed all this no more. He knew now how it was with her and with him, and, let his countenance say what it might to the contrary, he could bring himself to forgive her in his heart. She had not forgotten him! She had not ceased to love him! There was merit in that which went far with him in excuse of her perfidy.
But what should he do now? She was not as yet married to Adrian Urmand. Might there not still be hope; hope for her sake as well as for his own? He perfectly understood that in his country--nay, for aught he knew to the contrary, in all countries--a formal betrothal was half a marriage. It was half the ceremony in the eyes of all those concerned; but yet, in regard to that indissoluble bond which would indeed have divided Marie from him beyond the reach of any hope to the contrary, such betrothal was of no effect whatever. This man whom she did not love was not yet Marie's husband;--need never become so if Marie could only be sufficiently firm in resisting the influence of all her friends. No priest could marry her without her own consent. He--George--he himself would have to
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