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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V1 - 20/29 -
you now, that one day I should be crouching here for safety with a hideous crime on my conscience. I told you so, Helen, at the time. Oh! how could you bring me here?"
He threw himself down again, and hid his face on her lap.
With a fresh inroad of dismay Helen thought he must be going mad, for this was the merest trick of his imagination. Certainly he had always dreaded the place, but never a word of that sort had he said to her. Yet there was a shadow of possible comfort in the thought--for, what if the whole thing should prove an hallucination! But whether real or not, she must have his story.
"Come, dearest Poldie, darling brother!" she said, "you have not yet told me what it is. What is the terrible thing you have done? I daresay it's nothing so very bad after all!"
"There's the light coming!" he said, in a dull hollow voice, "--The morning! always the morning coming again!"
"No, no, dear Poldie!" she returned. "There is no window here--at least it only looks on the back stair, high above heads; and the morning is a long way off."
"How far?" he asked, staring in her eyes--"twenty years? That was just when I was bom! Oh that I could enter a second time into my mother's womb, and never be born! Why are we sent into this cursed world? I would God had never made it. What was the good? Couldn't he have let well alone?"
He was silent. She must get him to sleep.
It was as if a second soul had been given her to supplement the first, and enable her to meet what would otherwise have been the exorbitant demands now made upon her. With an effort of the will such as she could never before have even imagined, she controlled the anguish of her own spirit, and, softly stroking the head of the poor lad, which had again sought her lap, compelled herself to sing him for lullaby a song of which in his childhood he had been very fond, and with which, in all the importance of imagined motherhood, she had often sung him to sleep. And the old influence was potent yet. In a few minutes the fingers which clutched her hand relaxed, and she knew by his breathing that he slept. She sat still as a stone, not daring to move, hardly daring breathe enough to keep her alive, lest she should rouse him from his few blessed moments of self-nothingness, during which the tide of the all-infolding ocean of peace was free to flow into the fire-torn cave of his bosom. She sat motionless thus, until it seemed as if for very weariness she must drop in a heap on the floor, but that the aches and pains which went through her in all directions held her body together like ties and rivets. She had never before known what weariness was, and now she knew it for all her life. But like an irritant, her worn body clung about her soul and dulled it to its own grief, thus helping it to a pitiful kind of repose. How long she sat thus she could not tell--she had no means of knowing, but it seemed hours on hours, and yet, though the nights were now short, the darkness had not begun to thin. But when she thought how little access the light had to that room, she began to grow uneasy lest she should be missed from her own, or seen on her way back to it. At length some involuntary movement woke him. He started to his feet with a look of wild gladness. But there was scarcely time to recognise it before it vanished.
"My God, it is true then!" he shrieked. "O Helen, I dreamed that I was innocent--that I had but dreamed I had done it. Tell me that I'm dreaming now. Tell me! tell me!--Tell me that I am no murderer!"
As he spoke, he seized her shoulder with a fierce grasp, and shook her as if trying to wake her from the silence of a lethargy.
"I hope you are innocent, my darling. But in any case I will do all I can to protect you," said Helen. "Only I shall never be able unless you control yourself sufficiently to let me go home."
"No, Helen!" he cried; "you must not leave me. If you do, I shall go mad. SHE will come instead."
Helen shuddered inwardly, but kept her outward composure.
"If I stay with you, just think, dearest, what will happen," she said. "I shall be missed, and all the country will be raised to look for me. They will think I have been--"--She checked herself.
"And so you might be--so might anyone," he cried, "so long as I am loose--like the Rajah's man-eating horse. O God! It has come to this!" And he hid his face in his hands.
"And then you see, my Poldie," Helen went on as calmly as she could, "they would come here and find us; and I don't know what might come next."
"Yes, yes, Helen! Go, go directly. Leave me this instant," he said, hurriedly, and took her by the shoulders, as if he would push her from the room, but went on talking. "It must be, I know; but when the light comes I shall go mad. Would to God I might, for the day is worse than the darkness; then I see my own black against the light. Now go, Helen. But you WILL come back to me as soon as ever you can? How shall I know when to begin to look for you? What o'clock is it? My watch has never been--since--. Ugh! the light will be here soon. Helen, I know now what hell is.--Ah! Yes."--As he spoke he had been feeling in one of his pockets.--"I will not be taken alive.--Can you whistle, Helen?"
"Yes, Poldie," answered Helen, trembling. "Don't you remember teaching me?"
"Yes, yes.--Then, when you come near the house, whistle, and go on whistling, for if I hear a step without any whistling, I shall kill myself."
"What have you got there?" she asked in renewed terror, noticing that he kept his hand in the breast pocket of his coat.
"Only the knife," he answered calmly.
"Give it to me," she said, calmly too.
He laughed, and the laugh was more terrible than any cry.
"No; I'm not so green as that," he said. "My knife is my only friend! Who is to take care of me when you are away? Ha! ha!"
She saw that the comfort of the knife must not be denied him. Nor did she fear any visit that might drive him to its use--except indeed the police WERE to come upon him--and then--what better could he do? she thought.
"Well, well, I will not plague you," she said. "Lie down and I will cover you with my shawl, and you can fancy it my arms round you. I will come to you as soon as ever I can."
He obeyed. She spread her shawl over him and kissed him.
"Thank you, Helen," he said quietly.
"Pray to God to deliver you, dear," she said.
"He can do that only by killing me," he returned. "I will pray for that. But do you go, Helen. I will try to bear my misery for your sake."
He followed her from the room with eyes out of which looked the very demon of silent despair.
I will not further attempt to set forth his feelings. The incredible, the impossible, had become a fact-AND HE WAS THE MAN. He who knows the relief of waking from a dream of crime to the jubilation of recovered innocence, to the sunlight that blots out the thing as untrue, may by help of that conceive the misery of a delicate nature suddenly filled with the clear assurance of horrible guilt. Such a misery no waking but one that annihilated the past could ever console. Yes, there is yet an awaking--if a man might but attain unto it--an awaking into a region whose very fields are full of the harmony sovereign to console, not merely for having suffered--that needs little consoling, but for having inflicted the deepest wrong.
The moment Helen was out of sight, Leopold drew a small silver box from an inner pocket, eyed it with the eager look of a hungry animal, took from it a portion of a certain something, put it in his mouth, closed his eyes, and lay still.
HELEN WITH A SECRET.
When Helen came out into the corridor, she saw that the day was breaking. A dim, dreary light filled the dismal house, but the candle had prevented her from perceiving the little of it that could enter that room withdrawn. A pang of fear shot to her soul, and like a belated spectre or a roused somnambulist she fled across the park. It was all so like a horrible dream, from which she must wake in bed! yet she knew there was no such hope for her. Her darling lay in that frightful house, and if anyone should see her, it might be death to him. But yet it was very early, and two hours would pass before any of the workmen would be on their way to the new house. Yet, like a murderer shaken out of the earth by the light, she fled. When she was safe in her own room, ere she could get into bed, she once more turned deadly sick, and next knew by the agonies of coming to herself that she had fainted.
A troubled, weary, EXCITED sleep followed. She woke with many a start, as if she had sinned in sleeping, and instantly for very weariness, dozed off again. How kind is weariness sometimes! It is like the Father's hand laid a little heavy on the heart to make it still. But her dreams were full of torture, and even when she had no definite dream, she was haunted by the vague presence of blood. It was considerably past her usual time for rising when at length she heard her maid in the room. She got up wearily, but beyond the heaviest of hearts and a general sense of misery, nothing ailed her. Nor even did her head ache.
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