As an inevitable consequence, Bergan's responses were uttered with answering fervor. And how perfectly they met his wants! How wonderfully they expressed his sense of weakness and failure, his depression and humiliation, his new-born self-distrust, his earnest desire and determination to be stronger against future temptations. In some sentences, there was a depth of meaning and of fitness, that seemed to have been waiting all these years for this moment of complete interpretation. Continually was he startled by subtile references to his peculiar circumstances, by the calm precision with which his sores were probed, and the tender skill which applied to them healing balm.
Doctor Trubie flung down the letter with a most disgusted face. "To think that Roath should escape me thus!" he exclaimed, discontentedly. "That is, to be sure, if Bergan does not recover. He shall recover!"
Bergan walked back slowly and thoughtfully. Without being fully convinced of the truth of Doctor Trubie's suspicions, he was strangely disturbed and startled. Reaching the gate, he turned his face south-eastward, and gazed across the white meadows, toward the dim outline of the distant hills. His thoughts overleaped even that far barrier, and took an air line to Oakstead and to Carice. Her face rose vividly before him, not, strange to say, as he had seen it last, rosy and bright, but pale and piteous, and gazing toward him with a look that besought sympathy and succor, plainer than any speech. His eyes grew moist, his breath tremulous; his heart swelled with passionate love and longing."Nonsense! How did you get up there?"Neither for the look nor the thought did he pause, but strode straight up two flights of stairs, his firm tread resounding loudly through the empty, uncarpeted halls, and knocked at the door of a front room. There was no response. He knocked again, with a somewhat impatient hand, tried the door and found it locked, waited a moment, beat a third emphatic rat-tat-too upon the panel, without eliciting other reply than a faint and dreary echo from the attic above; and, finally, turned on his heel, and walked down-stairs. At the head of the second flight, a thought seemed to strike him; after a moment of hesitation, he turned and knocked at a door close at hand. Scarcely waiting for the prompt "Come in!" he opened it, with the question,—"Have you seen Arling this morning?"
"Doubtless. But here comes Cato, to show you to your room. I think breakfast will be ready as soon as you are.""I do not intend to," replied Astra, decidedly. "But I must go in; mother will miss me.""Yes, the news came early this morning."
Astra's heart smote her for her selfishness. She reflected what grief it would cause her mother to be thrust out from the home endeared to her by so many and sacred associations. Her face fell, and her heart sank again. Covering her eyes with her hands, she burst into a sudden passion of tears,—a softer agony than had shaken her before, but still so plainly an agony disproportionate to the occasion, that Mrs. Lyte's eyes suddenly opened to the perception of some hitherto unsuspected sorrow. She put her arms round her daughter, and drew her head on to her bosom, as in the days of her childhood."Only half-cousins, at best,—or rather, at worst," replied his wife. "And so utterly different in type and temperament, that the relationship could never be set up as an insurmountable barrier. Besides, having never met before, they now meet as strangers."Descending the staircase, immediately after the ceremony, they met a travel-stained gentleman coming up, who started at sight of her husband, and uttered the name of "Edmund Roath." He started in his turn, and grew deadly pale; nevertheless, he haughtily affirmed that it was "a mistake," conducted her home, begged to be excused while he attended to some forgotten formality, and left her with the careless smile and bow that argues an immediate return. Hours passed,—days passed,—yet he came not; neither had he left any track, trace, or clue behind. It was as if he had melted into thin air. There were those who hinted that a flight so sudden, swift, and effectual, must all along have been foreseen as a possible necessity, and provided for. She poured her loftiest scorn on the imputation; she believed him to have been murdered by robbers or secret political agents.
A pleasant family picture was before him. Bergan Arling, on one side of the crimson-covered centre-table, looked up, smiling, from the book out of which he had been reading aloud. Two of his sisters sat near him, busy with crotchet needles and bright worsteds. Still another was drawing at a side-table; and over her, giving her the benefit of his criticism, leaned her brother Hubert, scarce two years younger than Bergan, and so strikingly like him, that one was often taken for the other, outside the family circle. At one side of the fire-place sat the master of the house, a tall, noble-looking man, with eye undimmed and hair unfrosted by the snows of over sixty years. Opposite him was the home's true light and centre, the house-mother. She reclined in a large, low easy chair, the paleness on her face half concealed by the glow of the blazing fire, and her eyes shining with that tender joy and peace which convalescents sometimes bring back from the edge of the grave,—a reflection, perhaps, from the paradise that was already opening before the gaze of the half-freed spirit.One day he met her in the street alone, but, as he never presumed in the least upon the half confidential relations into which circumstances had thrown them, he was passing on with a courteous bow, when she stopped him.
An hour after, the door of Bergan's sick-room opened gently. His eyes were closed; he, too, had been thinking, as deeply as his weak, half unconscious state permitted; and his thoughts had been strangely like those of Carice. The tangled web left behind by Doctor Remy would be hard to unravel, he felt; and in the process, there would be much pain, loss, anxiety, and disgrace,—especially for Carice. His heart ached for her;—and a little also—for he was very weak and weary—for himself. Would it not be well to have done with it all,—to let thought, care, and life drift away together, as they seemed so ready to do, if only he ceased to hold them back? It would be so much easier to let them go!—was there really any good reason why he should try to live?'Backward and forward drove he them astray,"O Lord, we beseech Thee, absolve Thy people from their offences; that through Thy bountiful goodness, they may all be delivered from the bands of those sins which by their frailty they have committed."
Astra's lip trembled. Put in this way, the note might be retained; and no one knew so well as herself what an amount of relief to her, and of comfort to her mother, it ensured. But her pride was very sore, nevertheless, and her face was little grateful, as she dropped the note on the table, somewhat as if it had burned her fingers.
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"No, I am hardly that. But I am not accustomed to use spirituous liquors of any sort. And I certainly do not need them. I am in perfect health; I hardly know what it is to feel tired."Yet he would have been glad to be able to answer the question,—at least to himself. He was completely in the dark as to how Big Ben and his confederate had prospered in their evil undertaking. He knew that Bergan had not been found in his room, as was expected; but why he had gone forth so early, and whether he had encountered the ruffians, was altogether a mystery. All day, he had been holding himself ready for whatever might come,—Bergan's sudden appearance in the flesh, or the bringing in of his dead body, or a summons to go and afford him medical aid;—he did not mean to be taken off his guard, in any case. But the suspense was trying. It had not been contemplated in his original plan; it kept his mind and nerves continually on the stretch; it gave him an uncomfortable feeling that other hands than his own were busy with the dark threads of his schemes, weaving them into patterns that he had not designed. He longed to know precisely what he had to hope or to dread."Perhaps he had no choice," suggested Carice.
"Not that I know of," replied Dick. "But, 'At the game's end, see who wins.' There is time for him to make a dozen before he dies.""Nebber had any fader, sah. He sold down souf, fore I's born."详情
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