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light? Ah, fatal eyes !_eyes that first taught me that wondrous power which has embittered my life, and left me nothing now but racking remorse and despair.
Notwithstanding the unimpressible and passionless course of life I had marked out for myself, I could not help observing after a few days that Clara was very partial to my company. By some chance or another we were always together, whether riding in the country, walking in the grounds, or sitting in the house. One fact, however, I knew and kept to myself,—I can confess it now,—I dare not look straight into her eyes. From the moment I had met her I had never done so; a strange, indefinable fear possessed me that, if our eyes met, evil would result. However, that occurrence did happen at last.
One morning Mr. Attwood, accompanied by most of the gentlemen of our party, set off on a fishing excursion up the river. I stayed behind, having some letters to write for town. I sat in my own apartment; but the sun was shining so brightly out of doors, that I was continually longing to be out, and this desire was strengthened by seeing from my window Miss Belford with our host's only child, little Edith, one of the most charming and lovely children I ever met with. Locking up my papers, I hastened to join them, and proposed a walk. This, however, little Edith could not do, as she was required within doors by her governess. We therefore left her behind, full of life and gaiety; and as we walked towards the park we heard her ringing laugh as she ran to the house, promising to join us when her lesson was done.
Clara and I strolled on together through the park, or rather through a long narrow plantation that bordered one side of the park. It was morning in Midsummer, and the warm sunlight came filtering through the cool green leaves overhead, and lay upon the dark green moss of our path like golden embroidery. Our conversation, by some chance or other, had turned upon the expression and effect of the human eye. I think now that Clara had purposely introduced the subject. I can remember hearing her say, that it was a vulgar error to suppose that a man betrayed guilt or insincerity when he did not look you in the face; and on the contrary, that guilt and deceit often look at you more boldly and openly than innocence. I assented, but did not look up. That inexpressible dread of meeting her eyes was stealing over me. Again she spoke
“You will pardon me, I know, Mr. Faulkland, if what I say appears personal ; but you yourself never look at me when you speak to me. I observe that when you speak to others you look at them; pray, have I offended you ?"
I tried to laugh the question away, saying that I was afraid of her captivating glances, but I still continued to look at the ground. But she was not to be put off; she insisted, laughingly, upon my answer.
We were walking along very slowly, her hand resting in my arm, when she suddenly stopped, saying, ..
“You are trembling, Mr. Faulkland; what is the matter ?"
I turned, all my resolution fading, and looked right into her deep beautiful eyes. It was only for an instant that our eyes met; but a shock like that of electricity passed through my whole frame, and I positively staggered under its force. Recovering myself, I saw that Clara had turned deadly pale; her face was fixed with a fearful expression, her arms were stretched out before her, and her hands seemed grappling with an unseen adversary. In an instant she ceased, and, pressing both her hands convulsively against her heart, would have fallen if I had not supported her. When she had partly recovered, she asked me, in a faint voice, to assist her back to the house. We walked slowly along the green shade, until we were about to turn off to the garden-path that led towards the house, when she again stopped. During this homeward walk, I could not help perceiving that a new feeling had sprung up in my heart,—a feeling as if a trust had been reposed in me; that I was bound henceforth to love and protect the fragile little girl at my side. When she stopped, I was not afraid, as before, to look at her; on the contrary, it was she now who looked upon the ground.
“Mr. Faulkland,” she said, after a short pause, “I am somewhat at a loss to express myself. I ought to apologise for my seeming weakness a short time ago. I am not subject to such attacks, and I need hardly say to you that it was no piece of affected young-ladyism on my part.”
“I entreat,” I said, “that you will not think of the matter in that light for one instant. I am glad to see that you are recovered ; and I may tell you now, that I have always feared that some misfortune would arise if our glances met. I am seldom wrong in these surmises."
She stood in the checkered shade of the trees, the little patches of sunlight dancing over her brown hair and her light dress. Her little white jewelled hands moved nervously together, but her eyes were still fixed upon the ground, and as I gazed on the dark fringe of eye-lash that shaded her still pale face, I felt springing up in my breast a deep love for her,-a love subdued and kept under for the best part of a life-time. Where were all my resolutions now? All fled. I longed to clasp her to my heart, and burning words of love were on my tongue, when, still without raising her eyes, she laid her hand upon my arm, and said,
“ There is one question that I wish to ask you. It may only arise from my weakness and nervousness: but when-when-your eyes met mine a short time ago, was there any particular thought passing through your mind ?”
“Nothing,” I answered, "except that I thought your eyes were very beautiful.”
She seemed annoyed, and, waving her hands slightly, said,
“Did no passing thought or wish come into your mind just before or just as you looked into my eyes. Any thing about any body in the house, or connected with the gentleman in whose house we are staying? Pray tell me."
Then I recollected that, just at the period she referred to, there passed across my mind a wish that something might bappen in our host's family that would break up the party. It was a selfish wish, arising from the uncomfortable feeling I had at that moment towards Miss Belford, arising from the indescribable presentiment I have before referred to. I told her, half laughing, of this wish. I saw her turn even paler as I spoke ; her hands dropped to her side, and she shook her head, saying sadly,
"I knew it. That wish, as you uttered it mentally, sank into my heart, and I feel a deadly certainty that something terrible will result from it.”
I did not understand her meaning then,-God knows I remembered her words long afterwards,—but seeing that she appeared much overcome and shocked, I supported her back to the house. Neither of us spoke. As we approached the door, we were conscious that something unusual had occurred. One of the servants came running towards us, and asked if we had seen his master, Mr. Attwood. I told him that I believed he had gone up the river fishing. The man, who appeared terrified, rushed away in the direction I indicated without any explanation. I passed on with Miss Belford towards the hall, where we found every one in consternation. Servants and guests were hurrying in every direction, and it was some time before I learned the startling truth. Little Edith was dead. Clara Belford, on hearing the dreadful announcement, with a suppressed scream, clung to my arm, murmuring,
“I knew it, I knew it. My God, that it should have come to this !"
Still I did not fully appreciate the awful nature of the catastrophe that had occurred. I handed my companion, more dead than alive seemingly, to some of the ladies, and then made further inquiries. From what I gathered, it seemed that little Edith had been sitting in the study reading with her governess, the latter sitting in the window recess, and the former at the table. Suddenly the governess was surprised to see the little girl rise from her seat, with a strange expression of surprise and terror in her face. She walked a few steps towards the door, which was shut, and holding out her hands said,
“What is it, Miss Belford ? Dear Miss Belford, what have I done ?” and then, with a piercing scream, she fell, her fingers convulsively working round her neck, as if trying vainly to remove something that was strangling her. The governess cried for assistance, which was immediately at hand; but it was all of no avail-in a few moments little Edith breathed her last.
I heard afterwards, round her throat were discovered several marks, as if she had been strangled by the hands of some one. The doctors said she had died of epilepsy, and these marks were soon forgotten by all but me.
The events of that day, after I had received this intelligence, passed by me like the events of a confused dream. The coincidence, for such I took it to be, at first appeared strange; but the extraordinary remarks of Miss Belford, and the last words of the dying child, smote me with a feeling of terror and dismay. I wandered in and about the house in a semiconscious state. I remember seeing several of the visitors leaving, and have an indistinct recollection of Mr. Attwood's return, and his wild excess of grief. A guilty feeling seemed to haunt my heart, and a voice appeared to be ever murmuring in my ear, “ Thou art the man !"
Evening came, and then night. I found out that none of the guests remained in the house except Miss Belford and myself. An uncontrollable wish to see her and speak to her took possession of me, but I learned that she was still too unwell to leave her room. Mr. Attwood and his wife, also, were so overcome with their grief, that I could not see them. I felt the room that I was in grow close and oppressive, so I again left the house and wandered out into the park. The moon was just rising, but the only light was the diffused light of the countless stars.
I wandered on moodily to the spot where I had last spoken to Clara. Although the terrible event which had happened filled my mind with apprehension and fear, still through all I felt that my new love glowed fiercely. I longed to see her, to pour out my whole heart to her. Then the thought of her betrothal to another struck me, but I at once set it aside. Let me only see her ; let me only tell her how deeply, how passionately I love her; let me hear her refusal from her own lips, and I will be satisfied. These were my thoughts as I plunged, in a strange mingling of feelings, into the dark wood. I walked along the same path which we had taken in the morning. There was not a breath of wind stirring, and through the openings in the trees I could see the landscape just commencing to gleam out under the beams of the full moon. Every thing around was still and peaceful. I pictured to myself, as I walked along, the quiet, sombre room where little Edith, so full of life and smiles in the morning, now lay dead and cold, with the blue, livid finger-marks on her white throat. I pictured also the deep grief of the bereaved father and mother, and the bitter tears welled up into my eyes. I crushed my hands over my face and sobbed aloud. At this moment I thought I heard a rustling among the trees behind me, but I could see no one. I looked round the place, but it was too dark—there was no one visible. I turned back towards the house, but could not get rid of the idea that some one was following me. I walked faster, and at length arrived at the open space at the end of the walk. The moon was now shining brightly on the broad white gravel-path. I stepped aside under the shadow of a large lime-tree, and determined to wait and see if any one had been really following me. I had not to wait long. Slowly out of the dark path, slowly into the bright moon-light, came the one form that in my strange, wild desire I most wished to see. The instant she came into the full light, I recognised Clara Belford.
When I walked up to her, she did not start,—she did not even look up; she held out both her hands, which I took in mine, and then she
“Mr. Faulkland, I have been wishing all this evening to speak to
you. I thought I should find you near this spot; but when I came up to you I was afraid to speak. I know not, even now, how to say all that I mean. You must think it strange that I should seek you here, and speak to you in this way; but the events of this day seem to have changed my whole nature. I find myself, in a manner totally inexplicable, to be subject to you. Ever since that strange instant when our eyes met, I have felt that I am completely under the power and control of your will. I know not whether you exercise that power willingly and consciously; but if you do, I can only entreat you to have mercy. If you knew the dreadful pang that passed through my heart this morning, if you could conceive the dreadful hours of anguish and terror that I have endured since,-you would have pity upon me.”
She said this in a faltering manner, her hands clasped in mine, and her eyes still fixed on the ground, while tears glistened upon her long eye-lashes.
“Miss Belford-Clara,” I said, “ believe me, that any power or influence that I may seem to exercise over your mind or your will is not exerted willingly. I know not by what strange fatality we have thus been brought together; but this I can tell you, that in the moment to which you have several times referred, resolutions that I had kept for years were broken. I had sworn never to love again; and now, even if these are the last words I shall ever speak to you, I must tell you that I love you with all the strength and passion of my heart.”
She struggled, and endeavoured to free her hands; but I held them fast, while I watched her pale face, now wet with tears, pitilessly, in the passionate torrent of words that I uttered. I cannot remember now what I said. All I know is, that I prayed, I implored her to return my love, because my heart was hers for ever.
After a short silence, she answered, comparatively calmly,
“Again, Mr. Faulkland, I must appeal to your pity, your commiseration, and I am sure that I will not appeal in vain. You must knowyou must have heard—that my hand is engaged. With my hand must go my heart. For four years I have been engaged to my cousin, Arthur Chetwynd. I love him, I have always loved him; and never, until this day, has there been one thought of mine untrue or unloyal to him. Nay, sir, hear me patiently. I met you here, and have respected and enjoyed your friendship. Never, however, until the moment when our eyes met, and that fatal wish crossed your mind, has there been any feeling save that of friendship towards you in my heart; and now, Heaven only knows wherefore, now,”
“Now, dearest Clara !” I said hurriedly.
“Now," she said, almost in a whisper, “I know that I love you. Pity. me, Faulkland. Remember that by every law of right and honour I am bound to my cousin Arthur. I feel assured that you are a gentleman and a man of honour. Respect my secret. Let us part here tonight for ever. I have been so ill, so unhappy, so wretched, that I