قراءة كتاب The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy

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‏اللغة: English
The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864
Devoted To Literature And National Policy

The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

bound her to her native land; and though she never expected to return thither, yet it was not pleasant to feel that she had been cut asunder from all possibility of it. Now, for the moment, she was in the mood to look around her for a friend to lean upon; and it might be that she could find that friend in Sergius, if she would consent to let her vengeance sleep, and would forbear to pursue him with further machinations. His love, to be sure, was gone from her, never to be restored; but, after all, might it not be better to retain his friendship than to incur his hate? And if she were now to make full disclosure of the past, and ask his pardon, who could estimate the possible limits of the forgiveness and generosity which, in his newly found happiness, he might extend to her? And then, now that her plans had failed, what need of inflicting further misery upon those who, in their former trust, had lavished kindnesses upon her? And once more her thoughts reverted to Cleotos; and with that feeling of utter loneliness sinking into her heart, and making her crave even to be thought well of by another, she reflected how that friend of her youth would not fail to ask the blessing of the gods upon her, if ever, in his native home, he were to hear that she had acted a generous part, and, by a few simple and easily spoken words, had swept away the web of mischief which her arts had woven.

'What can I say?' she exclaimed, hesitatingly, as she met the pleading look which Sergius fastened upon her.

'Say the best you can; so that, though I can never forgive her, I may not think more harshly of her than I ought. Can I forget that I loved her for years before I ever met yourself; and that, but for you, I might be loving her still? Can I forget that it was not for my own glory, but for hers, that I tore myself away from her and went to these late wars, hoping to win new honors, only that I might lay them at her feet? Night after night, as I lay in my tent and gazed up at the sky, I thought of her alone, and how that the stars shone with equal light upon us both; and I nerved my soul with new strength, to finish my task with diligence, so that I might the more quickly return to her side. And then, Leta, then it was that I met yourself; and how sadly and basely I yielded to the fascinations you threw about me, you too well know. It was not love I felt for you; think it not. My passion for you was no more like the calm affection with which I had cherished her, than is the flame which devours the village like the moonlight which so softly falls upon and silvers yonder fountain. But, for all that, it has brought destruction upon me. And now—'

'And now, Sergius?'

'Now I am undone by reason of it. From the first moment your ensnaring glance met mine, I was undone, though I then knew it not. Then was my pure love for her obscured. Then, impelled by I know not what infernal spirit, began my downward course of deceit, until at last I almost learned to hate her whom I had so much loved, and met her, at the end, with but a simulated affection; caring but little for her, indeed, but not—the gods be thanked!—so far gone in my selfish cruelty as to be able to wound her heart by open neglect in that hour of her joy. Whatever I may have done since then, that day, at least, her happiness was undimmed. How gladly would I now give up all the honors I have gained, if I could but restore the peace and quiet of the past! Remembering all this, Leta, and how much of this cruel wrong is due to you, can you not have pity? I know that she would never have been exposed to this temptation but for my own neglect of her, and but for the fact that you had ambitious purposes of your own to work out. Nay, I chide you not. Let all that pass and be forgotten. I will be generous, and never mention it again, if you will only tell me how far your arts, rather than her own will, have led her astray. It cannot harm you now to freely utter everything. The time for me to resent it is past. I have no further power over you, or the will to exercise it if I had.'

A moment before, and she had been on the point of yielding to the unaccustomed pity that she began to feel, and so make full disclosure. But now, as, almost unconsciously to himself, Sergius spoke of her baffled hopes and vaguely hinted at her altered position toward himself—a change of which he believed her to be yet ignorant—her fount of mercy became instantly scaled up, and her nearly melted heart again turned to flint. Yes, she had almost forgotten her new destiny. But now at once appeared before her, with all the vividness of reality, the banquet hall, ringing with the shrill laughter of the heated revellers, as, with the dice box, they decided her future fate. Like a flash the softened smile fled from her face, leaving only cold, vindictive defiance pictured there. And as Sergius, who had been led on from utterance to utterance by the increasing signs of compassion he read in her, saw the sudden and unaccountable change, he paused, in mingled wonderment and dismay; and, with the conviction that his hopes had failed him, he put off, in turn, his own softened mien, and glaring back defiance upon her, prepared for desperate struggle.

'You speak of my new ownership—of the actor Bassus?' she exclaimed.

'You know it, then?' cried he. 'You have played the spy upon us?'

'Know it?' she repeated. 'When, in your wild revelling, your raised voices told me how heedlessly you were bringing ruin upon yourself with the dice, would I have been anything but a fool not to have remembered that I, too, being your property, might pass away with the rest? Was it not fit, then, that I should have stolen to the screen and listened? You thought to keep it secret, perhaps, until Bassus should send to take me away from here; for you imagined that I might attempt escape. But you do not know me yet. Am I a child, to kick and scream, and waste my strength in unavailing strife against a fate that, in my heart, I feel must sooner or later be submitted to? Not long ago—it matters not how or when—I could have avoided it all, but would not. Now that I have sacrificed that chance, I will go to my doom with a smile upon my lips, whatever heaviness may be in my heart; for, having chosen my path, I will not shrink from following it. Thus much for myself. And as for you, who have tossed me one side to the first poor brute who has begged for me, and even at this instant have taunted me with the story of baffled hopes, does it seem becoming in you to appeal longer to me, as you have done, for comfort?'

No answer; but in the angry, heated glare with which he faced her, could be seen the new fury which was rising within him—all the more violent, perhaps, from the late calm that had possessed him.

'And yet, for the sake of the past, I might even be willing to comfort you, if it were possible,' she continued, casting about in her mind for new tortures with which to rack him, and now suddenly struck with an inward joy, as her ever-ready invention came to her aid. 'Yes, if I knew aught of good to tell, I would mention it, for the memory of other days. But how can I speak with truth, unless to recapitulate new deceits and wiles which she has practised upon you, and of which, may the gods be my witness! I would have told you before, but dared not? You say that you have never loved me, Sergius Vanno. It is well. But if you had done so, I would have been faithful to you to the end. You say that you loved her, and that, but for your own falsehood, she would not have strayed from you. Poor dupe! to believe that, for all that meek, pale face of hers, she cannot resolve, and act, and mask her purposes as cunningly as any of the rest of her sex! Shall I tell you more? Do you dream that, while you have been revelling, she has been idly whimpering in her chamber? Had you watched outside with me, you might have known better. Look above your head, Sergius, to where the prison keys are