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: 7

wont to hang, and tell me where they are now!'

More from mechanical instinct than from any actual purpose of mind—for he did not, at the first instant, fully comprehend her meaning—Sergius followed the motion of her hand, and gazed at the wall above his head; then passed his fingers along until he touched the empty nail—then looked back inquiringly at her.

'The keys are gone, are they not?' she said. 'Fool! to lock up one party to a fault, and yet let the other one go free! Do you suppose that during your carousing with your boon companions, she would fail to succor him for whose sake she has already lost so much?'

Still he gazed at Leta with a look of puzzled inquiry, which now began, however, to be disturbed by an expression of painful doubt. Then suddenly, ascertaining that the keys were really gone, her meaning flashed upon him; and dropping his hand with a wrathful exclamation, he turned and strode into the palace. Not, perhaps, with full conviction of the truth of the suggestion so artfully arrayed before him. But he would at least prove its truth or falsity; and, with that suspicion fastened upon his bewildered and unreasoning mind, to doubt was almost to believe, and crossing the ante-chamber to Ænone's room, he burst in upon her.

She had fallen into a troubled sleep—lying dressed upon the outside of her couch, as, in her agony of mind, she had first thrown herself down. The unspent tears still trembled upon her eyelids. Beside her lay the little folded parchment which Cleotos had given her. She had taken it out to read, hoping, but scarcely believing, that she would now be able to experience the truth of what she had been told about the earnest words there written being divinely adapted to give peace to a troubled heart. But her sorrow was too deep to be healed by phrases whose spirit could, of necessity, be so imperfectly comprehended by her; and the writing had slipped unheeded from her light grasp.

As her husband now entered, she awoke and sat upright, in frightened attitude, not knowing what fate was about to befall her.

'Where is he? What have you done with him?' Sergius cried, seizing her by the arm.

She did not answer, not knowing, of course, wherefore the question was put to her, or what it concerned. Yet, perceiving that she was again suspected of some act of which she was innocent, she would have asked for mercy and pardon, if time had been given her. But even that was denied her. Hardly, indeed, could she draw a breath, when she felt that a new thread was woven in the web of misconception which surrounded her. For, at that moment, her husband's eye fell upon the forgotten parchment; and picking it up, he opened it, gave one hasty look, and then tossed it aside. What need, now, of further proof? Was not that the slave's writing, recognizable at a glance? Words of love, of course! And she had gone to sleep fondly holding them in her hand, as a treasure from which she could not be parted for an instant. Words not freshly written, either, for the parchment was yellow and discolored. So much the worse, therefore; for did it not prove a course of long-continued deception? Could there be any doubt now? Yes, a long deceit. And this was she for whom, in his simplicity, he had but a moment before been framing excuses, in the effort to convince himself that her fault had been one of impulse, rather than of cool deliberation! This was she in whose behalf he had weakly lowered himself to plead to his own cast-off slave for extenuating evidences! And once more grasping her by the arm, he lifted her from the couch, and, followed by Leta, hurried her across the room into the outer hall, into the court yard, past the fountain, and so onward until they stood before the prison house. There, seeing the inner door open, the outer door swinging loosely inward, with the key yet remaining in its lock, and the captive fled, Sergius deemed her new crime fully proved, and again turned madly upon her.

'Where is he? What have you done with him? Am I to be thus balked of my vengeance? Is it to be endured that, while I entertain my friends, you should steal off so treacherously, and thus complete the dishonor you have brought upon me?'

'I have not—done dishonor—to my lord!' she gasped with difficulty, for she was almost speechless from the rapidity with which he had hurried her along, and his close grasp upon her arm pained her. 'Let me but speak—I will explain—I know not how—'

'No falsehoods—no pleadings to me!' he cried. 'It will avail you nothing now. What more proof do I need? Is not the whole story written out plainly before my eyes? Have you not stolen away to release him, preferring his safety and favor to my honor or your own? If not, where is he? Escaped me, by the gods! Escaped me, after all! Fool that I have been, to leave that key within your meddling reach!'

Overborne by his violence, not of words merely, but of gesture, Ænone had, little by little, shrunk from before him as he spoke, until she had unconsciously passed through the open doorway, and into the narrow street beyond. Leta and he still remained within the building, standing beside the swinging door. There was even now but a single pace between Ænone and himself, and it was scarcely likely that such a trifling distance could reassure her. It was more probably something in his tone or action which now gave her courage to meet his imputation. Whatever the nature of the inspiration, she now suddenly drew herself up, as though indued with new strength, and answered him with something of the same recklessness of spirit with which once before during that day she had cast aside all fear of misconstruction, and, with the sustaining consciousness of innocence and justice, had defied him.

'Escaped you?' she cried; 'I thank the gods for it! I did not set him free, but I would have done so, had I known how. He was my friend—my brother. Would I have left him, do you think, to suffer torture and death for simple kindnesses to me, when, with one turn of a key, I—could have released him? Would I let the memory of other days so completely pass from my mind as to—'

How, at that instant, happened the door to close? Was it owing to the wind, or to a skilful and concealed touch of Leta's hand, or to some unconscious pressure of Sergius against it? The cause matters little. It was enough that, of a sudden, the loosely hanging door swung round on its creaking hinges into its place, fastening itself securely with a spring bolt as its edge touched the lintel, and leaving Ænone shut out alone in the dark street upon the other side.

Upon the instant, Sergius sprang forward to reopen the door. Convinced of her perfidy, and madly lashing himself into yet further fury with the consciousness of his wrongs, it was as yet not in his mind that even by accident such a forced separation as this should befall her. His hand was upon the bolt—in another second it would have been drawn back—when his further action was arrested by a few lowly uttered words of Leta.

Not spoken to him, for, in his present state of mind, he was more than ever morbidly jealous of any interference or attempted control, and would most surely have disregarded them. But spoken as though to herself, in a kind of whispered soliloquy, softly muttered, but yet with utterance sufficiently distinct to reach his watchful ear.

'Ah, she will not regard that,' were the words, 'for of course she will know where to rejoin him.'

Sergius started as the new idea impressed itself upon him. Could this be true, indeed? Why not? Was it likely that the wife would have released the slave whom she loved, and not have told him where they could meet again? That, surely, would be too foolish an oversight, for it would be throwing away all the benefits attending the escape. It were hardly possible that any trust could have been reposed in the prospect of future chance interviews, for that