小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Minister's Wife » CHAPTER XX
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Next morning Mr. Lothian went to the Glebe as early as he could permit himself to go, though his heart had been on the way for hours before he permitted his reluctant footsteps to follow. He found Isabel lying on the sofa in the parlour, in the very spot where Margaret had died, and naturally the association of ideas struck him profoundly. ‘Why have you laid her there?’ he said to Jean, turning back from the door. There went a chill to his heart as if he had seen the tragedy all{126} acted over again, and heard that the end was already approaching.

Jean Campbell stared at him, only partially comprehending what he could mean. ‘Where else could I put her,’ she said, ‘unless it was ben in the kitchen with me? and the doctor says she’s to be kept quiet. And it’s mair cheerful there than in a bedroom, where she could see nobody.’

‘Cheerful!’ echoed the minister.

‘Eh aye real cheerful,’ said Jean, in whose mind perpetual use and wont had subdued the force of melancholy associations. ‘When I’ve put the sofa she can see the road, and the Loch, and the steamboat, which is real diverting—and I’m aye coming and going to keep her cheery myself. She’s no to call ill. It’s but the sorrow and the weakness and a’ her trouble. We’ve no need to be alarmed about her health, he says.’

Mr. Lothian, silenced by this matter of fact treatment of the subject, went into the parlour, feeling even his own apprehensions a little calmed down.

‘I am very glad to hear you are better,’ he said.

‘Oh, yes. I never was ill to speak of. I know I never was ill,’ said Isabel, turning away her head.

‘Then perhaps the rest and quiet is all you want?’ said the minister, not knowing in his agitation what to say. And then there was a pause. There were a hundred things which he had longed to say to her, but could not when the moment thus came. He felt as if some cruel necessity was upon him to think of Margaret—to remind her that Margaret had died just where she was lying—to beg her to change her attitude, and look, which made his heart sick with terror. He had to restrain himself with an effort from suggesting to her this strange topic. And perhaps the other things he was tempted to say would have been less palatable still. At last, after a perplexed and painful pause, he brought out of his pocket the letter of which he was the unwilling bearer.

‘I have a letter for you,’ he said, ‘it was left with me last night.’

‘A letter!’ said Isabel, growing pale, and then she turned it about in her hands, and looked at it. ‘It has no address.’

‘It was put up in such haste,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘Isabel, will you read it now, in case I can give you any explanation?—or shall I go away?’

‘It is from——’

‘Horace Stapylton. I gave my promise I would bring it—though against my will.’

Isabel gazed at him, for a moment growing pale.{127} She held the letter helplessly in her hand. What could he mean? It had been left with him last night. He could perhaps give some explanation. What could he mean? Her pulse began to beat again as it had not done since her faint. She made Mr. Lothian a little sign with her hand to stay, for he had risen, and stood quite apart from her in the centre of the room. Then with a hasty hand she tore open the letter. When the minister gave a stolen glance at her, he could see that her cheeks were growing more and more flushed and feverish. The colour on them was no passing glow of delight and modesty, but the burning red of excitement and sudden passion. She went over it all rapidly, and then she uttered a low cry. Mr. Lothian glanced at her, but, seeing that the cry was unconscious, betook himself again to the window with what calmness was possible. Isabel had come to the postscript. He did not look round again for what seemed to him an age. What roused him at last was the rustle of the paper falling to the ground, and turning round hastily, he found Isabel with her face buried in her hands in a passion of tears. This was hard to bear. He went back to his seat beside the sofa, and picking up the letter laid it gently on her lap; and then he touched her shoulder softly with a fatherly, caressing hand, and said, ‘My poor child! my poor child!’ in a voice that came out of the very depths of his heart.

Then Isabel uncovered hastily her passionate, tear-stained face.

‘It is not that!’ she cried—‘it is not that! Oh, I think shame! Am I one to be spoken to so?—is it my doing? I think my heart will break! Take it and read it, and tell me if it is my doing, before I die of shame.’

He could only gaze at her, wondering if her mind were unhinged; but hasty Isabel, all ablaze with passion and misery, could not stop to think. She took up the letter—her lover’s letter, and thrust it into his rival’s hand.

‘If it is my doing—oh, never speak to me again!’ she cried. Shame and anger, and disappointment and anguish, were all tearing her asunder. And she had no Margaret to go to, to relieve her. Someone must give her that support and solace which her heart demanded, or she felt she must die. She hung upon his looks as he read it, reading his expression.

‘Could it be my fault?’ she cried. ‘Oh, Mr. Lothian, was I such a light lass? Was it anything I did that made him write like that to me?’

‘No, Isabel,’ he said, with a blaze of rage in his eyes, taking her feverish hand. ‘No, Isabel. My dear,{128} think no more of it. It is that he understands neither yours nor you.’

And then instinctively, in an instant, hasty Isabel felt the mistake she had made, and felt that she could not bear any criticisms upon her lover even now. She took back her letter as suddenly as she had given it, and folded it up with trembling hands.

‘He does not understand,’ said Mr. Lothian, altogether unconscious of this rapid revolution. ‘You speak a language he cannot comprehend. The women he knows are a different species. Isabel, I have never said a word against him——’

‘No,’ she cried, hurriedly. ‘No; I am always a fool, and never know what I am doing. No. Dinna say a word now.’

Then he stopped suddenly, the very words arrested on his lips, and gazed at her wondering, not knowing what she could mean.

‘You don’t understand me either,’ cried Isabel. ‘Oh, not a word—not a word! You cannot judge him right; you never saw him like me. He was bewildered with the news; he never meant that.’

‘If I were to say the like, would you ever forgive me?’ said the minister, shaking his head. She answered only by weeping, a mode of reply which took all power of remonstrance or protestation away from the spectator. A hundred contradictory emotions were in Isabel’s tears. Shame and pain over the letter; shame still sharper, if not so deep, that she had offered it to the criticism of another; wrath against Stapylton; rage at herself; and a certain bitterness against her companion for not taking her lover’s part to her, for not contradicting her, and pleading his rival’s cause. She could not have spoken all this wild jumble of pain and passion; but she poured it all forth in tears.

It was the postscript which had specially excited her, and which ran as follows:—

‘I have just heard that my father is ill, and I must go. I would have waited till to-morrow even now, but I hear he might alter his will, which would never do. It is all your own fault. I was ready, waiting for you—as you know. What could a man do more? If you will come, and meet me somewhere on the Border, as soon as this business is settled, you will find me as ready then as I was to-day. No time to say a word more.’

Mr. Lothian once more left her side, and went back to the window in his perplexity.

‘I should not disturb you,’ he said, with his back to her. ‘I should go away. But it is grievous to me to{129} see your tears. I would give my very blood to save one tear falling from your eyes. And he would wring tears of blood out of your heart; and yet he is chosen, and I am rejected. What more can I have to say?’

‘Nothing! oh, nothing!’ cried Isabel. ‘Oh, will you not understand? I would like to hide myself in the depths of the earth. I was going to him yesterday, when I fainted. I have kept it a secret, and it was like a lie burning in my heart. Now I have told you; I would have gone with him if I had kept in life. What better am I than him? He is free to speak, for he sees I am no better. It is my fault, and not his. And now you know,’ cried the girl, clasping her passionate hands together, ‘and you may despise me! I let him tempt me; I could not bear the awfu’ quiet. I’ll cure you at least, if I shame myself. It was me that was to blame.’

‘But I am not cured. I’ll never be cured, my dear, my dear!’ cried the grey-haired man, coming back to her, with tears in his eyes, and taking her hands into his own. ‘It was your innocence, and your grief. Do you think I do not know of the struggle that was in your heart?’

She left her hands indifferently in his, not seeming to care for, nor scarcely to perceive, his emotion. She fixed her eyes vacantly upon the air, with great tears rising in them.

‘And Margaret knows it all,’ she said; two piteous tears, the very essence of her pain, dilated her eyes into two great globes, but did not fall. Self-abasement could go no further. Margaret, in Heaven, would not despise her sister. But what could she think of the variable, miserable creature who, fresh from her own death-bed, could be tempted by such a poor temptation, and think such thoughts as these?


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533