Grace Aguilar.

The Vale of Cedars online

. (page 8 of 23)
Online LibraryGrace AguilarThe Vale of Cedars → online text (page 8 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


love, if so soon it was as nought?"

"Then believe me all thou sayest," replied Marie, more
firmly - "believe me thus false and perjured, and forget me, Senor
Stanley; crush even my memory from thy heart, and give not a thought
to one so worthless! Mystery as there was around me when we first met,
there is a double veil around me now, which I may not lift even to
clear myself with thee. Turn thy love into the scorn which my perjury
deserves, and leave me."

"I will not!" burst impetuously from Arthur, as he suddenly flung
himself at her feet. "Marie, I will not leave thee thus; say but that
some unforeseen circumstances, not thine own will, made thee the
wife of this proud Spaniard; say but that neither thy will nor thy
affections were consulted, that no word of thine could give him hope
he was beloved - that thou lovest me still; say but this, and I will
bless thee!"

"Ask it not, Senor Stanley. The duty of a wife would be of itself
sufficient to forbid such words; with me gratitude and reverence
render that duty more sacred still. Wouldst thou indeed sink me so low
as, even as a wife, to cease to respect me? Rise, Senor Stanley! such
posture is unsuited to thee or me; rise, and leave me; we must never
meet alone again."

Almost overpowered with contending emotions, as he was, there was
a dignity, the dignity of truth in that brief appeal, which Arthur
vainly struggled to resist. She had not attempted a single word of
exoneration, and yet his reproaches rushed back into his own heart as
cruel and unjust, and answer he had none. He rose mechanically, and
as he turned aside to conceal the weakness, a deep and fearful
imprecation suddenly broke from him; and raising her head, Marie
beheld her husband.

Every softened feeling fled from Stanley's breast; the passionate
anger which Marie's words had calmed towards herself, now burst fourth
unrestrained towards Morales. His sudden appearance bringing the
conviction that he had played the spy upon their interview, roused
his native irritation almost into madness. His sword flew from its
scabbard, and in fearful passion he exclaimed - "Tyrant and coward! How
durst thou play the spy? Is it not enough that thou hast robbed me of
a treasure whose value thou canst never know? for her love was mine
alone ere thou earnest between us, and by base arts and cruel force
compelled her to be thine. Ha! wouldst thou avoid me? refuse to cross
my sword! Draw, or I will proclaim thee coward in the face of the
whole world!"

With a faint cry, Marie had thrown herself between them; but strength
failed with the effort, and she would have fallen had not Morales
upheld her with his left arm. But she had not fainted; every sense
felt wrung into unnatural acuteness Except to support her, Morales had
made no movement; his tall figure was raised to its fullest height,
and his right arm calmly uplifted as his sole protection against
Arthur. "Put up your sword," he said firmly, and fixing his large dark
eyes upon his irritated adversary, with a gaze far more of sorrow than
of anger, "I will not fight thee. Proclaim me what thou wilt. I fear
neither thy sword nor thee. Go hence, unhappy boy; when this chafed
mood is past, thou wilt repent this rashness, and perchance find it
harder to forgive thyself than I shall to forgive thee. Go; thou art
overwrought. We are not equals now."

Stanley involuntarily dropped the point of his sword. "I obey thee,"
he said, in that deep concentrated tone, which, betrays strong passion
yet more than violent words; "obey thee, because I would not strike an
undefended foe; but we shall meet again in a more fitting place and
season. Till then, hear me, Don Ferdinand! We have hitherto been as
companions in arms, and as friends, absent or together; from this
moment the tie is broken, and for ever. I am thy foe! one who hath
sworn to take thy life, or lose his own. I will compel thee to meet
me! Ay, shouldst thou shun me, to the confines of the world I will
track and find thee. Coward and spy! And yet men think thee noble!"

A bitter laugh of scorn concluded these fatal words. He returned his
sword violently to its sheath; the tread of his armed heel was heard
for a few seconds, and then all was silent.

Morales neither moved nor spoke, and Marie lifted her head to look on
his face in terror. The angry words of Arthur had evidently fallen
either wholly unheeded, or perhaps unheard. There was but one feeling
expressed on those chiseled features, but one thought, but one
conviction; a low, convulsive sob broke from her, and she fainted in
his arms.




CHAPTER XIII.

"Why, when my life on that one hope, cast,
Why didst thou chain my future to her past?
Why not a breath to say she loved before?"

BULWER.

"Oh leave me not! or know
Before thou goest, the heart that wronged thee so
But wrongs no more."

BULWER.


In the first painful moments of awakening sense, Marie was only
conscious of an undefined yet heavy weight on heart and brain; but as
strength returned she started up with a faint cry, and looked wildly
round her. The absence of Morales, the conviction that he had left her
to the care of others, that for the first time he had deserted her
couch of pain, lighted up as by an electric flash the marvellous links
of memory, and the whole of that morning's anguish, every word spoken,
every feeling endured, rushed back upon her with such overwhelming
force as for the moment to deprive her of the little strength she
had regained. Why could she not die? was the despairing thought that
followed. What had she to live for, when it was her ill fate to wreck
the happiness of all who loved her? and yet in that moment of agony
she never seemed to have loved her husband more. It was of him she
thought far more than of Arthur, whose angry words and fatal threat
rung again and again in her ears.

"My Lord had only just left when you recovered consciousness, Senora,"
gently remarked her principal attendant, whose penetration had
discovered the meaning of Marie's imploring look and passive silence,
so far at least that it was Don Ferdinand she sought, and that his
absence pained her. "He tarried till life seemed returning, and then
reluctantly departed for the castle, where he had been summoned, he
said, above an hour before."

"To the castle!" repeated Marie internally. "Ay, he will do his duty,
though his heart be breaking. He will take his place and act his part,
and men will report him calm, wise, collected, active as his wont, and
little dream his wife, his treasured wife, has bowed his lofty spirit
to the dust, and laid low his light of home. Tell me when he returns,"
she said aloud, "and bid all leave me but yourself."

Two hours passed, and Marie lay outwardly still and calm, neither
speaking nor employed. But at the end of that time she started up
hastily, resumed the robe which had been cast aside, and remained
standing, as intently listening to some distant sound. Several minutes
elapsed, and though she had sunk almost unconsciously on the seat
Manuella proffered, it was not till full half an hour that she spoke.

"The Senor has returned," she said calmly; "bid Alberic hither."

The page came, and she quietly inquired if any strangers had entered
with his master.

"No, Senora, he is alone."

"Has he long returned?"

"Almost half an hour, Senora. He went directly to his closet, desiring
that he might not be disturbed."

Ten minutes more, and Marie was standing in her husband's presence,
but unobserved. For the first time in his whole life had her light
step approached him unheard. For two hours he had borne a degree of
mental suffering which would either have crushed or roused any other
man into wildest fury - borne it with such an unflinching spirit, that
in neither look nor manner, nor even tone, had he departed from his
usual self, or given the slightest occasion for remark. But the
privacy of his closet obtained, the mighty will gave way, and the
stormy waves rolled over him, deadening every sense and thought and
feeling, save the one absorbing truth, that he had never been beloved.
Father and child had deceived him; for now every little word, every
trifling occurrence before his marriage in the Vale of Cedars
rushed back on his mind, and Henriquez imploring entreaty under all
circumstances to love and cherish her was explained.

"Ferdinand!" exclaimed a voice almost inarticulate from sobs; and
starting, he beheld his wife kneeling by his side. "Oh! my husband, do
not turn from me, do not hate me. I have none but thee."

He tried to withdraw his hand, but the words, the tone, unmanned him,
and throwing his arm round her, he clasped her convulsively to his
heart, and she felt his slow scalding tears fall one by one, as wrung
from the heart's innermost depths, upon her cheek.

For several minutes there was silence. The strong man's emotion is as
terrible to witness as terrible to feel. Marie was the first to regain
voice; and in low beseeching accents she implored him to listen to
her - to hear ere he condemned.

"Not thus," was his sole reply, as he tried to raise her from her
kneeling posture to the cushion by his side.

"Yes, thus my husband. I will not rise till thou say'st thou canst
forgive; wilt take the loving and the weak back to thy heart, if not
to love as thou hast loved, to strengthen and forgive. I have not
wronged thee. Were I false in word or thought I would not kneel to ask
forgiveness, but crawl to thy feet and die! If thou couldst but know
the many, many times I have longed to confess all; the agony to
receive thy fond caress, thy trusting confidence, and know myself
deceiving; the terror lest thou shouldst discover aught from other
than myself; oh! were it not for thy deep woe, I could bless this
moment, bidding me speak Truth once more!"

"And say thou hast never loved me? Wert true from duty, not from love?
Marie, can I bear this?"

"Yes - for I do love thee. Oh! my husband, I turn to thee alone, under
my God, for rest and peace. If I might not give thee the wild passions
of my youth, when my heart was sought, and won ere I was myself
conscious of the precipice I neared, I cling to thee now alone - I
would be thine alone. Oh, take me to thy heart, and let me lie there.
Ferdinand, Ferdinand! forgive me! - love - save me from myself!"

"Ay, now and ever! Come to my heart, beloved one!" answered her
husband, rousing himself from all of personal suffering to comfort
her; and he drew her to him till her head rested on his bosom. "Now
tell me thy sorrowing tale, to me so wrapt in mystery. Fear not
from me. It is enough thou clingest to me in such sweet guileless
confidence still."

She obeyed him; and the heavy weight of suffering years seemed
lightening as she spoke. From her first meeting Arthur, to that
morning's harrowing interview, every feeling, every incident, every
throb of reproach and dread were revealed with such touching and
childlike truth, that even in his suffering, Morales unconsciously
clasped his wife closer and closer to him, as if her very confidence
and truth, rendered her yet dearer than before, and inexpressibly
soothed at the very moment that they pained. Their interview was long,
but fraught with mutual comfort. Morales had believed, when he entered
his closet that day, that a dense cloud was folded round him, sapping
the very elements of life; but though he still felt as if he had
received some heavy physical blow, the darkness had fled from his
spirit, and light dawned anew for both, beneath the heavenly rays of
openness and Truth.

"And Arthur?" Marie said, as that long commune came to a close; and
she looked up with the fearless gaze of integrity in her husband's
face. "Thou wilt forgive him, Ferdinand? he knew not what he said."

"Trust me, beloved one. I pity and forgive him. He shall learn to love
me, despite himself."

Great was the astonishment and terrible the disappointment of Don Luis
Garcia at the visible failure of one portion of his nefarious schemes.
Though seldom in Don Ferdinand's actual presence, he was perfectly
aware that instead of diminishing, Morales' confidence in and love
for his wife had both increased, and that Marie was happier and more
quietly at rest than she had been since her marriage. But though
baffled, Garcia was not foiled. The calm, haughty dignity which,
whenever they did chance to meet, now characterized Don Ferdinand's
manner towards him; the brief, stern reply, if words were actually
needed; or complete silence, betraying as it did tire utter contempt
and scorn with which his crafty design was regarded, heightened his
every revengeful feeling, and hastened on his plans.

Two or three weeks passed: a calm security and peaceful happiness had
taken the place of storm and dread in Marie's heart. She felt that
it had been a secret consciousness of wrong towards her husband, the
dread of discovery occasioning estrangement, the constant fear of
encountering Stanley, which had weighed on her heart far more than
former feelings; and now that the ordeal was past, that all was known,
and she could meet her husband's eye without one thought concealed;
now that despite of all he could love and cherish, aye, trust her
still, she clung to him with love as pure and fond and true as ever
wife might feel; and her only thought of Stanley was prayer that peace
might also dawn for him. It was pain indeed to feel that the real
reason of her wedding Ferdinand must for ever remain concealed. Could
that have been spoken, one little sentence said, all would have been
explained, and Stanley's bitter feelings soothed.

It was the custom of Ferdinand and Isabella to gather around
them, about once a month, the wisest and the ablest of their
realm - sometimes to hold council on public matters, at others merely
in friendly discussion on various subjects connected with, politics,
the church, or war. In these meetings merit constituted rank, and mind
nobility. They commenced late, and continued several hours through the
night. To one of these meetings Don Ferdinand Morales had received a
summons as usual. As the day neared, he became conscious of a strange,
indefinable sensation taking possession of heart and mind, as
impossible to be explained as to be dismissed. It was as if some
impassable and invisible, but closely-hovering evil were connected
with the day, blinding him - as by a heavy pall - to all beyond. He
succeeded in subduing the ascendency of the sensation, in some
measure, till the day itself; when, as the hours waned, it became more
and more overpowering. As he entered his wife's apartment, to bid her
farewell ere he departed for the castle, it rose almost to suffocation
in his throat, and he put his arm round her as she stood by the
widely-opened casement, and remained by her side several minutes
without speaking.

"Thou art not going to the castle yet, dearest?" she inquired. "Is it
not much earlier than usual?"

"Yes, love; but I shall not ride to-night. I feel so strangely
oppressed, that I think a quiet walk in the night air will recover me
far more effectually than riding."

Marie looked up anxiously in his face. He was very pale, and his hair
was damp with the moisture on his forehead. "Thou art unwell," she
exclaimed; "do not go to-night, dearest Ferdinand, - stay with me. Thy
presence is not so imperatively needed."

He shook his head with a faint smile. "I must go, love, for I have no
excuse to stay away. I wish it were any other night, indeed, for I
would so gladly remain with thee; but the very wish is folly. I never
shrunk from the call of duty before, and cannot imagine what has come
over me to-night; but I would sacrifice much for permission to stay
within. Do not look so alarmed, love, the fresh air will remove this
vague oppression, and give me back myself."

"Fresh air there is none," replied his young wife, "the stillness is
actually awful - not a leaf moves, nor a breeze stirs. It seems too,
more than twilight darkness; as if a heavy storm were brooding."

"It may be; oppression in the air is often the sole cause of
oppression in the mind. I should be almost glad if it came, to explain
this sensation."

"But if thou must go, thou wilt not loiter, Ferdinand."

"Why - fearest thou the storm will harm me, love? Nay, I have
frightened thee into foreboding. Banish it, or I shall be still more
loth to say farewell!"

He kissed her, as if to depart, but still he lingered though neither
spoke; and then, as with an irresistible and passionate impulse, he
clasped her convulsively to his heart, and murmuring hoarsely, "God
for ever and ever bless thee, my own beloved!" released her, and was
gone.

On quitting his mansion and entering the street, the dense weight
of the atmosphere became more and more apparent. The heat was so
oppressive that the streets were actually deserted - even the artisans
had closed their stores; darkness had fallen suddenly, shrouding
the beautiful twilight peculiar to Spain as with a pall. Morales
unconsciously glanced towards the west, where, scarcely half-an-hour
before, the sun had sunk gloriously to rest; and there all was not
black. Resting on the edge of the hill, was a far-spreading crimson
cloud, not the rosy glow of sunset, but the color of blood. So
remarkable was its appearance, that Don Ferdinand paused in
involuntary awe. The blackness closed gradually round it; but
much decreased, and still decreasing in size, it floated
onwards - preserving its blood-red hue, in appalling contrast with
the murky sky. Slowly Morales turned in the direction of the castle,
glancing up at times, and unable to suppress a thrill of supernatural
horror, as he observed this remarkable appearance floating just before
him wherever he turned. Denser and denser became the atmosphere, and
blacker the sky, till he could not see a single yard before him;
thunder growled in the distance, and a few vivid flashes of lightning
momentarily illumined the gloom, but still the cloud remained. Its
course became swifter; but it decreased in size, floating onwards,
till, to Morales' strained gaze, it appeared to remain stationary over
one particularly lonely part of the road, known by the name of the
Calle Soledad, which he was compelled to pass; becoming smaller and
smaller, till, as he reached the spot, it faded into utter darkness,
and all around was black.

That same evening, about an hour before sunset, Arthur Stanley,
overpowered by the heat, and exhausted with some fatiguing military
duties, hastily unbuckled his sword, flung it carelessly from him,
and, drinking off a large goblet of wine, which, as usual, stood ready
for him on his table, threw himself on his couch, and sunk into a
slumber so profound that he scarcely seemed to breathe. How he had
passed the interval which had elapsed since his interview with Marie
and her husband, he scarcely knew himself. His military duties were
performed mechanically, a mission for the king to Toledo successfully
accomplished; but he himself was conscious only of one engrossing
thought, which no cooling and gentler temper had yet come to subdue.
It was a relief to acquit Marie of intentional falsehood - a relief to
have some imaginary object on which to vent bitterness and anger; and
headstrong and violent without control or guide, when his passions
were concerned, he encouraged every angry feeling against Morales,
caring neither to define nor subdue them, till the longing to meet him
in deadly combat, and the how to do so, became the sole and dangerous
occupation of heart and mind.

Stanley's heavy and unnatural sleep had lasted some hours, when he was
suddenly and painfully awakened by so loud and long a peal of thunder
that the very house seemed to rock and shake with the vibration. He
started up on his couch; but darkness was around him so dense that
he could not distinguish a single object. This sleep had been
unrefreshing, and so heavy an oppression rested on his chest, that he
felt as if confined in a close cage of iron. He waved his arms to feel
if he were indeed at liberty. He moved in free air, but the darkness
seemed to suffocate him; and springing up, he groped his way to the
window, and flung it open. Feverish and restless, the very excitement
of the night seemed to urge him forth, thus to disperse the oppressive
weight within. A flash of lightning playing on the polished sheath of
his sword, he secured it to his side, and threw his mantle over his
shoulders. As he did so his hand came in contact with the upper part
of the sheath, from which the hilt should have projected; but, to his
astonishment and alarm, no hilt was there - the sheath was empty.

In vain he racked his memory to ascertain whether he had left his
sword in its scabbard, or had laid the naked blade, as was his custom,
by him while he slept. The more he tried to think the more confused
his thoughts became. His forehead felt circled with burning iron,
his lips were dry and parched, his step faltering as if under the
influence of some potent spell. He called for a light, but his voice
sounded in his own ears thick and unnatural, and no one answered. His
aged hosts had retired to rest an hour before, and though they had
noticed and drew their own conclusions from his agitated movements,
his call was unregarded. In five minutes more they heard him rush from
the house; and anxious as she was to justify all the ways and doings
of her handsome lodger, old Juanna was this night compelled to lean
to her husband's ominously expressed belief, that no one would
voluntarily go forth on such an awful night, save for deeds of evil.

His rapid pace and open path were illumined every alternate minute
with, the vivid lightning, and the very excitement of the storm
partially removed the incomprehensible sensations under which Stanley
labored. He turned in the direction of the castle, perhaps with the
unconfessed hope of meeting some of his companions in arms returning
from the royal meeting, and in their society to shake off the spell
which chained him. As he neared the Calle Soledad the ground suddenly
became slippery, as with some thick fluid, of what nature the dense
darkness prevented his discovering, his foot came in contact with some
heavy substance lying right across his path. He stumbled and fell, and
his dress and hands became literrally dyed with the same hue as the
ground. He started up in terror; a long vivid flash lingering more
than a minute in the air, disclosed the object against which he had
fallen; and paralyzed with horror, pale, ghastly, as if suddenly
turned to stone, he remained. He uttered no word nor cry; but flash
after flash played around him, and still beheld him gazing in
stupefied and motionless horror on the appalling sight before him.




CHAPTER XIV.

1st MONK. - The storm increases; hark! how dismally
It sounds along the cloisters!

BERNARD. - As on I hastened, bearing thus my light,
Across my path, not fifty paces off,
I saw a murdered corse, stretched on its back,
Smeared with new blood, as though but freshly slain.

JOANNA BAILLIE.


The apartment adjoining the council-room of the castle, and selected
this night as the scene of King Ferdinand's banquet, was at the
commencement of the storm filled with the expected guests. From forty
to fifty were there assembled, chosen indiscriminately from the
Castilians and Arragonese, the first statesmen and bravest warriors
of the age. But the usual animated discussion, the easy converse, and
eager council, had strangely, and almost unconsciously, sunk into a
gloomy depression, so universal and profound, that every effort
to break from it, and resume the general topics of interest, was
fruitless. The King himself was grave almost to melancholy, though
more than once he endeavored to shake it off, and speak as usual. Men
found themselves whispering to each other as if they feared to speak
aloud - as if some impalpable and invisible horror were hovering round
them. It might have been that the raging storm without affected all
within, with a species of awe, to which even the wisest and the
bravest are liable when the Almighty utters His voice in the tempest,
and the utter nothingness of men comes home to the proudest heart.
But there was another cause. One was missing from the council and the
board; the seat of Don Ferdinand Morales was vacant, and unuttered but
absorbing anxiety occupied every mind. It was full two hours, rather
more, from the given hour of meeting; the council itself had been
delayed, and was at length held without him, but so unsatisfactory did


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryGrace AguilarThe Vale of Cedars → online text (page 8 of 23)