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HEART. 267



in this summons of an almost stranger to her
sister's chamber, and her cheek burnt as she
descended the stairs, marveUing in what
fashion she should convey this message with
which she was charged.

Full as the miserable j)lace had been of
human beings when she ascended, it v/as more
densely packed than ever now, but the noise
of revelry below had ceased, and all seemed
wrapped in slumber.

As that light footfall came down the staks,
a man who had sat for the past two hours at
a dirty, beer-soddened table in a miserable
room off the passage, hfted his head and
looked up.

He knew that light step aU too well, and
that it w^as coming to him .... Pale as
death, he rose up to meet her, and with lifted
brows, but downcast eyes, stood awaiting the
words of his condemnation. She had entered
the room, she had approached, she actually
stood before him, and still she did not speak ;
then, suspense being unendurable, he ' Hfted
his eyes, and dared to look at her.

She held a flaring candle in her hand that



268 " CHERR V RIPE /"

shed its full light on her miserable young face,
and on the fair hair that, tied at the back
with a ribbon, fell loosely on her shoulders.

Nevertheless, not of her pale beauty, no,
nor of her anguish, was Philip thinking, but
that in her blue eyes shone as sweet and
friendly a look as they had ever worn for
him, nay, that as though in her trouble she
turned to him as her friend, she put out her
hand to his, and, with a pitiful little attempt
at a smile, said :

" I have given you a great deal of trouble,
have I not 1 But O ! I am grateful . . . but
for you I should never have seen my darling
again .... She is asking for you," she
said simply, yet with a great effort ; " she sent
me for you. I was to give you this message
from her : * Muriel ivoidd like to hid her
friend, and her sisters friend, good-hye.'
Come !"

" She bade you tell me this," he repeated,
•catching his breath sharply as may a man
who, having just escaped ship^vreck, sees his
bark about to founder within reach of land ;
*' she has spoken of me to you, then V



HEART. 269*



" I told her of how good you had been,
how kind/' said the girl. '' But you must
come at once, for she is dying fast, and the
morning will soon be here . . . ."

Her voice ceased in a sob as she uttered
the last words, and then he followed that
lightly-flitting, girlish shape up, up, those
many stairs until they came to the garret
door, outside which Mignon paused with the
handle in her hand as one whose heart fails
at that which lies before it.

The great bell of St. Paul's clanged out
the hour of four, and with the final stroke
Phihp La Mert had dumbly spoken his last
farewell to the Mignon he had loved so well,.
and for whom he had so deeply sinned and
suffered.





CHAPTER XI.

" A thousand knees,
Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,
Upon a barren mountain and still winter,
In storm perpetual, could not make the gods
To look that way thou wert."

'HILIP, advancing, stopped abruptly,
as one struck to the heart, and
gazed straight before him. To all
appearance already dead, Muriel lay on the
miserable pallet ; her child, no longer hidden,
resting on her breast.

Upon that tiny wan face, with its anxious
and premature look of care and suffering, his
gaze remained riveted ; then, as though it
were a sight to be hidden from Mignon's
eyes, he mechanically strove to interpose his
body between her and it.



HEART. 271



Probably he had never reahsed his sin
until now that he saw it clothed in flesh
before him, when in this small pitiful crea-
ture, made in his own image, he saw himself
the transmitter of a curse that from genera-
tion to generation should fulfil itself, so that
his transgression should never be Aviped out,
or banished off the face of the earth.

Neither could his conscience hitherto have
been said to be awakened . . . for the effects
of his sin, most of all in its influence on his for-
tunes with Mignon, he had indeed suffered, but
of the naked sin itself he had seldom thought.

It has been finely said that " God punishes
not by His caprices, but by His laws," and
some glimmer of this great truth was perchance
borne in on Philip's mind as he stood, forget-
ful even of Mignon, face to face with the
fruit of his sin.

Slowly his eyes at last left the child, and
travelled round the squalid, miserable room,
that told its story of destitution and want all
too plainly; then his glance reverted to the
straw pallet, with its scanty clothing and
patchwork quilt.



272 " CHERRY RIPE /"

Mignon now drew near, and, kneeling
down by her sister, laid her lips against the
unconscious girl's cheek.

"Waken, my darhng," she said; ''he
whom you bade me bring .... he is
here . . . ."

Slowly, uncertainly, a hue of life crept
back to Muriel's cheek and lips, her eyelids
flickered, parted, and he knew that his hour
had come.

He stood, his arms folded on his breast,
and waited.

How long endured the pause that followed?
To Phihp the suffering of an eternity was
crowded into those moments of waiting, and
when at last her words came, they were re-
ceived by him as the sentence of execution
may be by the condemned man who has
grown weary of waiting for death.

At sight of him a great tide of yearning
love had for a moment swept across the dying
woman's face, as though unconsciously she had
stretched out her arms towards him ; and
could he have found but one word of truth or
gentleness then for the poor creature who had



HEART. 273



SO sinned and suffered for him, she might
have died at peace with him .... but alas !
faithful to Mignon at Muriel's expense to the
last, he saw neither look nor gesture. Con-
scious chiefly of his sin in the recoil it was
about to have on the younger sister, he saw and
suffered with her eyes and heart alone, while
the tragedy of the other passed him by.

As he stood silent, impassive, instinct told
Muriel that the influence of the stranger
woman was still upon him, and roused to a
jealous madness hj the consciousness of her
impotence to move him in death, even as in
life, she cried bitterly :

" Lift your head, coward, perjurer, betrayer
that you are, and look upon your handiwork,
ay, print us well — my child and I — upon
your memory, and then go back to /ler, and
be happy with her if you can ; forget us, if
you are able !"

He lifted his head, looking not at her, but
at Mignon, upon whose face had come a great
fear, wonder, and expectation.

Muriel caught at the girl's arm and drew
her forward.

VOL. III. 58



274 " CHERR V RIPE



^' It was but now," she cried, " that you
prayed me to tell you the name of my be-
trayer, that you might seek him out and drag-
him here, compelling him to look upon the ruin
he had worked .... You need not go far
to find him, for there he stands before you
. . Your friend. my God ! . . your friend^
Gabrielle, and mine !"

*' He f said Mignon, gazing at Philip with
dilated eyes. ^' No, no . . , . it is not pos-
sible ! . .\ ."

But as she looked, somethincv in his face
arrested her attention — their eyes met. For
one friofhtful moment she thouofht she was
going mad ; the next she was standing beside
him, her white lips syllabling, yet refusing
to utter the words,

'•' It is true T

" It is true.''

She swayed shghtly away from him, as one
who is about to fall, then, as her hps moved,
he fell down on his knees before her and
burying his face in a portion of her robe, in
a voice of agony, cried :

^' Spare me, Mignon, spare me !"



HEART. 27 D



A low cry followed his words, but it was
uttered by the elder sister, not the younger,
as lifting herself on her elbow^, and desperately
fio'htincf ac^ainst the mortal weakness that
beset her,

" Who utters the name of Mignon here V
she cried fearfully, '' that is her name . . .
the name of the woman who stole my Philip
from me . . . who cast me out to die a
hundred deaths . . . whom I have cursed,
whom I have hated . . . there is no
Mignon here !"

But even as she spoke, slowly, slowly
there dawned in her eyes an awful fear,
doubt, and uncertainty; then, revelation com-
ing to her even as it had come to her sister
during the few past moments,

'•'You , . . you are Mignon?" she said
in a whisper.

"Yes ... I am Mignon . . ." said the
girl in a voice that was like nothing human ;
" and you have cursed me ... my God !
. . . you have cursed me . . . unsay that
curse 1" she cried dehriously, as she flung
her arms about her sister's form, but Muriel,

58—2



276 " CHERR V RIPE I"

thrusting away with all her feeble strength
those beseeching hands, in a dread whirl of
jealousy, horror, hatred, love, fell back upon
the pillow — dead !





CHAPTER XII.

" God made him, therefore let him pass for a man ;
in truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker."

ILENCE in the death- chamber for
the space of five seconds ; then
with an awful cry Mignon flung
herself upon her sister's body, crying to it for
dear God's sake to give her one word, only
one of pardon, of blessing . . of love. . .

But that agonised prayer fell upon deaf
ears, and to all the girl's beseechings, that
which had been Muriel opposed the grim
silence that is the only true and veritable
silence upon earth.

It is a silence that can be felt ... it is a
hideous void at which the ear aches, the heart
rebels, against whose inexorable majesty we



278 " CHERR Y RIPE /"

dash ourselves, impotent as breakers against
a wall, and woe, woe unto they who have not
obtained their meed of forgiveness ere the
everlasting darkness has descended, who have
not ^\^rested one parting word of love from
the dying lips, and to whom must remain a
lifelong hunger and despair 1

For how long endured that ^\dld and fren-
zied prayer from the living sister to the dead ?
Daylight was struggling uncertainly into the
room when Mignon ceased her cries, and shp-
ping to the floor, lay all huddled up together,
like a creature Avho has been crushed and
beaten out of all human shape.

Muriel had cursed her .... and Muriel
\v^as .... dead. God Himself could not
reverse those two awful facts, and beneath
them she sank down stunned, a creature one-
half of whose brain was paralysed, and in
whom memory and consciousness, save as
affecting these points, were for the time being
absent.

The sister of her love .... the sister for
whom she had so patiently watched and waited,
flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, heart of



HEART. 27D

her heart .... had cursed her, had died
with that curse unrevoked upon her hps, and
across the bridge of silence, now yawxdng
'twixt them, no shriving word could ever
cross, but for to-day, to-morrow, for ever, the
woman Avho lived would have to rest under
the shadow of that dreadful ban.

Muriel was dead .... O I never more
would her coming be hearkened for by day or
night, never more Avould her beautiful face
come to Mignon in her dreams, with the glad
light of love and welcome upon it ; in wrath
and bitterness had it passed away for ever,
and never ao-ain, I wis, would it wear in the
girl's memory the mien it so long had worn in
her hopes .... Yet no instinct of rebellion
stirred in her gentle heart as she looked up at
the patch of grey sky overhead, and dumbly
— endured.

Where was Muriel now ? and had there
fallen from her that earthly cloak of human
passion, wrapped in which she had hurried
into the presence of her Maker ?

Surely in that new existence in which she
was merged, all human hates and jealousies



280 " CHERR Y RIPE /"

were by now blotted out, love alone remaining-
for tbe weary wayfarers left behind \

In vain had Mignon addressed her prayers
to the helpless clay beside her, but perhaps
the disembodied spirit was somewhere at
hand, and would hear, would forgive ....

^' Muriel I" she said, in a Ioav hoarse
whisper, " are you am^w^here near . . . A\'ill
you not forgive .... forgive .... if you
cannot speak to me, send me some sign that
I may know and understand. ..."

But there came no answer back to her,
nor any sign that she craved, only some one
who had heard that anguished pleading, yet
of whose presence, until now, she had not
been even conscious, drew near to her, and
as one from whom speech is dragged by ex-
tremest, harshest necessity, uttered her name :

'' Mignon f

By any other name should he have called
upon her rather than this .... it struck
upon her ear with fatal significance, and re-
vived that portion of the night's revelations
that had hitherto been merged in the stupen-
dous calamity so instantly following upon it.



HEART. 281



Full recollection of the last time he had
called her by that name, and the results^
came to her as she slowly recoiled from him,
in her blue eyes a great horror and loathing
that grew, and grew, and beneath which he
shrank and seemed to wither.

"• And you dare to remain in liev presence,"
she said, in a low intense whisper. " You
dare to approach, to speak to me . . you
. . if I had a knife in my hand I would
stab you to the heart, and deem that I did
righteously in ridding the earth of you . . .
murderer, hypocrite, dastard ! Is there a God
above," she cried, Ufting her terrible face to
heaven, " that He permits such as you to
live — such as her to die \ And I have called
you friend .... I have taken your hand in
mine . . . ." she paused to look down shud-
dering, as though a stain must rest upon it ;
" I have talked to you of her, I have babbled
to you of the happy days that she and I would
have together, and all the time .... all the
time, you knew yourself to be her betrayer
.... that out in the world she was batthng
-with hunger, cold, and shame . . . ."



282 '- CHERR V RIPE /"

She writhed to and fro, as one stung
through and through by physical pain. It
was as though she were tasting every misery
through which her sister had passed. And he
from whom the dead woman yonder had not
wrung one glance of pity, in Mignon's every
pang endured a hundred deaths.

'^ You have spoken to me of love. ..."
went on the girl. " O God ! .... it makes
my very flesh creep and crawl to think that I
should have found favour in the eyes of such
a thing as you .... that my ears have been
polluted by words of love from such as you
. . . . 0, monstrous .... my sister's
lover .... the father of my sister's child
. . and I . . at one time I was in danofer
of falling to your hand .... I might
have become your ^^dfe, and so supplanted
her, taking the j)lace that by every right of
honour and justice was hers ; but that I had
one friend who took me to the shelter of his
home . . . ."

With the last words her voice changed ;
into her face, all distorted by its great loath-
ing and hatred, a more human expression



HEART. 283



came. For the first time Philip dared to
raise his head to look at her.

But as he gazed, that momentary gleam
of softness died out, her voice was harsher,
crueller even than before, as she cried :

''And so it was of lier you were speak-
ing when in the garden at Kosemary you
bade me remember in the days to come how
you loved me, in spite of your conscience,
your God, all .... It was with that black
treachery at }'our heart to lier that you came
to me Avith the foulest love-suit a man ever
prosecuted ; it Avas with the knowledge that
your success with me meant worse than death
to that poor trusting creature, that you
prayed me to become your wife .... your
mfe . . . ."

The deadly detestation \sdth which she
breathed those two words seemed to rouse
Philip as with a blow.

''And did I not love you?" he cried
wildly ; " has not the greater part of my sin
been committed solely and entirely for the
sake of the great love I bore to you T

" Can such as you loveT she said, her gaze



284 " CHERR Y RIPE /"

full of scorn. '' O ! do not so take that sacred
name in vain, or I would pray that it should
never find place in my heart .... that I
might live and die knowing naught but the
hatred and loathing of which it is now so full !'^

" Hatred T he repeated, trembling as the
sinner may Avho has long expected his doom,
yet cannot but wince as he hears it pronounced;
'^yet though love can turn to hate so
swiftly, may not the memory of love tarry
with us for awhile ? By the love you so
lately bore me, I beseech you to have mercy,
mercy, and not utterly crush to earth him
who is already so heavily punished of God !"

'^ By the love I bore you T repeated
Mignon, staring at him with eyes sexless,,
incredulous as those of a child. "7 . . . .
love you? . . . . In the days that I liked you
best, even when I was so drawn towards you
by the behef that you could give me news of
my darling . . . ^ there was never one
thought, one throb of love for you in my
heart . . . ."

" When I walked with you," said Philip^
gazing at her as a man who slowly awakens



HEART. 285



from a dream, '' when, as plainly as looks
could speak, you told me why you had
removed your wedding-ring . . how your
heart had awakened at last, and for me . . . ."

" For you T she said below her breath.
*' O 1 not for you .... not for you . . . ."

Her rigid face changed, her bent brows re-
laxed, in her blue eyes a tender hght shone,
an exquisite blush mantled slowly on her
cheek, and spread gradually over her
face.

" You love Adam !" cried Philip involun-
tarily.

" That is between him . . . and me ..."
she said below her breath, then, turning back
to her sister, she flung herself on her knees
by the pallet, crying :

'' Oh ! my heart . . . my heart . . . and
can I talk of love, or life, or hope, while you
he tlmsT

"You have never loved me," said Philip
slowly; ''never . . . never . . . and you
love . . . Ifiimr

He approached the bed, and looked down,
not on Mignon, but on Muriel, upon whose



286 " CHERR Y RIPE r

beautiful face the bitterness of life had passed
away, to be replaced by that peace that
passeth all understanding.

Slowly, fearfully he lifted her wan hand,
the hand upon which a ring should have
been, but was not, slowly he laid it down
again. This poor creature had loved him
once, had sinned, had suffered for him, and
he had loved her not, while that other whom
he had loved to his own undoing, had cast
his passion aside as a thing of naught, had
mocked, derided, denied it.

^^ She would have forgiven me," he said
very low; "broken, wretched, dying as she
was, she would have found some word of
pardon, of love, for me, had I prayed for it,
but you . . . you, who stand on the
threshold of a happy existence, upon whose
conscience no load of sin or shame rests, who
have the haven of a husband's love to which
to creep . . . and the long years of the
future in which to forget, you withhold from
me, miserable wretch, the one word for which
I crave . . . ^ he that cannot forgive breaks
the bridge over which he must pass himself,



HEART, 28 7



for every man hath need of forgiveness . . .'
Have you never heard or read some such
words as these V

For a moment those grandly merciful
words knocked at, and sought an entrance
at the girl's heart ; for one moment she
wavered, then as her eyes fell on the dead, sO'
wronged, so mute, so pitiful, her face hardened,
unconsciously echoing the old Queen's words :

" God may forgive you," she said, *' but I
never will !"

Then he turned and went away, leaving
her alone with her dead.





CHAPTEE XIII.

'^ He marked their brows and foreheads ; saw their hair
Put sleekly on one side with nicest care :
And each one's gentle wrists, with reverence,
Put crosswise to its heart,"

HE last offices of the dead liad been
performed, and, folded in spot-
less white, lay the young mother
and child.

No flower was in either hand, though an
hour ago the woman of the house had entered
the attic, bearing a great basket of snowy
blossoms and waxen green leaves ; but Mig-
non, knowing by whose hand they w^ere sent,
shuddering, had bade her take them away ;
.... no flower purchased by his gold should
lie upon her darling's breast.



HEART. 289



And the woman had gone away with up-
lifted shoulders and brows, asking herself, did
the girl think that dead folks buried them-
selves, and whom did she suppose was making
arrangements for, and paying, the expenses
of her sister's funeral ? And surely, if a sub-
stantial favour like that could be accepted at
his hands, folks might bear to stomach a
simple gift of flowers ?

She had made a pretty shrewd guess at the
story of the dead woman, and the relation
borne to her by Philip, but Mignon's ways
puzzled and confounded her.

Not one thought did the girl seem to give
to those stern, inevitable details of death tliat
usually fall so heavily on the mourner.
Dimly she knew that soon her sister would
be taken from her, therefore she clung to,
and would not leave her during those long
three days and nights that elapsed between
the death and burial.

With Muriel's curse ever ringing in her
ears, with the awful knowledge of her sister's
past lying like a stone at her heart, she kept
her lonely vigil, dumb, half-crazed, and drank

VOL. III. ^i^



290 " CHEER V RIPE /"

the bitter cup held to her hps unto the
dregs.

Had she not jDOSsessed a source of hope of
which she scarcely dared to think, yet that was
ever present to her mind, had she known no
refuge to which to creep when once the fury
of this agony should be overpast, she would
certainly have lost her mts then, not later,
for assuredly it was a woman more than half
mad who, on the morning of the funeral,
flung herself across the coffin, and refused to
allow the men to carry that light burden
away.

Then, all cries, prayers, tears, being unavail-
ing, she had looked her last on that poor dead
face, and following that hideous velvet pall
down those many, many staks, later on was
standing by the side of an open grave, heark-
ening to a voice that from a great distance off,
uttered the words, ^^ Ashes to ashes . . . dust to
dust "... and then there had fallen a crash of
earth on Muriel's heart, or so she thought . . .
and with a great cry she had fallen down . . .
down . . . anon awakening, to find herself in
the miserable garret, stretched on the pallet



HEART. 291



that but a few hours ago was pressed by
Muriel's dead body.

She sat up, put her feet to the ground,
thrust the hair from her eyes, and looked
around — she was alone.

As half-conscious she still gazed around
her, the door was thrown back, and Philip
entered. Entered ! rather did he reel as he
walked like a drunken man, yet the fumes of
wine were not in his brain, but rather a dis-
ease that had struck him down that morning,
that he still struggled against and resisted
until such time as he should have made one
last, one desperate effort to obtain Mignon's
forgiveness.

" Mignon !" he cried wildly, " Mignon !
have you no mercy, no pity for a AATetch
so forsaken of God and man as I ? I cannot
die without your forgiveness .... and death
is fast overtaking me .... Before it is too
late, I beseech you to sj)eak one word, one
little word of pardon . . . ."

*^Had you any pity upon lierT cried the
girl, trembling in every limb. ^' Can your
repentance bring her back again, or my

59—2



292 ''CHERRY RIPE



forgiveness make you any other than the
murderer that you are % Go to Him " — she
pointed upwards — " but do not come to me
.... Perhaps before I die, I may forgive ;
but not now . . . not now . . . ."

The poor wretch had chitched at her dress ;
she drew it out of his grasp as though that
touch were contamination, and as she did so,
he fell forward and lay across the foot of
the pallet.

For a moment, a faint pity stmggled into
Mignon's face, then, with a gesture of disgust,
she turned from him, and stooping her lips to
the pillow Muriel's head had pressed, she
threw a last look round the wretched room,
and passed down the staircase out into the
busy streets.

Through the brain-fever, long threatened,
that at last had overtaken Philip, he was
tended not unkindly by the woman of the
house. In his pocket-book she found money
enough and to spare for all expenses, and
being no robber, but fairly honest according
to her lights, she procured him such advice



HEART. 293



and nursing as he needed, and left the matter in
the hands of Providence. Providence elected
to turn the scale in the favour of life, yet with
so niggard a hand that scarcely could the man,
who at the end of two months rose from his
bed, be said to be saved, but rather that his
span of life had been for a very short period


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