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His hand fell powerless, his chest heaved, there was a chair near the door-he felt for it-groping blindly with outstretched hand and drooping head; and thus standing, heard a voice speaking quietly, very quietly
'I am glad to bring together the artist and his work.
As if a blinding light pained his eyes, Cunliff shaded them with his cold and shaking hand, while he looked towards the bed where the body of Catherine Rhys lay, resting in all the sad pomp of death.
Fearful was the still beauty of the closed eyes with their large, blue-tinted lids, and golden lashes ; fearful the marble smile; fearful the never-to-be-broken muteness of the sweet pale lips. The head rested on a cloud of gold—that wonderful hair which loving fingers had spread out wide over the pillow; and which the dimly burning watch-candles lit with a faint, unearthly radiance.
Then the waxen hands—how perfect, how motionless ! One holds, with meek obedience, the jasmine flowers that have been placed within it, while the other, pale, faultless as an artist's model, lies straight at the side of the young form, full and regal of outline as that of some Scandinavian princess.
There was no daylight in the room. The windows were covered with black hangings, and the bier with its lights, its awful whiteness, and pure, cold beauty, shone like a star in a black sky-frosty, lovely, blinding--oh how blinding to the eyes of the man who tottered a step or two forward, and knelt by her!
For a long time it was all chilling, all agonizing to his soul, but at last its beauty began to be felt there, not only as a terror, but as something that in its effect upon him was almost a hope. Like the star that led the wise men of the East to the light of the world, so it drew his spirit from its deadly anguish and its darkness, and made it look where there was light. The mysterious beauty and glory that seemed to radiate from that still form was like a message
token, left for him by one who had seen farther than human eye might see, and whose seeing had been sublime and joyous, and who bade him look up from his depths of misery, to live, repent, strive, conquer.
At last the silent watcher, who had been standing with folded arms at the door, apparently obeying, as he looked on, a foregone purpose of stern, terrible, overwhelming duty, touched Cunlift's shoulder, saying
* Rise, sir, and come away.'
He rose submissively, but as he half turned to follow, the fierce tide of human passion hitherto subdued and awed by the solemnity of this sudden meeting with the dead, burst forth and shook him like an ague.
Supporting himself by holding with both hands the chair by which he had been kneeling, lie gazed at the bier in uncontrollable anguish, and forgetting that thero was any one near, cried out-his voice rising and sinking in quick gasps
'Oh, what a life should have been here—to be worthy of this exquisite form--this entrancing beauty—this sweetness --of the soul it lodged-of the love that throbbed with every pulse of her heart !
Will you oblige me by following me now, sir ?' said Mr. Rhys.
Sweet, most sweet face! Why does it smile ? So great a sufferer, and smiling, Catherine ? Does she smile because she thinks the excess of her punishment may be taken to lighten mine, which is greater than I can bear?
Come, sir, even the voice of repentance is a desecration in this room.
“Yes, forgive me, forgive me,' said Cunliff, his awe return. ing upon him.
Mr. Rhys opened the door and saw him pass out, followed, and closed it gently, turning his head away as he saw Cunliff remaining to touch the panel with his lips.
He then led his visitor to the library.
There was an old Elizabethan chair at the foot of the long library table, where Hugh used to sit when he copied manuscripts for the antiquarian. He motioned to Cunliff to seat himself in it, and when he had obeyed, placed ink and paper before him, then remained standing, resting his fingers on the table.
"You asked me, he began, in a steady, cold voice, 'to appoint what amends I think you can now make. They are very slight: First, Sir John Cunliff, I demand that for which my wife wrote
the invitation you see on the card I gave you—I demand a letter from herself to you. You will know it, she said ; she wished mo to obtain it of you.'
It was something to be permitted the comfort of obeying her once more-he valued it even more than what he was asked to resign.
'Do me the justice of believing, sir, that it was in order to show you by that letter,' he said, 'that I alone was seriously guilty, that I came to-day.'
You are welcome,' replied the cold voice, though I have long been aware of the fact you mention, and it is in regard to my wife's wishes only that I ask for the letter.'
“This is it, sir.'
Mr. Rhys took it from him with a formal bow of acknowledgment. No other thanks did Cunliff receive for his valued treasure, and it was valued more dearly than he had before known. But he felt himself to be undergoing a kind of mental death, the bitterness and darkness of which he must face without hoping to bear with himn one of his heart's dearest possessions.
Its new owner took it to the window to read.
In a few minutes, having placed it in his desk, which stood open at that end of the table, he returned to Cunliff, his face more pale and stern than before.
It was my intention, Sir John Cunliff,' he said, ' after my wife's funeral, to seek you in whatever part of the world you might be, and request you to favour me by writing on this paper a few words I should have dictated, I ask you now to
If you refuse-of course I can permit no altercation in this house of mourning-I must wait; but if you consent, you will be released of all fear of my trespassing on your time hereafter.' He placed a sheet of note-paper before Cunliff
, who, looking at it, read these words in the widower's writing :
Died at Dola' Hudol, North Wales, the 13th of September, 184, Catherine Rhys, aged 20, wife of Owen Rhys.'
• And what is it you wish ?' asked Cunliff, looking at it with dim eyes. Oh, that little score of years, what a summer of sunshine, bloom, thunderstorm, and utter ruin, had it been ! His whole soul was mourning over the vivid little life, when be was startled by the cold, monotonous voice beside him, saying,
An unpunishable criminal, like yourself-- be seated sir; no vehemence can be permitted within these walls, while she from whom we have just come still hallows them with her
presence ; and if I am calm in speaking of these matters, surely you should be. I repeat, an unpunishable criminal like yourself, unless he be no longer a man at all, but a very
devil, must consider he owes something to his victim's mourners in their bereavement.'
• To what end, sir, do you inflict this torture ? Could my life, could a thousand such lives as mine pay you for hers?'
*Your life, Sir John, is safe enough for me; the laws of this kingdom forbid my injuring it, as well as the laws of that in which I hope to meet my wife, and to regain the priceless treasure of her love which might now have been mine, had you not come between us, and seen the folly of so sweet a blessing crowning the gray hairs of so old a man. We knew some happy days before you came- -if you can condescend to believe so apparently preposterous a fact—but you did come, you played your part in the tragedy of this old and once honoured house, and from thence its doom was sealed.'
He here became aware that he was allowing the icy calmness he had maintained hitherto to become disturbed. He paused, and, when he spoke again, his voice was once more level, cold, almost courteous.
I have not been wandering from the subject of my request, Sir John, though you may think so; I wish you to be perfectly aware that I had faith in my power of making my wife happy-rather, perhaps, by virtue of her generosity than my own merits—before you came between us ; I wish you to be perfectly aware that I have watched the effects of
your inAuence over her—that I have seen it gradually killing her. I know all this, and I wish you to be aware that I know it; but, sir, I am an old man, I shall spend many lonely hours here-I may grow morbid—I may sometimes forget the truth to my own torture--I may, perhaps, be tempted to listen to what the world will say ; "she was unhappy through her marriage-she died broken-hearted.” In my loneliness, and morbidness because of it, I may take this view of her death, and madden myself with it. I have thought, sir, that at such time it will be well for me to have the criminal's own acknowledgment of his guilt, in his own writing, and this is what I ask you for-here, upon this paper. Here is the date of her death-you will please write beneath it your acknowledgment that it was caused by you—and sign your name.'
Čunliff raised his eyes to the face belonging to that hand which was steadily moving the inkstand towards him. The face was calm-grave now, rather than stern—but implacable.
Sign, sir. This paper will be seen by no eye but mine. It is a poor satisfaction-it is all I shall ever ask of you.'
Then the widower stood again at Cunliff's side, resting his long fingers on the table and watching him.
It was the only drop of sweet revenge he had allowed himself to look for. He had told his frenzy when it raged within him beyond control—this much it should have and no
This much—though it were bought dearly-ever so dearly—this, and no more.
He waited very patiently for him to begin. The silence was long and almost breathless.. ‘And
you call me unpunishable, Mr. Rhys,' was said at last in a strange sepulchral voice, while you rack my soul thus? A pen, if you please.'
One was placed in his hand; both hands as they touched were very cold and damp.
Cunliff seized the pen and wrote; Mr. Rhys watched.
They were interrupted by a heavy drop of water falling on the paper, and running into the ink, and obliterating the words that had been written.
Mr. Rhys quietly took the paper, and copying into another sheet the record of his wife's death, replaced it before Cunliff.
Again the writing was begun, but it so happened that the freshly-traced words in his host's writing took a more than ever pathetic meaning ; again unbidden and unwelcome drops of agony fell, and deluged the clean fair page, till it was impossible to write on it.
Again the stern and ever-watchful eyes saw and noted the accident, and the quiet hand, scarcely this time so firm as before, took the paper gently away, and with wonderful patience re-wrote the sad words on another sheet, and placed that before his visitor as he had done the other two.
This time he did not remain standing at his side and watching him, but walked to the window.
As he stood there some repulsive sound seemed to meet his ear, for he remained listening with his face strongly expressive of annoyance and surprise.
He opened the window. As he did so the sweet churchbells of Capel Illtyd filled the room with vehement joyous music.
Mr. Rhys called to a gardener at work near, and asked him in a voice terrible in its intensity, what so untimely a jubilee could mean.
The man answered him that some one had already been sent up to have the bell-ringing stopped. Mr. Lloyd was