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« Answer me,
“Yes," said St. Valerie, gazing at her intently, "is it not so? Answer me, Estelle ; have I not read in those downcast looks, those quivering lips, the reciprocation of my own intoxicating passion ?”
"Ah, reciprocation !” she echoed.
“Yes,” said St. Valerie, with growing impatience. Estelle, suspense is agony-speak! speak! Do you not love me?"
“ Love thee-yes, I love thee !”
Estelle dragged herself up to a chair that stood in the centre of the room, and apparently overcome with emotion, sank exhausted into it.
“Ah! what means this ?” said St. Valerie, in a tone of alarm. “For God's sake, Estelle, what's the matter?" "Nothing-nothing," she answered, with a faint smile ; " a sudden
a weakness; do not heed me, St. Valerie ; the scene is strange-the feeling novel ; I-I—'twill pass over, 'twill pass over.”
As she spoke her fingers became gradually clenched, and her long taper nails seemed to penetrate themselves violently into the palms of her delicate hands; but St. Clair betrayed no consciousness of pain, and
: St. Valerie bent over her, cooling her brow with a large Indian fan, which he had suddenly perceived suspended by a girdle round her waist.
"Estelle," whispered St. Valerie, pouring into her ear the soft, honied phrases in which lovers delight to couch their meaning, “my own beautiful Estelle ! you love me, and that feeling is so intense that, for a time, it overpowers you. Yes, I would have it so; I would have thy love the counterpart of my own ; I would have it absorb all other feeling, and make the earth, stars, everything grand and noble in creation, but as so much lumber, valueless, save as they reflect back the image occupying every vacuum of thy internal consciousness. Speak, Estelle, can thy heart boast of a feeling so comprehensive and embracing ?”
“ Speak, Estelle, this inordinate craving of my heart must be satisfied ; is it so ?”
“ Yes," she murmured, still sitting in the chair pale and statue-like.
“ And you love me with the whole energy of which your soul is capable?”
A “ Yes,” was the almost inaudible response.
Estelle put her hand to her forehead, as though to recall some remembrance she had lost, “As I loved Herbert St. Valerie !" she muttered. “Ah!" a gleam of recollection suddenly breaking in upon her—"I know, I know, I told you--"
“ The truth ?" exclaimed St. Valerie, visited with a momentary return of the old suspicion.
“Yes, the truth," she returned hastily, shifting her position in the chair.
“Ah," said St. Valerie, “then there is nothing to delay our union, nothing to oppose the consummation of our happiness."
“ You mean-" she hesitated.
“ Is it not settled between us?” said St. Valerie, ardently pressing her hand.
St. Clair rose from her seat and walked unsteadily to the window. St. Valerie followed.
“Estelle," he said, evidencing some uneasiness, "what is the meaning of all this?”
“St. Valerie," said Estelle, turning to him a face livid with some intense and terrible emotion, “ you do not know all—a gulf divides us."
“A gulf !”
“Hush !" she cried ;“we may overleap it. Are you strong enough to cope with obstacles ?”
“A thousand," he exclaimed, "strong enough to cope with obstacles, St. Clair ? Heaven ! what obstacle is insurmountable to such a love as mine!"
“Prepare, then," said Estelle, "for difficulties of whose magnitude you have at present no conception. You must school yourself to shrink from nothing, perhaps not even from"
“ Has the Duchess of St. Clair sufficient leisure to confer with me upon a matter of business of whose importance it may be necessary to remind her ?"
Alaric started, and turning round beheld the features of the cadaverous-looking personage, whose sudden and mysterious appearance upon a former occasion amongst the festivities of the duchess, had so strangely alarmed and discomposed her. This was the first time St. Valerie had come across him since the day of that inexplicable encounter; and his entrance upon the present scene created in him a thrill of disgust, not unmingled with alarm and terror. Turning to the stranger, he said somewhat curtly
“ Your solicitation of an audience of the duchess, sir, partakes somewhat the imperious tone of a command.”
The stranger turned upon St. Valerie his keen, penetrating glance, and then withdrew it, fixing it instead upon the pallid crestfallen countenance of the duchess.
“Who is this gentleman, madame ?"
“Alaric St. Valerie," faltered Estelle, her lips quivering with fear or some as complex emotion; "son of the noble lord who sways the adjacent islands."
“A noble father,” observed the stranger ; "I trust the son is worthy." Again the stranger's observant eagle glance was fixed upon St. Valerie; the latter coloured, and bowed an acknowledgment of the compliment paid to the paternal fountain of his being. Turning once more to where stood the beautiful but still trembling figure of St. Clair, the cadaverous-looking stranger said, in a tone of quiet authority
“ Come, madame ; the day advances, and our conversation must be both immediate and private."
So saying, he took the hand of the abashed and shrinking duchess, and without vouchsafing a look at our hero, led her subdued and unresisting from the room.
“Strange!” muttered Alaric to himself, as the door closed upon the two retreating figures. “What can lie at the bottom of all this mystery? Who can this man be, possessing such strange influence over the hitherto free and uncontrolled movements of the duchess ? What weighty secret lies concealed beneath this subtle covering? Should it be"—he walked nervously to and fro the room—" that the specious story of her own sufferings and my brother's error was after all a fabrication ?" He stopped suddenly, and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "She looked strangely at me when I referred to that history of the past, and spoke of her love for the elder St. Valerie as though such a feeling had never previously existed in her bosom. Oh, for the truth, the truth!”
Again he paced, restlessly to and fro the chamber, and then paused, his body resting against the marble statue, which, a few minutes before, had supported the pale and rigid figure of his idolised Estelle.
“ But how would it stead me if I knew the truth, and the truth should involve St. Clair in a mass of premeditated falsehood ? Should I return to my original purpose, and having succeeded in enthralling her in the snare, spurn back her love to torture and lay waste the heart that had so ruthlessly destroyed the happiness of another ? Should I have strength thus to arrive at the consummation of my self-imposed scheme of vengeance ?"
Once more he began to pace with rapid earnest strides across the long dingy apartment, muttering between his teeth stifled incoherent sentences, anon pausing, then, as if by some impulsive action of the mind, suddenly re-commencing his restless peregrination, his face being a mirror upon which was depicted the conflict of intense and varied internal emotions.
“No!” he exclaimed, suddenly throwing himself with a gesture of abandonment into a chair ; "I cannot renounce her-cannot do violence to the impulses of my own nature ! Be she true or false, the voice of passionate craving speaks within me, and I must pay deference to its prompting. Oh, lost son ! degenerate brother ! false to every. thing but my own selfish interest, I have become the object of my own self-loathing. Looking out of myself, I can but contemplate my own subjectivity with ineffable disgust. And yet”-he continued, making another movement in his chair—"she may be pure and noble—she may have been the injured and not the injurer. What proof have I that she fabricated a lie for my deception ? My God my God!"_starting from his chair-“I shall go mad with thinking. I will seek the banquetchamber, and in the intoxication of the wine-cup, seek for a time oblivion of the burdens which now press on me like the chains of an iron and never-to-be-redeemed captivity."
And thus was it that, when the messenger arrived from the Lunar Islands with tidings of Lord St. Valerie's mortal sickness, his son was too far steeped in the fumes of the wine-grape, to obey, or even comprehend the summons.
THE DAWNING OF JUSTICE.
Upon the night of the decease of Lord St. Valerie, while his son was lying in an apartment of St. Clair's palace, rocking in the restless unhealthy slumber of intemperance, Estelle, the proud, conquering beauty, entered alone the elegant and highly decorated bed-chamber, into which we have already introduced the reader. She was richly dressed, and her heightened colour and exhilarated bearing bore unmistakable evidence of recent gaiety and excitement. Lowering the lamp which hung suspended from the ceiling, she regulated the medium so as to throw a more brilliant light across the room. She then made a movement towards the bed, in the direction of the cabinet, which the night before had played so important a part in the mysterious proceedings of the Nubian slave. There she paused, and wreathing her features into a half-demoniacal smile, said in a low chuckling tone
“ What matters it? I can defy him. The proofs are in my hands. Who will believe his bare assertion unsupported by sufficient evidence ? Why have I feared him so long? Why have I dreaded his presence, and shuddered at the proximity of his touch ?
He has no power over me save in the empty knowledge of the fact ; but that knowledge belongs solely to himself, he cannot render it credible to others. What he advances, he advances upon the credence given to his single testi
mony. Who will believe him? He may be an impostor, seeking by illicit means to arrive at an unlawful end. I will brand him as such should he hint the truth. Yes, the documents are in my possessionin that cabinet. Now then to transfer them to a safer place of retreat." So saying she took a key from her bosom (the same which the night before the Nubian slave had abstracted from under the pillow) and began, with an air of conscious security, to turn the lock of the boasted cabinet. The lid flew back. She paused, and then dived her hand full into the opening. She withdrew it-empty. She stood motionless, her cheeks gradually assuming an ashy paleness, and her lips quivering with an emotion of surprise and horror. She bent her head forward, and peered her large tearless eyes full into the body of the cabinet. Her livid countenance became more and more imbued with the icy blankness of despair. Bending down her startled gaze, she became convinced, by ocular demonstration, of her loss. The papers were gone -those vaunted documents, upon which turned the whole pivot of her future destiny. Gone-abstracted! How-when-by whom? Fearful contingency! Perhaps by him—the man of terror--the object of her loathing—now for ever the controller of her fate! And St. Valerieher soul's idol-he who had probed her woman's nature to its depths, and made manifest the truth, that, however obscured by a mass of egotism and egregious error, there still lies subtly imbedded in the heart of earth's misguided creatures the germ of what is good and human-St. Valerie, for whom, urged by an unhallowed motive, she had weaved aloft the meshes of destruction, till, by one of those miraculous interpositions of the divine spirit of justice, her own foot had become entangled in the toil-must she renounce him-perhaps have revealed to him the story of her she trembled. Must she fly from him whose presence was necessary to her existence-whose smile had become the very life-blood of her being-must she quit him for ever! Her knees knocked together, and the drops of perspiration stood upon her forehead, fearful testimony to the violence of her agony. “Yes," she murmured, pressing her fingers to her aching temples; "it has come at last-the blow from which recovery is hopeless. I hear it ringing in my ears the knell of peace. Is it a judgment, foredoomed from the commencement, tedious in its coming, but inevitable in its final approach? A judgment ! How many hearts have I not writhed and tortured-how many hopes not wrecked and blighted! What pains have I not taken to raise and make perfect the subtle edifice of man's destruction, and then gloried in the completion of my work! I have revelled in the desolation that has resulted from the indulgence of my own malicious pleasures, but knew not till now the extent of the injury inflicted. But the knowledge has come—the knowledge has come !" she sank into a chair. "I know my own iniquity-the