第68章 FRIEND ELI'S DAUGHTER.(7)
It was indeed Richard Hilton who stood before her, or rather--as she afterwards thought, in recalling the interview--the body of Richard Hilton possessed by an evil spirit. His cheeks burned with a more than hectic red, his eyes were wild and bloodshot, and though the recognition had suddenly sobered him, an impatient, reckless devil seemed to lurk under the set mask of his features.
"Here I am, Asenath," he said at length, hoarsely. "I said it was death, didn't I? Well, it's worse than death, I suppose; but what matter? You can't be more lost to me now than you were already.
This is THY doing, Friend Eli," he continued, turning to the old man, with a sneering emphasis on the "THY." "I hope thee's satisfied with thy work!"Here he burst into a bitter, mocking laugh, which it chilled Asenath's blood to hear.
The old man turned pale. "Come away, child!" said he, tugging at her arm. But she stood firm, strengthened for the moment by a solemn feeling of duty which trampled down her pain.
"Richard," she said, with the music of an immeasurable sorrow in her voice, "oh, Richard, what has thee done? Where the Lord commands resignation, thee has been rebellious; where he chasteneth to purify, thee turns blindly to sin. I had not expected this of thee, Richard; I thought thy regard for me was of the kind which would have helped and uplifted thee,--not through me, as an unworthy object, but through the hopes and the pure desires of thy own heart. I expected that thee would so act as to justify what Ifelt towards thee, not to make my affection a reproach,--oh, Richard, not to cast over my heart the shadow of thy sin!"The wretched young man supported himself against the post of an awning, buried his face in his hands, and wept passionately. Once or twice he essayed to speak, but his voice was choked by sobs, and, after a look from the streaming eyes which Asenath could scarcely bear to meet, he again covered his face. A stranger, coming down the street, paused out of curiosity. "Come, come!"cried Eli, once more, eager to escape from the scene. His daughter stood still, and the man slowly passed on.
Asenath could not thus leave her lost lover, in his despairing grief. She again turned to him, her own tears flowing fast and free.
"I do not judge thee, Richard, but the words that passed between us give me a right to speak to thee. It was hard to lose sight of thee then, but it is still harder for me to see thee now. If the sorrow and pity I feel could save thee, I would be willing never to know any other feelings. I would still do anything for thee except that which thee cannot ask, as thee now is, and I could not give.
Thee has made the gulf between us so wide that it cannot be crossed. But I can now weep for thee and pray for thee as a fellow-creature whose soul is still precious in the sight of the Lord. Fare thee well!"He seized the hand she extended, bowed down, and showered mingled tears and kisses upon it. Then, with a wild sob in his throat, he started up and rushed down the street, through the fast-falling rain. The father and daughter walked home in silence. Eli had heard every word that was spoken, and felt that a spirit whose utterances he dared not question had visited Asenath's tongue.
She, as year after year went by, regained the peace and patience which give a sober cheerfulness to life. The pangs of her heart grew dull and transient; but there were two pictures in her memory which never blurred in outline or faded in color: one, the brake of autumn flowers under the bright autumnal sky, with bird and stream making accordant music to the new voice of love; the other a rainy street, with a lost, reckless man leaning against an awning-post, and staring in her face with eyes whose unutterable woe, when she dared to recall it, darkened the beauty of the earth, and almost shook her trust in the providence of God.
Year after year passed by, but not without bringing change to the Mitchenor family. Moses had moved to Chester County soon after his marriage, and had a good farm of his own. At the end of ten years Abigail died; and the old man, who had not only lost his savings by an unlucky investment, but was obliged to mortgage his farm, finally determined to sell it and join his son. He was getting too old to manage it properly, impatient under the unaccustomed pressure of debt, and depressed by the loss of the wife to whom, without any outward show of tenderness, he was, in truth, tenderly attached. He missed her more keenly in the places where she had lived and moved than in a neighborhood without the memory of her presence. The pang with which he parted from his home was weakened by the greater pang which had preceded it.
It was a harder trial to Asenath. She shrank from the encounter with new faces, and the necessity of creating new associations.