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[-389-]
      
    CHAPTER CXXIX.
    
    THE FALL.

    REGINALD TRACY returned to his own abode, his breast agitated with a variety of conflicting feelings.
    He pushed his old housekeeper, who announced to him that dinner was ready, rudely aside, and hurried up to his own chamber.
    There he threw himself upon his knees, and endeavoured to pray to be released from temptation.
    For he now comprehended all the dangers which beset him, although he suspected not the perfidy and artifice of the tempter.
    But not a word of supplication could he utter from the mouth which still burned with the thrilling kisses of the beautiful Cecilia.
    He rose from his knees, and paced the room wildly,-at one moment vowing never to see that syren more,-at another longing to rush back to her arms.
    The animal passions of that man were strong by nature and threatened to be insatiable whenever let loose; but they had slumbered from his birth, beneath the lethargic influence of high principle and asceticism.
    Moreover, they had never been tempted until the present time; and now that temptation came so suddenly, and in so sweet a guise,-came with such irresistible blandishments,-came, in a word, so accompanied with all that could flatter his vanity and minister unto his pride,-that he knew not how to resist its influence.
    And at one moment that man of unblemished character and lofty principle fell upon his knees, grovelling as it were at the foot-stool of Him whom he served,-anxious, yearning to crave for courage to escape from the peril that awaited him,-and yet unable to breathe a syllable of prayer. Then he walked in a wild and excited manner up and down, murmuring the name of Cecilia,-pondering upon her charms,-plunging into voluptuous reveries and dreams of vaguely comprehended bliss,-until his desires became of that fiery, hot, and unruly nature, which triumphed over all other considerations.
    It was an interesting-and yet an awful spectacle to behold that man, who could look back over a life of spotless and unblemished purity, now engaged in a terrific warfare with the demons of passion that were raging to cast off their chains, and were struggling furiously for dominion over the proud being who had hitherto held them in silence and in bondage.
    But those demons had acquired strength during their long repose; and now that the day of rebellion had arrived, they maintained an avenging and desperate conflict with him who had long been their master. They were like a people goaded to desperation by the atrocities of a blood-thirsty tyrant - they fought a battle in which there was to be no quarter, but wherein one side or the other must succumb.
    Hour after hour passed; and still he sustained the conflict with the new feelings which had been excited within him, and which were rapidly crushing all the better sentiments of his soul. At length he retired to bed, a prey to a mental uneasiness which amounted to a torture.
    His sleep was agitated and filled with visions by no means calculated to calm the fever of his blood. He awoke in the morning excited, unsettled, and with a desperate longing after pleasures which were as yet vague and undefined to him.
    But still a sense of the awful danger which menaced him stole into his mind from time to time; and he shuddered as if he were about to commit a crime.
    He left the table, where the morning's meal was untasted, and repaired to his study. But his books had no longer any charm for him: he could not settle his mind to read or write.
    He went out, and rambled in all directions, reckless whither he went-but anxious to throw of the spell which had fallen upon him.
    Vain was this attempt.
    The air was piercing and cold; but his brow was burning. He felt that his cheeks were flushed; and his eyes seemed to shoot forth fire.
    "My God! what is the matter with me?" he exclaimed, in his anguish, as he entered Hyde Park, the comparative loneliness of which at that season he thought calculated to soothe his troubled thoughts. "I have tried to prey-and last night, for the first time in my life, I sought my pillow, unable to implore the blessings of my Maker. Oh! what spell has overtaken me? what influence is upon me? Cecilia-Cecilia-is it indeed thou that hast thus changed me?"
    He went on,-now musing upon all that had passed within the few preceding days-now breaking forth into wild and passionate exclamations.
    He left the Park, and walked rapidly through the streets of the West End.
    "No," he said within himself, "I will never see her more. I will conquer these horrible feelings-I will triumph over the mad desires, the fiery cravings which have converted the heaven of my heart into a raging hell! Oh! why is she so beautiful? why did she say that she loved me? Was it to disturb me in my peaceful career-to wean me from my God? No-no: she yielded to an impulse which she could not control;-she loves me-she loves me-she loves me!"
    There was a species of insanity in his manner as he thus addressed himself,-not speaking with the lips, but with the heart,-unheard by those who passed him by, but with a voice which vibrated like thunder in his own ears.
    "Yes-she loves me," he continued; "but I [-390-] must fly from her-I must avoid her as if she were a venomous serpent. I dare not trust myself again in her presence: and not for worlds-not for worlds would I be with her alone once more. No,-I must forget her-I must tear her image from my heart-I must trample it under foot!"
    He paused as he spoke: he stood still-for he was exhausted.
    But how was it that the demon of mischief had, with an under-current of irresistible influence, carried him on, in spite of the forceful flow of the above reflections, to the very goal of destruction!
    He was in Tavistock Square.
    He was at the door of Lady Cecilia Harborough's house.
    And now for one minute a terrific conflict again raged within him. It seemed as if he collected all his remaining courage to struggle with the demons in his heart; but be was weak with the protracted contest-and they were more powerful than ever.
    "I will see her once more," he said, yielding to the influence of his passions: "I will tell her that I stand upon an abyss-I will implore her to have mercy upon me, and permit me to retreat ere yet it be too late!"
    His good genius held him faintly back; but his passions goaded him on: he obeyed the latter impulse; he rushed up the steps and knocked at the door.
    "Even now I might retreat," he said to himself: "there is still time! I will-I will!"
    He turned, end was already half-way down the steps, when the door was opened.
    His good resolutions vanished, and he entered the house.
    In a few moments more he was in the presence of Lady Cecilia,-Lady Cecilia-looking more bewitching, more captivating than ever!
    She had expected him, and had resolved that this visit, on his part, should crown her triumph.
    It was in a small parlour adjoining her own boudoir that she received him.
    The luxurious sofa was placed near the cheerful fire: the heavy curtains were drawn over the windows in such a manner as to darken the room.
    Cecilia was attired in a black silk dress, that she had purposely chosen to enhance the transparent brilliancy of her complexion, and to display the dazzling whiteness of a bust, which, though of small proportions, was of perfect contour.
    She was reclining languidly upon the cushions which were piled on one end of the sofa, and her little feet peeped from beneath the skirts of her dress.
    She did not rise when Reginald entered the room, but invited him to take a seat near her upon the sofa.
    So bewitchingly beautiful did she appear, as the strong glare of the fire played upon her countenance, amidst the semi-obscurity of the room, that he could not resist the signal.
    He accordingly sate down by her side.
    "Your visit today," said Cecilia, "proves to me that you have forgiven the indiscreet confession into which I was yesterday led in a moment of weakness."
    "I am come as a friend-as a true and sincere friend," returned Reginald, with considerable emphasis upon the last word. "But I know not whether my occupations, my duties, in a word-will permit me to visit you again for some time-"
    "Oh! do not deprive me of the pleasure of your society from time to time," interrupted Cecilia, divining all that was passing in the rector's soul, and well aware, by the tremulous tone in which he spoke, that his good resolutions were but unequal opponents to the fury of his newly awakened pleasures.
    "Listen, Lady Cecilia," answered Reginald; "and I will tell you frankly the real motives which must compel me to forego the pleasure of your society in future. I tremble for myself!"
    "You tremble for yourself!" repeated Cecilia, with ill-concealed joy. "Do you think me, then, so very formidable?"
    Formidable-oh! no," ejaculated Reginald, darting an impassioned glance upon his ravishing companion. "But I consider that you are very beautiful-too beautiful for me thus to seek your presence with impunity."
    "Then would you sever that bond of friendship which you yourself proposed so generously, so kindly?" asked Lady Cecilia, placing her hand upon that of the rector, and approaching her countenance towards his as if to read the answer in his eyes.
    "It must be so-it must be so-for my peace of mind, Cecilia!" cried Reginald, thrilled by that electric touch, and receiving into his own soul no small portion of that same voluptuousness which animated the fair patrician at that moment.
    "It must be so,-oh! cruel resolve!" said Cecilia, pressing his hand between both of hers. "But let me not advance my selfish feelings as a barrier to your interest. Oh! no, Reginald - I would sacrifice every thing to give you pleasure! You shall go - you shall leave me; but you will sometimes think of me - you will occasionally devote a thought to her who has dared to love you!"
    "Dared to love me!" exclaimed the rector; -"and what if I - but no - it is madness!"
    "Speak - tell me what you were about to say," murmured Cecilia, in a melting tone.
    "I was on the point of asking what you would think-what opinion you would form of me, if I were to confess that I also dared to love you?"
    "I should reply that such happiness never could descend upon me," said Cecilia.
    "And yet it is true - it is true! I cannot conceal it from myself," exclaimed Reginald, giving way to the influence of his emotions: "it is true - that I love you!"
    "Oh I am I indeed so blest?" faltered Cecilia. "Tell me once more that you love me!"
    "Love you!" cried the rector, unable to wrestle longer with his mad desires: "I worship-I adore you-I will die for you!"
    He caught her in his arms, and covered her with burning and impassioned kisses.

 * * * * * * * * *

    Oh, Reginald! and hast thou at length fallen? Have a few short days sufficed to undo and render as naught the purity-the chastity of years?
    Where was thy guardian angel in that hour?
    Whither had fled that proud virtue which raised thee so high above thy fellow-men, and which gave to thine eloquence the galvanic effect of the most sublime truth?
    Look back-look back, with bitterness and sorrow, upon the brilliant career through which thou hast run up to this hour, and curse the madness that prompted thee to darken so bright a destiny!
    For thou hast plucked thine own crown of integrity from thy brow, and hast trampled it under foot.
    [-391-] Henceforth, in thine own heart, wilt thou know thyself as a hypocrite and a deceiver!

     * * * * * * * * * * *

    It was past eleven o'clock when Reginald Tracy issued from the abode of Lady Cecilia Harborough.
    The night was dark; but from time to time the moon shone for a short interval, as the clouds were swept away from its face.
    Reginald paused for a moment upon the steps of the door, and gazed upwards.
    The tempestuous aspect of the heavens alarmed him; and a superstitious dread crept, like a death-shudder, over his entire frame; for it seemed to him as if the mansion of the Almighty had put on its sable garb in mourning for a soul that was lost unto the blessings of eternity.
    Deeply imbued as he was with a sense of the grand truths of the gospel, this sudden and awful idea speedily assumed so dread a shape in his mind, that he felt alarmed, as if a tremendous gulph were shout to open beneath his feet.
    He hurried on, hoping to outstrip his thoughts; but that idea pursued him,-haunted him,-every moment increasing in terrific solemnity, until it wore the appearance of a mighty truth instead of a phantom of the imagination.
    Again he looked upwards; and the dense sombre clouds, which rolled rapidly like huge black billows over each other, imparted fresh terrors to his guilty soul.
    Then his feverish and excited imagination began to invest those clouds with fantastic shapes; and he traced in the midst of the heavens a mighty black hand, the fore-finger of which pointed menacingly downward.
    The more he gazed-the more palpable to his mind that apparition became. Half sinking with terror-oppressed with an astounding, a crushing consciousness of his adulterous guilt-the wretched man went wildly on, reckless of the way which he pursued, and every minute casting horror-stricken glances up to the colossal black hand which seemed suspended over his head.
    Suddenly a deafening peal of thunder burst above him: he looked frantically up-the hand appeared to wave in a convulsive manner-then the clouds parted, rolling pell-mell over each other,-and the terrific sign was broken into a hundred moving masses.
    Never did erring mortal so acutely feel his guilt as Reginald Tracy on this fearful night.
    The storm burst forth; and he ran madly on, without aim-a prey to the most appalling reflections.
    It was not of this world that he now thought,-it was not on its reproaches, its blame, or its punishment, that his mental looks were fixed;-but it was of eternity that he was afraid.
    He trembled when he thought of that Maker whose praise he had so lately sung with pride, and hope, and joy,-and whose name he dared not now invoke!
    Oh! his punishment had already begun.

     * * * * * * * * * *

    Weak, wearied, subdued, - drenched with the vain that had accompanied the storm; and in a state of mind bordering upon madness and despair, the wretched man reached his borne at four o'clock in the morning.
    But whither he had wandered, and which way he had taken.-whether he had continued running on, or had rested once or often during that terrific night, he never remembered.
    He retired to bed, and slept during several hours. When he awoke, the sun was shining gloriously through his casement; but the horrors and the congenial reflections of darkness had left too fearful an impression upon his mind to be readily effaced; for he was not so inured to vice as to treat with levity the events of the last night,-events which to his superstitious imagination had assumed the aspect of celestial warning and divine menace.    
    

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