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[-391-]

CHAPTER CXXX.

MENTAL STRUGGLES.

    THE rector of Saint David's fell upon his knees, and, turning his face towards the casement through which the sun glanced so cheerfully into the chamber, poured forth his soul to the Being of whose universal dominion that radiance seemed an emblem. Reginald could now pray. He had sinned deeply, and he implored pardon; for he conceived that heaven had deigned to convey a special warning to his mind through the medium of the clouds and the storm of the preceding night.
    "Oh! I am not yet totally lost!" he exclaimed, joining his hands fervently together: "I am not yet an outcast from divine mercy! Heaven itself manifests an interest in my welfare: dare I neglect the warning? No  no! I have sinned  but there is repentance. Upon my otherwise spotless life there is one stain; but tears of regret shall be shed unceasingly until the mark be washed away! And thou, temptress  never more must we meet as we have lately met; I must shun thee as my evil genius! Yet I do not blame thee  for I myself was fond, and being fond, was weak. If I fell, and can yet aspire to pardon and forgiveness,  I who was strong,  what extenuation may not exist for thee  a poor, weak woman! Oh! let the light of divine grace shine in upon my soul, even as these bright beams of the orb of day penetrate with cheering influence to my very heart! Let me rise up from the depths of sin, stronger than when I fell,  so that sad experience may tend to confirm my resolves to pursue the paths of chastity and virtue!"
    Thus spoke aloud Reginald Tracy, as he knelt in his chamber the day after his fall: thus did he breathe vows of future self-denial and purity. He rose resigned, and penitent,  though at intervals a species of struggle took place in his breast a conflict between his recently-experienced sensations of amorous delight and his present resolutions of abstinence from carnal pleasures.
    In a moment when his better feelings were predominant, he wrote a brief letter to Lady Cecilia, imploring her to forget all that had taken place between them, and enjoining her, if she entertained the slightest interest in his earthly and immortal welfare, never to seek to see him again.
    Then Reginald gathered all his most valued books around him, and plunged into his studies with an earnestness which augered well for the strength and permanency of his good resolutions.
    This occupation was for a few minutes disturbed by a note from Lady Cecilia, imploring a last interview ere they parted for ever:  but the rector was immoveable in his present precautionary conduct and he answered her, not angrily, but firmly, to be. seech her not to "lead him into temptation." 
    [-392-]
Yes, this man of fiery passions wrestled gallantly with his inclinations: the combat was at times a fearful one; but he exerted all his strength, and all him power, and all his energy, to subdue those desires which were smouldering, and were not quenched, at the bottom of his soul.
    It was in the evening of the fourth day after the rector's fall from the pedestal of his purity, that his studies were interrupted by the entrance of his house-keeper, who informed him that a gentleman desired to speak to him.
    The rector ordered the visitor to be admitted; and Mr. Richard Markham was announced.
    The object of our hero's call was speedily explained.
    Mr. Monroe was lying in a dangerous state, and his life was despaired of. Mr. Wentworth, the surgeon, who attended upon him, had recommended him to settle all his earthly affairs, and prepare his soul to meet his Creator; and the old man, who was fully sensible of the importance of this advice, had expressed a wish to receive spiritual consolation from a minister whose sanctity had become proverbial.
    "The desire of my dying friend," added Markham, "must serve as an apology for my intrusion upon you; but, I implore you, reverend sir, not to hesitate to soothe by your much-coveted presence the passage of a fellow-creature from this world to a better."
    But for a moment the rector did hesitate:  was he fit to minister divine consolation to another,  he who was still deeply dyed with sin himself?
    Such was the thought which floated rapidly through his imagination.
    Richard urged his request with eloquence. Reginald Tracy felt that he could offer no sufficient excuse, short of the revelation of his own guilt, for refusing to attend the death-bed of one who craved his presence; and he agreed to accompany the young man to Markham Place.
    Richard had a vehicle at the door; and m a short time they reached our hero's abode.
    Reginald was conducted to the room where Monroe lay.
    Hanging over the pillow, on which the invalid reclined, was a charming female form, from whose bosom deep sobs emanated, and rendered almost in audible the words of strangely commingled hope and despair which she addressed to her father.
    She did not hear the door open; and it was only when Richard approached the bed, and whispered that the Reverend Mr. Tracy was present, that she raised her tearful countenance.
    Then did the eyes of the rector glance upon one of the most lovely beings whom Nature ever invested with all her choicest gifts; and  even in that solemn moment when he stood by the bed of one who was pronounced to be dying  his soul was stirred by the presence of that transcendent beauty.
    "Oh! sir," exclaimed Ellen, in that musical voice which was now rendered tremulous by deep emotions, "how grateful am I for this prompt attention to the wish of my dear  dear father!"
    "I deserve no gratitude for the performance of a Christian duty,' answered the rector, as he approached the bed.
    Markham took Ellen's hand and led her from the chamber, in order to allow unrestrained converse between the clergymen and the invalid.
    An hour elapsed, and the bell of the sick-room rang. Ellen hurried thither, and found her father composed and resigned to meet his fate. The rector sate by his bed-side.
    "This holy man," said Monroe, "has taught me how to die like a true Christian. Weep not, dearest Ellen; we shall meet again hereafter."
    "Oh, my dearest father," exclaimed the young lady, bursting into an agony of tears; "it is I  I who have murdered you! My conduct  "
    "Silence, Ellen    accuse not yourself in that dreadful manner," interrupted her father.
    Reginald was astonished at the words which had just fallen from the daughter's lips; and he surveyed her with increased interest and curiosity.
    At that moment Mr. Wentworth entered the room. He found the invalid better, and his countenance was animated with a ray of hope.
    This expression of his inward feelings, was not lost upon Ellen; and she interrogated him with a rapid and imploring glance.
    "Mr. Monroe must be kept very  very quiet," said the surgeon in a whisper, which was addressed to both Ellen and Reginald Tracy.
    "And then  there is hope?" murmured Ellen in breathless suspense.
    "Yes  there is hope," repeated the surgeon solemnly.
    "May heaven be thanked for that assurance on your part," said Ellen, fervently.
    The rector contemplated her with an admiration which he could not restrain; and, in spite of himself, the thought flashed across his mind, how far more lovely was Miss Ellen Monroe than Lady Cecilia Harborough! Then, indignant with himself for having allowed the comparison to force itself upon his attention, he rose to take his departure.
    The invalid had just sunk into a deep slumber and Mr. Wentworth intimated his intention of passing the night by his side.
    "I will call again to-morrow morning," said Reginald, addressing Miss Monroe; "for I perceive that this gentleman is not without hopes."
    "Thank you  thank you, sir, for your kindness," answered Ellen with grateful enthusiasm. "Your presence seems to have brought a blessing into this sick-room."
    She extended her hand towards him, and he pressed it for a moment in his.
    His whole frame seemed electrified with a sudden glow; and he hurried somewhat abruptly from the room.
    When he reached his own abode once more, he felt a profound melancholy steal into his soul; for he seemed more lonely, and more solitary than he ever yet had been.
    He retired to rest, and his dreams were filled with the images of Cecilia and Ellen. When he awoke in the morning, he was discontented with himself  with the whole world: he experienced vague longings after excitement or change of scene;  he could not settle himself, as on the four previous days, to his studies;  his books were hateful to him. He wandered about his house  from room to room  as if in search of something which he could not define, and which he did not discover: he was pursued by ideas only dimly comprehensible, but which were at variance with his recently formed resolutions of purity and virtue. He was restless  discontented  uneasy.
    At length he remembered his promise to return to Markham Place. The idea seemed to give him pleasure: he longed to see Ellen Monroe once more;  and yet he did not choose to make this admission to himself.
    With a beating heart did he cross the threshold of [-393-] 

the house in which that delightful vision had burst as it were, upon his sight on the previous evening. He was immediately conducted to the sick room where Ellen was sitting alone by her father's bed-side.
    The old man slept.
    Ellen rose and tripped lightly to meet him, a smile upon her charming, though pale and somewhat care-worn countenance.
    Laying her hand gently upon his, she whispered, 'He will recover! Mr. Wentworth assures me that he will recover!"
    "Most sincerely do I congratulate you upon this happy change," said Reginald. "I can well comprehend the feelings of an affectionate daughter who is allowed to hope that her parent may be restored to her."
    "Yes, sir  and so good a father as mine! added Ellen. "But it was all my fault  "
    Then, suddenly checking herself, she cast down her eyes, and blushed deeply.
    "Your fault, Miss Monroe?" repeated the rector, inspired with the most lively curiosity to penetrate the mystery of that self-accusation which he had now heard for the second time: "I cannot believe that any fault of yours  you whom I found hanging over your beloved father  "
    "Let us speak no more upon that subject," interrupted Ellen, vexed with herself for having so unguardedly said what she had relative to the primal cause of her father's dangerous illness. "He will recover  something tells me that he will recover; and then  oh! how I will cherish him  how I will exert myself to make the remainder of his days happy!"
    Her countenance became flushed as she spoke; and Reginald's glances were fixed, by a species of invincible fascination, upon the beautiful being in whose presence he stood.
    He felt at that moment that he could sacrifice every thing for her love.
    The surgeon and Richard Markham now entered the apartment; and Reginald received the thanks of our young hero for the attention which he had shown to the old man whose life had ceased to be despaired of.
    After a somewhat protracted visit, the rector took his leave.
    But throughout that day Ellen alone occupied all, his thoughts. What fault of hers could have [-394-] thrown her father upon a bed of sickness, whose only termination was at one time anticipated to be in death? what could have been the conduct of so fond a daughter to have produced such terrible results? Had she strayed from the path of virtue? This was the only feasible solution of such a mystery. Then a terrible pang of jealousy shot through his breast.
    And why should he be jealous? What was that young girl to him?
    He was jealous, because his ardent passions instinctively attracted him towards that beautiful creature;  and she was every thing to him, because she was so beautiful, and because he desired her!
    Yes  a new flame now burnt in his heart  a flame as violent, as relentless, as fierce, as that which had already made him the slave of Lady Cecilia Harborough. But was he this time to become a slave or a victim?
    He sat down and reasoned with himself. He endeavoured to crush the feelings of licentiousness which had been re-awakened in his heart.
    But as vainly might he have endeavoured to lull the Maelstroom with a breath, or to subdue the rage of Vesuvius with a drop of water!
    Such was his frame of mind, when an old woman sought his presence in the evening.
    He had made it a rule, throughout his career, never to be difficult of access to those who wished to see him; and now that he felt the fabric of his fair fame to be tottering upon the verge of a precipice, he was not inclined to deviate from any of those outward forms which had aided in the consecration of his renown. He accordingly ordered his housekeeper to admit the old woman to his presence.
    The instant a hag, with a horribly wrinkled countenance, entered his study, he started  for that repulsive face was not altogether unknown to him.
    Then, in another moment, he remembered that he had once seen her standing at the door of Lady Cecilia Harborough's abode in Tavistock Square; and that the glance which she had thrown upon him, on that occasion had for an instant struck him with sinister foreboding.
    The old woman seated herself, and, without any preamble, said: "A man of great learning like you, reverend sir, cannot be otherwise than a man of great taste. This conviction has emboldened me to call upon you in preference to any other, relative to a most perfect work of art which fortune has thrown in my way."
    Reginald gazed upon the old woman in speechless astonishment: her mysterious  indeed, incomprehensible. language, induced him to believe that she was some unfortunate creature bereaved of her right senses.
    "Listen to me for a few minutes, reverend sir," continued the hag, "and I will explain my meaning to you. Your charity, as well as your taste, is about to be appealed to."
    "Speak," said the clergyman, somewhat impatiently, for he longed to be left alone again with his reflections, which had just assumed a most voluptuous complexion when his privacy was thus intruded upon.
    "I will not detain you long  I will not detain you long," cried the old hag. "You must know, reverend sir, that a foreign sculptor  a poor Italian  came some few months ago to lodge at my humble dwelling. He was in the deepest distress, and had not the means to procure either marble or tools. I am very poor  very poor, myself, sir; but I could not see a fellow-creature starving. I bought him marble  and I bought him tools. He went to work, toiling day and night almost unweariedly; and a week ago he put the finishing stroke to the statue of a nymph. His art has enabled him, by means of colour, to give a life-like appearance to that admirable work of art; so that as you contemplate it, it seems to you as if the eyes were animated, the lips breathed, and the bosom rose and sank with respiration."
    "And your artist is, no doubt, anxious to dispose of his statue?" said the rector.
    "Precisely so," answered the hag. "I do not profess to be a judge myself; but I can speak of the effect which it produced upon me. When I saw it finished  standing upon its pedestal I was about to address it as a living being."
    "The effect must, then, be indeed striking," observed Reginald, with the voluptuous train of whose ideas this picture was well adapted to associate.
    "Were you to judge for yourself, reverend sir," said the old hag, "you would find that I have not overrated the perfection of this masterpiece. The sculptor demands but a small price for his statue-  it would be a charity were you to purchase it yourself, or recommend one of your friends to do so."
    "When and where could I see this matchless work of art?" asked Reginald, whose curiosity was now strangely excited.
    "At my own humble dwelling in Golden Lane is this statue concealed," replied the horrible old hag; "and no mortal eyes, save the sculptor's and mine own, have yet glanced upon it. If you will accompany me now, you can inspect it without delay."
    Reginald referred to his watch, and found that it was past nine o'clock. The evening was pitch dark; and he did not, therefore, dread being seen in the company of that hideous old woman. Besides, even if he were  was he not often summoned at all hours to attend upon the last moments of some dying sinner?
    "I will proceed with you at once to your abode," said the rector, after a few moments' hesitation.
    "And you will do well," answered the hag; "for I can promise you a fine treat in what you are about to see."
    While the rector stepped aside to put on his cloak and hat, a strange smile curled the lips of the wrinkled harridan; but as Reginald again turned towards her, her countenance instantly resumed its wonted composure.
    They then went out together.

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