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old woman led the way at a rapid pace towards Golden Lane, the rector following
her at a little distance.
Although there was nothing improbable in the tale which
the hag had told him, and nothing improper in the step which he was
taking, — nevertheless he experienced a vague and undefinable idea
of doing wrong.
Something told him that he ought to retreat; and at the
same time a superior influence urged him on ward.
And, therefore, he followed the old woman.
The wrinkled creature pursued her way, and d length
turned into the dark and dirty court with which the reader is already well
"This is a strange place, you will say,"
observed the old woman, as she pushed open the door of one of the houses in that
court, — "this is a strange place to contain such a treasure
"And for that reason the treasure should not long
be allowed to remain here," answered the clergyman.
The hag chuckled: — the sound was between a
hollow laugh and a death-rattle; and it seemed horrible to the ears of Reginald
The old woman then slowly ascended the narrow and dark
staircase, until she reached the landing, where she drew a key from her pocket,
and leisurely applied it to the lock of a door.
She fumbled about so long with the key, muttering to
herself all the while, that Reginald thought she would never open the door, and
he offered to assist her.
But at that moment the key turned in the lock, and the
door was slowly opened.
The hag beckoned the rector to follow her; and he found
himself in a tolerably large room, decently furnished, and with an excellent
fire burning in the grate.
There were no candles lighted; nor did the hag offer to
provide any; — but the contents of the apartment were plainly
visible by means of the strong glare of the fire.
Heavy curtains of a dark colour covered the a windows:
the floor was carpeted; the chairs and tables were of plain but solid material;
and a large mirror stood over the mantel.
At the farther end of the room was a second door, which
was now closed, but evidently communicated with an inner chamber.
"I gave the poor artist the best rooms in my
house," observed the hag, as she placed a chair near the fire for the
rector. "The statue stands in the adjoining chamber; you can inspect it at
once, while I — "
She mumbled the remainder of the sentence in such a way
that it was wholly unintelligible to the rector, and then left the room.
For a few minutes Reginald stood before the fire,
uncertain what course to pursue. He now began to think that the entire
proceeding was somewhat extraordinary; and the singular manner in which the old
hag had left him, inspired him with a feeling not entirely free from alarm.
But for what purpose could he have been inveigled
thither, if it were not really to behold the marvellous statue? and, perhaps,
after all, the old woman had only left him in order to fetch the candles or to
summon the artist? Moreover, had she not informed him that the statue was in the
next room, and that he might inspect it at once? It was therefore easy to
satisfy himself whether he had bean deceived or not.
Ashamed of his transient fears, he threw off his hat and
cloak, and advanced towards the door communicating with the inner chamber.
Even then he hesitated for a minute as his fingers
grasped the handle; but, at length, he boldly entered the room.
The moment the door was thrown open, he perceived by the
light of the fire which burned in the a front apartment, that the inner one was
a small and comfortably fitted up bed-chamber. It was involved in a more than
semi-obscurity; but not to such an extent as to conceal from Reginald Tracy's
penetrating glance the semblance of a female form standing upon a low pedestal
in the most remote corner of the room.
"I am not then deceived!" he exclaimed aloud,
as he advanced nearer towards the statue.
By this time his eyes had become accustomed to the
obscurity of the chamber, into which the glimmer of the fire threw a faint but
mellowed light. Still, in somewhat bold relief, against the dark wall, stood the
object of his interest, — seeming a beautiful model of a female
form, the colouring of which was that of life. It was naked to the middle; the
arms were gracefully rounded; and one hand sustained the falling drapery which,
being also coloured, produced upon the mind of the beholder the effect of real
Lost in wonder at the success with which the sculptor
had performed his work, — and experiencing feelings of a soft and
voluptuous nature, — Reginald drew closer to the statue. At that
moment the light of the fire played upon its countenance; and it seemed to him
as if the lips moved with a faint smile. Then, how was his surprise increased,
when the conviction flashed to his mind that the face he was gazing upon was
well known to him!
"O Cecilia, Cecilia!" he ejaculated aloud:
"hast thou sent thy statue hither to compel me to fall at its feet and
worship the senseless stone, while thou — the sweet original — art
elsewhere, speculating perhaps upon the emotions which this phantasmagorian
sport was calculated to conjure up within me! Ah! Cecilia, if thou wast resolved
to subdue me once more — if thou couldst not rest until I became thy
slave again, — oh! why not have invited me to meet thine own sweet
self, instead of this speechless, motionless, passionless image, — a
counterpart of thee only in external loveliness! Yes — there it is
perfect: — the hair — the brow — the
eyes — the mouth — Heavens! those lips seem to smile
once more; those eyes sparkle with real fire! Cecilia — Cecilia — "
And Reginald Tracy was afraid — he scarcely
knew wherefore: the entire adventure of the evening appeared to be a dream.
"Yes — yes!" he suddenly
exclaimed, after having steadfastly contemplated the form before him for some
moments, — standing at a distance of only three or four paces, — afraid
to advance nearer, unwilling to retreat altogether, — "yes!"
he exclaimed, "there is something more than mere senseless marble here! The
eyes shoot fire — the lips smile — the bosom
heaves — Oh! Cecilia — Cecilia, it is yourself!"
As he spoke he rushed forward: the statue burst from
chill marble into warmth and life; — it was indeed the beauteous but
wily Cecilia — who returned his embrace and hung around his
neck; — and the rector was again subdued — again
* * * * * *
"And you will pardon me for the little stratagem
which I adopted to bring you back to my arms?" said Cecilia.
"How can I do otherwise than pardon you?"
murmured the rector, whose licentious soul was occupied only with gross
delights, and who would at that moment have dared exposure and disgrace rather
than tear himself away from the syren on whose bosom his head was pillowed.
"Oh! Cecilia, I have had a violent struggle with my feelings; but I shall
now contend against them no more. No! from this instant I abandon all hope of
empire — all wish for dominion over myself; I yield myself up to the
pleasures of love and to thee! Sweet Cecilia, thou hast taught me how ineffable
is the bliss which mortals may taste in this world; — and after all,
the sure present is preferable to the uncertain future!" [-396-]
"Reginald — beloved Reginald, didst
thou imagine that I would resign thee so easily as thou wouldst have resigned
me!" said Lady Cecilia. "Oh! you know not the heart of woman! There
were but two alternatives for me — to bring you back, or to avenge
myself on you."
"Avenge yourself!" exclaimed Reginald,
"Yes," replied the wily creature, purposely
adopting this discourse in order to enchain her lover in future; "a woman
who fondly — madly loves, as I love, Reginald — will not
so willingly part with the object of her affection! What, — could
you suppose that I would surrender myself to you one day to be abandoned the
next? No — never, never would I permit myself to be made the victim
of a caprice! You wrote to me to implore me not to seek to see you again: I
requested one last interview — you refused me my demand! Then I
smarted sorely; but I said to myself, 'He loves me;' and I added, 'I love him
also.' I accordingly resolved to attempt one grand effort to draw the anchorite
from his cell. Chance threw in my way the old woman whom I sent to you, and in
whose house we now are — "
"And what chance was that?" demanded Reginald,
who entertained a strong and yet unaccountable aversion for that old hag.
"I will tell you all, dearest Reginald,"
answered Cecilia. "The evening after I received your cruel note desiring
that all might end between us, I was going out with the intention of calling
upon you — yes, of throwing myself at your feet — "
"Imprudent Cecilia! " murmured the rector,
imprinting a kiss upon her lips.
"Yea — I was on the point of leaving my
own abode to seek yours," continued Cecilia, "when I heard a hoarse
and ominous voice muttering behind me. I looked round, and perceived that old
wretch. She smiled — or rather, leered significantly, and said, 'Happy, happy lady — to enjoy the rector of saint David's
"She said that!" cried Reginald. "How
could she divine what passed between us?"
"She has since explained to me how she one evening
saw you leave my house — with a certain wildness in your
manner — "
True! true!" ejaculated the rector; "and the
mind of the old woman being perhaps naturally evil, she conceived evil of others
on the faintest suspicion."
"Exactly," answered Cecilia. "When she
accosted me in that manner, I was so wretched, so miserable at the idea of being
separated from you — — "
"Sweetest creature! I was, indeed, ungrateful in
return for so much love!"
"I was so unhappy that I was even glad to speak of
thee to such a wretch as that old creature. Then she uttered words of
consolation, and we talked together — talked for an hour in the
cold, damp street — "
"Poor Cecilia!" murmured Reginald.
"What would I not dare for you?" said the wily
woman, pressing him warmly in her snowy arms. "And now you can guess the
rest — how the old woman proposed that some stratagem should be
invented to bring the recreant back to my arms —
"And you have thus blindly confided yourself — not
only your secret, but mine also — to a perfect stranger? O,
Cecilia — was this prudent?" exclaimed Reginald in alarm.
" Does love know prudence?" asked the lady.
"But fear not: gold will seal the lips of our confidant; and better is it
for her obscure dwelling to be the scene of our loves than for our caresses to
be exchanged at my abode, where the intrusion of a servant at any moment — "
"True!" interrupted Reginald. "And yet
upon what a fearful abyss does my reputation now seem to tremble!"
"Yours!" ejaculated Lady Cecilia, almost
scornfully, — for she was resolved to put an end to these repinings
on the part of her lover: "Oh! can you be so selfish as to think only of
yourself? Should you be detected, you are ruined only in your profession, and
not as a man — for with the man there is no dishonour in illicit
love; — but if I be detected, am I not lost as a wife, and as a
woman? Will not all the wrath of an avenging society light upon me? For it is
upon us — upon poor woman — that contumely, and shame,
and disgrace fall!"
"Forgive me, dearest Cecilia," murmured the
rector, clasping the frail beauty in his arms. "I have been unjust to
you — I have thought only of myself, unmindful of the immense
sacrifice that is made by thee! But, forgive me, I say — and never
again shall the expression of my cowardly alarms — my egotistical
terrors impair our happiness! I love you — I love you, my Cecilia:
Oh heaven knows how sincerely — how madly I love you!"
"And you will love me always?" whispered
"Always! for ever — and ever!"
answered the rector, now intoxicated — delirious with joy, and
reckless of all consequences.
* * * * * *
The barrier was now completely broken down; and the
rector gave way to the violence of the passion which hurried him along.
That man, so full of vigour, and in the prime at his
physical strength, abandoned himself without restraint to the fury of those
desires which burnt the more madly — the more wildly, from having
been so long pent-up.
Day after day did he meet his guilty paramour; and on
each occasion did he reflect less upon the necessity of caution. He passed hours
and hours together with her at her abode; and at length he ventured to receive
her at his own residence, when his housekeeper bad retired to rest.
But he did not neglect his professional duties on the
Sabbath; — and he now became an accomplished hypocrite. He ascended
the pulpit as usual, and charmed thousands with his discourse as heretofore.
Indeed his eloquence improved, for the simulated earnestness which displaced the
tone of heart-felt conviction that he had once experienced, seemed more
impassioned, and was more impressive than the natural ebullition of his
Thus as be progressed in the ways of vice, his
reputation increased in sanctity.
But the moment he escaped from the duties of his
profession, he flew to the arms of her who had seduced him from his career of
purity; and so infatuated was he with her who had been his tutoress in the ways
of amorous pleasure, that he joyfully placed his purse at the disposal of her
Thus was Lady Cecilia triumphant in all points with
regard to the once immaculate, but now sensual and voluptuous rector of Saint
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