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[-394-]

CHAPTER CXXXI.

THE STATUE.

    The 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 acquainted. [-395-]
    "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 Tracy.
    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 garments.
    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 enslaved!    

    * * * * * *

    "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, starting.
    "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 love!'"
    "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 Cecilia.
    "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 feelings.
    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 extravagance.
    Thus was Lady Cecilia triumphant in all points with regard to the once immaculate, but now sensual and voluptuous rector of Saint David's.

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