The Parson O' Dumford
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The light brightened in the east, but paled in the window of the sick girl’s room; and the watcher’s heart sank low, for he knew too well that this was the hour when vitality was at its lowest ebb, and that, perhaps, at this very time the gentle spirit of Eve might be winging its way to a purer realm.
“My poor love – my love!” he murmured, as he leaned upon the gate; and if ever man prayed fervently, that was a heartfelt prayer breathed from his lips, and it seemed, in his weak worn state, borne upwards by a winged messenger which rose from the field hard by, singing its morning song of joy and praise.
He watched that lark as it rose higher and higher, its clear notes ringing far and wide, but growing gradually fainter and fainter, till the bird seemed lost to his gaze, as the song was to his ear. But as he watched the sky turned from its pale dawn, tinged with a warmer flush, to one glorious damask fret of orange and gold, lighting up the trees and flowers of his garden as he let his eyes fall to earth, and then, as they rested on the window, it was to see that it was blank and cold and grey.
He could not stir, only stand gazing there with a horrible sinking feeling – a terrible dread, and though the sun rose slowly, his light seemed pale and sickly to the heart-stricken man, whose worst fears seemed confirmed when the door opened, and the heavy, burly figure of the doctor appeared, coming softly down the gravel-walk.
“You here, Selwood!” he exclaimed. The vicar bowed his head. “You have been here all night?”
“Yes, but tell me. I can bear it now. Does she sleep?”
“Yes,” said the doctor, pausing; and as he saw the weary head sink lower, he continued, “Yes, but not the sleep you mean. The crisis is past, dear friend, and Eve Pelly lives.”
It was one soft delicious afternoon, when the vicarage garden was aglow with flowers, mellow with sunshine, and joyous with the hum of the insect world, that in obedience to Eve’s wish the vicar went down, to find her looking very thin and pale, but inexpressibly sweeter than she had ever seemed before, seated on the old rustic seat beneath the great hedge of mingled holly and yew. Daisy was with her as he entered the garden, but she went into the house, and Eve, with her colour returning slightly, held out one hand and pointed to the place at her side.
He did not take the seat, however, but mastering his emotion, took the trembling hand between his and kissed it.
“You wished to see me?” he said.
“Yes,” said Eve in a whisper; “to thank you for your great – great kindness to me. They tell me I have been here eight weeks. I have been asking Mr Purley whether I may not go home – to my aunt’s – at least,” she said, growing agitated, “somewhere – somewhere. I must not stay here.”
He had come meaning to be calm, to command himself, knowing that she was delicate and weak; but at those words, and the visions they conjured up, the restraint of months was broken down, and retaining her hand, he sat down beside her.
“Do you wish to go away, Eve?” he said hoarsely, while his strong hand trembled like that he held.
“I cannot trespass on you longer,” she said; and then in a weary, helpless manner, “but I meant to go away – far from here.”
“Eve,” he whispered, “may I tell you of something of which you have never dreamed? I meant to keep it yet for months, but your words drive me to speak, and at the risk of losing all I must.
“My child, I have known you now for months; I have watched you till I have felt that I knew even the thoughts of your gentle heart; and as I learned them, knowing what I did, life has been to me one long time of agony.Eve, I have loved you with all my heart – so well that I would not give you the pain of knowing it; glad to feel that I was your friend, whom you could trust and turn to in your trouble. Have I kept to that?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, piteously.
“Have I ever broken from the position in which fate placed me, or been traitor to your trust? Have I ever shown you the deep and passionate love that was in my heart?”
“Never, never!” she moaned.
“No,” he exclaimed; “I struggled and fought against it, even yielding to your wishes to perform a duty in which I felt that I was being my own executioner. But now you are free. You cannot wed this man!”
“No, no, no,” she whispered, with a shudder.
“Then give me some little hope – however little. My darling, I will wait for years if you will but tell me – You turn from me – am I mad in thinking that you might some day trust me with this little hand? You said you must go. Why – why leave me? Oh, Eve – darling! have I kept my secret so long for this?”
He was rising from his seat when her little hands went up to his, and he sank beside her, as they were placed upon his breast, and Eve’s cheek went down upon them, and she nestled there.
“Is this a dream?” he exclaimed.
“One,” she whispered, “that I have prayed might some day come true, but trembled, for I thought it was a sin.”
“And you can love me?” he cried, drawing her closer and closer to him.
“At last,” she murmured; “and when I thought I was alone in the wide, wide world. Love you!” she faltered, as she hid her face in his breast, “I have loved you from the first.”
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