The Guardian Angel
A Chapter from "Zizine"
Paul de Kock
Edward never passed a day without going to Madame Dolbert's; the good lady received him as a man to whom she hoped one day to give the name of son, and Stephanie with that sweet smile which betrayed to all eyes the inmost secret of her heart.
But it was not thus that the lover of Stephanie desired to be loved. Conducting himself before the world with an extreme reserve, it was only in private, and in low whispers, and when removed from the vigilance of her grandmother, that Edward spoke to the young girl of love; but then his words were burning, and his eyes had an expression which compelled Stephanie to avert her own; his caressing hands sought always to approach her -- to touch the robe, the arm, or the knee of the young girl, who sometimes found herself suddenly embraced, and pressed warmly to a heart that was beating rapidly with the most ardent desires.
Stephanie responded with an undisguised affection to the transports of the man who seemed so happy by her side. But when Edward, profiting by an unobserved interview, pressed her tenderly to his arms, she suffered an embarrassment, an agitation, which resembled alarm; and she disengaged herself from the embrace which would retain her, with the question -- "But since, my friend, you love me so fondly, why don't you tell me so before my mother? When we are in society, you hardly look at me; you seem to fear that our love should be suspected. Why is this? There is no harm in our loving -- you have yourself told me so;-- why then should it be a secret?"
To these questions Edward replied --"I cannot yet avow my love -- family reasons prevent me; but, my dear Stephanie, they need not prevent us from indulging our love. The world is a wicked world, and as it always puts a wrong construction on the conduct of its members, we need not admit it to the confidence of our secret sentiments. Believe me, mystery is one of the great charms of love. Are we not an hundred times better pleased with a good fortune of which others know nothing? My dear Stephanie, still let me see you in secret,-- permit me still to have with you those sweet interviews, in which we can at least exchange the tender caresses which the world would blame, and which make me so happy."
Stephanie sighed, and whispered: "in secret -- how? I do not understand." But whenever Delaberge undertook to explain, her grandmother or Zizine appeared to interrupt the conversation.
A residence of many months with the ladies Dolbert had already produced a great change in the manners and language of Zizine. She had always been a delicate little girl, pale and thoughtful; but she no longer appeared the daughter of a water-carrier. Apt to learn whatever pleased her benefactors, Zizine had soon lost all the outward signs of her humble origin; but her heart still remained the same -- she never forgot Jerome, and when a month intervened between his visits, the little girl became uneasy, and would hide herself to weep.
Without understanding the cause, Zizine perceived very plainly that Stephanie had ceased to be to her what she once was. Her young protectress still caressed her, but she did not speak to her so frequently. The little games -- the dolls were entirely thrown aside. Stephanie was almost always absent and dreaming, and sometimes did not hear the questions of her little companion, who often asked her, "What, then, are you thinking about?"
At length, one day, when Stephanie was even more absent than usual, the little girl burst into tears. This sight roused Stephanie, who ran to her, caught her in her arms, and asked --
"Why do you weep Zizine? what have they been doing to you? "They have been doing nothing to me; it is because you no longer love me." "I don't love you, Zizine! And why do you think so?" Because I see very well you never speak to me -- you never play with me -- you are always sad. I see that I weary you -- and I wish to return to my father, the water-carrier." "What, leave me, Zizine! oh no, no, I cannot think of it; I love you still -- always love you. But you see that -- when one grows up, one has many things to think of -- one has ideas which -- in short, I cannot explain it all to you now, because you are too young -- but that shall not prevent me from loving you. Pardon me if I am sometimes sad -- but do not leave me. Oh! never desert me; for at the bottom of my heart I am always the same to you."
Zizine was easily consoled by these kind words, and since she was assured that her presence was still welcome to Stephanie, she no longer feared to remain by her side, even when she did not speak to her.
Edward had often noticed that this child was constantly with Stephanie, and one evening he said to her in a half whisper:
"How annoying to see that girl forever at your side! One would think that she was set to watch you -- a spy on your every action."
"Oh, it is not so," replied Stephanie, "she loves me so much, that it is her greatest pleasure to be near me." "She loves you, it is very possible -- but I also love you, and it seems to me that I ought to have preference." "My dear Edward, it is of your own choice whether or not to be near me when you visit us; it is not Zizine who prevents you." "Pardon me, this little girl vexes me -- annoys me. When your mother is engaged, I might be alone with you in this little cabinet, if Zizine were not always in the way." "But she does not prevent us from being together -- conversing." "It is not the same thing. In truth, Stephanie, I do not understand how you, well educated, born in the world of fashion, should have formed such an attachment for the daughter of a poor water-carrier, who has nothing attractive about her, for she is not even pretty." You are deceived, my friend, if you knew Zizine as well as I do, you would see that she deserves to be loved -- she is so good -- she has so much talent! Oh, she is not like other children -- poor little thing, she was destitute of everything when I found her." "Continue to provide for her -- I would by no means blame you for that; but put her to some boarding-school." "What, send her away from me? Oh, never -- and if some day -- I should -- be married -- that would not prevent me from keeping Zizine always with me."
Stephanie blushed as she uttered these last words; but however unconscious a young lady may be, she knows very well that the name of wife should one day belong to her, and when she loves, she ought still more frequently to think of marriage.
Edward said no more. The word marriage which Stephanie had uttered seemed to embarrass him; he saw that it was vain to attempt to detach Zizine from her mistress; and that he must gain his end in some other way.
After several months Stephanie's grandmother was attacked with a violent fever, which threatened her life. Stephanie was always by her bed-side. She never left it for a moment. Aided by Zizine, who did everything to make herself useful, this young girl watched the invalid with so much assiduity and care, that in the source of a few days she was declared to be out of danger.
But during all this time she had not fond a moment to talk with Edward; Stephanie would have though it wrong to waste a single moment on anything but her grandmother's health. When M. Delaberge presented himself at the door of the invalid's chamber, Stephanie was content with a silent look, or as her grandmother recovered, with a smile.
Edward did not dare to complain; he watched and waited with patience for the moment when he might act.
Madame Dolbert was out of danger, but her recovery was slow, and the physician had recommended the utmost care. She was directed to rise late, and retire early, as repose was necessary for her restoration. Stephanie was anxious to be ever by her grandmother's side; but touched by the solicitude which her grand-daughter had displayed, Madame Dolbert insisted on her taking some recreation, and often sent her from her bed-side with the words --
"I am no longer sick. All that is now necessary is rest; but you, my dear child, were not directed to watch constantly by my bed. At your age, you require an active life. return to your piano, your drawings, go and laugh with your little protégé; receive our friends; in short, enjoy the pleasures of life, I command you; and you must obey my prescriptions like the physician's."
Stephanie yields to the desires of her grandmother, returns to the saloon, and receives there more frequently than ever the visits of Edward; sometimes other acquaintances of Madame Dolbert came to pass a moment with Stephanie; but, by prolonging his visits, Edward always found an opportunity of being alone with her.
Not quite alone, however, for Zizine was ever these; if she left the saloon for a moment, she at once returned; hardly could the lover of Stephanie raise to his lips the pretty hand which she unreluctantly abandoned to him, when the child came running back to seat herself by the side of her protectress.
"What a torment!" said Edward, dropping the hand of Stephanie, and casting an angry glance at the child; but Stephanie, who seemed not to observe the chagrin of her lover, drew the head of Zizine into her lap, and amused herself by passing her fingers through her long soft locks.
Edward observed that the child had been sad for some time, and he soon ascertained the cause. Zizine had not seem her father for more than a month; for Stephanie always accompanied her on her visits, and the sickness of Madame Dolbert having prevented her from going out, poor little Zizine had been deprived of her accustomed pleasure.
"We will go soon to Jerome's," said Stephanie to the child, but I do not wish to go out till my poor grandmother is entirely restored." "And if my father should be sick!" said Zizine in tears. "Why fear that?" "It is so long since I have seen him -- he has give up coming here." "You know very well that he told us he had not time." "Yes, but he will think that I have forgotten him -- and that will give him much pain."
Edward had listened to this conversation without interrupting it. Suddenly he said to Zizine, "Where does your father dwell, my little one?" "In rue St. Honoré, sir; here is his address -- I have been copying it for my writing lesson." "Give it me, to-morrow I shall call and inquire about your father, and when I come I can bring you the news." "Ah sir, you are very kind -- a thousand thanks!"
And Zizine in her gratitude would have leaped upon the neck of the good gentleman, if he had not quickly turned his head to look at Stephanie, who said to him as he extended her hand -- "It is very obliging in you to take this trouble -- and I am much indebted for your kindness."
Edward soon took leave, for he was absent, pre-occupied; he wished that the morrow had already come; he had formed his plan; he had at length devised a pretext for ridding himself of the little girl who had been such an obstacle to his success. As he withdrew, he exclaimed to himself -- "yet a few hours, and Stephanie will be mine."
The morrow arrived, and Edward was expected at Madame Dolbert's with more than ordinary impatience. Zizine hopes for news from her father, and Stephanie doubts not that it will dissipate the sadness of her little protege. But the day wanes, and Edward does not appear.
"He does not come," said Zizine with a sigh.
"He will come this evening," said Stephanie; "you know he seldom fails to come and keep us company after grandmother has retired."
This was indeed the time that Edward preferred, because in the evening they seldom received any other visitors, and that evening he came later than usual, to be certain of no obstacle to his plans.
Stephanie and Zizine were in the saloon; they raised a light exclamation of as Edward entered, and Zizine cried out -- "Have you any news of my father, sir?"
"Pardon my being so late," said Edward, wiping his forehead, with an air of extreme fatigue --"but I have had my hands full of engagements -- indispensable business -- which has detained me -- or I should have been here long since."
"Any news from my father," said Zizine, "have you not been able to see him?"
"Pardon me, my child, that I promised you, and I never break my promise." I went to his lodgings, I found them without difficulty." "Ah, sir, you are too good! You have seen him?" "No, I have not seen him, but I found a neighbour of his who was able to answer my inquiries." "I am sorry to tell you, my dear little friend, that your fears were too well founded, your father is ill." "He is ill -- good heaven! good heaven! Yes, my dear friend, I was sure he was ill, but what is the matter with him?" I don't know exactly -- the woman could not explain -- but it seemed that he was a good deal troubled at not having seen his daughter."
"He wishes to see me! My poor, dear, father! Oh yes -- and I also wish to see him -- immediately. You will let me go and see my father?" Zizine clasped her hands, and looked up imploringly to her benefactress; already the big tears were coursing down her cheeks. In her turn, Stephanie embraced her, and tried to comfort her.
"You shall go -- certainly -- but to-night, how can you? It is already past nine."
"No matter -- my father is ill -- I must go and take care of him, as you have taken care of your grandmother -- and she was not alone, she had domestics to provide for her; but, my poor father is all alone; you see that he has need of me."
There was that in the expression of the young girl which indicated an energy beyond her years. It seemed that filial love had given new firmness of purpose, new strength of soul to this weak little creature.
"But how can you go?" said Stephanie; "my grandmother is a-bed and asleep -- I cannot wake her to ask permission to go out."
"it is very easy to arrange that," said Edward. "my cab is at the door with my servant; he can carry Zizine to her father -- perhaps he is not very ill after all. She can see him -- she can stay as long as she pleases with him, and my servant can wait for her and bring her back."
"In that case," said Stephanie, "It would not be necessary for me to go with her. You are not afraid, Zizine?" "Oh, no, my dear friend; oh, sir, how much I thank you!"
"Your servant is careful? said Stephanie, who was a little fearful of parting with her charge.
"I'll answer for him, as I would for myself. What are you afraid will happen to the little girl?"
"Zizine, you will return?" "Yes -- unless my father should be too sick for me to leave him." "It is likely enough that the sight of you will restore him -- that neighbour spoke so uncertainly." "Good-bye, my dear friend;" "But wait a moment, let me get you a shawl or something -- you will take cold." "Oh, no, I am well enough. Will your servant, sir, let me get into the carriage?" "Come, my child. I will go down with you, and tell you what to do; come -- but make no noise, you must not wake up Madame Dolbert -- all this would only trouble her." "Oh yes -- you say truly -- be careful not to wake my grandmother."
Stephanie embraces Zizine, commits her to Edward, and he goes down with her to the door. Zizine followed the young man with all the swiftness of her little limbs; on reaching the door, Edward took her in his arms, bore her to the carriage, said a few words to his servant, and hastened back to rejoin Stephanie.
The amiable girl was sad at the loss of her little charge; but she tried to receive Edward with a smile. He throws open the door of the saloon as he enters, and seats himself by the side of Stephanie.
"She is gone then," said the young lady, with a sigh.
"Yes, I placed her in the carriage myself, and gave her in charge of my servant; you may be assured she is perfectly safe." "I believe you -- and yet -- it is very strange -- I am troubled, distressed -- I am so used to having this little girl with me." "That you cannot rest a minute without seeing her? Oh! you love this little girl better than you love me -- I see it." "Oh! no, what I feel for her is friendship, and for you --" "Well? and for me?" "You know well that it is love!" "My dear Stephanie, Ah! tell me again that you love -- repeat it." "Is it because you doubt? Ah! I cannot deceive -- and as I cannot hide what I feel" -- "How happy am I! and how delightful to exchange without a witness these vows of love! Ah, Stephanie, I have long wished for this moment. I can at last kiss these sweet hands -- this white neck -- all the charms that I have so long desired to possess!"
As he thus spoke, Edward drew his chair directly opposite to Stephanie, passed his arm about her waist, and drawing her gently towards him, imprinted his burning kisses on her neck, her arms, her hands, and even her robe. Stephanie, alarmed by the warmth of the caresses to which she is for the first time exposed, blushes and trembles, gently repelling Edward with the exclamation, "but why do you press me so closely?"
"Dear Stephanie, I am so happy to be thus with you." "But it is wrong, perhaps, that you should embrace me." "Why wrong? since we love, and shall always love? "Always?" "Oh, yes it is true, very true." "And will you never change, Edward?" "Never -- I swear it by this kiss."
To the virgin lips of the young girl, the insolent Edward presses his own; Stephanie burns with emotion; they prey of a new passion, she has hardly power to rise and tear herself from the arms of her lover.
Edward, surprised at the escape of Stephanie, remained fixed on his chair, looking after the young girl, who had fled to the opposite side of the saloon.
"Stephanie -- do you fly from me?" said the lover, in a tone of gentleness.
"No -- I do not fly from you," replied Stephanie, with downcast eyes; "but it was -- I know not what -- it was something like fear."
"Fear of me, Stephanie? Indeed I am too unhappy if I have inspired such a sentiment -- I who love you so much -- I who breathe only for you!"
These words were uttered in a tone so touching, that Stephanie reproached herself for having given pain to Edward; she turned her fine eyes towards him, they expressed no anger; the young man left his seat, ran to her, took one of her hands which he pressed tenderly in his own; and by his looks, endeavoured to excite in the breast of the young girl all the desires that were raging in his own; but Stephanie again cast down her eyes in shame.
"Am I guilty of a crime in loving you?" asked Edward, gently drawing the charming girl to a divan that was near them.
"No -- no!" said Stephanie, seating herself in great emotion by the side of her lover; "but, it seems to me that there is no need -- that it is not right -- that --"
The lips of the maiden were closed -- she did not dare to say, "You ought not to embrace me as you have done," but she thought so; for there is always something in the depth of the heart that teaches us to distinguish the wrong from the right.
But Edward divines easily what Stephanie dares not utter, and exclaims while circling her in his arms --
"But when we love, is it not natural to show it? -- The caresses of lovers are the dearest pleasures we are permitted to enjoy. Stephanie, I tremble with joy in touching your hand, your arm -- in pressing you to my heart; if you loved me with an equal passion, you would feel as I do --"
"Oh, I love you as well -- but -- how you press me!"
"Stephanie, am I not he to whom you have given your heart? Oh, let me hold you thus -- let me snatch a kiss from those lips that have sworn to love only me!"
Stephanie knows not what to reply, but Edward does not wait permission for a new embrace; the young maiden melts in the ardour of his caress; her lover becomes more confident; she wished to repel him, but she has not the power.
"Mercy -- mercy!" murmurs Stephanie, who now feels the extent of her danger; but Edward does not listen; a moment only and he will have triumphed over her feeble resistance, when footsteps are heard in the passage leading to the apartment. Someone approaches; Edward disengages himself form Stephanie, and the moment after the door of the saloon opens. It is Zizine, who returns, and runs to throw herself into the arms of Stephanie.
"The child! so soon!" muttered Edward, striking his fists together in his rage, "Oh -- this is my evil genius -- and the miserable Dupré has permitted her to return!"
"Here I am, my dear friend," said the child, throwing her arms around the neck of Stephanie. "I have not been long? and you did not expect me so soon?"
"Dear Zizine, it is heaven that has sent you. Henceforth you shall never leave me -- no, never. Oh, how happy I am that you have returned!"
Stephanie embraced the little girl, pressed her to her bosom, concealing on the cheeks of Zizine the blushes of her forehead, and the tears which moistened her eyes; while Edward, seated at the other end of the apartment, was impatiently striking the floor with his foot, and made no effort to conceal his chagrin and disappointment.
"You are surprised to see me back so soon!" said Zizine; "I will tell you how it happened. But first of all, I am glad that I went, for my father is not ill -- he has not been ill; it was very malicious in that neighbour to invent that story to give me pain. Listen -- I was in the cab; we were going along some street -- I don't know which; I did not well know the way but the gentleman's servant told me that he knew well where he was to carry me. All at once, as we were passing by a shop that was very brightly lit up, I saw my father. I knew him instantly, and cried out, 'Papa, papa! it is I!' and then I said to the servant, 'Stop, if you please sir, for I have just seen my father.' But he would not hear me; he drove on without stopping, and I was just bursting into tears. Fortunately, my father had heard my voice -- he ran after the cab, and at the risk of being crushed, caught the horse by the head, and stopped him. The I told my father where I was going, and was about getting out of the cab when the gentleman's servant detained me, saying that he was responsible for my safe return. My father immediately took me in his arms, replying to the servant, 'know that when I am present, no one but I has the right of protecting her.' My poor father! he did not know what to make of it, when he saw me riding alone in a cab. When I told him that I heard he was sick, he blessed(?) me and thanked me. He then asked if I wished to go home with him, but I told him that you loved me dearly, and that I had promised to come back to you. Then the gentleman's servant, who had waited there, offered to bring me back, but my father said to him, I will myself return with my daughter to her protectress;"-- and indeed he brought me quite home -- not leaving me till he got to the square, and charging me as he went away, never to ride alone again in a cab."
"Little dear!" said Stephanie, once more embracing Zizine; "Your father is right -- I ought not to have suffered you to go out alone, and for the future you never shall, I promise you."
"But what happened to you, my dear friend? have you been weeping?"
"Ah -- nothing -- I was too warm -- I have been troubled -- it is all over now; look dear, I am quite well now. Sit down by me, just opposite."
Stephanie seated the child by her side. Since the return of Zizine, she had not raised her eyes to Edward. In the arms of her little ward she seeks to calm herself, and recover her serenity; and Zizine, who saw on Stephanie's countenance the signs of an unusual emotion, looks on her with an air of disquietude. For a long time they keep silence. At length Edward determines to leave the corner he had sought on Zizine's entrance, and approaches the ottoman where Stephanie is still resting. The maiden cannot resist a shudder of apprehension, and circling Zizine with her arms she presses her closely to her heart, as if to interpose the child against the advances of her lover.
Edward pauses, and exclaims:
"What is the matter, lady? You seem alarmed -- trembling -- what has frightened you?"
Stephanie does not reply; she continues to hold Zizine in her arms, and does not lift her eyes upon Edward.
The lover ventures to seat himself on the ottoman, but on the side opposite to that of the child; and leaning towards the ear of Stephanie, he says to her in a low voice:
"What have I done that you should treat me thus? What? You will not even look on me. Is it, Stephanie, that you have ceased to love me? You see very well that we can come to no explanation or understanding, whilst this child is here. Permit me to speak one word with you alone -- to justify my conduct -- to ask your pardon -- it is late -- you can send the child to bed --"
Stephanie, who till this moment had remained silent, raises her head, and turning it towards Edward, fastens on him a glance that freezes the words on his lips; for it is no longer the look of a young, timid and loving girl, but that of an insulted and outraged woman, proud of her virtue, who sees before her the abyss from which she has escaped, and defies the pledges and promises that lure her to a new peril. Her look said all that, for Edward could not endure it; and this man, so presumptuous, so habituated in the ways of gallantry, hung his head in shame, and was struck dumb in the presence of a maiden whom he failed to dishonour.
Stephanie immediately turned back her face to Zizine, for she seemed to pity the confusion of her lover. Edward walks to and fro in the saloon, begins several sentences that he does not finish, stops before Stephanie, wishes to take a hand which is at once withdrawn, and finally resolves to take his leave.
It is in a trembling voice, and with a look of despair, that Edward said farewell to Miss Dolbert; whispering in a tone of voice that she only could hear --"If you do not condescend to give me one look, I shall believe that my presence is disagreeable to you, and shall not dare to visit you again."
Stephanie hesitates -- reflects -- but her heart is so kind! She confides in the regrets, in the despair of Edward, and gently raising her eyes casts on him a sweet look, in which there was as much affection as resentment. It would have been enough for an ordinary lover, but it was very little for one who had flattered himself that this evening would be the witness of his triumph.
Having left Stephanie, and no longer compelled to restrain himself, Delaberge gave a free rein to his passion -- for he had never before been so cruelly deceived in his hopes; and the chagrin of being disappointed in a scheme which he had so well conceived, exasperated and enraged him beyond measure. He had mounted his cab, and his servant, who sat trembling by his side, attempted in vain to vindicate himself.
"You are a fool -- an idiot," said Edward; "I had given you your instructions, and you ought to have detained the child, no matter by what means, by what falsehood. You ought no to have brought her back to Madame Dolbert's under two hours at least, and twenty minutes had not elapsed before she returned."
"Was it my fault, sir, that we met her father?"
"You ought not to have stopped."
"Then I must have killed the man who was hanging on the neck of my horse."
"You should have obeyed my commands at all hazards."
"But, sir --"
"Enough -- no more -- I give you your discharge -- you must quit my service."
Arrived home, Edward retires to his inner saloon, and abandons himself to his fury; he breaks everything he can lay his hands on; splendid articles of furniture, rich vases, a whole pile of the beautiful nothings that are invented to adorn the apartments of the wealthy, are broken ad trampled under the foot of this man, who had never before met with any resistance to his desires, and for the first time had been thwarted in their gratification. Like a spoiled child, who spites and breaks all his playthings because he cannot have his own way, Edward destroys everything within his reach; for men are but grown-up children, especially when they have been spoiled by fortune.
"Were it not for that child's return, Stephanie had been mine," said Edward, throwing himself in exhaustion upon the sofa --"she was mine -- this girl so winning, so innocent, so loving! How beautiful were her unresisting entreaties! And it is a child who has thwarted all my hopes -- destroyed my good fortune -- a child -- the daughter of a water-carrier! She has interposed herself in my path -- the path of Edward Delaberge! I have gold to satisfy all my passions; and since I have been old enough to know their virtue, I have never failed with gold and with oaths, both lavished in any profusion, to carry my point. And now I am checked by a child -- who has deprived me of a happiness within my reach. For now -- what's to be done? Stephanie understands her danger, and will be on her guard against it. Cursed Zizine! I already detested her, but now I hate her worse than ever. Why can't I treat her as I do this glass?"
Edward's hand adapts the action to the word, and strikes a glass standing on a table by his side; the glass is shivered, but his hand receives a severe cut, and bleeds profusely; this brings Edward to his senses; he wraps his handkerchief around the wound, and looking around him, exclaims:
"What a fool am I! what disorder! Shall I then never be master of myself? I have passed thirty years, and for twelve years what faults -- what follies! Is it not time to pause?"
Edward remains a long time plunged in his reflections; they do not appear to be very pleasant, for his forehead darkens, and his eyes become dull and fixed, his respiration short and difficult; one would hardly recognize in him the dashing and brilliant gentleman, who was the admiration of the saloon, the idol of the women, and the envy of the men.
At length M. Delaberge smoothes his forehead, rises, takes several turns about his chamber, recovers his habitual expression of face, and soliloquizes after the following fashion: "There are a thousand other women as pretty as Stephanie -- I will forget her -- I will occupy myself with someone else -- it is very easy --"
During four days, Edward absents himself from Madame Dolbert's; he tries to forget Stephanie, he returns to his old acquaintances, he makes new ones; but in the society of the most beautiful women, and the most expert coquettes, the image of Stephanie perpetually haunts and pursues him -- and he feels that while love is unsatisfied it is hard to forget.
The fifth day he can bear it no longer; he mounts his cab, and is set down at Madame Dolbert's.
Since her tête-à-tête with Edward, Stephanie had been sad and silent; and the sweet words of Zizine failed to bring a smile to her lips. She perceived that the conduct of her lover was to be condemned, but she loved him tenderly and was grieved that he had taught her to fear him. She sighed and wept in secret at his absence; in the depth of her heart she thought that Edward had ceased to love her, since he had sought to betray her, instead of seeking her hand in marriage.
But because a lover has done wrong it is no reason that one should love the less; it often happens that we love the more. Jealousy, disquiet and tears are indispensable to love, and without them instead of a flame, it would be nothing but smoke.
Thus Stephanie was almost ready to faint with joy, when M. Delaberge re-appeared at her mother's; she was then seated by the side of the good lady, whose health was rapidly improving, and who was now able to sit up a good potion of the time.
Edward was extremely struck by the paleness of Stephanie. She seemed to him more beautiful than ever. They interchanged one quick glance -- but how much that glance spoke to those that knew how to interpret it! On one side there was love, hope and repentance; on the other, fidelity, regret and forgiveness.
The good lady assailed M. Delaberge with good-natured reproaches for having so long neglected them; Stephanie said nothing; she was afraid that the tones of her voice would betray her emotion.
Edwards profits by a moment when the young girl is passing him to another part of the room to whisper "Do you still love me?"
Stephanie does not reply, but two big tears escape from her eyes, and she tries in vain to conceal them from her lover.
It was in vain, however, that Edward seeks an opportunity for being alone with Stephanie; this she avoids with as much solicitude as he exhibits to effect it.
Many weeks thus roll on; sometimes Edward is three or four days without visiting Stephanie -- and then for successive days he can hardly tear himself from her side. Wishing to forget, or abandoning himself to his passion, still hoping to obtain a tête-à-tête, and still despairing of success, Edward is quite at a loss where to stop.
At length, one evening, while Zizine was engaged at the piano, Edward takes the hand of Stephanie and, pressing it with warmth in his own, speaks to her in a tone of deep passion.
"I cannot live thus. Stephanie, we refuse nothing to those we love. You assure me that I am very dear to you, and yet I cannot obtain the slightest favour. Grant me an interview -- one moment's conversation -- if you refuse me, it is because you do not love me, and you shall never see me again!"
"I shall then never see you again, sir," replies Stephanie, withdrawing her hand, "For I had rather weep the loss of your love than mine own honour."
Edward was struck dumb by this reply, and the tone in which it was uttered told him that there was not the slightest hope of success in his profligate desires. He withdrew at once, in rage and despair; swearing that he would never again enter the house.
Some days passed on, and M. Delaberge did not make his appearance at Madame Dolbert's; weeks passed on, and nothing was heard of Edward.
The good lady did not comprehend the conduct of M. Delaberge; she did not doubt his attachment to her granddaughter; every day she was expecting a declaration; but she supposed that, before asking her consent, he had only wished to render himself agreeable to Stephanie and when he must have become confident of having made a favourable impression, he had ceased from his visits. This conduct was inexplicable to Madame Dolbert.
Stephanie suffered in silence. Edward's name never escaped her lips, and when her grandmother spoke of him, she always tried to turn the conversation.
"It is very singular, however", said Madame Dolbert to her granddaughter. "have you had any quarrel with M. Delaberge? Are you offended with one another? There must be some reason for the discontinuance of his visits."
"We have never quarrelled about any thing," replied Stephanie, "and I know not, grandmother, why he has left off coming here."
The good lady shook her head, for she thought that Stephanie still kept something back.
Stephanie would then retire to weep, in secret; and as Zizine had often surprised her young protectress with her eyes swimming in tears, she was told --"if you wish that I should continue to love you, never tell my grandmother that you have found me weeping."
Six weeks thus roll on, and the interval had been long enough to a young girl who counted the hours and the days, often in tears, but always with hope.
At the noon of a day, which like the rest had dawned in sadness, a visit was announced, it was M. Delaberge who presented himself at Madame Dolbert's and reappeared to Stephanie, as she sat by the side of her grandmother, not daring to trust her eyes in the sight of a man who had once bidden her an eternal farewell.
Edward's manner had something serious and earnest about it; after the usual salutations and compliments, he advanced to Madame Dolbert and said:
"You have not seen me for a long time, Madame: I have been desirous of concluding some family arrangements before making the request which I am now come to offer you. Madame -- I love Miss Stephanie. You know my family -- my fortune is an income of about one hundred thousand francs. I ask the hand of your granddaughter, if she is willing to accept me as a husband."
It would be difficult to paint the effect of these words upon Stephanie; astonished, trembling, transported with joy, she weeps and smiles at the same moment, and she extends her hand to Edward, and exclaims --"Oh! yes -- yes -- I willingly accept you for a husband."
The grandmother smiled, for to her these was nothing extraordinary in the scene; she had been long expecting this application. Taking a hand of her granddaughter and of Edward, and placing them one in the other -- she says to them, "be happy -- be united -- my dear children; without speaking of it, I had already divined this love. M. Delaberge, I give you the hand of my Stephanie."
Edward kisses respectfully the hand that is placed in his own, and Stephanie, who no longer fears to avow all her love, whispers to him --"naughty! six weeks without coming to see me! Oh, I have been indeed wretched! but I will think no more of it. Dear Edward, what happiness awaits me -- for I shall be your wife!"
"Yes," replies Edward, "yes, you shall be my wife;" and he adds in a suppressed soliloquy --"it must needs be! for marriage is my only hope of her possession!"
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