Page images
PDF
EPUB

conversation continued to relate to the sudden death of the old woman, and the strange circumstances which attended it, surprise and curiosity had occupied her mind; but now that they had ceased to speak on the subject, the silence became painful and oppressive. Her heart beat heavily, and only by putting a strong restraint on herself could she keep down the heaving of her bosom. But still maidenly modesty folded the veil tighter and tighter around her, hiding and stifling the glow of her heart. She sat silent, and apparently unimpassioned and unagitated. Would that she dared to tear aside the false mask, and show Tom how pure, high, and bright her love burned, how that his hand had lit the flame, and how that the constant thought of his goodness and worth kept it in ever active life. But she dared not.

We

men little know the sufferings of woman in her purity. We may tell our love; but woman must

be silent. racked by doubt, uncertainty, and disappointment, she must keep silence, or lose half her value.

No matter how her heart be torn and

Poor Tom on his part was equally agitated. His heart sank as he thought that a few more touches would finish the portrait, and with it the happiest days of his weary life. He wished he could linger over those strokes for ever, as the only means by

which he could see and speak to Alice. The time when he would no longer be with her was an empty desert, which he must tread alone, he knew not whither, but he lingered hesitatingly on the brink, and looked fondly at the paradise he must leave. Oh, Tom! had he but known that the choicest, purest lily there bloomed but for him, and awaited but his hand to take it; had he but known that the soft breath of love would have bent it down, stately as it looked, and laid it fondly on his bosom; Tom's night would have vanished, and the days of the future have clapped their hands and rung like holiday bells. No, Tom saw, admired, and loved, but had never once dared to hope that so fair a creature could ever be his. He thought he was soon to leave the happiness he had been suffered to enjoy. The door was already opened, and he stood on the threshold. Once out, return would be impossible, the genius of pride and wealth kept the entrance, and turned away with contempt such humble suitors as himself.

Tom's hand trembled as he did his best to paint. He worked like one who is blind. All his skill had deserted him, and his brush moved with the feeble uncertainty of a beginner. Several times he laid it down, thinking he would plead illness and retire; but, like Alice, he, too, feared to speak.

"Good heavens !" he exclaimed, at length, " I

am undone."

Alice started from her seat.

Tom, with a look

of the deepest dejection, and large tears in his eyes, was staring stiff and rigidly at his work. The brush had fallen from his trembling fingers, and slid down the canvas, leaving a long mark through the forehead, nose, and mouth of the portrait; and he had, besides, made matters worse by smearing one of the eyes in a fruitless attempt to stop the brush in its fall.

"Never mind," said Alice, compassionately.

He scarcely seemed to hear her; but gazed fixedly at the damaged picture. Despair at the disaster drowned every other feeling. He was disgraced in his own eyes, and in hers. Turning from the picture he looked at Alice; there was such a sweet expression of kindness, encouragement, and benevolence on her features, that Tom felt as if an angel had brought down a sunbeam expressly for him, and poured it all into his saddened heart. He forgot his disaster. His dark gleaming eyes contrasted strongly with the paleness of his cheeks, and he said, with enthusiasm :—

"Miss Littleton, you are the only friend I have in the world. I never had but one other, and she is years ago dead. When my mother was dying

you nurtured her; when I was starving you helped me to earn my bread; yes, Miss Littleton, grinding poverty, such as you cannot conceive, was crushing the life from me, inch by inch, and a few days, perhaps hours, would have found me, for the last time, at the brink of the dark river, where I had once already stood. Oh, how happy, how happy I have been!" continued poor Tom. "This picture has been the clue along which I have so often found my way to you. But now the clue is broken. The poor artist is disgraced and rejected. Again as unnoticed as he used to be. My happiness is over; I shall never see you again. Pardon me for speaking thus; but I cannot leave you without unburdening my mind of some of the feelings with which it is bursting. I dare not ask you to remember me, but I will pray God that whenever he fills your conscience with that self-approval which good actions beget, the memory of the kindness you have shown me may sometimes be there. Farewell."

Tom turned to go, but felt his strength failing him. He laid hold of the table for support, and again looked at Alice.

Whilst Tom was speaking she had sat perfectly still, and neither by look nor movement betrayed that she even heard him.

Slowly raising her head, their eyes met; Tom's feelings were too strong for him, he knelt at her feet.

"Pardon me," he said, in broken tones, " my feelings master me, your goodness, nobleness, and beauty overpower me. I love you, madly love you. Do not forbid it. Let me, when I shall see you no longer, have the consolation of admiring and loving you at a distance."

He bent down before her. What was that? Tom's blood thrilled through his veins. A little hand was laid gently on his head, and a soft sweet voice whispered :

"Tom."

He started back, trembling with delight, and gazed into Alice's eyes. Love was the victor; love had torn aside the false veil, and Tom saw his name written in characters of fire on her heart. The little white hand was stretched out still, and Tom seized and pressed it fervently.

The contest had exhausted her strength; but the glance of her eyes, filled with tears of happiness, spoke all the eloquence of love.

Gently twining his arms around the unresisting girl, Tom laid his head on her bosom.

"Alice," he whispered, so softly that none other than the ears of love could have heard him; "Alice, I love you so much, so much!"

« PreviousContinue »